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Belize

    Adventure Travel  --  Central America

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.

     

     

    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.

     

    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.

     

     

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America  --  Inspire

    “No Problem” Kayak, Camp and Fabulous Women

    Adventure Travel in My Fabulous Fifties

    Location: Belize

    It was convenient, since I was already in Belize.  When I heard about this kayak, camp Belize trip I asked Arne if he thought we might extend our time in Belize so I could go on this trip?  He said sure.  So it was really easy.  With the push of a few buttons I was onboard to kayak with a group of women coming to Belize from the USA.

    I didn’t  give it a lot of thought.  I just thought it might be fun.  But when all was said and done it was much more than just fun.  It was many things unexpected and rich, and more than anything, it was a fabulous adventure with fabulous women.

    No Problem

    Our amazing guide Eric became notorious for saying “no problem” for any question we asked or problem we posed.  He was amazing and made the journey so simple. Eric’s tour company Belizean Style (recoronald@gmail.com), was contracted by Kayak Belize to guide us through the week.  Bainbridge Island, Washington based Journey for a Purpose was the lead organization, who pulled together 12 women to experience this together.  The 12 of us, aged 30-72, came from many different backgrounds, places, professions and experiences.  And yet we fit together like a beautiful puzzle.  It was fate.

    Beautiful

    Sometimes I am hard to impress, given the amount of territory I have covered.  But this place – the cayes off the coast of Belize – is almost indescribable.  Azure blue, turquoise green, golden-yellow, royal purple.  These are the colors of the world-famous reef and seas.  Jungle green, sandy pink, cocoa brown, chalky white.  These are the colors of the tiny private atolls.  So much beauty everywhere you turn.

    Empowering

    I’ve had some amazing moments in my life that have empowered me, when I’ve found myself doing things I might otherwise turn to Arne and expect him to do for me or with me.  Everything from setting up a tent, riding my bike across the state of Washington, walking 487 miles on the Camino to climbing a mountain.  On this kayak journey, I found myself figuring out the logistics of equipment.  Paddling the single kayak without Arne’s help. Finding private time when I needed it.  As much as I adore my husband it’s always a good feeling when I’m left to my own powerful decision making.

    Difficult

    We had some big winds and some tough paddle days.  My back hurt and my arms felt like jelly but I made myself endure.  The high winds and rain also surprised us early one morning and our tents flapped and threatened to sail away.  But it was amazing how everyone worked together.  How Mr. No Problem Eric was there to help.  How we laughed about it after.  We were strong. Invincible. Fierce.

    Inspiring

    As a group we spent time each day in “circle”.  Here we practiced the art of listening, more than telling. Each woman had time to talk about herself, her background, her greatest challenge, her greatest achievement.  While each spoke the others listened intently with acceptance and support.  It’s not something I am usually comfortable with, but the format made me so.  It was open, acknowledging and welcoming.  It was real and refreshing and full.  It was inspirational.

    Peaceful

    The atoll we were camping at is Moho Caye.  It is about 13 miles out on the reef from Placencia. From 10am-3pm day trippers can visit the island.  Some days as many as twenty people might show up, while other days perhaps only five.  But from 3pm to 10am we had the entire island to ourselves.  We all agreed it was spectacular.  It was a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Castaway.  A remarkable opportunity to relish the beauty of a private island to ourselves.  We sung around the campfire and skinny dipped in the ocean.  This was our island and we embraced it and it in return it showered us with lovely memories.

    Hilarious

    There is absolutely nothing in the world so wonderful as belly laughing.  Laugh yourself silly.  Laugh yourself happy.  Laugh yourself healthy.  It’s cleansing and exhausting and wonderful to laugh fully with abandon.  And we did.  We laughed over stories. We laughed over songs.  We laughed over games.  We found so much to bring smile and laughter to our time together, even though we had known each other such a short while.  It was a happy and full experience of genuine spirited female fun.

    Positive

    Our wonderful leaders Spring and Maria from Journey for a Purpose found a variety of positive ways to bring us together as a group from snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles to kayaking to singing to sharing.  But in addition some of my most favorite moments were when we all did yoga together on the beach, creating an awareness within us as well as pulling the positive energy into our bodies.  We also spent time making beach art and describing our beach art to each other.  One day we walked around our island and brought back something from nature.  We then spent time with Mr. No Problem Eric and learned something about the items we found.  Then together we shared.  It was great fun as the items collected ranged from a gecko to driftwood, from coral to leaves and branches. Our island shared its deep natural history.

