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"News from the Cayo"

Informative, thoughtful, hopefully moderately entertaining "reflections" and opinions on daily happenings around the world. Including but not excluding everything from Political "double-talking heads", beautiful people, the piggish, the cool, the decidedly uncool, the shameful, beautiful and the sublime. Everything and anything are grist for my personal mill and it only works if i hear and listen to you all as well, so please participate. When you see the absurdity, beauty and or disagree with what i say let me know in whatever format you wish...That is the key and my personal impetus for doing this...

Miss Pia Durham and the Mighty Amazon

My first conversation with Miss Pia occurred via email. It went like this: Dear miss Pia, I found your name in a group of healers taught in the Cayo by a Rosita Arvigo, i have some...Issues, and i was wondering if maybe i could get together with you for a consultation to see whether or not you could help me? Best, Michael A couple of day's later i received my response from Pia which said, "i am sorry i didn't get back to you sooner, but i was with patients for the last couple of days and i never interrupt treatment to pick up my messages. Please call me at such and such tomorrow morning"......

My first conversation with Miss Pia occurred via email. It went like this: Dear miss Pia, I found your name in a group of healers taught in the Cayo by a Rosita Arvigo, i have some...Issues, and i was wondering if maybe i could get together with you for a consultation to see whether or not you could help me? Best, Michael A couple of day's later i received my response from Pia which said, "i am sorry i didn't get back to you sooner, but i was with patients for the last couple of days and i never interrupt treatment to pick up my messages. Please call me at such and such tomorrow morning". Tomorrow morning was last Thursday, so fresh out of bed at my usual 5:30 am with the singing of Birds of the rain forest, i got up, had my pot o coffee, watched all the talking heads talk for a time and then set off for my morning run on the Western highway. Now running on a road is always interesting, but i make it more exciting by running against the traffic. This may seem crazy, but my logic and experience in almost 3 decades of running is that if i am going to be hit by a vehicle then i want to see it coming. That being said, the Western highway is kind of like running on the 405 fwy. the day after the dreaded "carmageddon". It is a veritable obstacle course, and although my running gait usually affixes my eyes to the ground, the whizzing of cars, trucks, big trucks, oil trucks, propane trucks, motor scooters and the occasional bicycle command me to look straight into my immediate horizon. You see, i live about 4 mi. from the border of Guatemala and the Western Highway is the only way to pass through Belize to the border. After my run i dialed up miss Pia and her phone went right to voicemail (BTW, the Central American phone company BTL, who are of course owned by the British, who is in turn owned by none other than our good buddies at British Petroleum have the monopoly on phone service in my adopted country), so i left a message saying i would call later on. i figured i would walk down to town and visit my friend Dave the Scottish fish monger in his "man cave". I had visited Dave a few day's back and he told me that he did sell snapper and tilapia (a hot commodity in the Cayo), but the purpose of the "man cave" (which at first in his Scot's brogue i thought was Mein Cav) was to hang out play some cribbage ("you do play cribbage, right"? He asked) and smoke a pipe. I explained to Dave that i don't play cribbage and i have never used tobacco products. I had to laugh when he said, "you will". As i sat there in the "man cave" i remembered i needed to call Miss Pia, but A: i had no phone on me (well i used to have a phone on me. I had bought it in Belize City a couple of weeks ago and it made it all the way to the Cayo. Unfortunately, i jumped into the pool with it and i discovered that cell phones don't really dry out very well... and B: Even if i had had the phone, i had forgotten Miss Pia's phone number back at the homestead. As i looked around the "man cave" i did see all sorts of interesting things. The mandatory fish receptacle was there of course, but in and about the "cave" were also Books ( Clancy, King, Follett,), spent bottles of pop, pipe tobacco,several deck of cards from various gambling establishments throughout the world, a first aid kit, and low and behold a sign saying, Miss Pia Durham-Therapeutic massage. God will provide. I asked Dave the