Central America

Can we transcend tourism?

By Sammie Gautreaux, Agnes Scott College class of 2025
Posted May 3, 2022

Although I genuinely enjoyed our Belize journey, as we traveled and experienced
more it seemed that we became more and more tourist-like. I don’t think it was ever possible
to truly travel ethically with the amount of people we had in our group. Because of our
large numbers, we immediately stuck out like a sore thumb: we had to focus more
on staying together as a group for the sake of the class rather than fully immersing ourselves.

I definitely think we got to experience more culture-focused activities than the average traveler from Europe or America, such as when we went to Palmento Grove and made Hudutu (Garifuna fish stew), but we still were tourists. I don’t think there was any other possibility since we were only staying for a week. I think if I had visited myself, or with a couple other students, for at least a few months, it would have definitely been much more immersive and interactive.
Instead we had a packed schedule that had one-time experiences as opposed to routine/daily experiences of Belize.

Seeing the resorts near us and fancy hotels, however, did help me recognize how different our experiences were and how much colonization has affected Belize, even following their independence in 1981. For example, the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip had a luncheon during their 1994 Royal visit to the country, almost seemed like another reality from one we had been experiencing. It was so westernized. And I felt out of place because of how grandiose and luxurious everything was. Even though Belize achieved full independence from Britain in 1981, the Resort hotel still had a whole part of the Hotel that focused on the Queen’s 1994 visit. It was even more interesting to reflect on this since one week after our class returned to the U.S.  Prince William and his wife Kate visited Belize–this time under anti-colonial protests. Seeing how William and Kate did a royal tour felt like a Déjà vu image of the queen and reminded me of how encroaching the British were and still are to Belize.

Belize’s independence is only a few decades old and still Britain’s colonization is a fresh wound that cuts deep. It reminded me of Bruce Barcott’s The Last Flight of the Scarlet
because of how Britain still has a huge effect on Belize with the logging industry,
similar to the fight the environmentalists had in the book. Environmentalism could also be
seen at the Green Iguana Conservation Center. Witnessing the work this organization does to help protect the iguana population was uplifting.

green iguana
Endangered green iguana at the Green Iguana Conservation Center, San Ignacio, Belize
(photo by James Diedrick)

Observing the country’s different conservation efforts over the week made me hopeful–and oddly enough reminded me of my own identity. I had an iguana in Texas named George, and being at the conservation area reminded me of that aspect of my life and how Belize reminded me of my extended family. I’m glad I got to go to Belize as it felt eerily like home. Our visit to Sabal’s Cassava Farm, experiencing Belizean food, and of course the hot air reminded me of Texas–from my family’s small farms to my Aunt cooking morning breakfast with homemade tortillas. It felt like a parallel universe to that of my family.

Looking back at the letter I wrote earlier in the semester about my expectations for the course and trip, I distinctly remember thinking our journeys were going to be canceled. I really did not have hope. Even up until a couple days before I thought they were going to be canceled. I’m so glad they weren’t. I’m happy to now confirm I have indeed traveled farther than Wisconsin! I even got to New York and New Jersey the week after our return, where I saw my first Broadway show.

This experience, combined with what I saw in Belize, will stay with me for a long time.
I’m so thankful for our visit to Belize and getting to learn about their diverse cultures. I definitely did not know a lot in the beginning. Reading my letter again it reminds me of a hopeful, yet more pessimistic version of myself because my interest in learning about Belize was clouded by pessimism about actually getting to travel there. I’m now more hopeful for the future to come and how I’ll see the world. . . . My new hope is being able to travel back in ten years or so to see how much I’ve grown, along with Belize. It’ll be interesting to see how we’ve both changed.