Barefoot in Belize Part Two: From Belize City to Guatemala

Ed and his wife before traveling to Belize City from Caye CaulkerMost of our trip to Belize was spent relaxing on Caye Caulker. However, we also visited Ambergris Caye, our island’s northern neighbor, where we stopped for lunch during our snorkeling excursion. Given some time to explore the town of San Pedro, we found that everything was bigger, noisier, and a bit more expensive. You can drive a car there and party in late-night dance clubs. 

From Caye Caulker, we booked a cave tubing excursion out of Belize City. Our driver and personal tour guide picked us up at the ferry dock in a comfortable air-conditioned car. He talked about his country’s history on the way to the caves. Once there, our driver changed hats and became our river guide. Carrying inner tubes and donning helmets with headlamps, we hiked upriver, into the jungle. 

Hike to Adventure Near Belize City

The guide filled us in on flora and fauna along the way. The trek was uphill but easily manageable. Wading into the cool and slow-moving river was incredibly refreshing. Cathryn felt startled by something nipping at her legs. Apparently, they’re called Kissing Fish and are sometimes kept in tanks and used for exfoliating. Cathryn didn’t enjoy the spa treatment and was happier laying in her tube. 

Cliff swallows darted in and out of the mouth of the cave. Nothing but a dark hole in the rock, we could only see with the aid of our headlamps. Floating with the current, our guide steered us around rocks and walls. To me, a cave is a cave, and I’ve seen many. But tubing on a river in the dark heightened my senses — the sound of gurgling water, dank smell of the still and cool air — it was amazing. 

An image of a boat on Penten Itza Lake
Penten Intza Lake

Fresh Out of Belize City

Being so close to the border of Guatemala, and a fan of Mayan ruins, I booked an excursion to Tikal. From the ferry dock in Belize City, we were to board a luxury bus that would take us to the border. After waiting over an hour in the sweltering heat, a chicken bus pulled to the curb. It looked nothing like the shiny new one we’d seen in the brochure. I wasn’t surprised. 

It was a hot, bumpy, and grueling four-hour trip to the Guatemala border. Cathryn learned the hard way not to keep our money in a suitcase. One of the porters on the boat had ripped us off. Mobbed by currency exchange dudes, we had no cash to trade. Our driver found and rescued us from the hoard and escorted us to our private vehicle. I sighed with relief at the sight of all the new tour vans lined up in a row. Ours was not one of them. 

An image of the van Ed and his wife took in Guatemala.
A Guatemalan Limo

Eduardo was our English-speaking driver. He looked to be about 30 years old, the same age as his vehicle. The A/C wasn’t working and neither was Eduardo’s English, but we shared a laugh at having similar first names. It wasn’t our last laugh. When we stopped for gas, Eduardo couldn’t get the van started again. After watching him fiddle with tools and the battery, I offered a solution. Noting our chariot was a stick-shift, and that the road ahead was downhill, I suggested that we push-start the van. 

A Rolling Start To Tikal

A spider that crawled from the jungle near Belize City

Eduardo rounded up some help and the push was on. Being paying customers, Cathryn and I got to sit inside while the men pushed. On a good roll downhill, our driver jumped in and dropped it in gear. Eduardo turned to us and offered a big smile that was shy of a few teeth. We were off to see the wizard. 

Checking into our room just outside the park gate, howler and spider monkeys greeted us, playing in the trees. We felt thrilled about staying right in the jungle, in an upscale hotel. The novelty wore off when Cathryn discovered a spider the size of her hand in the bathroom. At that moment we understood why there was netting around the bed. 

Welcome to the Jungle

The ruins at Tikal are similar to others I’ve seen at Chichen Itza and Uxmal in Mexico but different in that the main plaza was tighter and more closely surrounded by jungle. My jaw dropped when I walked out from under the thick canopy. The ceremonial temples stood like ancient sentinels, their tops peeking through the treetops. The dark patina of the Mayan structures made them look mythical. 

Ed and his wife at the Tikal Ruins near Belize City

Eduardo was waiting in his Rolls Canardly (rolls downhill but can hardly make it back up) at the park exit. He drove us to the island of Flores on Lake Peten Itza, Guatemala’s second-largest lake. A causeway links the island to Santa Elena and the mainland. It was our chosen pit stop on the way back to Belize City. The town has an undeniably European flair, with pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets.

Flores to Caye Caulker

The island is small enough that we were able to walk its circumference, seeking out especially cool little cafes and courtyards. The lake looked calm and we enjoyed a sightseeing cruise on a water taxi that was nothing more than a wooden rowboat with a trolling motor. We loved Flores so much that we extended our stay by another day. 

