A day off in San Ignacio entails a 7am start (to avoid midday heat) to cycle south of town through the rain forest on a minor road. It was beautiful to see such verdant forest: peaceful, and at that time of the morning, lots of birdsong. 40% of Belize is protected from development – impressive – but being a developing country, the government is tied into bilateral deals with developed countries, for example a Canadian HEP scheme. Residents must buy their energy from the government, and to protect their deal the government makes it illegal to add solar panels to one’s property in an urban area.
What comes after a good bike ride? A huge brunch! On a veranda watching a storm approach. No sunshine??? The rain persisted throughout the day and into the night, at least 2”. Instant soaked to the skin rain returning to our hotel. We were hailed from the street to join a Garifuna Settlement day party: mostly drumming and dancing and I really enjoyed paper folding and chatting with a dozen bubbly children. One talented boy, maybe only 8 years old, couldn’t leave my hair alone, twisting it into creative styles. I’ve tried to replicate them, no chance of success.
At least this morning it was cool and cloudy as we pedalled away at 6am. By 8 we were across the border and into Guatemala. Sometimes I wonder why we are doing this, especially when we are carrying panniers up yet another steep hill. But then the rhythm of cycling kicks in, and there’s always something new to look at, new to learn. It is an adventure. Since our visit to Portugal in September we try to finish cycling by 2pm, then rest and explore. It is 4.15 now, Charles is wandering by the lake, and I’m on another veranda, swinging gently in a hammock, tin mug of tea beside me, and dense foliage in front with hummingbirds darting between flower heads.
Very impressed with Guatemalan roads- empty and new, except for a few Kms of mud.
Guatemala is complicated. The Mayans are the indigenous people, but they were already abandoning their lowland temples (deforestation, drought, disease, famine? ) when the Spanish arrived. Eventually the Spaniards conquered all of the tribes, sometimes using one tribe to fight another. The last independent tribes lived here in Flores near Tikal. By the time independence came in 1821 society was already divided into an Hispanic elite and an indigenous lower class with a powerful controlling church. After numerous failed uprisings (aided by anti-communist covert CIA operations) the country sank into 36 years of civil war. 200,000 Guatemalans died, millions were made homeless and thousands ‘ disappeared’. And if that wasn’t enough, natural disasters, for example an earthquake that killed 22,000 in 1976 compounded the high death toll. It is brutal, appalling, and makes me very angry.
In 1996 a peace agreement was signed between the guerrilla groups and government – resettlement of refugees, the return of guerrillas to normal life, and at last, accountability for armed forces’ violations.
But society continues to be unequal – 70% of arable land is owned by less than 3% of the people, or as a Guatemalan told us “ Guatemala is owned by seven families”.
Phew! I’ve read so much my head is spinning! There are too many leaders to name, but in an echo of India and Cambodia where corruption is rife, Perez Molina was elected as President in 2012, yet he was the army general in charge of the region where the worst atrocities of the civil war were committed. The people believe it takes a criminal to get things done. But he didn’t, and is now in prison facing impeachment.
The current president is Jimmy Morales, formerly a television comic. And I cannot read any more: he and his family are facing corruption charges…
Yet the people here are truly lovely: kind, helpful, polite, despite widespread poverty. Perhaps when there are no expectations of wealth or good governance, your family and community is your life….. We drank tea at a roadside cafe yesterday, an open fire, barely four walls and a tin roof, a nice woman with seven well-dressed affectionate children: it reminded me of my own sheltered childhood, a happy easy of its time bubble. But what is their future, particularly for those girls, a life of severe hardship and drudgery.
We are here to visit the temples at Tikal. The most striking feature of Tikal is its towering steep sided temples, but for me equally important is its rainforest setting. It’s like going to a concert but the support band steals the show!! Lots of birds and foraging mammals, silent empty tracks between sites, stunning! Shattered now after climbing so many temples and a 5.30am pick-up.