Front Matter
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Illustrations
 Members of the expedition
 A long line of everybody
 We reach an end of the world
 Rendezvous Cay
 Tortuga goes north
 Tortuga goes south
 Into the blue
 From palm and pine
 To pyramids
 And priests and palaces
 Modern Mayas
 Up the creek
 Kekchi country
 Gallon jug
 The northern parts
 The city of whispers
 Belice es nuestro?
 A farewell to palms
 Further books to read

Title: From the Cam to the Cays : A Cambridge Expedition to British Honduras 1959-60
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099211/00001
 Material Information
Title: From the Cam to the Cays : A Cambridge Expedition to British Honduras 1959-60
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Carr, David
Thorpe, Jon
Publisher: Putnam
Place of Publication: London
Publication Date: 1961
Copyright Date: 1961
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00099211
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Table of Contents
    Front Matter
        Front Matter 1
        Front Matter 2
        Page i
    Title Page
        Page ii
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
        Page vii
        Page viii
    List of Illustrations
        Page viii
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
    Members of the expedition
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
    A long line of everybody
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    We reach an end of the world
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 16a
        Page 16b
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Rendezvous Cay
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
    Tortuga goes north
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 48a
        Page 48b
        Page 49
        Page 50
    Tortuga goes south
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
    Into the blue
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 64a
        Page 64b
        Page 64c
        Page 64d
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
    From palm and pine
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Pages 75-7
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 80a
        Page 80b
        Page 80c
        Page 80d
        Page 81
    To pyramids
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
    And priests and palaces
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
    Modern Mayas
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 112a
        Page 112b
        Page 112c
        Page 112d
    Up the creek
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
    Kekchi country
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
    Gallon jug
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
    The northern parts
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 144a
        Page 144b
        Page 144c
        Page 144d
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
    The city of whispers
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
    Belice es nuestro?
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 176a
        Page 176b
        Page 176c
        Page 176d
        Page 177
    A farewell to palms
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 189a
        Page 190
    Further books to read
        Page 191
Full Text

From the Cain to the Cays
7Ihe Cam(brih' li .\pilitiol'n to British
Hoflmhrws: 1959 .-o
byv Iavid C.arr and J ohin Thorpc

Some Cambridge undergraduates about
to complete their last year at the Univer-
sity, and in imminent danger ofi emplov-
incit, oniccived the idea of prolonging
their freedoni for a vyear by organsising
one of those expeditions which so 11manv
imagmlificeint inStitutionls always seem
cager to support and tinaic. A telr
somc inqiiniry, they decided that British
I londuras, a coinparatively unipubliciscd
counitrv of grcat nllatural bcatv andiii
having an agreeable climate, would pro-
vide a suitable location.
Finding that thc >ormation of thi Ca's
(sandy islands which shfit, disappear and
reform). the growth of coral, and the
history of the Maya ruins, all ocerecd
fields of necdtil research, they proceeded
to recruit a geographer, a zooloigist
and an archaeologist who \would be
congenial companions. To this nclelus
they added others skilled in such crafts as
surveying, photogralphv, skin diving.
sailing and 'public relations'.
Thus the Expedition was set up and
soon, under the patronage of the I Duke
of Edinburgh, anid equipped with such
variegated stores as a windmill and a ton
of tinned prunes, it crossed the Atlantic
and set about examining and cataloguLing
the beautiful and puzzling archipelago
that lies b1twM'n iBelize and the ma1n-
land. In this book mcimbcrs of the
Expedition record their impressions of
the Colony, and their many adventures
by land and sea and under tile Cea.

Members of the Expedition

J. E. THORPE Leader and Zoologist

Co-organiscr and Physicist

P. K. BREGAZZI Zoologist

. 1). CARR Archaeologist, Librarian
and Book Editor

J. R. H. DOWNEY Liaison Officcr

D. R. HUNT Botanist


J. 1). POXON
Surveyor, Skipper




of the f'irtriga



An aerial view of Rcindevous Cay from tihe south: the actual shorclinc
is very indistinct due to the clarity of th water, and tilhe patterns in the
sea are prodiced h\b weed, cori and shells




The Story of the
Cambridge Expedition
British Honduras i959-6o

David Carr and John Thorpe


David Carr and John Thorpe I96i
First published in Great Britain in 1961 by
42 Great Russell Street, London, W.C.I
and printed for the publishers by
W. & J. Mackay & Co. Ltd., Chatham


by H.E. The Governor of British Honduras,
Sir Colin Thornley, K.C.M.G.

IT was not without some misgivings, as an Oxford man and staunch
supporter of the Senior University, that in a weak moment I undertook
to the members of our sister University to write a foreword to this
book! However, this is a record of enterprising endeavour by a group
of young men that shows that the pioneering spirit of the old days is
still very much alive in these more modern times at Cambridge. Far
too little is known in Great Britain and in other parts of the Common-
wealth about British Honduras, this small member of our Family of
Nations-the only one in fact on the mainland of Central America.
I therefore welcome the publication of this book first and foremost as
a valuable contribution to our store of knowledge about the Common-
In the pages which follow, the members of the expedition have
succeeded in building up a picture of life in British Honduras, and of the
friendly and hospitable people who inhabit it, against an understanding
appreciation of historical background which is at the same time both
realistic and imaginative. I would not wish necessarily to be associated
personally with all the views expressed or all the conclusions reached,
but the book as a whole presents a real live picture of the country.
Whether travelling with David Stoddart and John Poxon on their
hazardous and exciting adventures in Tortuga, between the off-shore
cays and out in the Caribbean Sea, or with David Hunt in the forests,


or exploring the Maya ruins of Xunantunich and Tikal with David
Carr and Euan MacKie, the reader cannot help becoming absorbed
in the special interests which attracted these men to join the expedition.
Some may even wish to pay a visit to the country to see something of
it for themselves, and to experience for themselves the warmth of the
welcome that was extended to the members of the expedition. They
would not be disappointed.
As ambassadors of goodwill from Great Britain, "the Cambridge
boys" as they were affectionately known to a wide circle of friends in
all walks of life in this country, acquitted themselves as one would
expect; and the interest which they showed in the objects of the
expedition and all the hard work which was put into its organisation
by John Thorpe, Malcolm Cottrall and their colleagues, earned for
them both respect and friendship from a host of new-found friends in
British Honduras.
I warmly commend this book to all who have the interests of the
British Commonwealth and its peoples at heart.
25th February, 1961


The pairs of initials following each chapter heading indicate those responsible
for the writing of that chapter. The first mentioned initials are those of the
writer in the first person.

I A Long Line of Everybody
2 We Reach an End of the World
3 Rendezvous Cay
4 Tortuga Goes North
5 Tortuga Goes South
6 Into the Blue
7 From Palm and Pine . .
8 . to Pyramids . .
9 . and Priests and Palaces
10 Modem Mayas
11 Up the Creek
12 Kekchi Country
13 Gallon Jug
14 The Northern Parts
15 The City of Whispers
16 Belice es Nuestro ?
17 A Farewell to Palms

D.C., D.S.
P.B., J.T.
D.S., J.P.
D.S., J.P.
D.S., P.B.
D.C., E.M.
D.C., E.M.
D.C., D.S., D.H.
D.S., D.C., J.T.
E.M., D.C.
D.C., D.S.


List of Illustrations
Aerial view of Rendezvous Cay
Following page 16:
Brown pelican
Pink-footed booby and chick
Following page 48:
Bird-eating spiders (tarantulas)
Following page 64:
Black snappers
French angelfish
Tube coral
Cladocora arbuscula colony
Multicoloured triggerfish
Loggerhead turtle
Following page So:
House on Rendezvous Cay, and Tortuga
Maya boys spearfishing
Anolis lizard
Swimming between Elkhorn coral
Swimming near Brain coral

Following page 1t 2:
Temple of the Giant Jaguar, Tikal
View from pyramid at Xunantunich
Mayan skeleton in burial mound
"A-n" mound being excavated
Remains of a priest's residence
Following page 144:
Towing mahogany logs down river
Plancha, Guatemala
Kekchi woman and child at the river
Making tortillas, at San Miguel
Kekchi winnowing beans
Cortes mask
Chicleros stirring chicle
Following page 176:
Splitting barracuda
Drying barracuda
Chopping coco-nuts
Waterfront at Belize
Examining a pine tree
Mayan workman at Xunantunich
The reef party
Working on the Tortuga

All photographs, with the exception of that of the Temple of the Giant Jaguar
(facing page 112), were taken by William Warham using a Leica M3 camera,
Adox monochrome and Kodak colour film. Underwater a Lewis Photomarine
housing was used: photographs of the osprey, egret, and iguana were taken using
Novoflex 300 and 400 mm. follow-focus lenses: and the close-up photographs
of coral and of lizards were made using a Novoflex follow-focus extension bellows


I COULD follow custom and publish here a lengthy list of all the thousands
of people who associated themselves with the Cambridge Expedition
to British Honduras 1959-60 in one way or another, and in doing so
helped it to completion. But, as this book is intended to be less an ac-
count of the expedition itself, and more one of our encounters and
impressions of the colony and its people, I shall confine myself to a
very few names.
My outstanding memory from the organisation and the execution
of the expedition's affairs is the immense amount of goodwill shown
towards us, and the almost limitless interest and friendship extended
to us by so many people from almost every walk of life. Among those
individuals some have played particularly conspicuous parts, and
deserve special mention: first and foremost I should like to thank our
Patron, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, for his timely encourage-
ment and far-reaching practical assistance in associating himself with
the venture: our sponsors, Prof. Sir James Gray, Prof. P. W. Richards,
Prof. J. A. Steers, Dr. R. Bainbridge, Dr. G. H. S. Bushnell, Dr. Glyn
Daniel, Mr. John Gilmour, Dr. G. A. Horridge, Dr. W. H. Thorpe,
and Dr. A. S. Watt, for their valuable help and advice, and for acting
as referees to assure everyone that our project was genuine and worth
while: the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, for similar help
in recognizing the expedition's aims as worthy of support: His Ex-
cellency the Governor of British Honduras, Sir Colin Thornley, whose
friendship and interest have been great assets to the expedition's
well-being, and who has kindly written a foreword to this book:
Mr. Tom Vickers, formerly Colonial Secretary to British Honduras,


who opened his house to us all on many occasions, and whose know-
ledge of the country and interest in our doings were invaluable both
in the planning stages and during our activities in the field: Mr. Rudy
Castillo, for his constant efforts to find quick and complete solutions
to our many problems in the colony, and for his lasting friendship:
Dr. and Mrs. Stuart Heap, for their endless patience and hospitality
towards a continual stream of grubby and travel-weary expedition-
aries, who for ever called at their door for refreshment, and for their
help with several facets of the scientific programme: Sgt. Carlos Orio,
for keeping up a daily radio link with us on the island, making sure
that we never lost touch with the outside world completely: and with
particular reference to this book, Mr. H. Baker, of the Colonial Office,
for advice on Chapter Sixteen, Miss Gillian Keig and Mrs. Margaret
Wilcocks for typing the manuscript, and our publishers for their early
understanding of our needs, and their encouragement in the prepara-
tion of the text.
At the end of the book are listed the names of companies, trusts,
funds, departments, and individuals who contributed to the expedi-
tion's well-being in cash or in kind. Without their support, and without
the imagination and sympathy of so very many others the project
could never have been carried out.


Members of the Expedition











Leader and Zoologist



Archaeologist and Librarian







( TURNPPF ISLANDS M E Xj- C -0 .. --
G() LOVER$I hiF -- ROAL -



. AN - &

-E- -L.


-- MIL 5

Chapter One


John Thorpe Leader

"It's just a thing you discover," said Christopher Robin carelessly
not being quite sure of himself. "Oh, I see," said Pooh, "are bears any
good at discovering it?" "Of course they are. And Rabbit and Kanga and
all of you. It's an Expedition. That's what an Expedition means. A
long line of everybody. You'd better tell the others to get ready while
I see if my gun's all right. And we must all bring Provisions."
(Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne)

A RIVER of honey spread slowly over the floor, jam oozed through
cardboard boxes stacked by the wall, while the contents of a tomato
sauce bottle lent the whole scene a somewhat macabre touch. Seven
figures sat in the middle of chaos and sweated; cases, crates and cartons
sat waiting to be opened (those that had not already burst open on
their own), and everybody sat waiting for someone else to do something
about it. But nobody moved.
The idea which had united those seven perspiring figures (plus three
others who had yet to arrive) had been born in Cambridge and had
gradually involved an ever increasingly large number of people,
leading ten of them to spend periods of up to twelve months away
from home in one of the strangest and friendliest little countries in the
Commonwealth-British Honduras.
Malcolm Cottrall and I had just returned to Cambridge after the


long vacation and were chatting over coffee about the ways in which
people had spent the previous three or four months. It was the begin-
ning of our final year, and so the conversation was proceeding on the
tacit assumption that we should not have another four-month holiday
again, and at best we might have a few weeks at the end of the aca-
demic year before we started to earn our living in earnest. The more
we talked the more acute became the desire to visit new places, and
to undertake some sort of fieldwork of our own before the opportunity
was lost. This opportunity had to be created, and the only way to do it
was to widen the interval between going down from University and
taking up a job. In theory this sounded quite feasible, but the imme-
diate problem would be finance.
At first we could only be extremely vague about this as, having
no particular area of the world in mind, no specific project, and no
idea of the size of the party or of the length of time to spend in the
field, probable expenditure was difficult to estimate. However, we
both knew other people who had been on, or who had themselves
organised, expeditions, and they too had had to raise the necessary
funds. It was obviously possible, but clearly the first thing to do was
to decide just what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, and to
draw up a plan that was both worthy and watertight. All we really had
to go on was the desire to do something of this sort whilst there was
still time. We had heard of many abstruse reasons for going on ex-
peditions, and in competition with the best of them we thought of
going to the Philippines to study cyprinoid fish, but the idea was
abandoned when we were advised against it by Mr. John Smart of the
Cambridge Zoology Museum, since he was convinced that we should
never come back, but perish horribly at the hands of cannibalistic
locals. (It was at about this time that a policeman on one of the small
Western Pacific islands was kidnapped by wild natives, probably
cooked, and certainly eaten.)
Attempting to banish such unsavoury thoughts, we sought further
advice and followed Mr. Smart's alternative suggestion that we stick
to a Commonwealth territory for ease of organisation, and that we
think in terms of British Honduras, as it was a quiet, almost forgotten
corner of the world which didn't deserve its current obscurity. (This
was in fact his second alternative: his first was that we were far too late


to be thinking of starting things like this, and we should go away
and think of something else.)
We went to libraries to find out more about British Honduras, but
apart from short comments in encyclopaedias saying where it was,
how hot it was, and how humid, we could discover little: even a
600oo-page textbook on Central America devoted only half a page to
the colony. The map room of the University library provided us
with a great deal of information as to the physical aspects of the
country, and the Admiralty Pilot for the West Indies a lot of coastal
details. Dr. Richard Bainbridge had already suggested the possibility
of doing some work on coral, and it was through looking at the charts
that we first realized the vast extent of the coral reefs existing there.
Professor Steers was approached for more advice on the possible
interest the geographers might have in joining us, and his enthusiasm
for the idea was most encouraging. Having spent considerable time on
the Great Barrier Reef of Australia he was full of isolated bits of advice
and information, one particular tip remaining very clear: he told us
we must learn to climb the mast of the boat to look out for shallow
coral heads which would be difficult to spot any other way after the
sun went low in the evening. This was most discouraging advice, as it
suddenly presented the problem of financing and equipping the pro-
ject in clearer perspective.
We should need a boat, but the problem of obtaining such a large
item struck us forcibly. Offhand we knew of nobody who might
have the odd boat to spare, and the prospect of obtaining money to
buy one seemed even more unlikely. That was only one large item:
we anticipated others. It was just too much to think of at that time,
and so in the face of overriding enthusiasm the thought was shelved,
and plans went ahead. Professor Steers made a suggestion as to whom
we should take with us to do some physiographic work, and in this
way we met David Stoddart. David was already planning to spend
the summer months up in the remote district of the Sierra Nevada de
Cocuy in Colombia, and was actively at work on the preparations to
take a party of six students up there for a couple of months, but
nevertheless he took to the idea of coming with us for a longer period
after his South American expedition was completed. He was already
an experienced traveller and had spent some time in Sierra Leone and

also in the East. His travel experience had made him the soul of tact
and diplomacy, and had given him an extensive English vocabulary
and an impressive if somewhat lengthy turn of phrase. The acquiring
of these gifts proved to be of great benefit to the expedition and to
himself, to the former from his skilfully worded pleas for assistance
and to the latter on numerous occasions. That which probably gave
him the most satisfaction was the successful negotiation for the gift of
a topee from the British Honduras police. With David's arrival our
ideas began to take shape; we were heading for the second longest
coral reef in the world and we should work up a physiographical and
zoological programme of study there.
Meanwhile we had heard of the magnificence and abundance of
Maya Indian ceremonial centres lying ruined and derelict in the thick
rain forests of the mainland. We went to see Dr. Bushnell at the
Museum of Archaeology and he too was full of enthusiasm. He had
just visited the colony on his way back from a conference in one of
the Central American republics, had been to see several sites which
were undergoing excavation or which had been partially excavated in
the past, and was quite certain that there was much to be gained by
devoting more attention to these places. When he found that we were
having difficulty in selling the idea to archaeologists we already knew,
he mentioned it to one of his pupils, and so just before Christmas Euan
MacKie came to see us to talk over the prospects. Euan was a dedicated
archaeologist and enthusiastic about getting experience in the American
field. He prepared carefully for the task, equipped himself with sword-
stick and revolver, and once in the tropics was never without his
topee, bought in London for half-a-crown.
We now had three good general reasons for making British Hon-
duras our area of study, and very shortly afterwards there came a
fourth. Professor Steers had mentioned that we should read Professor
Richards' book on the Tropical Forest. Before we got round to this
David Hunt became interested in the idea of coming with us as botanist,
so we told him to read the book. David had an almost paternal love
of plants and was also a devotee of physical fitness. He seemed to enjoy
working on his own, and it was he who nobly volunteered to spend
Christmas sitting in solitary silence on our coral island.
We next wrote to Professor Richards asking for his advice and


