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Jungle Adventures behind the Machete

Roy Sanchez has one leg that is shorter than the other one after half that leg was cut away at the hip in a Belize City hospital's operating room after he was shot in a shootout. Regardless of the shorter leg, Roy can still chop you a single track trail through the thickest of the Belizean jungle bush. And if it should start to rain while you are out there in the thick of it all, "No problem ma-an". For Roy Sanchez will attack a Manaca palm tree, trim off the leaves, and on the spot he will make you a thatch shelter from the storm. How do I know this? I know this because I have seen the man do it, time and time again.

I first met Roy Sanchez when I was in his home village of San Ignacio deep in the western mountains of the Central American country of Belize, formerly British Honduras near the Guatemalan border. I happened to be there looking at several parcels of land for sale that the seller was advertising had 'unearthed Mayan temples' on the property.

The real estate agent was a shady character involved deeply on the seller's end. He was so shady that he would not even show me the land himself, opting instead to hook me up with two of his foremen. The 'foremen' were even sleazier than the real estate agent. And because the piece of land was so remote, they employed the services of no one other than Roy Sanchez to cut back the jungle bush to the parcel of land I was interested in seeing.

Roy Sanchez is of African heritage. He knows nothing of Africa, but only that where he now lives his people have always lived. Roy's father Melville also agrees. And seemingly Roy Sanchez also has no understanding of racial prejudices as he explained to me straightforwardly that his skin and my skin are exactly the same. As he quite poignantly put it, "No difference ma-an.. Not even in d'color ma-an".

At this I have to say I told Roy Sanchez he must surly be crazy. I have even gone so far as to compare arm to arm his skin to mine, and the differences are most obvious. But Roy does not see a difference. For Roy Sanchez has a giving and caring heart and a personal philosophy founded in the basic premise of 'one sky one people'. Roy has become a good friend to me since we first met. He has always been a great father to his son Kevin and a loving husband to his Maria. And Roy Sanchez is already a man, probably a great deal more than I might ever become. I think I realized it first when we were looking over that first piece of land.

There we were, the two foremen sitting in the front of the small pick-up truck, with Roy and his two dogs and myself, the intrepid explorer, all riding in the back. After driving as far as the road could take us, Roy was then instructed to take me deeper into the Belizean jungle bush to locate the tract of land. Although he looked as though he had no idea as to the actual location of the land, all the same Roy Sanchez assured me we would indeed find it. It was also agreed that once we were to the said land, Roy would then assist me in taking soil samples from the four corner markers of the property. The two foremen wanted to have nothing to do with traipsing off into the Belizean hinterland with some gringo like me. But they had no problem sending Roy and his dogs out with me to take all the soil I could muster. So off we went along with Roy's two Rottweiler dogs, appropriately named Tough and Killer. We waived goodbye to the two foreman in the truck and headed off into the jungle.

Peter & Denzel at Grace's Restaurant in Punta Gorda, reading about Roy Sanchez
All the way Tough and Killer were running ahead of Roy and I, barking all the way. I was curious, so I asked Roy Sanchez why were the dogs required. Roy laughed and said the dogs were needed to chase away the anaconda snakes and the wild pigs that make their home in the undergrowth of the jungle. With Tough and Killer at the lead and Roy slashing away at the wall of green, I was left to carry four plastic bags and a small shovel. Along the way I once moved in a little too close to Roy's machete slashing. To this very day, I carry the reminder of that close encounter with Roy's machete upon my forehead.

Roy, Tough, Killer and I worked away at the trail, eventually reaching the parcel of land about an hour and a half later. This particular site had no visible Mayan ruins but the landscape of Belize is deceptive. For you can be standing on an ancient Mayan site and never realize that you are on top of it. The going was actually not all that difficult, though it still took us several hours more to come away with the soil samples that I could then take to be analyzed for soil quality at the Belizean Department of Agriculture in the capital of Belmopan.

Just as we had taken the final sample, the daily seasonal rains came as they do more often than not in the Cayo, completely out of thin air. Roy Sanchez quickly turned from the trail to what I believed to be a Manaca palm tree growing down a slight incline over to our left. He then took his machete and extended it up and out as he lashed the metal against the greenery. A slash here, another one there, and the long branches fell gracefully to the jungle floor to the twang of the machete's song. Roy Sanchez then picked up the fallen palm leaves, cleaned one end of each leaf, and then fitted the ends of several branches together. When he had woven five or so of the Manaca palm leaves together, he then leaned them all against the base of a small Ceiba tree. And quicker than you could imagine, Roy, Tough, Killer and I were all sitting under a shelter from the storm.

I must admit that Roy Sanchez is more of a man than I will probably ever be. Just ask Tough or Killer the next time you pass through the Cayo District of Western Belize.

Tales from on the Surface

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