In the spirit of reconnecting with friends, nature, and himself, multi-disciplinary artist Adraint Bereal takes first ever international trip to Belize.
I’m a little over 3,000 miles from my home in New York City, floating in the Caribbean Sea with my best friends when three stingrays, a school of fish, and a few sharks swim by me, unbothered. This magical scenery is only interrupted by my friend Manny accidentally knocking my goggles sideways. The bitter taste of salt water enters my eyes and mouth and I laugh, equally in awe as I am amused at the environment around me.
I’ve been in possession of a passport for three years and yet, up until this point, have never been out of the country before. I had ample opportunity to go abroad in college, but there wasn’t a moment or location that felt singularly right for me. After graduating in May 2020 and throughout the pandemic, I dreamed of traveling to Japan, as an admirer of the culture and because I had made a few friends online there during New York’s long, cold winter. As with so many other things in the last year, COVID had different ideas. Instead, I honed in on Belize as my first trip abroad. Belize and Japan have hardly anything in common when it comes to their respective climates, but both have distinct cultures.
Before the start of the trip my nerves slowly begin to settle in, and all I can think about is how I would feel after landing in a new country. With my mind clouded by a number of things, I wake up around 4 a.m. to get ready for my flight. I’m staying at a friend’s place, and just as I’m about to leave I manage to accidentally lock my luggage in the atrium. Panic doesn’t instantly set in until I realize everyone is still asleep, and my flight is in two hours. I’ll fast forward and say I ultimately missed my flight— so if you need any warning that airports are once again thoroughly booked and busy, this is it. Thankfully, I was able to catch a flight to Houston to meet Manny and continue our way south.
Arriving in Belize was emotional—and not only because I was immediately soaked in sweat from the humidity! I had to take a moment to acknowledge what a privilege it is to travel right now. Many of my mentors and friends are still on lockdown in a variety of places, so I was feeling especially grateful. After getting through customs with all our equipment, the long-awaited reunion was happening. Outside the gate were my friends Dayjah and Brandon, and it was a moment of relief for everyone. Finally being able to hold one another after going so long without physical contact felt surreal. I was reconnecting with the social part of myself I’d been missing for a while.
Our first stop in Belize was to the city of San Ignacio. There, we visited the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, and learned that it wasn’t until relatively recently that they began to excavate other ruins for preservation. One of our local fixers said that he and his friends used to play in the ruins, not really understanding what they were. Tourists and locals are allowed to climb the ruins, unlike in places like Mexico, where it’s not allowed and very frowned upon. I thought about the differences in the ways we choose to preserve, protect, and promote our cultures globally.
Our next stop was Belize City. I was surprised by the large number of Black people we saw there. Meeting Black people of a different ethnic background was exciting. I always wonder what my life would have been like if slavery hadn’t happened, and I had been born elsewhere. Life felt drastically different here. I didn’t observe the same capitalistic motivations in Belize, whereas in the U.S. it drives our lifestyle. Though these realizations are hard to put into words, I felt a certain slowness in the quiet moments as I waited to take an image.
In quarantine, I really missed being able to sit around a physical table with my loved ones to enjoy a meal. One of the first places we stopped for in Belize City was a restaurant called Bird’s Isle, and I instantly felt a sense of warmth overcome me. There’s something great about being able to invoke a tradition as simple as sharing lunch. (After being in Belize for a week, I couldn’t tell the difference between the country’s two staple dishes: rice and beans, and beans and rice. One dish keeps the items separate, and mixes them all together.) Over the meal, I got to know a bit more about our Belizean guides and their upbringing in the surrounding cities.
Completing our tour of Belize was a boat trip to San Pedro, on an island a little over 50 kilometers off the coast. I’ll never forget the smell of seaweed as we approached the dock. Like other places in the Caribbean, Belize has a seaweed problem due to climate change. The rising temperatures of the ocean floor mean seaweed grows faster and more aggressively in the already naturally warm climate. It was sad to visit a place outside of my home and see how our decisions globally impact everyone else in real time. This wasn’t how I imagined walking alongside the beach in Belize. The trip was a reminder that we can hold the individuals at corporations accountable to making decisions that positively impact our current climate crisis.
Back in the Carribean Sea alongside Manny, I readjust my goggles. I glide through warm and cool pockets of water. I am happy and enjoying this moment of pure bliss, even while being surrounded by a surprising number of (harmless!) sharks. I got to experience all of these things with my best friends and reconnect with myself on a more conscious level. To anyone reading this that’s never been out of the country before, don’t let fear hold you back. I Belize in you.