Thinking about Belize

As I am working on my (almost finished) novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about Belize these days. The book takes place all across Central America and Mexico, but it is really the deep jungle that I hated/loved/miss/hope to never go back to. Especially my time at the Programme For Belize where I learned many things: what it’s like to be genuinely hungry, what it’s like to have fungus growing on your nether bits, how to use a machete, what it means to feel truly competent and confident in your abilities as a human being, how to survive in the wild, that people are ultimately the same everywhere, that life without technology can be truly wonderful. I could go on.

One thing I definitely miss is the wildlife. Especially howler monkeys which used to serenade us every evening. I got to see hundreds of these guys as well as spider monkeys and a few other kinds of monkey.

Also the coati, SO CUTE.

And, of course the jaguars and other big cats, which I did see in the wild exactly once. Yes, I wet myself a little.

I, however, do not miss the fer-de-lance, fondly known at the two step snake (because you will get bitten, then take exactly two more steps before you die…which is actually an exaggeration. Really you will likely only lose the limb that gets bitten, just don’t get bitten on the nose…). I did come face to face with a few of these, including one literally face to face. They tell me I levitated backwards though I have little memory of that. I also killed a few with my machete, Very Carefully.

The best part about these snakes is that they are aggressive. I heard stories of people being chased through the jungle by one of these territorial pit vipers.

Though the fer-de-lance was deadly, the real danger in the jungle was packs of peccaries. Look at this photo – see how cute they look. Until you look into the mother’s eyes. Look at them, see the cold evil? These things travel in packs and, if disturbed, will shred your ankles with their sharp tusks. Then, when you finally fall over on bloodied stumps, they feast on your corpse (okay I’m exaggerating, but only a little. I did see local guys that killed fer-de-lances like they were nothing frantically climb trees to avoid peccaries).

In addition to snakes and wild boar, the animal that truly terrified me while there…. the ocellated turkey. Don’t laugh. Check out the razor sharp spurs on that sucker. It’s hard to see it, but they are like little stiletto blades. Dual wielding even.

One of these lovely birds decided that our camp’s pit-toilets were in her territory. If you needed to piss, you needed a buddy. One person would distract the turkey while the other made a mad dash for the toilet. Once inside (behind the trash bag hung up for privacy) you had to hurry, lest the screaming mad bird notice you and attack while your pants were still down.

Living there for so long was an amazing/terrifying/life-changing experience that’s for sure. I do hope someday we can take our little Danger Monkey there to experience some of it.