I found Belize to be a haven for many different kinds of people. Varying by geographic region, I met island hustlers that would simultaneously try and sell me dinner and drugs, ex-pats with their various reasons for leaving the U.S., dirty hippy travelers such as myself, and a very interesting character living deep in the jungle near Punta Gorda, Belize. His name is Andy Jones and he and his wife Cenaida showed me not only great hospitality, but also an entirely different way of living. They live up river from the sea at the very bottom of Belize. Completely off the grid, they have only LEDs for lights and cook on a wood fired stove for their meals. For water they collect rain in a big plastic reservoir which is fed from pipes connected to gutters on their roof top. The house was built by Andy completely with wood used from his land and cut with a chainsaw. Upon initial glance the cuts look so straight that one would think it more likely done on a table saw rather than with a large and wiley chainsaw. They have 4 wonderful children, Luara, Josaphine, Elijah and Ishmael. They are all very bright and would jump in to help with chores around the house. Luara never stopped reading books and was always telling me about what she was reading. The kids would show me around their yard, pointing out different fruit trees and their many animals including dogs, cats, chickens and dogs. Being far off in the jungle a public school is not an option but the kids have really taken to their homeschool booklets and I was amazed at their intelligence for their age. Again, Laura was explaining things to me often and I could not help but wonder how a 9 year old knew all this.
The family was very kind to me. They took me on a river trip where we came across various wild life including iguanas, howler monkeys, fish, toucans and 97 other bird varieties I couldn’t tell you much about. As they are fisherman, they also took me out to set up the net one night. The next day we returned to find several fish, most of which they gave away to friends and family. Andy gave important lessons to his kids throughout the day. One reoccurring theme was to take care of the nature that they lived in and around. Andy provides for his family through many different entrepreneurial ways; obviously by fishing but he has also made wine, sold lumber from his land (including mahogany), written books and has started to harvest honey from his bees. There is never a lack of things to do around the house, they all keep busy. Other chores include making coconut oil, washing clothes, cutting jungle to avoid being overgrown (again), collecting eggs from chickens or harevesting other fruit from the near by trees. As a side note I also had the best limeade of my life there with them.
I stayed with them for 3 days, one of which I got struck with a debilitating migraine. These seem to hit me randomly, but I am completely incapacitated when they do. I tried to explain I would be ok by morning but they were worried they may have a dead gringo on their hands. I instructed them to feed me to the termites if that were the case… Turns out I was ok though. Tip number 1 for jungle living: always check your drink after leaving it unattended. Cenaida was so worried about me she made me every medicinal drink she could think of. At the time I couldn’t drink any of them, but after my 12 hour migraine coma I snapped awake at 3:30 a.m. refreshed but with a ravaging thirst. I dipped my hand under my mosquito net and fumbled around for one of my drinks. Right before touching the glass to my lips, a thought crossed my mind. Maybe I should check for bugs, I thought naively. When I took a flashlight to my glass I quickly found a delicious cocktail of cockroaches, not at all surprising in retrospect as I was in the middle of a jungle, but rather traumatizing at the time I must admit.
Living in the jungle is not for the faint of heart. This family earns a living on their own, away from the rat race. There is no 9-5 but rather a sun up to sun down. Much less stress but plenty to keep busy with. The kids were so excited to show me the beach where they swim. I told them I may not have time to see it but they begged me to stay just so I could. Andy and I would spend the evenings talking about religion and politics…without fighting. We both obviously have very different lives but we actually agreed on many things. It’s amazing how people who seem to be so different are really so similar. If people had the patience to talk things out and, more importantly, the education and good intention to know what they are actually talking about and believing in, the world would be a very different place.
It is hard to incapsulate all of the things I learned from my short stay off the grid in the jungle. Perhaps it is best to sum it up with the world simple. We do not need much to be happy, I can’t claim to explain what will make us all happy but I know it’s not anything difficult. Right now I don’t know what I’m doing. I have a small backpack, am studying Spanish, meeting lots of great people with many different ideas and dreams and I actually have time to think. I can honestly say I am the happiest I have ever been. I don’t have many things but rather I am raking in experiences. The simple pleasure of something different. The simple pleasure of freedom and being out of the rat race. There are many paths out there, if you don’t enjoy the one you’re on change it. Why do anything if you don’t enjoy it?
It appears I’ve gone loopy. But before I go let me explain the lack of pictures in this post. Andy and fam no longer take photos. Instead of living in the past they want to be content in the present. Simple as that.