suggestions. He had not been to British Honduras, but he knew of the
vegetational community there known as the "pine ridge", and sug-
gested that David should focus his attentions on that. On a visit to the
Colonial Office in early December we heard of the forestry depart-
ment's scheme for growing pine in quantity, particularly in the area of
the Maya Mountains known as the Mountain Pine Ridge, so once
more we wrote away for information, this time to Mr. Anthony Frith,
the Conservator of Forests for British Honduras. He was interested in
the relationships between the rate at which the young pines grow on
different types of soil and among differing types of undergrowth. As
these were problems David could investigate he went ahead and pro-
duced a plan of campaign, which was approved by Professor Richards
and Mr. Frith, and included in a provisional prospectus together with
similar plans for the archaeological, physiographical, and zoological
The zoological plans were still rather nebulous, as our potential
zoologist was not certain that he would be able to come, and in the
end he decided just before Christmas that he would not be able to. It
took some time before we found anyone to fill his place, but after
several tries we found a likely person in Peter Meadows, who drew up
a programme of ecological and physiological work on corals with
great zeal and application in the space of a very few days, but then just
as suddenly decided that he could not come either. It took even longer
to fill Peter's place, but eventually some time in February Paul
Bregazzi agreed to join us, and took over quite a lot of Peter's plan.
Paul, besides being a zoologist, was an adept with the frying pan and
prided himself on the quality of his omelettes and corned beef hash. He
also serenaded anyone who would listen (those in that category steadily
diminished) on a rather small, frequently discordant ukulele.
With Paul came Dave Carr, to assist Euan at the archaeological
sites: it was felt that his classical education would fit him admirably
for driving the Land Rover, which we later borrowed from the army
in Jamaica, and to be the expedition's general factotum.
But before the party was completed, in fact when there was only a
nucleus of five people and the preliminary plans for the work for each
section, we sought the support of a number of University officials. If
we were to go ahead and attempt to raise the necessary funds to finance


the project, we should need the backing of several well-known people
in the respective fields in which we wished to work, to act as referees
for us. Among those we approached there were three professors and
seven lecturers, and the complete list of those who finally agreed to
help us in this way appears in the acknowledgements at the beginning
of this book. While these gentlemen were considering whether or not
they should risk allowing their names to go forward as referees, we
were looking for other members to complete the party.
Wherever we worked we should need the services of a surveyor,
and we found just the man in the person of Johnny Poxon, who had
the additional qualification of being an experienced yachtsman. This
was to prove exceptionally useful in the colony. He was already booked
to go up the Gorner Glacier in tile early summer with another expedi-
tion, to help set up a survey base there, so we made arrangements for
him to join us as soon as possible after his month in Switzerland. Also,
as we should be working for much of the time under water, we should
need the assistance of an experienced skin-diver, and so we asked Nick
Flemming, the mainstay of Cambridge's Underwater Exploration
Group, for his recommendations. He put us in touch with several
people, of whom Will Warham was the obvious choice: he was
interested in animals and fish, and was a first-class photographer.
There was one more member of the group who must be considered
neither last nor least, namely John Downey. John had spent fifteen
months of his National Service in British Honduras and was intro-
duced to us early in the planning stages. He provided us with a wealth
of information on the country and the people we should meet, and in
talking to him it soon became clear that here we had an excellent
liaison man who could help in preparing the ground at the other end
for us, as well as show us around when we arrived there, so saving
a great deal of time and confusion. He was very keen to come
with us and to revisit some old haunts, and he joined the party in
John was not the only person from whom we gained first-hand
knowledge of the country. Perhaps the most valuable source of in-
formation, and certainly the most valuable individual helper and friend
that the expedition had, was Mr. Tom Vickers, Colonial Secretary for
British Honduras, who came home on leave at Christmas 1958. We

arranged to meet in London in January, and thus we found out a great
deal more about the colony. He had much practical advice to offer,
and it was he who suggested and subsequently arranged that we should
use the Governor's Island, Rendezvous Cay, as our base on the Barrier
Reef. He put us in touch with all the heads of Government Depart-
ments in the colony, and with very many other people, and generally
did all he could to smooth the path for the expedition's arrival and
work there. Without his assistance life would have been very much
more difficult for all of us.
We next met Rudy Castillo, an information officer, who came to
England in 1959 on a course with the B.B.C. He came to visit us in
Cambridge and made a recording for the B.B.C. overseas service,
interviewing Paul, Will, John and John Downey. At that time we did
not fully appreciate what an important contact Rudy would prove to
be, but he learnt a lot about the project then, and started to help us
right away. He went back home in June, and by the time that we
reached Belize if there was anything that needed doing it was simply-
"See Rudy, he'll fix it." He seemed to know everybody, and everybody
knew him, as he used to be the chief announcer on the local radio
These were the people who knew the area in which we were pro-
posing to work and who could give us practical help as a result. But
all the while many hundreds of other people who knew little or
nothing about the colony were also giving us much assistance, and
these people were perhaps encouraged to do so, as a result of the
approval that the Royal Geographical Society had given to the project.
This approval and the fact that the Society also made a generous finan-
cial grant to us, gave official recognition to the expedition, and our
indebtedness to the Society cannot be overestimated. Their support
was gained in March, and very shortly afterwards we received the even
greater honour of the patronage of the expedition by His Royal
Highness Prince Philip. This most generous gesture considerably eased
the task of completing the equipping and financing of the project,
and we shall always be exceedingly grateful to His Royal Highness for
his timely encouragement and help.
From this time on we were frantically trying to acquire the remain-
ing essential stores and last large fraction of our funds, and this involved


writing literally thousands of letters, most of them in the same vein,
appealing for help from many quarters. The replies were not always
encouraging, but gradually, by the generosity of hundreds of com-
panies, we amassed a varied assortment of crates, cartons, and drums
in a Liverpool warehouse, awaiting shipment to Belize. The endless
letter-writing became a tedious business, but nevertheless had its
lighter side especially through the unconscious humour of some of the
replies. One company who supplied us with excellent camp toilets,
thought that we might be interested in a new line which they were
starting. We inquired further. We were told that the new departure
was still on the drawing boards, but was a collapsible version of their
present product, which they felt "might fit our requirements better".
We did not pursue the matter further, and it turned out that their
standard version fitted our requirements admirably.
In another direction, it had been our policy to send appeals to food-
canning firms, requesting their assistance in kind if possible, in return
for which we would provide them with advertisement or general
publicity material should they wish. On this basis a very large number
of companies co-operated most readily, and we built up a fairly com-
prehensive supply of foodstuffs to last us for the complete year. As
time went on there were still a few gaps to be filled in the balanced
diet, and we approached various firms for specific products. One name
that we came across was new to us, but we knew that the firm were
food-canners, so we wrote to ask if they too would be willing to assist
us. They replied to say that they would like to help, but which of their
products would we prefer, and what size and quantity. Very kind of
them, but we still did not know exactly what they canned, nor the
sizes of tin in which their products appeared, nor the quantities in which
they were packed. We wrote back as vaguely as possible, casually
mentioning fruit or vegetables, that the smaller-sized tin would be
best as the party would probably be split up for much of the time, and
that as the expedition would be in the field for twelve months and
as we didn't know exactly the quantities that the firm included in
each carton, we felt that it would be better to leave the question of
quantity to them. They replied saying they had sent five cartons to
our warehouse in Liverpool: we thanked them for these five cartons,
but still had no inkling as to what they contained. On arrival in

Belize months later we found them neatly stacked in a Customs shed-
120 one-pound tins of prunes, resplendent in a corner.
Contributions to the expedition's welfare sometimes came from
unexpected quarters. For instance, having been offered the use of some
small radio-telephone sets (which were to be most useful to us when
we were isolated on a tiny island twenty miles from Belize, and in the
hurricane belt) and also batteries from which to operate them, we
should require our own means of keeping these batteries charged. We
were desperately short of funds, so a petrol generator was out of the
question as, even if we could procure one, there would still be running
costs to consider: but a thoughtful friend in London suggested to
Malcolm that we use a wind generator-and what is more he knew
where there were some which he was sure were no longer used.
Malcolm went over to the place directed, and asked to speak to the
manager. The doorman quite clearly distrusted his intentions, and in
fact took him for a drunk, saying that the manager wouldn't want to
see him anyway so he'd better go away. Eventually he convinced him
that he was sober, and once inside the place he spoke to the manager's
secretary. She fell for Malcolm's never-failing charm, proved most
co-operative and found the chief engineer, as the manager was out.
The outcome of all this was that we acquired two wind generators,
from which Malcolm made one serviceable one, supplied to us by the
management of the Tottenham Court Road branch of a well-known
catering firm, over whose premises these pieces of apparatus had been
used to provide lighting during power-cuts after the war.
So, little by little our equipment was accumulated, each expedition
member playing his part by taking a share of the correspondence, and
becoming responsible for one or other vital activity. A Liverpool
shipping company agreed to carry our freight free of charge, and their
Belize agents extended the same privilege where unloading was
concerned. Further valuable help came from the Admiralty, who ar-
ranged passages for us on their tankers to Trinidad, thus saving us
another large expense. These ships were not built to carry passengers,
but could accommodate a small number of extras, and we travelled
out to the West Indies in five groups, three in the first ship, three in the
second, two in the third, and the other two following individually at
later dates.


When the first party arrived in Trinidad we were royally provided
for by an oil company there, who later arranged passages for us on
their tankers to Jamaica, where we stayed for some days with the
Worcestershire Regiment.
The short breaks in both Trinidad and Jamaica were most enjoyable,
and gave us an opportunity to see something more of the West Indian
scene before we left Kingston by air for British Honduras in mid-

Chapter Two


David Carr Archaeologist

ALDOus HUXLEY in his book Beyond the Mexique Bay writes: "If the
world had any ends British Honduras would certainly be one of them."
Since Mr. Huxley wrote his book in 1934, times have changed consider-
ably, but B.H. has not always changed with them.
As we flew from Jamaica in the early morning, very early, the im-
pression was not one of reaching an end of the world. We passed first
over the Barrier Reef, with the long line of white surf stretching as far
as one could see in either direction and forming a dividing line between
the dark blue of the deep water and the greens and browns which
surrounded the cays1 (or islands) lying within. In the otherwise
unruffled water, a yacht with immaculate white sails was slowly form-
ing an arrowhead which pointed to Belize, the capital of B.H., a neat-
looking town from the air, with its smart white houses stretching along
the edge of the sea. When we crossed the coastline the land looked flat,
uninteresting and swampy. Rivers wandered slowly round the plain
displaying no anxiety to reach the sea.
From the cool pressurised cabin of the aircraft, the scene had looked
warm and inviting, but emerging from the plane was like stepping
into an oven in which clothes were drying. Within a very few
minutes we were all most uncomfortable, and never became properly
1 Pronounced "Keys".


accustomed to the heat in Belize, where, because of the high humidity,
perspiration is given no chance to evaporate.
Mr. Anderson, the Archaeological Commissioner, was waiting for
us at the airport when we landed. His family had had close links with
B.H., where his father had been a Presbyterian minister, for a long time.
Mr. Anderson had himself lived there for over thirty years and had
been in many governmental positions, winning the M.B.E. for his
services. He was most knowledgeable about the colony, its past and
present, and possessed a fund of stories which he always relished telling.
Having exchanged a brief greeting with him, we plunged into a sea
of immigration formalities. Euan who had had his revolver temporarily
removed by the Jamaican Customs officials and was still smarting under
the blow, found his wound reopened on contact with the B.H. police
who again took away the weapon for safe-keeping until he should call
in for a proper licence.
Belize had been built on a swamp, so the road into the city from the
airport was lined with mangroves and water. Some of it was unsur-
faced, usually where water swept over the stretch when there was a
high tide (though the road was some way inland), or where it was in
the habit of subsiding. Potholes on these stretches caused the vehicles to
bucket and shake and conversation was made impossible, though above
the din we could hear Mr. Anderson's muffled curses at some unfortu-
nate taxi driver who, having some regard for his taxi, was going rather
too slowly for Mr. Anderson's liking. We found later that all three
roads in the colony were of this standard, for the most part very
narrow, with passing bays at irregular intervals, and also unsurfaced and
therefore dusty for long stretches. So, hot, tired and covered with dust,
we entered Belize.
The town has had a chequered history, and in spite of its isolation
and remoteness an exciting one. Even the origin of the name is in dispute.
The generally accepted version is that the settlement was founded at the
end of the long narrow delta plain of the Belize River-less extensive
and more fragmented than now-by a Scottish buccaneer called Peter
Wallace or Wallis, who is known to have been forced to leave the
Tortugas in 1638. Winzerling believes that he reached the Belize River
in September of that year, and quotes an early account byjusto Sierra,
who tells of Wallis's search for a suitable site:


". . in association with the most resolute of his comrades (he) deter-
mined to search for a site where he could permanently establish his lair.
So le made a perfect survey and diligent examination of all those reefs
and shoals and then found a river entirely protected by a series of cays
and shallow water. At the mouth of this river he landed with about
eighty buccaneers and immediately started to build some houses, sur-
rounding them with a sort of palisade or breastwork, in short, a rude
fortress. The adventurous followers of Wallace gave his name to the river
on whose banks they established themselves, and which name afterwards
degenerated into Wallix and ultimately to Belize."
The first written mention of the name that can be found dates back to
1705, as "Bullys", though in a Spanish state paper of 1723 the form
"Vallis," is used. Bearing in mind the equivalence in Spanish pronun-
ciation of b and v, it is not difficult to see how Vallis could become
Bullys, Bellese, Beleze, and ultimately Belize (or, as present Spanish
usage has it, Belice).
In 1858 Squier suggested that this interpretation was a myth, and
that the word really derived from the French balise, a beacon, erected
at the mouth of the Belize River to act as a guide to the buccaneers.
The idea does not seem inherently probable: there seems no real reason
why the pirates should maintain a permanent beacon on such a relative-
ly unfrequented coast, and it suggests a degree of mutual co-operation
and concern that seems foreign to their natures. Recently the nationalist
press in Belize has got the idea that there is something shameful in the
idea that Belize (like Shanghai, Singapore, Calcutta, Cape Town, New
York) should have been founded by a foreigner, and have valued two
ideas more highly. One is Squier's; to this they have added a possible
derivation from two Maya words, Be meaning land, and likin
meaning towards the east, claiming that this name was given because
the town lay to the east of the great Maya centre of Tikal. But there
is no evidence of permanent Maya settlement in the neighbourhood,
except for shell heaps on some cay shores, and Mosquitoes from
Honduras seemed to be as important as Mayas by the time the British
From somewhat obscure beginnings came a somewhat obscure
early history, when Belize became a base both for logwood cutters
and pirates, and could hardly be called a town in the strict sense. It was
in 1683, for example, that ships from Belize joined Nicholas von


Horn's great fleet in the sack of Vera Cruz, when the huge treasure of
6o,ooo,ooo pieces-of-eight fell into pirate hands. Much of such wealth
slipped away in the bars and taverns of Port Royal, but doubtless some
found its way to Belize. The buccaneer Esquemeling speaks of his
fellows after a raid "giving themselves to all manner of debauchery.
Such of these pirates are found who will spend two or three thousand
pieces-of-eight in one night, not leaving themselves peradventure a
good shirt to wear on their backs in the morning."
Meanwhile the settlement continued to grow, and a new class of
landowners like Thomas Paslow and Captain Yarborough emerged,
though Belize retained many youthful habits. The town as such really
dates from the period of the 1790s, when the Spanish were finally
repulsed at St. George's Cay, and a start was made on communal
building with the New Town Barracks in 1798. In the next three
decades, Government House was built to house the Superintendent,
and St. John's Cathedral added a religious edifice to those of garrison
and government. The 61ite of Belize society included shipowners,
landowners, merchants (who held and have retained a commanding
position since virtually all foodstuffs and manufactures are imported),
the officers of the West India Regiment at New Town, the magistrates,
and, for over thirty years, the first incumbent at St. John's, the Rev.
Matthew Newport. Apart from these, the common seamen and the
slaves behaved much as they had done in the early days, and the
colony's annals are full of complaints of hooliganism, drunkenness and
rowdyism. In an effort to control this, "all floating grog shops" were
prohibited in 1808. But these growing pains were soon left behind.
Regular packets ran to New Orleans and Jamaica, and on to London;
Belize began to produce its own news-sheets; and with the emancipa-
tion of slaves, relations within the community became as happy as
they are today. Soon the two halves of Belize were linked by a bridge
built by public subscription, and the town's unity was complete.
During the last century, the town grew steadily, in spite of recurrent
economic crises, from a total of 3,000 people in 18oo to 27,000 in
i88o. Today, though only having some 35,000 inhabitants, the pro-
portion of the total population living in the capital (nearly a third) is
probably too high for stability. The full story of the economic crises
has yet to be told: some, like logwood, were brought on through


over-production by the colonists themselves; some, as in the case of
bananas, were due to crop diseases; others resulted from the world
situation over which Belizeans had no control. In addition to these, the
town had its own peculiar climatic hazard: the hurricane. Periodically
these great revolving tropical storms swept across from the Caribbean,
often with little warning, knocking down buildings, and bringing
high seas and waves to sweep through the streets. Most of Belize is only
a few inches above the sea and is thus virtually unprotected. At the
best of times the only means of sewage disposal is the river, and the
danger to health when even this primitive system is disrupted can be
imagined; while the danger of fire during such a dislocation is never
very remote. The town was virtually destroyed in 1787, damaged in
1813 and again in 1827 (when St. George's Cay was flooded); but the
greatest catastrophe took place on io September 1931. The centre
of the storm passed at half past three in the afternoon: as the storm
approached winds reached over 130 m.p.h. and, as they passed,
brought widespread flooding. Many buildings collapsed or were
deroofed; boats were carried into the streets, some 2,500 people were
killed, and many thousands injured; material damage amounted to
$7,5o0,ooo. E. E. Cain in the official account of the disaster painted
a desolate picture:
"To collect and bury the dead was a difficult and gruesome task. Many
of the streets were blocked and also large boats blown from the harbour
were resting in the middle. Pits were dug, and the dead buried without
ceremony and without coffins; but this method was too slow, for the
bodies were decomposing. Burning stations were established, and the
destruction of human remains continued."
We found that British Hondurans everywhere remembered this
tragedy; many had lost a parent, son or daughter; some who had been
at sea when the storm passed were lucky to be high and dry among the
palm trees or the mangroves. In destructiveness the great Belize
hurricane has only been rivalled by the 1945 Toledo hurricane, which
fortunately passed largely through sparsely inhabited country, and the
Corozal hurricanes of g942 and 1955.
The Belize of more modem times was described by Dr. Gann as:
". . a picturesque little place; its white walled red roofed, broad
verandahed houses, standing in spacious grounds filled with palms, fruit


trees, and flowering shrubs bathed in perpetual sunshine, and cooled by
almost constant sea breezes render it one of the most delightful spots in
Central America. Wide canals, spanned by picturesque bridges and
traversed by dugouts and other small craft which run the whole length
of the town, have given it the title of the 'Venice of the Caribbean' by
which it is sometimes known."

