Sad News of Peter Eltringham (of Rough Guide fame) passed away on August 28. He was a great friend to Belize. We shall miss him greatly.
Belize guide book author – Peter Eltringham – fulfills his dying wish of reconnecting with Belize
Rating: 5 / 5 (9 votes)
Posted: 25/07/2008 - 10:09 AM
Author: Adele Ramos
Not many foreigners whose lease on life seems to be at its very end would return to Belize, hardly able to speak, utterly unable to eat, and with a feeding tube in their stomachs, just to bid farewell. But one Englishman, dying from throat cancer, who has evidently fallen in love with Belize and its people, defied doctor’s orders to do just that.
Peter Eltringhman, 55, of London, UK, was introduced to Belize in the 1980’s – when he first visited here as a volunteer in the Royal Air Force. He said he came to Belize at the time when the country was facing a threat of invasion from Guatemala.
His travels since then throughout the length and breadth of The Jewel have left him dumbfounded by the country’s rich treasures, so much so that he has spent the last two decades documenting for people all over the world, and especially tourists and tour guides here, all the vast diversity – sights, sounds, and scenes – that gives Belize an appeal like no other.
Eltringhman said that he “immediately fell in love with Belize,” and what he found most attractive was its friendly people. At the time, he said, Belize was hardly known to the outside world, and he chose to promote Belize via a guidebook, because there was none on the market at the time, and he felt others needed to know what the country has to offer. His earliest memories were captured down south, in Toledo, and on the offshore atolls.
Peter says that producing a guidebook is a year’s worth of work, and the biggest reward he has gotten is hundreds of friends throughout Belize.
“I came here to say thank you and goodbye,” said Peter Eltringhman, who revealed that he has been battling with cancer for 4 years.
He told us that he has never smoked and doesn’t know really what caused his illness. Even though the cancer is seemingly incurable, it doesn’t hurt to hope for a miracle. Like Peter, his relatives and friends say they hope to try one more treatment, and so they have not entirely given up on him.
Peter arrived from London with his brother, Michael, and nephew, Adams, on June 21. They started their tour in Guatemala City, then moved on to Antigua, Flores, Peten, and Tikal, before they crossed the border into Belize. They have spent several days in San Ignacio, Monkey Bay, and Caye Caulker, and they stopped by Amandala on their way back to Monkey Bay. The family returns to London on Thursday.
Family friend, Marga Miller, a co-owner of the Monkey Bay’s conservation center, said that Michael had not known much of Peter and his whereabouts until this trip, and they are only just finding out where Peter has been hanging out for much of the past 20 years.
Michael told our newspaper that he has had a fantastic time in Belize – and he has found the Belizean people to be really friendly and helpful. He says that he plans to return to Belize someday with his wife.
Marga jokes that Adam, Michael’s son, has discovered the machete.
“In most countries in Europe, you cannot walk around with a big knife like that,” she commented.
Adam has been learning to chop bush (at Monkey Bay) and to fight mosquitoes, but the group has also gone out sailing and snorkeling, and sightseeing on the reef, she reported.
Marga said that she remembers Peter in the good old days, updating his book on a very old fashioned typewriter – before the days of computers. Monkey Bay was often his refuge while he was writing the Belize guide books, she added.
It was Marga Miller who took the initiative to ensure that Peter’s story be told, “because I’ve been in Belize 28 years and every time I pick up newspaper there is so much tragedy happening. I greatly admire Peter and highly respect him. I think he is an awesome writer and a dear friend.”
She said that it is important for people to know that there are really good people around in Belize who are helpful and kind.
Peter promoted the tourism business in Belize and promoted those in the industry as well, and it is important that people are recognized and honored when they are still around, Miller elaborated.
She said that Peter serves as an example that we can all do a little bit of good to make Belize a better place.
His brother, Michael, told us that many people have personally said to them during the course of their trip that Peter has put them and their place on the map, business-wise, and over the past month they expressed a debt of gratitude for his contributions to the tourism sector.
Miller said that since Peter can’t possibly visit all his friends in Belize to bid them farewell, it was important for him to visit the Amandala, so that he could convey to all those Belizeans he has known over the last few decades how much he appreciated the love then extended to him in The Jewel, for which he holds an everlasting love.
MY ROUGH GUIDE: Peter Eltringham: `The village was convinced I was
Piedras Negras, a Classic Maya city built in an impressive location on a cliff above the Usumacinta River in the Peten of Guatemala, was abandoned to the jungle over 1,000 years ago. The guerrillas who'd occupied it for the last twenty had (apparently) just left and I was rafting down the river with the first archaeological expedition since the 1930s. The archaeologists, Steven Houston and Hector Escobido, were both out at the first lengthy exploration of the site. So they sent a small group of us to find particular glyph carved on a rock face.
