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#420629 - 11/01/11 04:23 PM The Good Old Days
Marty Offline

January 5, 1980

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

BY CAREY FRENCH, IN BELIZE CITY

IT WAS A cross between a Sesame Street character and a small eel. Two huge red lips smiling beatifically out of a face comically surmounted by two bobbing eyebrows.

Swimming away from the coral outcrop, I thought it must be the result of one too many Harvey Wallbangers. A barracuda, sting ray or even a moray eel I was prepared for - but no one would ever believe such a preposterous sighting. By then, however, I was too deep into the Caribbean no big t'ing philosophy to really care.

A week knocking around the countryside of the central American country of Belize - it used to be called British Honduras - topped by a week snorkelling from the offshore cays, had left me in a state of mind where I would have been hard put to get agitated about anything. And here I was, lazing on the surface of a turquoise lagoon, a few yards from the world's second largest barrier reef, beaming through my face mask at a little fish which, judging by its expression, obviously considered me pretty hilarious too.

The journey had been easy to arrange: a flight to Miami taking advantage of the low charter rate and a two-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico on the daily Belize Airlines 707. The round trip from Toronto cost a little less than $400. Good hotels are hard to come by in Belize City, a squalid relic of Victorian England which never recovered from the visit by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. But the Fort George Hotel offered a comfortable, clean room for the night, an excellent dining room and a well stocked bar.

The wise traveller does not linger in this port city, so the next morning, piloting a rented Land Rover, I left for the interior. Heading west, the road was good for the first 50 miles, but once past the new capital of Belmopan (so new there are no hotels), I blessed my foresight in selecting a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

A bumpy journey over roads which frequently became rivers ended at the pretty town of San Ignacio, where a pleasant hotel of the same name offered a spacious room overlooking the town and the surrounding jungle for only $15 U.S. a night. It rained that evening and I was afraid that the Mopan River would be too swollen the next day to reach my goal - the mysterious hilltop Mayan ruin of Xunantunich which overlooks the Guatemalan border.

My fear proved groundless, and the next morning a diminutive native nonchalantly hauled the Land Rover across the swift-running river on an old ferry, connected by wire to either shore.

There are three major Mayan sites in Belize. Altun Ha (Water of the Rock) is situated 30 miles north of Belize City and is the most accessible, while work is just starting on Lubaantun, in the north of the country.

But for me, Xunantunich was the most impressive: strange grass-covered mounds dotting a central plaza dominated by a brooding, stepped pyramid. The Royal Ontario Museum has done most of the work here - bringing to light an intricately carved astronomical frieze at the summit where Mayan priests once stood - but now excavations are temporarily halted for lack of funds.

It was more than an hour before a uniformed Indian guide stepped from the surrounding bush to collect my 50 cents and explain some of the mysteries of the place. He had not had a visitor in days and was eager to talk.

No one knows for sure why the Maya deserted this and other sites. Theories include disease, peasant revolt, conquest and natural calamities. What is known is that around the ninth century AD, the civilization declined in the area; no longer were temples constructed, nor was the history of the people recorded. To the north, in Yucatan, strong military influences probably helped the civilization to linger on, but the end was only postponed until the arrival of the Spanish invaders.

Belize is likely one of the few places where a stroll into the bush - an inadvisable venture without a guide - can result in the discovery of some priceless Mayan relic. The government takes a dim view of tourists smuggling such articles out of the country, and the visitor should be especially wary of purchasing anything that looks like an old sculpture or piece of pottery from local entrepreneurs.

For a particular type of traveller, the very lack of development on the mainland is its charm. A history buff can potter around ancient ruins without stepping on ice cream wrappers or bumping into noisy day trippers. He doesn't even have to place a hand over one eye - to block out the intruding telephone pole - to imagine what the site looked like 1,000 years ago.

The nature lover can take a six-hour boat trip up the Belize River to photograph spider monkeys and other jungle dwellers, or can drive (four-wheel-drive a must) into the mountains to the Hidden Valley Falls, where a river plunges 1,000 feet.

For about $2,000 a professional hunter will lay on vehicles, machete-wielding trackers and weaponry for a jaguar hunt in the jungle.

