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Hanging out up at "The Rock." Read on, thrill seekers.

Hanging out up at “The Rock” with my spider monkey pal. Read on, thrill seekers.

Cooling my heels in the clear, cool waters at Big Rock in Belize--a beautiful site that didn't get a mention in a recent Huffington Post Travel article about "25 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Belize."

Cooling my heels in the clear, cool waters at Big Rock in Belize–a beautiful site that didn’t get a mention in a recent Huffington Post Travel article about “25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Belize.”


Huffington Post recently published an article featuring “25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Belize.”

Hate to brag, but I already knew the 25 things,

which can be found by clicking here.

And for a bonus here’s some pix I took on a Saturday outing at a couple of magnificent, secluded waterfalls and swimming holes up in the rugged frontier country of Mountain Pine Ridge.

Huffington's article makes no mention of all the great places for hiking, swimming, caving and tubing. Saturday was a gorgeous day and I drove up to the rugged frontier country that is Mountain Pine Ridge to explore this waterfall known as "The Rock." The trails to places like this in Belize can be steep and rugged but the payoff can be a place as ruggedly beautiful and peaceful as this.

Huffington’s article makes no mention of all the great places for hiking, swimming, caving, tubing and canoeing. Saturday was a gorgeous day and I drove up to the rugged frontier country that is Mountain Pine Ridge to explore this waterfall known as “The Rock.” The trails to places like this in Belize can be steep and rugged but the payoff can be a place as ruggedly beautiful and peaceful as this.

Down at "The Rock" I met the guy in the red shirt, Chad Burrow, from Arizona, who is with the National Parks Service and once spent six years as a Park Ranger at the Grand Canyon. He was here to teach students from San Ignacio's Sacred Heart College on "the principals and applications of Sustainable Trail Design.

Down at “The Rock” I met the guy in the red shirt, Chad Burrow, from Arizona, who is with the National Parks Service and once spent six years as a Park Ranger at the Grand Canyon. He was here to teach students from San Ignacio’s Sacred Heart College on “the principles and applications of Sustainable Trail Design.” The students and other volunteers camped more than a week at “Big Rock” improving the trail down to the site and making it more accessible.

Since the group of campers had completed the trail improvement project and training ahead of schedule, these four college students asked to ride back to San Ignacio with me--after a week of camping they were ready to sleep in their own beds Saturday night.

Since the group of campers had completed the trail improvement project and training ahead of schedule, these four college students asked to ride back to San Ignacio with me–after a week of camping they were ready to sleep in their own beds Saturday night.

The trail down to the waterfall at Big Rock is still steep but easier thanks to the improvements made by the volunteer campers from San Ignacio and American Chad Burrow. Chad told me he went to college in the States with an instructor at Sacred Heart and comes to Belize often to see him and soak up some of the beauty of Belize. He grew up, btw, on a farm in southwestern Oklahoma. After six years at the Grand Canyon he transferred down south to the beautiful Arizona desert. The man is a natural naturalist and outdoorsman, and extremely nice American guy. One thing I love about Belize is some of the really interesting Americans I happen to meet down here.

The trail down to the waterfall at Big Rock is still steep but easier thanks to the improvements made by the volunteer campers from San Ignacio and American Chad Burrow. Chad told me he went to college in the States with an instructor at Sacred Heart and comes to Belize often to see him and soak up some of the beauty of Belize. He grew up, btw, on a farm in southwestern Oklahoma. After six years at the Grand Canyon he transferred down south to the beautiful Arizona desert. The man is a natural naturalist and outdoorsman, and extremely nice American guy. One thing I love about Belize is some of the really interesting Americans I happen to meet down here.

Big Rock is a great place for swimming or floating around in a tube or just sitting on a cool, camp rock and chilling.

Big Rock is a great place for swimming or floating around in a tube or just sitting on a cool, camp rock and chilling.

Many a wedding was held here at the foot of what used to be Five Sisters Resort, only a couple of miles from "Big Rock" and another mile or so from Francis Ford Coppola's famous Blancaneaux Eco Resort, which I've featured here at the blawg a few times. The Five Sisters Resort fell into disrepair while it was on the market. Now called Gaia Lodge,  it sold to a new owner two years ago. It's almost been restored to its former glory and is a beautiful resort with this great waterfall deep down below it. It's an even steeper climb to access than the waterfall at Big Rock, but the resort has a nice, winding trail of concrete steps to make it accessible. Still, the climb up and down is a workout. I'm in reasonably good shape and can hike for miles a day around Belize, but my thighs were screaming with soreness for a couple of days. Being in good shape in Belize empowers you to escape to some of the most beautiful, rugged, serene and secluded places on God's green earth.

