A Bit of Babble About Belize
08.02.2015 - 07.04.2015 87 °F
Sun and Shade- its a good name for a Belizean boat.
Belize has always been a bit of a fascination for me. It is so unique for a Central American country. It's the the smallest country- similar in size to Israel or the state of Massachusetts in the U.S- and has the lowest population density. Last recorded to be 340,800 in population, it now has the most rapidly increasing population rate in Central America. Tucked between Mexico (northern land and water borders), Guatemala (west and south borders) and the Caribbean Sea (east) where there are many cayes (islands), it is the only Central American country without a Pacific coastline. The reef that follows its eastern coastline is the second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Yep, Belize is a bit of an odd duck all around due in no small part to a prolonged colonization by the British who called it British Honduras- not to be confused with the nearby country Honduras. So, it is no surprise that it is the only country in Central America that does not have Spanish as its official language. The official language remains English though Spanish is more common in many areas.
Another major language is Kriol (or Creole) which you'll find spoken throughout the country, but especially along the coast and on the cayes (pronounced 'keys"). An estimated 75% of the population speak Kriol though only 21% of the population is identified as Kriol. Kriols are descendants of the Baymen slave owners (former pirates) and slaves, but it is now more a cultural designation than racial. Kriols in Belize City tell me that the Belizean Kriol is very similar to the one spoken in Jamaica. One theory is that it might have originated there and come to Belize via slaves that stayed briefly in Jamaica. There are many other ethnic groups and all have their own first languages such as Kek'ch, Yucatec and Mopan Mayan languages, Garifuna, Plautdietsch and Hindi.
This advertisement painted on a wall uses three languages to get the point across.
The Mayans tend to be clustered along the borders of Guatemala and in the northern regions near Mexico. Many of them came to Belize in the 1840's as a result of the Caste Wars in the Yucatan; others came from Guatemala-- as well as Honduras and El Salvador-- in the 80's due to continuing conflicts there. The Garinagu (speakers of Garifuna) are descendants of Arawak Indians and African slaves who were exiled from Roatan Island in Honduras and settled along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Plautdietsch is spoken by the Mennonites (though more recent immigrants hail from Russia and speak a more traditional German) who were welcomed by the Belizean government when they left Canada and the US to avoid religious conflicts. Mennonites live primarily in closed farming communities and similar to the more well-known Amish, generally don't use modern conveniences.
Those that speak Hindi are often descendants of Indians that were brought here as indentured servants. Some were taken from prisons or abducted while others were tricked into thinking they paying for passage to another country where they could start a new and better life-- unfortunately, most were treated no better than slaves. In more recent times, Chinese and Korean merchants have shown up in even in the most isolated areas to open stores. Currently, the largest growing population is probably the American and Canadian ex-pats attracted to lower prices and warm, sunny weather.
Another unique character of Belize is that it is the only country to be a full member of the Caribbean Community, Community of Latin America and Caribbean States and the Central American Integration System.
The Swing Bridge- Locals in Belize City pitch in to crank the only functioning, manually-operated swing bridge in the world. You used to be able to tell the time by the 'swings' which were done each morning and evening like clockwork to let the fishing and sail boats go through.When the swinging was in progress, time and people stood still until they could cross again. Now, it opens by request only, so one needs to hurry "befo de bridge ketch me".
Belize has many quirky characters and characteristics. Coming up soon is Baron Bliss Day usually celebrated on March 9th. Baron Bliss was a wealthy British man with a Portuguese title who willed the country almost two million dollars when he died. The last months of his life were spent on his luxury fishing yacht anchored in Belize City's bay though he never actually set foot on land. It's a national public holiday and celebrated with regattas up and down the coast.
The country's motto is "You'd Better Belize It". In the south, you can take the Hokey-Pokey ferry or in the north, the Thunderbolt ferry. I once ate a place called Rasta Pasta (with the best fresh ginger ale ever!). Caye Caulker is known for it's "Go Slow" signs-- funnier if you know there are no cars on the island and the three 'streets' are of sand so you don't even need shoes. Placencia is on record for having the most narrow main street in the world-- no vehicles on that street either; not even bicycles are allowed on this street which is actually a long, skinny boardwalk over the sand.
The view when you get off the ferry in Caye Caulker has changed, but the streets remain the same- sandy and clear of vehicles.
One of the reasons I have come to Belize so often, is that it is such a convenient location for adventure. You can land in Belize City and after about a two-hour bus ride be in Guatemala or Mexico. Two very close and interesting sites in Guatemala are the Mayan ruins of Tikal surrounded by jungle and Livingstone, a town with a large Garinagu population which can be reached only by water (sea or river). From Livingston in the Bay of Honduras, you can take a boat on the Rio Dulce to Lago Izabal (River Dulce to Izabal Lake). Or back in Dangriga, Belize-- catch a boat and be in Honduras two hours later.
This tiny boat gets loaded with people and cargo wanting to go from Punta Gorda, Belize to Livingston, Guatemala.
If you stay in Belize, you can snorkel among sharks and manta rays, go caving (including the famous ATM living museum), inner tube through underground rivers, do a home-stay with a Mennonite family, hike the jungle trails or visit one of the most unusual zoos I have ever seen (it has its own unique story).
The big dark nurse sharks look scary when there are a few dozen swimming in figure-8's around you, but they are vegetarians. Similarly, the big manta rays are so used to snorkelers, they will actually softly brush against you as they swim past. An amazing experience!
Belize also has as a colorful history full of pirates and buccaneers (AKA Baymen). Glover's Atoll (or reef) is named after John Glover a pirate. My father's name is John Glover and it gave him quite a laugh when I told him of our possible notorious ancestor. Another unusual coincidence is that the area where I am staying was completely destroyed by Hurricane Janet (my given name is Janet) in 1955 (my year of birth). Hmmmm...Is Belize my destiny?
Probably not, but it is my back up plan for now.