But most visitors come to Belize for one thing only: the Barrier Reef. The coastline of the mainland is largely a tangle of mangrove swamps, but a few miles offshore are the cays, whose white sands and clear waters once provided refuge inside the reef for West Indies raiders such as Blackbeard and Benbow.

A traveller can spend as little as $6 a night at a hotel on Cay Corker, known as the backpackers' paradise, since this is where most of the North American hitchhiking community arrives at one time or another. A plate of lobster on this island costs $3, and Bob Marley reigns supreme.

Glovers Reef, and historic St. Georges Cay, where British settlers and their slaves fought off a Spanish invasion in 1798, both have small resort communities and offer excellent diving.

Ambergris Cay, 36 miles north of Belize City, is the best developed, though it has lost nothing of its island charm. Here a tourist can lodge for as little as $6 a night in a room above a shop in the village of San Pedro, or stay in a beachfront cabana, with all meals, for as much as $37 a day.

One of the best values for money on the cay is Ramon's Aqua Lodge. The rate varies, from an off-season low of $25 a day to $37 during the height of the season. Guests can stay in either beachfront cabanas or in equally comfortable hotel rooms, and all meals are included. Fresh-caught lobster, shrimp, turtle and other seafood make up the basic fare.

I found that most guests preferred to spend their evenings under the palm trees - out of the line of fire of threatening clumps of coconuts - listening to Ramon, part-owner of the lodge, describing scuba forays around the reef.

The area is a diver's paradise. In a party of four, a scuba diver can have an afternoon off the reef, with all equipment and an experienced underwater guide, for about $50. Parties of 12 or more can take advantage of a weekly package of $365 a person, which includes room and board, two dives daily and two night dives, all equipment and an experienced guide.

Alternatively, a snorkeller can explore the coral formations from a glass-bottom boat for as little as $5 (in a group of six) for an afternoon, while for the real budget hawk canoes are available from islanders for as little as $2 a day.

And for the visitor who finds it hard to abandon the hectic pace of the outside world, there is free advice: Slow down, man, it's no big t'ing.

IF YOU GO

Do not check your baggage straight through from Canada to Belize. Carrying your own luggage between planes at Miami will take more time, but at least you can be sure your clothes will not remain in Florida - as mine did - while you fly south. Officials of Belize Air Lines point out that Miami airport is a maelstrom and advise booking luggage only as far as Miami.

If you are connecting with a charter at Miami on the return journey - charters are not available between Miami and Belize - be sure to allow at least three hours between connections. Central American airlines are notoriously tardy.

When hiring a vehicle while on the mainland, rent from Elijah Sutherland (he's in the book) in Belize City. The rate for a Land Rover is about $50 a day with fuel. It's slightly more expensive than other firms, but the vehicle will be in top condition. The same company will arrange a Belize River boat trip.

The 36-mile flight to Ambergris Cay in a Maya Airways 10-seater costs $12.50. Be sure to book at least half a day in advance.

If you are contemplating a trip inland, it is wise to purchase anti-malaria tablets before leaving Canada. Malaria still exists in the interior and tablets may be hard to come by in the cities.


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#420679 - 11/02/11 12:30 AM Re: The Good Old Days [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

After independence, just another ordinary day
September 24, 1981, Thursday

BY OAKLAND ROSS
in Belize
BELIZE CITY

OLD MEN WITH brooms, shovels and barrels were at work early on Regent and Albert Streets on Tuesday morning, removing the debris - the paper cups, broken beer bottles and cigaret butts - that cluttered the streets after Monday's independence celebrations.

Young men stood upon ladders perched against the streetlamps, winding down the banners, colored lights and bunting that had decked Belize City on Independence Day.

By eight in the morning, the stores and banks downtown were pushing back their iron gates and opening for another day's business. Wooden boats with small outboard motors spluttered under the bridge near Triangle Restaurant and headed up along the winding Belize River.

By 9:30, the square outside the Royal Bank of Canada was crowded with Belizeans, some pushing their way into the dank, enclosed harbor market, others simply lounging near the revolving Coca-Cola clock sign. A huge stereo radio slung over someone's shoulder pumped out the reggae beat that throbs almost constantly here in Belize.

Here in independent Belize. "Ya da fu we Belize," say the locals, in Creole. "Belize is for us." With a population of just 140,000 (or 15 people per square mile,) and a scarcely developed economy, Belize has considerable potential for development - hardwood lumber, agriculture, fishing and tourism. But it faces challenges no less awesome than those staring down other third world nations.