Many a wedding was held here at the foot of what used to be Five Sisters Resort, only a couple of miles from “Big Rock” and another mile or so from Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Blancaneaux Eco Resort, which I’ve featured here at the blawg a few times. The Five Sisters Resort fell into disrepair while it was on the market. Now called Gaia Riverlodge, it sold to a new owner two years ago. It’s almost been restored to its former glory and is a beautiful resort with this great waterfall deep down below it. It’s an even steeper climb to access than the waterfall at Big Rock, but the resort has a nice, winding trail of concrete steps to make it accessible. Still, the climb up and down is a workout. I’m in reasonably good shape and can hike for miles a day around Belize. But my thighs were screaming with soreness for a couple of days after the hikes around Big Rock and Gaia’s waterfall. Being in good shape in Belize empowers you to escape to some of the most beautiful, rugged, serene and secluded places on God’s green earth.

Then again, you could just be lazy and take the tram down to the Gaia waterfall.

Then again, you could just be lazy and take the tram down to the Gaia waterfall.

For more about the Gaia Riverlodge …..

and a full gallery of pictures…..

Click right here….

Zen chairs compliments of Gaia Riverlodge.

Zen chairs compliments of Gaia Riverlodge.

If you don't want to take the steep steps or tram all the way down to the waterfall at Gaia you can stop and take in the view at one of the many lookout points. But this view at ground level is one I'll take every time.

If you don’t want to take the steep steps or tram all the way down to the waterfall at Gaia you can stop and take in the view at one of the many lookout points. But this view down at ground level is one I’ll take every time.


On the way back to San Ignacio be sure to stop at The Junction, a popular watering hole at the base of Mountain Pine Ridge where you can always find expats from the States or Canada having an ice-cold beer  with the Belizean mountain folk. It's got to be the most laid back, relaxing, little jungle tavern on earth.

On the way back to San Ignacio be sure to stop at The Junction, a popular watering hole at the base of Mountain Pine Ridge where you can always find expats from the States or Canada having an ice-cold beer with the Belizean mountain folk. It’s got to be the most laid back, relaxing, little jungle tavern on earth. The lady in the middle is a Canadian who moved to Belize 12 years ago after driving her truck from 4,000 miles from Calgary to Houston where she shipped the truck to Belize. That’s her brother who lived with her a couple of years here in Belize before he built his own cabin a few yards down from The Junction. Like I say, you meet the most interesting North American expats down here–some really adventurous people who march to their own drummers. My kind of peeps. (The young lady on the right is Dee, one of the four college student/campers I transported back to San Ignacio Saturday night. The mother of two sons ages 8 and 10, Dee is back in college for outdoor eco studies but has a teaching degree.

That's Jim, the very outgoing owner of "The Junction," he of British and Australian parentage. His wife is from some strange place called Louisiana. They own the legendary Junction and the 40 acres of lush Belizean bush land behind it.

That’s Jim, the very outgoing owner of “The Junction,” he of British and Australian parentage. His wife is from some strange place called Louisiana. They own the legendary Junction and the 40 acres of lush Belizean bush land behind it.

Sign outside the Emergency Room at my local Belizean hospital.

Sign outside the Emergency Room at my local Belizean hospital.

The government owned and operated San Ignacio Community Hospital, a few miles outside of San Ignacio, BZ. That refurbished ambulance at the ER was donated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Florida last year.

The government owned and operated San Ignacio Community Hospital, a few miles outside of San Ignacio, BZ. That refurbished ambulance at the ER was donated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Florida last year.

The other, older ambulance in the parking lot up on "hospital hill," as locals call the site.

The other, older ambulance in the parking lot up on “hospital hill,” as locals call the site.

Down below you’ll find a few snaps from the quite third-worldish San Ignacio Regional Hospital here in Paradise.

A Belizean waiting to see a doctor at quite third-worldish San Ignacio Hospital's outpatient clinic.

A Belizean waiting to see a doctor at San Ignacio Hospital’s outpatient clinic.

There’s a reason that the Belizean Prime Minister’s wife went to Miami for treatments for her long battle with cancer, and the Prime Minister himself went to L.A. more recently for back surgery.

