clare-hill.com The story of Clare Hill's voluntary work adventure in Belize

29/11/2008

More crocodiles…?

Filed under: Adventures in Belize,Rainy Season,wildlife — Clare Hill @ 09:06 pm

The weather is still perfect – blue skies, very little humidity, warm but not swelteringly hot. Wanting to do more walking last Sunday (23/11) we browsed the guidebook, and decided to bus out on the Northern Highway, and get off at the junction that leads to Burrell Boom and round to Hattieville, on the Western Highway. At Burrell Boom there is a road heading due west into the hills which we thought could be nice. The book described various sanctuaries and villages out there. Being a Sunday we knew that there would be no chance of a local bus, but we were happy to make a picnic and see what happened.

Perfect walking weather, we started out along the road, thoroughly enjoying every step. We were still in the swampy mangrove area, but there were more and more trees as we progressed, and it was just lovely to get into your stride, feel your body move, the sun on your skin, smell the air and witness the countryside. The flat swampy plain behind BC and along the coast from Dangriga to the northern border is like a wet scrub land. Palms, mangroves and mimosas abound interspersed with the occasional broad leaf tree. In drier areas, houses are built or fields worked. The marshes are full of fish, water birds, and plants. It is common to see roadside ditches and vast swampy areas full of lilies and other watery flowers.  We both noticed a large estate sign on our left, and wondered about its origin.

After a few miles, we reached the turning to Burrell Boom. As its name suggests, it was the site of a large chain across a bend in the Belize River, called a boom, which was used to hold the mahogany logs as they floated down river. It is an attractive place. A rough road leads into a tree lined village, with many comparatively large and affluent properties. The very lovely river is beside the road, and the vegetation begins to be more rain-foresty and less swampy. The grass verges were covered in dry beige silt, and we remembered that this whole area had been underwater not so very long ago. Noticing a potential watering hole, a restaurant part of a tourist ‘eco’ hotel, we wandered in. The restaurant had a nice open sitting area in the shade, complete with bug screens, and overlooking the river.

The mighty Belize River – as the national anthem says – is indeed a magnificent river. It never ceases to impress, whether glimpsed through the trees on the bus, standing on Haulover Bridge or just walked beside. It is at least 50 feet wide, and an old lady of a river. Leafy banks adorn its length and the birds their branches.  As described elsewhere, it is a source of food, a washing machine, a bath tub and a play ground. It has a strong and constant flow;  but being so huge – even when in full flood as it has been – it manages to do so without an undue sense of rush or loss of dignity. The lower Belize River Valley being predominantly a salt marsh, it has also been fascinating to see how long it has taken for all the waters to slowly seep back into the river, which it continues to absorb it in its stride. It is a river that is comfortable in its own skin, and which knows itself well. It could handle anything. It is easy to see how it has been the main thoroughfare for mankind for aeons and aeons, whether the Mayans, the loggers, countless slaves working for nothing in the jungle hunting the mahogany trees, or current day tourists and refugees.

As we sipped our juices, the silty flood line was evident on the trees on the opposite bank. If the silt was on the road outside, then the area where we were sitting must have been covered….we began to look around, and could just see a darker line on the wooden wall up to the height of about 18 inches. The swimming pool, sparklingly blue in the sunshine, must have been filled with the muddy waters….When the shy young waitress past by, she confirmed that the whole area was indeed flooded, and that they had spent three weeks cleaning up the kitchens and restaurant areas. She produced some photos – milky tea-like water everywhere.

Sneaking our sandwiches out and munching them alongside our juice, our limbs enjoyed the break. It had been about 6 miles, and since we would have to walk back the way we came, we decided to walk through the length of the village, and then turn round and head back to the Highway. In one garden we saw an extraordinarily large green globe – about the size of a cantaloupe melon – hanging like an oversized bauble from a four foot high shrub, which had comparatively small foliage – not unlike a small laurel leaf. I am still trying to work out what it was. And we found a sapodilla tree – a large tree sporting masses of fruits. Charleen had told us about them before we left the UK, and the following day Conor found one in the market. It was delicious – a pear texture but with a flavour which is a novel blend of sweet and spicy, almost a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon.