Scottish fish monger if i could use his non-nautical cell phone, dialed up Miss Pia Durham and set up a "consultation" for nine Friday morning. I then asked for directions, which she gave to me like this: Go over the bridge into the town of Santa Elena (easy enough), walk up the highway until you reach the three flags market. When you reach the market go left, then make your second left. My house is the wooden two story at the end of the street (every house in the Cayo is a two story at the end of one street or the other). "I can't run, but I can walk much faster" "Santa Elena, A tale of the twin cities" When you enter downtown San Ignacio (my town), one thing will occur to you immediately. The town itself is rather rundown, but man do the residents seem like a bunch of happy campers. It took me a while to understand what everyone was so happy about, but then it hit me. These folks live here not for the addiction of having to live in a place (like Los Angeles or New York for instance), but the people in the little town of San Ignacio, Belize as well as the folks who live in the hills surrounding it live here because they simply love it. I know it sounds simplistic and perhaps even, God forbid idealistic, but this was confirmed by life long resident and local entrepreneur Iris Mummad who tells me, "yes, i have been to Chicago before, but i couldn't wait to get back to the simple life in the Cayo". The second thing that may occur to you not so readily is that there are lots of white people. Belize is made up of five rather distinct and immediately recognizable Ethnic/cultural/Religious groups. The native Beliziens, the Mayans, the Mestizo Indians, the Mexicans and of course the Mennonites...Wait, the Mennonites? Yes, it's true. the Mennonites (think Amish-polygamist-house builders) are an industrious bunch and have the monopoly on wooden home construction in Belize. They live in an area called Spanish Lookout which is an expanse of beautiful farm land in which cows and sheep dot the landscape. Let's say you are an American who decides to come to Belize in order to live the good life on the cheap. You purchase 8 acres for maybe 8,000 Bz and then look around at the environment to figure out what to do about getting a home built on the parcel you just purchased. Go to any building emporium in Spanish Lookout and the Mennonites will be more than thrilled to sell you a Log cabin type home for about 30,000US. They build it on their farm and then literally truck it through the streets of San Ignacio and drop it on your property. Sounds pretty simple, right? of course the "devil is indeed in the details". What they don't tell you is that once they Make the drop, you are responsible for everything, and i mean everything else. You like running water? The plumbing must be extended from the Macal river to your home. Need electricity? Well, the electricity company is open Tuesday and Friday from 1-3. Cable T.V.? Don't ask. I think you get the picture. I did forgot about one very important group of people. Throughout the country are scattered Markets. When i say markets i am not referring to Costco or Sam's Club, I mean markets. Shops where you by goods like paper towels, napkins, canned goods, rice, beans, dog food (if you actually feed dogs. More on that later), assorted cosmetics for the ladies and of course Hanes brand men's undies. The Chinese folks run the markets in a very subdued and almost resentful way. Beliziens come and go from the markets without a nod or acknowledgement from the Asians behind the counter in a strange little dance of disassociation. Funny... As many Chinese folks as i have seen behind the counters in the markets, i have never seen one walking down the street or driving a car. They must have a big club house somewhere in the Cayo, but like Groucho famously said, "i would never want to be in any club that would have me as a member". Or something like that. White people dot the rundown landscape of downtown San Ignacio. When I first arrived in Belize the customs official looked at me and said, "what are you doing in MY country sir". I said, well i was thinking i would maybe move here. He looked at me incredulously and said, "oh really, where do you think you might want to live"? I told him and he said, "well sir, i would suggest you look at this country thoroughly before you ever consider moving here permanently" as he abruptly stamped my passport and said brusquely, "you have 30 days". I was a bit put off buy his condescending tone until i befriended my first local who after telling my story to him said, "you have to remember that a lot of Americans come to this country to escape the long arm of the law". I understood after his comment