Spring in Belize
A princess arrives
Driving conditions, bananas, chicken-on-a-leash
Thank you all for your marvelous responses to my request for mail. I especially like the local political gossip and am just a *little* homesick at the descriptions of how beautiful the flowers are in Oregon this spring. Oh, well, I'll be home before I know it. Sorry I haven't written this week, I seem to be in a tropical depression. Don't know why, but it's getting better.
I promised some information about Placencia, but there isn't really much to say. It's a funny little, fish- and tourism-oriented village whose major claim to fame is that there are no streets through the town, just a meandering sidewalk obviously built on top of a meandering path. It's on a long peninsula and looks like a nice place for a family vacation, with little restaurants and gift shops and hotels and hostels. You can buy ice cream there and get a massage, go fishing and snorkeling. As I said, tourism-oriented. Good place for a family vacation. Getting there is an adventure, though.
The southern part of Belize is the poorest and the least-politically-powerful, therefore the most neglected when it comes to public works projects. The Hummingbird Highway (which is how you get to Dangriga to launch for the rest of the south) was just paved last year and the Southern Highway from Dangriga south to Placencia and Punta Gorda is paved for only about 15 miles, although there is evidence of continued construction. (there is also a Western Highway and a Northern Highway -- both paved -- and a Coastal Highway to Dangriga -- no plans to pave). The unpaved road is really dreadful, as bad as anything I've been on in Alaska or South Dakota after the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle makes washboard ruts. Only a four-wheel drive is really trustworthy.
Driving in Belize is an adventure even on the paved roads. The bridges are almost all one lane and just barely wider than a bus or citrus truck. People tootle their horns constantly -- when passing the house or business of someone you know, when coming up on pedestrians or bicyclists or horse-back riders along the road, when passing another vehicle, when meeting someone you might know, especially a bus, because there's almost certainly someone on the bus you know. On either side of a school or a village crossroads or a particularly dangerous bridge, there are "sleeping policemen," BIG barrier bumps in the road that require you to slow all the way down and shift into low gear. This slows the busses and trucks down even more of course, so this is also a great opportunity to pass. There don't seem to be very many accidents, but I don't know why. And of course, no seat belt or helmet laws and men and dogs riding in the back of pick-ups barreling down the road at 75 miles an hour. Scary.
And of course, you remember that the air transport is pretty much 8-12 passenger props and the airstrips have few amenities, in some cases not even a shelter of any kind, so if it rains (which it does a lot), there you stand waiting for your plane in the rain. It's a warm rain, though.
Anyway, Victor and Laura and I drove down to Placencia in his station wagon, which is apparently a very tough vehicle, but when we got to the road into Placencia, Victor decided the road was too rough even for it. So he turned around and took us on a short cut through a banana plantation. This road wasn't paved either of course, but it was somewhat smoother and it was interesting to see the rows and rows of banana trees and the elaborate pulley system set up to get the banana bunches to the packing plant (and I use the term loosely). But they don't want anyone hot-rodding through the plantation either, so instead of sleeping policemen, they dig trenches every 200 yards or so. These are not shallow little ditches. They are straight-sided rectangular holes 6-8 inches wide and 10-12 inches deep. They do indeed slow you down. Which gives you time to see the conditions that the workers live in. Most of them are from El Salvador or some other *really* poor country. It seems like prison. They live in barracks; very few families are here, usually just the men. Nothing to do except work and play soccer, maybe buy a beer at the company store and sit around and watch the dumb tourists drive by. Maybe they're saving up money to make a better life, but I doubt it. I think they're just barely staying alive. So think about that a little when you eat your next banana.
Well, now. To end this on a slightly lighter note. Another thing we saw driving to Placencia was a woman walking a chicken. She had a leash around one of its legs. She would walk a few steps and the chicken would squawk and fly as far as the end of the leash and then plop back onto the ground and lie there and then she would go look at it and then walk a few more steps and so on. Neither the woman or the chicken seemed to be enjoying the walk very much. (Actually, I suspect this chicken was guilty of laying its eggs in the neighbor's chicken coop and she was bringing it home. But why the leash? Why not just carry it?) Victor said I should be sure to tell you that we saw this at exactly 11:24 am so you would know that it was true.
Next, the Janus Foundation.