More crocodiles…?

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.