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In the Trees Writer’s Retreat, Benque Viejo

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A regular reader once told me you can’t be Hemingway every day. I considered it very wise advice, and I tempered it with always refining my craft and developing a clear writing voice.

When host, Virginia emailed me asking if I wanted to attend a writers retreat in Benque, I was all over it. The retreat was a collaboration between Ixcanan A Meeting Space and Wildfire Artzmosphere based in San Ignacio.

I was excited to meet other writers and spend time actively working on my style. Of course, I signed my temporary roommate Heather up for the ride – I didn’t have to twist her arm too hard. While she is not currently a writer, she journals often.

Writer’s Retreat, Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

The 2.5 days promised: meditation, solo writing exercises, group writing activities, open critique, chair yoga, walks, and shared meals. Saving the best for last 😀 – full buffet style meals three times a day plus healthy snacks. It always brings me the greatest pleasure when someone sets tasty food in front of me. I fully enjoyed watching the corn tortilla making and that our meals were cooked over an open fire. It was great getting back to nature to get our creative juices flowing.

Writer’s Retreat Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

Our inspiration started before we arrived, from the colorful Mopan river on the drive to Benque. At some spots, families were swimming and enjoying the simple pleasures of tech-free time by the water. I could feel the city melting away. – my soul was ready for the country. I was also excited to see what the retreat would bring.

Mainland Belize

As far as the writers, there were 6 of us participating, a poet/teacher, a teacher, a marketing manager for local Belize news agency, two personal writers and myself, a Belize blogger. 3 of the attendees including our hostess Virginia were from the University of Belize.

Virginia did a great job of leading us forward with flexibility. Some of her schedule and exercises were formed along the way by the needs of the writers, and all activities were optional. We were free to write on our own clock the entire time and be in our own space or under the big palapa with the group. Now that is learning I can get behind (Having struggled greatly in the school system as a dyslexic.)

Virginia also stated, “if we do things that assist in our writing, it counts for time.” For me, that turned out to be taking lots of pictures. I also went deeper in thought about the connection of my pictures to my writing, which often starts out inspired by a view. Plus I was determined to get good turkey and rooster shots. I was fascinated watching them roam the property. Often, the turkeys dragged their side feathers around like some sort of majestic heavily armored prehistoric beings. I was beyond happy that the chickens and roosters were much quieter at night and in general than the roosters that live next door to me (downtown San Pedro.)

Writer’s Retreat Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

What I got from Class

I went in with a totally open mind and I came out with a new appreciation for my job and how I write. We learned a great term “sloppy copy” and that is definitely applicable to me. I am not a crank it out in one-shot girl. My writing generally comes out in evolving chunks. So the idea of further embracing that was appealing to me.

Another enjoyable thing about the class is we did short Pomodoro’s
(25 min timed periods of focused intent) where we were given a prompt. It was very refreshing for me not to be the one picking the topic I was writing about and go with someone else’s idea. And, the huge tree that was on the way to the palapa, it made me feel good every time I passed it. Of course, I had to take a minute and climb it – never too old for that. When Consuelo and Elvira saw I needed minor assistance, they passed a chair over the fence and I appreciated less wear and tear on my Swiftwater sandals.

Writer’s Retreat Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

Nature Inspired Us

There was no shortage of inspiration and the grounds really brought the group, a relaxed and peaceful energy to write from. We felt safe with each other to travel deeper within ourselves, share the results and be constructively critiqued.

We also inspired each other, one of the group got accidentally locked out of their cabin. Virgina decided to use that and have us do a Pomodoro about us breaking down doors. Another Pomodoro topic, the solar system came from an outer space pattern on her water bottle.

Under the big palapa in the common area was where we spent the most time. It had dining and lounging areas, restrooms, as well as electricity. Limited Wi-Fi was available upon request, it was nice to not ask and enjoy some tech-free hours.

More about Ixcanan – A Meeting Space

Grounds: Consuelo manages the property, and Elvira and her family are the
caretakers of Ixcanan where they live with their family which includes people, chickens, turkeys, geese, and dogs. They were lovely folks and provided all meals, maintenance, and security.

Writer’s Retreat Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

Cabins: All cabins were equipped with beds and chairs, desks, tables, as well as indoor toilets, a sink. We also had but never dreamed of using a stove, utensils, and dishes. There was enough electricity for the lights and small fans – we were happy enough with the cross breeze not to want one. Full electricity came from the palapa, just a short walk away. Showers were cold, but not unbearable.

Writer’s Retreat Benque Viejo Del Carmen Belize

Important Things to Pack: other than writing implements.

Below is the mainland travel list we were given:

  • Mosquito repellent
  • An umbrella—raincoats are too hot.
  • Sunscreen if you use it.
  • Toiletries [there will be local ones for sale on site]
  • A couple of well-sealed containers to store snacks in your cabin
  • Some long-sleeved shirts
  • Summer clothing
  • Flip flops
  • Towels/washcloths [optional]

I added the list above to help those planning on mainland travel. Surprisingly I did not really use bug spray much, though I would always pack some. Heather used it a bit more. We did not need the umbrella but it was small for space. Brought our own toiletries used their towels and got their soap. I was definitely glad to have packed a light jacket and almost wished for yoga pants. As for snack container, we brought a few treats in a Ziploc bag and I bravely kept it in my knapsack. It did the trick for keeping ants out of our sweets. Lastly depending on where I was going, I would pack sturdier sandals or runners.

Benque Viejo del Carmen

Flying to Maya Flats

I love flying into Maya Flats, the hills and cows along the runway are always a welcome site for this flat island girl. The flight overal also reminds me how lucky we are to live in a country with so much untouched space and large amounts of farmland.

Cattle Farming in Belize

Thankfully we got a milk run flight (an extra stop) from San Pedro to San Ignacio and I got a great shot of the Belize River and runway on our Tropic Air flight from Philip Goldson International to Maya Flats Airport.

Another reason to be thankful was Tropic Air staff. At San Pedro Airport, as soon as they saw Heather walk in on crutches from an Achilles heel injury, they sprung into action with a wheelchair and early boarding. Same for our pit stop at International, the “assisted travel staff” was ready and waiting for her.

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