The Long Way to Monkey River

Monkey River
Southern Belize's Monkey River (Photo © Erik Gauger)

We intended to take the long way to Monkey River Town, criss-crossing southern Belize's national parks, jungles, and mountain ridges in a jeep. Our goal was a remote town set amidst nature's munificence, but a place seemingly bewitched with bad luck. Monkey River Town, a small place with a wonderful name, the end of the road.

As we were leaving our first night's camp, set in the underbrush of a beach, my travel partner, Vance, screamed out. Not a scream of anguish, but one of the willies. He pulls off his shoe, and a giant spider scuttles out—a furry arachnid the size of a half-dollar that starts running all over the truck. It crawls under the floor mat, underneath the dashboard, to safety. The bugger will be creeping around our truck for the duration of our trip to Monkey River Town, a first-morning reminder of where we have come, and where we're headed.

Belize, the small dot of a country in the underarm of the Yucatan peninsula, is a seeming counterpoint to the surrounding Central American turbulence. Left-wing insurgencies, right-wing executioners, drug cartels, murderous conquistadors, barbarous pirates: Belize's quiet façade of inventive politics, peacefulness, friendliness, and an uncommon culture appears strangely serene in this town.

Perhaps this has to do with its diversity. There's the Garifuna, a mix of former black slaves and Carib Indians, who escaped to southern Belize. There are the Creoles, of European and African ethnicity. The Mennonites came from Austria with their buggies. Then there are the displaced Lebanese and Chinese, the latter coming from northern China when the Japanese attacked in the 1930s. There are Latinos and Ladinos, the former being a straight-up mix between Spanish and Mayan. The Ladino's ethnicity is so mixed, it's pretty much a wrap-together phrase for "I've got it all." The Mayans themselves, the only natives of Belize, often speak everybody else's language as well as their own. There are also plenty of East Indians; when Belize was called British Honduras, their farming expertise was needed on the banana plantations. There are a lot of shades of pink and brown in Belize. Too many, perhaps, for anyone to get too worked up about.

Published: 16 May 2003 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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