So March is an odd month for me..in Europe it’s just starting to feel like spring and then midwinter suddenly hits, on my birthday - this is why I KNOW March!!!! This year it’s full of last year’s memories...
March started with Richard and I filming for Korean TV...a program about getting away from it all as they are either the most or second most stressed people on Earth...which brings back the memories of filming with them and the other programs we have done.
In 2014 we filmed an episode of Kevin Mccloud’s Escape to the Wild.
Then we did a Belizean program: Belize Mel we Go! A french one who’s name I can’t remember, A German one and Españoles en el mundo ( Spanish)...which filmed 2 years ago and came out after the Korean one...Koreans obviously having a more urgent sense of time perhaps?!!! The really fun ones that didn’t require a mad MC mad tidy up for days, however, were the tv programs about Lubaantun and the Crystal Skull with assorted members of the family playing Anna Mitchell-Hedges, himself etc.
Then of course there is MARCH...last year!!!! The month that lasted for ever....and the month we went to collect the girls from their school in Honduras and their clothes and ‘stuff’ is still there....
Last March I came up with a survival plan food wise and storage etc...so I will move onto that but for now...that’s the intro and I am going to paste in disjointed recollections about the above and send into the ether.....the useful bits I am leaving until I can actually work out how this helpful app works!!!
Recollections from filming a tv program!
Korean tv here , so three Koreans, a sweet Belizean fixer and James Hooper is ‘host’. He is v cool, youngest ever Brit up Everest, for a while, and all round adventure man with his best mate from school, then there was terrible accident and his friend died, so he took himself off to Korea, learnt the language, married....and ended up on a tv program which Koreans loved so now he is one of the friendly European faces that gets wheeled out when they do a foreign program ( his words not mine!!). Crazy last minute tidying so completely knackered by the time they got here (not trollied like with Kevin MacCloud!!). All staying and so had made mosi net and bed in Earthship and a toilet seat out of cedar (my first!!)...hope I have sanded it enough! Ha haaaar! for James. Had big dinner prepared, all ate and then did the whole tv thing of him “arriving” after dinner. A few bats when we showed him his room!! He is sweet, the director is a very scary woman and then sound and film guys....
Filming!!! Lots of chopping stuff done three times and pretending to look interested while it is all explained in Korean when we have NO idea what they are saying. Took down a cahune to make Kimchi ( Had no idea it was Korean - oops!) as will make over next four days. They filmed with a drone and as tree came down it very very very nearly got Richard...in fact drone shot shows it missing him by inches...no an inch?
fun filming has been:
Showing James around who is genuinely very interested and wants to show his wife and come back here.
Just showing off! Our produce and the buildings and recycling...
Their reactions to tarantulas and other creepy crawlies.
Annoying stuff has been:
Cooking amazing meals to show off the best of ingredients and ideas here which they didn’t film and then the two guys slunk off to have a massive Korean pot noodle on top of the dinner they had just eaten!
Cooking amazing meals and not one being filmed and then having to film two days worth of food being cooked over the fire in a morning, while it was pissing with rain....
The only person to help with clearing up after meals is James...everyone else just sits like a blob while I do it!!! See, that’s English manners that is!!!
Journey to Copan...NOT!
7.30 bus to town, got to town bought the boat ticket and had lovely calm trip over ( we have has crossing with nuns standing up to bless and calm down screaming people, and crossing where you get horizontal rain...) I did my usual of telling everyone on the boat about Penny’s book and thought of Chris and Peta when I passed Punta Manabique. The book, Dead in the Water, is the story of her brother Chris and his girlfriend, Peta’s murders at the hands of an American in the 1980s. It is tragic and gripping and inspired an award winning podcast by Dan ... called Paradise.