that the beliziens don't want you to live here, they want you to spend money here. The white people that dot the rundown landscape of San Ignacio town? That's what they do...Spend Mucho Dinero. Everyone (all the American, Canadian and European folks) who occupy town are going on "adventures", basically "on a road to nowhere". Tikal, Caracol, Cave tubing, Xunantunich are all wonderful places to go, but you would have to pay ME to sit on a bus for four hours with a group of tourists. Anyway, i think you get my point. The town of Santa Elena couldn't be more different than it's twin town of San Ignacio. "The incredible indelible ant" In his book "Before the Swarm", Nicholas Griffin tells a fascinating tale of the superhuman, sociologically advanced Argentinian ant. The Indiana Jones of entomology Mark Moffett believes that the Argentinian ants are the only animal species other than humans that have learned to manage societies with billions of members. They have turned their superorganisms into what some scientists including Moffett, call supercolonies. Argentine nests have expanded by territorial conquest over four continents. Devastating other ant species along the way. When they reached the United States by steamer in the 1890's, there wasn't a true competitor in sight. A hundred and twenty years later, the unimaginatively named "very large colony of Southern California" had approximately i trillion members. It is one of four Argentine-ant colonies in the Golden State, and they are constantly waring with each other; each one derived from a separate, tiny colony back in Argentina. In Southern California, biologist David Holloway of the University of California estimates that the Argentine wars claimed as many as 30 million lives last year, between two of the colonies alone. their bodies lie in three-deep piles in San Diego suburbs under the grass of mowed lawns. This lesson in remarkable worker, warmonger, slave and master aptly describes the social interactions that go on between the tourist/Love and peace folks in San Ignacio and the worker, pro-union mentality in working class twin town Santa Elena. As i made my way to Miss Pia's early Friday morning that was my thought as i transversed the Hawksworth bridge into Santa Elena proper. Judging by Miss Pia Durham's directions i figured it would take me right around an hour to walk there. I could take the bus for $1.00US, but i tend to be extremely cheap when it comes to my personal well being and/or comfort. Walking up the hill into town i observed all the belizen ants hurriedly going to their various outposts to fight yet another day, sometimes pausing mid-stride to pick up a burrito or granache from a food cart to fill the void. My appointment was for 9 a.m. and around the 8:30 mark i was a little concerned about not reaching the 3 flags market, so i asked a gentleman fellow traveler if he knew how much further down the highway the market was. He looked me over carefully and said "sir the market es down there a far ways. it would be more better if you take the bus". Stubborn guy that i am i was even more determined to arrive at Miss Pia's on foot. About that time i was joined by a sweet little dog, who from his collar i learned was named Shrimpy. Shrimpy is what we call in this part of Belize a "Cayo mutt". The care of dogs in Belize at this time in a very depressed economy is dicey at best. You see Lot's of canines wandering the streets un-collared and a bit mangy. It really got to me at first, as i am a doggie fanatic. I did came to understand that as Gods creatures dogs will do just fine in whatever environment as long as they are free to come and go and not caged up for the purpose of animal experimentation. This concept was new to me, but in all things acceptance is the key. Acceptance being the key, i welcomed Shrimpy along my journey with a shared meal of tacos and a glass of water. The water? not so much, but when it came to those tacos the Shrimp dog chowed like there was no tomorrow. I guess the reality is that there may not be a tomorrow for my new buddy Shrimpy. Shrimpy and i finally made it to Miss Pias at around 10:00 missing my 9:00 target. I, of course being a very punctual person apologized profusely to Miss Durham, but she kindly waved off my recalcitrance with a simple, "no problem, this is Belize after all". man, i love this country. The formalities of paper work filled out Pia asked me to tell her my story. "A catalogue of regrets" Watching western television lately, i have been struck by the vast amount of commercial advertisements that tout "if you or a loved one has this or that Birth defect call this number. You may be entitled to compensation". My interest is piqued when i