“That was a great day, I am glad we did that!” announced Gerald as we sat down
for supper on the cruise boat.
What we had done was take a daylong bus tour in Belize, in the rain, and I had no
idea why he was happy about it. We had bought those cheaply made raincoats to try and
stay dry during our tour of the Mayan temple. I felt we had nearly drowned on our tour of
the botanical gardens, and he was saying that he was glad we had done that. By this time
I had known Gerald for nearly 40 years—since our days in university; I thought I knew
him and he was glad for a day of torrential down pour? The one thing we did learn is that
what constitutes rain is different depending where you are in the world. What we think of
as a rain in southern Manitoba is considered a heavy mist in other places like the
Caribbean, in particular Belize, and he was happy for the day.
We had taken a 40-passenger bus down roads intended for horse carts, with
potholes that could swallow small animals in the downpour, and my friend was glad for
I had to ask: “Why are you glad we did that?” I sat back and waited for the
answer, I had nothing but time as we waited for supper to arrive.
“Because now when people tell me about the great opportunity in Belize and how
we should be selling our farms to buy three times as much land in Belize and move down
here to make our fortunes, I can call them on it,” he replied. “I can tell them we have
been here, seen the conditions and don’t want to live here. This was a day well spent.”
We laughed and continued the conversation; suddenly the things that seemed like
hardships throughout the day were just reasons why we were not packing up and moving
to the Central American country. I don’t think we were ever seriously considering it but it
was one of those things that had crossed through our conversation on occasion. Both of
us living in southern Manitoba and having more than a passing exposure to the
Mennonite culture and religion, we were aware of the migration that had taken place over
the years. We had obtained a map of the country during the day and we got a good laugh,
seeing a significant area was marked as Mennonite Farming Area. I am not sure that it
was an official government issued map, but that is clearly what it said.
The country did have a significant Mennonite population, emigrated there from
Russia, so it was at least somewhat similar to the area we grew up in. Another large
group had come in the late 50s and early 60s for what they felt was religious freedom;
still another group had made the move for economic reasons at the turn of the century and
was still talking about the great opportunity.
I did have the chance to sell some old farm machinery we had around the yard
that would still function in this country, but while I had reduced my inventory somewhat,
I had not seen the great economic return. Most of it was sold by the pound and for about
the same amount as scrap iron.
Looking back on that one day in Belize, I know that if I had to choose an ology to
study, socio- would be miles ahead of anthro on my list. I am much more interested in the
way things are happening in the present than in the evolution of mankind—from living in
the trees to inhabiting crowded cities. That much was clear in our visit to the Mayan
ruins, a half day there and already they were falling in line with a description my friend
uses for topless dancers—seen one, you seen ‘em both.
I do acknowledge I was impressed with the structures in these Pre-Columbian
Aztec ruins. The story behind a large rectangular area was that it was once a sport field of
some type, reserved for a game where the skull of a vanquished foe was used as a ball.
Unrelated to any of the facts that our guide told us, a memory comes to mind of
being separated from Sandra and the couple we were traveling with. I had gone off on my
own to take some pictures while they went ahead to climb one of the massive structures,
waving and calling to me when they reached the top; eventually I made my way there to
join them. All of us found the journey down much more challenging than the climb. As
advanced as the Mayan culture was, it appeared they had not yet conceived the idea of
building codes or the value of a standard size step when building a massive staircase.
Walking down wet slippery rocks forming steps of uneven size—without a
handrail—proved a challenge at the least and danger at most. We got to the bottom
without incident and were done with Mayan ruins. We needed no more.
The second stop was a botanical garden and for me this was a turning point. Since
then I have made a point to visit one of these whenever I visit a city or a different region
of the world. A single visit did not turn me into a diehard botanist but it did give rise to
an interest in looking at the variety of plants produced in the region.
While Gerald and I were convinced we did not want to move to Belize because of
a lack of infrastructure and social programs, the visit made us more aware of the potential
for production agriculture in this country. Give a plant this kind of moisture—combined
with the heat of an equatorial zone—and you can grow things. The colours of the plants
were aided by the several inches of rain they received that day but Wow is all I can say
about the greenery in that botanical garden.
Though there was little relevance to the plants we can grow in our part of the
world, suffering underneath five or six months of ice, it was an eye opening experience.
Along with the opportunity to grow a jungle comes the proliferation of insects:
they do produce at a new level when they are not controlled by six months of frost.