For critical or serious medical care, it’s best to get out of Belize and get up to the United States or any other advanced country. Or, for excellent care for a fraction of the cost in the States, the medical care and hospitals in Merida, Mexico–not far from Cancun and hours from Belize–are world-class. Many Belizeans who can afford the travel or transport costs get up to Merida, or travel down to Guatemala City for very affordable health care.
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There are some excellent doctors and nurses in Belize, including some of the specialists such as surgeons or cardiologists. The problem is that there are so many of the other kind. My Cuban-born internist (he’s Cuban blooded and returns for visits but he’s Belizean by marriage to a Belizean) is as fine a physician as I’ve ever had. He has a private clinic–a visit to his office is only $20 U.S.–and his wife has a nice, quality lab across the street.

But if you have to be hospitalized here in a public hospital, as I was for hernia surgery in 2012, be sure to take your own toilet paper, soap, towels, pillows, a fan and food to the hospital. Take all the above to the hospital or have someone bring it to you. They aren’t provided.
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Hospital “food” here is served three times a day, but it’s not fit for man nor beast. Hospital ceiling fans never seem to work, so people take their own fans.

And what can you say about a country and government that provides almost free public health, but doesn’t stock its hospital bathrooms with toilet paper, soap or at least some paper towels?

A patient's "supper" at a regional hospital in Belize. If hospitalized here, bring your own food or have someone bring you a decent, reasonably nutritious meal.

A patient’s “supper” at a regional hospital in Belize. If hospitalized here, bring your own food or have someone bring you a decent, reasonably nutritious meal.


Oh–and there’s no such thing as a private room; in fact, no such thing as privacy anywhere in a Belizean hospital.

One can get considerably better care, and still dirt-cheap treatment compared to treatment in the U.S., at some of the private hospitals or clinics in Belize. Here in San Ig, for example, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church–which has some excellent hospitals in the U.S.–has a very good hospital–or so the expats tell me. It certainly is nicer and cleaner than any public hospital.

But, again, the best assurance of high-quality medical care is transport to somewhere out of this country.

The good news is thats it’s getting better, inch by third-world Belizean inch. Expats who’ve lived in Belize for 10, 20 or 30 years and more say the government health care is now excellent indeed compared to only 10 years ago, and vastly better than in the eighties or nineties when few people in the world ever heard of this beautiful but tiny nation. (With 300,000 people, Belize has tripled in population since the 1980s.)

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BTW, the cost of my aforementioned hernia surgery–including the surgery, anesthesia, 72 hours in the hospital and all the meds–was under $300 U.S.

Plus the cost of my own toilet paper and soap bars.

The "isolation room" behind the main hospital was abandoned about as quick as it was built.

The “isolation room” behind the main hospital was abandoned about as quick as it was built.

The walls in every hospital and clinic I've seen in Belize are practically wallpapered with signs encouraging mothers to breastfeed. And Belize me when I tell you that breastfeeding is prevalent here--mothers have no inhibitions when it comes to naturally feeding their babies in public or private.

The walls in every hospital and clinic I’ve seen in Belize are practically wallpapered with signs encouraging mothers to breastfeed. And Belize me when I tell you that breastfeeding is prevalent here–mothers have no inhibitions when it comes to naturally feeding their babies in public or private.

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BZ has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. Also a high rate of alcoholism because of the high rate of beer and rum production, which leads to a high rate of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Having many "social ills" just goes with being "third world."

BZ has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. Also a high rate of alcoholism (and deaths by alcohol poisoning and drunken driving) because of the high rate of beer and rum production, which leads to a high rate of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Having many “social ills” just goes with being “third world. When in Belize don’t be surprised if you see some guy staggering across a road, drunk out of his bucket, or passed out in a street or sidewalk. It’s a sad and all-too-common sight. “

Back there is the social workers' offices, just past the pool of water where mosquitos breed by the hospital's open windows. But the windows remain open to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. No use putting screens on the windows because they'll get stolen. So it goes in my world here in Paradise.

Back there is the social workers’ offices, just past the pool of water where mosquitos breed by the hospital’s open windows. But the windows remain open to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. No use putting screens on the windows because they’ll get stolen. So it goes in my world here in Paradise.

The tacos, salutes and other food at the snack shops outside the hospital aren't nutritious, but at least they're tasty--more than what can be said for the "food" served in any public hospital in Belize that I've seen.

The tacos, salutes and other food at the snack shops outside the hospital aren’t nutritious, but at least they’re tasty–more than what can be said for the “food” served in any public hospital in Belize that I’ve seen.

Notice on a fridge in an exam room.

Notice on a fridge in an exam room.


