Belize in Bloom
By Naturalight Productions

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"Make time for the adventure of your life."

My attention was caught by the first two words of the new tagline in a full page Belize tourism ad as I browsed through my April subscription of Caribbean Travel and Life magazine. A few weeks before a close childhood friend had been unexpectedly killed in a car accident and I felt as if I had been going through the motions of my busy life with little of the joy and almost manic enthusiasm I normally sustained. Painfully reminded of my own mortality – I needed to stop time. I realized that it was time to get off the treadmill of my life and to "stop and smell the flowers."

While I didn't expect to literally do so, I found myself doing just that during two ensuing excursions into the Belizean countryside during a long weekend this May (Commonwealth Day normally celebrated on May 24th had been conveniently moved to May 21st ) – with unplanned adventures that captured the explosion of color in Belize and the nuisance of life in nature.

I wasn't looking for large crowds or lots of interaction and yielded to the urge to act as a quiet observer of the natural flow of life going on around and oblivious of me. There is something to be said for the soothing effect of getting into a vehicle at dawn and just driving with no destination in mind and that Saturday morning my vehicle made its way to the Cayo district in western Belize. There I found myself standing alone atop the Maiden of the Rock at the pre classic Maya site of Xunantunich. I marveled at the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the ancient Maya whose laborious creativity had resulted in resilient structures left standing long after the dust of their individual lives, dreams and bones had blown into the wind. I closed my eyes and imagined the laughter of their children playing in the river; the adrenalin of a teenage warrior preparing for his first hunt; the agitation of a Maya wife because dinner wasn't quite ready, the teenagers would rather do their own thing than help and, her husband was due home any second – accompanied by his mother coming to visit from Cahal Pech for a week! Centuries ago? Today? Were these fundamental human interactions vastly different then than they are now?

There were no responses to my idle musings and after a similar moment of solitude at Cahal Pech I started my return journey south down the Hummingbird Highway hoping to reach Dangriga before dark. The next day we decided on a leisurely drive down the southern highway with the following possibilities hanging in the air – Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Hopkins, Sittee River or jungle horseback riding at a newly opened facility alongside the South Stann Creek river.

We were barely out of Dangriga when I was struck by the tremendous amount of color everywhere. Driving down the Hummingbird at dawn then dusk the day before had cast a muted tone over the vibrant yellows, oranges, reds and pink produced by the vegetation in bloom. In the Sunday morning sunlight there was a riot of color against a sea of greens - from the elegant bloom of the stately Yemeri tree whether alone or in a stand set back from the road; the brilliance of the golden shower, the profusion of red in the outstretched branches of the Royal Poinciana locally known as the flamboyant tree; or the delicate pink of the lonely Mayflower. (This year they bloomed profusely in March and April!)

The month of May is in the height of the dry season and the constant blanket of dust from unpaved streets found in most towns are a constant irritation to the inhabitants – so much so, that it is not uncommon to see slow moving water trucks watering down the busier streets just to give the residents alongside some respite. Outside the towns, annual forest fires in the Mountain Pine Ridge had been the subject of recent newscasts and even in places alongside the Stann Creek Valley Road there was the evidence of several fast moving fires that had passed. In recent weeks occasional light rain shower in selected areas had been of short duration and while these had done nothing to parch the dry earth, they seem to have shocked the countryside into a glorious explosion of color.

Looking past the eye-catching trees dominating the landscape, the more subtle blooms began to emerge, the most common of which were the small gold and orange blossoms of the craboo tree, the fruit a favorite of birds and Belizeans alike. For the latter, the tart cherry sized, apple shaped fruit, more seed than fruit is made into wine or eaten covered with sweetened condensed milk. Then from time to time there appeared a stately breadfruit tree - most commonly eaten sliced thinly and fried like potato chips. I’d also had it lightly boiled in salted water and mixed into a breadfruit version of potato salad. Delicious.

And the mangoes! These were in various stages of development, from the rich purple of the green "number 11" mangoes hanging on laden branches, to the tight green of the unripe "green mangoes" and the cornucopia of young blossoms of the late blooming "common mango". I closed my eyes and could hear the glee of local kids a few months from now- throwing sticks to unhinge the ripest mangoes on the tree; filling bags and pockets to take home the bounty – streaks of mango juice down their chins and shirtfronts. For now they would have to be content with the products of the tambran fruit – stewed with sugar, made into candy or mixed into a refreshing drink.

And there was more, even the scrawniest of trees and bushes seemed to be yelling "me too, me too" with orange and whites peaking from the greenery. It became a game to see what new bloom we could spot or who would be the first to notice some particularly dazzling specimen. They were all beautiful against a radiant blue sky. And so the drive unfolded for some 20 miles until we came to the south Stann Creek river and the radiance of the less common orange version of the Royal Poinciana tree.

There alongside the river and just beside the highway we pulled into in a small clearing carpeted in orange petals. Obviously someone’s private property, we were soon joined by two young boys coming to see who was trespassing. My husband asked to take pictures while I sat quietly watching puffs of what looked like wild cotton floating down from a nearby tree. Overhead there was a splash of bluish grey as a blue tanager surveyed the scene, then a short dash of black and yellow as the breeze parted the blossoms to reveal a golden Oriole resting quietly. But the air was alive with the high-speed hum of tiny wings as dozens of hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower gorging themselves. – Everything and everyone around me seemed happily going about the business of being alive, renewing and growing, soothing the pain of my loss with the seemingly effortless beauty of nature.

We sat there for a while quietly enjoying the activity and watching traffic go by before we eventually moved on – to the more active adventures of this tropical destination. This colorful experience is probably not one that would be highlighted in the guidebooks or magazines but the thought crossed my mind that even after living here all my life and knowing the country fairly well, that Belize still had so many secrets of nature to share - if we only made the time…

Images courtesy of:

  • Tony Rath Photography
  • JC Cuellar

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