If you haven’t already, make sure you check out my previous post from Belmopan, Belize to get you up to speed.
So, after spending three days in Belmopan, where brush fires and forest fires were spreading like…well…wildfire, I was making plans to take me to my next destination. The smoke in Belmopan was heavy, and it was clear that the lack of rain and the extreme heat were contributing factors. Even the pilot at the Belmopan airport was expected to arrive late due to the poor visibility early that morning. However, boarding the 12-passenger plane didn’t take long, and I was back on schedule in no time – although “schedule ” is kind of a loose term in Belize.
The other half a dozen passengers and myself made our way southeast across the Maya Mountains, where large patches of burned forest were visible from the air. The prop plan flew through the clouds, but not above them, which made for a bumpy ride and an incredible view of the countryside. After about 45 minutes, I spotted the coastline and the sparkling blue water off of Belize’s shores!
Stop 2: I landed in Placencia and was met by another Candy, who sits on the board of the Placencia Citizens for Sustainable Development (PCSD). Placencia is at the southern tip of a long, narrow peninsula that runs down the mainland. This forms a beautiful and lively lagoon where people have played and fished for generations. Placencia is a very small community that is growing rapidly. Growth is partly due to an influx of Belizeans and foreigners attracted to the beautiful location and the relaxed pace, and who are often establishing full-time residency on the peninsula. Unfortunately, much more of the growth is in the form of tourism developments and condos for part-time residents and vacationers. This hasty development is particularly worrisome, as many of these developers do not live in Belize year-round and are detached from the local needs: the local community, the local economy, and the local environment. Although the recent economic crisis has slowed investments, Placencia is threatened by short-sighted development.
Adrian Vernon (like Amelita at BELPO) is the only staff member at PCSD. He offered to work on a Saturday by welcoming me to Placencia with a boat tour of the lagoon. Adrian’s family has lived on the peninsula for generations. His knowledge of the area and its ecosystems, particularly the valuable mangrove forests, has made him a well-known and highly-respected man in the community. Joining us on the tour was a member of the Placencia Town Council, the local government body responsible for approving proposed development projects, and students from Belize University studying cumulative impacts of tourism in Placencia.
Adrian was at home on the water. It was clear that he could talk for hours about the benefits of mangroves and sea grass, proper restoration techniques, the threats from development and dumping that are facing the lagoon, and the solutions he is promoting to help developers understand the value of protecting the local ecosystem. The group buzzed constantly with questions and answers. Before I knew it, we had been on the water for three hours and were on our way back to the dock. With the wind whipping by, I was enjoying the sun and proudly recalling memorable facts of the lagoon, when a sputtering noise signaled that the previous boat guide had forgot to refill the gas tank. We floated for only a couple of minutes until a gentleman, someone Adrian knew and recognized from at least 100 yards away, pulled up and offered us a gallon or two. I learned a new trick for siphoning gas, and only minutes later, Adrian and I were ordering lunch. What a great afternoon!
Later that day and most of Sunday, Adrian and I managed to confine ourselves to the new PCSD office, where we collaborated on ways to make his work more efficient, since he is now sharing time between the office and the field. Adrian is also leading the campaign to organize community support for PCSD and ensure that the goals of the organization are determined and led by locals, who need a voice on proposed developments – a unified voice that will protect individuals and amplify their demands.
Adrian and I said good-bye on Sunday evening and I headed back to Dianni’s Guest House (which I would highly recommend) and prepared to leave Placencia on an early morning flight to San Pedro. I planned to take the day off and go snorkeling!! No underwater photos, but I have managed to remember many of the names of the gazillion fish I saw, so check back soon.
Also, check out our Facebook page for more photos from the trip.
ELAW Office Manager