A view from hospital hill.

A view from hospital hill.

Until next time ....

Until next time ….

Happy trails from mainland Belize.

Happy trails from mainland Belize.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

Matthew 25: 23

Pete Seeger's banjo.

Pete Seeger’s banjo.

Pete Seeger lived 94 years of a life lived to the hilt, but even into his nineties he was the ultimate “angry young man.”

That’s to say that he was “angry” and stayed angry in the best sense, in the sense that Jesus was angry, and MLK Jr. was angry, and Gandhi and other prophets of love, peace and justice stayed angry.

By all accounts Seeger was gentle and pleasant company. He could be a playful and joy-filled entertainer and a childishly creative man, which made him and his music so appealing to children as well as his elderly peers.

But he stayed angry, in the best sense, for 94 years, in that he refused to accept social injustice, or the sort of Foxy patriotism that is the last refuge of scoundrels, or Christian sentimentalism.

Jesus himself has to be happy to have this gifted and high-minded prophet back Home. But it saddens me to no end that an American original of such rare integrity and high-minded Christian ethics is no longer here to do what prophets do–to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

— Genesis 1: 31

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The Keel-billed Toucan, known as the “bill bird” locally, is the national bird of Belize. It’s a beautiful creature known for its outsized bill, which comes in bright shades of yellow, orange, red and green, with some black thrown in.

The other day I was relaxing in the yard of my dear friends Jamie and Barb, a couple of Canadian expats who have a terribly relaxing bed-and-breakfast inn overlooking Belize’s big and beautiful Mopan River. Suddenly Barb pointed skyward and shouted, “A toucan!” The three of us grew as giddy as children as the colorful bird came casually gliding right over our heads.

Thomas Aquinas said that beauty arrests motion. The sight of something as common as a bird on a limb or a bird in flight, even if it’s not as colorfully exotic as the toucan that “arrested” us, has the power to captivate us and calm us down–to release us from the tension of all our herky-jerky motion.

The trick in discovering miracles and beauties and wonders on God’s green earth doesn’t require any magic wand. The trick is in simply waking up to all the magical gifts of God’s grace that are budding, buzzing, flying and simply existing all around us.

In his 1922 book Spiritual Energies in Daily Life, the Quaker mystic Rufus Jones noted that beauty breaks through almost everywhere, suggesting “a Spirit that enjoys beauty for its own sake.”

    “Even the minutest things reveal [beauty] as well as do the sublimest things,” Jones wrote. “Whatever one sees through the microscope, a bit of mould, for example, is charged with beauty. Everything from a dew drop to Mountain Shasta is the bearer of beauty. And yet beauty has no function, no utility. . . . It greases no wheels, it bakes no puddings. It is a gift of sheer grace, a gratuitous largess.”

Driving up the mountain passes of the scenic Hummingbird Highway of Belize sometimes reminds me of the time I vacationed driving through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, except for Tennessee's considerable lack of palm and coconut trees. Still, I have these Belizean moments when I feel like I'm back in some place like Tennesseee, or Arkansas, or Georgia (come see Mountain Pine Ridge and you'll understand what I mean, Georgians), or even the holy ground where I grew up around Grimes and Washington Counties in Texas with their rolling, pastoral pastures and hills. As terribly foreign as Belize can start to feel to me sometimes--I have these occasional moments of deja vu where I feel I've been taken back to some beautiful part of America I passed through once on some summer vacation or going mobile in a rental car on some newspaper assignment.

Driving up the mountain passes of the scenic Hummingbird Highway of Belize sometimes reminds me of the time I vacationed driving through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, except for Tennessee’s considerable lack of palm and coconut trees. Still, I have these Belizean moments when I feel like I’m back in some place like Tennesseee, or Arkansas, or Georgia (come see Mountain Pine Ridge and you’ll understand what I mean, Georgians), or even the holy ground where I grew up around Grimes and Washington Counties in Texas with their rolling, pastoral pastures and hills. As terribly foreign as Belize can start to feel to me sometimes–I have these occasional moments of deja vu where I feel I’ve been taken back to some beautiful part of America I passed through once on some summer vacation or going mobile in a rental car on some newspaper assignment.

The Hummingbird Highay, one of the more scenic and smooth rides in all of mainland Belize.

The Hummingbird Highay, one of the more scenic and smooth rides in all of mainland Belize.

Way more than just hummingbird birds up in the bush off the Hummingbird; take a pair of binoculars and your camera early in the morning or just as the sun sets and you'll cross a lot of birds off your bird-watching list.

