Sunday, 12 January 2014

Jungle farming in Cayo

Meet Narciso Torres. He's a Mayan farmer living in Santa Familia just outside San Ignacio on the western side of Belize near the border with Guatemala. I met him quite by accident, on a bus from Belize City. To add another twist to the story I wasn't even supposed to be on the same bus as him and wouldn't have been had I not got off the previous bus too soon by accident in the commotion that ensued when the bus arrived in Belmopan, still an hour away from my destination.

So I found myself sitting next to Narciso and as seems to be the custom here, we exchanged greetings of good day and after all the formalities of the 'where are you from/what are you doing here' we got talking about farming and conservation and a multitude of other things, including karma, good & bad and coincidence.

It turns out Narciso is no run of the mill Belizian farmer. Whilst all his neighbours plough their land and use pesticides, he farms his 5 acres organically and with wildlife and biodiversity in mind. He's also a member of the El Pilar Forest Garden Network, has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to medicinal plants and he collects rocks.

When we parted company at the bus stop, he left us with an open invitation to visit his farm so a couple of days later we tracked him down and took him up on his offer. Expecting to spend an hour or two walking around his farm, we were touched when upon arrival he greeted us like old friends and invited us to sit down for a lunch of chicken and rice that his daughter had prepared. The salads, he explained all contained plants from his farm and had beneficial medicinal properties.

After lunch Narciso took us to his farm, about ten minutes walk through the village and along a dirt track, trying to avoid trampling the endless lines of leaf cutter ants going about their business along the way. As we neared his plot, it was obvious which was his. What greeted us was a beautiful, wild, jungle like area, totally different to what surrounded it. For the next couple of hours we walked and talked (and got eaten alive by Mosquitos!) as he pointed out the different trees and plants and explained why he grew them. Bread nut trees from which he plans to make flour, mahogany, mangoes, papaya, plantains and chestnuts. Star fruit, beans, mushrooms and sugar cane growing through a thick carpet of ground plants, virtually every one of which has a purpose for being there. It was the perfect little ecosystem. He also showed us a small enclosed meditation area surrounded by palms which housed his collection of stones, right by a beautiful flowing river. He also explained to us how he made holes in some of the dead trees to encourage a type of insect to lay its larvae in the holes, at which point you can break open the trunk and take out the larvae to eat. Apparently they taste great fried...I have to admit I'm relieved that he didn't ask us if we wanted to try them!

Time passed quickly and in what seemed like no time we were back in the village to catch the bus back into town. As we were waiting for the bus Narciso came cycling down the road towards us to deliver a bag of jackass bitters he'd promised Sharen as a remedy for her cold. I've thought about that day a lot since then. It never ceases to amaze me the wonderful people you meet when you're open to new experiences. Chance meetings like this and the places I end up as a result are one of the things I thrive on.

Thank you Narciso for a fantastic afternoon and for doing what you're doing. I hope I'll be able to come back and visit you again in the future.

For more information check out this video:

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