notice Spina Bifida in the cross-hairs. Spina Bifida Meningococcal is the form that i was born with and although i did O.K. for a good 35 years the last 17 have been in a word...trying. I stated this to Miss Pia as she looked on with interest and went on to tell her a bit of history. About 17 years ago is when the symptoms started. They came on subtly at first, mimicking torn cartilage in the knee which could easily be the reason why i was experiencing pain. I promptly had my first of many MRI's which confirmed my suspicion to the Orthopedic surgeon who ordered an immediate scope of the affected area. Circling the right knee (which in retrospect should have actually been my entire right side with permanent black ink) i was wheeled into the day room, given the appropriate local sedative and "scoped". Needless to say 6 weeks later i felt no change in my pain level or my increasing anxiety about the pain (as i began to understand, pain and anxiety exist hand in hand). After several more years of pain i acquired a new friend. Numbness started creeping in to my right side like a thief intending on stealing all of the valuables you may have in clear sight. This "thief" of my physiology didn't start looking for the stuff locked deep inside for a few years yet. Around my thirty seventh year i finally gave in to the hypothesis (after finding out everything i could about my peculiar malady) that perhaps a neurosurgeon is in order. Excellent insurance in hand ( at the time myself and the family were covered by the Motion Picture health fund insurance cartel and we did indeed have Gucci insurance), i saw the famous Dr. Peacock at the UCLA medical center. MRI complete, i stood in his office looking at the amazing x rays. If the look on The Dr.'s face hadn't been so dire, i may have enjoyed this remarkable journey into my spinal cord. "well Michael", Dr. peacock began, "it appears to me that you have a tethered spinal cord". that was the first time i had heard the word tethered attached to my spine, so i listened with interest to his comments and subsequent prognosis. "you see", he went on to say, "normal spinal cords start just above the brain stem sheathed inside of the spinal column, run down the back and then float freely in the Dura(the dura is the sack of fluid right above the ass). Yours on the other hand comes down your back side for a while then has a cut between L3 and L4 and is wrapped to the right in 37 years of scar tissue. All of this nerve entrapment is the obvious cause of your pain and numbness on the right side". I asked him what he recommended and he said not to surprisingly, "surgery of course". I asked if there was any other way and was told, "look i am a surgeon and i do around 200 of these cord release surgeries a year. Surgeons like to operate, and that's what i do...operate. You really have no other viable option. I suggest you schedule surgery immediately", and blah, blah, blah. Although i didn't have the surgery at the time...I will skip chapters two and three for now and move to Chapter four, which takes place nine very long and somewhat difficult years later. After an arduous albeit necessary move to Arvada Colorado in 2002 and still hanging on to the "Gucci" health insurance i decided that if i am going to do the untethering surgery at any point in my life in a desperate bid to mitigate the pain a bit, it should probably be now while my body is young enough to deal with the trauma. So, with the help and skilled scalpel-ship of my new found doctor i went ahead with it. July 15th 2005 was the day they wheeled me in, cut my back open stem to stern, proceeded to drain the spinal fluid from my body and in a 6 hour delicate micro- surgery extracted nerves one at a time away from scar tissue in an effort to make the wrong a right. Waking up from the anesthesia, i had never felt so much pain in my life, but it was almost as if i was just observing it from afar, as the morphine drip was quite effective. After a couple of weeks i had to learn to walk again and i really learned to appreciate the heroes of health care. The techs in Physical therapy were compassionate and loving as they ramped up my ability to function again, and i had a pretty good attitude as i truly believed this surgery would work it's magic on my discomfort. I couldn't have been more wrong. Although the doctor did what he was trained to do (remember surgeons do surgery) it didn't help one bit. After the good meds wore off, it was back to the vicious cycle of pain and numbness once again. What i deal with at this point is what's known in the industry as a Peripheral Neuropathy which essentially mimics what a diabetic goes through. Lack of feeling in my foot has landed me in