    Affirming

    While on our island, one of the women got the news that her father-in-law had passed away.  As much as she felt she should be home with her family, we became her family that day and showered her with love. We helped memorialize a man we didn’t know, but it was so easy because we were all on the same wave-length.  It was very affirming to me, to feel the love and joy being heaped on our friend and her departed kin.  But for me it was also affirming to my life’s mission of living each moment as if it were my last.  Of caring for myself in a way that gives me the strength to care for others.  And above all, being fully present.  A reminder to center myself and just be. This was a gift.

    Journey for a Purpose

    This is my second experience with Journey for a Purpose and I have loved both.  You can find more information about them at the website link above.  A few spots are still available for their Blake Island, Washington trips this summer.

    I recently stumbled upon this quote, and it epitomizes for me how I feel about my kayak camping adventure as well as my daily life;

    “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no man’s land.” – Pema Chodron

    I was thrown from the nest n this adventure and loved it immensely. Thank you for challenging me and loving me and for my new friends who I hope to meet again someday.  To Spring, Maria, Pamela, Susan, Suzanne, Eileen, Kathy, Nadine, Meg, Katie, Kelly, Ian (our cook) and Mr. No Problem Eric, I salute you.  I hope you find what you are looking for and I wish you joy.

    Fabulous!

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    Central America  --  Inspire

    Lessons on the Road

    Lodging Failure and Being Flexible

    Location: Belize

    Lessons on the Road. It doesn’t happen often. And in fact, in our nearly three years of full-time travel this is the first time we’ve had a total lodging failure.

    But it happened and we know the importance of flexibility.  Flexibility in My Fab fifties Life. Lessons on the road.

    Lonely Planet rated them well.  And my Central America Lonely Planet Book is current.  They had what appeared to be an up to date website, although I should have had some suspicion when the online booking didn’t work.

    I emailed them months ago and made a “reservation”.  I confirmed via email a few weeks ago.  But when we arrived it seemed no one was expecting us.  The resort seemed abandoned.  And the house we had “booked” appeared to have not been lived in or cleaned for a very long time.

    I tried to “grin and bear it” for the sake of our two sons who are traveling with us. But when we found the dead rodent I said we were leaving.

    And so we spent one restless night and I couldn’t wait to get out of there at first light. We left money on the counter for one night and sent an email explaining how filthy the house was. And even now, five days later, there has been no response.

    Such a weird experience.  Another travel memory to go down in the book.  We learn.  We have adventures.  Nearly 100% of the time it works out.  But this place was an epic failure. A total breakdown of communication.  A filthy dirty mess.

    And so we moved on.  Lessons on the road.

     

     

    Central America

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Belize a Journey of Discovery by Ann MacLean

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Author Ann MacLean tells a funny and truthful tale of her own Fab Fifties journey to discovery, in her self published work, “Belize a Journey to Discovery and Some Snorkeling”.

    MacLean, like myself, is a travel diva in her Fab Fifties, but her journey has come from a very different place.  Taking the tragedies, heartaches and sorrows life throws at you, and turning them into a fabulous adventure life. This is what MacLean has done.

    Her first book, “Belize a Journey of Discovery”, chronicles her adventures, backpacking as a solo middle-aged woman in Belize.  It is a poignant diary of observations of the challenges any solo traveler faces, but from the perspective of one well beyond the age of most backpacker, hostel-staying, snorkel-enthused, Belize adventurer.

    Our own fabulous travels will take us to Belize in March where we will spend more than a month.  Reading this book made me excited for that destination, and opened my eyes to several places I want to go in Belize.  Though still fairly new as a tourist destination, Belize has a lot to offer a traveler, least of all English is the official language.

    Thank you Ann MacLean for your honesty and spirit and for being a trail blazer for women of a certain age.  We are still Fabulous in our Fifties.

    Four Stars for Belize a Kourney of Discovery ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Find Belize a Journey of Discovery here.

    Read last week’s review of Slaughterhouse Five.

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