Lost in the Mangroves of Belize - Page 2
By Steve McNutt

A Blocked Pee–pee Hole
Not long after this admission, a long, fast boat slammed toward us, at the helm a man in sunglasses smoking a cigarette and drinking a Belikin beer; whoever A.C. called had checked voicemail. Our rescuers towed us to a caye where a mechanic lived with his daughter and a couple grandchildren. While A.C. opened up the engine and three other men—including the grandfather with the mechanical touch—knelt on the dock offering opinions and analysis. I went for a walk, finding an abandoned hotel consisting of a few cabins with plywood walls, the last one in the row unfinished. A wooden sign hanging from a branch provided its name: Sacrifice Resort. I took this as a hint and returned to the dock.

A joint now making the rounds, they made room for me in the circle and I leaned into the cloud, waiting for an update. We stood like this for a while in silence aside from the occasional clipped comment in Garifuna. One of the men pinched the joint out and slid it into a pocket. I asked what might be the problem.

"The pee–pee hole is blocked," advised A.C.

The others nodded, pee–pee hole slang for a tube in the water pump. Unclogging it was going to be time–consuming. He needed to stay and fix the engine but it would take quite awhile so the other boat would take me back. We'd just left the dock when a full–throated blast rippled across the water. Exhaust coughed out of A.C.'s engine. Water boiled from its prop.


I shouted to take me back. He shook his head in disapproval but the boat's long bow swiveled around and we broke our own wake on the return.

From the water, I was able to read the name on the stern of the boat next to A.C.'s. In bold black capital letters was one word: HOPES. I am not a superstitious person, but that's all I needed. This was about karma. Faith.

A.C. and I discussed our options. The sensible decision would be to motor back to Tobacco Caye and not test our luck any further. On the other hand, we still had a couple hours of daylight left.

"Barra Hole?" I suggested.

In A.C.'s eyes I think I detected something close to joy.

"Maybe we'll keep the engine running, though?"

"Oh yeah, my buddy, don't worry. We not stopping this thing."

A.C. handed the mechanic thirty Belizean dollars ($15 US) and ten minutes later, we approached a cut between two cayes. On the other side of the cut, A.C. explained, was Barra Hole. It was a one shot deal. After one pass they'd scatter. I understood. Time to get serious.

Fish 1, Fishermen 0
Watching A.C. fish with a handline while piloting the outboard motor was like watching a weaver work a loom while stirring the soup, the result was a chaotic blend of slaps at the throttle and yanks on the line. A huge spool of thick line lay at his feet and after flinging his baited hook behind the motor he held the line with one hand and jigged it in the current while nudging the engine throttle with the other. At the same moment he felt it, I saw his line tighten and swing toward the mangroves. There was no subtlety in his motions. He pulled hard, hand over hand, eating up yardage, then giving line without losing tension.

And then he was yelling. Shouting. His line slack, bare hook as long as an adult finger bent into an L–shape. Before fully registering all of this the drag on my reel screamed. I set the hook and a wave of water rose thirty yards behind the stern. And then it rolled under, the hook free. On the ride back to Tobacco Caye it got worse, something popping the 100 lbs. test line on his trolling pole before I could react. Fingering the line, looking for weak spots, he found it solid, which only made him more anxious.

"Grouper," he offered without conviction. "Maybe a big one come out, he grab it and pull it under the rock and pop it like that. Or shark maybe. I don't get it, man. Oh man."

Providing a fitting close to the day, rain doused us thoroughly and the engine cut out twice, restarting each time. A.C. dropped me off and after a quick handshake and a promise to find each other the next day, puttered around to the other side of the island.

Slogging through the sand to thoughts of lost fish, broken lines, hours in the mangroves and a guide who seemed genuinely freaked by the day's end, I tried to figure out why I wasn't more disappointed by the day, concluding that somehow it had been exactly what I'd hoped for. Explaining that to the other guests would prove difficult so I kept it simple. Told them our pee–pee hole clogged up. Left it at that.

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All photos by Steve McNutt except where indicated.

Steve McNutt

Steve McNutt has an M.F.A. in Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. His writing has appeared in a variety of media and he is co–editor with Jake Fawson of Americans Do Their Business Abroad: The Peace Corps Latrine Reader. Described by a contributor as "the stories that got me uninvited from a few dinner parties," among other things it includes wisdom and whimsy pertaining to latrines, goat eyeballs, pickpockets and arson (in the name of hygiene). You can learn more about the book at www.peacecorpsreader.com.

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