Still no clouds in the sky, the return had as much of a skip and a bounce as the beginning. Suddenly, a car pulled up just passed us, then backed up. With a look of amazement on her face, our landlady said “What are you doing here?” We began the now familiar litany of how we enjoy walking, have found it too hot until the last 6 weeks, have been taking advantage of the buses, how Burrell Boom sounded interesting……etc. “Come and see my house now you’re here. Pop in. I’ll run you back to the Highway later”.

The car moved a couple of miles down the road towards Burrell Boom – and then turned into the driveway of the estate that had caught our eye earlier! The next couple of hours were lovely, and only the second time we have been in a private house in nigh on 6 months!

We wandered around the farm, seeing the newly planted palms and trees and vegetables – many of which were ruined by the floods; we drank fresh coconut juice and scraped the delicious soft cream off the inside of a young coconut; we saw the hand-raised parrot belonging to one of the farm workers, and admired a pond. “Do you see that black bit in the middle?” We did. “It’s a crocodile”…as the black bit submerged and never resurfaced! It transpired that the family used to swim in the pond every Sunday, until one day as they were passing in the car, they noticed something huge. Much as she did with us, our landlady backed the car up and saw a very large crocodile! Later as we wandered further in, an old quarry which floods some of the year also sports some crocs, only did we see one? Did we heck!

We were dropped as promised at the bus stop on the highway, and together with 3 others were still waiting over an hour later. A pick-up truck pulled up, and a young man had a word with the driver, and 3 three piled over the back. “Can we climb in too?” For the second time in 6 months, these two grey haired oldies bounced along on their bum bones midst the dust and rubble of the roads! We both felt that it had been a great day.

24/11/2008

CHill-i-pedia 5. Less Sauce, more Relish!

Filed under: Adventures in Belize,CHill-i-pedia,Rainy Season — Clare Hill @ 05:16 pm

More about the floods.

Here are a couple of transcripts of the local TV news which came out last week. The second is an extract from the parliament.

Recovery from the big flood of 08 continues in Cayo, the Belize River Valley, and parts of the Orange Walk District. And new figures released from the National Emergency Management Organization show that the recovery will be lengthy and costly. More than sixteen thousand persons from one-hundred and thirteen villages were affected. 9,200 of them have received two weeks of food supplies while two- hundred and sixteen remain in shelters. Eight thousand, two-hundred persons have received medical attention for flood related illnesses. That has so far cost $1 million.

And while that’s the human toll, the flood wiped out one thousand head of cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry amounting to a million dollars. Forty-six miles of road were damaged and it’s going to cost 10 million dollars to fix them. Eight thousand six hundred acres of crop valued at twelve point nine million dollars were also wiped out.

We note that the entire village of Douglas in the Orange Walk District is still quarantined while the Crooked Tree Causeway is still underwater.

“They have no home to go back to. We are talking about 1,110 homes went under water. Some of these homes are still under water. Whatever is in those homes will never be of any value to them people and I need to reiterate here Mr. Speaker that we need to grasp the enormity of it because no hurricane has ever in our living memory, because I was around for Hattie also, has impacted on the lives and the homes of so many people. We’re telling you, we’re informing this nation and this Honourable House that 1,110 homes went under water, suffered serious water damages. And what we are doing right now Mr. Speaker, before I continue with the rest of the information, what we have done and are doing, we have a team that has gone to every single village in the Cayo District, went to every household under water, we have photographed every single household, we have spoken to the members, we have gotten their names, we have itemized every single item that has been lost in their homes, we have identified whatever physical structure damage has been done to their homes, and each and every one of them as I will say categorically here will be assisted, those who got hurt in the disaster.”