Arrived in Puerto Barrios and went straight to bus station and bought a ticket to Rio Hondo. Feel little side note in here of what our usual journey is:
Get bus to Rio Hondo ( big bus that looks like a “normal bus” not an American school bus which are all over Belize and Guat and this region...Get off at Rio Hondo and flag down a combi - also known as a chicken bus...a large-ish van with as many people as possible in it. I have sat on other people and had them sitting on me. I have also shared with chickens, dogs, pigs and a parrot, the parrot was FAR the worst! So the first combi takes you all the way to a lovely town called Chiquimula (no it’s not, I AM being sarcastic even though I do actually quite like it!), but sometimes it doesn’t and you have to get off at Zacappa, famous for its rum, the best in the World, and change...have accidentally shut the door on one occasion and the whole window fell out and broke...luckily no one thought it was my fault...
So usually get into Cheeky ( as we call it, obviously a term of deep affection) around 5pm...yes its a long sweaty journey with possible accidents and on occasions dead bodies ( the best thing about going that way however is you don’t get the missionaries, you only get them on the return...they are LOUD and you can’t possibly read and they glare at you/ me!!!) We have a ‘great’ hotel there (safe and sort of clean with a nice owner and his moronically stupid son). that is very central...then hit the mall for stuff for kids, usually socks and bras!!!
In the morning go to favorite breakfast place, its the only one in the whole market that has coffee without sugar...the food is all the same! And then jump on another combi going to the border...feal I must relate most exciting time I got this stage of the journey was when I got on the bus ( OK van but you know what I mean) first so got the seat behind the driver, luckily had a VERY BIG handbag with me as suddenly the “boy” who helps the driver jumped into the van beside me closely followed by someone else with a large rusty machete...which he swung around trying to kill the “boy”. The boy had ducked behind the front passenger seat so the machete wielding man was just swinging it at him, narrowly missing me on his backswing. After at least three minutes ( and that’s quite a long time in a situation like this) I shouted “ Excuse me!!! GENTLEMEN!!!!???? Do you think you could do this outside???” In polite Spanish...They both paused and then got out of the van, so that was a result! Two hours later our bus met the machete guy’s bus and he got out and came towards us, I slunk down but he eyeballed me and then begged my pardon and said sorry!!!
ANYWAY....back to a normal trip...the buses take about 2 to 3 hours then we cross the border which takes usually another hour and then the FINAL bus ( combi) to Copan takes about 20 mins...its quite a long school run!
So back to March trip: I had bought the ticket and gone to have lunch at the restaurant next door to station which luckily has internet and was writing to Richard to say stage 1 complete, watching tv news for first time since had last been there and was hit by the panic vibes: COVID, COVID, COVID!!!! on everything, flashing warnings and classic alarmist headlines, but quite a shock after the peace of home. While tucking into my yummy lunch got a message from the Principal of the school - I had told her I was coming up the night before and she had promised to keep me posted on the situation with the border which is only 20 mins away from Copán. She told me the girls and one teacher were getting on one of the school mini vans and leaving within the hour as borders were shutting. I had to race to the immigration office that I had just entered through and ask them if I could stay there for the next hour in case the Honduran / Guatemalan border did not let the girls across. I sent a message to the school principal to print out saying I was at the puerto barrios immigration office as their mother in case of problems. It took them 8 hours to get to me and they had left with one hours notice, they had the smallest luggage for two teenage girls that I have ever seen!!! All their clothes and possessions are still in Copán as I write!
Stayed in the Carribena, a marvelous hotel, once apparently famous for its tapenada ( a fish soup with everything in it) now famous for being once famous...or for being safe...no small feat in Puerto Barrios. Just amazing to see girls even though they are completely zonked.
Mitchell-Hedges and Lubaantun
So the story goes (and I’m telling this story so I’m not saying it’s true but this is my favorite version) that one of the men that Indiana Jones is based on, filled with daring-do ( sorry that was my aunt’s favorite expression, it does have a certain flair!), was Frederick H Mitchell-Hedges, author of titles such as Danger My Ally and owner of THE crystal skull (we’ll get to that)!!! Mitchell-Hedges was an Englishman very much like Percy Fawcett - someone who makes you proud of your British blood because it shows how truly mad and eccentric we can be, traipsing through the jungle in full riding kit from the 20s, wearing assorted inappropriate English headgear, Mitchell-Hedges favored tweed flat caps, much like my husband!!!