This was not the impression we received when we entered it. The
town has grown considerably since Dr. Gann's time and the constant,
cooling sea breezes to which he refers are now neither constant nor
cooling to a large part of it. Houses off the main street are built on piles,
their white paint peeling or else completely non-existent. Here there
is no sign of a fruit tree or a flowering shrub, and of the wide canals
which he mentions, one is a narrow open sewer which gives to the
town its own peculiar smell, discernible to a distance of about three
miles with a favourable wind, the other is a stagnant rubbish pit.
Along the sides of both these canals the native houses are built, where
the newborn either die within a short while or live to a resilient old
age. Alongside the canal which serves as a sewer stands a bottling works
whose soft drinks have some of the highest sales in the city. That part
of the city where the wealthier sections of the community live was
obviously the part Dr. Gann had in mind, and the white well-kept
houses, surrounded by the beautiful red poinciana trees present a healthy,
colourful picture.

As we were homeless in Belize on arrival, we were most kindly
given hospitality for as long as we wished by some of the people John
Downey had known during his previous enforced stay. Mr. Anderson
had been expecting us since July and was therefore eager to be off to
Xunantunich, but Euan and I felt hot and weary so it was decided we
should stay in Belize for a night. The next day we went to the ware-
house, and were confronted with the pile of crates and boxes containing
that part of our stores and equipment which had not vanished from
any Caribbean Customs sheds it may have visited on the way out.
It was obvious that some sort of monthly rationing of stores would
have to be imposed upon each party, and for us, leaving for Xunan-
tunich the same day, this was hastily done. We lived sumptuously on
tinned pears for the first month to find at the end of that time, on

I irow pc I cm in brCj IIn 'I I plmaglc t I ii bird I I~i ust ji take )H' tf o ti Ic ri

Adult pink-footcd booby and chick on nest at Half-Mion (Ga.: these
birds were tane to the point of stupidity

&-, ,1 fm

4 .

1.. -.w.

Ail os prc ICA v Iii. its cisc -nu lt palim perch on Renidezvouns ( : in it
thic vicious tol oil adli sh arply hoo i ked beak w ith which 1it iiuk cs short
work of it% pic)TiII\l .Iry fish




return to Belize to replenish, that we had consumed our year's supply.
At the end of the week, two Johns, Malcolm and Will left for the cay
with all the tomato soup, and David Hunt left for the pine ridge with
a bicycle. Later on, John tried to organise the disposal of the stores.
From the cay he issued instructions that they were to be divided in
half, with one half to be transported to the cay and the other left in
Belize. He and I had already started this operation and Will and Paul
were to finish it. They began on the crates we had already done and
so temporary chaos ensued, with those on the cay (where Will and
Paul were living) doing remarkably well out of it. By unpopular
demand the matter was shortly rectified.
About a month after our arrival in Belize, we learnt that the
Colonial Secretary had acquired a flat for us above the Post Office and
the Department of Forestry in Paslow Building. It was a top-floor
flat consisting of several good-sized rooms, a spacious balcony for
drying clothes (one lady from Belize was always able to tell which
members were in town by the type of clothes hanging out, visible for
all who crossed the bridge to see), a table, six chairs and a book case.
Into these quarters we brought our stores, spending an afternoon
carrying crates up the narrow stairs much to the concern of the Post
Office staff below, since these stairs were without any visible means
of support, being simply nailed to the wall. To everyone's surprise
they survived a year's rough treatment.
We were not popular neighbours of the Forestry Department.
Our bathroom was situated directly above the office and whenever
we had a shower bath the water which splashed over the edge of the
bath dripped through onto a desk below. An irate clerk waving a
sodden sheaf of papers was a regular visitor to the flat whenever we
were in residence. Fortunately we had a fairly good supply of beer, so
sometimes he appeared without a sodden sheaf of papers.
Next door to Paslow Building stood the Department of Information
and Communications which included Rudy Castillo and the British
Honduras Broadcasting Service. During our year we periodically
informed and communicated with the people of B.H. through their
media. Paul and I earned enough to buy Christmas decorations for the
flat by taking part in a broadcast variety show; we all wrote articles
and broadcast talks at odd intervals and we were interviewed from


time to time. Rudy, and Everal Waight, one of the two announcers
on B.H.B.S., came out to the cay one week-end to do one of these
interviews and at the same time have a week-end holiday. We swam
all Saturday afternoon and talked and ate all Saturday evening. Since
they had to leave early on Sunday morning they decided at 10.45 p.m.
that perhaps the interview had better begin. We were each asked
about our work, and Paul became involved in an attempt to make a
simple explanation of what he was doing. "We are attempting", he
said dramatically, "to measure the growth rate of coral." Pause. "That is
to say, the rate at which corals-er-grow." At this the interview packed
up and went to bed. It was completed in the morning.
Begging was prevalent in Belize due to the serious unemployment
problem, and the subject has its humorous as well as its pathetic side.
As I sat in the barber's one day, a dirty ragged old woman came to
the door accompanied by an equally ragged and dirty little boy. She
asked for and received twenty-five cents (one shilling and threepence)
from the barber. "She comes in twice a week", he said. "All her adult
life she has been picking up unwanted children from the street (liter-
ally) and begging for them and looking after them. Almost always
they leave her without a word of thanks, and she never sees them
again. But she still does it, and I suppose she'll go on doing it until she
We obtained our supplies of fruit and vegetables from the market
which lay just over the bridge and which was visible from our flat.
Whenever possible we sent Johnny across to buy in the stores, as,
having lived in Jamaica for a large part of his life where his father was
a Methodist missionary, he was able to talk in their own language and
dialect to the ladies who kept the stalls. To go with him on an expedi-
tion to the market was an entertainment, and as we always bought a
fair amount, he always asked for a little bit extra to be put in since
we were such good customers. "How 'bout a bit of brawta, Missus C"
he would ask. "O.K., sah" the good lady would say. "We treat you
good, good, man." "And we treat you good too, Missus," he replied,
willing to give no quarter. David Stoddart tried the same on only one
occasion, but received such a torrent of angry words and abuse that
he never tried again. Johnny's ability in this direction proved valuable
whenever we brushed with the local populace, and he had only to

talk to them, invariably quickly, and to us incoherently, and their
frown would turn to a big grin. On the return journey when we
stayed in Jamaica for a few days, David, Johnny and I stopped to take
pictures of some Jamaicans cutting sugar cane. A voice from the other
side of the field yelled, "Don't let dem, don't let dem. Get a dollar,
get a dollar," and a figure armed with a machete came striding across.
At this, Johnny let out a stream of abuse and invective, though I have
no idea what he said. "Huh, brudder man," said the figure, now quite
close, and with a huge grin and a wave, turned and walked away.
We found that anywhere we went in the Caribbean, the native
population loved to shout at each other, and in doing so sounded as if
they were about to slit each other's throat, but Johnny assured us that
there was no anger behind any of it.
While we were in B.H. we were able, by the very nature of our
work, to come in contact with a very representative cross-section of
the inhabitants, from the Governor to the fishermen. The Governor and
Lady Thornley frequently entertained us to dinner and carpet bowls,
and allowed us to swim in the pool at Government House. The
hospitality of everyone at Christmas-time was quite overwhelming
and proved just too much for most of us for, apart from Paul's barra-
cuda poisoning, this was the only time when anyone fell ill. One by
one we succumbed to minor attacks of stomach trouble due to a
diet of sandwiches and Christmas cake. Nevertheless, for this and all
the hospitality we received from everyone, we were very grateful and
formed the impression that it was a happy breed which lived at this
particular end of the world.

Chapter Three


Paul Bregazzi Zoologist

As we left Belize harbour the city looked a tidy and colourful place,
strung out along the shore and melting into the mangroves at its
extremities. But soon this view was left behind, and first English Cay
and then Rendezvous Cay itself raised a tuft of palms on the skyline.
The breakers on the reef beyond the islands were in sharp contrast to
the still waters on which we were travelling, and gave us an early
indication of the protective value of the enormous coral barrier.
Closer to the island the colours in the water began to change: the
dirty grey of the silty outflow of the Belize River had slipped into deep
blue as we passed into the channel that ocean-going ships can negotiate,
and large patches of pale green appeared, often ringed around with
rusty brown. This was our first sight of the sandy shoals upon which the
coral grows profusely and here, almost twenty miles from Belize, the
water was clearer than we had ever seen before.
After two hours' sail on the Customs launch, we landed on our
island. Its beauty was quite breath-taking and it seemed nearly too
good to be true that we had come to work in such wonderful sur-
roundings for almost a whole year. The entire island was not more than
one hundred yards long from north to south, and scarcely thirty yards
across at its widest point. About forty palms were scattered about it,
and a few scrubby herbs grew in patches on the sand. To the east, the


windward side, the sea broke steadily on the reef only forty yards from
the shore to which it runs parallel, but to the west the island had been
built up by generations of fishermen who used to dive for conchs to
sell in Belize market. They would bring them to the island at the end
of the day, crack open the shells at the top of the spiral, and remove
the animal by severing its muscular attachment to the inner spiral. The
shells were then thrown on to the island in such a way that the shore
was gradually extended westwards, and now, about one-third of the
area of the island is exclusively conch shells. Nowadays, conchs are
still collected for sale in the market-in fact about 2,000 are sold
daily-but the shells too are carried there; a contractor collects them
by the truck-load and uses their calcareous material commercially.
The local people set great store by conch soup, but although we tasted
it quite frequently, it was never a much sought-after dish.
With us to the cay had come a police inspector, whose job was to
evict the unfortunate man who had decided to use the island as a base
for fishing. This was the plan, but on chatting with the fisherman, it
soon became evident that he might be of great help to us as he was
quite a handyman, and as a fisherman would know the reefs and
shoals well, which would be most important for us at a later date. So
it was agreed that Jack Reyes should stay for a few days at least, to help
with repairs when we brought out more guttering and water piping
for the catchment system from the roof (All fresh water had to be
obtained in this way as there was nothing but salt water to be had by
digging in the sand.) Jack proved to be the useful man we expected,
and as far as we know he is still there.
When we returned to the cay two days later with the necessary
materials, Jack got down to work right away. Then the very first
night we spent on the island it rained. Amongst us, only John had
experienced tropical rain before, and that time it was several miles
inland in Cuba. Now it was a different matter altogether. The wind
screamed through the palms and the whole house shook and shuddered
with its battering. Doors burst open and had to be secured firmly by
hammering strips of wood across them, and the rain poured through
every hole in the roof, streamed under the doors and oozed through
cracks in the walls.
Will, who could cheerfully sleep through an earthquake, remained


stretched out on his camp bed in spite of the general commotion about
him. When eventually he did rise, much of his bed was quite soaked,
but where he had been lying was dry and a well defined outline
of his body could be seen, each characteristic contour plainly
At last we considered ourselves secure and we lay back on our beds,
but Will remained active for about half an hour more, driving nails
into the side of the house and depriving us of any rest until he too was
satisfied that our lives were no longer in jeopardy. The strange thing
was that in the morning, he had only the haziest recollection of the
previous night's excitement and he could remember nothing of his
nocturnal carpentry.
Although the storm caused some discomfort, in many ways it was
fortunate for us that it occurred so soon after our arrival, as worse was
to come and this gave us time to be prepared.
With us on the Customs launch Partridge we had brought the
greater part of our equipment and stores, and the immediate job was
its unloading. This was a relatively simple matter with the exception
of one or two large items, most notably the refrigerator which weighed
about a quarter of a ton. Having eased this gently along the jetty to the
shore, we then unpacked it and carried it along to the house. So far so
good, but paraffin-burning refrigerators have to be placed level and
out of draughts. The house, sturdy as it was, was not built with the
requirements of paraffin-burning refrigerators in mind-in fact it was
an old police station from a country village which had been removed
to make way for a more modern structure, then transported and
rebuilt by prison labour on the cay for the benefit of the Governor as
a week-end retreat-and we found only one spot where it was feasible
to place our cabinet, this being upstairs in the living-room: We
measured the doorways. Only one of the three was wide enough, so
our choice of entry was decided. Eventually, having partially rebuilt
the stairway, we rested the refrigerator on the handrails and hauled it
up into the house. Thus it was installed, and was to prove invaluable
both for its normal purposes in keeping food fresh in the extremely
hot and steamy atmosphere, and for the less conventional uses as the
storage of large quantities of film, and for cooling unco-operative
insects into submission so they could be more easily photographed.


This process was used more frequently at Xunantunich where inverte-
brate life was often uncomfortably prolific, and where photogenic
insects were plentiful.
In all the furniture-moving Jack was proving his worth, and
shortly after directing operations with the refrigerator, he was super-
vising the setting-up of our wind generator. Malcolm had assembled
this and fitted it at the head of an old mast rejected by a fisherman
some time previously, and it was installed to provide the current to
maintain the charge in our batteries which were used to operate a
radio-telephone set. With the latter we kept in contact with the rest
of the world via Sgt. Orio in the Belize Police Headquarters. For the
next few days Malcolm spent some time setting up radio station
PF 20o, and it was a solemn occasion when we first heard Sgt. Orio's
voice on the air. We maintained contact with Belize almost every day
without difficulty for the whole of the subsequent ten months on the
Towards Christmas comes the season for the "Northers", heavy
persistent gales sweeping down the Yucatan coast and whipping the
sea to a fury. Our first experience of such weather was on a cay similar
to Rendezvous called Calabash Cay, out on the far side of the Turneffe
group of mangrove islands. We had just arrived back in a fishing boat
from a diving trip, when we were suddenly caught in a tremendous
squall. Everyone was soaked within the first minute and there was a
general aimless commotion on board, three or four different people
having their own ideas about what should be done next. However,
we eventually got the boat moored and ourselves to shelter. Most of
us went ashore in our small dinghy, but Dodo Alamina, Jack's nephew,
with whom we had sailed to Calabash Cay, waded fully clothed and
holding his precious cigarettes in both hands high above his head to
try to preserve them from a soaking in salt water. As it was they were
completely sodden in the rain, so he removed the tobacco from them,
dried it, and rerolled his cigarette in brown paper torn from corrugated
But though these storms were severe and fairly frequent, any idea
that we lived on an island in the middle of raging seas would be alto-
gether false; periodical hard weather buffeted the island from Decem-
ber to April, but between these patches of bad weather we enjoyed the


full warmth and brilliance of the tropical sun, which helped to make
our work under water amongst the coral very pleasant. Every day we
enjoyed the beauty of under-water scenery in the course of our work
on the reef which encircles Rendezvous Cay.
Most people have seen samples of coral rock at some time, and have
been able to admire the extreme delicacy of the patterns formed on
them. But few seem to realise-and this is especially true of the people
of British Honduras-that these exquisite designs are made by the tiny
fleshy animals which form their colonies along the reefs, and actually
build up the entire stony mass of the reef themselves.
They are mostly tiny tubular creatures a few millimetres long, and
an opening at one end serves as a mouth around which is a circlet of
extensible tentacles. With these they catch their food, the even smaller
planktonic animals in which the sea is rich, which they digest in the
lower parts of their bodies. The outermost cells of the body manufac-
ture and secrete limestone around the base of the tube, thus forming a
little cup in which the individual coral animal can live.
However, the creature is not quite a simple tube, as its walls are
folded inwards in a series of radial rays. Hence the cup of limestone
formed is not a simple circle but, from above, appears as a little wheel
whose spokes are formed where the folds of the wall have been.
The colonies, consisting of many thousands of individual polyps,
vary in overall appearance according to their species, and at Rendezvous
Cay we found nearly forty different types in the surrounding sea. These
may be hemispherical boulders, delicate tree-like branching forms,
wafer-thin leafy clumps, bunches of short vertical fingers, or massive
irregular boulders twenty to thirty feet high. All together in the reef
they form an immense rock garden, since not only are their shapes
diverse and beautiful, but their colours in life are equally varied.
The fine white corals usually seen as ornaments or in museums are
only the bleached and dried rocky skeletons of the soft fleshy creatures
which once covered their surface. That flesh may have been coloured
red, orange, green, grey, purple-almost any colour-and a living
reef seen in the full profusion of its shades vies with the finest man-
made gardens.
Most corals, but not all, feed only at night and so during the day
their tentacles are withdrawn inside the fleshy body. As part of our work


programme, we investigated the direct effectof light in influencing
the opening and closing movements of the polyps. For this purpose
we kept beneath our house a number of specimens in two glass tanks.
Both tanks were under identical conditions except that one was given
irregular periods of light by covering the tank with pieces of cardboard
and by illuminating it with paraffin pressure lamps at intervals during
the night. By comparing the extent to which the corals opened in the
two tanks, it was possible to estimate how much of the movements were
light influenced.
Each of the experiments lasted three or four days, and some physical
hardships were involved because observations were made every hour
throughout the day and night. However, after a night of countless
cups of coffee, heaving buckets of water to replenish the tanks, and
struggling to keep drooping eyelids open, some reward was usually
gained at dawn for in one tank the corals would respond to the coming
daylight, whereas in the other no such changes were apparent. Un-
fortunately, the luckless person who had survived the rigours of the
night was expected to wash up the dishes from the last meal and pre-
pare a substantial breakfast for the others who lay peacefully dreaming
in their beds.
All species of coral that we examined behaved in a different
manner. For instance, one simply opened in darkness and closed when
exposed to light, while another showed a conspicuous increase in
opening when given light following a period of darkness. The move-
ments of the polyps are not controlled solely by the incidence of light.
Many other factors will play a part and we had indications that, for at
least one species, the amount of food present in the water affects the
degree of opening of the polyps.
When you are swimming over the reef, you can see at once how
the different species have distinct preferences for different parts of it.
The massive Elkhorn appears to flourish on the windward side of the
reef where it is continually exposed to pounding surf and strong
currents, but the small Rose coral, which never grows beyond six inches
in length, is almost always found nestling in the sand in less disturbed
In order to learn something of the distribution of the different corals,
we constructed maps along certain stretches of reef to show the