Honour

The other day Conor and I were walking past the car park beside the Courthouse when we heard someone hailing us. Our ‘first-day-Belikin’ man was striding towards us, carrying his car washing buckets in one hand and reaching into his pocket with the other.

“Here” he said, “I owe you this”. He handed Conor a couple of dollars.

You may recall that a few weeks ago he asked us straight one day if we could spare him a bit as it had been a bad day. It was in the middle of the heavy rains, when there were zilch tourists about for him to earn his wages as street performer cum tour guide, and the rains remove the terrible dust so few cars needed washing.

He must have seen the expression on our faces because he added “I always pay back my debts. There is a shopkeeper I ask when I need to, and he always says I don’t have to repay him, but I do. Then I can always ask again.”

We had no choice but to graciously receive. It was a special moment.

It was also an example of what I will call personal power. So many of us fall into a victim mentality, of being somehow less than others, and that often comes with a ‘you owe me’ attitude. There has never been any sense of diminishment with this man, from the first day we met him. He ‘earns’ his handouts – and once he openly begged.  Not cap in hand, but a genuine expression of need, a favour from one human to another, not a handout from a ‘have’ to a ‘have not’. That sense of inner worth is everyone’s birthright, and whether or not you have it shows, whether king or pauper. Some kings wear power as a mantle – and empty vessels make most noise. Some nobles live on the streets.

Mental health and homelessness.

I discovered the other day that because of an incident a few years ago when someone in a psychotic episode attacked someone in one of the homes for the homeless, it is rare for anyone with mental health issues to be given a bed. There are sound reasons for this – lack of in-house medical care, need for medication, protection of other residents, etc. It is also relatively rare for someone in psychosis to be that violent, but invariably makes the headlines, whatever the country. Such episodes merely serve to enforce the sane’s fear of extreme and altered state. The policy explains why such a huge proportion of the people on the streets appear to have mental health issues here.

One man – at least 50 years old – who looks ahead as if blind, sits on a patch of grass beside the river and swing bridge, knees up in the air, feet on the ground, pulling constantly at the grass on either side of him with his hands. He seems to do this for hours at a time, which makes me wonder if he is on the autistic spectrum, too. Let’s hope that the debate with the school children a few weeks ago will bring on a generation who are less in awe of such processes; and that the revenue from the newly discovered oil in Belize (once the Mexicans have taken their toll for transporting it through Mexico, and the oil giants their penny-worth for processing it) will finance a new era for Belizeans.

16/11/2008

No.31 Trekking and Stopping

Filed under: "the river",Adventures in Belize,Guatemala,Rainy Season — Clare Hill @ 08:46 pm

After a couple of weekends in wet BC, the prospect of a slightly drier weekend over Halloween and The Day of the Dead encouraged us to catch a bus up towards Succotz and the Guatemalan border. (Succotz is the village a couple of miles south of the border town of Benque, where we caught the wire and ratchet ferry over to the Xunantunich pyramids.) The towns with a Spanish and/or Mexican influence celebrate the Day of the Dead, not just Halloween, (ie All Saints not All Souls) and in particular the souls of dead children. More remote traditional places have very special ceremonies, but these tend to be well into Mexico and too far for us. So we decided just to head west and see what we see.