And Belize has an extra cross to bear; now and for the foreseeable future, it must labor under the threat of an invasion by neighboring Guatemala, which claims Belize as its own - and appears to mean what it says.

Leaving that grim note aside, Belize (especially Belize City) is a moody, mysterious place. Narrow, dusty lanes ramble between the city's sagging wooden buildings, most of them built on 2 1/2-metre stilts because of the danger of hurricane flooding. The city is dissected by sluggish, dark canals and, in fact, it lies below sea level, surrounded by steaming mangrove swamps and protected by a concrete sea wall.

It is exactly the sort of place in which you would expect to find a forlorn Graham Greene sub-hero - ill-kempt, unshaven, with whisky on his breath, stains on his shirt front and a battered heart whispering his secret sorrows. In fact, the place is probably crawling with them.

It is certainly populated by some flamboyant and eccentric expatriates. The retired British soldier, for example, who lives upon a stool in the almost pitch-black bar at the Bellevue Hotel. Earnest, frail and talkative, he married a Belizean woman and has remained here to dwell out his retirement. With his thick north-of-England accent and his nicotine- stained fingers, he buttonholes nearly every foreigner who enters the bar.

Or the garrulous U. S. insurance agent who came to Belize for a month and has remained, so far, for 28 years. He smokes fat cigars, sports an absurd plastic boater and has (as they say) close government connections.

Belizeans themselves are consistently warm, ingenuous and surprisingly worldly. The country has all the appearance of a forsaken backwater - but that appearance is belied by its people, a polyglot of Africans, Europeans, mestizos and Central American Indians. They are almost always chatty, in creole, English or Spanish; and more often than not they are hauntingly beautiful.

Belize City has a nasty reputation for violence, mostly muggings, chokings and slashings, which are said to become more frequent and more fervent as holidays approach and the unemployed youth amass their celebration funds by the most convenient (and perhaps the only) means available.

The visitor is regularly cautioned against venturing out at night, especially alone. I grew a bit careless in this regard, without misfortune, and during two weeks here I heard of no other foreigner who had encountered any unpleasantness.

About a third of Belize's population lives here in Belize City. The rest dwell in small inland communities or on the cayes (that is, islands) which dot the coast. The capital is in Belmopan, a 90-minute drive into the interior from Belize City. Belmopan is a sort of micro-Brasilia, an artificial capital built 10 years ago to encourage inland settlement, so far without much success.

Only about 3,000 people, civil servants and their families, live there - many, if not most, returning to Belize City for the weekends.

If you have ever been to Belmopan, you'll understand why.


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#421096 - 11/05/11 03:22 PM Re: The Good Old Days [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize gripped by foreboding on independence eve
September 12, 1981, Saturday

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

By OAKLAND ROSS
Globe and Mail Correspondent

BELIZE CITY - In a squat wooden shack, wobbling on stilts above the steaming coastal marsh, a midwife was attending a young mother in the final throes of labor. A moment after the infant was delivered, it spoke its first words: "Remember the 21st." In horror, the midwife dropped the baby to the floor. It died. The mother lapsed into shock.

The story is told here as though it were true.

Last Tuesday, in the darkness before the break of day, someone sneaked into the dining room of the Fort George Hotel, across the harbor from downtown. The interloper had with him a canister of gasoline with which he doused one of the tables and tried to set it on fire. For some reason, he failed. The number of the table: 21.

The winning number in the Belizean lottery last week: 21.

Omens and portents. Rumors and superstition are swirling among the weathered, wooden buildings of Belize City like the dust kicked up by a donkey-cart in the burning midday sun. But what do they mean? Belizeans are wondering the same thing, as this Central American colony of 140,000 people - the final outpost of the British Empire on the mainland of the Americas - tiptoes toward the independence that almost no one seems to want. Mark the day: a week from Monday, Sept. 21.

Despite the earnest efforts of Belizean Prime Minister George Price, his people will not be united in celebration on Independence Day.

A seasoned foreign observer placed support for independence at between 50 and 60 per cent of the population.

It seems almost impossible to find anyone in Belize who is eager about the prospect, outside the Government and its staunchest supporters.

