A couple days after Christmas, my family and I flew into Belize and jumped into a van that took us, three hours later, to Hopkins Village, on the Caribbean coast. The drive, first on the Northern Highway, then the Western to one of my favorite names for a road, the Hummingbird Highway, finally to the Southern Highway, was an adventure of potholes, jungle-clad mountains, “sleeping policeman” (the ubiquitous, teeth-shattering speed bumps that are the only method of getting drivers to slow down) and an unending narrative of jokes, puns, history and legends from our driver.
He told us that in Belize, they’re not very creative with town names. The town with many ladies is called Ladyville. The town that sprung up from refuges of Hurricane Hattie is called Hattieville. The town with a lot of rocks is called Rockville. I asked him if there were a lot of frogs in Hopkins. … It took him a minute.
I wasn’t here for a reading, so it’s a little tricky on my part to include this on the Hundred Highways Tour. But I did visit Miss Bertie’s Community Library where Dianne had me sign a copy of Vagabond Song to add to the library’s collection (and besides, it’s my tour – I make the rules).
This beautiful little gem of books was created by “Miss Bertie,” a Peace Corps volunteer, in 2007 and has been serving both the children and adults of Hopkins ever since. It was great to visit and see the single room building full of kids after school, discovering new worlds within the pages of the mostly donated books. A library is the heart of a community. A communal gathering place where people can become stronger, more human (and humane). Where life can take on new vistas, horizons can be rendered boundless.
A highlight of the trip was floating an underground river in St. Herman’s Cave. Descending into Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, the flickering of bats, the crystal clear water. At one point, I stopped below a shower dripping from a stalactite and allowed the holy water to wash over my face. Our guide, Vida, noticed me and said, “Getting a good Mayan blessing, huh?” He knew exactly what I was up to.
In the rainforest along the Monkey River, with Howler Monkeys filling the air with their mad whooping, I resisted the temptation to wander off from our group and become a little creature of the jungle. Maybe a jaguarundi or a paca, the “royal rat.” The immensity of green, the water-soaked air, and the glittering of sunlight through twenty-foot leaves quickly cast their spell. I was spell-bound. A month later, the charm has yet to fully wear off.
New Years Eve at the Swinging Armadillo
Hopkins Village, Belize
Half-moon rising from the sea:
a bowl of oranges & black flowers
on a tablecloth of stars
Garifuna drummers pounding out
the final moments of the year
hearts become drums with hides stretched taut
Soon winter will feel like winter again
but for now everything is music
& waves unfold on the dock like orchids