Thus to a bus on a Friday evening! Once more ensconced on the Western Highway, we were heading for Trek Stop, on the eastern edge of Succotz, and with an interesting write up in the guide book: an eco-centre, complete with wooden cabañas, kitchens, bio-degradable composting toilets and a butterfly farm. After nearly three hours on a busy commuter bus, the bus driver deposited us in the dark. Seeing our look of “EH?” he pooped his horn and made a hand gesture to show us in which direction to look. Through the darkness we saw a billboard on the other side of the road proudly announcing Trek Stop. As the bus drew away and we crossed the road, we saw a torch light and a friendly voice coming towards us. “I saw the bus pull up. You said you would be here about 8pm.” A charming young Spanish sounding man met us and with two large torches guided us up the slope to the centre. The ground was firm but damp underfoot, and we asked him if they had been OK in the recent floods. This area is in the reaches of the large tributaries of the Belize River, where much of the damage from floods had occurred. (The river was on the near side of the road when we got off the bus.) He explained that the lower lying ground near the road had been under water; but the centre itself had not been affected, other than the increase in mosquitoes and other insects which had been  noticeable everywhere, including our generally insect–free zone in the flat. We were guided through some light vegetation to a series of cabanas and one or two larger wooden buildings, including a communal kitchen with facilities for (free) tea and real coffee, Scrabble and other board games, and an interesting collection of spear heads, fossils and stones. We passed the showers, with water heated by solar panels, and the loos. I could see immediately that I was going to have a problem. I have a very sensitive digestive tract – not just because of my more recent dramas with diverticulitis, but throughout my life. It is supposed to be typical of those born under the sign of Cancer, and my mother says my grandmother (of the horses sweat statement for any regular readers) also had to take great care about what she did and did not eat, and she too is a Cancerian. Any upset in my life at all, and I immediately get a funny tummy or chronic constipation.

Many years ago, about 1971, my friend Caroline and I were at a Sufi camp on the side of a mountain above Chamonix, in the French Alps. There were a lot of us, and it was the hippy era so we all tended to have long hair and flowing robes. As we were about 50 in number, three holes in the ground were dug, with wooden planks around them, with a stunning view over the valley to Mont Blanc. At sunrise the sun glowed on the snows on one side of the peak, and in the evening cast long rosy shadows on the other. It was midsummer, so the days were long, and being in large tents, it got hot soon after sunrise. But try as I may, I just could not ‘perform’ squatting over a hole in the ground with two companions, even if we were looking at one of the most famous profiles in the world. So it was with a sense of resignation I noted that the next few hours would not be the most relieving that I had ever had. Despite the fine eco-notion of composting toilets, the long drop into a cavernous hole, not quite knowing if anything might rise to greet you, is still something I have yet to struggle with.

Nevertheless the wooden cabanas, though simple were perfectly adequate, and very soundly constructed. Because of the rains I had wondered whether our Trek Stop might have had the company of every snake and scorpion looking for dry ground, but I needn’t have worried. The insect screens and all joints were tightly sealed, and the worst I saw was a little spider. We settled in and made our way through the village to Benny’s Kitchen, which had been recommended as a good watering hole. It was Halloween, and there were children and adults in occasional houses and yards, doing what people do with masks and pumpkins, creating a congenial sense of ‘family’ in the pleasant evening.

We awoke to the early morning dawn chorus, being on the edge of the rain forest, and to my delight we heard a parrot or parakeet just above us. By the time I got out of bed it had gone! But in the day light, we could appreciate the centre and its setting. Small cabanas were dotted around, with shingle paths linking up the various buildings. They were all interspersed with beautiful trees, with their gorgeous barks, and large and small shrubs, some in flower and some with fabulous foliage. One green leaf has a lacy creamy white border to it, whilst another looks as if Jackson Pollock has had a go. The various rubber plants and other indoor plants we see in the UK all grow wild and free here, delighting the eye with their vigour and variety.   Towards the back of the area is a ‘proper’ wooden house on stilts where the family live.

Navigating the ablutions without mishap, we wandered down to the eating area for breakfast – it had been closed the evening before. A party of tourists sat at the table beside us, two from Australia, two from Ireland and one from Canada. They had just arrived from Cancun and were going on to the Mayan site of Tikal, unable to visit the local sites because of the flooding making some roads impassable. We pondered over how very different their experience of the country was to ours. For the first time ever I indulged in banana pancakes and to my amazement two huge ones appeared on both Conor and my plates. We struggled gamely through, and they were quite delicious! An enormous bottle of maple syrup was passed liberally from table to table.

