My first trip to Belize was in December 2011 through January 2012. It was partially a vacation (since I hadn’t been on vacation in almost 7 years!) and partially a small test my boyfriend, Matt, and I were putting out there. If we survive traveling in Belize for a month, we can survive anything – right?
Happily, we not only survived Belize (Oh, we fought, but not much. And the ever present rum punch helped a lot!) but we thrived in the gorgeous tropical Central American climate. After the first few days, we drove from the north and went south, through Belmopan. From the Hummingbird Highway there were a couple signs for a local Farmers Market. We pulled over with no hesitation, as it was hot and we were in desperate need of something cool to drink and eat. After passing a few stalls, I saw a woman dressed all in black and gesticulating wildly. “The wild yams, mama!”, she shouted to a customer. “The wild yam are powerful stuff, mommy!”
Her booth was bursting at the walls with dried and fresh herbs. Elixirs of flower waters, oils and teas were in heaps for sale to anyone who dare go in to learn about the magical jungle plants. I practically pushed past my Matt to enter the booth, eager to meet this incredible woman who obviously was as excited about plants as I am.
I’m a botanist specializing in horticulture and agriculture, but the jungle was something I was seeking out and wanted to learn more about. I’ve spent the past 13 years doing landscape design and propagating plants – but things like succulents and flowers, nothing like what grows in the jungle. Within a few moments of meeting “Mommy” Janice, a local bush medicine healer, we realized we were each in the company of some real plant dorks!
Since that day in Belmopan, Janice and Rabi (her husband, also a bush medicine healer) Bain and I have been great friends. After that trip, we kept in touch via email, and when I went back for another month this past October/November, we spent more time together. This time, we left the farmers market and drove to a little town (towards San Ignacio) called Valley of Peace. There she showed us their property where they plant and hand-harvest jungle herbs. Lush, healthy, gorgeously green vegetation like wild Yam root, Soursap, Lemon grass and Ipomea (Morning Glory vine) grow in abundance. Janice and Rabi taught me about how to make sun-teas, how to properly brew dry root and how to store medicinal seeds and pods. Their knowledge was absolutely impressive and so inspiring. We swapped garden stories, techniques and how we each found ourselves in the vast world of plants.
I still hear from Janice almost every week. She got a cell phone and when she is in range and out of the jungle we text (Yes! Text!). When little messages like this pop up on my phone, I get sublimely happy:
“Jenn my goddess! It rained last nite, every living ting around us is in awesome glory rite now. Joy to u and Matt. Ja”