The Belizean opposition party, the United Democratic Party, has announced that it will boycott all independence festivities. So will the Belize Chamber of Commerce. So will the "friendly societies" - the Mechanics, the Masons, the Oddfellows.

So will the Belize Ex-Servicemen's League. Members of the colony's public service union are expected to conduct an unofficial boycott.

From the Government's point of view, the UDP's opposition to independence is sour grapes. "The UDP is anti-independence so long as they're not in power," an official said.

That is the peaceful face of Belizean protest. The plot may thicken. A loosely structured but determined organization called the Belize Action Movement has vowed to fight the Government's independence plans by whatever means necessary. Violence, to BAM, poses no ethical problem.

Almost no one in Belize opposes independence itself. But many people simply do not feel secure about the way the Government is going about it. They glance over their shoulders, to the west, and they shudder.

There sits Guatemala, with a population 50 times that of Belize - a colossus by comparison. Since 1945, Guatemala's claim to Belize has been included in its constitution. Twice during the past five years, Guatemalan troops have gathered at the Belizean border, threatening to invade.

The Guatemalans withdrew, and the border has remained inviolate only because of the presence in Belize of a British defence force. Belize has no army of its own.

Last week, Guatemala broke consular ties with the United Kingdom (and, therefore, with Belize as well) to protest against the colony's imminent independence. The Guatemalan border with Belize was clamped shut, and all Belizeans in Guatemala were ordered to leave. In Belize, it is widely feared that worse may follow.

Since 1966, Belize has had a standing offer of independence from Britain. What it did not have, until late last year, was any sort of assurance that Britain would continue to shoulder the burden of defending it from Guatemala.

Britain has now agreed to maintain a military presence (currently about 1,800 men) for "an appropriate period" after independence. The Belizean opposition is not greatly reassured by this, although Attorney-General Said Musa calls it "the crucial breakthrough." During the past year, efforts to clear the way for Belizean independence have been stepped up. Representatives from Guatemala, Britain and Belize gathered earlier this year in New York and London to try to sort out their differences.

Last March, they produced a discussion paper, called the heads of agreement, which reduced the conflict to 16 negotiating points - the basis for a potential treaty.

Many Belizeans were alarmed because the heads of agreement took them by surprise and because several provisions struck them as being tantamount to a sell-out to Guatemala.

And that was when the boys from BAM took to the streets.

They were not alone. The Belize public service union launched an illegal strike in protest at the heads of agreement. The Chamber of Commerce closed its businesses. The leaders of BAM mounted their soap- boxes - and the rioters, the looters and the arsonists swung into action.

Before tempers finally cooled, three people had been shot dead, nine buildings had been burned to the ground, and British Governor James Hennessy had declared a state of emergency.

The Government has responded to its critics with the eminently reasonable arguments that the heads of agreement are only an agenda for discussion, not a commitment, and that a few concessions will inevitably have to be made so that Guatemala can salvage some face when and if it drops its claim to Belize.

In any case, treaty talks broke down in July, and Belize has decided to proceed to independence anyway. That has raised ire, too, because it means that Belize will become independent with only a vague assurance from Britain (and none whatsoever from Guatemala) that it has much chance for remaining independent for long.

The UDP, while still refusing to back independence, has mellowed its opposition slightly in recent weeks by promising to renounce violent protest.

But some party members feel differently. "As I see it, there is only one way you can deal with the Government now - and that is by violence," said Sam Rhaburn, deputy chairman of the UDP - and also a member of BAM, which regards violence as the only means of scuttling the independence plan. "I am not advocating violence," he added.

At the Playboy Club, beside Martin's Records near the East Canal, a UDP hang-out, the conversation is filled with talk of independence and dread. Someone slips a coin into the jukebox and the dark room pounds with reggae - Bob Marley warning that "it seems like total destruction's the only solution." But a senior UDP official insists that all will remain cool. "For us, Sept. 21 will be just another day."

Either way, Belize does not seem to be going about its ascent to nationhood in quite the normal manner.


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#421217 - 11/07/11 08:35 PM Re: The Good Old Days [Re: Marty]
krehfish Offline
1980:"...Miami airport is a maelstrom...". Somethings never change.
_________________________
Flyfishing my way through mid-life crisis.

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