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A boat moored at Lighthouse Reef in Belize, near the Blue Hole
schafer & hill/getty images

Having taken six years of Spanish in my life — two in middle school, two in high school and another two in college because, apparently, none of the credits carried over — I consider myself something of an expert in the realm of beginner’s conversational Spanish. So, while looking for a place to spend a weekend away from the desk to which I’m normally chained, I figured a Spanish-?speaking country might make for a good time.

I mean, sure, I’d just be setting myself up to annoy the natives with my questions about the location of la biblioteca (meaning “library,” duh), but at least I’d have me an awesome fin de semana (weekend) in the process.

Since it sounded like a decent plan, I whipped out a map of the Americas, placed a hand over Canada and the United States and slapped my index finger down on the page with my eyes closed. It landed on Belize, which sounded bueno (good) to me. But, uh, turns out it was no bueno (not good). See, had any of the peripheral cultural factoids we’d learned in those beginning Spanish classes stuck, I would’ve remembered that they don’t speak Spanish in Belize. They speak English. Because, like the good ol’ U.S. of A., Belize was once a British colony.

Go figure. Guess I wasn’t the fantastic student I remembered being.

The good news? Belize is pretty amazing — especially the island of San Pedro, which, despite its Spanish-sounding name, is no more Spanish than, say, San Jose, Calif. Yeah, some people in Belize speak with a sort-of Spanish accent. But not because they speak Spanish. It’s because that’s just how they talk. Kind of like how people from Pittsburgh say “yinz” instead of “y’all,” I guess.

Anyway, back to San Pedro: It’s located? not on the mainland of Belize but on an island called Ambergris Caye. A fun, ?semi-?informative fact about this place: ?Ambergris is something sperm whales ?produce in their intestines. It gets vomited up or excreted out. Kind of gross, I know.
But here’s the thing about ?Ambergris Caye: It’s not gross. At all. Actually, it’s incredibly beautiful. And it’s got a lot going for it beyond simple aesthetics.

For starters: They accept American cash everywhere here. And the conversion rate is supersimple — one American dollar equals two Belizean dollars, always and forever; thank you very much, fixed economies.

Secondly: Did you learn in school that Belize boasts a portion of the second-largest coral reef in the world? I didn’t, but it totally does. And you can go snorkeling out to that very reef, thanks to any number of companies, all of which boast names based around puns with the word sea in them (Searious Adventures, Seaduced by Belize, etc.). And, because this is apparently run-of-the-mill customer service in Belize, they give you a tour guide, take you out on a boat and give you all the gear you need — and they only charge about $40.

It’s a great time out on the reef — quite literally a cheap thrill. There are stingrays and nurse sharks and sea turtles, oh my. All sorts of fish too. Beautiful ones that come in every Crayola shade, which you can see clearly because, up close, the water is perfectly clear and not the Cool Mint Listerine color it appears to be from the sky. The whole scene looks like it’s been cribbed straight from Finding Nemo.

It’s pretty inspiring, studying these fish. Really. Forget the Romans; these fish are the ones who know how to behave in a foreign country. They go with the flow, they relax, they have a good time. They make you want to enjoy this place — and to enjoy yourself too. That message rattles around your head even once you’re back on shore: No, there really isn’t a good reason why you can’t have another rum punch at the bar.

OK, so I didn’t learn that last part from the fish. I taught it to myself. Still a good lesson, though. Come to think of it, maybe I’m not such a terrible student after all.
Either way? Bueno times, yinz guys. Spanish or not.