Friday, February 10, 2012

I eat merely to put food out of my mind. -N.F. Simpson

Welcome to Armenia.

Just last week I had the privilege of going to a tiny, remote village in Belize called Armenia.   To avoid confusion for the geographically inclined, Armenia is named after a place in El Salvador.  It was settled by El Salvadorians.  The place in El Salvador was long ago settled by Armenians.  All confusion is now averted.

All you need is good friends, good food and good memories <3
The discussion began when I met Carlos' roommate for the first time.  The conversation quickly turned to food and I began complaining about how I'd like to experience a real Belizian home-cooked meal.  Duck (the roommate) immediately offered up his mother's services and invited us to his village.  No sooner had the words left my mouth and we were already planning our trip.

Last Sunday at noon, Carlos, MerryAnn, Ryan, Meredith and I jumped on the express to Belmopan and started the interesting journey to Armenia.  Remember when I said the bus was an experience worth experiencing once; well it's also a huge pain when trying to travel long distances.  It was hot and crowded.  I somehow managed to get a seat beside a heavy set woman displaying a rather large box on her lap.  As the woman snored without a worry in the world, I couldn't help but notice that there was a tiny eye staring back at me from the holes cut into the box.  I was now fully aware that there was something in the box.  I HAD TO KNOW WHAT IT WAS.  I started leaning back and cranking my neck at weird angles hoping to catch a glimpse into the box, when suddenly, we hit a huge bump and the woman awoke from her slumber.   I could see she was getting sleepy and about to plunge back into building castles in the air.  I quickly said: "I'm so sorry, but I NEED to know what's in the box".  To my pleasant surprise, she said "PUPPIES".   The rest of the trip to the Belmopan bus station was the best bus ride ever.  It was filled with a solid hour of puppy play for me.
****Keep in mind that Carlos was laughing at me the whole time for being ridiculous about trying to peak into the box...half the bus noticed what I was doing...

The bus ride from Belmopan to Armenia was short and felt like only moments.  One second we were on the bus, the next, Duck was walking us up a muddy path to his lovely, rustic home.  Although it wasn't very big, and by all means, not up to North America was a place that poured out love.  It was a family home.  Modest yes, but so much was going on.  The TV was playing, the youngest sister was running around the kitchen, the other sister was sitting in on the couch of their 3 bedroom wooden home sketching a picture of bird.  The other sister ran around the home doing household chores, Duck's mother hustled around the attached kitchen speaking in spanish.  Carlos and Duck were lost in a conversation of their own.  Two dogs roamed in and out of the house.  A cat purred and curled itself beneath my legs.  This was Belize.  The essence of Belize.  There was no noise.  Not a trace of city sound.  Everywhere was a luscious green and the smell of freshness intoxicated my senses.  The sky was grey and the wind was misty on my skin.  I was so enthralled by my surroundings that I barely heard Carlos ask me if I wanted a beer.

We made our way down to the only bar in Armenia.  I wasn't surprised when we were the only ones there with the inclusion of a few drunk old men.  We ordered a round and the drinking began.   Only moments passed when one of Duck's sisters had come to summon us to dinner.

A real Belizian meal...
Fried rice.  Beans.  Fried plantain.  Stewed beef.  Hands down the best meal I've had in Belize to date.  It was an outstanding meal.  It was perfect.  I can't begin to describe how it felt to feel Belizian.  This is what culture is.  This is what learning about a culture should be.  It's about becoming immersed in it.  It's about experiencing culture for what it really is:  life as they know it.

The top of the mountain
After the meal, the drinking commenced.  There was quick reunion among friends that I guess Carlos hadn't seen for quite some time.  The next thing I knew, we were climbing the side of a "mountain".  There I was in flip flops, hiking up a trail through bushes and getting tangled in trees.  It was a short climb to the top and the view which unfolded before me was spine-tingling.  Only a picture could express what I wish I could say.  A portrait of hills coloured the backdrop.  Green hills rolled into the distance without end.  The grey sky, which would normally be seemingly dull, only made the view look picture perfect.  We laughed and took a million pictures of whatever we deemed appropriate.  When the sun began to set and darkness was invading our space, we hiked down the "mountain" and continued drinking.   But that's neither here or there and not something I need to talk about.  Our night escalated with rounds and rounds of beer and a couple bottles of rum.

****SIDE NOTE****Ryan ate a termite.   He said it tasted like mint.

A beautiful view in Armenia 
By 5 am, we were all wide awake with hangovers and breakfast being served to us.  She out did herself again.  Eggs.  Bread.  Beans.  Cornbread.  Papaya.  Every bite was savoured and every bite more delicious than the last.  We hitchhiked from Armenia all the way to Belmopan.  100 km/hr in the back of a pick up truck.  We stopped at a gas station, bought coffee and reminisced about the night before.  We jumped on the first bus at the station and road all the way home.  By 10 am, I was safe and sound in my own bed, finally getting the rest I needed.

At least we made it home in one piece...
All in all, the weekend was a complete success.  I was completely content.  I look forward to many more experiences like the one I had in remote Armenia.

