Friday, January 16, 2009




Ulf Fagerlund


                At a time when family and job made life hectic my wife Anita and I fell for the lure of coconut palms and sun-drenched beaches and in 1968 bought a plot on the Caribbean coast of Belize, formerly a British Crown colony known as British Honduras. The country is located east of Guatemala and south of Mexico in Central America. The plot was part of a former coconut plantation, which some Vancouver entrepreneurs had acquired and subdivided into individual residential lots. The plantation was located on a narrow peninsula separated from the mainland by a lagoon. The developers gave the property the name Maya Beach.  For us, and for a good number of other Western Canadians who bought lots there, this was meant to be a tropical retreat to be enjoyed on vacations and during retirement.

                Construction on the project had a good start. Canals were dug providing each lot access to open water via the lagoon, and some amenities were installed. Even some houses and a small annex to a future hotel  appeared.  However, within a few years, and before we had had a chance to visit the property, development stalled. Finally, the only people remaining on the site were two tenacious, elderly couples and a Texan who ran a deep-sea fishing operation at the annex for wealthy North-Americans.

                In 1973 I attended a meeting in Florida and Anita and I decided that this was our chance to visit Belize and take a look at our property. We made contact with the Texan who operated a fishing "lodge" on Maya Beach. His name was John. The "lodge" was in fact a one-storey building built in anticipation of the erection of a hotel on the sight. It had four guest rooms.  Since business was slow, he agreed to put us up for a few nights for a modest fee.

                Our plane took us via Jamaica to the city of Belize, which at that time was the capital. We had booked a room there in Fort George the only hotel with western standards.

                The country of Belize, which gained independence in 1981, is small and underdeveloped. The terrain consists of a coastal lowland rising in west to the Guatemalan mountains, were dense jungles have revealed remnants of ancient Mayan cities. Following the coast line at a distance of from 10 to 15 miles is a barrier reef, the second largest after the one on Australia's coast. 

                A stroll through the capital showed us evidence of the time when Belize was a British colony. We met a parade of young school girls on the way to Sunday school, neatly dressed in white blouses and black skirts. In the cemetery the inscriptions on the crosses revealed that colonial rule came at a cost in terms of human life. Many of the British subjects died of malaria at an early age.

                After a few days in the capital we contacted a business which ran small planes on a semi-regular basis up and down the coast of Belize.  We were to be dropped off at a banana plantation on the mainland across a lagoon from the Maya Beach peninsula, where the Texan would meet us.

                The plane was an 8-seater but there were only a few passengers apart from us. The flight started well, but it was soon clear that everything was not well with the pilot. He appeared to have a hangover, no doubt from drinking too much rum punch, the lokal favourite drink, because he kept holding his head with one hand. We were becoming more and more alarmed until finally the co-pilot took over the controls and the pilot slumped down in a passenger seat. The plane passed over a sparsely treed wilderness area with only a few houses. After about an hour's flight the plane landed in a grassy area on a short landing strip. We got off the plane, but couldn't see any sign of habitation except for some sheds on the other side of the field.  We walked over to the nearest building which appeared to be the office of the plantation. There was nobody in sight and we were beginning to wonder whether we had come to the right place.

                Finally, a man appeared. We asked him where the Texan was, but this man knew nothing about our arrangements to meet him. He assured us that if he was supposed to appear he no doubt would, and sure enough after a while our host came walking across the field. After shaking hands with us he led us to a well equipped fishing boat which he had moored in a nearby river. The river widened into a lagoon and we drove past mangrove stands growing close to the water's edge.  At one point a cluster of huts were visible between the palm trees. John informed us that the natives in the little village still practized woo-doo.

                After crossing the lagoon and reaching the shore of the peninsula John steered the boat along a man-made canal which brought us to a dock by the annex. Across a narrow strip of land we now had the Caribbean ocean in front of us and stood looking at a picture of paradise. There on the beach was a two-storey building with a thatched roof surrounded by palm trees and at a distance across the turquoise water we could faintly see a row of little islands. part of the Barrier Reef

                Our host did not have many fishing customers to entertain at the time, and was kind enough to offer to take us out in his boat charging only a small fee. We certainly couldn't have paid him the kind of fees which he could expect from his American guests, who he took on deep-sea fishing for marlin and swordfish. Driving out from the coast the distant islands revealed themselves as little gems of corral sand where a few palm trees had taken root.

                The bottom of the area between the shore line and the row of islands was covered with corral of every shape and form.  Since the depth of the water varied between only 1 and 10 feet, it was easy to pick the corrals by diving without using scuba gear. While snorkeling we could also watch a variety of colourful fish. At one time John pointed at a large fish breaking the water surface some distance away and calmly told us it was a barracuda. The most exciting part, however, was to find several large, living conchs, which we brought up. John showed us how to get the meat out of the shell by cutting a small hole in the narrow end of the shell.  Later, while we were enjoying a rum-punch, the native girls, who John employed in the kitchen, prepared a delicious lunch from the conchs. Before returning home we selected the most colourful shell, a beautiful pink one, to take with us.

                We visited our property, which was not much larger than a city residential plot. There were only a few roads within the development, so we had to swim to the plot along canals. Several palmetta palms grew there. We planted a few small palms and hibiscus plants. While digging in the soil I noticed a large, hairy spider. I was shocked later to find out that it was a tarantula, a spider able to give a deadly sting.

                After a few more days of swimming in the turquoise coloured water and walking on the white, sandy beach we returned to Vancouver. Our dream of a retirement home in the Caribbean seemed unrealistic and we sold our property many years later, but we treasure the pictures and memories of an exciting tropical adventure.  


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