After more than a year working in COVID-filled hospitals, it was time for me to get away. I chose Belize for the warm weather and because it’s an English-speaking country, uses U.S. dollars, and has the same electrical current. I left the U.S. armed with a one-way plane ticket, a negative COVID-19 test, and a five-night reservation in San Pedro.
Getting Ready For The Trip
Traveling alone is new to me. My daughter usually accompanies me, but she’s graduated and out on her own. This was my first time going out in the world as just me… not “Dr. Clifford,” not “Jackie’s mom.”
It was “me time” for the first time in 30 years.
My plans were to travel to both San Pedro and Placencia and choose one as my home base for the bulk of the two-month stay. Research showed me that getting between the two cities was best done by plane. While in each town, a taxi, boat, or shoe leather would be my mode of transportation.
Getting Into The Swing Of Things
San Pedro was all about “play” as you can see here in my article on Ambergris Caye.
A third-story walk up to my room meant I had an awesome view of the Caribbean Sea. My first walk on the beach was as much about getting my bearings as it was exercise.
My plan for my sabbatical? Walk. Walk. Walk. I intended to walk all the pandemic stress and weight away. And dive!
Looking for my San Pedro dive site home, I reached Ramon’s Dive Village. They had people, happy, smiling, chattering, coming off dive boats. I approached the service desk and Rick, the manager, agreed a ‘test” dive would be an excellent idea for starters and signed me up for a dive the next morning.
I set up the luggage on the patio table overlooking the Caribbean and dug through my suitcase. Over the course of that week, I read four books and completed 12 pounds of paperwork.
But as I completed my work tasks, online coursework, pitching articles, reading business proposals, and reading books, I slowly shed some of the weight that had been burdening me mentally as well as physically.
This, even alone in a friendly foreign land, was what I sought. The ability to clear things from my to-do list and have something to look forward to.
Maybe that’s what I continue to seek daily.
Going out on that first dive, becoming friendly with the people on my dive boat, reminded me why scuba is such a wonderful activity. I’ve been doing yoga since the 1980s and am the worst breather I know. But, during scuba, you must control your breathing and never ever hold your breath. There’s something about that Darth Vader-esque inhalation that forces you to focus on the task at hand.
But the weather came up and we didn’t go out to the famed Blue Hole the next morning. I was a little nervous about missing the opportunity to go, but realized I had 2 months here — I had no reason to worry. Also, I could extend my trip as long as I wished.
So, I worked away at my to-do list and didn’t fret. That was new for me. I usually not only have every minute planned but am in trouble if one thing drops.
This was part of the slowdown, the “take it easy” part of my sabbatical. I had no need to worry. So I didn’t. That was a feeling I’d like to continue.
As much as I’ve read about the Blue Hole and Belize, I have never been told what an absolutely horrible ride it is out to the site. Out of the 3-hour trip, 2 hours are brutal — choppy doesn’t begin to describe it. One girl sobbed inconsolably after the first 30 minutes on the boat.
Once there, it turned out to be a good dive; deep, and cold, and something to experience once. But the remaining two dives that day were glorious. The 60 feet depth offered better light to see fish, and the warmer water and fewer worries about decompression sickness gave us all perspective — especially me.
Getting perspective on the choices we make is a good thing. Especially when it helps you maintain balance in your life. Dedicating too much time to others and emptying your own “tank” of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and fiscal wellbeing is just wrong. No wonder so many of us burn out.
After five fun days of diving, reading, lunching, and sleeping, it was time to move on.
I took a sunrise walk every day. It was hot. The sunrise and sunset were less than 5 minutes duration. But I could walk 15,000 steps around the crescent bay on the east side of Placencia where I’d stop at Ruth’s for a chicken-stuffed jack as my second breakfast and read or write in the porch hammock with the constant breeze for several hours.
After becoming familiar with the rhythm of the village and continuing to make progress creating a routine meant to help physicians find better balance in their lives, too, I started searching for a new home.
Surprisingly, I hadn’t been identified as a physician until I was nearly done with my time there. Even after my profession became known, most people didn’t mention it with a couple of exceptions — when there was food poisoning and a heart condition at issue.
This was a good test drive for me in retirement and for my own identity crisis. It is possible to still be “me” without the outer title trappings I’ve carried for 30 years.
The time in Placencia flew by — I read and pitched ideas and created my online course content and felt like I worked every day.
But I also took time out for fun things — kayaking in the lagoon several times a week, a Monkey River tour with a new friend, a sunset cruise with our little island population, and shared in the bounty of their sportfishing success with my contribution of a light pineapple-poblano salsa.
It was a time of healing, learning, growth, and relaxation. I hope everyone takes the time, especially during a busy career, to take this kind of sabbatical, and experience the feeling of near balance that I did during my solo two months in Belize.
When you go to Belize, have a general plan of what you want to do and add space in your schedule for flexibility. Most importantly, identify your goals for any time you’re taking away. Research your options and leave room to be nimble.