Belmopan, Belize - Martin Krediet wears sunglasses, a battered white trilby, shorts and a loose shirt that hints at a highly toned physique. His hair is long and artfully rumpled in a “just finished paddle-boarding, dude” sort of way. He is super-tanned. Beyond laid back. He is also, it's fair to say, not a typical hotel general manager.
Then again, after a long, bumpy ride from the jungle-lush interior of Belize to the country's sun-blanched coast, the last person you want to meet is a chap in a stiff suit with a name badge pinned to his lapel. (“Welcome, sir, welcome. Have you received your delegate's lanyard? Jeremy will show you our subterranean conference facilities.”)
Frigatebirds are soaring overhead, for goodness sake. There's the scent of the ocean in your nostrils and palm trees galore. Just at this point in your life what you need more than anything else is for Martin Krediet to wander over, shake you warmly by one hand, thrust a pink drink into the other one, and then lead you to your blue-and-white striped hammock, with its view of the Caribbean Sea. Take the rest of the day off, Martin. Your work here is done.
Don't be fooled. Behind all his barefoot beach-chic aplomb, Martin runs a slick operation. Turtle Inn is part of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's stable of luxury resorts. (He has a forest lodge called Blancaneaux 80km inland, and a third, La Lancha, near the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.) Around here, a lot of effort goes into making everything seem, well, effortless.
You'll have been lured here by the diving, no doubt. After all, the coast runs parallel with a barrier reef second only to that of Australia. The blue, blue sea is pricked by green sprouts of coral cays, and below the surface swim huge rays, parrot fish and lugubrious loggerhead turtles. (It's not called Turtle Inn for nothing.) Happily, the resort has a dive shop and its own dive boat, Miss Ellie, available for your scuba-based pleasure.
Or perhaps you prefer the fresh seafood. An excellent choice, if I may say so. From your vantage point standing on the beach - a position you will adopt a lot of the time - the centre of the resort basically goes: beach bar, pool, Italian restaurant. (Coppola is reputed to require decent pizza and pasta wherever he goes.) If you prefer your lobster spatchcocked and flame-blackened, then there's the Gauguin Grill, a beach-side barbecue indicated by a skew-whiff sign plonked on the beach. Or cross the road to Auntie Luba's Kitchen, a shack where you can dine out on such local fare as rice and beans and coconut shrimp, while the sun sets over the lagoon.
Yes, there's a lagoon, too. Turtle Bay is close to the tip of a sandy peninsula that begins about 90km south of Belize City and trickles southwards for about 20km. To the west are brackish inland waters where manatees lurk. A tiny airstrip lies just to the north of the resort, while Placencia village is at the end of the road, a five-minute cycle away. It's a neat little collection of houses, with a dusty football pitch, a few souvenir shops and the lively Barefoot Bar.
Further south lies Monkey River. A boat trip here does what it says on the tin: sightings of howler monkeys are almost guaranteed, along with a huge array of birds. This is the Belize of the brochures: captivating, colourful, cool.
Coppola bought Turtle Inn in 2001, just before Hurricane Iris arrived to rip the Belizian coastline to shreds. A two-year reclamation project saw the construction of 25 Balinese-style one- and two-bedroom thatched villas, all strung along a narrow strip of beach. Inside, there's a deep, chocolatey richness to the floorboards, plenty of intricately carved wood panels, and comfortable, casual soft-furnishings. Ceiling fans creak overhead; candles are lit for you as night falls, as if using electricity were a teeny bit gauche. Over in the corner, an iPod dock loiters almost apologetically. There's no TV, but the view is better than Oprah.
Walled gardens offer privacy to buildings that often do without conventional screening; nothing more than mosquito netting shields the open-plan sitting rooms from the great outdoors. The bedrooms, meanwhile, are filled with colourful fabrics and restful, rustic art. If you leave the door open, you'll be woken by the sun fizzing out of the ocean like a thermonuclear tangerine.
Does real life ever intrude at Turtle Inn? Well, I could never get my room key to work, but stuff like that really doesn't seem to matter round here. And I'm sure Martin would have sorted it out if I'd asked. Effortlessly.
Turtle Inn, Placencia, Belize (00 501 523 3244; coppolaresorts.com)
Garden-view cottages (sleeping two) from $299 (about R2 600) per night including breakfast. - The Independent