My first memory of hearing about our next country, Belize, is looking at a map of Central America in my middle school Spanish textbook, and noticing that Belize was the only country not colored in–of the seven countries that make up the region, Belize is the only country whose official language is not Spanish, but English. That being the case, Belize was never discussed in any of the Spanish classes I took in middle and high schools, so this globetrotting weekend has been my crash course on the nation-state.
Belize, which is roughly the same size as Massachusetts, has quite a diverse culture. Maya civilization once flourished in the area. Spanish conquistadors later declared it one of their colonies, but ultimately lost it to the British, who dubbed it British Honduras. British settlers established a timber industry and brought over black slaves to work as laborers. Belize finally became independent in the 1980s, though territorial disputes with neighboring Guatemala still persist. Modern-day Belizeans may identify with a variety of ethnic groups, including the Maya, West and Central Africans, Island Caribs, and the Spanish–there’s even a small German-speaking Mennonite population.
Fun fact that Violet Beauregarde (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) might find interesting: chewing gum–chicle–originally comes from Belize. Nowadays most gums are made from synthetic materials, not from chicle, which is harvested from trees, but Derek was able to find some at our local Whole Foods. I was surprised that the chicle looked more like lumps of brown sugar than the usual pale-colored sticks of gum.
But because gum isn’t really food, we started our Belizean weekend with heartier and more typical breakfast fare: scrambled eggs, cheese (the Internet seems to prescribe Dutch Gouda, though I’m not sure if there’s a connection between the Dutch and Belize) and johnnycakes. You may recall that we also had johnnycakes when we were globetrotting both in Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas. The Belizean johnnycake seems like a hybrid of the two: the dough is shaped into round discs like in Antigua, but it’s baked, not fried, like the Bahamian johnnycake. It’s also different from both johnnycakes in that it contains coconut milk. We didn’t have Marie Sharp‘s hot sauce, a brand very popular in Belize, but used the hot sauce we had on hand.
While I went to morning yoga, Derek helpfully prepared for lunch by cooking some dried kidney beans that we had already soaked overnight. The beans were for a famous Belize dish, rice and beans, which we made when I came home, along with fried green plantains.
There are numerous reasons Bostonians could find themselves in Belize: one could go on a yoga retreat, or spend Chocolate Week in Belize with Taza Chocolate, a company in neighboring Somerville (more on Taza shortly). New England Aquarium researchers went on an expedition to Belize to study reefs off Carrie Bow Cay last year and blogged about their experiences. The University of Massachusetts Boston has a Maya Archaeology Field School in Belize for several weeks in the summer. Or, maybe you’re just fed up that it snowed again in Boston this Saturday–the last Saturday in March–even though spring has officially started, and just book a trip of your own to tropical Belize.
While Taza Chocolate makes all its chocolate at its Somerville factory, one of its newest products is a bar made exclusively from Belizean cacao. We had done our research ahead of time and had gone to the factory store the previous weekend to pick up a Belizean bar. Here was the display at the store:
In addition to the snow, we also watched a few YouTube videos to see Belize. The first was a short piece that highlighted the country’s natural beauty, and the variety of activities available to tourists:
The second was a longer video, compiled by a British tourist of his five-week trip through various parts of the country, including a visit to Maya ruins and a butterfly farm. (Those who watch may want to note that the last 12 minutes or so are of a single live music performance.)
For dinner, Derek had prepared a Belizean-style potato salad earlier in the day–the recipe, from our Extending the Table cookbook, had instructed us to chill the salad for several hours before serving. Like many American potato salads, this dish called for mayonnaise, but besides potatoes, also called for other vegetables that were different: carrots, cabbage and peas. We also wanted to find a vegetarian equivalent to another popular dish in Belize, stewed chicken, and I found another vegetarian’s take on the dish, Yucatan Seitan (seitan has been coming to the rescue in many of our recent globetrots). I thought the seitan was a bit too salty/sour to eat on its own (some of my measurements for the marinade weren’t precise), but the potato salad balanced it out well.
We weren’t able to get our hands on any Belizean films, but we did manage to find an American one filmed largely in Belize, the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. The story, which is based on the Paul Theroux novel by the same name, revolves around a man who decides to uproot his family from Massachusetts, to live a simpler life on the Mosquito Coast (which is part of Nicaragua and Honduras). Life seems idyllic at first, but things soon spiral out of control.
To end the night on a brighter note. Derek and I shared a yellow mango (you may have noticed two of them in the photo of our dinner above) as a sweet treat.
Sunday began with another breakfast of johnnycakes, scrambled eggs and cheese, but we were soon out the door to go see the “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” special exhibit at the Museum of Science. While the exhibit wasn’t exclusively about the Maya in Belize–it also presented artifacts from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras–Belize was well-represented in the big collection. Here are just some of the pieces we saw that were actually excavated from Belize, or replicas of Belizean artifacts:
There were also a number of interactive displays in the collection. We both chose Maya names for ourselves (Derek is Sak Mo’, “White Macaw”, and I’m K’inich Chan, “Radiant Sky”), and had our names printed in Maya glyphs. In another area, we found the Maya calendar equivalent for both of our birthdays. Derek also took a picture of himself at one console, and then dressed himself up as a Maya nobleman, adding a headress and an elaborate necklace. I didn’t take a picture of that picture, unfortunately, but here are our names and birthdays:
After finishing our tour of the Maya exhibit, we did look at some of the other exhibits in the museum, but went home soon afterwards to enjoy some more rice and beans for lunch.
During the afternoon we prepped for the week ahead, but later settled down for another Belizean dinner of potato salad and Yucatan seitan.
The number of connections we could find to Belize this weekend was surprising to me, since it’s such a small country. In addition to the various getaways to Belize I mentioned earlier, there’s a more historic link between Boston and Belize that Derek discovered. Boston’s Old North Church is widely known for its role in the American Revolution–”one if by land, two if by sea,” refers to Massachusetts colonists hanging lit lanterns in the church’s steeple (and Paul Revere’s subsequent midnight ride), to warn each other about the incoming British. What neither Derek nor I knew before was that the church’s steeple is made from logwood from Honduras and Belize (then known as British Honduras). To this day, there’s a pew at the front of the Old North Church dedicated to the “Gentlemen of the Bay of Honduras” for donating the wood for the steeple. We really didn’t have to stretch too far to find Belize here in Boston and Cambridge!
Derek and I won’t be globetrotting again for at least a few weeks, since we’ll be doing some actual international traveling in a few days–we’re off to England on our belated honeymoon, for about a week and a half. Cheers!