San Pedro Columbia
To get there, take the main road in Punta Gorda, which goes inland about 10 miles toward San Antonio. Just before you get to San Antonio, a dirt track to the right breaks off to the village of San Pedro.
San Pedro is one of the biggest of the villages. A small Catholic church in town has an equally small cemetery. It sits on a hilltop surrounded by a few thatched dwellings. Not far away is a prefab-looking school that was erected with the assistance of National Guards from the United States who were getting jungle training.
This village is home to well known Mayan musicians, and also to Emmeth Young, a Creole drum master who offers drum-making classes and music lessons. Emmeth’s sambai rhythms, which can be heard on the full moon if he is performing, can be traced half a millennium back to the Ibo tribe in Nigeria—Emmeth is a talented man whose drumming and efforts to preserve Belizean culture have been featured on the Travel Channel and elsewhere.
His Maroon Creole Drum School, previously located in Gales Point, is now re-established on the beautiful grounds of the Columbia River Co-operative (tel. 501/632-7841, pricklypeartat2 [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.columbiarivercooperative.com). There, in addition to the drumming school, you’ll find a small culture museum, gift shop, gallery, medicinal garden, and place to eat. Stay in the two-story bunkhouse with fans, electricity, wireless Internet, and a shared bathroom (US$10 pp) or camp out on the grounds (US$5 pp).
The Columbia River Co-operative is a quarter-mile down a little farm road just before the turnoff to Lubaantun from San Pedro Columbia. Emmeth’s wife, Jill, writes, “There’s a botanical loop to walk with some additional art that explains ancient Maya cosmology and rituals. We will be adding paintings and sculptures of Belizean mythological creatures as we go along. We are right on the Columbia River so it makes a great little half-day addition to a trip to Lubaantun. Get a drum lesson, hang out, walk through the garden and butterfly house, and then cool off with a shake or a dip in the river.”
Near San Pedro Columbia
Two miles upriver from the village of San Pedro Columbia, situated on 70 acres, you’ll find Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF) (www.mmrfbz.org), a registered NGO and working demonstration farm that promotes sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, appropriate technology, and food security using permaculture principles and applied biodiversity. The farm also lives on solar power and offers a number of courses.
The property has over 500 species of plants (including lots of cacao), and the staff are working to establish an ethnobotanical garden of useful plants with their Q’eqchi’ Maya names and uses. The farm suffered a devastating fire in 2008 but quickly recovered. Accommodations are simple rustic affairs, with solar lighting and Internet access.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition