“Are you sure you want to stop here?” Mischa asked, as we motored our flame emblazoned pickup into Spanish Lookout in Belize’s Cayo District.
After driving from Dangriga to the Blue Hole, the road to Xunantunich (said, ZooNAANtooNitch) took us to Spanish Lookout, a Mennonite Settlement. The kids and I needed a rest stop, and the first place available in town was a truck stop / machine shop.
“It’s fine,” I told Mischa, knowing that had we had left the jungle some distance behind us and were in cleared farm territory. In other words, the familial roadside squat wouldn’t work and, we needed a bathroom, soon! (How come men never have to stop as much?)
As we purchased water and took turns in the one-seater, I tried not to fixate on the wax figure men in overalls, denim suits and straw hats fitting of the last century. I did however sense how the men stopped everything when we entered the shop.
Busy attempting to keep the traveler’s low profile, I didn’t catch what my kids did, “Mommy, they’re watching us,” Lena reached up, whispering in my ear.
“Oh. Thank you!” I whispered back.
In my bathroom-break-haste, I had not considered my cultural faux pas until my daughter pointed this out. Fishing my khaki shirt from my backpack and covered up my tankini top and exposed shoulders.
As we’d driven into Spanish Lookout, two things stuck out to me: the handful of rhythmically pumping oil wells, supposed to be the only active oil wells in Belize. And, the placid Brahman cows along the roadside fences.
Brahman cattle are descended from Asian Zebu cattle. Known for their versatility for milk, beef and work, both breeds are recognizable by their fatty humps, droopy ears and tolerance of hot climates. (For more Belizean cattle ranching info, check out: http://blpabz.org/news/004.pdf.)
Before we left, we chatted with the truck stop gentlemen to find they spoke Platt Deutsch, “We speak it at home and children learn it in school.” The Mennonite settlement at Spanish Lookout is comprised of the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites who arrived from Mexico in 1958. Eventually joined by families from Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and refuges from Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s.
After exchanging a few words in high German (that my family and I speak) and finding common ground, we bid our new acquaintances and their hats goodbye to find, what our guidebook claimed was, one of two hand-cranked ferries in Belize.
Leaving Spanish Lookout, we crossed the Macal River on that three-car wooden plank ferry. The girls and I watched river fingerlings on the upstream side swim with the luminous, aqua-green current.
Toward late afternoon we drove by a couple places to stay and decided on the Log Cab-Inn. Our cabin was rustic (bare light bulbs, a kitchenette with rusty flatware) but clean. The proprietor looked at me funny when I asked for mattress pads, so I opted for extra towels and sheets to give us more than sheet-separation from the hotel cast-off mattresses.
That settled, we made it into San Ignacio for late afternoon. Lured onto the street by the smell of grilling Belizean chicken, we strolled through the market haphazardly rimming the confluence of streets in the middle of town filled with fruit stands, peddlers, carvers and backpackers.
Smells of charcoal and grilled chicken mingled with incense, jungle funk and wood shavings. On one corner we stopped and chatted with a rasta Garufina carver by the handle of Rasta Rip. He told us about his work and his heritage. Half Macal and half Garufina, Rip was raised in a village of carvers hear the Altun Ha ruins.
The kids started to horse around near his carvings of boats and surfboards and dropped some banana chips we’d picked up at the market.
“Hey, the trash is over there! My rat friends are fat enough. Don’t need no ghetto pringles,” he said, laughing and pointing to rats snooping in the shadows in the alley behind him. I squinted, thinking I’d call his bluff, but no, the pair of rats looked like they smelled food.
As we left we inquired about a place to eat dinner. “Any a these granny stands you passed in town are great. They know chicken. Nothing better than Belizean chicken!”
Mr. Rip, we’d have to agree!
Have you ever delighted to find yourself crossing cultures and landscapes in the course of a day?
In the next installment on the road to Xunantunich, we’ll traverse Belize’s second, hand-cranked ferry with its resident iguana in the shadow of the Xunantunich ruins.