After what happened to me on my first day in Belize (see my recent blog BETWEEN TWO BULLETS IN BELIZE) I escaped to my computer in Sarteneja, a remote Mayan-Mestizo village on the Caribbean Sea, close to Mexico. In Belize I live in a simple, humble, ‘home-made’ but strikingly coloured turquoise house, a construction project which is a story in itself. It shows what can be done with little money, scarcely any tools other than a hammer and a machete, and a lot of ingenuity and improvisation.
My chief joy is the wall-sized mural you see as you step inside the front door, a stunning sea and landscape created in three days by local artist Chuy, his wife and small son while I sat at the kitchen table and took notes.
Chuy paintings brighten this colorful town- the Welcome sign at the entrance to the village at the end of the long dusty bumpy marl road that meets the ‘highway’, the Welcome sign on the seafront that adorns the town toilets, and of course his paintings for sale on the walls of his workshop and art gallery. Other artists have painted the concrete benches that line the palm-girt shores, of this unique little village with scenes of local attractions sailboats, wide wooden dinghies, conch, manatees and fish.
No busy resort hotels and lines of military-style deck chairs and umbrellas here like the rest of the Caribbean, just a few wooden piers that stretch out like spokes from shore to get you to deeper water for a swim or watch the sunset. Except for the two and three-storey palatial concrete homes of the few foreigners who have discovered this secret destination, the rest of the people live in small bungalows of wood or stone with roofs of tin, wood, brick, even thatch.
There’s no shopping centre. Most shops are extensions of people’s private homes or verandahs and tend to sell a bit of everything, especially candy and soft drinks.
There’s little variety in the fruits, vegetables and fresh meat that I crave for my meals that differ vastly from my neighbours’ reliance on rice and beans, tacos and tortillas. Potatoes, bulky carrots, wrinkled green peppers and massive cabbages are the staple vegetables. Few villagers grow their own. Instead, the Mennonites from the nearby community of Little Belize bring them their vegetables.
One of the fascinating aspects of life in Belize is its multitude of different cultures, English, Spanish, Creole, Mestizo, Black…and the Mennonites (originating from Canada) who are the most conspicuous in their appearance and lifestyle.
Tall, lanky blonde, clean-shaven men in overalls and braces, plump women covered from neck to ankle in Victorian-type dresses, their children identical but younger versions of their parents. All wear Panama straw hats. The Mennonites of Little Belize drive, not cars and trucks, but horse and carts.So I go from door to door to get my groceries, or else buy them right at my own front door from kids and their mothers toting their baking by bike. Banana bread, carrot cake, coconut sweets, huge snapper, pork (slaughtered on the street the day before) and best of all, tamales (chicken wrapped in plantain leaves). Most people ride bikes despite the lumpy limestone roads.
There are no lights or stop signs. This is welcome after the impossibly chaotic, death dealing traffic of Alexandria and Cairo I had experienced in Egypt a month earlier. Sarteneja is the only place in Belize where you can see the sunset on the sea as you relax on the bench at the end of the pier.
In Belize I can escape the sometimes frigid temperatures and abundant snow of British Columbia’s Wild West Coast. It’s a tranquil place to write my current work-in-progress, a book on my travels in Africa from 1960 to 2017, a formidable time span covering my adventures (and misadventures) in 22 countries beginning with apartheid in South Africa and ending with apartheid in Palestine.