So Mitchell-Hedges left Blighty for the bright l;Ishtar of New York and then had adventure after adventure, ending up ‘riding with Pancho Villa’ like Indiana, eventually ending up in the jungles of Belize searching for the lost city of Atlantis. By this time he has also adopted a Canadian orphan (Anne) and a rather wonderful lover in the person of Lady Richmond Brown known as ‘Mabs’, who he re-met by chance at a train station and told her of his plans to go adventuring. She had just been told that she had months to live so she thought ‘Sod IT!’ ( my story, remember?) and decided to accompany him. What a DAME!!!
Eventually they all ended up in Belize (there’s a lot more to the story but this book has already been written by him and her!) at the ruins of Lubaantun - yes the ones we live beside / around / on!!! He thought he had found Atlantis as the huge ruins emerged from the jungle...
Now I am going to point out at this point that many people think he was a complete fraud and made everything up etc etc, however I would like to ALSO point out that I live here...in the 21st century and it’s hard bloody work, with solar and water catchment, mobile phones and some power tools! In the 1920s, in untouched jungle, let me tell you...unimaginable! So I proudly side with Fred and Mabs! They were ROCK ‘ARD!!!
Anyway having cleared the jungle and set fire to the piles of chopped matter - something that nearly backfires and roasted themselves - the grown ups were having a bit of a siesta on Anne’s 17th birthday. She did what all good young ladies do when left alone: she went off exploring and climbing all the bits that she would have been told to get down from because they were too dangerous by the adults! While climbing she spotted something glinting amounts the stones (these are also not small stones...they are rather huge Mayan building blocks) and she told everyone and they dug and they dug and out came.......
A crystal skull!!!!!
-minus the bottom jaw, which took a further 2 weeks to dig out....
So if you’re going to make this all up it’s getting a bit intricate now...
If you follow Indiana Jones then in all likelihood you saw the last one that was quite frankly a bit mad at the end but never mind, that was why there is a crystal skull. Now as I said both Fred and Mabs wrote books and Mitchell-Hedges does write about The Skull of Doom, as he calls it, and yes, there is a lot of controversy about it, but you can’t have it both ways: the year the film came out the director of archeology in Belize did two things: he publicly states that the Mitchell-Hedges skull was a fake aaaaand....he tried to sue the film makers of Indiana Jones and the Crystal skull for making money out of a Belizean artifact!...and I think he asked for it to be returned to Belize too!!! It is life sized, carved from pure rock crystal and is anatomically correct with a separate lower jaw....
Now because we live where we do, and because Belize is a very small country, when they were making a documentary about the crystal skull they got in touch with us ( and also because the Belizean tv fixer loves my cooking!!!) to use our place as a base for filming at the ruins. Then they needed a white girl to play Anna and a Mitchell-Hedges. So Tati and Richard were up! Richard was given a “real fake wood pipe” to pretend to smoke and Tati had to find the skull! ( DON’T tell anyone this but even the resin copy is very heavy and as she pulled it out she may have dropped it and dinged it just a tiny bit).
We also met Bill for the first time, he is the present day owner of the skull and I am going to tell you full story here as we thought it....so Bill met Anna when she was 86 and then they got married and he inherited the skull...”oy oy!” We thought (like you are now) but then we met him, and he’s really cool and really zen and they did get married so she could leave him the skull because she wanted him to take care of it. She did apparently offer to give it to the village of San Pedro Columbia as they had looked after her and her father so well, however the Belizean government wanted the skull to be returned to them, where it would probably sit in a safe with a copy in the museum-like the biggest carved piece of Mayan jade in Belize City. So she said no and it is in America and tours around with Bill whenever there are Native American healing ceremonies and gatherings to help heal the planet.
After the release of the episode they decided to do another program that was more in depth so Josh Gates and the Discovery Channel came down. Maya was Anna, Richard was Thomas Gann (the British medical officer and friend of Mitchell-Hedges) and I was Mabs! I, of course, was utterly brilliant, so much so that they cut me completely, must have shown everyone else up, nothing else makes sense!