Here in Rochester, Easter Sunday is a lovely, sunny, warm day. As Dennis and I drove to the gym a little after noon, we saw a couple of children dressed in their Easter finery and riding their apparently brand new tricycles and scooters and other children at the playground. This has been the first weekend that has really been warm enough (mid 50s) to bring people out to simply enjoy the weather.
Although we haven’t been there to see it, Easter in Monkey River Village is quite a celebration. Monkey River Village today is much smaller than it was in its heyday. Many people and families left the village after the banana industry temporarily collapsed. But over Easter, several hundred people make their way back to Monkey River Village to remember family and family history. My thoughts of Monkey River Village bring me back to our second trip to Belize.
Thinking back … In 1999 we made our second trip to Belize. We had enjoyed Singing Sands on the Placencia Peninsula so much the first time, that we decided to end our trip at Singing Sands this time to be sure that we could just chill out for a couple of days before returning to the frozen north. The first leg of the trip had us flying in to the Placencia Airstrip where Buck, from the Monkey House, picked us up in the boat alongside the runway. As dusk approached we wound our way through the mangroves toward the Monkey River. Monkey House was a little resort just to the north of Monkey River owned and run by Sam and Martha Scott. We didn’t get to meet Martha on this trip because she was in the states taking care of some business. (We did meet her on our next trip, but that is a truly cosmic story for later.) So Sam took over Martha’s role and played host to us. He did Martha proud, making sure we had a fine lobster dinner on the last day of lobster season, keeping us entertained with stories of how they had built The Monkey House, and helping us decide which outings we would enjoy the most. We settled on going to the Sapodilla Cayes for snorkeling and a picnic lunch. The snorkeling was fantastic, possibly better than it will ever be again. The Monkey House had 2 (or was it 3?) beautifully constructed beachside cabanas. The windows were fitted with gorgeous hand-polished mahogany louvers that Sam and Martha made. Inside the cabanas, Sam had set off the floors using braided rope instead of quarter round where the floor meets the wall. There were many other creative touches in the cabanas and dining room of The Monkey House; we could tell that Sam took great pride in what he and Martha had built. We left The Monkey House knowing that we had a new friend in Sam, regretting that we had missed Martha, and planning to stay there again on our next trip. I took a fateful, life-changing, photo of Sam waving to us from The Monkey House dock as Buck boated us down to Punta Gorda and our next leg of our trip. (The story of the fateful photo will be the topic of next week’s blog.)
In Punta Gorda, we were met by Agrapeta from Fallen Stones Resort and Butterfly Ranch (http://www.worldaware.org.uk/awards/awards1995/fallen.html) near San Pedro Columbia in the mountains next to the Lubantum ruins. We bounced along a very rough road into the mountains, past Lubantun, and further up the mountain toward Fallen Stones. Ray Harberd, the owner, showed us to our hillside chalet. Along the way he pointed out the dining room where our dinner would be served later that evening. Fallen Stones is in the heart of the jungle and the chalets are position so that each one looks into the tree tops of unspoiled jungle. The sounds of the birds came from all directions. It was amazing. Dinner that night was served with linen tablecloth and napkins, silver flatware, and fine china by young Maya women. I can’t remember the details of the dinner, only that it started with a soup course and everything was delicious.
The next day we had a tour, led by Ray, of the butterfly rearing enterprise. It was most impressive to see, but even more impressive to listen to what had been accomplished. Each species of butterfly requires specific plants to feed on as adults and different specific plants as caterpillars. By trial and error, he and his Mayan crew had figured that out for a number of the indigenous butterflies. The mainstay and money maker of the business is to raise blue morpho butterflies to the chrysalis stage and then ship them, mostly to the UK, where they will emerge as the stunningly gorgeous adult for garden shows, weddings, etc. We also had a tour of the Lubantun ruins. These ruins have been partially restored, but parts will never be able to be restored because the original archeologists blew them up in their haste to find the "secrets" of the interiors of the Mayan pyramids. The secret is that there is no secret! The neat thing about these ruins is how many of the stones were dressed (carved) to make them fit with great precision. Lubantun is the only example of this in Belize.
Before we came to Belize, we had arranged a 3 mile jungle hike with Agrapeta as our guide. He was fantastic; we saw hummingbird nests, learned which vines held water that could be drunk if you ran out of water in your bottle or canteen and which vines were better not to even touch, and saw more birds than I can remember. The highlight of the hike was to come to “the Eye of God” where the Columbia River roils out of the ground, spilling into a pool out of which the river poured. We had our picnic lunch next to the pool and I took a quick dip before we continued our hike. Downstream from the Eye of God, the river has carved out a small gorge. We looked over into the gorge to see Agrapeta’s son balancing in the family’s dugout floating on water that was a mystical milky-translucent turquoise color. I have never seen anything quite so beautiful. I have pictures from that day showing the color of the water and the incredible beauty of the surrounding jungle. These were taken with film in my pre-digital days, so I will scan them in and add them as a slide show sometime next week. From there we went by dugout to the bridge over the Columbia River at San Pedro. As we neared San Pedro we saw little garden patches of maize and other crops along the shore and women washing themselves, their hair, and clothes while standing waist-deep in the gently flowing water. I put my camera away at this point so as not to intrude further into their privacy. We got out at the bridge and drove back to Fallen Stones. But first we watched as Agrapeta and his son carefully put the dugout away inverted on a wooden rack under a shelter of palm leaves. This dugout has been used by at least 4 generations of Agrapeta’s family; with the care they give it, it should last for several more generations!
Agrapeta drove us to the Punta Gorda airstrip and we flew to the Placencia airstrip again for the last leg of our trip. We were met at the airstrip by Singing Sands staff. The place had changed hands since our last visit, but it was just as lovely and relaxing as it had been. Once more we were able to stay in a beach front cabana. We did a little ocean kayaking and also kayaked in the lagoon. Singing Sands is located near the village of Maya Beach at a very narrow part of the Placencia Peninsula. Singing Sands also owns the property across the road that is on the lagoon. If you are brave (or foolish?) enough to face the mosquitoes in the brush, you can claim a lagoon kayak trip as your reward. It is very peaceful on the lagoon with lots of opportunity to hear and see birds that aren’t on the ocean side.
When we left Belize after several days at Singing Sands, we didn’t know that we would not be back to Belize for four and half years. Check in to next week’s blog to see what happens when we return to Belize after visiting a number of other Caribbean countries.