Lucy Fleming / Belize

Peer to Pier: Conversations with fellow travelers

Lucy FlemingLucy Fleming, 62, and her husband Mick own the Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize’s first jungle resort, which opened its doors in 1981.  Chaa Creek has been consistently ranked as the best eco resort in the Caribbean for years by the likes of Conde Nast and National Geographic Adventure Magazine.  I came away from a stay there awed by the energy and vibrancy of the jungle—and the Flemings.It is hard to imagine an environment that is more vividly alive than the jungle—lush, teeming, unfurling, changing, challenging, chaotic, diverse, primal, unpredictable, light, dark, and, most certainly, inspiring and instructive.

Belize presented stunning lessons in the duality of life. While at Chaa Creek, we observed the lifecycle of a “Belizean Blue” at the lodge’s butterfly farm.  We were taught about the natural healing—and hazardous—properties of plants along the rain forest medicine trail.  We learned about the rise and fall of the Mayan civilization.

In the words of Deborah Chaskin, “Just like the butterfly, I too will awaken in my own time.”   We hope you enjoy this conversation with Lucy Fleming, as she describes her ongoing awakening and the dream that is Chaa Creek. {For more of my Belize pictures, see Travel Photos on Home Page}

Meg: Tell me about the first time you traveled alone.

JJ Rider circus horseLucy: My first really alone travel was the summer before college, going across the country with the JJ Rider Circus. Once on board, I soon realized that this traveling circus was its own traveling world and as a mere lackey it was going to be hard rote being accepted by this fascinating and eclectic group of new colleagues. This was 1967 and the circuses and carnivals of the day still endorsed freak shows which meant that we had our fat and bearded ladies, midget families, extra tall, tattooed and pierced men, and a wide assortment of the human oddities of the day. Fire-eater and sword swallower thrill acts joined the more accomplished acrobatic, horse prancing and knife throwing shows.

jungleI’ll never forget the excitement of everyone pitching in to put up the tents in a new venue; the constant training for the various acts and the wild energy that ran through this tight knit circus family that held generations of nomadic history. I was called upon where needed and helped out with starting up and taking down, and  everything in between from cooking  to costumes repair, feeding the animals and repairing equipment, tallying receipts, and child minding, you name it, I did it. I guess that because I was a college kid, I was especially put through my paces by some, but then truly embraced by others. All in all I did manage to win my way to acceptance before leaving the group. I still consider this one of my favorite accomplishments.

Meg: Have you ever had an experience where you took a wrong turn, literally or figuratively, and found something that you wouldn’t have wanted to miss?

Lucy: I disembarked in Athens off an ocean liner in 1974 during the time of the Cyprus War to find myself in the midst of military tanks and throngs of screaming and running civilians.  I shouldered my small backpack and was being pushed along by the crowd when I happened upon a girl being trampled in the street. I gathered her up and forced my way over to a building doorway. I told her I was there to help her and we managed to make our way to her home.  I rang her door bell while supporting her and was greeted by a General in full regalia who as it turned out, happened to be her father.

Canoe RiverThis is a rather long story but as it unfolded, I was hired by the General and many of his friends as a newly accredited English teacher for their children. During the two years that I worked for them I had a bird’s eye view of an incredible change unfolding as these good Generals eventually toppled the ruling military junta and brought back democracy to Greece, along with PM Constantine Karamanlis.

Meg: Can you tell me about your journey to becoming a Belizean?

Lucy: After two years of teaching in Greece, I returned to England for the fall to go apple picking in Kent and met my future husband Mick who had just returned from Africa. We decided to travel together to the new world. We arrived in the British colony of Belize with little capital, an eagerness to explore, and a charming friend who resided here as the wheelchair-bound livestock advisor to the crown—and the same person who had inspired Mick to travel to Africa. The inspiration was to try our hand at something new, with no idea what that something may be, and the catalyst was the wonderful Mr. Clifford.

temple Our early journey in Belize led us to many colorful encounters with an eccentric array of characters, one being Jack Garden, a group captain in the RAF V Bomber Squadron. Jack had purchased a downtrodden farm, but perhaps more correctly put, a piece of secondary bush on the Macal River, that he hoped this young couple might like to farm for him. There were no roads in so we traveled the six miles upstream by canoe, and again overland by horse to take stock of the place. We had a total of 300 pounds sterling between us and took on a lease with an option to buy. We toiled by day, cooked with firewood, and illuminated the night with kerosene lanterns.

bambooOur machetes cut paths in unaccustomed hands to hilltop vistas that could see the winding river Macal. New discoveries followed every twisting trail and the birds welcomed us with the curious chatter of new neighbors. The ancient Maya had also entered the Macal River Valley to use it’s rich alluvial soil to plant their crops and transport them via canoes on their river causeways. No less than 70 Maya house mounds and three important ceremonial centers called Chaa Creek their home, a gateway to the rich waterway that ran to the sea.

Our small cabin was our home and workshop and after bathing in the river, we pulled out our sleeping mats and listened to the BBC world service on the radio at night. It was an existence of calloused hands, aching muscles, and an unrelenting determination to survive. Within six months we were selling vegetables and eggs in the early morning market, using our meager earnings to buy provisions and heading back by horseback or canoe as night fell. The struggles were hard and many and the rewards–our first horse, Taboo, our milk cow Molly, a gasoline water pump, a dugout and outboard motor–were like manna from the gods. We felt and still feel blessed.

One thought on “Lucy Fleming / Belize”

  1. Dear Lucy,

    Thank you for your inspiring interview!
    It is so wonderful hear about how you have followed your true life path, not quite knowing where it may lead you. Realizing all of the lives you have touched, fills my heart with gratitude and hope.
    As I sit here writing, a wolf spider is outside my window weaving her intricate web without hesitation, trusting that with every thread so beautifully executed, that she too, is following her life path…
    I look so forward to meeting you soon!


    Laura Pessolano

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