Believe it: Belize a peaceful Central American paradise By Julian McPhillips
Mother Nature's Best Kept Secret -- Belize, Established 1981. So reads the license tag my wife Leslie bought in Belize City just before returning on New Year's Eve from an amazing Caribbean adventure.
The only English-speaking country of Central America, Belize is a jewel awaiting discovery. It has political stability and security for travelers, unlike bordering Guatemala where "bandidos" still prey on tourists. Belize also has beautiful white, sandy beaches, great scuba-diving, sailing, and deep-sea fishing for the so-inclined. Yet, verdant forests inland are sculptured by rivers, caves, egg-shaped hills, and jungle topography, exposing an eerie tranquility.
There are more Mayan ruins per square mile than any other country in Central America. Leslie and I were awed by the size, grandeur and artistry of these once palatial remains. While many have been excavated, much also remains buried, covered by a millennium or two of forest overgrowth.
Given the legends of buried treasure, camouflaged by a dense and challenging terrain, one can easily imagine India Jones swinging through the trees, avoiding pitfalls and dodging dangers.
No, we are not the first to discover this tropical paradise. It was once known as "British Honduras" before it gained its independence. But Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and big neighbor Mexico, to the immediate north, are better known.
Americans, Canadians, and Europeans are increasingly visiting this place.
There is also a large Chinese influence, mostly of Taiwanese origin.
Adding to the mix are Mennonites, who have found this place fertile soil for their peaceful pursuits. The dominant racial component is Mayan. A large Creole population, combining African, Hispanic and other cultures, is also apparent. The "Creole" language is fast-spoken, broken English, incorporating Spanish expressions.
Why did we visit this little country in the first place? Like many in their 50s and 60s, our adult children have motivated us. Our youngest child, David, at age 20, just completed a three-month missionary training program with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) on a Belizean island known as Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key"). David was exuberant about the locale, code-named "Destination Paradise." David was also transformed by YWAM's Spirit-filled, discipleship training sessions, which included the adventure of deep-sea scuba diving. By the time we arrived, David, however, had left for the Philippines, doing missionary outreach.
Although industry is sorely lacking, and the highways are full of bumps and potholes, a diversity abounds in this tropical land. Most major American hotel chains are absent, and one sees no American fast-food outlets. The place looks and smells like a third-world country. Yet, an intriguing aura exists. Due to Hurricane Richard in September, a fair number of houses are still missing their roofs, many of which were previously covered by "thatched" roofs or sheets of tin. The Belizean Zoo also took a big hit, with many trees knocked down inside it.
Belizean animal life (including jaguars, tapirs, howling monkeys, and exotic birds) is well worth seeing, whether in the Belizean Zoo or in the jungle forest. A colorful array of flora is a visual feast. Belizean art and artifacts are abundant.
We also enjoyed cave tubing, floating down a river into and out of caves, with miners' lights strapped to our heads and a guide leading the way.
The Christian influence of a variety of missionary groups, promoting education and good character, has helped develop this tiny country, the size of Connecticut.
More to see
We spent our first three nights at San Ignacio in the mountainous Cayo district with its cool mornings. Our last two days were at the YWAM Center, where gracious hosts introduced us to a beautiful beach accented by coconut palms. Colorful San Pedro Town was six miles away by water taxi.
There is much that we did not see, but what we did see makes us want to return soon. A direct flight south from Atlanta to Belize City takes only 2½ hours. That's about the same time as from Montgomery to Denver.
This is exciting stuff. Discover for yourself this enticing paradise.
Julian McPhillips is a Montgomery attorney.
The Birmingham News
On a trip to Belize, Julian McPhillips and his wife, Leslie, visited Xunantunich, a Mayan ruin.