July 2, 2020– Being a native of Mauritius, an island famous for its dodo bird and turquoise lagoons, I felt embarrassed about putting on a floating vest to explore the dancing colors engulfing the exquisite marine life at Hol Chan in Belize. Halfway through the seamlessly planned tour by Ambergris Divers, my amateurism in snorkeling was reaffirmed, for I could feel my huge ring sliding far too freely down my finger. I should have left it behind at Diamond Lodge, my cozy boutique hotel on Seagrape Drive. After all, I earned this precious (and expensive) ring after many years in computer science classes at Texas A&M University in Aggieland. But then, the beauty and bliss of the marine reserve soon lulled me out of earthly quandaries.
I gained confidence and took off the vest, and that must have been it —those maneuvers pushed the ring off into the deep sea. This reality hit me like a gut punch when I climbed back on board and felt my right hand unusually bare. I felt stupid and sad, especially since everything had worked out perfectly so far: hassle-free arrival at the airport in Belize City, pleasant cab ride to the water taxi terminal, ferry to the picturesque San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye — a stunning island with gorgeous beaches, gracious people, and great food.
My sullen demeanor was probably perceptible, for the crew enquired about my state of mind. I told them, not without a lame attempt at a not-a-big-deal lie. But two of the three divers were more than willing to help, and plunged into a mortifying half-hour desperate search. The other tourists graciously dismissed my apologies, probably caught up in the wavering flow of time that pervades over this idyllic isla bonita and San Pedro that Madonna dreamt of.
The divers did come back with a ring, but one of scrap wire twisted into shape. Once again, I grinned at the delightful sense of humor that defines the smooth, smiling, and cool islanders. This note of levity helped me move on with my adventure — long walks down the “secret” beach, lobster at Palapas, street food at Central Park, and Belikin (local beer) at Caye Caulker, a nearby island. And probably the most fun, for the solo-traveler I like to be, was meeting great people, locals and tourists alike: Diego and Shizam going out of the way to help me find my bearing to end up at a Karaoke bar, hanging out with the ebullient and hilarious traveling sisterhood from all over the Caribbean and southern USA; shots with Vermonters in search of some tropical warmth, and spontaneous, warm banter with amiable tour guides, vendors, and locals.
I returned home in College Station, Texas, in good spirits, even if my lost ring almost doubled the cost of my getaway. As I unpacked and threw away useless bills and papers, I somehow held on to the Ambergris Divers card, and later emailed them about my ring, almost giggling at my naive belief in a miracle.
The reply was surprisingly prompt and impressive. Not only did I get a sympathetic note from Karen at Ambergris Divers, but she even shared my misfortune on a bulletin with other operators and guides. Lo and behold, just a few days later, Karen informed me that the ring was found! She referred me to Krista and Raquel at Amigos del Mar. My ring was recovered by Santiago, one of their divers. It sounded too good to be true, and I was skeptical. But Whatsapp messages from Santiago and a picture of my ring (with my name clearly inscribed) from Raquel turned my cynicism into shame.
Unbelizable! What are the odds of the ring being found and me knowing about it? As spring break was around the corner, I decided to wait a few weeks and head back with my two children, who were earning their vacation from university classes. I convinced them to join me on this quest for a ring, a little like the adventure of Frodo’s clique to middle earth. I flaunted my confidence on this second trip, not missing an opportunity to exhibit my knowledge of this relatively unknown South American (and Caribbean) country. I was happy that my kids shared my fondness for Belize. As we settled in at Tropical Dreams Villa, I shared my story with the owner Lisa, a sweet, meticulously organized, and very helpful host. She liked the story and helped in its conclusion: meetings with Karen at Ambergris Divers, as well as Santiago, Krista, and Raquel at Amigos del Mar. I was reunited with my ring, over some friendly banter and pictures. To my amazement, Santiago never found the golden gem glistening in the clear waters of Hol Chan, but felt the hard, perfectly shaped artifact while reaching out for an elusive octopus at night!
We left Belize just before COVID-19 stalled the world. With the daily help from Worldometers, I was happy and impressed to know how Belize contained the pandemic, far more effectively than more affluent countries. However, I can only imagine the devastating cost of keeping Belizeans healthy, given their reliance on tourists. I should not be too surprised by their effectiveness in dealing with the pandemic, given their network to quickly and effectively communicate to address my mishap. Sure, it was no Coronavirus catastrophe, but often, small details foretell the big picture..
I look forward to returning to Belize, a place where I felt comfortable, safe, and completely at peace with myself. I look forward to the splendor along its coasts and the rich Mayan history inland. I look forward to the genuine smile and charm of Belizeans — and I will definitely drop by to greet the fellowship of friends I made around the loss and recovery of my Aggie ring.
(Ed. NOTE: Fantastic experience. We’re happy that you are happy with Belize.)