Before leaving, we decided to have a look at the small exhibition centre and butterfly farm behind the breakfasting area. The farm area was a vast netted-in piece of the rain forest, with particular plants for the caterpillars to feed off, or to camouflage a certain species. Because at this point the weather was just beginning to change from the few weeks of rain to a ‘cold’ front, and still a little overcast, not many of the butterflies were flying. A small boy, about seven years old, wandered in, and began to delight in finding the names of the butterflies for us (in Latin, Spanish and English!) shaking a branch here to disturb a particular butterfly, pointing out the chrysalises pinned up in a special box there. He was such good company that we gave him a couple of dollars for being such an excellent tour guide. At this he seemed to think that he had not really earned his wage yet, for he stopped us from leaving, seemed to pause a moment, then turned us back to show us how one butterfly was perfectly camouflaged on the bark of a tree trunk, and two large rust coloured caterpillars (he called them worms) were stationary on another trunk looking completely like the twigs around them. Clever.  At this point he seemed satisfied that his job had been well done, and let us go, each of us with a contented smile on our faces.

The sky was clearing, and the conditions perfect for walking: temperatures in the upper 60’sF, about 27C, and NO humidity! We had decided to just follow our noses, and began the walk through the village. We had noticed a sign about a local artist as we wandered through the previous evening, and had decided to look inside before moving on. As we approached the series of three simple buildings, we immediately noticed the details in the stone work steps, the careful positioning of plants, and a sense of welcoming peace. The middle of the three rooms was an open studio area with a typical potter’s room behind, complete with clay and wheels. A small Mayan man (most of the villagers in Succotz are of Mayan origin) probably about 60 years old, was sitting painting some pottery. His work immediately caught our attention. A variety of shapes and sizes but all most delicately painted. He uses local clays, and is currently developing more traditional glazes. The ones we saw were painted in acrylic, so will not be dishwasher proof, and will mark if scratched, but the art work was exquisite. Being limited by weight as we travel home, we purchased a couple of small pieces for gifts, depicting scenes from the Mayan cosmology. We stayed chatting to this gentle man, who told us about his work over the years, teaching women and children how to use the clay, and creating financial independence for the women. This has been a big issue within the Mayan culture as for aeons women were considered to be the property of their men folk, and any sign of independence seen as an insult to the family’s – and in particular the husband’s –  honour. He and his wife have been social activists for the last thirty years, and it was so good to talk with him and feel such hope for society that in every nook and cranny there are people like him quietly making changes and working towards a fairer world.

Usually we wilt after walking about two miles, so we were relishing the clear sunshine and fresh air, striding along the swollen river banks towards Benque with not even a hat on our heads! The high water marks were very evident, well up over the road, and though still a fast and vigorous volume of water speeding by, it was considerably lower than a week ago. As Succotz and Benque sit higher on the side of the valley, very few people’s homes were affected, fortunately. Meanwhile, all sorts of water birds, kingfishers, small herons, limpkins and waders were taking advantage of the waters. People too, were gathering to wash their clothes and themselves, or to dunk their pickneys (children) into tubs of water, pouring water over their screwed up faces. 

Keeping to the river bank, we avoided the main road up to the Guatemalan border and Immigration, and meandered through some leafy lanes, enjoying the sense of village life. The usual accompaniment of stray dogs and scrawny cats followed us, as we picked our way forward. While standing debating whether to keep going along a narrowing track, a red pick-up truck with a family in it stopped beside us, asking us where we were going. The man advised us that down that lane and into the undergrowth we were yards from the border, a notorious area for illegal immigrants and not very safe. Decision made, we thanked the man and turned back!

Still enjoying ourselves enormously, we decided to keep walking towards Succotz and San Ignacio until a communal taxi came along – which it duly did! The San Ignacio Saturday market was our first port of call, its abundance of fruit and vegetables sorely diminished from the last time we saw it. The whole market area had been under water, and thousands of acres of agricultural land ruined for this growing season. This will have a huge impact on the rural people, who have a subsistence-farming lifestyle, selling any extra produce in the markets of villages and towns. We were heading towards Bullet Tree, which had been flooded but was now passable, and which had some cabanas beside the falls according to the guidebook. It is the spot where the Macal and Mopan tributaries become the mighty Belize River. Suddenly the truth of Belize being a small country hit us, and everyone knowing everyone else. Waiting to cross the road to an ATM, we were hailed loudly and turned to see our ‘first day man’ hanging out of a front passenger window waving frantically! It was a taxi, with a couple of tourists looking at us curiously from the back. He had got himself a good deal there as a guide. Good for him, he knows his stuff.

