The Plunge

By Laura Boswell
Sunday, April 30, 2006

She planned a mother-daughter trip all the way to Belize. What she didn't know was how far they'd be willing to go to get along

In a scarred, white minivan, we're rattling down Belize's Western Highway. The road's two thin, paved lanes ribbon through low amber wetlands; lanky palms arch beneath a brilliant blue dome of sky. Jolly packs of dogs trot through the roadside grit, and gap-toothed schoolchildren in white shirts and plaid skirts wave wildly from wooden bus stops painted with parrots and waterfalls. The surroundings are raw, real, perfect.

And knowing Mom and me, there's no pos-sible way it can last.

With some frequent-flier wizardry, I've been able to give Mom, a devout bird-watcher, a trip to possibly the world's best birding destination: Belize. This is my fourth trip to Belize, but, at 66, Mom has never traveled outside the United States. When she opened the tickets, she cried.

And, no matter what the statistics say about Americans living longer, she is getting older. I want to know that Mom will get to see a part of the world other than her back yard, and I want to be the one to take her.

But now that we've arrived, I'm more anxious than excited. As our driver, Phillip, chatters in broken English about landmarks and plant life, it's hit me that not only am I responsible for my mother in a foreign country, but the trip will last nine days.

Usually when we visit, it's only about 48 hours before we want to knock each other into next week.

The airport has barely faded behind us when Phillip stomps on the brakes and lurches us to a stop next to a small ditch steeped in ruddy-brown water.

"Jabiru! Jabiru!" he yells, pointing at the passenger-side window. Beyond some reeds and discarded soda cans, an elegant white bird as high as my shoulders is stepping along slowly on spindly black legs, nosing the water with a long black beak.

"What? Where?" my mom screeches, bobbling her binoculars, camera and sunglasses like hot rocks, not sure which to use first. She's come to Belize fully armed to document the world's finest fowl. Just not quite this soon.

The jabiru stork is one of the largest birds in the Western Hemisphere, standing some five feet tall with a wingspan of up to 10 feathery feet. It is also a highly threatened species in Belize, quite unlikely to be out for an afternoon stroll along a highway.

Phillip leans across Mom's lap and slowly rolls down her window, explaining the rare spectacle in front of her. "He come out to the road because he look for water. Dry season." Mom hunches reverently and watches. I'm thinking: Dry season?

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