My Canadian friend Heather is here for 11 days (technically 12 but since she is on a 10 am Tropic flight later this week, we are counting 11). She arrived last Saturday and other than working on San Mateo area stuff, a few walks and lots of couch time we had absolutely no plans.
The universe stepped in and decided that we were shorting ourselves on social activities, and presented us with a few options that we absolutely could not refuse. Over the course of the last 9 days, we found ourselves enjoying 2 and a half days and one night with our friends at Playa De Sala, a luxurious south Ambergris Caye 5 room boutique hotel with one of the best bars on the island. We also scored a ride on a 24h Xsite camping trip that took us to Goff’s Caye for 24 hours (featured image above).
Yesterday we were temporarily pulled quickly back to the real world. Although it was a holiday on Monday, we had a meeting with Chris and Christina from ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) to discuss the toxic groundwater issue in San Mateo and island wide. Thankfully today we are back to the universe’s social schedule with the annual Ak’bol potluck.
One of my superpowers is that I can often convince people to do things with pictures. I told Heather that the Ak’bol potluck was a good idea and that at least two of my friends have given reviews that the pot-luckers who attend are some of the best cooks. That did not quite capture her interest, so I immediately started looking for a pool picture I had taken years back to reinforce the idea. I knew she would love the “jungle” pool feeling – it totally worked, and we are headed that way later.
Of course, we have been doing our fair share of eating out as well, as you do when company is in town, and you were passed over for the cooking gene. 😀
Below are the yummy Al Pastor tacos we devoured from La Fonda – $2.50 each. They have two locations; one in town on Back St. near Super Buy, and one on the main road (Seagrape Dr.) South. Juvinie’s panko breaded chicken fingers and fries have also been a cheap and cheerful option – $10. You can find them on Black Coral St. near the downtown Artisans Market on Back St. They are also well known for fresh ceviche. (Pricing above in Belize dollars.)
Onto our main adventures; the camping trip, and Boutique Hotel stay. Both incredible back to back experiences. Even though we did the hotel first, the next picture comes from our tropical camping trip.
It was beyond exciting to capture this, because I often play my night underwater Blue Planet episode with disco jellyfish on it. I love how they gracefully float through the water. I was thrilled to see the long tentacled kind for the first time here. I was not thrilled at getting stung twice, however, it wasn’t bad pain wise,and left no mark. Was totally worth it. The incident happened on the sail back to Ambergris Caye from Goffs Caye at our second snorkel stop Gallows Point South, which runs along a 5-mile section of the Belize Barrier Reef. This area is approximately 10 miles east of Belize City and it begins at the St. George’s Caye channel extending south. Stay tuned for more glam-ping pics and information, as a full write up on the fun new Xsite overnight catamaran camping tour will be coming soon.
Onto our first great adventure of Heather’s trip, visiting our friends 5 room Boutique hotel located in south-west Ambergris Caye. We caught a stunning sunset there at the 3SIXTY Lounge Bar. It has the absolute best view and nighttime light shows, courtesy of mother nature, as well as Shawn and Forrest’s big balls. 😀
You can see the sunrise on the ocean side as well as spectacular sunsets on the lagoon. We enjoyed our day so much that we could not resist going back a day later to spend the night – so worth it. The Playa De Sala experience write up is coming soon and there are some magical moments to tell about our fabulous time there.
As you can see from the following Google satellite image of the boutique hotel and rooftop bar, the views are pretty incredible, as it is surrounded by mangroves and lagoon. A good stretch past that large slice of mangrove to the left and off the picture is the Caribbean Sea. This is a place worth visiting (when the bar is officially open) or staying at the hotel now while it is still largely surrounded by nature.
Heather turned into a Canadian volunteering in Belize instantly on her first trip back in June 2009. At the time, it was the unfortunate death of 3-year-old Zolia Ack after having a cut infected from contaminated groundwater that moved her to get involved in a clean water effort for the community. This 2018 trip was important, as we scheduled a Pan Am holiday meeting with ACES last night to talk about next steps towards finding a solution to the unpleasant issue of toxic water in San Mateo. We are in process of researching all the communicable diseases that the island is at risk for due to the high levels of man-made contaminated water in San Mateo (and other areas of the island.) Our group is also looking into all the health effects caused by heavy metals due to using garbage as landfill. Once we have a good list, this will help Chris determine which test kits are best for full results. The plan is to test all of San Mateo and do smaller sections of several other areas at the end of dry season so we get the best results. This will help us map out exactly how contaminated groundwater is across the island and what residents are at risk for.
