Monday, November 29, 2010

A Short Stay in Belize City, Central America

As you can see from the picture above, it was warm in Belize City, Belize, Central America, less than a couple of weeks ago. We stopped for a snack of local meat pies and a bottle of the famous local beer, Belikin, for me, and a glass of watermelon juice for my husband. In addition to Belize, we also visited several other places. We returned home before Thanksgiving. We had a great Thanksgiving meal with the family of our daughter’s husband. I hope that all my blogging friends also had a great Thanksgiving celebration.

Vintage Thanksgiving postcard -
A Thanksgiving Token: Everyone has cause for Thanksgiving but the turkey…”

It was in the mid 80s when we visited Belize City. Belize is a tiny country bordered by Mexico’s Yucatan to the north and Guatemala to the south and west. It is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. It has the lowest population density in Central America – one of the lowest in the world. The population of Belize is predominantly Kriol Black – the descendants of African slaves who mixed with other races in the region. It is a unique culture where English is the official language but Spanish is also spoken.

Map of Central America

Here is a bit of history: the Maya Indians settled Belize as early as 1500 BC. Then it was claimed by Spain in the late 1500s and in 1638 Scottish and English buccaneers known as “Baymen” settled on the coast to attack Spanish ships. Spain agreed to let the British buccaneers occupy the area (but not to own it) and cut log-wood and mahogany in exchange for their end to piracy. African slaves were brought from Jamaica in the early 1700s to harvest timber. More British settlers came to Belize and in 1864 it became a British Crown Colony under the name “British Honduras.” It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1981; it had already been officially renamed “Belize.” (It was the UK’s last continental possession in the Americas.)

Flag of Belize

Belize is now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is the only English speaking country in Central and South America.

Example of Belize currency

We arrived at Belize City on a small powered boat like the one below.

It was warm and sunny and I quickly took a picture from the moving boat.

Belize City (population around 70,000) is a busy town with diverse ethnic groups: Creole, Maya, Indians, Garifuna, Mestizo, Chinese and Hindu. The city has been battered several times by powerful hurricanes. It was hit by Hurricane Hattie (category 5) in 1961. Many people lost their lives and thousands were left homeless, so the government relocated the capital from Belize City to Belmopan in the interior of the country. About 3 weeks before we visited Belize City, on October 25, 2010, Hurricane Richard made landfall about 20 miles from the city. Many of the older homes were blown off their stilts and thousands of trees were knocked down. We could still see much debris on the roads as in the picture below, behind the lady in national costume, as well as damages to old houses and roofs.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture

The scenery around Belize City is as diverse as its people. It is divided into north and south – beautiful colonial houses on one side and poor housing and slums on the other. A manual operated swing bridge divides the city. Twice a day it turns open – it is the last manually operated swing bridge left in the world. We drove on it and I could not take a good picture but below is a vintage postcard showing this bridge.

Vintage postcard of Belize City manual swing bridge.

There are still a dozen Mayan sites with temples and pyramids around the country, but we did not have time to visit them. We drove by several historical sites in Belize City though, like St John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican Cathedral Church in Central America. It was built by slave in 1812 from bricks brought as ballast on European sailing chips. The interior is fitted with mahogany, but we did not go inside.

We also drove by the Superior Court House with its lovely ironworks. It was built in 1923 by the same construction company that built the swing bridge, a New Orleans company, and it shows.

A school, Wesley College, which had opened its door in 1882 as a secondary college in Belize is now a music education center since 2006. Close by was another school, for the Muslim community. We also saw little grocery stores in the poor area of Belize City.

We came back to the harbor area to have a snack, as pictured in the heading. It was quite warm by then.

In the distance we had seen the slim lighthouse. It is called the Baron Bliss Lighthouse Monument. The story is told that Baron Bliss, Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, 1829-1926, an English paraplegic sailor, visited Belize in 1926 in his yacht, the Sea King. Baron Bliss had traveled all over the world but fell in love with Belize’s clear blue waters, the climate and the people. Two months after his arrival he died in his yacht – he had not set foot in Belize City yet as he was paralyzed after being struck with polio. He left Belize a $2 million legacy. The interest from this sum has been used to fund many projects in Belize, like roads, schools and many others.