the hospital three times, once for a six weeks after a bunion surgery turned into a nasty hospital born staff infection in the bone. That little number put me on IV antibiotics for a year afterwords. most recently i had to have the big toe of my right foot amputated after another virulent infection swept through my soiled bloodstream. I explained all of this to Miss Pia, who seemed to stare in a bit of dis-belief. "wow" she said, "you sure know your medical history well". I was kind of drained by this time, so after my lack of response to her comment she went on to say "Michael, you do understand that mostly what I deal with here, guided by the teachings of Miss Arvigo of course is the gut (yes, she said gut) and releasing emotional blockages from the stomach area. We have found that the prostate, colon, gal bladder, pancreas and women's menses are helped greatly by our method". As i sort of began tuning her out she said, "but i have been reading up on your defect and coincidentally i have been studying Cranial manipulation therapy which directly addresses the area in which you describe. If you wish, we can set up a Manipulation for next week sometime". Appointment made i asked her a question. Do you know where i can get a bike? it's really a long walk to your house. And with that she ushered me out of her two story wood house at the end of the street and me and my traveling companion Shrimpy started the long ass walk back to my little town of San Ignacio. "A trip to the market, a trip around the world where the evening meal is negotiable if there is one." Saturday is market day in the Cayo. I don't mean the Chinese market, but the real market. At Market you can pretty much purchase everything for the week you may need for a song. As usual my wake up call came with the crowing of the rooster and the barking of dogs. Problem is that the roosters start crowing and the dogs barking at around 2:30AM, a phenomenon i have yet to figure out. After lying awake for 2 hours before drifting back off, i finally woke up around 6:00, had my coffee rigueur and showered off the dust. Walking into San Ignacio at 8:30AM Saturday morning was interesting, as the landscape was shrouded in a thick fog brought on by the rains of the previous night. Eerie yes, but undeniably beautiful. Arriving at market i quickly made my purchases. The market is an interesting dichotomy in style, as you see the Myans selling "Maya" type goods alongside Mexicans selling "Rolex" watches and "Coach" handbags. I got what i came for including, two papayas, 6 bannanas, 2 mangos, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, squash of every variety, potatoes, green beans, celery, spinach, Chaya (Mayan spinach), cilantro, limes, lemons, oranges, apples, spices of every kind, pure cocunut oil (smells heavenly) and of course my perenial favorite... garlic. All of this booty cost me about $20.00U.S. I love Central Amecica! So groceries in hand it was off to church. Church on Saturday morning you say? Well, this is a very paticular church fellowship not bogged down by tradition or dogma (more on my church in a future piece). After chruch and after service fellowship, i was invited to take a trip to what my new friend Catherine described as "the pool". Catherine and her friend Don and families were going to get their kids (six total) together for the last time, as Don had finally after two years of living on rice in the Cayo found a job in Alaska. Don was laid off from his job as a geoligist (specializing in the hunt for uranium) following the economic disaster in the states. Don did get offers to go to Iraq and Afghanistan to dig for this gold of the nuclear industry, but as he told me "it just rubs against my moral fiber". I like Don and his family, so I piled into Cathrines vintage Range Rover and set off for the "pools'. After an hour and a half of extremely inhospitable dirt roads we arrived at Don's house which is basically a thatched hut with a backyard containing the rain forrest and the aformentioned "pools". Now on the ride over i tried to imagine what the "pools" would be like. My arcane version of a pool is of course the cement pond variety, but these pools, fed by the Macal and Mophan rivers were a wonder in planet archetecture thousand's of years in the making. First of all the water was crystal clear. You could see in the first pool at least 25 feet to the bottom with all the little fishies swiming around at the bottom. The Mayans say that the pools are a portal to the spirit world, and i believe that if there are indeed spirits to be had, they would be found in the bottom of these pools. After carefully swimming around the main pool, i found myself drifting off to the falls. These