From Caye Caulker we continued our travels through the small country of Belize, heading west towards the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. We had heard good things about the Belize Zoo and, even though zoos are really not our thing and even though it was expensive ($15 USD/person), we decided to stop. The zoo is filled with over 100 rescue animals native to the area, including jaguars, ocelots, howler monkeys, tapirs, and various species of birds, including the largest in central America, the Jabiru. While the jury’s still out on whether it was worth the entrance fee, it was cool to see many animals we may not get a chance to see during our travels.
We stopped at the Blue Hole National Park for the night and checked out the cenote the park is named for. One thing we loved about Belize that is very different from Mexico is their national park infrastructure. Belize has various national parks, recreation areas and reserves and they go beyond simply designating areas for conservation: there are also well-marked trails and maps, something we had not experienced since the states. While we couldn’t squeeze more than two into our itinerary, for future travelers that have the time and love the outdoors, Belize is worth exploring.
Our drive from Blue Hole to Mountain Pine brought us through some beautiful, and very green, countryside. We stopped in the Mennonite village of Spanish Lookout to load up on supplies and on the way experienced our first, but surely not our last, hand cranked car ferry. As we started the rough dirt roads that would take us to our destination for the night, we saw the familiar Isuzu Trooper of some fellow overlanders we had first met in Mexico. Turns out, Paul and Susie were also staying at the Barton Creek Outpost. And this reunion was only the beginning – over the course of the next few hours, two other couples from our previous travels would also show up at the Outpost: James and Lauren and Stefan and Swantje. We also met Mags and Stu, two backpackers making their way around the world. Over drinks that evening, some of us made plans to explore the reserve together the next day.
The following morning, we set out to explore the various caves and waterfalls for which the region is known. Overlanding on 4×4 roads is a lot more fun in a group, as it helps ease some of the anxiety over getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, especially knowing James and Lauren’s 4runner is equipped with a winch. Mountain Pine Ridge is filled with things to do and after a day of river crossings, rock jumping, hiking and spelunking, we found a sweet spot to camp for the night overlooking the Rio On Pools. As we hadn’t planned on spending another night in the bush, none of us had enough food for a proper meal. We soon realized, however, that if we mixed our food and cooking talents together we could produce something spectacular. And so began a night of cooking, eating and getting to know each other.
One of the things we miss most about our life in Massachusetts is the community we shared with our friends at our housing cooperative. My experience living in the cooperative has made me a firm believer in food as the foundation of community. The most common way for community to manifest itself in our coop was through shared meals. Despite everyone’s busy schedules, we found time to eat together around a huge kitchen table several times a week. Relationships were formed through our time spent buying, preparing, eating and even just talking about food.
So as we climbed around the huge wooden picnic table that night in Pine Ridge for a shared meal, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our times in MA. Despite how much our lives have changed in the last year, and despite the difficulties, and at times torturing solitude, of living on the road, it was refreshing to realize that the community we seek is not an elusive ideal. Meaningful relationships can be formed on the road. And, if you’re open to it, you can find community anywhere.