After attending the Indigenous Corn Conference for three days, we bid farewell to the village of San Miguel where we had been staying, jumped in the van, and struck out across the country with Clayton behind the wheel to visit farms of many of his comrades and former students from the Indigenous Sustainable Design Course. This was an amazing opportunity to see how people in a climate and landscape very different from those we had come from were utilizing traditional environmental knowledge, as well as borrowed ideas and technology, to sustainably work their land.
The beautiful village of San Miguel where we stayed during the conference
My first morning there, we had breakfast with Maria, which included beautiful handmade tortillas over her wood fired stove, and a stew of squash, cabbage, cilantro, cilantro, and habaneros.
The next morning we were blessed to eat with Dolores, who also made great tortillas, along with eggs and tomatoes, beans, and bananas.
San Miguel also has a beautiful assortment of flowers growing around! Things most of us had only seen as houseplants or in garden centers
January 20 was a jam packed day of adventure. We started with an amazing field trip to Noemi Requena’s organic farm. When she and her husband first started the place 16 years ago it had been a sawmill and then a rice field. It was bare and she could get nothing to grow. After years of building up the soil it is now prolific! She came to New Mexico for Clayton’s permaculture course a few years ago and when she returned to Belize she convinced her husband to give up his five gallon buckets of pesticides and herbicides and go organic. Now she uses vermiculture (worms) to create fertilizer and rotates her growing between legumes and food crops to keep the soil healthy. She has over 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables on her property, ranging from Star fruits, coconuts, cacao and papayas, to kale, lettuce, collard greens, tomatoes and peppers.
Then to the small farm and weaving operation of Juan Chaic and his family. We tasted fresh pepper seeds right off the vine, watched him twist cordage from yucca fibers and bought some baskets from his family. And hung out with his chickens while he fed them blue corn.
Another one of the farms TNAFA has invested in is Felinas Farm run by Oscar Zuniga and his wife Consuela. They gave the farm this name because when they first came there, there were so many jaguars in the area who carried off their chickens and dogs. As the farm has progressed there are fewer now (and they hang white sacks to ward them off). They grow bok Choy, pineapples, tomatoes, cilantro, and papayas, among other things, all using organic methods.
After leaving the farm we stopped at the Lubaantun (“place of fallen stones) Mayan archaeological site that dates from the Maya Classic era, flourishing from the AD 730s to the 890s.
On January 21 we spent the day visiting Julio Saqui and the Chei’il Mayan Chocolate operation– which was such an experience it will get its own post!. After stuffing ourselves with chocolate and other Mayan foods, we headed to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for a night adventure that we had hoped would lead to a jaguar encounter. We only found their paw prints. And a giant rhinoceros beetle that made quite the impression on me (meaning he cut through my pants and my skin with his very sharp feet!)
On January 22, we stopped at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, located just off the Hummingbird Highway in Cayo District of Belize. The park is over 500 acres, and contains two cave systems, various natural trails, and the cool jungle pool from which the park gets its name.
And along the way picked up lots of amazing fresh fruit!
On January 23, James Mesh and his wife Selena and daughter Sulema welcomed us to their home where we got to make coffee! Belize doesn’t grown much coffee, but James decided to plant a couple of trees a few years ago and they did well. Someday his company will be called Oxmulca– after the original Mayan name for this community (place of three structures). Coffee plants (cafe robusto shown here) take about three years to mature. He picks the beans between November- February when they turn yellow. The beans are dried, then cracked open and the hulls removed, and then they’re roasted and ground. We had many cups and it was nutty and delicious. While we waited for the water to boil we had freshly harvested cassava root boiled in sugar, and then the ladies prepared us a nice lunch of chicken, coconut rice and beans, salad, potato salad, and cassava cake. I was genuinely concerned that they were going to have to roll me home from Belize!
After we left the Mesh household (full and buzzed on fresh coffee!) we headed to the Xunantunich ruins- built 5,000 years ago by Mayan people and gradually abandoned as living quarters around the 9th century. The site includes shrines and residences for elite rulers, with some beautiful stone work and friezes and a lot of steps
That night, after driving back to San Ignacio, we were treated to a delicious supper courtesy of Bernadette, another one of the former students of Clayton’s design course. She made escabeche- chicken soup with onions, lots of lime juice, all spice, oregano, and jalapeños. With tortillas and coconut rice. And then we hung out with the pet rabbits, and her husband, father in law, and son played marimba for us
On January 24 we ventured out to a farm nicknamed the Green Ark because of the variety of plants that Victor keeps there. The 11 acre farm is located at the end of a long very bumpy road, and the family currently works about 4-5 acres. We grazed our way through the wide assortment of edible plants (carrying salt and habanero sauce). Fruits on the farm include:
sweet lime, Jamaican lime, Mexican lime, Tamarind, Kumquat, Grapefruits , coffee, Avocados, Plantains, Apple banana, Anatto, Sour plums, Chinese plums, Mamay, Red kidney beans, Papaya, Oregano, Soursop – local and imported (imported more prolific ), Mangos, Coconut, Guava, Mulberry – for pigs sheep, and chickens; Star apple, Cassava , Sugar cane, Coco yam, Lemon grass, Tumeric (which is mixed with moringa leaves to make a tea), Rose Apple (also known as a pomegranate), Custard apple, Ginger, Suriname cherry, Golden cherry, Blackberries, Breadfruit , Bucut (big tree that gets legume fruit. Smells like feet in boots too long), Bird peppers,Tangerines, Monkey cap, and the original banana.
Our final meals in Belize! Garnaches and salbotes at the women’s collective snack shop, and cilantro fish with coconut breadfruit at Cenidas.
And on January 25, we got back on our respective planes to head home…
And just as a side note, one of the great things about traveling with this crew is they got me running again!