Boomed on the Belize River

By Stephanie Allen
Edited by Naturalight Productions Ltd.

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The "boom" in Burrell Boom is intimately associated with the logging industry that shaped the area during the 1700s. Though the tendency would be to envision "boom" as prosperity that was generated from the industry, in actuality it refers to the iron chains that were extended across the river to hold back logs set afloat from mahogany camps higher up on the Old Belize River. There, the logs would remain "boomed" only to be released by the June flood waters. While remnants of the chain and its anchors can still be seen in the village today, nowadays when Belizeans say "Boom" there is no confusion about their topic of conversation.

Burrell Boom, a tranquil riverside community, located approximately sixteen miles north of the Belize international airport epitomizes rural Belize where residents maintain a peaceful coexistence with the vastly unspoiled natural environment. Flora and fauna abound. Multi-colored species of tropical birds including the yellow-headed parrot, redheaded woodpecker, yellow-tailed oriole, several types of hummingbirds and herons inhabit the orchards, marshlands, and riverbanks of the countryside. Vibrant yellow cashews, rich custard apples, deep purple and red mangos, berries of various shapes and color, and a surplus of tropical plants complete the setting while providing the key ingredients for an array of local dishes and beverages.

In fact, the village has become famous for its assortment of fruit wines and preserves all made from organic ingredients. At locally-owned wineries such as Oliver's and Aunt Lally's Place, wines brewed from fruits harvested in the area are fermented in an assortment of large hollow barrels, resulting in a superb blend of rice, sorrel, potato, berry, and cashew wines to suit every taste. Villagers stop by for a special taste of the newly distilled wine and to relaxingly discuss the day's events while tourists passing through grasp the opportunity to savor some of Belize's finest home brewed products.

Often times Burrell Boom passes as a blur of houses on the roadside as visitors make their way to the popular Community Baboon Sanctuary of Bermudian Landing, Big Falls, Double Head Cabbage, Flowers Bank, Isabella Bank, St. Paul's Bank, Scotland Halfmoon and Willows Bank. There, broad-leaf and riparian forests on the banks of the Belize River surround marsh, pasture and farmland which eventually turn into cohune palm, pine tree ridge and savanna on the eastern and western borders. Together this collectively-owned and managed environment creates a haven for a healthy population of black howler monkeys, locally known as 'baboons'.

On at least two occasions, though, Boom outshines its neighbors and draws big crowds from all over the country. Beginning on New Year's Day and continuing on special occasions throughout the year, Burrell Boom residents provide entertainment and diversion while injecting much welcome revenue into the community through horse racing. While some years ago the sport was alive in Belize City, today it is being revived in the likes of Orange Walk and Burrell Boom where Grade 2 horses, claimers, and lower grade thoroughbreds from the US compete for fame against locally upgraded (half breeds) on the Boom track. With purses ranging from US $500 to US $1,500, it's obvious that this is a sport of passion; but it makes no difference to the enthusiastic supporters in the grandstand.

Around March 9 of every year, the true flavor of village life is put on display at the La Ruta Maya riverside fair. Though the four-day, 180-mile river challenge starts in San Ignacio Town and ends in Belize City, canoeists and support teams overnight in Burrell Boom. In anticipation of their arrival on the third day, booths are usually assembled on the village's riverbank to serve as vending facilities for an assortment of local dishes. The air becomes saturated with a delicious mix of aromas as local specialties like stewed deer meat, roast gibnut, and iguana compete with piping hot tamales, moist corn ducunu, and the typical mainstay of rice and beans and stewed chicken. Lush fruit jams made from freshly stewed supa (a coconut relative), berries, and cashews are on offer as are richly roasted cashew nuts, the local delicacy.

Of course, the highlight of the day is the sight of the energetic but weary paddlers as the canoe race completes its winding Bermudan Landing to Burrell Boom leg. The cool grass and clay along the riverbank overlook the emerald waters of the historic Belize River and make for comfortable seating; but once the bright colors of the victorious canoes start growing on the horizon a throng of spectators flock to the riverbank to catch the highly-anticipated finish. As the winners rapidly approach the finish line, the energy and excitement overwhelms some spectators who may decide to cool off by taking a refreshing plunge.

On the average day, the riverbank setting reverts to being a popular swimming and picnic area for locals and a busy marketplace for cruise ship and other visitors, who are not only treated to wines, preserves, and other souvenirs but also to the blurry spectacle of curious spectators (howler monkeys) scurrying through the trees on the other side of the river.

The most amazing spectacle of the village's natural splendor is experienced at sunrise and shortly after sunset. The typical morning breaks with a magnificent blaze of orange, red, magenta, and yellow beaming over the seemingly endless horizon of lush vegetation. An echoing melody of birdsong, the occasional flutter of wings, and the tapping of tiny beaks against glass paned windows announce a new day.

The nighttime air is saturated with an equally melodic rhythm of animal chatter. The cooling night breeze combined with a natural incense of fruit aroma mixed with the distant vapor of burning bush generates a meditative atmosphere. The sound of chirping crickets, the frequent coo of birds nestling in their nocturnal hideaways, and far-off calls of howlers ring out into the night air. Floating across the river are the sounds of lively conversation, animated card games, and inventive story telling aided by a taste of refreshing berry wine -- quite possibly, just as it did back in the 1700s when trapped logs were rocked by the river's currents and a family named Burrell stood watch from their nearby house.

Images Courtesy of:

  • Tony Rath Photography
  • Cindy Blount
  • Dreddi
  • JC Cuellar
  • Special Thanks to:

  • Nurse Dorothy Bradley

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