falls were adorned with Mayan carvings and distinct writings deeply embeded in the rock. To think that these carvings could have actually been done in and around 650 AD was mindblowing of course, but the fact that they have been preserved for us all to marvel at was a true revalation. After spending a good 4 hours at the pools and the falls, it was time to pack the gaggle of kids in the back of the truck and head back to town. As we navigated the dirt road back i reflected on the pools and their incredible significance and sustainability. My thoughts then turned to another body of water deep in the Amazon rain forrest. "The cool, cool, river sweeps the wild, wide ocean" The Amazon river in South America is the second largest river in the world and by far the largest by water flow with an average discharge greater than the next seven largest rivers combined. The Amazon which has the largest drainage basin in the world, about 2,720,000sq. mi., accounts for approxamently one fith of the entire worlds water flow. The width of the river varies bettween 1.6 and 10 K at low stage, but expands during the rainy season to 30 mi. or more. The river enters the Atlantic ocean in a broad estuary about 150mi. wide. the mouth of the main stem is 50mi. Because of it's vast demensions it is sometimes called the river sea. At no point in it's journey is the river crossed by bridges, as the territory in which it covers there are few cities, so the need for crossings is limited. The river pushes a vast plume of freshwater into the ocean. This plume is around 120mi. wide and about 250mi. long. The freshwater because of it's relative lightness overides the salty ocean and alters the color of the oceans surface over an area of over 1,000,000 sq. mi. large. For centuries ships have reported freshwater at the Amazons mouth yet well out of sight of land in what appears to be the open Atlantic. More than ONE-THIRD OF ALL SPECIES IN THE WORLD LIVE IN THE AMAZON RAIN FORREST. A giant tropical forest and river basin habitat with an area that stretches more than 2,080,00 sq. mi. It is the richest tropical forrest in the world in terms of it's biodiversity. There are over 2,100 spicies of fish currently recognized in the basin, with more being discovered each year. "That is worth some money if you think about it, that is worth some money". The Belo Monte dam project in Para' state Brazil is one of Luiz Inacio Lulada Silva's pet projects. Only China's famed three gorges and a decade's old dam in Soutern Brazil top the enormity of this project. According to enviornmentalists, the dams construction will lead to the flooding of 500 square Km. of jungle...it would also dis-place 50,000 indigenous peoples and peasents who live in the vicinity of the Xingu' river and the entire municipality of Altamira, where the dam will be built. Alistair Rogers, the brilliant scientist who is the head of a natural history museum looking into the enviornmental consequences of dam building is "shocked" that the project has been given the go ahead. The brazilian government is not giving up easily as the demand for power grows expidentially keeping pace with the rise in world economic respectability. Because of this trend, the country will need much more energy and Amazonia, with it's many rivers, is the heart of clear energy for the country. Critics sustain that the companies that will be in charge of the construction exact a price from Brazil in order to take part and have gained tax relief and other connsecions from the government valued at millions of Euros, which tax payers in Brazil will end up bank rolling. "Armies of engineers to analize the soil. The food we contemplate, the water that we boil". Critics also point out that not enough un-biased enviornmental studies have been done in order to properly asess the enviornmental and ecological impact the rain forrest will suffer as a result of slicing this wound into the heart of the Amazon. The dam, which will cost at least 8 Billion dollars is the second-most expensive piece of the governments ambitious program to accelerate growth in the country. The latest: Amazon watch reports that: "Brazils enviornmental agency gave final approval in June 2011 for the Grand Hyrdoelectric power plant in the Amazon rain forrest that has been at the center of a protracted battle between government and enviornmentalist over the fate of indeginous peoples". Be aware and stay tunned... Until next time...Please Love Sources: Amazon Watch.org, Wikipedia,Aljezzera/English.org, Special thanks to the ephemeral record album by Paul Simon-"The Rhythm of the Saints"-My soundtrack for life in Central and South America.

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