I feel obliged to disclaimer this post that while some of the following stories may seem insignificant, and at times nonsensical, they have strongly resonated with us.
Victor is the owner of Amaya's Inn where we have stayed for the week. He grew up in a village about 20 miles outside of Punta Gorda. We sat down with him, many of times, to hear some of his stories
. The first one was of him growing up. There were no roads into town, rather only a river to travel down which would be an overnight trip. He was one of 20 children and has seen many things change throughout his life. First his village was completely secluded, then there was a small dirt path cut through the jungle through town, then a dirt road, and now a highway. He was unable to go to school as a child because there was really no way to reach town. His father told him that once he became a man he could travel down the river, but that wouldn't be until he was around 14 years old. Soon people began to come into his village with the new roads, such as the catholic sisters. They told him and his siblings that they would teach them to read and write, but only if they came to confession. He tried to learn to read and write, but he had little time to do so before having to go to work. The oil companies began to come into the area so he was able to get a job with ESSO, carrying 20 lb cables that they would use to blow up holes in the ground. He said if he could do something else, so by working hard his boss promoted him to working with smaller cables and making sure that they always had some on hand. After years of working for them they offered him a position that would take him out to sea for a year with only 2 weeks to visit his family. Even though the money was better he declined the offer, not wanting to be away from his family for that long.
Brian and I scheduled to go on a hike up to a cave that many tourist don't really explore, but the locals highly recommended. We informed Victor of the hill we were going to climb, and he warned us of all the snakes, as he knew of my aversion/phobia of snakes. He then went on to tell us why he disliked snakes so much. Twenty years ago, he was passing by his brother's house to go sit by the river and relax. He noticed his brother was working in the yard and said hello. After a few minutes, he saw his brother had stopped working and was limping towards him. He immediately got up to go help his brother who had been bitten by a snake. Not having a car, he put him on his bicycle and road him to the nearest doctor. As they were getting closer, he noticed the leg that was bitten was swelling to an enormous size, and his brother was in excruciating pain. When they finally arrived at the doctors house, they were lucky enough to catch him as he was walking out the door. The doctor told him that he would take care of him, so Victor left to go inform his mother of his brother's condition
. Upon Victor's return, the doctor informed him that he had tried many remedies (ranging from some tobacco concoction to something else involving a menstruating woman), but nothing was working. It must have been a big snake he said. He walked over to his brother that was rolling around on the floor in agony. Blood was coming out of his eyes, ears, nose, and pores. Victor picked up his brother, and told him that he would help him walk to their mother's house where they could wait for another doctor to come out. Along the walk, he collapsed to the dirt and motioned for Victor to come close so that he could tell him something. He told him he knew he wasn't going to make it, and that he could feel it taking over his body. He also told Victor not to sell his land because he hid his savings underground, although he never told him exactly where. Victor ran back to his mother's house in panic. At exactly 9am the next morning, 24 hours after the bite, the doctor came to inform the family that he had passed.
Victor told us how his brother lived a very tightfisted and stingy life. He never spent any of his money, and refused to help a man in need. Victor alluded to the karma, enforced by the snake, that ended in the demise of his brother.
The land is still owned by Victor's family, keeping with their promise not to sell, although the money has never been found. Victor surmises that the money has been destroyed by nature, along with a misspent life of greed
Following with the laid back vibe of PG, early mornings tend to be very quiet as the majority of the locals are in little hurry to start their day. I (Brian) have grown to greatly appreciate this time for its peaceful serenity. Each morning, I'll wake up and walk around the abandoned city, passing the same man, whom sits outside of his shop sipping a cup of coffee. After the first couple of days, he noticed (as has, seemingly, most of this small community) that we have been here longer than most passerby tourists so he reached out to meet me. He shared with me a coffee, some fried breadfruit (a delicious fruit native to SE Asia), and some words of wisdom.
Apparently, he, Oscar, moved to the US (NYC) for a couple years, but has found his way back to the very spot where he grew up. He is a garafuna probably in his 60's, but seems to be a person of great vitality.
If I had to guess, his secret lies in some sort of higher level of tranquility. Our conversation deepened, quickly, and I told him that I was interested in yoga, meditation, etc., and finding serenity within myself. I attempted to point out how difficult it is to escape the barrage of distractions that one faces in America, specifically in an urban environment, and how nature (jungle, beaches, the sea, etc.) seemed to be a great place to find this state. He told me how he encounters numerous tourists searching for their own escape from their daily lives, but it is of course, short-lived (i.e. a week or 2 vacations/ year). He went on to say that, sometimes, the best environment to find peace is in the place where you need it most. You don't have to travel to "escape" your daily life for it. You can reach it in the middle of the bustling streets of the most crowded of cities because it is there that it is needed most.
We continued to discuss a wide variety of topics, eventually landing on my occupation and what I studied at university. I told him that I studied psychology, as well as business administration, but have little idea of what to do with my knowledge. He pointed out that, maybe, the value of my background in psychology can be found if I look inwards. I sipped my coffee, and pondered his words in a comfortable silence.