Last night we all agreed, just like the country came together to ban offshor oil drilling, it is time to do it again. We have to stand up and say no more improper sewage disposal and using garbage for landfill. It is literally killing us.
It is disheartening that not much more is being done to correct the problem in San Mateo – lack of proper infrastructure and garbage. This area needs a full out environmental restoration from the ground up. It is also extremely concerning that more improper development is continuing to happen without proper infrastructure. We just found out a new “working class” development is being built on the lagoon side, about 9 miles north. A 2nd San Mateo in the making maybe? It is seeming like that is the case already, and we have added it to our to-do list to find out more. There is also the “Not so Secret Beach” problem. We are all willing to bet that the plumbing there is not good for the environment. Crocodile Chris even mentioned that the water has been greener up there lately, which means more algae and more risk of bad bacteria flourishing in the water. If we are wrong I will retract that statement after water testing or before, as soon as all the businesses show us proof that they have adequate waste disposal at their waterfront locations.
As for San Mateo, it is deeply disturbing that this was allowed to happen when everyone knew it was a hazardous idea to begin with. Every day the underground cave system, the tides and boat traffic through the channel help spread the contaminated water to both the lagoon and reef side.
The red dots on the map below show 2016 water testing results for about 10% of the neighborhood – not good. Improper infrastructure combined with garbage is a deadly toxic stew and we are in process of learning just how much. When we test the whole area in April 2019, both yards and houses, the red dots it will jump up around 80%. Are you thinking that guesstimate is a little high? Keep looking and you will see why we believe it.
As part of our research, we have been going over the last very thorough study done by FAVACA (Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas) during the summer of 2015. Team members through Florida State University Center for Disaster Risk Prevention (with the assistance of the Belize Red Cross) worked in June 2015 to complete a full utilities door-to-door survey including electricity, water, sewer, structural and social inquiries, providing insight into the types, nature and extent of services available to residents of San Mateo. The following italicized text is pulled directly from the study.
There were 451 structures on 306 lots that were surveyed. Most of the residences were single-family structures, with a majority only housing 3-5 individuals. Those lots that had 0-2 people were rare and were generally made up of a couple with no children. Homes with 6-8 occupants were either multi-family structures or single-family structures with multiple families residing. Less often, homes with 12 or more occupants were found. Very often, these were larger lots with multiple structures varying in size and occupancy or intention.
Consider this – A 160 lbs person with gastrointestinal issues from living in a contaminated environment manufactures just under 1lb of feces a day. That is 279.987 pounds a year.
Although the FAVACA in-depth study was of San Mateo, I must also note we know for a fact this is not the only area with improper waste disposal presenting a negative effect on the countries environment. Please keep that in mind when looking at the following information:
For the 451 structures on 306 lots, waste removal is present in 236 structures (52%). These vary in type from septic tanks (162) or outhouses (78). Even fewer have a hole in the ground or a bucket under the house. However, there are 210 structures with a combined 265 toilets in the community. Most lots with structures had some sort of waste removal present. Most even had above ground septic tanks made from cement blocks. These septic tanks would be used until they filled, then a new one would be built, leaving the older tank to empty over time.
A San Mateo resident of 15 years reported that a majority of the cement septic tanks had open bottoms, only filled with shells and rocks. This construction facility makes it easy for the waste to flow easily back into the ground.
Houston, we have a big @ss problem. The pic below is San Mateo in 2010, and backs up the fact that something has to be done to stop our man-made environmental disasters from continuing. Toxic water is not okay for any of us and it will cripple tourism if allowed to continue.
How about the fact that the image below is often how the kids are navigating their neighborhood? Imagine trying to get home from school on your bike, and then having to get off and push through toxic water. It is unacceptable and we need to do better at providing a safe, environmentally green place for San Mateo residents of all ages and wildlife that predated people to that once pristine wetland area.
Also equally important is the not so quaint and extremely hazardous waterside area the kids have to play. Imagine climbing in that rubbish pile to get your soccer ball – they do it regularly. These children need the adults to do better at protecting the environment and giving them a healthy place just to enjoy being kids.
Amazing recount chock full of sites and experiences to take up. Bravo!