In the queue for the ATM, a man who had attended a training day a week or so ago, based in San Ignacio, grabbed our hands. He had been very involved in the assessment of some of the flood damage, and told us a tale or two. He reassured us that we should be able to get to Bullet Tree. And whilst chatting to him, who else should come along but Ernesto! He greeted us warmly and it was good to see him. We hadn’t seen him for well over a month, and he looked scrubbed, with clean clothes and shoes on his feet. As we walked towards the market to get a local bus to Bullet Tree, we saw him loading some things onto the back of a stall holder’s lorry, so hopefully he had some work and was doing better for himself.

The road to Bullet Tree was indeed clear, and the taxi man – no local buses at that time of day – dropped us off near the river. He was gone before we had time to take in the scene……Both banks had the flattened vegetation left after water has receded, and on the far side, the restaurant and cabañas were soggy-looking and draped with mats and other bits and pieces out to dry. The so-called falls were completely covered with a raging mass of water, nothing particularly beautiful or picturesque, but at least no one was harmed.  Disappointed, we had no alternatives to make our way back to San Ignacio. Another communal taxi passed – great scheme that, we should do it in the UK – and we were soon back in the market place. Scouring our guide book, we suddenly recalled that one of the ones listed was recommended by the man from Fyffes bananas who gave us a lift up to San Antonio a few weeks ago. It was full, as a big concert was happening at the Cahal Pech site that evening, and the owner recommended another near by. Soon we had a room, very different to our Trek Stop the evening before.

The following day dawned brightly too. We had had a pleasant afternoon and evening roaming the town and its side streets, enjoying the names of drinking holes such as ‘Fiya Wata’, and despite odd bursts of noise, were not too disturbed by the concert overnight. We decided to take advantage of the perfect walking weather, and head off towards Belize City, and just pick up a bus when we had had too much. Eight glorious miles of trekking through the countryside, enjoying the space, the hills and forests, the flats and marshes, and all the wild life and cattle along the way, we eventually came to Georgeville and the bus stop. A small shop provided deliciously cold liquid, and then we had a very long wait as full bus after full bus went by. Beginning to know how the buses work, we decided to start walking again, and to stop somewhere where we could be easily seen and where we were alone. If too many people are waiting at a stop and the bus is very full, the driver does not stop. But for the odd one or two, he may. And he did! The people we were sitting with were not on the bus when we eventually got on.

We arrived back in BC very contented after a weekend of perfect walking weather in very pleasant countryside. I was golden, Conor lobster pink!

30/10/2008

Weather

Filed under: Adventures in Belize,Rainy Season — Clare Hill @ 02:59 pm

We continue to have ‘weather’! For more or less the whole of October, the clouds have been on and off in the sky, and the tropical waves of thunderstorms have flown over one after the other from Honduras and the south east Caribbean. The heat was still intense, and the humidity level – having dropped immediately after a deluge – would soon begin to build up again as the hot sun evaporated the moisture fast. Then two weeks ago, the clouds intensified, with a marginal overall drop in temperature, and the rains began in earnest. After a few days, folk were saying that it was unusual to have quite so much at once and one of my work colleagues reassured me that we would see some sun before leaving in the beginning of December. And the rains still fell, 20 inches in three days at one point. The new pavement which has been under construction on either side of Albert St and taking aeons, holding up the final tarring of the road for even longer, had covered over the storm drains. The workmen have made the drain pipes from the alleyway to our flat and to the Women’s Dept on the other side of the road level with the top of the pavement, not the bottom of the alley, so we had to place planks of wood or broken bricks strategically to avoid  the 2 -3 inches of sitting water. As one would expect, the water soon became a rich mix of the dust and general detritus of the drains, the rubbish from the street, and the vegetation which began falling in the intense precipitation.

