The Long Way to Monkey River

The Road to Monkey River Town

It's now Vance's turn to drive, which means I have to deal with that giant spider under the floor mat. We take off for the far south of Belize, my feet crossed over the dashboard.

Thirty-five miles down the road, we take a small unpaved road with a sign pointing to Monkey River Town. Passing 20 miles of orange groves and banana farms, we drive on until giant trees and strange-looking birds replace the ordered elements of agriculture. The road ends at a simple lot, filled with broken cars and junk, on the coast of the Caribbean, and along the edge of the Monkey River.

Monkey River Town was settled as a backwater banana plantation in 1892 and was at one time a bustling place of several thousand people. But blight killed the bananas, the Belizean government revoked the rice subsidies, and local hunters destroyed their own crocodile skin business by almost decimating the entire crocodile population. And then, in 1961, along barreled Hurricane Hattie, wiping out what remained.

Just last year, another hurricane, Iris this time, tore almost every building off its foundation. The monkeys that had not died from a 1970s yellow fever epidemic were ripped from their trees by the winds. The bare, broken mangrove jungle, once alive with human enterprise and animal chatter, is now just a sandy backwater, run through with the smell of raw cement.

We flag a fisherman to take us across the river into town, and we settle in at Alice's Restaurant. This place has no sign. Nor working lights nor windows. In fact, there is no electricity in Monkey River Town. We tell Alice we're hungry for lunch. Alice says, "Have a seat, I goween to fix you up." Without discussion of price or menu, she brings us plates of rice, beans, and chicken.

Published: 16 May 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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