My suggestion:  make friends.  Locals will love you and take you in as their own.  <3  Belize is an amazing place.

Peace and Love,


Thursday, February 9, 2012

When the traveler goes alone he gets acquainted with himself. -Liberty Hyde Bailey


Getting around is no easy feat in Belize.  The buses run regularly but if you don't catch the express, you could be riding the regular all day and potentially never actually reaching your desired destination.  As for taking taxis, lets face it, I'm white and can't speak spanish or kriol; I'm going to get ripped off.  None of my local friends have cars, or at least not easy access to them.  So, as a means of transportation, I joined in on the trend of hitchhiking.  It's simple: stand on the side of the road, stick your arm out and someone will eventually pick you up.   I recently just moved into town because where I was originally staying was awful.  Before being downtown in San Ignacio, I had the pleasure of walking 2 miles into town everyday.  That gig got old fast, and I quickly turned to taking whatever free ride came my way.  I even hitchhiked from the town of Armenia to Belmopan.  Not smart at all, but some of my best memories with my new friends.

Hitchhiking in the back of a pick up from Armenia to Belmopan...
MerryAnn (my roommate and evidently the funniest person ever) (funny looking blonde on the right <3) and I decided on two rules:

1.  Never hitchhike home at night, because they might take you to Guatemala and sell you in the sex trade.

2.  Only get in the bed of a pick up truck, because you can jump out if things go wrong.

Back to seems to be the only way to get around fast and its free.  I know you shouldn't do it, but hey, I'm only young once.

Peace and Love,


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pook's Hill

"Let us keep the dance of rain our fathers kept and tread our dreams beneath the jungle sky." -Arna Bontemps

Raffi =)
I met a man at the bar a few weeks ago named Raffi.  Despite what I’ve been told about talking to strangers, we immediately realized we had one thing in common:  archaeology.   Turns out this is the person I want to be friends with.  He is a professional archaeologist that specializes in Mayan archaeology and history.  He’s also a tour guide.  We got to talking and he says that he can find me work down here when he comes back…HELLO…that’s freaking awesome.  We exchanged phone numbers and started chatting about working here once my term is over.  You know, actually doing archaeology in Belize. 

I ran into him in town a few days later and he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride up to a site with him.  Now, I’m thinking: Adriana, you just met this guy.  You know nothing about him.  He could rape and kill you.  I think he saw the skepticism in my face because right away he said I could invite any of my friends to come along. 

Despite my better judgement, I went.  We jumped into his jeep and off we went.  An hour into the trip, we make a sharp turn and suddenly I'm in the middle of the jungle on a dirt road.  The best way to describe it is like this:  off-roading on a road that's never been used in a jeep that might fall apart with every bump you hit.  

When my cell phone reception gave out and the howler monkeys appeared, I realized just how deep in the jungle I actually was.  The never-ending, dark green canopy of trees finally gave way to sunlight and a clearing that surprised me.  A resort popped up in the form of tiki huts raised about the ground with a beautiful Mayan ruin in the centre.  Where the heck was I?  Raffi told us to hop out and we met the owner.  A lovely lady whose name escapes me at the moment.  She walked us over to the bar and handed us a map of the grounds.  By grounds, I really mean a map of paths in the jungle that we could hike without getting lost.  She warned us about jaguars, panthers and an array of other cats we may encounter.  She pointed out where we could swim and the places we should avoid.  I will admit, I was skeptical about going on this hike without someone who actually knew where to go...but Meredith and I ended up giving it a go.  Words cannot describe the beauty that I saw and felt.  Pictures do not do the jungle justice in any way.  The colours of green, the sounds of the birds, the sights and smells...seemingly dull in any photograph I tired to take.  I wish so badly I could express what I saw and felt walking through the dense bush that was once a home to the ancient people that fascinate me.  I  couldn't help but wonder about walking on the same paths that the Mayans once walked.  What have these trees seen?  What stories could these rivers tell?  What secrets are lost in this jungle?  Who were the people whose footsteps I'm following?  It made me feel like I was apart of something so much bigger than I could ever comprehend.  This exact moment gave me a rush that reminded me why I love what I do.  I found it.  I thought I was lost and that school was wasting my time because I had given up on it.  Negative, I needed to be reminded why I love to learn about people lost in time; I needed to see the real thing and love it in order to bring that back home with me.    

At the end of the trail, Raffi was waiting with cold beers in his arms and a big grin that is so characteristic of him.  Handed us a cold one and said, "let me show you the ruins."  We sat on the steps of the ruins and he began telling me about what they had found there, what they thought it meant and what else needed to be done.  From what I understand, this was a small community, probably run by some kind of noble.  He ran the small village of a group of family members who paid tribute to a bigger city.  It has an interesting feature dedicated to the worship of family ancestors.  

As Raffi finished up telling us about the ruins, a light ran started to mist over the ruins and fireflies danced in the fields surrounding us.  We all sat in silence and took in the beauty that so many people forget still exists in this world.   We finally headed home.

I left with a sense of contentment.  It was overwhelming; but it felt so good.

Any business is good business...if you're looking for a jungle escape, seriously check out:

Peace and Love,