I have always enjoyed traveling without much planning and seeing where the proverbial journey takes me. Belize is a very small country, so I wanted to get out of the tourist trail and go somewhere off the grid. While exploring the map of Belize, this place called Little Belize caught my fancy. Couple of reasons: the name itself, and its setting by a lagoon. An unpaved road from the town of Orange Walk seemed to lead right to little Belize.
No sooner than I had started, I figured that this is going to be a harrowing drive. Corruption is rampant in Belize and half the road construction projects have been abandoned citing lack of funds. And apparently, they were now planning to contract a private Taiwanese construction firm. This road was no different: not only was it not paved, it was full of potholes bigger than the size of a football – and thousands of them. I was thanking my stars that there were no signs of rain. A couple of hours later, I was approaching little Belize. It had no signs, nor roads, and at first, I was quite disappointed with what I saw. As I drove further inside, I spotted a horse cart, a few farms and windmills, and my first reaction was this is a movie set. What an unusual place for a set! After a few minutes, I figured that this has to be an Amish or Mennonite community living here. What a surprise! I was very skeptical of how culturally diverse Belize is going to be, given the heavy American influence. I had come across the Garifuna, Mayan and Creole people – and now figuring out that there is a Mennonite community living off the grid.
Belize has a large community of Mennonite diaspora – most of them forced to move when they were displaced during the Second World War. I had read about their traditional ways of living, but never had a chance to visit any of the communities, even those living in parts of Pennsylvania, USA. It was very clear that this community was living off the grid: there were no cars – only horse carts, no signs of electricity or any other technology, the houses had not been painted, and everyone seemed busy at the farm: kids, men and women. They were as curious about me, as I was about them and their lifestyle. But I didn’t want to be a voyeur stalking them – so I tried to strike conversations and build personal connections. The older generation spoke enough English for us to converse and learn more about their ways. My attempt to speak in German didn’t go too far, as they spoke high-German, and we could not understand each other at all.
The community in Little Belize is about 3000 people strong. The community itself is very sovereign and the government doesn’t have much influence in the day-day proceedings. That said, they do pay land and trade taxes – as they export a lot of their farm produce. The kids worked in the farm dressed in their traditional clothing, wearing wide-brim hats. Most were extremely shy, and would only come up to talk to me if an elderly person accompanied them. I felt as if I had time-traveled back into early 1900. I got a brief glimpse of their unique lifestyle, one which is rooted in simplicity, living in harmony with earth and nature, and built on a strong sense of community. I left intrigued and wanting to learn more about such off-the-grid communities in other parts of the world.
Would you live off the grid in this hyper-connected world?