Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Road (?) to Belmopan

Always looking ahead to the next adventure when I should be finishing the current one, I have started looking at maps that will help us to plan our Geography of Chocolate course (actually called Mayan Gold) in Belize next year. When doing quick look-ups of travel distances online, I was surprised that it could take so long to get around in what I thought of as a fairly small country.

As I investigated further, I was reminded of the New England adage -- often repeated with a fake-Maine accent like the Pepperidge Farm man -- that "You can't get there from here."

Click the image below to see that Mapquest's error message is almost identical to our regional cliche, even though it appears next to a clearly-marked highway joining two small towns less than 20 miles apart.

Google Maps proved a bit more intrepid -- if software can be said to have an adventurous spirit -- when I queried the same trip. Apparently avoiding a washed-out bridge on the Western Highway, it suggested the use of remote, unimproved roads requiring five hours to cover 120 miles.

It is a good reminder of the value of a healthy dose of skepticism and solid geographic skills, even in an age when computers seem to have all the answers. A new colleague at ISIS (where we will be teaching, in San Ignacio) was able to confirm that the direct route actually is open. Important bridges are sometimes lost, such as the 2008 washout of the Kendal Bridge in southern Belize in Tropical Storm Arthur, and apparently the major databases have erroneous information about a lost bridge between Belmopan and San Ignacio.

Many of our BSU colleagues and students have visited Belize for study or service trips, and we have met quite a few educators and students from Belize as part of several partnerships in the country. We are very much looking forward to our chance to get to know the country formerly known as British Honduras. We love quiet adventures, so a country whose three largest cities have barely 100,000 residents between them is quite attractive. Belmopan is, in fact, among the smallest capital cities in the world. Only the capitals of Vatican City and about three dozen island nations and dependencies have smaller capitals.

Ironically, one of the major bonuses of visiting Belize will be the chance to visit a site in Guatemala that we missed on our 2008 coffee trip there. Many people suggested a "side trip" to the Maya ruins at Tikal -- which would have required a flight or a truly inordinate amount of bus travel. From our digs (no pun intended) in San Ignacio, however, this will be a brief jaunt.

Mainly, however, we look forward to meeting our students and traveling with them to the cacaolands of the south, and as time allows, exploring the Cayo district, which includes Mayan ruins of its own at Xunantunich.

And for all of this, the Hawksworth Bridge will ensure that we really can "get there from here!"

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