Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Morning Fisherman

All year long, on the calmest of mornings, I arise to drink my Guatamalen Coffee and take my morning sunrise stroll, most commonly just out to the dock to look to see if any barracuda or rays might be lingering in the azure Caribbean Seas near shore.

Many mornings, especially when the sea is like glass, I watch as my neighbors from Hopkins Village prepare to fish as they have done for centuries.

The traditional ones still paddle thier dugouts out after casting thier nets for bait near the docks. After catching enough sprat to fish away the morning from thier dugouts they paddle into the sunrise with thier handlines in the bottom and a supply of palmetto leaves used for shading the catch.

The serenity of scene can only be described with photos as the fisherman shares the sea with pelicans and cormorants. Later, when he's back on shore cleaning his catch the frigate birds will signal to the villagers and savy resort chef's like myself that a fresh catch of snapper, grouper and barracuda is at hand. These are the same gentleman I buy my fish for such dishes as filet of snapper baked with pesto and blackened barracuda bites.

To observe the ritual in which my fresh catch is brought from sea to table is gratifying, we were all linked here not just to make a living, but to savor life. It made me feel just about as close to the food I serve as possible, until a recent trip to Dangriga to drop off some guests at the airport.

That's when another link in our intertwined lives near the sea revealed itself. When driving into town, over the 1st bridge, I looked up the river to see a gentleman, Mr. Fred Martinez, sitting in a partialy built dugout patiently chiseling the log which would later become the dugout. Another step in the process of catching fish, as the Garifuna have done for years. I will return to talk to Mr. Martinez as he was just one of those people I am drawn to. I asked him if I could photograph him and how long it took to build a large dugout like the one on which he was working.

He said yes I could take his picture if he could get a print to which I agreed readily.

How long would he be there working on the canoe?

About a month, and I'll be back. I printed him a copy and returned the next day to find Fred off at lunch somewhere, his chisel lay idle in the bottom of the canoe. I just stood there awhile, thinking of the canoe the old man had paddled out in the previous morning and thought about the lines that would lay in the bottom of this working boat, palmetto leaves and cast net at the ready. I must have been a sight to the Dangriga locals as I stood looking at a transformation ..from log to boat.....but I felt lucky to witness what is sure to become a dying art.

Since I had laminated the 8 X 10 glossy for him, I left it under his chisel and departed without seeing him, but I know he will be happy with his photo and I'll be back to take more.......You'd better Belize It!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Winter's Over in Belize

After a whirl wind season, I suddenly looked at the calendar and see it's the first week of March. In Alaska , this would have been a highly anticipated event of longer days and waining cold snaps, but here in Belize, the signs a little more subtle.
Yin and Yang
My Belizean Home in Winter

My Alaskan Home in Winter
One of the bonuses of owning a little beachfront resort and offering all the excursions to the reef, river and jungle is that I personally sample each tour before I will send anyone on the trip. I began to customize trips, some that only I offer.

One of these such trips, The Sittee River night tour, utilizesthe guiding talents of Udell, who grew up on the river and likes nothing more than showing off the glories of the Sittee River at night.

He loves to snatch an iguana or baby croc from the water to show participants the beautiful changing colors of the reptiles. He then cruises through a small cut in the mangroves used by cane farmers for more than a century to Anderson Lagoon. The lagoon is home to bioluminecent plankton and glows eerily when the water is disturbed. Udell will stomp the bottom of the boat to make fish dart, leaving a sparkling trail, reminding me of the Northern Lights of Alaska.

Another such trip I just have to try out often is a fishing trip to the reef.

I will usually pack a nice lunch like asian shrimp roll-ups. Sauted shrimp in sesame, honey and ginger sauce, chilled and mixed with shredded chinese cabbage and what ever crunchy veggies I might have like cho cho, celery and jicama. I never forget a cooler full of ice cold beverages to include Belikin, water and Pinot Grigio. One has to quench his thirst after battling a hefty Barracuda, grouper or kingfish.

We also have found some great narrow lagoons just to the south of us. We have found that if you leave before it gets light out, with a thermos of guatamalen coffee of course, and arrive at the lagoons(about a half an hour ride along the coast, that during the full moon phases, the Tarpon boil for about an hour. They quit just as suddenly, but for and hour, it's a tarpon hitting about every 3rd cast. The first time we went we werer seriously undergeared for these rambuncous fish and out of about 30 strikes, we landed zero. But i consider it one of the most exciting hours of fishing I have ever experienced.

Since we quit being open for lunch after our first year here, (we now only do gourmet boxed lunches for people going on tours) we get breakfast for our guests, then our days are free until early afternoon when we begin preparing for the evening meal. This allows for morning hikes to one of the many nearby Forest Reserves like Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve ( Read Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz) or Mayflower Bocwina National Forest, both less than 10 miles away and offer many trails for wildlife viewing and of course the mandatory waterfall swim.

Both flora and fauna are so overly abundant on these hikes trhat one could take half an hour to walk 20 feet and still not take in all there is to see in the rainforest. Mayflower Bocawina is home to unexcavated Mayan Ruins as well and evidence can be found of worshiping sites, mounds of buried ruins and old trails that have existed for centuries. Indeed the Mayan population was more than 10 fold the current population of Belize.

Upon my return from a morning of activity, my appetite is usually whet for fabricating the special dishes that are in addition to my regular menu. Freshness is the key and I usually contact the fisherman who have fished from their dugouts early in the morning. After getting to know them, they know how I like my fish fileted and iced and have come to bring thier catch to me first as I offer them a little more than the going rate for quality fish, lobster and conch.
Then, the veggie man will drive up to see what fresh produce I might need for the next few days and i will peruse the back of his truck for pineapple, cilantro, lettuce and tomatoes. We make fresh salsa evry few days from the abundant produce that is brought down form the Cayo District by enterprising Belizeans who drive up early in the4 morning and briong down a truckload of beautiful produce. As a chef, the closeness to the food can't be beat, I am truly in my cooking euphoria here and have found an appreciative market.
We have made the decision to stay in Belize this entire summer in order to meet our residency requirements of staying in the country for a year with only a 2 week absence. We are both excited about it and hope that as the winter season comes to a close, tyhat the summer will leave a little more time to do some touring around Belize.

For now, Spring is in the air here in Belize and I think I might take the kayak around False Sittee Point with my flyrod and see if I can catch a few snook......You'd Better Belize It!