I went to Belize for work. And yes you should be jealous.
So for those of you who don’t track my every movement, I was recently hired as a Happiness Engineer at Automattic. A what? Where? You spelled automatic wrong.
My job title is quite literal; I do my best to engineer happiness for our users at WordPress, whether it’s helping find out why their sites aren’t showing up on Google (blame Google), taking them step-by-step on how to create a menu bar, or just pointing them in the right direction of how to get a feature working for a particular theme layout. My goal is to make sure our users are happy with their sites and blogs, and I will do whatever I can to make sure that happens. Interested? We’re hiring!
As for the spelling, that’s on purpose. It’s a play on the name of our CEO, Matt Mullenweg. Get it? AutoMATTic?
It’s already pretty boss being able to work at home (oh, did I mention we’re a distributed workplace? That means we don’t check in to some main HQ building, we’ve got people all over the world! As long as we have a solid internet connection and a computer, we’re golden!) but this means we can’t see our dear coworkers in person. So what we have instead are meetups, where we can see each other and learn how to socialize again with human beings. And the meetup is the whole point of this post.
I was lucky enough to be hired in time to go on my team’s meetup to… BELIZE. Yeah, you read that right. Where is Belize? It’s to the right of Guatemala. Where’s Guatemala? It’s below Mexico! Where’s Mexico? Shame on you! You’ve obviously never played Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.
Getting to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
I flew via United Airlines (more on the return flight later) and after a layover in Houston, arrived safely in Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport.
We rented out a lodge (?) of our own, but it’s located over in the town San Pedro, Ambergris Caye (I thought it was Cave and wrote it as such in my arrival card. They never said anything.). We have two options to get to San Pedro:
1) by taxi and then boat – 90 min
2) by plane – 20 min
I opted for the plane ride via Tropic Air, which was roughly $70 one way (boat is maybe $25 one way? Not sure). Two coworkers tried out the boat. It’s advertised as scenic, but they regretted their decision and said never again. I, on the other hand, absolutely loved the tiny little plane ride. Only 14 people fit inside, and if you’re lucky you can sit in the copilot’s seat! I was not lucky.
A few of us arrived around the same time, so we were able to take a private boat directly to Sundiver Lodge. I made the mistake of sitting as far in front as possible. The jolting in my spine made me feel like I was on a galloping horse, minus the poop smell. After that I always tried to sit as close to the driver as possible.
Arriving at Sundiver Lodge
It was all worth it in the end; when we got out on the dock of our lodge, it was so heartwarming to see that our lodge was just like it was advertised. You know how you’re relieved when your Coffee Meets Bagel date is just like his/her pictures? That’s how I felt. It was just like the pictures.
Even better, they greeted us with a delicious alcoholic cocktail with the fancy shmancy tropical name… rum punch. It was delicious though, and before our week was through we actually ran out.
The rooms were spacious (I ended up in a room with two double beds; at first I was eh, but then later I was yay because I could spread all my clothes and stuff on one bed and still have a clean bed to sleep on). The bathrooms were clean, but no shampoo or conditioner, just three bars of wrapped soap. I carefully arranged my various aloe, sunscreen bottles on the counter before exiting to attend to my luggage.
Meeting people in person
It was surreal meeting people in person when you’ve talked with them online for weeks. I’ve never done any sort of online dating nor dating apps. The closest experience I have would be when I chatted with a guy I had a huge crush on in high school. We talked on AIM like nobody’s business, and finally decided to meet up one morning. We both just sat there, and I don’t think we said anything. I never looked forward to hearing the school bell more.
After that traumatizing experience, I was a bit wary of meeting my coworkers. What I learned is that I had nothing to worry about. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, hugs all around! Some people were exactly the same witty selves as they were online (jealous!) others who were a quieter presence in chat were very friendly in person. Yet others were nothing at all like I had perceived, and there were no disapppointments overall. However, this does not mean I indirectly condone meeting people online! Girls under 18, stay in school and don’t be idiots. The latter part of that applies to girls of all ages, in fact.
How we worked
I won’t bore you with what we did, because we met to get some work done. And we did! It’s just that the bar became our standing desks and the pool lounge chairs our ergonomic seats, and rather than a Starbucks we sipped a beer or cocktail. That’s all!
I gained weight on this trip (how can you not?) but I deceived myself into thinking I could avoid this by swimming every morning. The second to last morning I did a series of exercises that would make a Pinterest pinner proud. Alliteration! In short, box jumps, crunches, mountain climbers, squats, five times. I also tried yoga for one morning, but unfortunately I forgot to download the intermediate poses on my iPad Mini so I resigned myself to the beginner’s poses, which I still struggled through.
