Spring in Belize
A princess arrives
Sugar cane and Cerros
I had a few interesting experiences in Corozal, where I spent a four-day weekend.
Corozal is the northernmost city in the northernmost district of Belize -- Orange Walk. This is sugar cane country and most of the jungle has been cleared. Along the highway are fields and fields of cane, with very few trees to break things up. And as you might expect, there is a lot of conflict between the cane farmers, sugar refiners and exporters and the people who are more environmentally-oriented and interested in "restoring" the jungle, including the descendants of the original Mayan settlers.
Sugar cane is harvested and processed from January through June here so it looks particularly bleak now with most of the fields down and burned for pest and disease control, much as rice and grass-seed fields are burned in Oregon and California. You pass truck after truck piled high with cane on its way to the refinery. Some are tidy bundles of cane and some are stalks shoved into carts (like old-fashioned hay ricks) willy-nilly with cane spilling out over the truck cab, bristling up into the air and dragging on the ground. The roadsides are littered with crushed canes. And the air around the refinery smells of slightly scorched pudding. The cane, whether in the field or on the truck, looks very little like those lush, green C&H commercials. More like scruffy, brown bamboo poles.
After the cane is refined into sugar, it is barged down the New River into Corozal Bay and eventually exported through the port at Chetumal (just across the Mexican border), I think. On one of my tourist trips I went a ways up this river with Stefan, a French botanist. Stefan showed us another negative impact of the sugar industry -- the smashing and ripping out of the mangrove along the edges of the river where the sugar barge trains, which make the journey with only one tug, swing wide and scrape into the outer curves of the river. The damage of course has complicated impacts, but he explained it like this. With no trees right over the water, the bromeliads don't grow and collect rain in their flowers; so no mosquitoes breed; so no dragonflies come around to catch mosquitoes; no frogs come to catch dragon flies; no iguanas (maybe) to catch frogs; SO nothing for the crocodiles to eat. Probably this sad story would be more persuasive if just ONE of the animals in the chain was cute and fuzzy, but it's a jungle out there.
Stefan acknowledged that hauling all that sugar by truck also would have major environmental impacts, so it's not easy to know what would be best. Speaking of dragonflies, Stefan also told us about a man he guided who had a small transmitter as mosquito repellant. It put out a frequency said to match dragon fly wings and was, indeed, successful at keep the mosquitoes away from the man, he said, but it also attracted so many dragon flies that it was difficult for the group to move around.
We just put up with the mosquitoes and my controlled-release Sawyer's did an excellent job (advice for Joan and Gordon). The Mayan site we visited is now called Cerros and is a grand example of a late pre-classic site, that is, a community built (and apparently abandoned) right as the Mayan culture was developing a priest class and a ruling class (as opposed to a council of elders) between 100 BC and 200 AD. Since the site was not built over by the Maya at all (as most of the major trade sites were), and has only been excavated, not restored, you know that every rock you see was likely placed there 2000 years ago. It's awe-inspiring. Of course, we all know about Mayan astronomical competence, but it's entirely different to actually see doorways in 2000 year-old individual homes that are lined up to greet the rising sun exactly at the summer solstice. This is the pre-classic part. After the priests got going, the doorways are generally lined up to the north, to greet the priest *pretending* to be the rising sun coming out of the temple. It's still awe-inspiring.
Upon re-reading this, I see I haven't made Corozal sound very attractive but it really is one of my favorite places in Belize. So I'll tell you a bit more next time. (I begin to feel like the children's stories -- "If Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy doesn't lose her knitting, tomorrow I'll tell you how Tommy Hedgehog found a biiiig apple tree and saved Susy Squirrel's birthday." What books *were* those? Anyone?)
p.s. (added later) Well, of course, they're Uncle Wiggly books.
I'm *sure* I would have remembered sooner at home.