An image of a restaurant in Flores, Guatemala, which is a quick drive from Belize City

To save time, and not endure another grueling bus ride back to Belize, we booked a flight from Flores to Caye Caulker. It was a small plane that only held a handful of passengers, but we could see right into the cockpit and had beautiful views of the Caribbean and our own Gilligan’s Island. 

There are no big and fancy all-inclusive resorts on Caye Caulker in Belize. If that’s what you’re looking for, try Ambergris Caye. But if you enjoy kite-surfing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, or just plain doing nothing but laying on the beach, then this place is for you. There’s no need to bring nice clothes. In fact, with a warm climate, you don’t need many clothes at all. It’s basically barefoot in Belize.

If you want to read about any of my southeast Asian adventures take a look at the travel section of my website at www.edmondgagnon.com.

TESOL in the United States Versus TEFL Abroad

by Caroline Hazelton

TESOL in the United States

I’m an English as a Second Language teacher (not to be confused with an English as a Foreign Language teacher) and I have chosen to remain stateside in America. When I first announced the intentions of my career, I was completing an internship in Guatemala. My teammate replied “Why stay in the States? You’ll lose the adventure.” For those of you considering a career in ESL, here’s why I choose to teach English as a Second Language in the States versus teaching English as a Foreign Language abroad.

What’s the Difference?

First, let’s take a look at the difference between English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). It’s all about (as a real estate agent might say), “Location, location, location!” The difference lies in what the majority of a country speaks. If I’m in an English-speaking country teaching English, I’m teaching ESL. However, if I’m in a non-English speaking country as an English instructor, I’m teaching EFL. Both have distinctly different purposes. For example, one learns English to live and survive while the other learns it for vacations abroad/communicating with foreigners. Both are used interchangeably at times but are vastly different in purpose.

But now, let’s get to the answer of what my teammate asked me while we were in Guatemala: “Why?”

Why stay in America to teach English?

English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

Here’s my story. Here’s my “because” to that teammate’s (and possibly your) “Why?” These reasons are not for everyone, but rather that of my own.

I find working with immigrants to be of great purpose that I can fulfill.

Nine years ago I taught my first ESL class to a group of Central American immigrant women at an inner-city mission in Texas. After an entire summer of using my gifts of language and teaching to meet their needs, I found a career that I forever wanted to be part of because there was a purpose that I could fulfill. I meet people with stories of horrors beyond our privileged American first-world-problems-self can dream of, but they have found refuge in our homeland. I watch their English grow, and opportunities open for them. Plus, I get to teach about my home. I get to be the “know-it-all guide” of my beloved homeland – and it’s rewarding. I never stop feeling blessed whenever I’m teaching ESL students because I can give them part of what they need.

The flexible hour possibilities of ESL leave time for a family or a second job.

TESOL in the United States students

In addition to being a language buff, I’m a wife to a successful scientist and mother to two young children. At this moment, I can’t work a full-time job due to my family responsibilities. ESL classes are held in the evenings for students employed during the day, so I can stay home with my children but still do what I love. ESL classes are also held in the mornings or afternoons for housewives or international students. I can always pick up more hours as my children get older. Additionally, the part-time commitment to ESL allowed me to work a “main job” as a Spanish instructor before my second daughter was born. I look at my life teaching ESL part-time while still having ample time at home with my 1- and 3-year-olds plus supporting my husband and his career and I think, “Man, I’ve got it made in ESL!”

You experience the world without the unknown.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

I’ve always had a deep love for foreign cultures, so it shocked me when my months overseas during undergrad left me lonely and miserable. In personal experience, I’m more of a short-term tourist than a long-term visitor abroad. Yet I cannot stop learning about cultures beyond my own. That’s why I love ESL – you experience the world while enjoying the familiarity of your own nation. I am able to enjoy other countries simply by teaching a class! Nonetheless, there’s always room to hop on a plane (we are headed out to Polynesia in April for my husband’s conference!) should I want. 

Things to Point Out

I wanted to wrap up this post by a few pointers:

  1. I did not address the growing popularity of English as a Foreign Language online learning platforms as a flexible option. In fact, I teach on one right now.
  2. Remember that EFL and ESL still follow the rules laid out for second language acquisition. The difference is the curriculum (suited for different audiences and needs) and motivation (ESL students have more at stake than EFL students).
  3. Although I wrote about teaching immigrants, there is no “one size fits all” student in ESL. You see immigrants, visiting scholars, international students, visiting tourists, refugees (different political classification than immigrants), etc.

Guys, don’t worry about losing the adventures of teaching English abroad – in ESL the world comes to you. ESL is for us language nerds who need to be doing humanitarian work or for that person who loves other cultures but needs to stay in their home country. And with good reason – the current political climate of our country loves to build walls. Go rogue. Don’t build walls, but tear them down in ESL.

Students in Guatemala