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Blue Creek

Toledo District - Belize

Hidden in the Toledo district of Southern Belize, Blue Creek is a small Indian village on the river of the same name and surrounded by lush rainforests. Half the population is of Kekchi Indian descendent and the other half are Mopan Mayans. Today, except for the older members, most speak both languages in addition to English, and the similar cultures have merged into one. Blue Creek is also the name of the rainforest lodge set five minutes walk upstream next to a small waterfall dropping into a deep pool of clear water. It's not surprising to see people from nearby Punta Gorda coming on Sundays to picnic and play in the river. What surprised me was to see the town and lodge on week days. They are quiet, isolated by their pristine environment and lack of public transportation. We loved the village, people and surroundings so much during our first visit in early April that we decided to return. These are the results of our second visit to document the lifestyle of the villagers, their efforts to preserve their culture and environment, and the possibilities around Blue Creek for the true eco-traveler.

 

History and facts of Blue Creek village

At the turn of the century, 5 Kekchi Indian families fled Guatemala and established a village at the current site of Blue Creek under the name Rio Blanco. They escaped their reservations under the cover of night to find peace in Belize. At that time they only spoke Kekchi and some Spanish and owned only what they could carry on their backs.

When they settled a little down river from the present village location, they met other Indians who were living in caves higher up the river. In exchange for salt the Kekchi received Cacao beans, the only traditionally accepted currency, from the cave Indians, and established a trading relationship.

The lifestyle of the people then was entirely dependent on subsistence agriculture, gathering and traditional tool making. People used clay pots to cook their food over fires. Their dishes were made of clay and calabash. They lived in houses little different from the ones found in the village today, with thatch roofs and slat board walls held together with twine made from bark. They slept in hammocks and didn't have any tables or chairs. They grew their own cotton, and knitted their own cloth. In spite of the rudimentary conditions, Rio Blanco prospered in a beautiful and peaceful environment.

In 1942 Hurricane Hattie destroyed the entire village and much of the rainforest. All Belize was touched, but nothing remained in Rio Blanco. The survivors of Rio Blanco moved to the surrounding villages of San Miguel de Columbia, Laguana, and particularly to the closest village of Aguacate. In the 1950's emigrant Mopan Mayans filtered in from San Antonio, the biggest town in the valley, where they had fled to escape the war in San Luis (Peten, Guatemala). When they discovered the beautiful river, they named their village Blue Creek. The Kekchi families who originally lived in Rio Blanco joined the Mopan Mayas in Blue Creek. The two cultures were similar and people intermarried and learned both languages.

In terms of outside influences, religion has had the most profound effect on the village. In the late '60's the first Catholic Church was established. Most of the Mopan from Guatemala were already Catholic, and many of the Kekchi followed suit. Soon after, Baptists, Mennonites and House of Prayers Churches arrived as well. Most church groups were integrated peacefully to the village with little change in daily life. However, the Mennonite's arrival in the '70's caused some strife. In order to get people to join their church some now complain of some coercion or of  favors promised and given with strings attached. When they first arrived, 70% of the population joined their church. After villagers joined their church, Mennonites started to impose restrictive rules on the people which divided the villagers from the non-converts. Today most families have left the Mennonite community, but missionaries remain in the village.

In the 70's the first school was made by a joint effort between the Catholic Church and the government. In the 70's as well, an American biologist known by his first name Fred, discovered Blue Creek and fell in love with the place. He built the Blue Creek Forest Lodge as a part of an educational research tour company named IZE (International Zoological Expeditions). His goal was to help the villagers, preserve some of the rainforest and offer a special place for students to learn about natural rainforest ecology.

In the 80's villagers petitioned to the government to become independent from the town of Aguacate. They created their own town government and mayoral system which they call the alcalde and village counsel.

Today 40 families live in Blue Creek. Most are farmers in some capacity. A married couple has an average of eight or nine children. The village occupies 500 acres of government land. There is a little bit of tension with their wealthier neighbors, the 5 families of Mennonites which own 200 acres next to the village. As well, occasional disputes arise from the changing economics of the town as new outside financial pressures affect the village. However little has changed. That will change soon as electricity enters the village and increasing numbers of young people venture out in search of work and education.

Ignacio Coc, a Kekchi Indian native from Blue Creek, started managing the IZE lodge in 1996 and has started to work on various projects with IZE to improve the living conditions of the villagers and ensure a healthy future based on limited economic development and retention of traditional ways. Their focus today is mainly on education and transforming Blue Creek into an eco-tourism success.

 

Eco-Tourism Activities in and around Blue Creek

Iguana Catch and Release

Caves

  • Wet Cave - Swimming up the underground river to the waterfall (Photos)

Learning how to live in the forest

Ignacio Coc and the Local Guides (More info coming soon!)

Ignacio Coc: Manager of the Rainforest Lodge and of the Guides of Blue Creek.

A naturalist, jungle survivalist, devoted father , a concerned member of the community and a man with a reputation for integrity, he'll still joke around with you like one of the gang. He manages the Rainforest Lodge, organizes the guides and is working on a number of projects to benefit the community of Blue Creek that will help them address the realities of a modern market economy and still maintain their traditional Mayan heritage. Contact Ignacio for all natural and cultural activities

Pedro Ack: Iguana Naturalist and Cacao Specialist

His jovial, elfin demeanor and slight stature are perfect foils to his remarkable agility and strength in pursuit of iguanas on his catch and release tours. His son Roberto and two dogs are excellent accomplices.

Juan Ical: Tree Canopy, Birds and Caves

With an affable character and low-key, easy-going spirit, you can always count on his participation and a wry smile in any activity. He excels in the cave and on the canopy walk. He even showed up to fulfill his guide obligations the day his wife had a baby.

Cecilio Coc: Master animal handlers

Younger brother of Ignacio and a savvy equal to his older brother in the bush, he is a fearless master of snakes, spiders and other fascinating animals. With a huge grin he'll have a tarantula walk down his arm into his hand and offer it to you.

Heraldo Pop: Traditional Trapping & Tracking, sugar cane processing

A young family man, skilled craftsman and eager teacher, the memories of his grand-father and father are still alive in the tools of his trade. His 30 year old sugar cane press, made by his father and his traps and snares taught to him by his grand-father are works of art.

The lodge

The lodge with its tree canopy was started as a rainforest educational project by IZE (International Zoological Expedition). Ignacio manages the lodge and receives a few groups of students several times a year. The lodge is also available to walk-in visitors and provides a great base from which to experience all the jungle and cultural activities in Blue Creek. View the photo

Blue Creek is the perfect place to learn about the Kekchi and Mopan Culture

To learn more about the Kekchi and Mopan people, view our Culture section

Contact Ignacio Coc for more information

Ignacio Coc
P.O. Box 133
Punta Gorda
Central America
fax (501) 7-22199

The future of Blue Creek

Children and Education - Children's Photos (click on the photo to see the next one)

How you can easily help the children of Blue Creek by joining CASKE 2000 in supporting the school.

Electricity - It's coming soon. How will it affect the village? (soon)

Directions to go to Blue Creek

Because of its remote location it can be a little difficult to get to. The best routes are from Punta Gorda. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air fly a few times daily into Punta Gorda. You can fax Ignacio (501-7-22199) ahead of time and arrange for a pick-up, rent a car or take a bus on selected days. The bus schedule is as follows: Mon.-Wed.-Fri. Punta Gorda to Aguacate bus 12:00 noon, leaves from the center of town. Be at least a half an hour early.

 

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