With such a short stay we could not see what Belize is known for, and that is its wonderland of Caribbean reefs. When he visited it with his ship the Calypso, French explorer scientist Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) made the Great Blue Hole famous, declaring it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world. Lying about 60 miles off Belize mainland the Blue Hole is a circular underwater limestone sinkhole more than 300 ft across and 412 feet deep. The Hole is located in the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest Barrier Reef in the World. There are over 500 species of fish, 300 species of mollusk, stony corals, sponges, etc. in this reef. It was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I found a picture of it on the Web.

Eco-tourism is growing in Belize because of its crystal-clear water, coral atolls, its 185 miles long Barrier Reef System, its rain forest with more than 570 species of birds, its national parks, marine reserves and wildlife sanctuaries (more than 40% of the country’s area is protected.) I heard and saw some of the birds, but am not good at catching them with my camera. I am good at buying postcards though… here are several.

Birds of Belize: from top left Roseate Spoonbill, then Green Heron. In center Reddish Egret. Lower left Yellow Crowned Night Heron then Brown Booby.

Mealy Blue Crown Parrot

One animal I would have like to see but did not was the coati.

Postcard of three baby coati – found in many districts of Belize.

Evening came too quickly. It was time to say goodbye to Belize City. Maybe we’ll come back some day. Belize is still relatively undiscovered by tourists but they will come more and more to enjoy its beauty. One early tourist was the English writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) who wrote in Beyond the Mexique Bay in 1934 “If the world had any ends British Honduras [Belize] would be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere, to anywhere else. It is all but uninhabited.” But it has changed – a little

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 6 (entr’acte) – An Osage Orange

While we were in Nashville last month visiting our daughter’s family, we walked to the playground near their house subdivision. Our two grandsons showed us the way as we had never been there. It was mid-morning during the week so few people were around. Our eldest grandson (soon to be 4 years old) was eager to get to the playground.

We were following the children and at the same time looking at all the surrounding vegetation.

As we were approaching the pine trees on the left of the path in the picture below

I could see some large green round things below the trees – which I took for tennis balls. But coming closer, I saw they were not tennis balls.

I wanted to examine these weird looking balls but I was falling behind – after all, it was our mission to get to the playground quickly.

No other children were using the playground so our little grandsons had a great time going up and down the slides.

After the little kiddies had climbed the playground gym many times, we had to go back for lunch. They were also a little tired.

While they rested I went ahead to take a better look at those bright green balls. It’s a little bit hard to distinguish them on the picture below. They can be seen on the ground below the pine trees and hanging on the tree on the left.

They are quite heavy and large as you can see below. They look like a brainy orange. My husband told me they were called “Osage Orange.”

So we walked back home…..well, some of us did…

When we were back in Georgia I looked up information on the Osage Orange. It is actually a Maclura pomifera, commonly known as Osage Orange but also as Hedgeapple, Green Brains, Mock Orange and Bodarck. The common name comes from the American Indian Osage tribe because they lived near the home range of the trees bearing these fruits. They do have a pleasant citrus smell.

I found out that the American explorer Meriwether Lewis wrote to Thomas Jefferson from St. Louis on 26 March 1804 (before his travel west now called The Lewis and Clark Expedition) "I send you herewith enclosed, some slips of the Osages Plums, and Apples. I fear the season is too far advanced for their success." He had obtained the cuttings "from the garden of Mr. Peter Choteau, who resided the greater portion of his time for many years with the Osage nation." Jean-Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849) was an early settler. With his brother Auguste, he fostered good relations between the US government and the Osage Indians. He negotiated the Osage Treaty of 1808.

Jean- Pierre Chouteau had introduced these species of Maclura pomifera (Oranger des Osages de la famille des Moraceae) to gardens in and around the village of St. Louis at the end of the 1790s. He said that he had received them from an Osage Indian and so they became known as Osage Oranges. They are not edible apart from the seeds which are prized by squirrels.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 5 (entr’acte) – Fall



Torn from trees

Ride the wind


in dainty






waft down


the earth

with gold.

- Jacqueline Borowick, Canadian Bilingual Poet, contemporary

A Golden Beam, John Atkinson Grimshaw, British 1836-1893

Jacqueline Borowick is a bilingual poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. A retired Presiding Bilingual Justice of the Peace she lives in Toronto, Canada.


