Thursday, September 2, 2010

Visit to San Miguel, Toledo District, Part 1

Last week I got a chance to visit with a Maya family in the village of San Miguel in the Toledo District. Our friend, Germo Choc, who works with Erva’s Restaurant in San Ignacio invited us last year to go see his town and see some of the sites near his home town when he had vacation this summer. Tourism slows down in August and September so Erva’s takes a break and then the entire staff has some time off, so we set out for a long weekend.

Since Louis and Nock are getting on in years Marge and I felt it would be best of one if us stayed home with the pups. I needed a little guidance on how to fit in properly in a local household that I wasn’t familiar with so I invited my friend Julio to join me for the trip.

I picked up Julio on Friday morning and we set out to pick up Germo and his family, wife and 2 sons, in San Ignacio. The skies looked a bit dark to the east so we packed up all our things in plastic in the back of the little truck and we were off. As we got to Belmopan it was mid day and looking very black as we started down the Hummingbird Highway. Sure enough, we had a bunch of showers while we were in the mountains but for me that did not detract from what I consider to be one of the prettiest, most scenic drives in Belize. We took our time heading towards Dangriga since the roads here are VERY slick when they are wet, almost like driving on ice, and you have to be very careful.

As we got to the intersection with the Southern Highway, the skies cleared and we had a beautiful sunny rest of our drive to San Miguel. Along the way we were constantly looking to the west watching the mountains, the views were awesome. At one point we were surprised to see a house perched up on top of a mountain. The view from the top must have been impressive but I wouldn’t want my house up on top due to the lightning from the storms that blow in off the Caribbean Sea.

The last time Marge and I were this far south on the Southern Highway was back in 2006 while we were traveling through the country getting ideas on where would like to move and what we would like to do if we moved to Belize. At that time, there was a long section of the road that was still rock and dirt and you had to drive very slow. The government has recently finished paving the road and it is a very nice highway.

Along the roadside we saw numerous plantations of bananas; the hands are put in blue plastic bags to repel the insects. We also noticed that many of the houses and buildings in the south had thatch roofs, bringing a sense of calm and tranquility to the countryside.

As we turned off to San Miguel, the road changed to dirt and I felt right at home again, negotiating the rocks, ruts, and holes just like our road. Being used to driving here in Belize, when we got to the turnoff, I stopped and asked Germo about the people at the corner and if he was okay giving them a lift to their village; Germo said he knew them all so we picked up about 5 people, Julio jumped from the front seat into the back of the truck with the guys from the corner and a mother with a little girl got in the front seat with me. We dropped them at the first town in on the road, Silver Creek, and then continued on a couple more miles to the town of San Miguel.

We arrived at Germo’s family’s house around 4:30pm and were welcomed by the family members that were home, about 10 of them. It always takes me a while to figure out family, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, etc. since all these relationships here in Belize can cross generational lines. For example uncles can be younger than their nephews, couples can be “married” if they have children together, but all the children may not have the same father or mother, etc.

Having been in the car for a lot of the day, Julio, Germo, and I decided we should take a walk around the town so that Germo could show us some of the sights. As we crossed the bridge over the river that runs through the town, Julio spotted some seed pods so he climbed under/over the rail to reach out and pluck us some pods to taste. They were good but if I was Julio, and not able to swim, I sure wouldn’t have gone out over the rail to reach over the river for these pods, but he is very agile and doesn’t think twice about walking over anything even a little precarious.

As we walked through town we also found:

Bushes – anchiote – that bore the seeds to make recado (a spice/seasoning used to flavor poultry and meat, kind of like Marge’s Mom used paprika, on EVERYTHING);

A Breadfruit tree– which Germo made into soup for Saturday lunch,

The internet café that is run by the youth in the town.

The school – kids in Belize are required to attend school until about the age 13, the equivalent of 8th grade in the USA.

A Calabash tree – a sacred gourd for the Maya, also used to make bowls, cups, and ladles.

Mules – Marge’s dream pet for as long as I can remember (no, she can’t have one, she currently owns six horses – why does she need more equines?).

Papaya – Marge’s favorite year round fruit (mangoes and avocados are seasonal), growing right next to a home.

Many thatched roofs gave Julio and I a sense of peace and tranquility. It is tough to describe but the thatch roofs tend to “take the sharp edges off” the feeling of a town, everything just seemed softer and more homey.

As we were returning to Gemo’s side of the river I felt a nose in the palm of my hand as I was just walking along; I looked down and local dog decided to take a stroll with us. This friendly soul (yes, dogs have souls) walked with us for about 1.5 hours then played with Julio, Germo’s whole family, and me for about an hour outside of Germo’s house. It started to rain and we all went inside, and the dog tried coming in too, but dogs here are not welcome in houses and was shoed outside so he decided that he should return home since his owners lived on the other side of the river.

That evening Julio and I were invited to either go down to the river to bathe or to bathe in at the house, an area that is protected from view on 3 sides with the open side towards an uncleared, kind of jungly area in the back yard. Not knowing what would be the wisest choice, I relied on Julio’s judgment. Julio, not being a swimmer, decided that we should opt for skipping the river adventure and just bathe near the house. He gave me a few, um, pointers, like it is appropriate to use the bucket to fill with water, then bathe from the bucket, wear your underwear (I had a Speedo bathing suit, I know, eewe, but I used them in the past for racing but wear nylon shorts over them for swimming here). This worked out fine and I was glad I had a mentor, but I had not really ever bathed like this in the past. I was able to wash just fine with no problems and no one bothered me while I was bathing.

Next came dinner, fresh fish from the river, served in a soup with great spices and some leaves that reminded me of spinach, and no, it wasn’t chaya, we have chaya at home but this was a little different. I really loved the taste of everything but I am such a klutz with fish bones, I was having troubles with all the thin ribs from the fish. I was carefully making a very discrete pile next to my bowl by extracting the bones from my mouth with my fingers while watching Germo’s father and Julio carefully spit the small bones onto the table. I just couldn’t spit out the bones, I tried but I just couldn’t do it, I guess I am too uptight of a gringo. I really felt bad that I didn’t finish all of my fish, I loved the taste, but I took so long getting bones out of my mouth by hand that I decided to call it quits when everyone else was long done with their dinner.

Julio and I stayed up talking with the men until about 11pm then I got to sleep in a bed for the night and Julio slept in a hammock just outside the curtain that was my room door. Thank gods Julio is okay in a hammock for the night, I can’t do it, I had back surgery in 2000 and if I spend more than about 10 minutes in a hammock at a time I can barely walk!

I got up around 5:15am the next morning, careful not to wake anyone else, and I went out for a walk in the town. I walked over to the internet café and found it was closed (not a big surprise at 5:30) and I was wondering if “our dog” would find me again (no, he was probably banned from hanging out with the gringo) and strolled back and read the newspapers Julio and I had picked up prior to leaving town (one in Spanish, the other in English).
Germo’s sister, I named her Hannah since she was always wearing a Hannah Montana shirt, joined me at around 6:00 when I was doing the So Du Ko so I taught her how to do them. Julio got up after a while and I had to show him how to do them as well. Marge and I used to do them all the time in the US so it was fun to pass on the addiction; I am not sure it will stick though.

( to be continued)


sandy a. said...

Enjoying your post!
Marge needs a mule!! Mules are great animals: smart, funny, and you can use them to do work. Plus they are sturdy and more resistant to parasites than horses!

Becky said...

What a great trip Tom, thanks for sharing all the details. It is a beautiful drive down the Hummingbird Hwy, I had the same impression in August!