Spring in Belize
A princess arrives
Maya Ranch - The Janus Foundation
Late last week, my "landlady," Jana, and I took the bus to Georgeville, a village and crossroads about 10 miles out of town, where we were picked up and taken up to the Janus Foundation's Maya Ranch. The Janus Foundation is a German/Swiss NGO (non-government organization), which has as its major project this establishment in Belize. You can read all the official material at http://www.janusfoundation.org and I will just tell you what I saw and learned. Actually if you go to the web site, you will undoubtedly learn more than I, because everything was explained in German-accented English and Internet access is so expensive here that I can't spend much time roaming the site myself. So, my impressions.
First we had to bounce and jar up into the hills for 15-20 minutes over one of those wonderful washboard roads. But this one was even worse than on the way to Placencia because it is a road that apparently was built by scraping off the topsoil and crunching down a few of the larger boulders. Quite a few years ago.
Maya Ranch is tucked into the foothills of the Mountain Pine Ridge with a wonderful view across a small valley. Although the entire property comprises several hundred acres, we only visited the main establishment with offices, dining hall and sleeping cabanas, bakery, yard animals and the kitchen garden and research nursery. Much of their property is pastureland and rainforest. There are maybe 35 employees of the foundation, a few volunteers and another 30 - 40 locally hired day workers at the site. My impression is that their major objectives are preservation of the rainforest, reforestation issues and fire suppression and recovery. The ranch is close to self-sufficient with their own cattle (both meat and dairy, I assume) and chickens, vegetables and fruit, a well with wonderful artesian water, an airstrip, solar-generators, etc.
It was a humbling experience. Everyone we met was incredibly good-natured, knowledgeable, proud of what they're doing and anxious to share their vision and accomplishments. And they didn't ask us for money or hit us up for lists of friends or anything. As a matter of fact, we consumed several of the best lattes I've ever had (although they *did* say it was a cappuccino, but they to do that lots of places) and wonderful fresh-baked croissants and they wouldn't take any payment at all, not even a contribution. This is possibly because Jana is helping with their website translations, but I don't really think so. I think they're just generous, great people.
Anita, the head botanist, took us on a tour of the gardens. Here's just one example of what they're doing. They are producing starts of a plant called a physic nut and helping the local farmers to establish this as a cottage industry. The nuts of this small tree can be pressed (as opposed to more complicated processing), into an oil, which is used as diesel and machine oil. The trees mature and produce in 3 years, are drought- and disease-resistant AND the leaves are made into a sun tea, which has major "cooling" properties. I.e., you drink it when overheated and overwrought. From the botanist we didn't learn about plans for marketing and distribution, but I assume these are also being developed. But I'll find out more the next time we go.
While we were having coffee, we learned all about the various "pets" -- some domesticated and some wild animals that have been found in the forest and live on the grounds. Besides the usual chickens and chicks and dogs and cats, there was a pair of beautiful chicken-like birds called curacaos, named Bonnie and Clyde. These I got to know very well, because as it turned out they hadn't been fed yet that morning and I was sitting where the food often is put. So if I left my roll on the plate, or held it a little carelessly, they did their Bonnie and Clyde number. Clyde would distract me with flirty, charming noises and a nice, bobbing up and down dance while Bonnie took the goodies and ran. This was a clever division of labor, too, because Clyde has a crippled leg, but Bonnie can run like a bandit. As it were.
There also was a young (3-point) buck and a fawn, named Lisa after the child of the Mayan man who found her abandoned in the forest. They were in pens, but it probably didn't matter. They also have an injured margay (one of the six major species of wild cat native to Belize) that we didn't meet. Not only are margays nocturnal, but after a few nights the staff discovered that they were missing several chicks each morning, even though they thought the margay was well-fed and not capable of hunting, so decided it had to live in a pen as well. They also had a grand, huge snake cage with bushes and vines, etc., but the boa constrictor they had went into a funk and wouldn't eat, so they turned it loose after it got better.
Our chauffeur was Norman, the chef/butcher/webmaster. Jana and I helped him with some website problems and we talked about html editors and learning how to slaughter a cow. After a nice morning, we bought some bread, rolls and brownies from the baker (who also supplements their income by baking for several of the hotels in Belize City) and caught a ride back into San Ignacio.
Seeing this kind of operation inspires me to get more involved, but then I think about how multi-talented these people are and I don't think I could cut it. I mean, I *might* be able to manage to feed 60 people a day AND develop and maintain a web site, but I draw the line at wholesale animal slaughter. I'm such a wimp, I don't even like cutting up a whole chicken that's already dead and cleaned.
So, I'm going off to Corozal to be a tourist for a few days.
I'll tell you about it next week.