The Belize River: A Life Source With No Beginning or End
It’s a waterway with tales to tell about this small nation’s historic past and the role this river played.
Most people see rivers as soothing bodies of water that offer banks for picnics, the occasional swim or a smooth way to float down a calming watercourse that is far from a churning sea. But there is so much more to know about these irreplaceable waterways.
The Belize River is part of a global network of rivers that, in concert, drain nearly 75-percent the planet’s surface. Like other major waterways, the Belize River once served as a conduit for merchants, explorers and travelers.
Landlocked Maya civilizations occupying the Yucatan peninsula were forced to rely upon ingenuity and underground cisterns because they had no access to rivers, but their cousins in what is now Belize had the advantage of rivers and the difference it made in the culture’s survival was meaningful. Given its reach and proximity, the Belize River remains a huge part of the nation’s geography and topography.
From watering hole to logging conduit
From serving as a main route for Maya traders to a vital conduit that kept the nation’s lumber importation industry thriving long after the first indigenous people disappeared, the Belize River has been a constant in the lives of every settler and conqueror who put down roots in this region. Belizeans still mourn the loss of forest land that underpinned the mahogany trade and the nation is working hard to regain its ecological balance.
What else does the Belize River provide? Nutrients. Habitats for wildlife. Irrigation resources for farmers–and nowadays, modern technology can morph this river into a source of power. Yet this body of water that was once called the Old River also created a pathway that today connects northeastern Guatemala, San Ignacio, meanders through Belmopan and Belize City and eventually empties into the Caribbean Sea.
A home. A film location. What will the future bring?
Because the Belize River drains approximately one-third of the nation’s waterways, it remains an epicenter of life for animals, birds, aquatic species, Belizeans and visitors. Found along the river on a typical day are critters that range from tapirs to crocs, monkeys and people boarding boats who are eager to explore the banks and natural treasures that await their eyes and their camera lenses.
Given its symbolic and fascinating past, it’s no wonder that the movie studio producing the 1986 Harrison Ford film “Mosquito Coast” chose the Belize River for many of its location shots. Will there be more opportunities to use the river as a backdrop for future films? That question remains unanswered, but Belizeans look to the future to see what role this river is slated to play over time as a major factor within the nation’s ecosystem.
Photo By Nick Taylor – Belize, CC BY 2.0.