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Escape from the daily grind:

Puma, Belize Zoo.

'Panama', Harpy Eagle, Belize Zoo.

Keel Billed Toucan, Belize Zoo.

Salt Water Crocodile, San Pedro.

Great Curassow, Belize Zoo.

Posted: 01/24/09   Today marks the twenty-first month of my residence in Belize! I've only scratched the surface of what's on offer, here, and have decided to share with you all, over the next few posts, some of the sights that await you, should you decide to come here and visit us. I strongly urge you to do so!    

First of all, there's the Belize Zoo: 'The Greatest Little Zoo in the World!' This truly amazing place is run by Sharon Matola, an ex-lion tamer from Boston, MA, in the United States. She came here a little over twenty years ago to shoot a documentary featuring Belize's wildlife. When the filming was over, the question of what to do with the rescued animals remained. Sharon decided to set up the zoo. She keeps it going by sheer strength of will! The British Army, who sends its people to train in the jungles of Belize, helps with food and enclosures for the animals. All of the animals on view are indigenous to Belize, including the national animal, the Tapir. Most of them are endangered! Oh, by the way, you won't find any concrete, there. The pens are fenced off areas of rain forest.

Sharon receives no help whatsoever from the Belize Government - a fact I find truly extraordinary, given its value to the community. Visitors are encouraged to make a donation when they leave. The entrance fee is only US$8.00 per person. She also offers a close-up experience with 'Junior', the fourteen month old Jaguar. He's a great favorite with everyone who visits. He even rolls over to the command, 'Alley-Oop'! Providing, of course, you have a piece of chicken in your hand. Paying an extra US$50.00, for up to three people, will place you in a cage inside Junior's enclosure. Be prepared to see those huge fangs just a foot away from you, count the hairs on his feet, and feel his soft tongue licking the back of your hand! It's a once in a lifetime experience and well worth the additional expense.

Panama, the Harpy Eagle, got married, last November, to an out of town girl. As his name implies, he was donated by the Panamanian Government and transported to Belize by the Belizean Defence Force - a paramilitary police unit assigned to protect Belize's borders with Guatemala and Mexico. There are no eggs, yet, but Sharon is hopeful there soon will be. The two birds are still getting to know each other. I'll be compiling a souvenir book for the zoo, this year, incorporating all of the zoo's exhibit descriptions, which are written as short poems. Many visitors have asked for such a keepsake.    

Next up are the various Mayan ruins. It's been estimated that there is one for every Belizean house around today! I'm not sure if that's true, but there are several locations that rival Palengue and Chichen Itza in Mexico, and Tikal in Guatemala.

Altun Ha is forty minutes drive from Belize City. Previously thought of as nothing more than a trading center, a substantial find of Jade promoted it to an important city in its own right. It contains two plazas. The oldest has four temple buildings. Only two have been excavated. The newest plaza contains a well restored "Temple of the Sun God" and royal apartments, complete with baths. A twenty minute walk through the rain forest will take you to a large, man-made, reservoir.

Xunantunich, Cayo District, is reached by the Western Highway and a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River. This is a well presented site, with a large 'Castillo'. It has, on its eastern and western sides, substantial remains of the hieroglyphs that once encircled it. A small museum contains copies of stellae that were found there. In all, there are three plazas and some dozen buildings. It also possesses a well presented Ball Court.

Cahal Peche, in San Ignacio, is a unique example of a Royal Residence, unlike the other sites, which were small cities, inhabited by a Royal Family, Priests, an Elite class, Artisans and Merchants. It is VERY well preserved and well worth a visit. It is also worth enlisting the services of a guide, who will point out many of the medicinal plants and trees the Maya used in their everyday lives. There is a large museum, containing many of the finds unearthed at the site.

Lamanai, in Orange Walk, can be reached either by a twenty-five mile drive along a rough road (a 4WD vehicle is mandatory), or by river. The river trip lasts almost an hour, each way, and takes the visitor dalong the New River, through virgin rain forest. There is an opportunity to see a wide range of wild life, from crocodiles to birds. The site includes three well excavated buidlings: The 'Mask Temple' contains a large, carved head with Olmec features. In front of the 'High Temple', a tall, classic Mayan buidling with over one hundred steps and dedicated to the Sun God, K'inich Ajaw, is an excellent example of a Ball Court. The last of the three buildings is the 'Jaguar Temple'. This has several well defined Jaguar masks incorporated into the overall design. There are no plans to excavate any more buildings, since the site has now been declared a wild life reserve. Guides can be hired to take visitors off the tourist paths to view a few of the underground storage pits the inhabitants used to maintain supplies of water and grain. Because of these precautions, Lamanai was probably the last city in Belize to be abandoned, around 1600 AD.

I'll be writing about more attractions, including boat rides, cave tubing and a day trip to San Pedro next time.

   

Last up, for this post, Julia (the owner of the Red Hut Inn) and myself are working out the details for offering a 'Writers Break' Vacation, lasting about a week. I'm compiling a class based on many of the lessons and techniques I learned at UCLA and have developed from my own writing. However, you'll also have the opportunity to visit several local attractions which will then form the basis of writing exercises and essays - perhaps, even, the Next Great American Novel. We are happy to cater for those participants who require intineraries tailored to their own interests. Dietary requirements, if any, should be specified and can be catered for. Virtually all of the attractions are accessible to people with average fitness and mobility.

