Winter Vacation 2010, Day Seven: Homeward Bound

05 March 2010 · 4 comments

Black Rock Lodge
Black Rock Lodge from along the Macal River

Alas, Friday saw the end of our time in Belize. We spent a quiet morning reading and watching birds. We wrote in our journals. We ate breakfast and lunch, savoring our last meals from the lodge’s excellent kitchen.

The food at Black Rock Lodge deserves a special mention. It’s great stuff, though not great in the same way you might think of a great restaurant. Instead, it’s great in a home-cooked way.

Breakfasts and lunches are ordered from a limited menu. They include traditional American fare (yogurt, french toast, tuna sandwiches, hamburgers) as well as Central American stuff (fresh tropical fruit, nachos, quesadillas, burritos). I loved the fact that I could order a breakfast with one slice of french toast, two scrambled eggs, a slice of ham, and a dollop of refried black beans. Delicious! (And I learned that I love refried black beans, something I hadn’t had before. I’m hooked now.)

Jungle
The Belizean jungle as seen from Black Rock Lodge

As I mentioned before, dinners at Black Rock are served family style. Each cabana is assigned a seat ever night, usually next to somebody you haven’t dined with before. Everyone chats and gets to know the other guests. You only have two choices for dinner: meat or veg. Otherwise all guests (and staff) eat the same thing.

Dinner starts with fresh bread and soup — and what soups we ate! They were delicious! Even soups I might not care to try turned out to be fantastic: cream of celery, cucumber, pumpkin and coconut, potato dill. Following the soup, we’re served a salad (a different salad every night) and our entree. And then, at the end, comes a small dessert.

Here, for example, is a typical dinner menu:

  • Fresh-squeezed juice
  • Fresh-baked rolls
  • Cream of celery soup
  • Onion salad
  • Herbed snapper with linguini and peas (for meat-eaters) or curried lentils and chickpeas with peas (for vegetarians)
  • Coffee cake (literally coffee-flavored cake)

As I say, the food was great, but not in a restaurant-y sort of way. More in a “my mom is a great cook” sort of way. Some things that helped to set the food apart:

  • Most (all?) of the produce is fresh from the lodge’s own garden.
  • The poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from the local Mennonite population.
  • Dishes are tasty without being complex.
  • Portions are reasonable, not jumbo-sized American portions.
  • All the food is real food; there’s nothing artificial.

Before we left, I asked the kitchen staff if I could take their photo:

The Kitchen at Black Rock Lodge

As you can see, this looks more like your average church kitchen than a commercial kitchen. Very homey. Also before we left, a couple of the guests requested the recipes of their favorite soups. We didn’t get to try the tomato-lime soup below (it was served the day before we arrived), but we hear it’s fantastic:

Tomato-Lime Soup

2 pounds tomatoes
2 onions
2 tablespoons complete seasoning
1/4 cup lime juice
salt to taste

Wash and cut tomatoes and onions. Cook until soft. Blend. Put to boil for 10 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Serve hot.

Black Rock's Garden
The Black Rock garden

We did, however, get to try this celery soup, which is much much better than you could possible imagine:

Cream of Celery Soup

2 bunches of celery
1 big onion
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons complete seasoning
3 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons black pepper
6 cups water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup lime juice

Wash and cut onion and celery. Sautee onion and celery with butter. Add seasoning. Add water and milk. Bring to boil until soft. When the mixture has cooled, blend. Stir in lime juice. Serve hot.

Rock Formation

On Friday afternoon, we joined Brian and Lauren and the couple from Saskatchewan (Leon and Pat) for the two-hour drive back to Belize City and the airport. Elvis (our guide for birdwatching and the nighthike) drove us to the airport.

As we started down the bumpy six-mile road to the Great Western Highway, Kris lamented that she hadn’t seen an iguana in Belize. It seemed like all of the other guests had seen one, but not us. And what did the seemingly-magical Elvis do? He slowed the van and pointed to a fence-post at the edge of the orange orchard. “There’s one,” he said.

Iguana

But he didn’t just show us one iguana. For the next six miles, he pointed them out all over the place along the side of the road: on fences, in trees, sunbathing on rocks. (And he pointed out an enormous iguana roosted in a tree above a gas station in San Ignacio.) Elvis didn’t just point out iguanas. He stopped and showed us a crocodile that lives in a pond near the Black Rock property. Plus, he and Kris spent the next two hours showing each other birds they spotted in the air and on the roadside.

As they shared their love of nature, Kris and Elvis chatted. She learned that he works 12 days at black rock, and then gets 3 days off. (Some of the other employees work 10 days on, 4 days off.) He commutes 1-1/2 hours by bus to get to work, then lives on site, then commutes home.

As we drove south of Belmopan, Elvis pointed out the brick house he built over six years next to his older wooden home. He has six children, the oldest of which is 17. He doesn’t like driving jobs (such as hauling us to the airport) as much as nature jobs (like birdwatching and nighthikes). Elvis — and all of the other folks at Black Rock — was fantastic, and we hope he gets to do plenty of nature-oriented stuff in the future. It’s in his blood.

Our flight home was uneventful but jarring. The layover in Houston seemed like we were in a foreign country. It’s amazing how in just a week you can forget the omnipresent American media (remember, I noticed the same thing after returning home from Europe in 2007), our egotism, and our obsession with fake food. (I’m very guilty with the fake food stuff, no question.)

On the flight from Houston to Portland, we were seated in front of a pair of loud, annoying women. One of them owns a dessert place here in Portland, and she drove us nuts with her self-centered inane babble. Plus, she kept kicking Kris’s seat. I won’t say which place she owns, but let’s just say I won’t be having a piece of cake there ever again. (Which is fine since I didn’t like her stuff, anyhow.)

Even as we were driving home at one in the morning, I was already thinking about where I could travel next. Mac and I will spend a week in Alaska during May. I’ll be doing Cycle Oregon in September. And then Kris and I will spend three weeks in Europe later this year. But what about next year? And the year after? I like this travel stuff, and I want to do more. Who knows where the future will take me…

1 Kris March 5, 2010 at 15:27

Note: The Complete Seasoning is mostly MSG. I think MSG is a fascinating topic; a lot of people avoid it because it causes headaches for some people. But I think most people have no ill effect. In fact, everyone raved about these soups, and then looked somewhat sheepish 3 days later when we got the recipes that they weren’t bothered a bit by the MSG that they didn’t know was there.

Anyway, if you ARE affected adversely by MSG, the recommendation is to make this soup with a nice vegetable or chicken stock instead of plain water, then adjust the salt to taste, or use bouillon cubes appropriate for the 6 cups volume (some bouillon has MSG too).

2 Kris B March 5, 2010 at 17:04

I’ve substituted “Bragg’s Liquid Amino” sauce or “Annie’s vegan Worcestershire” sauce for msg spice in soup recipes. If I don’t have those on hand, a splash of tamari works well too.

3 Pam March 6, 2010 at 22:21

MSG doesn’t cause any neurological problems for me (at least none I notice), but it has a HORRIBLE aftertaste so I hate when restaurants use it.

4 dowingba March 7, 2010 at 02:41

What a fantastic read. Having never been outside of my home country, I do find it exciting to live vicariously through others’ worldly romps. You really brought the magic of your vacation to the page really well. Thank you for that.

Also, loving the photographs lately.

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