When coming back from a meeting after one exceedingly intense shower, the whole street was flooded. I turned down various streets and kept coming to impassable sections. At least, impassable to me – some people waded through with their bare feet up to their knees, but there was no guarantee that there was no sewage in them. I caught a taxi in the end.

And then two days later, there were anxious reports about the amount of water coming down the rivers. The whole of western Belize is mountainous, and indeed the two main tributaries of the Belize River, the Mopan and the Macal, bring waters from even further west: the Mopan from the Peten region of Guatemala (where Tikal and Flores are) and the Macal from the Pine Mountain Ridge (with the Rio On Pools). By last Tuesday the whole of the San Ignacio region around the rivers was flooded, Stann Creek area near Dangriga (which is often flooded), and concerns about the lower Belize River basin were expressed. On Wednesday, the three branches of the Ministry of Human Development – one of which is the Women’s Dept – were deployed to put the hurricane emergency plan into action, only this time it was for flooding. The WDOs in the Women’s Dept had responsibility for assessing the need for and distributing food.

I didn’t see some of them for days at a time, and now the stories are emerging. The 3 mile road into Crooked Tree was under water after one mile from the northern highway. Many in the village were flooded. The lagoons around Birds Isle are vulnerable because the waters come into the lagoon from the north from the Orange Walk region, and start the flood process. Then the Black Creek, a tributary of the Belize River which we canoed one morning, back-floods from the south, further flooding the region.

One colleague was in a boat up the rivers near Burrell Boom with the coast guard, wearing a life jacket, and sometimes wading chest-high through waters. She said they were keeping an eye out for snakes and crocs, both of which would not be too keen on the flood waters. She herself is not a good swimmer, so felt a little worried at times. Most of the farmed produce in the river basin has been flattened and ruined, and a lot of the animals will need to be killed. Fortunately there have been only 7 casualties, which given the volume of water and degree of flooding was pretty remarkable.

Despite more rain forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it fortunately did not come, averting what could have been an even worse situation. If it had continued Belize City would have been the next target and there were serious concerns about the City’s ability to withstand the volume of water coming towards it, and coinciding with a high tide. The sewage system is precarious as it is.

Nevertheless, more rain has fallen than has ever been recorded in October. By now, Wednesday, the waters are receding. A member of a group this afternoon, who lives near the sea south of Belize, said that the volume of water emptying from the rivers caused much higher tides and some flooding from the sea in their region too. Over the last few days she has seen a snake each day in her garden as they search for some dry land.

A cold front was forecast and duly came in on Monday. Although not officially over till the end of November (some of the most memorable have been in November) a cold front often means the end of the hurricane season. Certainly there is a freshness in the more north easterly air, almost a familiar autumnal smell, and no humidity which is such a joy. The wind – for it is more than a breeze – is gusty and if not cold, is less balmy than we have been used to. Unfortunately the biting things have had a field-day in the wet, but the temperature being in the mid- to late 60sF, about 20C, has been most pleasant. But it is interesting to see how relative ‘cold’ is. After weeks and weeks of temperatures in the 90sF, well over 30C, many people are obviously cold. Women are wearing tights, covering their shoulders or even wearing long sleeves. Children are wearing denim jackets over their school uniforms in the early morning. I even saw one wee laddie with a red woollen hat pulled down over his ears as I walked to the bus station yesterday morning! Last night I awoke a little chilled, the sheet right up around my shoulders instead of vaguely covering me in places, and got out of bed to place a quilt over my toes. Who knows, I may even wear my jammies yet!

And I read today that there is lots of snow back home in Scotland – cold really is relative! And that is early, making for a long winter. Poor things, after a summer which was a wash-out, starting with a cold snap now is truly tough.

