Birthday and Big Blue Hole

Thursday was Amy’s birthday and Garifuna Settlement Day. The Garifuna are a people that originated from a shipwreck of an African slave ship in the 17th century. The people were washed ashore on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent. The Africans meshed with the indigenous population of Arawaks and Caribs to newly form the Garifuna. From there they bounced around the Caribbean and Central America until arriving in Belize around the turn of the 19th century. The biggest group to migrate to Belize was on November 19, 1832, when some 200 came to Belize from Honduras in dugout canoes. Today the Garifuna number about 16,000 people mostly living in the south of Belize.

The plan for the day was to go to Barton Creek Cave and canoe and go zip-lining through the jungle canopy at Jaguar Paw.

View from front of Eva's in Downtown San Ignacio

The first stop  on the birthday agenda was breakfast at Eva’s in downtown San Ignacio. Eva’s is an interesting place run by a British ex-pat. The kids liked it because our table was situated underneath a painting of a mermaid with no top, so you can imagine the topic of conversation at the table. The place’s walls were plastered with great artwork from locals like Daniel Veraquez. The owner wanted to help us out by getting a guide to take us to Barton Creek, but we said we liked finding our own way. Part of the fun of travel and adventure is finding one’s own way off the beaten path. Off we went down a bumpy dirt road into the jungle with partial directions and no signs to guide us.

Mennonite children pushing a wagon

A few miles into the road we came across a Mennonite settlement. The Mennonites are a group of people like the Quakers and Amish. They originate from an Anabaptist group that dates back to 16th century Netherlands. In 1958 the first wave of 3500 Mennonites settled in Belize. They don’t use combustible engines or any technology. In Belize they are well respected for their hard work. You can’t miss them when they come to town. They are blond and blue-eyed people who drive horse and buggy and wear bonnets and frocks and overalls and straw cowboy hats. Coming upon their settlement was like stepping into a Little House on the Prairie episode. I almost made Amy put her hair in pony-tails and run down one of the nearby hills through the tall grass and flowers. After being there I think I will make the kids refer to me as “Pa” from now on. We worked our way through the settlement and came to a crossroads. We kept going straight and after a mile realized we had made a mistake. At this point we weren’t sure where to go because there were no signs anywhere. In the end I got the attention of one of the young Mennonites and asked him for directions. This is the place where we came across the kids pushing their wagon up the hill. Set in the right direction we headed for the cave. We had to cross another river, which was such a delight to the kids. Since it was Amy’s birthday she made me go slow and “not try anything funny”.

Entrance to Barton Creek Cave

We finally found Barton Creek Cave and a young guide named Melvin. We were the only people there except for the locals who lived nearby including a couple boys that our kids had fun playing with. Once we got set with Melvin we got into canoes and prepped for the 1 mile trip into the cave. Once inside it was a totally different experience as ATM. Yes, it had pottery and yes it had a skull, but the cave itself had a different personality. I felt like I was in the Land of the Lost. I kept expecting to see a Sleestack looking out from the shadows. Amy and I throughly enjoyed it, but Tyler and Alex got a little bored and started fighting over the cave light. On the route back they took turns trying to spot giant catfish and crawfish that live in the caves. We spotted four catfish. Melvin was a helpful and informative guide and we saved a couple hundred dollars by driving to the spot ourself.

Next on the agenda was going zip-lining at Jaguar Paw. Glancing at the map we figured we could take the Hummingbird Highway Southeast and find Jaguar Paw. Next time we will look closer at the map before taking off. It was getting late in the day and we could not find it anywhere and finally figured out our mistake. So, keeping a positive attitude and turning the situation around we went to visit the Blue Hole. Not the Blue Hole off the coast but a cenote located at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. The 25 foot deep and 328 foot wide cenote formed when the roof caved in on one of the Sibun River’s underground tributaries. Alex, Nick, and I took a quick dip in the water and we checked out the cave there. It was kind of funny because Alex and Nick were a little nervous to jump in because Alex said he wasn’t sure what was in it. So, being the super dad I  am I challenged them to jump in on the count of three. By the way, it almost always works with my boys 🙂

Swimming in the Blue Hole

Freshened up, we got back in the car to head back to Belmopan to find our third Geocache. We took a road off the highway in search of this Geocache that was located by a small school bus. It made me think of Keith (Amy’s Dad). We couldn’t find the cache where the coordinates brought us too, but the cache said to say hi to the owner of the property, Robyn, who had placed it. It so happened they were home. We met the owners and they happened to be from Centralia, Washington. Go figure, what a small world. We all came to the conclusion that someone must have taken or misplaced the cache, but it was great meeting new people. Plus, Nick found a huge frog under the bus.

For Amy’s birthday dinner we went back to Eva’s because it was one of the only restaurants open in town. To celebrate Garifuna Day I wanted to honor them and eat a local plate of Garifuna food. It was the special on the menu. I was starving at this point and anything sounded good. Our food finally arrived and placed before me was a steaming bowl of grey stew with chunks of vegetable (unknown variety) and a hunk of fish. Besides the many bones that I pulled out of my mouth the stuff actually didn’t taste half bad. The dish was called ‘Hudut’ made up plantains mashed and cooked with coconut milk, fish, and vegetables like carrots and cassava. I just kept putting out of my mind what was in the dish and where everything had been.

In the end I think the boys and I gave their beautiful and wonderful mother a great birthday. I can say from my heart as I listened to the Bee Gees play More than a Women over the sound system that the boys and I are very lucky to are are blessed to have someone like her in our lives.

Happy Birthday Amy / Mom!

Happy Garifuna Settlement Day!

-Tony 11/19/09


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