A Mayan Indian man, that works in the local tour agency office below Amaya's Inn where we use the internet everyday, taught Whitney some native words such as "Quelem" and "Quichi pan", which I do not know the meaning
. Whitney brought him a coke because she noticed he always sips on one. She loves small acts of kindness. The man, whose name is very difficult to pronounce, let alone attempt to spell, told us how he has always wanted to learn how to use a computer. He has been intimidated and overwhelmed when approaching it on his own, and people that have told him they would teach him failed to follow through with their promises. We taught him the basics such as turning a computer on and off, as well as how to do an internet search. He was so grateful. We walked by the office later in the day, and he was not in his usual seat behind his desk. He was sitting at the computer searching the city he grew up in. It was beautiful.
Armando is the very well spoken friend of Victor's sons, Victor Jr. and Ronnie. Armando works for an agency that protects the rights of the indigenous Indians, or so I gathered
. His job has taken around central america, as well as the US. He is a very humble man with a vat of knowledge pertaining to his country. We conversed about politics, human rights, and he answered the many questions I had about Belize. We discussed the damage that will be done to the country's reefs, and consequently tourism, if the government pursues their plan to begin offshore drilling. We continued into politics as he pointed out that since Belize has such a relatively small population (about 334,000 compared to neighbouring Guatemala's 15,000,000) there is great potential for the wealth to fall into the hands of a small few. For example, Belize only has one brewery that supplies all the beer in the country. They import very little, if any, and have a monopoly on the industry because no other breweries are allowed to operate. The same corporation also owns the most popular water bottling company, rights to coca cola, and a good portion of their food industry. The founder of the corporation was in the senate, and very active in politics up until his untimely death last year. Speaking of politics, it should go without saying that political corruption can be found just about anywhere at any level. In Belize, this corruption seems to be more primitive. With the general and local elections coming up in 2 weeks, we discussed local politics. Armando told me how it is very common for politicians to hand out money on election day (keep in mind, the population is small) to buy votes.
On a federal scale, he told me about how the prime minister is currently dealing with gangs in Belize. Apparently, he convinced the gang leaders to call a truce to halt violence. He did this by offering them money. Armando, and other concientious taxpayers, are a bit angry that gang members are being paid to sit around the streets so long as they do not commit crimes. He said this is creating an allure for children to head in the direction of gangs, rather than to pursue an education and a career.
We discussed the influx of Guatemalans into Belize in the recent years. He likens it to illegal Mexicans coming into the US.
The day after we met Armando, we ventured out to "the bush" with Victor Jr. and his friend Allan to see where many Mayan Indians live a life that knows little technological advancements. Whitney took pictures with children that had never seen a camera before. They showed us different plants, fruits, and a way of life. We came across Armando's family's house situated next to the burned down skeleton of another home. Armando's dad greeted us with an open heart and open arms, and talked with us about the Mayan lifestyle. He told us that the remnants of the house next door belong to Armando
. They had spent a couple years building the rosewood house by hand. Two months after they completed it, someone burned it down. When we asked why someone would do that in a town so small (a couple hundred people), he shrugged. Victor Jr. told us that it was done out of envy. He said that in a community like that, some Indians do not like to see a neighbour that is prospering over the rest. It was saddening to see a family with such pure and humble hearts to be the victims of such a malicious act. I found myself looking around, as if there would be a pile of finished wood that I could use to help resurrect Armando's home. We continued into the father's house where the walls were filled with pictures of Armando and his siblings. It seemed as though they had all grown up to do great things, and you could see, in his eyes, how proud their father was. We shook his hand goodbye, and he gave us an open invitation to return anytime. I hope to take him up on it.
I, Whitney, woke up extremely congested with a bit of a sore throat, and didn´t think I would be able to leave the bed. I mustered up the energy to walk downstairs to use the internet at the store below us to check some emails and catch up on some news. After a couple of hours, I decided that I should enjoy the fresh air so we rented 2 bikes that were at the end of their lives. We stopped off at the beach to do a little swimming, but as soon as we got off the bikes we saw how littered and polluted the beach was. The couple of shards of glass were all I needed to think it in my best interest to put my shoes back on and maybe go another time... in another place. Hopping back on the bikes and gliding a bit further we passed a restaurant called Gomier´s that we had heard about through a friendly traveler at Finca Tatin. The restaurant sign read ¨Health is Wealth¨ which I took as a signal that he may be able to help with my cold
. Once inside, Gomier came introduced himself, and we saw his kind eyes through his Rastafarian dreadlocks. I explained my situation and he went outside to his garden to pick some fresh herbs for a special tea. It was delicious! Immediately, I could feel it working, soothing my throat and opening up my sinuses. Since he had succeeded with his work, he sat down and joined us while we ate. He told us about his early life in St. Lucia, where he lived off the earth for 15 years only eating freshly picked plants and crops (vegan before it was trendy), and only using tools he made from either wood or stone. He seemed to speak with a bit of longing for this old life. After he left St. Lucia, he traveled the world furthering his knowledge of natural medicines, and learning from many bush doctors. He left us with some advice based on his personal experiences which was the importance of being non-material and humble. He said that his simple life allowed him to explore the great powers of the human mind that lay dormant in the modern man. He was a wonderful man with a lot to offer to anyone willing to listen.
Thus far, our blogs have been written in a chronological order with an attempt to chronicle our travels from one event towards another. We believe the best way for us to relay our experiences, the past couple days in Punta Gorda, is for us to recount anecdotes of the wide array of people we have encountered.