Way more than just hummingbird birds up in the bush off the Hummingbird; take a pair of binoculars and your camera early in the morning or just as the sun sets and you’ll cross a lot of birds off your bird-watching list.

Another of the many little pink houses on the Hummingbird trail

Another of the many little pink houses on the Hummingbird trail

The Hummingbird dead-ends in the coastal town of Dangriga, where the horse is as common a mode of transportation as a four-wheel or two-wheel vehicle.

The Hummingbird dead-ends in the coastal town of Dangriga, where the horse is as common a mode of transportation as a four-wheel or two-wheel vehicle.

When in Dangriga call a horse cab

When in Dangriga call a horse cab

Or judging from those wheels, DON'T call for a horse cab.

Or judging from those wheels, DON’T call for a horse cab.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles LeBrun

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles LeBrun

Born outdoors, Jesus was the ultimate outsider, God’s rabble-rouser.

He never had any interest in being an “insider” with the powers-that-were. And he certainly had no interest in being the kind of king who lorded over his empire while his servants sat at his feet giving him pedicures and fetching his fine wine and cheese.

Imagine what the three magi, bearing their lavish gifts, must have thought when they finally reached what they expected to be a royal palace. They must have wondered what kind of strange king-to-be the baby in the manger was.

What are we to make of the strange fact that the only crown the new-born king was ever to wear was a crown of thorns?

That’s how God, whose ways are not our ways, works.

Go figure.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

— Isaiah 55: 8, New Living Translation Bible

Jesusface

Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people.”

— Moses, Deuteronomy 9:6

———–

“My cup runneth over.”

— From Psalm 23

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

This is another in an ongoing series of frequent postings about poverty, both material and spiritual, as it’s addressed in the Bible.

The “prosperity gospel,” or the health and wealth gospel as it’s sometimes called, teaches that God desires the material, spiritual, and physical prosperity of us all.

The theology of the “wealth gospel” has it that in order to receive–in order to not only keep up with the Joneses but move out of their neighborhood to higher material ground–you only have to believe, and strive to be good and nice, and act upon God’s promises.

A prayer life is part of the prosperity gospel deal, for sure. In fact, if you stick an occasional prayer into the divine vending machine, you’ll get a nice house and job promotions and boxes of Cracker Jacks that come complete with the sweetness of good health.

Whatever you want or need, just name it; God’s operators are standing by to take your calls.

Born in the poverty of a barnyard, not in a palace.

Born in the poverty of a barnyard, not in a palace.

If the prosperity gospel had any validity whatsoever (and please pay attention here, you the many who buy into every word of Joel Osteen’s happy, happy, happy prosperity gospel), Paul and the Apostles and all those intensely faithful and obedient Christians in the first three-hundred years of the Christian faith tradition would have retired to Mediterranean beaches rather than breaking their backs in service to others, only to have their heads cut off or to get tossed to hungry lions.


If the “wealth-and-health gospel” was the valid gospel, the richly blessed and prosperous Job would never have had so much as a bad hair day.

If the “wealth-and-health gospel” was the valid gospel, the richly blessed and prosperous Job would never have had so much as a bad hair day and King David–the mighty king who had it all–would never have had such family issues with his beloved sons.

Remember this: When Jesus and Pilate stood toe to toe, Pilate was the prosperous one; Jesus was the vulnerable and truly blessed one, a spiritual ruler born of a vulnerable and humble but blessed young girl.

If anything, we should be striving in our faith not for prosperity, but rather to be more poor. For what we might call “the poverty gospel” teaches that it’s only in spiritual poverty–in the emptying of desire for riches and medals and power and control–that God fills our cup with true inner riches, inner blessings and inner peace that money can’t buy and new cars can’t provide.

A good “poverty gospel” prayer is not the sort you stick into a vending machine for a reward or the favor of God. It’s more like the “Covenant Prayer” that the Methodist Movement founder John Wesley prayed to ring in New Years in his covenant worship services:

    Lord,

    I am no longer my own, but yours.

    Put met to what you will,
    rank me with whom you will;

    put me to doing,
    put me to suffering.

    Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
    enabled for you or brought low by you.

    Let me be full,
    let me be empty.

    Let me have all things,
    let me have nothing.

    I freely and heartily yield all things
    to your pleasure and disposal.

    And now, O glorious and blessed God,
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    you are mine, and I am yours.

    So be it.

    And the covenant which I have made on earth,
    let it be ratified in heaven.
    Amen.

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