positions and frequencies of the many species to be found there. The
section to be mapped was marked with white cork floats which could
be accurately surveyed, and the picture was completed by swimming
over the area with masks and flippers and marking the positions of the
different colonies with a special pencil on a polythene board. From the
completed maps we were able to derive information as to the distribu-
tion and interrelationships of the various species and the significance
of certain physical factors such as wind, currents, and the general shape
of the reef.
Far from being a simple huge mass of coral, the reef is a compli-
cated, diverse community providing food and shelter to a host of
different animals and plants.
Hidden inside the numerous crevices lurk moray eels, not normally
aggressive but capable of inflicting a severe wound with their vicious
teeth if they are disturbed. It is most unwise to feel inside a hole in the
reef without first making sure that it is not occupied by such an un-
pleasant creature.
Scattered all over the reef are many various sea-eggs, or sea-urchins
as they are sometimes known. They are animals with a brittle spherical
shell, and covered with protective spines which are for the most part
short and blunt, but with one notable exception. The Black sea-egg
is equipped with very long, sharp spines which bristle, as if in anticipa-
tion, should a shadow fall across them. We had to take great care in
order not to brush against clumps of these creatures, and more than
once we experienced the severe pain that just one of these spines can
Firmly attached to the coral rock are many tiny fanworms, which
push out a small feathery fan at the end of their tubular homes. The
fan, used for catching microscopic particles of food, is withdrawn in a
flash if there is the slightest disturbance in the surrounding water.
Tall tubular sponges always contain their quota of writhing brittle-
stars, which are given this name on account of the fragile nature of
their five limbs.
On the sandy patches between the coral boulders are found large
orange starfish called cushion stars, weighty conchs browsing upon
any vegetable matter that they can find, and thick black sea-cucumbers
patiently munching away at the sand from which they extract nutri-


ment, in the same way that the earthworm continually passes soil
through its body.
The plant-like sea-fans help to preserve the illusion of a terrestrial
rock garden. They are in fact colonies of tiny animals, very similar to
the coral polyps, but whose skeleton is fibrous and flexible. They
sway to and fro, moving gently with the water.
Adding in no small way to the beauty of the reef are the many
strange and vividly marked fish. In and out of the tangled thickets of
stagshorn coral swim hundreds of blue and yellow striped grunts, and
with them hordes of tiny metallic blue and green wrasse. These fish
seem to hang suspended among the branches, sheltered from the large
predatory fish which patrol up and down in the open water. Rainbow
coloured parrot-fish pass by in schools, flicking their mournful eyes as
they flap along using only their pectoral fins. They gather round
boulders of coral and rasp away chunks of the rock with their strange
beak-like mouths, swallowing all that they can chip away in order to get
a meal from the very small amount of animal material on the surface. As
one swims through the water, the parrots can be clearly heard crunching
away at their food like hungry dogs attacking a dish of dog biscuits.
Tiny yellow butterfly fish, pouting at the mouth and with a large
black eye-spot towards the tail, lean over on their sides to get a better
look at the intruding swimmer, as do their bigger neighbours the
black, blue and golden-scaled angelfish.
Frequently an ominous shape lurks near by, the ever inquisitive and
watchful barracuda. The fishermen fear this fish as much as they do
sharks, and they credit it with frequent attacks on swimmers and on
themselves. They will readily show you their scars in support of their
theories and these, together with a look at the barracuda's vicious teeth
set at odd angles in its powerful jaws, would suggest that the fishermen
were quite justified in accusing this fish of such crimes. Consequently,
to begin with we were both fearful and respectful of these fish.
They do present a psychological menace. Nervous energy was
burned up pretty fast every time we made an aqualung dive, and for
a successful dive it was most important to preserve one's equanimity.
During our first month or so on the cay none of us knew much about
the barracuda and, of the information' that we had, we did not know
how much to believe. The presence of the big brute took all of our


attention, and to say the least we were apprehensive: such a diversion
is a waste of time, effort and air. However, as we became more familiar
with the stealthy grey shadow which always accompanied us like a
dog on our ventures outside the reef, we came to the conclusion that
the fish was much maligned. It has an insatiable curiosity, but it never
showed any unduly aggressive signs towards ourselves and in fact we
never saw it attack even any other fish. Sometimes, when they became
a nuisance following us wherever we swam, we took to swimming
at them as fast as possible, and this was usually enough to get rid of
them temporarily at least. It would be wrong to dismiss them as
completely harmless brutes: they do possess particularly savage jaws,
and snap hungrily at spinning bait, but to the aqualung or snorkel diver
they seem to constitute no real danger.
The only physical discomfort which they caused, and to which I
hasten to testify, was gastronomic. The bodies of these fish are beauti-
fully streamlined and, when carved into symmetrical steaks and fried with
onions, they present a truly appetising dish. However, at certain times
of the year of which we were not sure, and for certain individuals,
they are in part highly indigestible, and barracuda poisoning is quite a
common complaint at the Belize General Hospital. The month of
May must have been the time of year, and I must have been one of the
unfortunate people allergic to this type of food, because although we
had eaten barracuda ever since we had been on the cay and suffered
no ill effects, for three days I succumbed to vomiting and headaches.
The day after this ordeal Owen Franklin, a friend from Belize who
was a doctor, came out to see us and, in response to a radio request
via Sgt. Orio, he brought something to put me on my feet. It
was contained in an old beer bottle plugged with a wad of newspaper,
and was an evil looking liquid called "Scale Tonic" which Owen told
us the populace of Belize drinks with the same enthusiasm as English-
men drink tea. I took a small sip and was thankful I was not a Belizean.
We later came across an interesting description of barracuda
poisoning in a paper by A. Ebroin: "The venomous and poisonous
fishes of Guadeloupe," in La Peche Independante, 1956:
"In Guadeloupe barracuda should not be eaten without due precau-
tion. The flesh is excellent but becomes poisonous at certain times of the
year (May to December). Poisoning from this fish gives symptoms similar


to those of Ciguatera, but their intensity varies with the virulence of the
toxins present in the fish and absorbed by the victim. It is therefore wise
to steer clear of barracuda, which can bring on severe poisoning and even
painful death. An unusually dramatic case of poisoning by this fish was
reported in the Saintes islands on 12thJune, 1951. Two families making
twelve people in all were poisoned by a barracuda. Two hours later, all
twelve who had partaken of the fish suddenly fell ill. Their sufferings
included: vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, delirium, fainting, inability to pass
water, violent headaches, horrible burnings in the throat, oesophagus,
stomach and bowels, as well as in the anus and sexual organs. Doctors
were helpless and the disease gained even stronger hold. Thirteen hens,
a dog, a cat and a rat which had eaten the gills, gut and some remains
of the fish died rapidly and in pain. Nine of the human victims were
saved after excruciating pain but three people died, insane a few days
later with their intestines 'on fire', while a girl who had also eaten the
fish suddenly became mad three months later."
Although from time to time we had a few inevitable minor ail-
ments, all ten members of the expedition kept entirely free from serious
illness. Shortly after Christmas, Dave developed a fever and ran a high
temperature for a few days during which he sang calypsos and quoted
freely from Shakespeare, but the ailment which received widest
publicity was David's psychological tooth.
Soon after he arrived in the colony, David began to suffer persistent
toothache. It was necessary for us but to mention his tooth and it would
begin to throb painfully. He lived upon aspirins for about eight weeks,
but then at last he arranged to pay a visit to a dental surgeon in Belize.
On the appointed day he went to the surgery of Dr. Solomon Awe,
who peered into his mouth and after a thorough inspection announced
that all his teeth were in perfect order. David could not believe this
and pointed out the offending molar so, in order to satisfy his patient,
Dr. Awe suggested that he would extract the tooth.
"Indeed you will not," cried David, his ginger beard bristling, and
he leapt up from the chair before the astonished surgeon and sped out
of the building. And from that time onwards David did not have so
much as a twinge from any of his teeth.
Of sharks we can say little. Although we were diving in the same
place for about ten months we saw only about a dozen, and the
majority of these either ignored us or fled. The first was the worst,
being a slim, six-foot silver-grey creature (really most handsome to

look at) which came straight up towards us from the depths below.
We were treated to a fine view of him, head-on at first, as his great
broad snout, flatly triangular above and almost semi-circular below,
loomed gradually larger. He came up to within a few feet of us as we
lay still on the surface, eyes wide and scarcely daring to breathe, and
then to our great relief he turned and glided past eyeing us all the while,
and returned quickly to the deep.
Johnny and Will had another interesting encounter with a shark,
as one day they were swimming along the edge of the barrier reef
about one mile from Rendezvous. They had taken one of the dinghies
from the cay and parked it on a convenient sand bore while they swam
round hoping for some interesting photographs. The shark appeared
from deeper water and swam towards them about fifteen feet below.
It was accompanied by two large sucker-fish and did not seem to have
seen the swimmers, for it nosed its head into a clump of sea-fans and
stopped directly below them. They decided that it was a harmless sand
shark and so Johnny swam about it while Will rapidly took pictures.
It continued to lie quite still, apparently unaware that it was the object
of such interest, but unfortunately the head of the animal, who was
about eight feet long, was largely obscured. Once more Johnny dived
towards the shark, this time in order to tweak its tail because, he
explained afterwards, it might have been possible to get the fish into
a better position to photograph! At this very moment, however, the
animal awoke from its slumbers and, seeing two strange white animals
with huge black flippers bearing down on him, he flicked his tail and
moved swiftly into deeper water, to be lost from sight.
Perhaps the most striking memory we have of the underwater
world is of the remarkable unconcern displayed by the fish towards
us intruders. All around us they went about their business without
undue haste or signs of alarm.
Occasionally we came across loggerhead turtles gently paddling
along amongst the coral formations. These are said to be rather fierce
creatures, for they chase and catch fish with surprising bursts of speed,
and they can crush large mollusc shells with their powerful jaws. Local
fishermen will readily tell of damage that the vicious beak can deliver.
More than once we met a certain hoary, barnacle-encrusted old turtle
who was fully four feet long and lived amongst the coral on the outer


reef. Will was the first person to see him, as he swam out there with
Dave who was spending a few days with us on the cay. The turtle,
lying on the bottom and accompanied by two sucker-fish, saw them
and instead of speeding off as a smaller one would have done, he lum-
bered closer and closer, with easy strokes of his flippers. With his head
only three feet from Will, he paused obligingly as photographs were
taken then, having satisfied his curiosity, he gently ambled off into the
When they returned to the cay Dave, who had seen little of marine
life at Rendezvous and was still excited after his first turtle, called for a
spot of fishing to provide some relaxation and something for supper.
He and I rowed out in the fibre-glass dinghy to a spot along the reef
where we thought a catch likely. In the bottom of the boat lay a lobster
tail for bait, a sharp knife and a wooden club. The sun was slipping
behind the distant mountains and a light breeze gently pushed the
boat to and fro as we baited our lines thinking happily that there was
much to be said for a spot of quiet fishing at twilight.
Within a minute Dave landed the first fish, a blue and yellow
striped grunt which made a characteristic rasping noise as it was re-
moved from the water. Many fish have a pair of hard bony plates at
the entrance to the throat, which are used for grinding food before it
passes into the stomach, and the grunt vigorously grates them to-
gether in protest when it is landed, producing the sharp sound that
gives the animal its name. Dave's grunt was dehooked and lay thump-
ing on the boards while fishing continued.
"I can't bear to see it jumping around," said Dave after a while.
"I'm going to finish it off," he added manfully and, seizing the sub-
stantial club, advanced upon the luckless grunt. A sharp blow was
delivered which not only succeeded in stunning the fish, but flicked
it neatly as a tiddly-wink over the side of the boat, and into the sea
where it sank out of reach. Distressed, we lost all hope of recovering
it, but all was not lost, for carried by a current it appeared on the other
side of the boat. Dave, leaning over, clutched the grunt and brought
it on board with a triumphant smile. On another occasion Dave
succeeded in landing eight grunts in a row, while no one else caught
a thing. It was not without justification that he was afterwards known
as "Grunt Carr".

Several more fish had been caught, when there was a violent tug
on a heavy line that I had put over. Slowly the line was pulled in, and
hooked firmly on to the end was a black shark, only three feet in length,
but fighting furiously. As the creature came alongside, Dave grasped
an oar and, standing up, lashed out several times, soaking everyone and
almost upsetting the boat. However, in spite of this fierce onslaught,
the fish appeared to be unhurt and the two dripping fishermen paused
for breath, eyeing one another and the shark which still leapt around
on the end of the line. All of a sudden Dave seized the line and quickly
brought the shark to the side of the boat where I was able to deliver a
couple of firm blows to its head. We hauled it on board and sat back
to congratulate each other.
The shark meat, boiled, minced and salted, was much appreciated
that evening for supper. Next evening, Johnny nailed the tail and
dorsal fin to the mast of our sailing boat Tortuga, which, he explained,
guaranteed good fishing and sailing in the future.
One afternoon a few days later, Dave, John and I sat in the house
thinking that a cup of tea would be most acceptable if someone else
would go and make it, when we heard a loud yell from outside. Will
was out swimming with his underwater camera, and as we rushed out
to the balcony we saw him a short distance away waving furiously.
In a voice that trembled with excitement, he called that there was a
manatee swimming round him. With a speed that would have done
credit to any crack infantry battalion turning out the guard, we
grabbed masks and fins and were in the water paddling towards Will,
all thoughts of cups of tea forgotten. As we swam towards him we
could see nothing ahead but the deep dark blue water, and a few small
yellow-tail snappers which swam close to us. Then we caught the
gleam of a huge, slowly undulating flap close to the surface about
fifty feet away. At first I thought that we must have misunderstood
Will's shouts and that there was a manta ray here, but no, sure enough
what we had seen was the weird curving tail of a ten-foot sea cow or
manatee, and the rest of it came slowly into view. Never had we seen
such a disproportionate and strange animal. Its body was vast and its
head little bigger than a man's; its arms were much reduced like short
paddles, and they appeared to flap loosely at its shoulders, nevertheless
adding some small propulsive and steering power to that of the broad,


flat tail. There were no external traces of hind limbs at all and the
whole creature seemed to be a crude and sluggish version of a seal. All
over its matt surface there were little dark patches and lines as if it
were dusty and someone had been drawing with a finger on its back.
It showed no fear of us, but kept its distance, rolling about a few feet
below the surface and watching us with its tiny piggy eyes.
Will had taken only two or three pictures when his film ran out
and, cursing his luck, he swam back to the island to reload. We re-
mained near to the manatee and hoped that we would not scare it away.
It turned and moved a short distance away, and surfacing for a moment,
it drew in air through its nostrils, which are placed right upon the tip
of its head so that it need protrude the minimum amount of its body
every time it takes a breath. We followed it farther and farther away
from the house and, to our dismay, it ambled off into the murk before
Will could return with his camera.
These animals are reputed to be quite common along the coast of
British Honduras, but we were surprised to see one so far out to sea.
They are officially protected, but nevertheless the fishermen claim
that they make good eating, and one told us that they were particularly
good since they have four sorts of meat-fish, pork, beef and manatee!
They live by browsing on the weeds and the turtle grass, and spend
most of the day reclining in the mud-not quite the romantic associa-
tion one would expect of the creature reputed to be the source of the
Mermaid legend. Our particular specimen must have drifted away
from the herd and got lost in the deeper water. With Will, ready to
take thirty-six pictures in a row, we spent some time in the water
hoping to catch another glimpse of the manatee, but that was our
first and last sight of such a creature.
Although the greatest glory of Rendezvous Cay is its reefs, it is
also a most attractive island above water level. It is scarcely big enough
to support a large fauna, but nevertheless there was no lack of diverting
animal life. Our first day on the cay we were treated to a fine acrobatic
display when an osprey which was fishing from the cay was harried
by a large black frigate bird (known locally as Man-o'-War bird). Few
people in the British Isles are fortunate enough to see ospreys, but out
in British Honduras they are relatively common among the islands
and mangrove coasts. In appearance they are truly regal birds-brown

back, barred brown wings, snow-white head and underparts, piercing
eye, and a cruelly hooked beak which makes short work of tearing
strips of flesh from the fish it catches. As we watched, the osprey flew
along with a fish grasped in its talons and the great black shadow dived
out of the sky swooping upon its victim. The latter cried mournfully
but the frigate kept up its worrying tactics. It lolloped along steadily
behind and above the osprey, periodically diving at it, and always
following its every movement with deadly accuracy. Finally the osprey
gave up the battle of wits, dropped its fish and flew away. The frigate
made a final swoop, snatched the fish just before it struck the water
and climbed back up to the heights again. The unfortunate osprey
never realized that if it had landed on the cay and quietly devoured the
fish, there was nothing that the frigate could have done about it.
Pelicans were always with us, gliding like squadrons of bombers
around the island. They would plunge, beak outstretched, into the
shallowest water after the sprats on which they live, and we often
watched them, marvelling that they did not break their necks. As
their beaks touch the water, these birds swing their bodies round side-
ways so that they end up facing the opposite direction to that in which
they dived, with their beak still submerged. Obviously, without this
twisting movement, the bird would tumble head over heels and never
catch a thing.
With us on the cay there lived a tribe of hens belonging to Jack's
wife, Viola. A more odd collection of fowls was never seen, for some
were plump and others scraggy and no two had the same colouring.
Usually there were about two cocks and six hens but the population
fluctuated as some were eaten or else more brought out from Belize.
Late in the hot afternoon of Christmas Day, David who was on his
own keeping watch over the cay suddenly remembered that the hens
had been given no water for twenty-four hours. In a panic he thrust
aside his bowl of tinned strawberries and condensed milk and shot down
the stairs. Before him he saw the hens, some sitting quietly and others
staggering around with dazed looks in their eyes. One poor creature
lay prostrate on the ground, breathing heavily and with feathers
slightly ruffled.
David soon had the situation in hand. He dashed a bowl of water
over the unconscious hen who quickly recovered and was able to join


the others gathered round the water bowl, drinking feverishly. David
heaved a sigh of relief and went back upstairs, thankful that after all
he did not have to face Viola with a dead fowl. Next day a hen came
upstairs and, as if in thanks, left an egg behind the refrigerator. It was
accepted gratefully.
During a short stay at the University College of the West Indies in
Jamaica, I was asked to collect and send back some of the lizards which
inhabit the B.H. cays. With me I brought a very cunning trap which,
I was assured, would make the job much easier. The device was simply
a small cage having a delicately balanced and highly polished see-saw
trap in the roof. The lizards, it was intended, lured on to the platform
by a host of flies surrounding a piece of bully beef, would tip the trap
and slip headlong into the cage. It was duly baited and tried in all sorts
of suitable places all over the island but, in spite of success achieved in
Jamaica, never did it catch a single lizard. I was never allowed to forget
the efficient trap I had brought, especially when Will regularly brought
me lizards all caught by hand. Two or three came to live in the house
and were extremely useful in keeping down the ants which invaded the
place, as well as eating up the flies which occasionally annoyed us. One
lizard took up his post on the table leg and lived there happily for a
few weeks, coming up for his meals just as we finished ours and when
the flies were down on the table top.
Crabs there were in plenty, including the strange little ghost crab
which burrowed in the soft sand just above the tidemarks. These
creatures make two entrances to their burrows, and we often watched
them furtively building a new one, slipping down the hole and then
rushing up again clasping a clawful of sand to their bodies. They
would stop, wait motionless for a few seconds, and then suddenly
fling away the clawful and hurtle back down the burrow. It was a
long process and usually outlasted our patience.
All over the island there were hermit crabs, crustaceans which for
protection lived inside an empty mollusc shell, and carried it about
with them wherever they went. If danger threatened they speedily
withdrew into their shell and blocked the entrance with a large claw.
When a hermit outgrows his home, he carefully selects a larger one
and quickly transfers from one to the other. Some were small and
lived within a shell a few millimetres across, and others much larger


