Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jungle Juice: A Weekend In Belize

It's hard to imagine that a week ago I was in the Belizean jungle. Then, a few days seemed so long, and this past week has seemed to pass so fast.

I've spent a little time regaling acquaintances with the trip along the New River and the visit to a Mayan village and temple. They also heard about what the world looks like from atop the trees in the jungle, while zipping along a wire. I have not been to see a psychiatrist, but I think I am certifiably mad. Why else would I think that a man in his mid-50s, who is not President Putin, would think that clambering up 60 feet of scaffolding as if he were Tarzan's chimp was a good idea? My mate had decided that parenting is an active occupation which means that at least one unit be present, and quickly dispelled all notions that she would be 'going for a ride'. But, no. Macho man had to surface. Truth was, when the offer was made early in the morning, I'd recalled with clearly a very blurred memory taking a zip line run or few when I was a boy. Then, in London's Holland Park, there was a rope contraption that ran through the woods, and friends and I regularly went there for a bit of whoo-hooing. It was simple enough and I remember--true or not--flying along in jeans and T-shirt, and having to jump off at the end instead of crashing into a tree. No harness. No helmet. Just a bit of guts.

But, times have changed. Now, I was being trussed up in a harness that looked like a skimpy diaper. I was given a workman's glove--one, yes--and did not feel that it made me look like MJ. Then, I was pointed to my objective. Way up above me stretched the scaffolding. Atop that was a platform--well, three planks set on top. "Up you go," I heard come from a drawling youth in his mid-40s; his name was Mark and he had long straggly hair. I trusted him because he was the owner's son. His smile was evil. In the late afternoon, with a tired and sweaty body, and the prospect of being high in the sky with only my bottom as support, I wondered if I really was being smart. I climbed. "You're going on the outside. You need to be on the inside," I heard from below me. I gave a glare. "What difference does it make on which side I fall 30 feet?" I yelled back. Tschoupse!

As I took a midway break, I looked down and saw nothing but tree and rock to fall onto. Comforting. I wanted to get to the top fast because my arms were aching and I knew that more time meant more thinking, meant more worry. I reached the top platform and was not put off that the plank raised as I tried to sit on it. It's only 60 feet down, I thought as I wavered. As I was hooked onto a pulley, my guide said "Just suspend yourself on the wire and get comfortable." I looked across the tree canopy and down to the ground. Suspend. Comfortable. Who is he kidding? I looked as his fellow pushed off and zipped toward the lower platform 500 feet away. Seemed easy enough. I pushed off and suspended....disbelief at first that I was not falling. Thank God, I thought. "Ready?" evil-looking Mark asked. "Like dead Freddy," I chimed. "Let's go, then," Mark snickered and pushed me away. Wheeeeeee!

Time moves slowly in a crisis. I tried to put up my gloved hand to pull on the wire to test how the braking worked, remembering that it was sensitive and that too much pulling would make me flip. I touched the wire and in an instant lurched forward. I let go immediately. I whizzed on, but now was starting to spin as my body was buffeted by some wind and I wondered how it would feel to hit a concrete column at 20 miles an hour. I tried to steady my swinging, and in doing so saw my glasses fly off into the jungle. What you cannot see, cannot hurt, right? I put my gloved hand up again. One finger got caught in the pulley and the glove dangled. I had no means now of holding the wire without burning or cutting my hand. I thought about impact. I braced. I put my legs out a little in case I needed to cushion my impact. Then remembered. The zip line turns up towards the end and that should slow me down. It did. A huge sigh as I got near the end and arms came to control me.

I had survived. But, hold on. As I stood atop a ladder waiting to be unharnessed, I heard "Wait. Stop. He's not off the line." I looked between my legs as I bent over to be unharnessed and saw evil-looking Mark racing toward me. Why were his legs outstretched? Surely, he was not aiming for me? I did not panic. Where could I go? I might fall off a 6 foot ladder.Better that than off a 60 foot scaffold, I rationalized. I thought that my bottom clearly was a good target and laughed to myself that I would have an ignominious end to the day. But, no need to fear. Mark skilfully braked his run and stopped inches from my backside. He saw my smiles, right way up. "You want some more of my beef jerky?" What an offer.

We headed back to the not completed lodge and lodged our complaints over several bottles of locally made fruit wine, tamales and meat pies. Stories were not ready to flow along with the fruit juices. Natural juices had already flowed freely.

I started from the end of the story, though. Beforehand, we had been taken as the first visitors along a 'medicine trail' still under construction, where there would be about 110 marked posts indicating plants and trees that had proven medicinal properties (for curing hepatitis, running bellies, enhancing sexual prowess, countering snake bites and more) or had geographical or cultural importance.Nature has a wonderful system of self regulation, so no sooner had we found a tree with a venomous sap, than we found alongside a plant that would reduce the rash that it caused.

But, the walk seemed tame compared to having to clamber around deep caves for several hours. Even though the inside of caves are dark and cool, working your way up and down the 'paths' is very hard work, and sweat mixed with bat guano is still not going to be a killer product on any market. But you have to get used to the combination. As I looked around at Mayan era remains on the cave floor, I wished that more of history could be absorbed by merely being in a place. I did not want to see the ritual human sacrifice as much as to understand what people really thought they were doing and what would be achieved. Now, with a few relics of old civilization to help, we can try to piece together life from 2000 years ago.

I discussed this week in an online forum views about Europeans cultural influence. I tried to argue that we overplay its role and significance, especially in the Caribbean and Americas. We forget, or do not know, of ancient Mayan and Incan culture, and misunderstand what Europeans did, including giving them credit for erasing those cultures even though the cultures were on self-destruction paths. It may seem oddly contrarian, but I feel that focusing on the negative view of Europeans' influences amounts to putting the wrong people on a pedestal.

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