Belize was the country where the Englishmen could learn to fly. Before there was the internet, with all its fora and dodgy travel companies, the rumour circled in gentlemen's clubs and in boys' schools. Every man dreamed of going there, but those who went never came back to report. Their friends had multiple explanations for it – they had only bought a single ticket, for who'd need a return when you can fly back yourself? – but no guess ever came close to what really happened behind the attractive shores of Belize.
Until Greg Ford, aged twenty-four, finished his MA Documentary Practice at Brunel University. In the autumn of 2009 his friend Wilfred booked a one-way ticket via flybelize.co.uk for him as a graduation present, last-minute because of the discount. Greg packed ten clean boxer shorts, a twelve pack of new black socks, his toothbrush, toothpaste, a can of Lynx Dark Temptation, his Panasonic VDR-D310 camcorder and his MacBook Pro.
Greg was planning to make a series of mini documentaries visiting places all over the world, and opened a website via Fasthosts especially for his trips. For £8,99 per month he got the domain Gregstravels.com and 5 GB web space.
“I'll keep you posted on my vlog, mate,” he said, when Wilfred brought him to Luton Airport. And that's how the mystery of Belize started to unravel.
His first vlog entry is dated Monday 28 September 2009, one day after Greg arrived in Belize.
The first shot shows the wide beach. The bright blue sea is calm and the sky above it spotless.
“Belize is the country where the Englishmen can learn to fly,” says Greg, introducing the subject. An eagle enters the screen from the left, its strong wings are spread. The camera zooms in and follows the bird.
The second shot shows a bold man in his mid-thirties, seated on a bench in front of a silver skyscraper with L-shaped windows. Large neon letters on top of the hotel spell FLYBELIZE.
“I first heard of Belize when I was sixteen,” says the man. In the left corner appears his name, Simon Gold. He's wearing a Manchester United shirt and clip on sunglasses. “My dad told me about it on my birthday. I immediately knew that one day I would go and learn to fly. And now the time has come.”
“And have you been airborne already?” asks Greg.
“I've been here for three days now,” says Simon. “The second day after I got here, I was approached by a native who offered to be my guide. He took me into the rainforest and introduced me to my teacher. We've done exercises until dusk, and today will be my second lesson.”
“Yes, in the shadows of the forest there's a different species of human beings, women only, who master the art of flight and can teach us. You pay your guide a large sum of money, I don't wish to go into details about that. But if you want to learn to fly, you need a guide, otherwise you can never find them. They hide in the shadows and they are incredibly quick. They are slim and lean, their skin is like black leather, they run like a panther, swim like a crocodile, and of course, they fly like a bat.” Simon strokes his bold head with the palm of his right hand. “No way you can find one without a guide.”
“Did you actually see them fly?” asks Greg.
“Well, I saw them jump, flip around and catch a branch way up high with their ankles. Apparently, that's how they sleep, hanging upside down. It's not exactly flying, but I don't think anyone can do it if you can't fly, if you see what I mean.”
“And have you done any of this yourself yet?”
“Nah,” says Simon, “but I'll learn that today. According to my guide, I'll be up without help within a week time.”
“Well, Simon,” says Greg, “good luck with your lesson today! I hope we'll get back to you tomorrow!”
“Hell yeah,” Simon sticks out his elbows and does the chicken dance. “I can't wait to show you my tricks!”
The next day, Greg saw a reaction from Wilfred on Gregstravels.com: “Whoaaa! Where did u find this geezer?”
“Met him over breakfast,” he typed under it, “he stays in the same hotel as me.” That day he didn't post a new piece of film.
Wednesday 30 September 2009, Greg posted an extraordinarily long video, almost eight minutes, and hardly edited. It's very different from what he'd learned at Brunel. The first shot takes about one minute. Greg has placed the camera on a stand, so that he can face it. The sun is very bright, his face is over-exposed; the mangrove forest behind him is extremely dark.
“Yesterday, Simon did not show up at breakfast,” he says. “I thought he might have a special date with his teacher, so I decided to enjoy the beach for a day. On the beach I was approached by two different guides. The first charged £250 a day, with a special discount for the first meeting. The second wanted £400, and offered no discounts. I declined both. When Simon didn't show up at breakfast this morning, I asked for him at the check-in of the hotel. He left his key Monday morning, and hasn't picked it up since.”
Most viewers wouldn't even notice, but Wilfred, who was watching the video at home, recognized the fine lines between Greg's eyebrows. He could hide his nerves for the general audience, but friends who knew him well knew this frown meant Greg was very worried.
The next shot is seven minutes. Greg is walking through the forest, holding his camcorder with one hand. The forest is very dark and the camera moves a lot. Sometimes it swings upwards and a streak of sunlight blinds all view. Birds and other wild animals are screaming constantly.
Wilfred heard his friend breathing very quickly. It reminded him of the Blair Witch Project.
After 45 seconds, Greg suddenly halts and says: “Oh no...” He zooms in on something on his left. Wilfred recognized the Manchester United shirt Simon was wearing in the first vlog entry. It's torn to bits and covered in blood. Greg doesn't bother to go nearer or pick it up. He doesn't go back either, instead he quickens his pace and struggles his way through the shrubbery between the ancient trees. Water sloshes with every step he takes. The next time Greg halts, it's because he can hear someone moaning, crying, praying. It's a soft and utterly desperate sound. The camera follows a thick slick stem, it's black and reflects the light that seeps through the foliage, as if it's covered in petrol.
Simon is hanging upside down, with his knees clasped around a high branch. There's blood dripping down from is arms, his hairy chest is covered in a gooey dark paste and his stomach seems strangely swollen.
“Simon,” Greg says. He hushes his voice, it sounds very tensed. “Simon, are you all right?”
“Oh no,” he wails, “oh no, Greg, get out of here, before they get you too.”
“Simon, listen to me, can you come down?”
“I can't move, my legs are paralysed. I'm going to die here, Greg. Get out of here.”
“What happened?” Greg drops the camera. The lens is turned upwards, the sun peaks through bright green brackens.
“I'm coming up, man.” Greg's panting. “Fuck, this tree is slippery! What is this stuff?”
Wilfred could hardly hear the rest of the conversation, because of the sound of water running near the microphone.
“She made me jump,” Simon says, “and when I didn't dare to let go, they were suddenly everywhere. In the trees, in the sky, everywhere, I'm telling you, swarming around me and buzzing like a hive. And then they tore open my chest, Greg, and put something in there. Oh Greg, I don't feel so well, I think I'm pregnant. I mean, I think they put one of their babies in me, and then they closed me up with their goo. You have to get out of here, leave me, man, I'm going to die here.”
Greg's face swings in view. It's distorted with fear and there's a black smear across his cheek.
“I'll come back to save you,” he says while fumbling with the camera. “I'll come back with equipment to get you down!”
The film is posted at 5:30 pm, at 5:31 pm Greg posted the first reply: “I'm going back to save him.”
At 6:47 pm Wilfred tried to call Greg's mobile, but he didn't pick up. A minute later he posted a reply too: “Are you sure it's safe? Wouldn't you rather come back to Britain, dude?”
Greg never answered, and he never posted a sequel. In September 2010 nobody paid for Gregstravels.com, and in October 2010 Fasthosts deleted the account.