could be found inside a conch shell up to twelve inches long. The
larger ones were usually in the water, but the small ones left their
parallel tracks (looking something like a railway track) all over the
sand, and were often to be seen climbing trees.
With these, as with many other animals, unusual behaviour is often
regarded by the fishermen as a meteorological sign. Hermit crabs
(which they call "soldier crabs") climbing trees means that rain is on
the way, and if they are all climbing at once so that they form clumps
on the trees then this is a sure sign of hard weather, even a hurricane
maybe. Pelicans taking a bath, which they seemed to do quite frequently,
is another prognostication of rain, but if this is true then the pelicans
were often deceived. When the osprey flies high and steadily in one
direction crying pitifully all the time, then there will be high winds
from the direction from which the bird is flying. Twice we saw this
elaborate display, but on each occasion it was enacted when a second
strange osprey had appeared, and it seems more likely that the owner
of this small territory was protesting at the violation of his sovereignty
rather than broadcasting a weather forecast.
Needless to say our interpretations did not always impress Jack,
since he claimed that all these signs had been shown him by the "old
heads", who had no doubt heard them from older heads before them.
But he took our disbelief in good heart. Laughing lustily and infec-
tiously at the slightest remark, he was the easiest man to entertain. He
explained that his ability to laugh so freely was because he did not owe
anybody a thing.
Jack and his nephews, and in fact most of the fishermen visiting the
cay, were of Mexican descent with a mixture of Maya Indian blood.
A succession of men came to work for Jack, and most he kept occupied
building his crayfish pots. The animals caught in the pots, although
commonly known as crayfish, bear no claws and are in fact spiny
lobsters. To make the pots strips of wood are used, cut from the out-
sides of the slender trunks of pimento palms, and these strips are laid
parallel and close together to form a cage between trapezium-shaped
ends. A funnel at one end serves as the entry for the lobsters through
which they can crawl as they would into a cave in the coral, but from
which they cannot escape as they cannot negotiate the narrow end of
the funnel from the inside. It is not the general practice to bait these


traps, but one or two of the canny old heads sometimes introduce a
few small pieces of coco-nut as added enticement to the lobster.
Whether or not the lobster finds coco-nut delectable is an open ques-
tion, but those fishermen who bait their traps claim that they do.
The traps are laid on open stretches of turtle-grass where they pro-
vide the only sanctuary to the unsuspecting lobsters in the area. Jack
would tend to his pots most days and then keep his catch in a large cage
under the water at Rendezvous until he made his weekly journey to
Belize. Sometimes he would take 5oo lobsters into the city, tied up in
sacks and each one gently blowing through its respiratory openings.
The sound produced was like rain steadily falling on a corrugated iron
roof, and Jack said that he found this continual drumming very soothing
on a long trip.
Regular visitors to the cay were a seventy-five years old Creole fisher-
man called Mr. Brown, and his eighty years old companion Mr.
Courtney. They sailed a large battered old fishing boat, grey in colour,
with its name Talisman painted in staggering capitals on the bow.
Amidships was a well in which fish could be taken to port alive,
and Mr. Brown always blinded any barracuda he caught by sticking
a fish hook in their eye in order to prevent them from fighting and
damaging themselves. Many years ago he had lived at Rendezvous,
and all the older fishermen knew it as Brown's Cay.
Mr. Brown occasionally brought two little lads with him, his son
Horace (pronounced "Horayas") aged five, and his friend Frederick
(never "Fred"), about five years older. No doubt they were good
company, for they could swim like fish and never ceased to chatter.
When it was their school holidays, many fishermen would bring
small boys out in their boats for a few days' treat.
One evening as it was getting dark, a battered fishing dorey with
three little boys and an old man drew up at the cay for the night, and
when they had boiled some fish and had eaten they came over to the
house for company. The old man preferred to stay below and to talk to
Jack, but the three little lads suddenly appeared in the doorway as we
were having supper, and stood there with bare feet, ragged shorts and
vests, and straw hats in hand.
"Good night!" they chorused (for in these parts "evening" begins
at midday and finishes as soon as it is dark). We asked them to come in


and sit down, and solemnly James (fourteen) and James (nine) intro-
duced themselves.
"Dat's Gilbert," said the elder James nodding towards the smallest
of the trio who stood, hands clasped and looking at the floor. "He's
six and he hasn't any teeth."
Poor little Gilbert stared even harder at the floorboards, his lips
tightly pressed together. We offered sweets which were accepted
without delay, everyone taking one each except Gilbert, who took three,
and we finished our meal accompanied by loud smackings and sucking
We asked them where they had come from.
"Stann Creek, sah, and it's de school holidays," was the reply.
"Do you know any good songs?" asked Johnny, ready for a sing-
song as always. Bashfully our guests admitted that they did know some
good songs, and after inevitable discussions and gigglings James (nine)
rose to his feet and, having cleared his throat several times, he sang.

"Oh, where are yu goin' purty bud, purty bud,
Oh, where are yu going' purty bude
I am going' to de nes',
I am going' to de nes',
I am goin' to de nes', purty bud."

The song ran to several verses and finished in the nest, but we had
a second run-through, with everyone joining in the purty buds, and
having a riotous time. With dignity James (fourteen) declined to sing,
but Gilbert was thrust to his feet and, politely, he removed his toffee from
his mouth and held it between a sticky thumb and forefinger. Holding
his head high, and with eyes fixed to the ceiling, he sang with much
enthusiasm a song we eventually recognized as "Goosey Goosey
Gander", and when finished he sat basking in the applause, and helped
himself to more sweets.
Then they must have decided that it was time for bed, for as quickly
as they had entered our three friends got up from their seats and
marched out, crying a hearty "Good night!" Gilbert paused at the
door and looked round at us.
"T'anks," he said, grinning a toothless grin, and he scampered off
after his friends.


The fishermen have remedies for illnesses that are all their own,
but when they discovered that we had a comprehensive box of medical
supplies they were quite ready to come and ask if we had medicine
for this, that and the other. Viola was particularly interested, and one
day she climbed the stairs to our house from where she lived below,
and politely asked if we had any slimming tablets available. Her chief
complaint about Rendezvous Cay was that it was too small and pre-
vented her from getting any decent exercise. But then we only had to
approach her with a writhing brittle star to remedy that. "No man, no
man!" she would scream as she scuttled up the middle of the island,
scared out of her wits.
Without a doubt, the person who benefited most from the medical
box was David. He was unfortunate, as are many people with ginger
hair, in having a very delicate skin, and it took little sun to produce
large watery blisters across his back. Despite continual advice and
warnings, he would go out swimming without a vest to protect him,
and more often than not returned in a sorry state. Clutching a tube of
sun-tan cream in one hand, he would quietly approach one of us and
"My dear good fellow, do you think that you could possibly
medicate me?"
The use of our first aid materials was not, however, restricted to
human sufferers. One day Jack noticed that a hen was looking a bit
seedy, and so called for the advice of an old casual worker that he had
on the cay who was also a hen authority. A heavy cold on the chest
was diagnosed, and that evening the expert treated the sick hen by
rubbing its chest with some Vick that we were asked to supply. Of
course the hen made a complete recovery.
Once Jack showed us a small spiral shell that he had found on the
reef. "This is an eye-shell," he said, "and it's good if you have a sore
eye." He explained how the tiny hard stone which blocks the entrance
to the shell when the animal is inside should be placed inside the lower
eye-lid. Slowly it would work its way round behind the eyeball and
in about two days' time it would fall out, together with the foreign
body that was supposedly causing the trouble. Jack said that he had
benefited from this treatment on more than one occasion.
Most of the fishermen are intelligent and willing to exchange new

ideas but, as everywhere else, traditions die hard and many things in
British Honduras seem about fifty years behind the times. For example,
the coco-nuts grown on Turneffe Islands are loaded by their thousands
and brought the forty miles across the sea into Belize by a two-masted
twenty-ton schooner. In good weather the journey lasts one day, but
if gales are blowing it may last very much longer. But time is of no
great importance. The fishermen work steadily and patiently through-
out the year, using either the large dugout dories or else the twenty-
to thirty-foot sail-boats which are made locally.
For our own physiographical work we used one such vessel
borrowed from a Belize fisherman, but the story of the Tortgia is
a story in itself.

Chapter Four


David Stoddart Geographer

WHEN first we met Tortuga, she was a wreck. Once known as Tiger
Shark, and only two years old, she now lay drawn far up on the
beach beside the house at Rendezvous, and looked as though she
would never sail again. Her paint peeling and discoloured, timbers
blackened and rotting, stays rusted and broken, and daylight streaming
through her decks, repair seemed a formidable undertaking. Tortuga
was, in fact, a last resort. Before leaving England, the Admiralty had
promised us the loan of a thirty-five-foot naval launch, but the cost
of taking it out to British Honduras forced us to decline the offer. As
soon as John Thorpe arrived in Belize, he had done his best to get hold
of a suitable motor boat, but few were available and prices prohibitive.
So it was a relief when John at last came across a carpenter in
Belize called Tito Gomez, who said that we could have the use of his
eighteen-foot fishing smack, Tiger Shark, at that time lying derelict at
Cay Caulker. All that Tito asked was that we should make the craft
seaworthy before returning it to him at the end of the expedition.
Fortunately the boat was in the hands of Luis Alamina, one of the
fishermen we knew at Rendezvous, and he towed it over from Cay
Caulker for us, leaving it on the beach where Johnny Poxon found it
when he arrived in the colony a few weeks later.
The first job was to sew a new mainsail. The centre seams in each

panel were machine-sewn, but everything else had to be done by hand,
a tedious job which was not completed until December. While this
was going on, Jack Reyes was shaping new timbers to replace those
which were rotten. The old Tiger Shark had had an open well amid-
ships, so we also had to replace the planks which had been bored for it.
The more planks we removed, the more we found were riddled with
worms, and soon we realized that it was a question of rebuilding
rather than repairing. Work went very slowly, and by December,
when it was essential to get the boat into the water, we had to abandon
plans to re-lay the deck. Once the replanking of the hull was com-
pleted, the tempo of work increased, as everyone joined in to help
with scraping, painting and varnishing. Even so, by the time the new
Tortuga was launched on 2 ist December, there was still a lot to be done.
The sky was dark and the sea threatening as we all pushed her into
the water, and a ragged cheer rent the air when we realized she was
going to float. Her white topsides and blue waterline gave an impres-
sion of trimness and speed which we hoped would be justified. Once
at the jetty, it was a quick job to step the mast and rig the sails, so we
could have a trial run. Cheers turned into cries of derision from those
on shore as Johnny and Will took her to sea for the first time. Johnny
was at the helm, and by the time Will managed to get the ropes sorted
and the sails raised, the boat had drifted on to the edge of the reef.
Johnny tried desperately to stave her offwith a pole, but Tortuga only
ground farther into the coral, and at last he had to jump into the sea
and push her off, as Will stood helplessly on deck, bewildered by the
stream of advice from the shore. Once free of the coral, Johnny took
her for a short run before returning. A perfect approach to the pier
was marred only when Will dropped the mainsail with a rush and hit
Johnny on the head with the boom: Tortuga's maiden voyage was over.
Undeterred, we loaded up Tortuga with our equipment and she
sailed into Belize for Christmas, while I stayed behind to look after the
cay. Tortuga was making a lot of water and was heavily loaded, but
she reached Belize in safety, and was tied up in the canal not far from
the Paslow Building. Christmas Day on the cay was a solitary experi-
ence. I spent it listening to an interminable record on the radio asking
whether I would like to spend Christmas on a desert island under
great big coco-nut trees, with only tinned cake for relief.


Johnny set out after lunch that day to bring David Hunt out to
take over the watch on the cay, and that afternoon he had one of his
best sails ever. The time for the sixteen mile trip to Belize varied
tremendously according to the wind, and could take up to twelve hours,
but on Christmas afternoon he came out in only three and a quarter
hours. Air and water temperatures at Rendezvous were both about
8oF. at midday, and there was little to suggest that it was winter.
Winter, however, was on its way, and when Tortuga came back to
Rendezvous after a week of junketings and festivities in Belize, she
was taken out of the water for final repairs and painting before leaving
on the first of the "physiographic field trips" for which she was in-
tended. In the few days at anchor in the canal, the bottom became
covered with several inches of weed and even some small barnacles,
and the hull had suffered considerable superficial damage in rough
weather. Several days' work was enough to put the boat in final shape,
though, and also to fit a small portable echo-sounder which we had
borrowed in England. When all was ready for departure, however,
and stores waiting to be loaded, all activity ceased for a few days
because of a northerr". Rain and mist restricted visibility and it was
impossible for Tortuga to set out. The reef work was hampered all
along by these winds, which in a normal year are said to begin about
November and to be over by the end of February, but in 196o they
seemed to continue intermittently at least until April.
As soon as the weather cleared, we began to load our stores, assum-
ing that we would be away three weeks. In addition to tinned foods
of all sorts, we had potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and bananas,
oranges and grapefruit, a large pan of fresh turtle meat, and a big
black tin trunk containing our bedding and clothes. Tortuga was about
eighteen feet long and some six feet on the beam. The entire front half
of the boat was crammed with stores, and surveying equipment was
stowed down both sides. At the stern we had a water barrel in which
one of the Chinese merchants had originally imported salt pork, and
the black tin trunk. In the narrow space in between, measuring
some five and a half feet by four and a half feet, Johnny and I were to
cook, eat, write and sleep during our excursions.
At last all was ready, and with pith helmets and straw hats adjusted,
Tortuga's crew sailed north, under a cloudless sky. The attempt to sail


was given up after a few hundred yards, however, as there was little
wind, and we resorted to the little 3 h.p. outboard motor that soon
proved almost indispensable on our trips. Our first halt was at English
Cay, a small sandy island surrounded by reef, and covered with
houses and coco-nut palms. With Goff's Cay to the north, it guards
the entrance to the deep water channel-itself possibly a drowned river
valley-that leads to Belize. Since the foundation of the settlement
English Cay has been important as a look-out station, but in the early
days it was often an embarrassment. During the native uprisings in
many of the French Colonies, for example, it was common for French
warships to maroon several hundred discontented slaves surreptitiously
on English Cay, and then sail rapidly away, leaving the small group of
settlers in Belize to feed and assimilate the group.
Most of the early history of the cays-their discovery, their settle-
ment by pirates-is unwritten and lost, and there are few remains
on the cays themselves as evidence. In St. John's Cathedral in Belize,
to take one instance, a plaque commemorates the burial of an officer
and eleven men from an English warship in 1830, who died at sea from
yellow fever, and were buried at Goff's Cay: but the cay itself is now
only a flat expanse of grey sand overshadowed by sea-grape and
coco-nut, and it is quite possible that the spot where the men were
buried is now beneath the sea. Yellow fever was, above all other
diseases, the great scourge of the early settlers, as the long roll of in-
scriptions in the Cathedral, and the full cemeteries testify. The Essex
bricklayer who came out to build St. John's itself saw all his family
die, and buried them in Yarborough Cemetery; then he followed them.
Doctors and missionaries were lucky to survive more than five years,
and memorials as far away as the church of St. Peter's in Port Royal,
Jamaica, record the ravages of yellow fever in Belize. Even in this
century, a Governor's daughter has died of it at Government House.
Free from such decimation, however, our job was to survey the
cays in some detail, so that at the end of the expedition we could
compare all our results and try to see how cays originate, and often
disappear, and also to determine why they are where they are. The
technique itself was quite simple: Johnny and I made a traverse of the
island with a prismatic compass, and if there were sufficient features of
interest we would survey several lines of levels in order to get cross-


sections of the island. Once a cay becomes established, say by the
washing up of a sand bank where waves bend round the corner of a
reef, two processes help to stabilise it, so that it is not washed away by
the next big storm. Vegetation soon takes a hold-seeds are washed up
or brought by birds-and soon the bare sand is covered by low
creeping plants and shrubs, and then it is only a matter of time before
coco-nuts and mangroves take hold. A more complex process involves
the cementation of the beach sand into a hard rock between tide levels,
so that after a period of time the shore of an island is marked in places
by narrow bands of rock, dipping seawards, and thus, if a storm happens
to shift the position of the island suddenly, the location of the old shore-
line can still be easily traced.
The hurricanes which periodically sweep across the coast play a
major part in altering the cays, and in some cases wash them away
altogether. Paunch Cay, north of Goff's, which once had a house
and coco-nut palms on it, was completely destroyed in the 1931
hurricane which devastated Belize, but several former shore-lines,
formed many years ago, can still be traced, though now partly ob-
scured by a new accumulation of sand and shingle. Surveying the
beach rock was more difficult than surveying the cays, and generally
I swam out to significant points while Johnny took bearings on me
from the shore. The smooth surface of the beach rock soon breaks
down under water, becoming pitted and cavernous with holes full of
sea-urchins and fish, and covered with brown, red and green algae. In
deeper waters we frequently found green and orange corals actually
growing on the beach rock, which gave some indication of how long
it had been submerged. The main reward of beach rock mapping,
however, was the crayfish which lurked under projecting shelves.
The technique was to seize them by their feelers and slowly drag them
out, hoping that one could hold one's breath longer than the beast
could resist. If worst came to worst, from the crayfish's point of view,
he could always jettison his feelers, and in fact the ratio of feelers to
crayfish captured was at least a hundred to one. After interminable tins
of food, however, a freshly boiled crayfish was indeed a gourmet's
Not all the cays were simple sand cays, built by the accumulation
of loose sand and gravel. North of Rendezvous there is a fairly


