Twice Is Nice (and other travel lessons we’re learning too late)

Nobody wanted to travel with us in our 20’s.

Admittedly, Luke and I were fairly hardcore about things. We’d habitually return from trips exhausted and five pounds lighter. Those who would travel with us were treated to our signature brand of “terrible fun” (a term we use to justify our behavior) and rarely came back for seconds.

Along with this mindset came the rule of never seeing the same thing twice. The world was much bigger than our PTO allowance, so our singular goal was to get those passport stamps, check off all of the national parks, DO EVERYTHING once and move on.

You’re starting to see why no one wanted to travel with us.

We’ve mellowed in our 30’s… somewhat. We now break up the terrible fun with down days. After all, the idea of sitting still isn’t so bad when it involves rum and pineapple juice.

Our most recent epiphany will seem mundane to most of you; we’ve discovered the joy of returning to the same place twice. This is a no-brainer for people like my brother Mike and his wife Missy who have perfected the art of living in Florida without establishing residency there. What they’ve known all along is that returning to a destination helps deepen the experience.

When the learning curve is shortened, you can settle in sooner and dig in deeper. We tiptoed into this idea with repeat visits to Badlands National Park – a favorite destination of ours that’s relatively close to home. Like many places of natural splendor, it’s very busy on summer weekends and holidays, so we’ve had to look for clever places to escape the crowds.

On our third trip, we discovered the Buffalo Gap National Grassland – a huge swath of public land surrounding the boundaries of the park. All we had to do was point our 4Runner down a couple of dirt paths and the world was our oyster. While it was a perpetual traffic jam inside the park, we fell asleep to the cackle of coyotes, hiked where the bison roam and were heckled only by a set of surly badgers.

Last month, we traveled to Belize for the second time. Two years ago, we visited Placencia, a small village on the end of a peninsula in the southern part of the country. We had so much fun, we decided to return and do everything the same. Same flight time, same resort, same rental car company.  

Only this time, we arrived a little bit smarter. We packed our own sunblock, instead of buying the cut-rate stuff from the local grocery store. We brought bug repellent and wore it when hiking in the jungle. We knew to wash our hands after petting the beach dogs.

ziggy

The drive from the international airport to Placencia takes about four hours due to variable road conditions and the prevalence of “sleeping policemen” (speed ramps). Little had changed. The Hummingbird Highway was still a jungle paradise. The locals of Seine Bight still hung out in the streets after dark. And a failed mega-resort is still in a steady state of decay. A fitting reminder that the ocean will destroy what doesn’t belong.

Once again, we arrived in the village at sunset. We located our beachfront cabana by memory and settled in. Since we already knew the patterns of Placencia, we felt no need to rush out and explore.

cbc

We already knew that the ocean is glassy at sunrise, therefore the perfect time to take out the kayaks and spot marine life.

luke kayak

solo kayak

We knew that Thursday is trivia night at the Pickled Parrot. We knew the owner Eugene and his dogs Mia and Ziggy. They still love to play fetch in the bar.

We found Edwin sitting in his hot shack near the beach, selling beautifully carved rosewood sculptures.

The Barefoot Bar was still our favorite place to drink Belekins.

barefoot bar

The Guatemalan women selling burritos from their roadside shack still made me use my rusty Spanish when ordering.

Aside from a few indicators that Placencia is on the rise, it remained mostly the same. That would have bored me a few years ago. This time, it was a welcome relief from the chaos of this past year. I arrived utterly exhausted. After spending eight days casually wafting about, I left feeling five years younger.

One the second day of our trip, Luke and I were swinging in woven hammocks shaded by large palm trees. I was reading a paperback and sipping a tequila drink. It was just before noon. Randy, our resort’s manager, walked past us and said, “You two look like you know what you’re doing.”

I simply smiled and let him believe we are the kind of people who land in a tropical destination and instantly slow down and relax. The kind of people who don’t need to be constantly entertained or moving. The kind of people who don’t habitually plan their next trip during their current trip.

That’s not really us at all, but we can play the part when we want to.

belekins

 

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