A Lady Soldier

This story begins as I leave my campsite on the shores of Lake Peten in Guatemala and head back into Belize. The highway of 40 miles or so was in very poor condition. It was built as part of a treaty between Guatemala and the British. A bit of history is needed here.

For years, Guatemalan school children had been taught that British Honduras (now called Belize) was part of a Greater Guatemala. When the imperialist British would eventually leave, Guatemala would reclaim this territory. The citizens of British Honduras had different ideas.

They all spoke English, had a parliamentary form of government, and planned to become part of the British Commonwealth. As Belize became independent, the British guaranteed their independence even if it meant military force. On my earliest trip to Belize I had witnessed Harrier jets at low altitude buzzing the countryside. The British built this highway as an accommodation to Guatemala so that they could have access to a Caribbean seaport inside the new Belize. Once built, however, no one maintained it, hence its poor condition.

Once inside Belize I took a less traveled road towards the coast. My map showed a National Park along the way. I had hoped to find a campground. When I stopped at a scenic waterfall, I met another tourist. He said that I had just passed the ranger's place. I didn't remember seeing anything, but I returned back the way I had come. Sure enough there was a small house barely visible from the road. As darkness approached I bravely drove in. A man came out to greet me. I had found the custodian of this nascent National Park. He said that I was welcome to park overnight in his front yard since there were no camping facilities. What I remember most about this stay was going to sleep with the sound of Holler monkeys chatting in the nearby forest.

The next morning, I traveled on towards the coastal town of Dangriga. At the edge of town the highway forced a left or right turn. Not knowing which way to go I turned right and immediately saw a grassy area facing the ocean. This was a good place to have lunch. I pulled in, opened up the trailer and started to prepare lunch.

Before long a lady soldier appeared at my door. I invited her to come in to have a Coke. The conversation that followed gave me an insight into what local life was like. She was 19 years old and planned to stay in the military. There were barracks where she could stay but she chose to live off base. Her mission at this schoolyard was to guard the coast against boats landing. It was no secret that Belize was often a stopping off point for drug smugglers. Since she was the only person around, I asked for permission to camp overnight in the schoolyard.

So ended a wonderful day.