uncomplicated arrangement of sand cays on the barrier reef itself,
separated by a narrow channel from a long line of large impenetrable
mangrove islands. Between this outer line of islands, which includes
Water Cay, the Drowned Cays and the cays northwards to Ambergris,
are a number of shoals and mangrove islands shaped largely by currents.
The mangrove islands were preferred by the early settlers for a variety
of reasons: they were larger than the sand cays, and had plenty of room
for building houses and fortresses and for hauling up ships, and the
dense mangrove provided a refuge to which they could flee in the
event of the settlement being attacked. Historical remains are some-
times found on the mangrove islands-Maya shell heaps dating from
pre-Columbian times have long been known on Moho Cay and
Frenchman's Cay for instance-but too often the advancing stilt roots
of the mangroves have obliterated all indications of the past.
From Paunch Cay we sailed north past Sergeant's Cay and Gallows
Point, to one of the most famous islands on the coast-St. George's
Cay, still a name to conjure with in British Honduras. Towards the
end of the seventeenth century and in the years which followed, the
English freebooters disputing Spanish hegemony began to make Cayo
Casina their headquarters, changing its name to St. George's Cay.
While treaty concessions were being wrung from Spain after 1763,
this settlement, as much as that growing up at the mouth of the
River Wallis or Belize, was the English "capital". While Belize grew
in importance with the export of logwood and later mahogany, St.
George's Cay remained the chief fortress, in spite of its vulnerability
to attack. Towards the end of the eighteenth century relations between
England and Spain worsened, and at last the Captain-General of
Yucatan decided to wipe out the settlement. After long preparations
Admiral Arturo O'Neill sailed with a large armada to attack the cay,
but was finally beaten off by a much smaller force on io Septem-
ber 1798; negro slaves fighting with their masters (who included
Thomas Paslow after whom our flat in Belize was named) in its
The importance of the battle has probably been exaggerated. It has
long been said that the English victory gave Britain a right to the
Honduras coast by virtue of conquest, and in fact there is no doubt that
since the Spanish in Yucatan no longer sent an annual envoy to Belize


after the battle as they had done before, to inspect treaty arrangements,
there was a notable decline in direct Spanish influence. On the other
hand, both England and Spain agreed by treaty in i8o2 to revert to
the position held before 1798, so that legally the consequences of the
battle were nil. Naturally, however, the earlier settlers saw the Spanish
defeat as of vital importance, and the steps which finally led to incor-
poration as a Crown Colony with its own Governor in 1884 were
seen to spring directly from the victory at St. George's Cay. The
association of the battle with the growth of colonial government, with
celebrations every loth September, has led to a reaction, in which not
only certain popular newspapers but also legal writers opposed to
"colonialism" have denied the reality of the battle itself.1 There are
sufficient accounts of the battle both in naval dispatches and in a
description by one of the "Baymen" who took part (Bill Forbes) to
authenticate it without doubt.
St. George's Cay today is simply a low mangrove island with a
cluster of houses at one end, where the lite of Belize migrate during
the summer and for public holidays. We were always puzzled why
people went there-it was a rather dismal mangrove island surrounded
by muddy water, with none of the luxuriance of colour and experience
found on the reefs around the sand cays. We were glad to leave and
make our way north, along the barrier reef to Cay Caulker, which is
the only cay, apart from Ambergris, to have a village on it.
Among its three or four hundred inhabitants, Cay Caulker numbers
many of the coast's oldest families-the Reyes of Yucatan, the Youngs,
the Alaminas. There had been aJuan de Alaminos with Columbus when
he discovered the Honduras coast in 15oz, and he had returned with
Hernandez de Cordoba as his chief pilot in 1517-the fishermen here
could well be his direct descendants. Dodo, a fisherman we knew at
Rendezvous, himself an Alamina, took us round to see some of the
village notables after we had been to the police station and spoken to
Belize by radio. One of the Youngs was building large boats for
Americans, up to thirty feet long, without blueprints or plans, work-
ing only from models. These models, the biggest of which was only
1 "The Battle of St. George's Cay is a Myth"-editorial, The Belize Times,
5 August, 1959; also W. J. Bianchi: Belize, the controversy between Guatemala
and Great Britain, New York, 1959, p. 34.


some ten to twelve inches long, were carved from blocks of wood made
of horizontal strips of pine and cedar glued together. All templates for
the boat were enlarged directly from sections taken from this carving,
so the shape of the hull was completely dependent on the lines of the
small model which the builder had whittled down to his satisfaction.
It was fascinating to see boat-building carried on as it had been a
hundred years ago in the heyday of the sleek clippers, yet with the
most up-to-date tools and first-class workmanship. Mr. Young
showed us four or five of the models which he had used to build
fishermen's boats for many years, and all along the coast it is easy to
pick out a Cay Caulker built boat by its distinctive hull. Paulie Bevans
was trying to build up an export industry to the States with corals
and shells. He must have been well over 80o years of age, but he
still went out regularly to collect stagshorn and leaf corals, conchs and
other shells, which he lovingly showed us.
Very often during these trips one felt rather cut off from reality,
partly through lack of contacts with civilisation, partly because of the
odd people one met. At Cay Caulker we went to see one of these
characters, once a Hollywood tycoon, now ending his life in a small
two-roomed hut, sleeping in a hammock, padding round barefoot
during the day, with only a large history of American art for company.
His relaxation was the carving of massive masks from mahogany,
some of them Maya, others modelled on aboriginal North American
and Asian carving. One of the boats that Mr. Young was building
was to his order, and when it was finished he proposed to fill it with
his carvings, sail to the States, and sell them at great profit. While
chipping away in seclusion he had developed wide theories to account
for cultural diffusions across the Pacific, especially as they concerned the
Maya. While it is generally thought that the first Americans came
across the Bering Straits from Russia and then spread down the con-
tinent, our friend believed that the Mayas had their origin in one of the
early civilisations of Indo-China. They migrated to Central America
during the last Ice Age, when lowered sea levels exposed land bridges
connecting the South Pacific islands, and found a corridor from one
continent to the other. We solemnly recounted this hypothesis to our
professional archaeologist a few weeks later.
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large villages, we met another character-he would not object to the
term-known the length of the coast. Going ashore and walking
towards Chris's Saloon (one of the few we found on any of the cays),
we saw two figures bearing down on us. One of them was huge,
purple-faced and ginger-bearded. I too by this time was already sport-
ing a similar though less luxuriant growth, and he crushed my hand.
"By George!" he boomed, "two ginger beards on one cay!" and a
laugh began somewhere inside, gurgled in his throat for some time and
eventually erupted. Then, before we had time to make proper saluta-
tion, there followed an invitation to have a drink and spend a week on
board his motor-yacht Pamelayne.
Needless to say we had heard of Commander Currie before-in
British Honduras everyone had-so we were not entirely unprepared
for his hospitality. He came from one of England's old shipping
families, and spent many years in the Royal Navy, chiefly in the China
Sea, where he had married the first of his wives, a Chinese girl. He
had come to British Honduras eight years ago, and now occupied
himself in looking after large estates inland, and cruising from Belize
north to San Pedro and south to Puerto Barrios and points beyond.
The little figure with him, yachting cap jauntily at an angle and
smoking an immense cigar, was his new cook, a Canadian known as
Jack, who had learnt his trade at some of the world's greatest hotels
before he, too, ended up in Belize a few weeks previously. That night
on the Paimelayne we ate better than at any other time in British
Honduras (except perhaps the following night, when the Commander
laid on a banquet for some American friends).
Currie had the bon-vivant's capacity for being gratuitously insulting
or even blatantly rude without any offence being caused or intended,
and he had a tremendous fund of stories and anecdotes from all over
the world. On one occasion he three times told us a long and involved
story revolving around his ability to recognize the distinctive style of
a particular Calcutta hat-maker, and Johnny, himself a yachtsman,
was soon able to draw him out about his ocean-racing experiences
before the war. At one point Currie very nearly asked him to leave the
boat after he mentioned the name of a yachtsman whom the Com-
mander considered a bounder and a cad, but all passed off smoothly.
At last Currie went to his bunk on the bridge, where he always slept


with a loaded revolver at his pillow, and we retired to the first clean
sheets we had seen for weeks.
We had hoped to take Tortuga up past Reef Point, where some
geological structure, possibly a giant fault in the earth's crust, forces
the barrier reef in towards the coast and at one point nips it out
entirely; and then sail through the Bacalar Chico cut, down the west
side of Ambergris and so to Belize. But we had so many warnings
about the difficulty of the gaps in the reef, and so little experience with
Tortuga, that we decided against it, especially as I had already flown
over the area with Will before Christmas, so at last we said good-bye
to Commander Currie and sailed south. We saw him, a bulky figure
leaning over the rail, in many ways the H. M. Stanley of the British
Honduras coast, already creating his own mythology. We often saw
him later in Belize, and he was always as generous and hearty, and as
enigmatic, as when we stayed with him at San Pedro.
From Ambergris we sailed south past Cay Caulker and then cut
through the outer line of mangrove islands towards the Hicks Cays,
hoping with luck to make Belize that night. But the breeze dropped
completely in the afternoon, and by the time it came up again, as we
were passing through one of the gaps in the Hicks group, it only
served to blow us into further trouble. We had chosen the wrong gap,
and very soon found ourselves aground, in the midst of an intricate
maze of channels and shoals which we hoped led to the open sea. For
well over an hour we tried to extricate ourselves, Johnny in the dinghy
with the outboard pulling us off the mudbanks, while I tried with the
pole to keep Tortuga off them again when she was swept along
by the rapid current in the channels. Though the water was so shallow,
it was impossible to get out and push, first because the bottom was
composed of a soft clinging ooze, and second because we saw at least
two sharks during our manoeuvres. Finally, just as it was becoming
too dark to see, we freed ourselves, but by then it was too late to make
Belize, and we had to spend yet another night anchored behind a
mangrove island within sight of the lights of the capital. Next morning
we both had a freshwater shower in Belize before breakfast, and were
at Rendezvous for tea: our first field trip was over.

Chapter Five


David Stoddart Geographer

WHEN we sailed south, after a few days writing notes and drawing up
maps at Rendezvous, Tortuga rode considerably higher in the water
than on our previous journey. We took only a minimum of food and
the essential surveying instruments, to spend a couple of days on Cay
Glory, ten miles south of Rendezvous, before going into Belize for
fresh stores.
Sailing south, the barrier reef extends for mile after mile in a great
gentle curve, interrupted only by three or four narrow gaps. The
weather was excellent, and Johnny decided to take the boat "into the
blue" and sail down outside the reef. We negotiated the outward
passage safely and enjoyed a rapid sail south under a very hot sun.
Cay Glory itself is a mere strip of sand some thirty yards long, rising
perhaps three feet above sea level, with only a mat of creepers and a
single small coco-nut tree at one end for vegetation, and we did not
see it until very close. The reef entrance was narrower than we had
imagined, and much more difficult to pick out from the seaward side
than from the lagoon. As we edged towards it the effect of the swell
became even more pronounced, until Tortuga was caught up in it and
we lost control of speed and even largely of direction. As Tortuga was
lifted up and thrown forward at each surge, we also found that the
gap was shallow and dotted with coral. The aluminium dinghy too


proved troublesome and at one point, caught by the swell, it was nearly
thrown aboard.
Suddenly we were through the gap, and anchoring in four feet of
clear water over a sandy bottom. We collected our notebooks and
rowed ashore: not to survey immediately, but to sleep.
As we lay on the sand we watched the small white sand crabs in
their holes peer out inquisitively, duck back cautiously and then
summon up courage to make a dash across the beach. The slightest
movement or sound was enough to send them back into their holes,
which made it difficult even to take cine film of them. Besides the
crabs and ourselves, there was only one other temporary occupant of
the cay, a Carib fisherman from Stann Creek. The Caribs form one
of the smaller groups in the British Honduras racial melange, and we
met more and more of them as we went farther south. Originating on
St. Vincent and other islands of the Windward group, they revolted
against their French masters toward the end of the eighteenth century,
and fled across the Caribbean, reaching British Honduras quite
recently by way of Ruatan and the Bay Islands of Honduras, spreading
northwards along the coast to form small settlements at Barranco,
Punta Gorda, Stann Creek, Monkey River, Mullins River, and else-
where. They have preserved their own language and a highly dis-
tinctive culture in which the supernatural looms large. Our Carib
had a lot to say as he deftly cleaned his fish and hung them up to dry.
He told us how Cay Glory had received its name from Columbus's
exclamation of joy when he sighted land on his fourth voyage, and
that the Grand Admiral had sailed through this very gap in the reef
and south to Columbus Cay, a long anonymous stretch of mangrove
a few miles away, where he landed. Alas! a myth: Columbus never
came nearer to Cay Glory than Cape Gracias a Dios, over 300 miles
away, and from there he sailed south, not north. Cay Glory has its
own history, however, for it formed one of the outer links in the
defence system of the early English settlement at Stann Creek, and the
Cay Glory Gap, in part possibly artificial, provided a way of escape
to the open sea if the Spanish should attack.
By the time we had talked to our friend, surveyed the island and
made plant collections, it was growing dark. While Johnny rowed
over to Tortuga and collected the tent and cooking equipment, I went

into the sea to make a quick reconnaissance. Within a minute it was
clear that on the north side of the island there was the greatest expanse
of beach rock that we had yet seen, many zones intersecting over a
wide area. Like cay after cay, all along the coast, Cay Glory was slowly
being pushed back by the sea from the edge of the reef. Much of the
beach rock was massive and eroded underneath to form shelters for
crayfish. In one of these holes there were eight or nine, and one giant
came to the front as I approached, to protect the rest. Sharp tussles
with crayfish after crayfish produced nothing but handfuls of antennae,
when suddenly a great blue-grey shape moved past my face mask. I
turned my head and saw a giant ray swim majestically by, slowly
flapping its "wings". They were said to be harmless enough, but there
was something so irresistible about its progress that I resigned myself
to a standard tinned meal that night, left the crayfish to themselves, and
rapidly withdrew.
By this time, Johnny had already erected the tent, and we were
soon heating soup, and frying sausages and beans over the primus. As
we ate we talked over'our plans. There was not enough fresh food
at Rendezvous Cay for an extended trip south along the reef, so before
we could go far we would have to go into Belize for more supplies,
and then sail south as soon as possible, so that we could be back in
time to join John, Paul and Will in a visit to Turneffe and Lighthouse
Reef. Thus the sooner we left Cay Glory the better. On the other hand,
I did not want to leave until we had thoroughly mapped the beach
rock and done all the work we could there, and in the end we decided
to carry on with the survey next morning and go up to Rendezvous
in the afternoon. So much for our plans. The sky was already over-
cast, the wind was rising, and before long rain was beating on our
canvas. As the hours passed, the wind rose and the storm worsened.
The tent was small and, with the rain driving almost horizontally, not
entirely waterproof. Soon the groundsheet was swimming in water,
and Johnny, who had not brought an airbed, spent an uncomfortable
night. Twice he had to go out to Tortuga to make sure that she was
safe in the rising seas. It was little consolation to know that Cay Glory
had, like Rendezvous, once boasted coco-nut palms and a house, but
that all these were swept away, with the island itself, in the hurricane
in 1931.

When morning came, the rain and wind continued. All that day
we lay in the tent, preparing for a long stay as we knew that "Northers"
could last several days. After another miserable night there was still no
change, and food was running short. At noon on the third day we
decided to make a dash for Rendezvous, though we had ten miles to
go and the wind was nearly dead ahead. In a pause in the rain we
packed the tent and took everything out to Tortuga, and as the clouds
closed in again we raised the anchor, started the little outboard motor
and turned north. A tremendous swell was coming through the gap
in the reef, and mist made visibility difficult. After forty-five minutes
we had made half a mile, and at that rate we knew we would run out of
petrol before we reached home. But we pushed on in spite of increasing
rain and sighted Rendezvous through a break in the mist just before
dark. Our petrol ran out as we were negotiating the reefs just south
of the island, but by then we were home. John Thorpe had a huge meal
cooking, and soon we were into dry clothes, trying to convince our
sceptical colleagues of the perils of physiographic field work.
A few days later we set out on a longer trip, taking Dave Carr with
us, and again bad weather delayed us at Cay Glory. As far as Johnny
and I were concerned, we spent longer on Cay Glory than on any
other island except Rendezvous, and felt that of all the cays we visited,
none less merited its name. After some strenuous activity in the heavy
swell we managed to complete the map of the beach rock, though again
the crayfish eluded us, and as soon as the weather improved, Tortuga
sailed south along the inside of the barrier, past Southern Long Cay
and Columbus Cay towards Tobacco Cay.
Tobacco Cay and its neighbours were among the largest sand cays
we saw, and had been settled for many years. Tobacco Cay gained its
name from the fact that tobacco was sorted here before being shipped
to England when the first English settlement was established at Stann
Creek in the seventeenth century. Nowadays it has some dozen houses
and is densely covered with coco-nut trees, beneath which the low
carpet of shrubs and herbs retains something of its original distribution
pattern. South Water Cay was even larger, and much more of it has
been cleared by the Bowman family, who have owned it for over half
a century. Such reputation as the British Honduras coast has had as a
playground for the rich has centred on South Water Cay. A large part


of the island is covered with large, expensive houses surrounded by
ornamental gardens and aligned footpaths. There is even a cracked
concrete tennis court, and a freshwater well oddly enough incorpor-
ated into the tomb of one of the earlier landowners.
It was in the 'thirties that South Water Cay gained some notoriety,
and as we wandered across the tennis court we met a fisherman who
well remembered what went on. While we brushed away the sand-
flies and innumerable red ants, he told us of his experiences as boatman
to Captain Mitchell-Hedges, who built up a reputation for himself as a
dauntless adventurer braving festering jungles and tropic savagery,
and as an archaeologist of renown. So many people doubted his ac-
counts of the former that he felt obliged to bring a lawsuit for libel to
clear himself, which he lost: while the credit for the excavations at
Lubaantun which he initiated and helped to finance should go at least
as much to Dr. Thomas Gann and to Captain Joyce of the British
The cays we had visited so far had all been rather accessible-the
top people of Belize holidayed at St. George's, the Army at Goff's,
while Carrie Bow and South Water were islands in the sun for the
people of Stann Creek. But south of Carrie Bow we could see only a
few scattered mangrove islands far back from the breakers. Our charts
marked another cay a mile away, called Curlew Cay, but when we
went down we found only a small shifting sandbank, with the shape
of the older, larger cay preserved by a rectangle of submerged beach
rock to seaward. Curlew Cay had disappeared in one of the hurricanes
that had devastated cay after cay along the southern reefs.
The next sand cays were over twenty miles to the south, and were
not going to be easy to reach. Beyond Carrie Bow, the barrier reef
swept out into a great elbow, jutting out to sea, enclosing a confused
area of sandbanks, mangrove islands, and ominous patches of reef
marked only on the charts by the words "Very many heads". We
could not afford to lose ourselves (perhaps literally) in this maze, so
Johnny decided to set a compass course to by-pass it. Though we had
the best Admiralty charts, it was only too easy to become confused:
there were so many islands, all looking exactly alike, all presenting a
simple low green mound of mangrove to the sea. It was useless relying
on shape, too: the charts had been made a century and a quarter before


