Tres Paises

Saturday, February 19, 2000

For all of you Gringos, Tres Paises means "three countries". Actually it has been three countries in six days. We have just returned from a whirlwind tour of parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala with our friends, Bill and Nancy Hibdon. For all of our friends who are woodworkers, Bill and Nancy's company (Hibdon Hardwoods) in St. Louis is the largest seller in the USA of exotic woods from Central America. You can visit their web site at ( to get an idea of the types of woods that they sell.

For people who love trees and wood, we were very privileged to travel with them to several sites where they examined and purchased wood for their warehouse. Bill and Nancy are residents of Belize as they lived here for five years. They keep a Toyota Land Cruiser here for their travels around Central America.

We left Satori at a marina on Caye Chapel, north of Belize City. The whole island is owned by Larry Addison, the coal magnate from Kentucky. Mr. Addison has built an absolutely gorgeous 18 hole golf course that covers a big part of the island and recently finished a huge clubhouse to go with it. They are very selective (truth be told, they are downright snooty!) about the boats that use the marina, but Bill has left his sailboat there for years and he introduced us to the right people. We definitely could not complain about the $20/night fee for leaving the boat there! It is the most protected location in the whole country and they have spared no cost in building the marina.

The four of us left on Monday morning and drove to Mexico. Bill and Nancy have purchased property there (in Chetumal) on which they plan to build a house and plant lots of their favorite trees...Nancy was collecting seeds during the whole trip from this or that favorite tree. She tells us that she is "on a learning curve to see how each of the trees and plants can best be reproduced".

After spending the night in Chetumal, we left on Tuesday to travel to a small town named Corillo Puerto. This town is about 1/3 of the way from Chetumal to Cancun for those of you who like to use a map. It is west of the Bay of Ascencion on the Caribbean Sea.

Corillo Puerto has approximately 35,000 people and no bank. It does have a Banrural for the farmers but there are no accounts there and the Banrural does not even cash traveler's checks. We were not clear about what the function of the Banrural was, in fact. Any of the business owners of any size must travel to Chetumal (2 hours) or to Cancun (4 hours) to conduct any business with the bank. The threat of robbery is always there for them.

For us, Corillo Puerto was CHARMING! Our hotel room cost us $14.50 with air conditioning and TV. WE watched the Discovery Channel in Spanish for a while. Our evening meal with drinks included cost $7 for both Sander and me. Our entertainment included trips to two lumber yards. At the first we watched Bill inspect Ziricote logs and give directions about how they were to be cut and prepared for shipment. This is a gorgeous wood with spectacular grains that we had never seen before arrival in Belize.

The second visit was to an Indian village ouside of Corillo Puerto. 300 families of these Indians live in a community governed by communism. Now, before any of you raise your hackles and get upset, it works for them so don't knock it! The lumber yard is one of the ways that they support themselves. For a non-automated sawmill, the equipment is fairly modern and it is efficiently run. One of the primary concerns for all of the mills in Central America is that many jobs be created. ie it is vital that the mills not be automated but that they be money-makers. Bill must always keep this in mind as he works with the lumber producers in C.A. The primary wood in this mill appeared to be mahogany. Although the village is poor, by many people's standards, the Indians are a proud group and work very hard to be sure that they maintain their independence. We were tremendously impressed by the operation.The primary production at this mill appeared to be Mahogany; however, Mexico will no longer allow any export of Mahogany. Bill was looking at a wood that they call "redheart". The name describes the wood perfectly. The heart of the wood is so red that it oozes red sap. We watched them cut a huge log and learned just which characteristics Bill and Nancy were looking for.

When we finished our business at the Indian Village on Wednesday we headed back for Chetumal. Bill and Nancy then surprised us by saying that they would like to head straight for Guatemala and make a couple of stops at Flores which is very close to the ruins at Tikal. They thought the visits would cover two days and that would give us a chance to get out to Tikal.

Off we went to the Cayo territory which borders with Guatemala. WE stayed on the Belize side of the border and headed out early on Thursday morning. As it turned out, the trip into Guatemala went very fast. Several of the visits were impossible because their contacts were not there. The whole trip was worthwhile to Bill and Nancy, though, as they found one contact, Fidel, whom they had not seen for years. They were pleased to find that Fidel's mill would no longer concentrate on producing veneers as they can no longer compete with Indonesia in this market. They will concentrate on the exotic woods, both primary and secondary, and promised to bring in a large amount of mahogany for Bill and Nancy beginning this spring. Since Guatemala still allows the export of mahogany, Bill and Nancy were immensely pleased by this news.

We were served lunch at Fidel's quarters and then were finished with business in Guatemala. By nightfall we were back across the border and spent the night in the town of San Ignacio, Belize. This is the same town where Jane spent time with friend, Sandy, recently.

One interesting fact about the visit into Guatemala is the newly developed road from the border of Guatemala into Flores. Until recently this trip took all day for Bill and Nancy on a dirt road covered with huge potholes, into which your car could easily disappear. Now it is paved. Bill and Nancy were absolutely amazed at the changes.

We were sorry to miss the trip to Tikal but are sure that we will have time before we leave Central America. It did allow us time on Friday to do some more touring around the Cayo district with Bill and Nancy.

On Friday morning we took the ferry across the Belize River into the Mennonite area of Spanish Lookout. There are two primary Mennonite areas in Belize. This one concentrates on farming. Except for the palm trees, a drive through Spanish Lookout could be in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. There are no huts or palapa roofs there. The farms have wood-framed houses with shingled roofs, for the most part. These people have been here in Belize since the mid-1800's. They speak a form of German amongst themselves and are very clannish. All marriages are from within the community and the elders of the church control all of the decisions within the community. Who would have thought?...

We traveled to a park where we saw a mahogany tree within a huge sink-hole. The location has been perfect for this tree. When the park was established about 10 years ago, the Mennonites put a sign in the tree estimating 3500 board feet of lumber in the tree. Bill now estimates 5,000 board feet in the same tree.

Friday afternoon we drove a long way into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. It was like driving from the farms of Pennsylvania to the forests around the Grand Canyon. No more palms and we were surrounded by stately pines stretching as far as the eye could see. After a long drive we arrived at the falls of the Rio On. The river cascades down over the huge boulders carrying the silicon from the river with it and carving out pools and slides for the water. We climbed around the falls for about an hour and then climbed back into the car for the dusty ride back through the reserve.

All of a sudden Bill pulled off the dirt road and there we were at a resort that seemed to belong in Hawaii or in California. Stately Cuban Palms down the center of a wide boulevard led down into the parking lot of the Blancaneaux Lodge owned by Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather.

What a mesmerizing place, this was! In the middle of this highland jungle with the wind whispering through the wonderful smelling pines is this luxurious magical place. Mind you! We could never afford to stay overnight in this wonderland, but what a wonderful privilege to have been able to experience it - even for a cerveza and chips with salsa!

Here we are back aboard Satori on Saturday evening and it is wonderful to be back. We will be forever grateful to Bill and Nancy for including us on this whirlwind tour. It is such great fun to be with folks that you enjoy, see so much, experience so much and LEARN so much. We wish we could store it all up and send it to each and every one of you. Simple words or pictures cannot do it justice. We are indeed lucky folks!

Til later...

Jane and Sander