Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yes, I meant to post this in June but....Tropical Storms and Jam.

This is a mango. Ripe, juicy, ready to be eaten over the sink so the dripping nectar doesn't mess up your kitchen counter. This particular piece of fruit was harvested the third week of June, on my family farm in Toledo, Belize. As you probably have noticed, its late August now. You may also have noticed that since I arrived in Belize for the summer, I haven't been very good about posting updates. It turns out that uploading photos on slow Internet is a frustrating exercise, one that was far less appealing than doing fieldwork or going for a swim in the Caribbean. So after my first heroic post, I decided to focus on my research and update everyone once I returned to the land of 4G networks and high-speed everything. But I had already written this article back in June. So keep that in mind as you read it. Everything below was typed in the last days of early summer.

So Belize just got hit by Tropical Storm Alex, which was the hurricane season equivalent of getting slapped out of nowhere. From a tropical wave to a storm in less than 24 hours, it was the first storm of the season. Luckily, apart from a few downed trees and electrical lines and mostly mild flooding, it was just really bad whether for about 36 hours. The contrast is ridiculous. Yesterday the winds were howling and gusting to almost 40Mph in Placencia, which is a quite a bit south of Belize City, which bore the brunt of the storm. Rain poured down and lashed the sides of the houses and drenched every inch of every person who ventured outside, regardless of how much gortex they had on. I came home from my fieldwork expedition outside with the beginnings of hypothermia and bright blue nails.

Today, it was warm, almost hot, with a light breeze and brilliant blue, partially clouded skies. Except for the occasional flooded yard, the inch of water on my kitchen and bathroom floors, and a couple sunken boats, you couldn't tell a storm had ever passed through.

But this blog entry is about something even more exciting than Tropical Storm Alex. This post is about my trip to my family farm in Toledo District, Belize. South of Placencia, in a bight on the coast, accessible only by boat, was my childhood home and the only place on earth where I can point to hundreds of trees and say "I planted those". There's nothing like the feeling of being surrounded by the fruits of ones own labor, waving their leaves at you in greeting in an afternoon breeze. I couldn't wait to get there.

Two days after I arrived in the country I got up super early to catch a water taxi, otherwise known as a large skiff with seats to cram 20 or so passengers eager to get from Placencia to Mango Creek. In Mango Creek (close to all the mango plantations) I walked up the road, had a leisurely breakfast and awaited the bus south. By 11 AM I was in Punta Gorda, the district capital for Toledo District, and the only official town. My parents met me and after a quick snack we jumped in our skiff and headed home. On a nice day, this is what the ride looks like:

Luckily for me it WAS a nice day and we had a good ride home. I spent about four days on the farm. In Mid-June the place was full of fruit: bananas, papayas, hundreds of mangoes dripping off the loaded trees and the American-football shaped Mamey Fruit, deeply sweet and mahogany hued, and one of my favorite fruits. Also bearing were Suriname cherries, red, ribbed with juicy flesh perfect for jam.

I made both mango and Suriname cherry jam, did a day of underwater archaeological fieldwork with a team from another university, hung out with my folks and enjoyed the beauty of the place. It was good to be home on the farm before the bulk of my research began. And the jam made good gifts for people that I had already started befriending. Even better, the only ingredient I had to pay for was sugar. All the fruit were free for the picking. I felt like a beachcomber a la my hero Euell Gibbons. It was  refreshing experience that sent me back to Placencia in a good mood and ready to tackle my field work. Have you had any "free" food experiences? Maybe foraging wild plants? Or discovering a neglected apple trees on a street corner?