Kelly Kanabar, 32, was born and raised on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. Her parents moved there from the United States to open a resort in the 1970s. Kanabar owns and operates three restaurants there, notably the Blue Water Grill.
Question: What's for lunch?
Answer: Today, rice and beans, Belizean style — with red kidney beans — and stewed chicken and mashed potatoes. It's typical Belizean food. It costs $18 Belize, which is $9 U.S. Lunch is the main meal here, so it's common to have a hot meal at lunch and something smaller for dinner. Belize is kind of a Caribbean country in that respect.
Q: Are the tourists pretty much from North America?
A: Americans for the most part, with more and more Canadians. In August, there are lots of Europeans; it's when they go on vacation. Around Easter, we get people from neighboring countries — Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. Easter is a big holiday in Central America. They come for fishing, diving and stuff like that.
Q: Do Americans prefer familiar food — or local?
A: The menu is more geared to American food, with one or two things being local. We'd do a local lunch because we get many Belizeans coming in for ceviche, tortilla chips and a couple beers with their friends. There's pizza and sushi. Sushi is more for locals. The biggest sellers are lobster and fish. It's what visitors want, and what we eat a lot of here.
Q: Is fishing a major attraction?
A: Our island is off the Atlantic coast and is one of about 1,000 cayes — as islands are called here. I live on the biggest of them. It's close to a reef that's the second-largest in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Scuba diving is huge. The Blue Hole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. It's a big crater in the ocean that he called a "wonder of the world."
Deep-sea and reef fishing are big: The island is a one-minute ride from the reef, and that's cool: In other parts of the world, you have to go a half-hour to get to the fishing spots. The reef here is 100 yards away.
There's snapper and grouper in the shallow waters of the reef. Beyond that, the water drops 400 to 500 feet, and that's where you find tuna, billfish, marlin and tarpon; it's a big area for sport fishing. Fishermen regularly bring them in. Occasionally, a guy comes in with a mahi mahi or wahoo for us and we'll serve it fresh.
There's a fish that tastes good that's hard to get. It's called a hog snapper, and you can't fish them. The shape of their mouth makes it so they won't take a hook. You have to get into the water and spear it, so it's difficult to catch. It has light, white meat. If you see this on a menu, try it.
Q: How big is Ambergris Caye?
A: It's 26 miles long; half a mile at its widest. The only town is called San Pedro and is where the airstrip is. The coast and southern part of the island are becoming more developed with resorts and coasts. When I was growing up, there was nothing but coconut trees. Now there are grocery stores and things like that. The tallest building is three stories, and we drive golf carts. San Pedro is more a town than a city. There's only a front, middle and back street, so you can't get lost. And everybody knows everybody.
Q: Who lives there?
A: On the island I live on, people are every shade — from dark Caribbean to light-skinned Hispanic, and everything in between. Everybody here is tri-lingual: English, Spanish and Creole, which is an English dialect kind of like you hear in Jamaica.
Q: If you touch something hot and you swear, what comes out?
A: Spanish. It rolls off the tongue faster.
Q: How developed is Ambergris these days? Is there Wi-Fi? Bars with blaring music?
A: Some places may have Wi-Fi, but because we're Third World it doesn't always work. When I was growing up, there were times when there were no eggs or milk on the island. With more tourism, there are more barges delivering supplies from the mainland; airplanes fly in every hour.
We're in the Caribbean, so we have fresh mangos in the summer. But you can't buy pears.
When I was growing up, there were only three channels on TV: CNN, WGN and (Spanish-language) Televisia. As a result (of WGN), we're all Cubs fans who know "I Love Lucy."
With globalization, there's less difference now between kids here and in the States. Except, kids in Belize aren't afraid of swimming with stingrays.
Q: You do that?
A: Yeah. I have a daughter now, and I plan on making sure she's comfortable around them, around nurse sharks, knows what a parrot fish is and can hold her breath under water. All the basics.