La tombée




dans le vent



des arabesques


leur entrain





vers la terre

pour la parer


-Jacqueline Borowick, Poète bilingue Canadienne, contemporaine

Along the Seine, Maurice Prendergast, Canadian-born American Impressionist Painter, 1858-1924

Jacqueline Borowick est une auteure bilingue dont les poèmes ont été publiés dans de nombreuses revues littéraires et d’anthologies. Juge de Paix Bilingue à la retraite , elle habite Toronto, Canada.


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Friday, November 5, 2010

Georgia Mountains in autumn

Last week-end, after watching the weather forecast predicting sunny days, we decided to drive to the North Georgia Mountains. We left early on Sunday morning, October 31st and returned home on November 1st. It took us less than 2 hours to drive to Helen, a mountain town with a “touch of Bavaria.” When our daughters were growing up we visited the area several times and stayed at the close-by Unicoi State Park. We had not been back for many years and had forgotten how lovely it is there in autumn. We decided to find the scenic Chattahoochee River Road, also known as Forestry Road 44, where we entered the Mark Trail Wilderness Area which has a total of 16,400 acres. It is an unpaved logging road, very narrow, going up and down where you can drive at about 10 miles per hour, at most.

After driving a couple of miles into the wilderness you certainly feel like you are a long way from civilization. I drove carefully and did not look on the outer side of the road which was going down quite steeply.

It certainly was a wilderness and all sounds of civilization were gone. Maybe if we had been there many years ago we could have come upon some moonshine production?

Vintage postcard of moonshine still in the mountains

The autumn colors were surrounding us and I stopped the car, in the middle of the road, to take pictures – hoping no other car would come in the opposite direction.

Click on collage to enlarge then click on each picture to enlarge again

Winding around the mountains we could see more glorious colors, either by looking around to the trees, the ground or up to the sky, which was a clear blue. The scent of the vegetation had that special autumn richness. It felt good to be alive.

We saw several camping areas. Being Sunday afternoon most people had already left.

The camp fires were out

and no garbage was around to tempt the wildlife living in the forest, hopefully…

As I stopped the car to take pictures my husband would walk up nearby trails. Not far, at the crest of these Blue Ridge Mountains you can reach the Appalachian Trail which goes all the way to the state of Maine – about 2,179 miles or 3,507 km long.

We kept driving along little waterfalls, rocky outcroppings, and could hear and see streams below us.

We had started our drive at the Unicoa Gap about 10 miles ago and now there was a fork on the road and we were not sure which way to go. Luckily we found a sign and we drove on towards the Low Gap Creek.

It was nice and flat there and we walked around in a deep blanket of dead leaves.

The water in the rushing streams seemed so pure.

As an aside information, I found out that the Mark Trail Wilderness had been named in honor of Mark Trail, a daily newspaper comic strip character created by the American cartoonist Ed Dodd. There were some magazines for boys also in the 1950s called Mark Trail.

In a clearing we saw a small cabin. It was a ranger check station.

The Chattahoochee River originates in the mountains nearby and is a small stream, meandering through the forest.

The flow increases at it goes down toward Helen. It increases even more as it gets to Atlanta, see my post: “Trails along the Chattahoochee” here.

Coasting down our scenic drive, the road became wider and we arrived in the little mountain town of Helen. This village has a long history. First, the Cherokee Indians lived all around the mountains and Indian burial mounds are still there, actually two miles south of town.

Nacoochee Mound, Indian Burial Grounds (from the Web)

Then early settlers came to mine for gold and cut all the virgin timber. But by the 1970s it was a failing small town. Businessmen asked a nearby artist to draw some plans for the town. He had been stationed in Germany so he sketched buildings with gingerbread trims and gave the town an Alpine look. Buildings painted with scenes from Bavaria, cobblestone alleyways and German restaurants and gift shops give the town a real Alpine look.

It was still light when we arrived in the village and we could hear the music celebrating the last day of Oktoberfest.

We selected a German restaurant, the Heidelberg. We had some good German food accompanied by German beer.

After dinner we walked a bit in the town.

Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them

There were many children in costumes for Halloween and some adults too - everyone having a great time.

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