by Captain Owen (who buried his men dead from yellow fever as he
mapped the reefs), and islands not only come and go over that period-
they can change almost beyond recognition. We left Carrie Bow early
in the morning and sailed south-south-east for Douglas Cay and the
Pelican group, then south between Quamino Cay and Tarpum Cay
to Moho Cay and Little Water Cay. The wind was excellent-at least
for that day. If it should stay that way we would have a long journey
As we passed Moho and Little Water, we could see tiny houses on
shore, and indistinctly we could make out the two little dots of the
Queen Cays in the distance-minute specks of sand, each with a fan-
shaped cluster of coco-nut palms, marking an entrance on the barrier
reef. By late afternoon we had reached the reef again after a journey
of nearly thirty miles.
Between Carrie Bow and Queen Cays, the character of the barrier
reef changes completely. To the north it is straight and well-marked,
with few openings, the surf pounding on the living reef which thrusts
up right to the surface of the water. To the south, the reef breaks up.
The great drop from the lagoon shelf to the deep sea is still there-
from twenty feet to 5,ooo feet in three miles-but the reef rarely
reaches the surface, and then only in broken, small, roughly aligned
patches. Yet the cays are all large, and built of coral blocks and shingle
to a greater extent than those in the north. And they have a wilder,
purer aspect. None has been cleared and civilised like South Water
Cay and English Cay. Instead, they are covered by a dense mat of
vegetation which in places is almost impossible to penetrate.
Traces of the Maya still exist on some of the cays, and especially on
Wild Cane Cay which bears signs of having been a settlement of some
importance. There were sizeable mounds and a good collection of
pottery and ornaments which an aged fisherman proudly showed us.
What did these cays look like when the Mayas sailed along the reefs,
trading cacao to Honduras, and when Juan de Alaminos first piloted a
Spanish ship along the Cockscomb coast? The mangrove islands would
look almost the same. The cays would at first sight be almost unrecog-
nisable. The coco-nut tree would be absent-a tree which today is the
popular hallmark of the true coral island. The early Spanish naturalists,
like Oviedo, recorded that in the fifteenth century the coco-nut was

known only on the Pacific coasts of Central America, though it soon
spread rapidly to the Caribbean. All the southern cays are now covered
with dense coco-nut groves or cocal plantations, and periodically they
are visited and harvested.
Alaminos and the Dons would have seen only a low mat of strag-
gling and creeping plants and a few bushes on typical sand cays, if
they were ever noticed at all. The beach morning glory, with its large
trumpet-shaped purple flowers would be visible, the sea-bean and the
sea-purslane underfoot; some grasses; and a little farther from the
sea-shore, low bushes of the sea lavender, with its thick, furry grey-
green aromatic leaves. They might have been intrigued by the bright
red berries of the buttonwood mangrove, and on some cays, then as
now, there may have been bigger migrants from the inland forests,
some perhaps planted by the Maya-mahogany, palmetto, gumbo-
limbo, sapodilla-all dominated by the native sea-grape, with under-
neath a carpet of tall lilies.
Many of the cays have survived hurricane and storm; and may have
been landed on by the conquistadors themselves-certainly by their
successors, the buccaneers, the privateers, the logwood and mahogany
cutters and the planters. Who was Tom Owen, who gave his name
to a pair of cays now washed away-a name transferred to other cays
farther south: Whose ghost is commemorated by the name of Hunting
Cay, a name derived from the Dutch word for a spectre, hontin. Does
the old name "Ranguana" derive from an old Maya or Mosquito
word, or is it simply a version of "Renegado", a name which can be
found on a few early English charts? And if so, who was the renegade?
So we pressed southwards, sleeping on the bare sand beaches under
the stars, with only crabs for company, or in Tortiga, anchored in the
lee of an island. Mapping and collecting, we passed along the cays-
Round Cay, Pompion, Tom Owens, Northeast, Nicolas, Hunting,
Frank's, and so on to the last cay of all on the whole of the barrier reef,
little Ragged Cay, a pile of coral debris surrounded by reef and rough
seas. We sat on blocks of dead coral and ate tinned cheese for lunch,
disturbed only by hordes of truly monstrous hermit crabs. Ragged
Cay turned out to be unique among the cays we saw, and, we liked to
think, symbolic. On it there was one mature and several young
specimens of Pinus caribaea, the pine tree on which David Hunt was


working at Augustine; and just before I left I picked up among the
blocks of coral a large sherd of Maya pottery, encrusted with dead
Porites coral and some algae. With our work on the barrier reef con-
cluded, Ragged Cay seemed to include all facets of the expedition-
botany, archaeology, and our own reef work.
The work may have been over, but the battle was by no means won.
We were almost exactly 100 miles sailing distance south of Rendezvous,
and the wind continued to blow from the north. We had two alterna-
tives. Either we could sail north, the way we had come, and perhaps
make Northeast Cay or Ranguana Cay by nightfall; or we could try to
make the coast, sailing north-westwards and spending the night at Bugle
Cay near Placentia. This would have the advantage that if the northerly
winds continued, we would be able to profit by the southerly winds
that-we were told-always blew along shore during the mornings.
Foolishly, perhaps, we decided to try for Bugle Cay.
Soon we were completely out of sight of land-in itself not very
reassuring in a small and rather leaky boat like Tortuga. During the
afternoon the wind began to strengthen and the waves to rise. Tortuga
made heavy weather of the rising seas: she would rear up on each wave
crest and crash down sickeningly, straining every timber, into the
succeeding trough. I never felt more grateful for the new bottom
that Johnny had put in than I was then. The wind was strong, but did
little to help us, and time after time Tortuga so lost momentum among
the waves that progress almost ceased.
Clouds gathered as night fell, and still no coastline. As best we
could we steered a compass course for Bugle Cay, straining our eyes
to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse. Tortuga was now being thrown
about mercilessly by the waves, and we had to bail frequently, bracing
ourselves to stop being thrown across the boat from one side to the
other. Food was out of the question. Things certainly looked black,
but not impossible. Then there was a crack and the mainsail tore away
from the yard. This had happened to us once before, in high seas off
Belize, on our way out to Rendezvous, and the Customs had sent out
a launch to help us. Then it was broad daylight and Belize only a mile
away; now it was absolutely pitch dark, a storm blowing, and no sign
of land. We got the sail down and Johnny improvised a repair. It was
now difficult to keep a footing on the decks.

We hoisted the mainsail and tried again. There was a sudden ray
of hope. Faintly through the darkness, I saw a light. No. There it
was again-two, three lights! Bugle Cay? What else could it be? Half
an hour later the flickering elusive light had become a great red fiery
glow on the night sky. Somewhere ahead lay the coast, and the forest
was being burnt off for mnilpa fields. Of Bugle Cay we could see nothing.
To Johnny it was the perfect sailor's nightmare: running before the
wind in a gathering storm, in a small open boat, on to an unknown
lee shore. One hour passed; then two; then three. Suddenly we could
pick out a shadow ahead, long and low, merging on either side into the
blackness of the night. We turned south, hoping for an opening, and
ran before the wind. Once we saw the lights of a house, and ran on.
The mangrove stretched on, interminable, unbroken. Time passed.
At last we decided to go in and anchor for the night. Tortuga grounded
on the soft sand, and we put out the anchor. Somehow we managed
to heat soup, as the boat rolled in response to each great wave rolling
towards the shore. Then, drugged with travel sickness tablets, we
snatched a few hours' sleep.
Dawn came, cold, austere, and weary. We were somewhere south
of Placentia, just north of Monkey River Town. The air was still;
the south wind we had been promised did not materialise. With the
little 3 h.p. motor on, we turned north. It took six hours to make
Placentia. The south wind never came. All afternoon we sailed north;
all afternoon Placentia lay in sight behind us. As darkness fell we
anchored off Baker's Rendezvous, a mangrove island a bare twenty
miles from our last night's anchorage: twenty miles in twelve long
hours. Next day we did better. Leaving at dawn, we reached Carrie
Bow by eleven, and sailed on into familiar waters. By four o'clock
that afternoon we reached Rendezvous, at the end of our 200-mile
trip. Never was a rest cure on a tropic island more appreciated.

Chapter Six


David Stoddart Geographer

DURING Tortluga's trips north and south from Rendezvous, we took
time off to go beyond the barrier reef, out to the great reef masses
which rise abruptly six to ten thousand feet from the sea floor. The
largest of these is "Turneffe"-a name probably derived from "Tierra
nueva" of the early settlers, though it is always shown on charts before
the early eighteenth century as "Lamanay". On a clear day we could
see the mangroves of Turneffe extending right along the eastern horizon
seven miles from Rendezvous, separated by a sea channel 6oo feet deep.
At last Johnny and I decided to risk the crossing in Tortuga: after
all, it was a much longer run into Belize, though then land was always
close. We were worried in case bad weather sprang up during the
crossing, as that would make it impossible to re-enter the narrow
gaps in the barrier reef, and if it lasted long could be serious. We
sailed into the blue from Rendezvous by the northern entrance, setting
a course north-eastwards towards the main gap in the mangrove
barrier of the islands, known as Grand Bogue (from the Spanish
boca, meaning a mouth).
The crossing was slow but uneventful and, even though we had the
latest Admiralty chart made from air photographs, it was difficult to
pick the passage out until we were very close. Turneffe is a great group
of islands, mostly mangrove, growing on a reef platform thirty


miles long and ten miles wide at Grand Bogue. On the west side,
which we were approaching, the living reef was submerged, and
though it shallowed gradually as we approached the shore it never
reached the surface. On the east side, facing the deep sea, it is a narrower,
surf-beaten strip rising to sea level, in sharp contrast to the wider, more
diffuse area of coral growth some distance from the shore that we saw
to the west. Facts like these, taken together with the submarine
soundings, convinced us that we were dealing with a reef growing
on a great tilted submarine step, facing out to sea, and that very
probably the other off-shore island reefs were the same.
Grand Bogue is a long narrow river winding between banks of
mangrove and opening into the Southern Lagoon, a vast stretch of
still water dotted with mangrove islands and shoals inhabited only by
herons, terns and boobies. We saw at least four different kinds of
mangroves on Turnceffe, but the one that seemed most common was
the red mangrove, Rhizophora, with shining dark-green leaves and
stilt-roots rising in graceful curves from the water. Usually those near
the edge of the channels and lagoons are small young plants, but
farther back in the older, protected areas, the red mangrove can reach
a height of seventy or eighty feet. It is thought that the stilt-roots play
a large part in trapping sand, silt and all kinds of vegetable rubbish,
which gradually consolidate to form dry land, so that the islands
grow as the stilt-roots of Rhizophora march seawards.
Once dry land is formed, the black mangrove, Avicenmia, takes over.
Very often this looks like an ordinary tree with a gnarled and wrinkled
trunk, except that, instead of stilt-roots plunging down from the
trunk into the soil, its roots force their way upwards, from the soil to
the air, as long pointed shoots, helping the roots to breathe. The white
mangrove, Laguncularia, is much less common than either the red or
the black, but it too has upgrowing "breathing" roots, this time with
clubbed ends. And finally there is the buttonwood, a very ordinary
looking bush that does not really belong to the mangrove swamps at
all, but is at home on the cays and shingle ridges, where it is often cut
by the fishermen and sold as firewood.
It seemed to us as we sailed into the Southern Lagoon that there
was neither rhyme nor reason in the pattern of islands round about.
Drifted by the waves and currents, a sandbank gradually builds up,


and then by chance a mangrove seed lodges on the top and germinates.
Within a few years the bank becomes a thicket and, if a hurricane does
not intervene and sweep it all away, the new island becomes a per-
manent feature. Some of the fishermen have an almost uncanny know-
ledge of the intricate passages and lagoons in the centre of Turneffe;
but it is sometimes said that one may get lost and wander about
looking for an opening for days or even weeks.
The east side of Turneffe is like a barrier reef in miniature. Surf
pounds on the long band of living coral, breaking off great lumps of
rock, grinding them to sand, and sweeping up all the debris to form
cays at breaks in the reef. Close behind the sand cays lies the mangrove
wall, advancing and sometimes nearly touching the cays themselves.
The mangrove is, however, only patchy on this eastern side, for along
the whole length of Turneffe on the seaward side runs an elevated
ridge of coral sand, devoted to coco-nut plantations and carpeted by
giant lilies.
We wanted to survey and map some of the cays on this eastern side,
from the Deadman's Cays in the south, north to Calabash Cays and
Soldier Cay, to Pelican Cay and the unpleasantly named Cockroach
Cay and Dogflea Cay. At Calabash there is a thriving settlement-the
centre of the Turneffe coco-nut trade, where the nuts are collected in
big deep-hulled coco-nut boats and sent to Belize for export. Once it
seemed that sponges would be even more lucrative than coco-nuts,
and the Turneffe sponge beds were famous at the beginning of the
century. On Calabash we met Mr. Berry, a very old, toothless man who
remembered the sponge-fishing days, and told of the calamity when
the sponge beds were wiped out by a fungus disease in 1939. In spite of
his age, he still regularly went out to the sponge beds and he gave us
each a sponge from the collection that he was bleaching near his hut.
In the old days the sponge fishers used to take a large sponge and cut
it into portions, planting each one in a concrete anchor to grow on
the sea bed. Now only Berry's stories and piles of these disused con-
crete plates remain of the industry.
After mapping our way from Pelican Cay southwards to Rope
Walk, we decided to finish with the Deadman group, a cluster of four
cays in the south-east. Whom the name commemorates we never found
out, though there is a tradition of buried pirate treasure in Turneffe


which has attracted several expeditions and may have something to
do with it; but for us it was to prove ominously significant. We had
reached the cays through a narrow twenty-foot gap in the eastern reef,
and to get out we had to pass through this gap again. True, there was a
narrow lagoon between the mangrove and the reef for many miles,
but it was generally too shallow for our dinghy, never mind Tortuga.
It was soon clear that we had a difficult job ahead. Tortuga was heavily
loaded, and we were towing the aluminium dinghy filled with
specimens and some equipment. There was no surf in the gap itself,
but big waves were rolling through continuously without breaking,
and we would have to time our departure finely.
Johnny gave the order to get the sails up, and then started the motor.
We made straight for the gap. It was no use. In the heavy swell we
made no progress at all. With each wave Tortuga's stern lifted bodily
out of the water and the engine raced angrily. Somehow we turned
about in the gap itself and got back to the lagoon to think it out. We
decided to make an oblique approach, cutting diagonally through the
gap. This would lessen the effect of the waves on the engine, and help
us to use the wind better. It was very nearly disastrous.
All went well till we were nearly through the channel. Then a
succession of big waves hit us. We saw the first coming and braced
ourselves for the impact. I was holding a sheet; Johnny was at the
tiller. The first passed us; the second broke over us, showering water
into the cockpit. Soaked, Johnny shouted "Watch out for the third!"
as I looked behind him. "The dinghy-it's swamped." Our aluminium
boat was full to the gunwales with water, and precious botanical
specimens were already floating away. Just then the third wave hit us.
Tortuga herself was badly awash now, and the dinghy, completely
overrun, turned turtle and sank at the end of her ten-foot line.
A sunken boat makes an excellent anchor, and Tortugajust managed
to stand still with the motor at full throttle. The waves came a little
less violently, but still.badly enough to send us staggering across the
decks as they hit. Worse-the reef itself was near. In the confusion we
had been swept almost on to the rock. Suddenly, as the boat was
lifted up on to the crest of a wave, a great piece of jagged staghorn
coral rose up out of the trough immediately in front, less than a yard
away. We bumped heavily on to the reef . once . twice . .


then we were off. If we had stuck in that surf it would have been the
end of the story.
Shouting, we held a council. "Shall I cut it loose'" asked Johnny-
at least that way we could save Tortuga. But it was out of the question
-the dinghy was only on loan, and we had already lost the oars in the
maelstrom. There was nothing for it but to go over the side and right
it. I took the tiller and Johnny went over among the breakers, down
to the dinghy. Somehow I managed to keep Tortuga off the reef for
the few precious minutes while he struggled with the waterlogged
boat. Then it was upright, tied as close as could be to Tortuga's stem,
and Johnny was clambering back, completely exhausted.
From there we made slow but steady progress and, as soon as we
could, got back into the Southern Lagoon and rested for a long time.
Then we emptied the dinghy and poled her back up the shallow channel
to Deadman's Cays again, this time well inside the reef and away from
dangerous gap, to see what we could salvage from the wreckage. The
specimens were all gone, and so was my precious geological hammer,
but at last we found the oars, deep among the stilt-roots of the mangrove
near the gap, first one, then the other. With the rather macabre thought
that it might have been us who in future would justify Deadman's
name, we turned back for Rendezvous.
After this interlude it was out of the question to try to make
Lighthouse Reef or Glover's Reef in our small boat. Mr. Marshall,
the Comptroller of Customs, came to the rescue by offering us a lift
out to Half Moon Cay on a Customs boat taking out lighthousemen,
and soon we found ourselves back at Turneffe. We stopped for a
time at the northern cays, first at Mauger, then at Cockroach before
leaving for Half Moon. Mauger Cay takes its name, again, from the
activities of the buccaneers, for it was here that women captives
(mujeres) were brought by the pirates after they sacked Bacalar in the
seventeenth century. Then on to Lighthouse Reef-a great open ring
of coral fourteen miles beyond Tumrneffe, with two large cays in the
north and two in the south. It is built on just such a submarine step as is
Turneffe, and two miles from its eastern reefs the sea is over a mile deep.
Half Moon Cay is the most beautiful on the whole coast. We
approached from the north-east, and saw a great arc of white sand a
thousand yards long, surmounted by rows of graceful coco-nut trees.

