Sundown In Cayo
“Hmmm…no food, no cook, and no sign of any barbecue,” I said to friends Bohn and Teri traveling with us in Belize this week as we drove up to the palapa at Maya Spring Estates.
It was nearly 5 p.m.
“Looks like the 4:30 cookout might be a little delayed. At least we’ve got the cooler with the drinks.”
About one hour and two One Barrel Belizean rum and cokes later, still no sign of dinner. Someone’s cellphone rang. Several of the men jumped up and into one of the SUVs. Young Jackson came over to Bohn, Teri, and me to give us an update.
“Con, who’s bringing the food and the cook, had a flat tire. Phil and some of the others just went to help him change it.”
Teri made us another round of rum and cokes, and we settled into hammocks on the upper level of the two-story palapa to watch the sunset over the hills. The darkening sky was streaked brilliant red.
Eventually, the men returned, followed by Con with the food and our chef for the evening.
In fact, our chef is our new neighbor. He and his partner also have invested at Maya Spring Estates. They’ve already begun tilling their 3-acre parcel, preparing the earth for planting. James is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef with decades of experience, his partner a world-class baker. The pair has made their way to this spot in Belize to open a boutique restaurant. They’ll prepare meals using ingredients grown on the property, one set menu each day.
Last night Chef James’ menu was cheeseburgers prepared over an open fire. Delicious.
Another neighbor has begun construction of his guesthouse on his 5-acre parcel. This will be followed by gardens and then, later, the main house.
Lief and I also plan to build a guesthouse and a farmhouse on our plot at Maya Spring. First, though, we’re interested in getting some trees growing. The Maya Spring community barbecue last night was a chance for us to formulate a plan with resident horticulturist Con (the one with the flat tire).
We have 9 acres to work with. About 1.5 acres will be given over to the farmhouse, guesthouse, and kitchen gardens. The remainder of the land we want to treat as a mini-plantation. Our idea is to plant timber intercropped with specialty plants prized by florists. Lief and Con considered different Belizean hardwoods—mahogany, cabbage wood, cedar, rosewood—and Con suggested two varieties of palms whose fronds are in great demand and saleable for relatively large sums even locally in Belize.
“Let’s start by planting 100 neem trees along the far perimeter,” Lief suggested. “That’ll create a wall for privacy and also help control pests.”
“No problem,” Con replied.
“Can you get 100 neem trees?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Con admitted. “People here, they grow a few trees and sell them. You don’t find anyone with large stocks of inventory. But I can work with a grower to produce 100 neem trees and everything else you guys want.”
“What about the harvests?” I continued. “We want to keep this experiment as simple and low-key as possible. We’re working with a small piece of land. We won’t be growing enough to make exporting the harvests worthwhile. Would we be able to sell the timber we’re thinking of producing in Belize?”
“Definitely,” Con said. “The timber and also the palms. I’ve been working with a hotel out on Ambergris, for example, that wants hundreds of the specialty palm fronds I’m suggesting you plant per month, but they can’t source them.”
Lief and I know next-to-nothing about farming. But we have an interest, based mostly on a natural curiosity and an affinity for growing things. We’re not doom-and-gloomers, but we do also like the idea of learning how to be more self-sufficient. Our 9 acres at Maya Spring Estates is our first focused effort at this. We feel lucky to have connected with Con, the friend of a friend, who shares our passion for planting and backs it up with experience, know-how, and local connections.
“Make it so!” Lief proclaimed to Con with uncharacteristic enthusiasm after we three had agreed a plan. Maybe he’d had one too many One Barrel rums.
The Cayo sky was fully dark by now. Above us a bright moon and a blanket of stars…in the distance, beyond the hills, the lights of nearby San Ignacio.
“Time to head out,” I said to Lief and Jack.
“Couldn’t I stay here?” Jack asked. “I could sleep in one of these hammocks. Just cover me with bug spray and come back for me in the morning…”
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