Prices have not been set, yet, but will include all materials, travel to and from attractions (including entrance fees), meals and packed lunches. Because of the volatility of air ticket pricing, these days, you will need to make your own flight arrangements to Belize. There are great bargains to be found. Delta, Continental, American and Taca are the principle carriers from the U.S.. Direct flights from Europe to Cancun, Mexico, are a good deal. You can reach Belize from Cancun by a regular, reasonably priced, bus service. Alternatively, we can pick you up in Cancun and transport you to Belize.

Contact Julia at The Red Hut Inn if the 'Writers Break' Vacation appeals to you. Class sizes will be limited to four or five individuals. One on one tuition will be available, if prefered, with post vacation follow up by email.

Hollywood has just had a Billion Dollar month! So, do not talk yourself out of trying to write and publish that first story or film script by thinking no one will buy it. Books and movies which provide an uplifting message - even a humerous one - are seldom so important as when society is facing difficult times.

My specialty is editing and story and character development. So, why not dust off that manuscript or film script and bring it with you to Belize? We'll work on it, together, on the sun deck.

 


Temple of the Sun, Altun Ha, Belize

Posted: 11/24/08   Belize has won my heart! I've been here for almost eighteen months, now, and am applying for residency. The country is an ex-colony of Britain, formerly known as British Honduras. For the past twenty-seven years, it's been independent, though there was no 1776 - the British having left peaceably once anything that wasn't nailed down had been removed and shipped out of the country. There are the usual problems with an ex-dependency: political corruption, unreliable and exorbitantly expensive power supplies (courtesy of global corporatism), a monopolistic and anti-competitive telephone and cable company (courtesy of the Treasurer of the British Conservative Party) and washed out roads. But there is also tremendous humanity, friendliness and compassion, a willingness to get involved and help out when Mother Nature throws one of her temper tantrums. Hurricanes and weeks of heavy rain wreak havoc on the infrastructure, washing away bridges and roads. Within hours, the gravel trucks are out filling up the pot holes, while aid from Venezuela, Taiwan and the U.S. provides much needed funds for repairing the bridges and restoring flooded houses to habitable condition. The U.S. is also providing a new bridge across the Macal River in San Ignacio (Cayo District) because the existing one is so low that the river overtops it three or four times a year. Yes, it's truly a third world country, but the food is to die for - natural, pesticide, steroid and growth hormone free. It's so natural, in fact, that it spoils in a few days (no preservatives or radiation therapy). And don't get me started on archeology! Maya ruins dot the landscape in numbers that rival the modern day houses of the small population.    

I've been living at the Red Hut Inn in Bella Vista, just outside Belize City. The owners, Julia and Lewis, have become like family these past months. Guests rave about it! Sharing one room with my golden retriever, Benji, albeit with air conditioning, cable TV and Internet, a fridge, microwave and computer, has been a transition I would not have contemplated in my early life. We are conditioned to aspire to large, rambling homes which we are taught demonstrate how successful and productive we are. Belize will either change your viewpoint or drive you nuts! Living here in the Belizean style is relatively cheap - Bananas being seven for 50 cents (U.S.) - but living as a westerner, be it British or American is crazy expensive. The downgrade process is the hardest part.    

Writing is now my life, my employment, but there have been other opportunities, too. A chance encounter with a guest at the hotel has propelled me into the organic farming business. I shall be project managing (my former career for more than twenty years) around four hundred acres forty miles north of Belize City near a small village called Carmelita. The crop will be Sour Sap, Cashew, Noni, Plantain and Peppers. Four holding tanks will be constructed to grow and harvest Tilapia. In time, we will process the produce. Much will go for export to the Far East, where exotic fruit commands a premium.

Over the next year, Julia and I will start planning a celebration marking the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which falls on December 21st, 2012. We have permission to rent an archeological site, have made contact with descendents of the Maya, who still live in Southern Belize, and are planning on covering the event for T.V. broadcast. We plan on catering for several thousand visitors to share the celebration with us. This is, for everyone alive today, a genuine, once in a lifetime happening. We are not foretelling the end of the world; but this is the end of the 'Fourth World', for both the Mayans and the Hopi Indians, who share so much in their cultural history and future predictions. I will publish more about that soon. In the meantime: farewell and take care.

 

Trisha Johns's news page

Posted: 5/17/07   Having spent the past five or so years in America, I decided to visit the country of my birth (England) for a while. Travel is a wonderful pastime and I have been blessed with the freedom to indulge my love of it! My friends Joan and Peter, with whom I am presently staying, have always viewed my footloose lifestyle with, what I can best describe as, concerned indulgence. Indeed, Peter is often heard to remark, “Essentially, you’re homeless,” accompanied by a broad grin. I suppose it’s true. I have never felt the need to stay in one place. In fact, my most enjoyable experiences have always come as a result of launching myself into the unknown in the confident – and so far not misguided – belief that the ‘universe’ will catch me. It has meant leaving my young Golden Retriever, Benji, behind in California, but we will be together soon enough.    

So, what of the future? Belize, I think – at least for a few months. My friend John will be bringing Benji and my Jeep from Northern California to Cancun, Mexico, where we’ll join up and drive together to Belize. Piece and quiet in the sun, visiting and making a documentary about the Mayan ruins there, and in neighboring Guatemala and Mexico. What could be better than that? Writing my next book, perhaps?

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