Armed with a drawing of the glyph, an old map and a compass direction we set off. The city is enormous and the light was fading, so our chances were not great. I noticed some vertical grooves on an overhang but couldn't make out anything clearly. We had to go across the narrow valley to get a good look. Following the lines upward we slowly began to see the outline of a huge double-headed turtle surrounded by other glyphs. We'd found it and it was undamaged. Favourite meal There's no finer lunch than freshly grilled snapper, lobster or barracuda accompanied by Creole rice and beans - a Belizean staple, washed down with a Belikin beer. After tramping the streets in Guatemala I relish a marketplace meal of black beans, tortillas cooked over charcoal with a bowl of guacamole. If I'm really hungry I'll add a bowl of caldo - stew - and a plate of rice to that, with a bottle of Gallo beer. Bizarre meeting On my first attempt to reach the ruined city of El Mirador, the location of the tallest Maya temple, I was forced to turn back at Carmelita, the village at the end of the "road", still two days walk through the forest from the ruins. The rainy season hadn't quite finished and the mud was too deep to go any further. Still I had found an excellent guide in Carlos Catalan and promised I'd be back "in a couple of months". When I eventually headed back, three months later, it took me two days to reach Carmelita. I wondered if Carlos would be there, as he could easily be out working in the forest. I approached the village hesitantly, not daring to hope for too much, only to find Carlos walking down the road to meet me. "I knew you'd be back this week" he said, "so I waited for you." That was strange enough, as he could have had no idea when I'd be back. After all I'd only decided myself three days before, but how could he know exactly which minute I would come near enough to the village to set off to meet me? "Well," he said, "I knew any stranger must be you coming back, so I promised to pay a Quetzal (worth about 10p) to the boy who spotted someone coming." It still all seemed too much of a coincidence, but as often happens, luck was to be on my side. Carlos had the horses ready (to carry supplies - walking through the forest is quicker and safer than riding) and we set off the next morning for a week in the jungle. Biggest disappointment ever On my last trip government budget cuts had forced the closure of the Archaeological Vault in Belmopan, Belize's tiny capital. The vault, a locked strongroom housing almost all of the nation's finest Maya artifacts was supposed to be a temporary measure until the National Museum could be built. Visitors could see, even handle, the priceless decorated ceramics, the gold and jade jewellery or the exquisite, delicate eccentric flings - symbols of office for the rulers of a powerful, advanced culture. Now all I can expect are occasional, temporary displays - until funds, or foreign aid, permit the museum plan to be resurrected. Worst mistake I was staying on the top floor of my friend Robert's uncompleted two- storey house in Hopkins, a Garifuna fishing village on the coast of Belize. Robert called to me from outside and I stepped through the door to the balcony to see what he wanted. As I fell I realised that the verandah deck was one of the unfinished parts. I hit a horizontal hardwood beam a foot square then slid off, gasping, into the sand. The entire village was alarmed, convinced I was going to die. The only way out was by boat, nine miles over choppy sea in the dark to the hospital in the District capital of Dangriga. It was excruciating. Each wave hitting the boat knocked the breath out of me and at the hospital the X-ray machine blew a fuse every time the technician turned it on. I was in a serious state; six broken ribs, a punctured lung and the possibility of a ruptured spleen. I was flown to Belize City the next day, but rejected advice to fly out to a modern hospital in Florida. I stayed in Belize, recovering over Christmas as a guest of the British High Commission, and the Foreign Office gained a new fan. Peter Eltringham did research for `The Rough Guide to Guatemala and Belize'. Keep up withdevelopments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter `Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week. FACT FILE Getting There: There are no direct flights to either Belize or Guatemala, but you can get to Guatemala in one day using American or Continental. For Belize you almost always need an overnight stay in the USA. Return fares vary from pounds 470-pounds 650 - low season is in the British summer. Journey Latin America (0181-747-3108) offers the best advice on flights. A good alternative is to fly to Cancun, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, and travel overland to Belize. Belize's land area is about the same size as Wales, but there's an equal area of sea and islands. It also boasts three of the only four coral atolls in the Caribbean, protected in national parks and marine reserves. Diving and snorkelling are just wonderful. Getting Around: The most popular (indeed virtually the only) internal flight in Guatemala is from Guatemala City to Flores, for a visit to the ruins of Tikal. Buses in both countries are frequent, crowded - and sometimes alarmingly fast. One more useful fact: British citizens do not need a visa for either Guatemala or Belize.