To be brutally honest, I was disappointed by the dinner food provided by the lodge. I was expecting amazing, very ethnic, can-only-eat-like-this-in-Belize dishes. On the last two days, we were served burgers and pizzas. Delicious, but a little disappointing. Sometimes the dinners were good, like when we had skewered shrimp and veggies, and chicken, but a couple times we had fish fillets that were so slathered with sauce that I couldn’t taste the fish at all. The lunches and breakfasts were by far the winners. No I take that back. The snacks took first place for delicious food. Fresh pico de gallo with fresh tortilla chips. And those pepper poppers!
We were warned about scorpions, and to shake out our shoes before putting them on each day. I actually completely forgot about their existence until our third night in. Coworker Drew had just excused himself to go to bed, when he popped his head back out of his room and called over Willy, our bartender. Turns out there was a scorpion resting on his wall.
Sometimes we’d start to space out and our eyes would drift to the delectable outside scenery as we worked in the common room. Our meetings were often punctuated by a comment about one of the many iguanas that would be sunning itself on a rooftop or slowly crawling up a tree.
There were geckos as well, and it seemed liked everyone got their own personal shower gecko except for me. I was completely devoid of any sort of cool creepy crawlies inside my room. There was a cockroach in a corner, but it was dead.
The highlight, by far, was the snorkeling trip we took. I have no idea where we went, or any of the names. We got to feel like Taylor Swift’s friends for a day riding in her yacht, as if the world were our rented oyster before being shipped back onto our dock and reminded that we were nothing but commoners.
We also rented kayaks on our second to last day and did some snorkeling on our own. Less exotic wildlife, and incredibly exhausting to paddle against the waves.
I lucked out; the people in my team are fantastic storytellers, and the experiences they had made me extremely jealous. I bet they had no problem writing their college apps. I backpacked on my own for 50 days in Europe and the most exciting thing that happened to me was when I found out my debit card didn’t work overseas. In the meanwhile, they were full of fantastic stories:
– Denise and the bull shark encounter (thank goodness she lived to tell the tale, otherwise who would’ve met us at the airport to take us to the private boat?)
– Drew and his manager who was ready and willing to go above and beyond when she heard that a VIP guest would be coming to Disneyland. “Do you want me to be Friar Tuck? If it’s someone I like I’ll be Friar Tuck!”
– Elizabeth and her Clif bar diet – She’s a pro at this, must remember to ask again what flavors she recommends.
– Joel and (was it his son?) pronouncing banana. On any other rednecked American we wouldn’t care, but he’s British, and when British people say any words it’s a big deal.
There are countless more stories, but I don’t remember them all. I just remember having an amazing time in Belize and being so thankful that I was able to join this team.
Heading back home
I got lucky on my Tropic Air flight back to the Belize international airport. I speedwalked to be first in line to board the plane, so I got to sit in the copilot’s seat! The pilot loves taking pictures, so I didn’t have to ask twice about posing in my photo.
I had my layover in Houston again, and this was the absolute worst. Apparently it’s a hub for international United flights, and I’m not sure if it’s the airport’s fault, United’s fault, maybe a combination of both, but this layover was the worst experience I’ve ever had at an airport. After I got through customs, since I had checked in my bag (liquids), I went through customs then to baggage claim to pick up my backpack and continue to my connecting flight. When I got to baggage claim, it was like entering a mosh pit except there was diversity in the types of people there. We all had two things in common, unfortunately; we all had connecting flights, and we would all probably miss them. There were only four agents working through the lines, and I would say over 500 people crammed into the baggage claim area. You know those bullies who would cut in the lunch line at school, or those assholes who would jump the line at an amusement park? Karma apparently never gave them the b*tchslap they deserved, because you could see them weaseling their way in. More vocal people would call them out, but they’d continue until they found a meek couple who were just too tired to care anymore. I ended up waiting for about 1.5, 2 hours? And by then I had missed my flight. And the next day I applied for Global Entry, where there was NO line by the way.
The United people managed to put me on the next flight at 7:05, and I ran to the gate just in time as they were announcing the flight and people were queuing up to go in. We ended up departing at 10. First, there was a delay in the flight coming in. Then, after seating us in the plane, there was a maintenance issue with a light not turning on in one of the plane doors so we had to deboard and our new boarding time became 8:45. We boarded at 8:45, and everyone cheered, but then we had to wait again. Apparently we needed a tug truck to back the plane up so it could head toward the runway. Finally we got the tug truck! Nope, can’t go yet, we need those people with light sticks to direct the plane, and none are available. The disorganization of it all was appalling and enough to keep anyone from using United ever again.
I did get home though, at 2AM, and that’s all that matters. I had an amazing time in Belize, and I am reassured that the people I have been talking to online are very real and not highly functional bots. Not only that, they’re people that I’d want to work with even if we had to physically commute and interact with each other every day. I love my team, I love my job, and I loved this Belize meetup.