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A weekend at the Macal River Camp

10 April 2010 One Comment

FEATURED PLANT: Polly red head

Polly red head is a ‘weed’ that grows all over Belize. If you let it grow in your back yard, not only can you appreciate the eye-catching bright orange flowers but you will also invite hummingbirds and butterflies into your garden. The bright red berries provide a snack for many different birds. Why not taste them too as these fruits are edible, turning black when they are ripe. Polly red head is easy to find in Belize and has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. Polly red head is used for almost any type of skin problem such as sores, burns, itching, cuts, fungal problems or insect bites. The Maya name, Ix-canan, means “goddess or guardian of the forest”.

Belize Adventure Journal: A weekend at the River Camp

We are Kate Wright and Jessica Gill, interns from England who have been staying at Chaa Creek and learning about the healing herbs of Belize. We are creating a new centre which will support the Medicine Trail and inform visitors about the fascinating plants of the rainforest and share some of the knowledge of the Maya h’mens or ‘doctor-priests’ such as the late Don Elijio Panti. Last week we finished the first display boards which are on Common or backyard plants with healing properties and were treated to a weekend ‘holiday’ down a the River Camp.

Having started from scratch with bare dingy walls, completing our first colourful display boards on Common plants was extremely satisfying. As Chaa Creek receives so many visitors from Belize as part of its educational program, we thought is would be interesting for local children to learn that the very plants that are growing in their back garden have healing powers. For example, Oregano can ease sprains and bruises and Marigold can reduce fever and headaches.

We are creating the centre in memory of Don Elijio Panti, who, when he died at the age 103, was recognized as “the last Mayan master healer in Belize” by the New York Times. Don Elijio’s last wish was that the children of Belize should be educated about the healing plants and we hope through the centre to spread the message of conservation and pass on a fraction of his wisdom. You can read about Don Elijio’s life and work in “Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer” by Rosita Arvigo.

Ever since we arrived at Chaa Creek, we had been hearing about how special the river camp was and we wanted to check it out for ourselves. Being English, for me the word ‘camping’ conjures up images of soggy socks and queues for cold showers, but we found at the river camp, which actually consists of cabins on stilts, we were rather spoilt. We had a marvelous time spending the afternoon ‘limeing’ in a hammock and returning after an evening walk to find oil lamps glowing romantically in our cabin to welcome us home. Despite finding the ‘camp’ rather luxurious as we settled in for the night we still felt in the camping spirit and began telling the obligatory ghost stories and sipping rum. By 1am Kate had convinced me that a noise on the canvas roof was an escaped lunatic clawing his way in and we decided it was time to call it a night. We found the camp extremely friendly and over meals we swapped travelling stories, jokes and tips with the other guests. The best thing about the camp was the delicious plate of fruit we were given first thing in the morning. Before long we were surrounded by red ant tanagers and great Kiskadees who had come to stake their claim to our breakfast.

It was also Kate’s 19th birthday weekend and we celebrated on Saturday night by partying in the bars of San Ignacio then spendng a chilled out Sunday playing volleyball, drifting in the river on a rubber ring and listening to Bob Marley. Our trip to Belize has been made unforgettable by the legendary staff at Chaa Creek who have been so kind to us. They gave Kate an awesome birthday by baking a cake and creating a new cocktail in her honour. Thanks guys.

Article by Jessica Gill


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  • Paul Stevenson said:

    If you could please also share your knowledge via the Facebook group; ‘Plants of Belize’ it would be greatly appreciated, thank you.

    I pulled and Ix Kanan plant from the drain in the front of my house and set it in my yard to encourage feeding of flying things, my Grandson and I enjoy their un-shy habits. Amazing to watch.

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