I was researching information for a guidebook on Belize with my husband John and my friend Joy. John is the nervous type who gets sick for protection while Joy will do anything on the travel trail and doesn’t have a nervous cell in her body.
During our explorations, we went to Ambergris Caye where numerous high-end resorts that cater to the all-inclusive crowd are located. The low-end hotel we usually stay at was full so we had no choice but to take a room in one of the middle-priced establishments. While checking in, the desk clerk suggested we place a bet on the chicken bingo out back.
“Chicken bingo?” John was curious.
We went to the hotel’s beach and followed the signs to the chicken bingo site. We found a large plastic tarp, squared off with numbers in each square similar to a bingo card. It was corralled off with a chicken-wire fence.
“Place your bets ladies and gentlemen,” the attendant droned on over and over while a ghetto blaster spit out rap songs in about the same volume. Numerous hotel guests, mostly men with large guts were hanging around the bingo corral sipping rum and sucking on cigars.
The bets were taken by the droning attendant and marked on an ordinary bingo card that he held in his hand. Hotel guests dribbled in and out of the hotel waiting for the event to start.
Once all the bets were placed, the attendant hauled over a gunnysack and hurled the “chicken,” (actually it was a rooster) over the fence and onto the card.
The guests roared, clapped, stomped sand and bellowed out the number they had placed their money on. The rooster appeared confused, his one foot up, his head moving about three inches to one side and then three to the other, his eyes blinking rapidly. The men continued calling to the rooster, who started walking around, uncertain it seemed as to where he should go. Finally, the prize was dropped; the rooster shit on number 11. The number was shouted out, the guests roared. The bet-man handed the money to the dancing and gyrating winner who, in turn, offered to buy everyone another rum at the bar.
The attendant unhooked part of the fence, scooped up the rooster and plunked him into the sack.
“Test your luck again tomorrow ladies and gentlemen,” hollered the attendant. “Same time, same place.”
John turned to me and said he was feeling nauseated so we headed up to our room where he stretched out on the bed for a nap. Joy and I sat on the balcony and sipped a beer while watching the street traffic pass by.
After an hour John woke but didn’t want dinner. Only after we promised not to sit with the chicken bingo crowd did he agree to join us. Joy spotted a secluded little bistro with no patrons and we went in.
The following morning John was feeling grand so we had our coffee, showered and started out for breakfast. He opened the door and greeting him in the hall was one of the chicken bingo crowd — a paunchy fellow sporting a glass of rum in one hand and a cigar in the other. He was wearing nothing but shades and a swimming thong. John rotated and informed us that he couldn’t eat.
Joy and I went down the street and purchased some yogurt and bananas for him. Then we left to do our morning’s work on the book. On the way out I convinced the desk clerk to let us stay for just two hours past the check out time without charging us for another day. I told her that my husband wasn’t feeling well. We returned mid day to find John lounging on the bed reading a book, his very favorite pastime. The yogurt and banana were gone.
We packed up and headed to the docks where we could catch the daily ferry to the mainland. John was in great spirits until we arrived at the ferry slip where we found the boat’s entire engine laid out on the pier. The captain told us that there’d be no ferry that day and maybe not the next either. John collapsed on the curb and laid his head in his hands.
“You’re not going to puke are you?”
“The mainland is just across that water …. I can see it! Maybe we can swim.”
Since John can’t swim, I suggested we try the airport just 100 meters down the road.
At the ticket wicket we were informed that they had just two seats left on the flight and it would be leaving in ten minutes. I suggested Joy and John leave together and I’d join them the following day but John would have no part of that. The ticket seller listened to our discussion. John turned grey and started to hyperventilate. I patted his arm.
The ticket seller went back into her office and a few minutes later, returned. “We can take all three of you,” she said, “ but one of you will have to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.”
It was my turn to hyperventilate.
“No co-pilot?” John squeaked. “What if the pilot has a heart attack?”
“It’s just fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll be the co-pilot,” said Joy staring at the plane just outside the window. “If he has a heart attack I’ll fly this baby.”
John nodded. I purchased the tickets before he could change his mind and dug out the Gravol from my daypack. I passed them to John and he tossed back the pills like popcorn.
We boarded just as the drug was taking effect. The flight was smooth, scenic and quiet. John instantly passed out. I could see Joy snapping photos and chatting up the pilot.
Once we were in Corozal I could see a touch of pink on John’s cheeks but the pink was short lived. When the taxi from the airport arrived at the low-budget hotel we had stayed in before, we found it full.
John informed us that he was truly sick and needed a five-star hotel no matter what the price.
“Corozal has no five star places,” I said. “But I know of a new one just a block from here.” I left John in Joy’s care and marched over, booked a room and returned for John and Joy.
John instantly perked up when he saw, surrounding the building, a 12-foot high brick wall with glass shards cemented onto the top. He pushed the intercom on the locked gate and nodded his approval. Inside, the room was spotless and there was satellite TV included.
“Joy and I’ll go for some pizza and beer,” I said.
“I’ll go!” said John magnanimously. “Some pizza washed down with a couple of beer sounds great.”
[More Vivien Lougheed adventures on the road can be found at www.chickenbustales.com.]