26/06/2008

Rainy Season

Filed under: Adventures in Belize,Rainy Season — Clare Hill @ 11:33 pm

The rainy season. I thought that I knew what that meant, but one of the joys of travelling is that it opens one’s eyes to how little you know in practice! The rains here are not the sort that build up over a hot morning, gathering at midday and then depositing themselves over you in a torrential downpour in the afternoon – only to evaporate almost as fast as they fell, thus starting the cycle again for the next day. No, the rainy season here is very different to that.

It gets blisteringly hot for a few days. People get nervous, saying that this is what hurricanes feed off. The odd cloud might appear in the sky, and there may even be a short rain shower. The clouds may build up more, or it may clear completely for a day or two. Currently, only two weeks in so too soon to be sure this is typical, the build up of clouds is predominantly, but not only, in the evenings. First of all I notice that I suddenly come out in a sweat. I start raining before the sky does!

(It reminds me of my grandparents who lived by the sea. They used to hang a long piece of wide brown sea weed outside their back door. My grandfather, known to everyone as Jeff which was an abbreviation of his surname Jeffkins, my grandfather Jeff would go out and check his sea weed. He used it as a barometer. When it was damp he would assure me that rain was on the way, and he was invariably right. Or rather, the sea weed was!)

So, my body barometer gets damp like the sea weed, really damp and sticky, and then the sound of thunder or the flash of lightening will appear. The pattern seems most typically to be an initial shower, lasting 1-5 minutes and then whoosh! It is as if someone has turned a power shower onto full out of the blue. The noise level is quite phenomenal. In our bedroom at night, it falls onto the sloping roof above us, which like all roofs round here is corrugated. When I just listen, it reminds me of the symbols in a drum kit, just creating a vibration between them. Or a very fast drum roll, the sticks leaving barely any space between them. It is relatively high pitched, and behind that is a deeper drone made by the fallen water cascading through gutters and storm drains. The thunder has been most usually single peals, followed by lightening.

(When I was little my father taught me to count the seconds between the thunder and lightening. Every 5 seconds is a mile away. I still do it, though it tends to be pretty obvious if the storm is overhead! But dad was a sailor through and through, and was wanting to see how the thunder was circling – which he said it always did – so that he was facing the right way in his boat! Always put the bows into the wind in a storm.)

Last night I was enjoying again the sound of the downpour, when suddenly the thunder came again. Only this time, the thunder came from here, then there, then somewhere else, as if ricocheting off the clouds or the gods playing squash! As I listened, fascinated, I suddenly saw Keith Moon, the legendary drummer in The Who, doing his fantastic drumming, arms and sticks flying from one drum to the other, to the next and back again.

Today I was talking with someone about the rain. (This person has elected himself as my educator about things Belizean, for which I am most grateful. Today he told me that when I buy mangoes in the market, I have to ask for mango 11, as they are particularly sweet. When I said that they could give me mango 24 and I wouldn’t know, he replied that it is the only one mango with a number. He also said that blue mangos are especially good too, but not blue in colour! I am still uncertain how I would know the difference, but no doubt the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.) Anyway, this man explained that a tropical wind with rain was expected today, most probably this evening – it is threatening to rain now – and from there we got talking about the noise on my bedroom ceiling at night. He asked me if it was the same in the UK, and I tried to explain how we get 3 hot days then a thunderstorm, which is then all over till next summer but he seemed bemused. He asked me if I had ever heard the thunder drumming and I got very excited and told him what I had heard last night. He said that sometimes it goes round like that right overhead with lightening, and is unbelievably loud. I smiled as I thought of sitting under the drum kit as Keith Moon was really going for it. And I wonder what direction dad would point the boat in when it is going round as fast as that. He could get quite dizzy…

These rains could fall as one 15 minute episode, or last for a few hours or even days. Then there could be two weeks of really dry hot weather before the smaller rains followed by a few days of rains again. Or so I believe!

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