Black sim~pper-s: temIcr ss intlin iiqLisi t i fiSh

TheV LunxPe~t td 1man ireeC

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(losC-11p OfthrICC il'diViLuiM1 arrinrlAS OfrIC tu~bC cor.i (Jad( dor)- arbffm-ul,
mnagnified aholit 2so times. BatliC Of Stpp -ar s dark dlots
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Fourii-fot lIoggcrhcal. turtie, with barn~iIc Is and SLICkcv di~


We went ashore, climbed the steep beach ridge, and looked down
on the seaward bay, even more magnificent, edged by great plates of
emerged beach rock and coral conglomerate. The heavy seas exploded
continuously on the rock in brilliant bursts of glistening spray, while
the rock itself was coated with the most vivid green, orange brown and
purple algae.
At one end of the island stands the Lighthouse, built ninety years
ago on the site of the colony's first lighthouse, which the Baymen
erected to guide the packets from Jamaica and New Orleans in 1829.
In an account of the great new structure published at the time, one of
the settlers speaks of the Half Moon Cay ghost, said to be a violent
bloody-visaged spectre who prowled the island at night to protect a
vast buried treasure hidden there by buccaneers long ago.
On a later interview on B.H.B.S., Paul enjoyed telling the story of
an eerie encounter he had one night on Half Moon Cay. "I was feeling
restless," he said, "and got up about 2 a.m. for a walk in the fresh air.
As I emerged from the tent I saw a white figure moving slowly among
the trees. Suddenly the moon which had been hidden behind a cloud,
reappeared and illuminated the whole scene. To my horror the figure
turned its head in my direction and I saw it had a 'red visage' as
described in the ghost story. Worst of all, it began to move towards
me. I stared, rooted to the spot, but my relief was untold when I saw
that it was only David in his pyjamas, his red hair and beard glowing
in the moonlight."
Soon after we arrived we went exploring in the thick bush at the
west end of the island, where the trees swarmed with iguanas and
wishwillies. These are large "dragon-like" reptiles, the former orange
and black striped and the latter black and grey, both growing up to
four feet in length from snout to tail.
The iguanas were regularly caught and either taken to Belize to
be sold for two or three dollars, or else eaten on the cay. Their flesh is
extremely palatable and for this reason they are known as "bamboo
chicken", but the meat of the wishwilly is not so tasty and is never
eaten. The name "wishwilly" only seems to be given to this particular
animal (Ctenosaura similis) in B.H.
As we pushed through the trees, we came across a large iguana
perched precariously on an upper branch of a small tree about ten feet


from the ground. His large saucer-like eye followed us closely, but
otherwise he remained perfectly still.
"You stand beneath him, Paul, while I shake him down," said
Will. "Then grab him before he gets away," he added hopefully. Will
gave the branch a vigorous shake and the iguana came tumbling down
to earth with a thud, but with a display of agility surprising from such
an ungainly looking animal, it shot away through the bushes before
anyone could so much as raise a finger.
The fishermen on the cay employ less crude methods for catching
iguanas and so meet with much more success. They use a ten-foot long
pole, at the end of which is secured a string noose. It is a relatively simple
matter to approach the animal which seems almost hypnotised by the
piece of string waving in front of it, slip the noose over its head, and
with a quick jerk bring it to the ground. Perhaps the iguana, intent
upon watching the man, takes no notice of the noose as it is gently
moved closer and closer.
Later we set out to try this for ourselves, and before long Paul had
pulled down a fairly large wishwilly. He swung gently from side to
side in the noose, pretending to be quite dead, only his eyes giving any
signs of life, and even when placed on the ground he did not stir a
Pressing him firmly to the ground, Will slipped off the noose, released
him, and away the animal darted through the bushes at top speed.
Will stared after him thoughtfully and muttered to himself that a
couple of those creatures would look fine in Dublin Zoo. When we
left Half Moon, we took with us a wriggling, bouncing sack contain-
ing one large wishwilly and one large iguana which were later released
on Rendezvous.
The idea was to recapture them when the time came to leave the
country, and send them by air to Ireland from Belize. In the mean-
time, there was an abundance of succulent mangrove leaves for them
to chew on the cay, and we imagined that they would be quite happy.
However, two hours after we had given them their restricted free-
dom, the only trace on the island of the iguana was a row of regular
footprints leading from the bushes where we had left him, down the
strip of white sand and into the sea. Well beyond the edge of the sur-
rounding reef we saw a tiny head bobbing up and down between the


waves as the creature struggled manfully on towards a distant mangrove
The early Spanish chroniclers were usually rather overwhelmed by
the prolific scenes of the New World, and the iguana's amphibious
habits posed something of a problem to Oviedo in 1526:
". . it is not yet known whether they be beastes of the lande or fyshes,
because they lyve in the water, and wander in the woddes and on the
It provided a happy solution for the Church inland however, where
iguana flesh-which seemed to be half fish anyway-provided a ready
substitute for real fish in Lent and other fasts.
For many days afterwards the wishwilly was contentedly perched
on his black mangrove tree, but there came a time when we saw him
no more. Presumably, Rendezvous Cay had not suited him either, and
despite the risks of a perilous sea journey he had followed his friend.
And as far as we know, Dublin Zoo is still without an iguana or a
The little brown anolid lizards so common on Rendezvous were
also very abundant here. On most palms at least one could be seen
either peering out from amongst the leaves at the top of the tree or
else running up and down the trunk, pausing frequently to nod his
head in a jerky up and down movement and display the bright yellow
and orange throat fan. It was a fairly simple job to catch them with
a small nylon noose on the end of a long thin stick, provided of course
that they were within reach. Like the iguanas, they would watch the
noose with interest but not with alarm, as it was passed over their
head, and by the time they realized that we had hostile intent it was
too late. We had been told to whistle a gentle tune as we approached
our prey on account of the soothing effect it had upon the lizard, but
we found that if anything, they ran away rather than stay to be soothed
by our melodies.
Living side by side with the brown lizards and iguanas, though not
in such great numbers, was another small lizard, bright green in colour
and of great interest to us. He was, however, a very shy creature, and
usually the only glimpse that we had of him was as he scuttled up a
palm trunk, alarmed at our approach. We tried several times to knock
one down with towels, sticks and stones, but we were unsuccessful.


His name is Anolis allisoni, and he is of interest on account of his
curious distribution. This creature has never been found anywhere
on the Central American mainland and indeed is only recorded at one
other place-Ruatan Island in the Bay Island group, situated some
thirty miles north of the coast of the Republic of Honduras. Closely
related forms are found in Cuba, Bahamas, Swan Islands, Hispaniola
and in certain parts of south-west U.S.A., but the restriction of
A. allisoni to just two well-separated and rather remote islands in the
Caribbean poses an intriguing and unsolved problem.
At the southern end of the island there was a colony of pink-footed
boobies, whose nests were in the upper branches of the low shrub-like
trees, none more than twenty feet from the ground. These birds, closely
related to the gannet, provided a great attraction for us all, especially
for Will, whose cameras whirred and clicked almost continually.
The tameness of these interesting birds borders almost on stupidity.
We climbed among their nests quite freely and did not suffer attack
even from those nests which contained young. When we made to
touch them, however, they resented our actions and delivered a sharp
peck which frequently drew blood. We came across one attractive
youngster, as fluffy as a lump of cotton-wool, with a coal-black face
and a pair of wide eyes which blinked at us in curiosity and suspicion
as he sat all alone upon his nest of loose twigs. His mother could have
been any one of the white birds which glided gracefully above us, and
the father was presumably many miles away fishing. At twilight he
would return and the eager chick, thrusting his beak inside that of
his parent, would be awarded tasty morsels of regurgitated fish.
Will rapidly scaled the tree and began filming. The young bird
proved to be a most obliging model, for with a little persuasion he
continually bowed his head, looked from side to side and peered into
the camera lens. With effort he staggered to his feet and looked more
closely at us, swaying as he attempted to preserve his balance. His
webbed feet were black in colour but later, when the bird reached
maturity, they would assume the characteristic pink.
"Could you reach over and pick him up?" cried Will, one eye
screwed up behind the view-finder. Paul, who was standing beside
Will, mildly antagonising the bird, stretched out a tentative hand
towards it, clinging on to a convenient branch with the other. At first


the young booby pecked furiously at the intruder, but soon calmed
down as he was gently fondled. Then Paul made to lift him out of the
nest, but the bird had different ideas. He clung desperately to the nest
with his feet, spiritedly resisting every attempt to dislodge him, and
his long wings bearing few feathers and having weak muscles flapped
erratically at his sides, giving him a most ungainly appearance. He began
to peck vigorously again, but after a brief and exciting struggle he was
removed, still feverishly grasping a few twigs with his toes, and was
gently carried to the ground for further pictures. Will clapped his
hands to his forehead in despair, remarking that the foregoing scene
with all its chaos and confusion would be sufficient to make Peter
Scott wince in anguish.
Shortly afterwards, the little hero of the piece was returned to his
home none the worse for wear, and as we moved off, he showed not
the slightest concern, but sat there composed, patiently awaiting
twilight and supper.
As we continued with our work on the reefs and filming the boobies,
the weather worsened; it was Cay Glory all over again, though in more
congenial surroundings. Mr. Young, the lighthouse keeper, confirmed
our thoughts. "Yes, it's a Norther-you're here for another five or six
days yet."
By now our food supplies were running low and we were reduced
at one time to a sickening gruel of boiled cereal and jam; but our
fishermen friends soon came to the rescue with more gifts of fish than
we could eat.
Since we were confined to Half Moon Cay, Paul and I decided to
find out what people did there apart from fishing. One morning we
went to see Karl, sitting in the shelter of a pile of lobster pots, cheer-
fully and patiently cracking open coco-nuts with his machete and
collecting the water from them in a bucket. By his side a metal stake
was fixed in the ground, and against it the nuts had been struck in
order to remove the outer fibrous husk-a process known as "huck-
sing". Karl explained how the white coco-nut flesh, or copra, was
grated, then boiled in water for a few hours in order to extract the
clear oil which separated out and floated to the surface. The oil so
produced is used chiefly for cooking, and was sold in Belize at twelve
dollars for forty-eight pints. This works out at about two cents per nut,

and Karl was staggered when we told him that a single nut might cost
the equivalent of fifty cents in England!
I asked what happened to the water. "De hogs," explained Karl,
and he pointed to a sty a few yards away where a huge sow grovelled
and snorted.
There is very little waste from the coco-nut. The husk makes an
excellent fuel for domestic purposes, and the residue from the boiling
process is again given to "de hogs" which clearly play an important
part in the economy of Half Moon Cay.
Down by the water's edge, and hanging across long horizontal
poles to dry, were row upon row of salted fish-evidence of the
recent labours of the hard-working fishermen.
Up wind from the fish we spoke to Robbie and his friends, who
stood, well clothed on account of the hard weather, about an old oil
drum which was used as a husk-fired oven, and from which there arose
a most appetising smell. They were baking Johnny-cakes . a
simple mixture of flour, salt and lard-so called because of the "journey
cakes" that the men of the notorious Captain Morgan took with them
when they crossed the Isthmus for the sack of Panama in 1668.
Because of the bad weather we could make only one brief trip to
the north end of the reef, but we had one short swim close to the
island in order to look at the massive beach rock formations. Entering
the water some distance behind the others, I was confronted with two
monstrous barracuda which swam either side of me, raising and drop-
ping their lower jaws in a disturbing manner. They came so close that I
could clearly see several small, black crustacean parasites scuttling in
and out of the wicked looking teeth, and I thought of the unfortunate
person who had lost his foot to a similar fish a few months previously
on Turneffe.
Their presence accelerated my decision to make the swim a brief
one, but no one else saw the two creatures.
After six days on Half Moon we felt that we would have to go;
the possibilities of that one island were almost endless, but we had a
lot more to do. So we persuaded Thomas Young to take us back to
Belize in his fishing boat. Dazed by seasick pills, I remembered little
of the sixty-mile trip, but all of us remembered Half Moon as the
highlight of our work on the reef.

Chapter Seven


David Hunt Botanist

THE Coat of Arms of British Honduras, with its tree, woodcutter, axe
and saw, reflects how the economy of the colony from the time of the
first settlers to the present day has depended on the natural resources
of its forests. During the Maya civilisation, when the country supported
perhaps a million people, most if not all of the primaeval forests were
cleared patch by patch to provide land for building and allotments or
milpas for cultivation; but in the thousand or so years since those
times a rich secondary forest has returned, now quite far advanced
towards maturity and covering about two-thirds of the country. A
further quarter of the country is pine savanna today, and the remainder
mangrove swamps, agricultural land and abandoned cultivation.
The first tree to be cut by the settlers was logwood, which yields
the dye Haematoxylin, originally very expensive but now completely
declined in importance with the invention of synthetic aniline dyes.
As the value of logwood fell, mahogany became the chief export,
and in recent years has been worth $2,ooo,ooo B.H. (500oo,ooo)
annually. (See Chapter Thirteen.) Other important timbers are pine,
West Indian cedar, rosewood and Santa Maria. Exports of pine,
which go chiefly to the West Indies are currently worth about
$1,ooo,ooo B.H. a year. A whole host of other potentially valuable
hardwoods, such as balsa, await exploitation. Of the remaining

forest industries, the most lucrative is the tapping of the Sapodilla tree
for its latex, chicle, which is the basis of chewing-gum. (See also
Chapter Thirteen.)
Over the northern half of the country which is low-lying and flat,
dense forest containing the valuable hardwoods occurs on the more
fertile soils and as belts along the creeks and rivers, but on many of the
terraces between the rivers, the poorer soil supports a characteristic
savanna or grassland with shrubs and pine trees, known locally as
"pine ridge". The word "ridge" in this sense means a strip or patch of
vegetation of a particular type, not necessarily associated with a geo-
graphical feature. Some say it is a survival of logcutting days when the
prized logwood was often found growing in swampy ground between
low ridges bearing forest. The pattern of vegetation in the north is
repeated along the ten miles wide southern coastal belt also. Inland of
this coastal plain and south of the Belize River is upland country with
the Maya Mountains forming a curved backbone. The highest point,
about 3,700 feet above sea level, is Victoria Peak, standing in the out-
lying Cockscomb Range to the east. To the west of the Maya Moun-
tains lie the Bald Hills, the Mountain Pine Ridge, and the finest scenery
in British Honduras.
It was my aim to make a botanical description of these pine ridges
and to study the pines themselves. Some people find it surprising that
pine is found at all in the tropics, thinking of it as confined to cooler
climates. In fact it extends well into tropical latitudes in both the New
World and the Old, but only occurs naturally in the northern hemi-
sphere. One species (Pinus merkusii) reaches almost to the equator in the
highlands of Sumatra. The characteristic pine of British Honduras
(Pinus caribaea) reaches farther south than any other of the American
pines, extending into Nicaragua to within a few miles of Bluefields, at
12, N. The type of open forest which it forms is also found in the
Republic of Honduras and in part of Guatemala, but it is otherwise
uncharacteristic of Central America.
Soon after my arrival I was taken under the wing of the government
Forest Department, who arranged for me to make a prolonged visit
to their station, Augustine, which lies some ninety miles by road from
Belize at the western edge of the Mountain Pine Ridge. My boxes of
plant collecting equipment, kit, and stores for the first month were


loaded on to the department's truck with drums of gasoline and goods
for the commissary, and, driven by Mr. Gay Hope, we set off one
steamy afternoon down the Western Highway. We had not been going
long when I began to wish I could take some photographs of the man-
groves, but having already caused a delay I hardly like to ask to stop.
Almost immediately the truck's fan-belt broke, and while a spare was
fitted I got my pictures. As the land began to rise a few feet above sea
level, the mangroves gave way to sedges and scrubland and then flat
open grassland with clans of palmetto palms and scattered stunted
trees. The dreary, infertile landscape was relieved only by the hump
of low limestone hills known as Gracie Rock which rise sharply from
the plain to the south of the road about fifteen miles from Belize.
Throughout the savannas the vegetation showed evidence of more or
less recent burning. On slightly higher and drier ground there were
pines and the richer pine ridge vegetation of shrubs and herbs. The
road gradually became narrower, potholes appeared and grew deeper,
until suddenly the road decided to do without its mantle of tarmac and
became a dirt road of tremendous width. Equally abruptly the pine
ridge was replaced by the dense jungle of broad-leafed trees and palms
festooned with lianas and epiphytes locally known as "high bush".
One of the most conspicuous plants throughout the high bush is the
Cohune palm, whose leaves can be as long as fifty feet and are the
largest of any American plant. A high grade cooking oil is obtained
from the kernel of the Cohune nut, the shell of the nut has a variety of
uses, and the leaves are commonly used for thatching. The plant may
be spared where forest is to be cleared for ranching, as had been the
case at several points along our route.
We made a brief stop for a cold drink at the village of Roaring
Creek nearly fifty miles from Belize. The thriving little cafe there
derives its success, as its name-Midway Caf6-suggests, from its
strategic position not only on the Cayo road but also just beyond the
intersection of the Hummingbird Highway to Stann Creek. From
Roaring Creek the road, now metalled again, runs fairly close to the
Belize River, its meanderings sometimes visible from a vehicle, and the
area is relatively thickly populated with small farms, a reminder of the
not-so-far-off days when the river was the sole means of communi-
cation with Belize. Opposite a small shop hopefully tied "Mexican



based on fear, and it was easy to imagine some form of ritual taking
place here in the dim light of flickering lamps which cast eerie shadows
into the corners of the cave, and so placed as to show us the crouching
figure to the best advantage.
The expedition made quicker time on the return journey, and the
cave was left again to the bats, whose droppings, as Dave had found
as he wandered round in bare feet and a plastic mac, made a beautifully
soft carpet.
They visited other caves near the pine ridge, some having small
narrow passages opening out into wonderful chambers with beautiful
formations of stalagmites and stalactites. All that they entered con-
tained fragments of huge vessels, and in some were plastered walls and
It is difficult to assess the function of these caves, though Mr.
Anderson has been doing a lot of work in them, and some of the
problems should be solved. Some, such as the first one, perhaps had a
religious purpose, but whether they were ever lived in is uncertain.
They contained pottery of the Classic period, though not exclusively
(see Chapter Nine), and so their occupation lasted over a period of
years. They may have been places which were occupied by the Mayas
on their treks across country, but an air of mystery surrounds them all.
Apart from a brief visit to Melinda Forest Station near Stann
Creek, to see if there were any striking differences between the pine
and pine ridge down there and that around Augustine, I remained in
the Mountain Pine Ridge until Christmas. I had intended to stay for
some weeks at Melinda after Christmas, but this became impossible
because of a shortage of accommodation, and instead I decided to go
farther south to Mango Creek where, I was promised, the insect
atmosphere must be inhaled to be believed. I made the seventy-mile
journey from Belize by the small M.V. Heron, which plies twice weekly
to and from the southernmost village of Punta Gorda and on to Puerto
Barrios in Guatemala, chugging unhurriedly down the coast inside the
inner line of cays. Near midnight and ten hours from Belize we
reached Placentia, the alighting point for Mango Creek. The few
passengers and a little cargo were transferred to a barge, and after a
characteristic unexplained hold-up of two hours we were towed away
through a maze of channels and mangrove islands until another hour

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