In my office in Panama City, hanging on the wall opposite my desk in a place I see every time I glance up from my laptop, is a photograph of the entrance to Eva's Restaurant in San Ignacio, Belize. I came upon the photo three years ago in a café in Boquete, Panama, where I was having breakfast one morning. I looked up from my fried eggs and noticed, across the room, what looked to me to be the front door to a place I'd been frequenting for more than two decades. I got up, walked over, and confirmed that, indeed, it was Eva's.
"Is that photograph for sale?" I asked the waitress.
"In fact, it is," she replied. "All the art on the walls is for sale..."
I discovered Eva's Restaurant 28 years ago during what was not only my first trip to Belize but also my first press trip. I traveled from Baltimore, Maryland, my home at the time, to Belize City and then onward to Ambergris Caye, Placencia, and, finally, inland, to Belize's Cayo District, all courtesy of the Belize Tourist Authority. I spent three days in each region and enjoyed them all, but it was Cayo that got under my skin. Cayo, Belize, I realized, was a place for disappearing.
One afternoon I broke away from my guide and wandered through the jungle to the river, where I sat down on a giant fallen tree. I listened to the birds and the monkeys, watched the women doing their laundry on the rocks downstream from me, and wondered how long I could get away with hiding out in this glorious spot. I've thought of that afternoon often in the years since. Sitting on that log in the middle of nowhere Cayo, Belize, I felt as free as I've ever felt.
Later that day, my guide took me to San Ignacio, Cayo's biggest town, to a hole-in-the-wall bar-restaurant-café known as Eva's. Eva's was, even then, a legend among travelers in this part of the world. If you wanted to meet up with fellow expats in Belize, Eva's was the place. You'd find some sitting at the small wooden tables or hanging out around the bar, and, if you were looking for someone in particular who wasn't around when you stopped by, you could leave a note.
This was pre-Craig's List, pre-Internet. If you wanted to communicate with another human being, you had to get out a pencil and a piece of paper and write out your message. Eva's supported the effort with a giant message board. Looking for a travel companion, a roommate, a room to rent? Have a truck, a canoe, or a house to sell? Jot down the details and thumbtack the note to the cork board at Eva's.
Anyone interested in whatever you were buying, selling, or seeking did likewise. Next time you were in San Ignacio, you could stop by Eva's to see reply posts, similarly tacked to the cork board. It was a zero-tech, real-world Facebook.
Over the years to follow, I spent many pleasant and memorable afternoons and evenings at Eva's. It was the kind of place where everyone knew your name within a few minutes of your arrival and you never had to worry about drinking alone.
I don't get back to Belize's Cayo District or to Eva's Restaurant nearly as often as I'd like. When I'm up against a deadline, though, or dreaming of disappearing, just for a little while, that's where my mind wanders.
If I'm in my office in Panama City, as I am today, when the urge to disappear takes hold, I look over at my accidental photo and imagine myself walking through those swinging saloon doors, taking a seat at the bar, and ordering a cold Belikin beer.
Inside Eva's, all is always well.