Fascinating Find in the Jungles of Belize: A Confederate Sugar Mill

Belize is a country of surprises.  It’s in Spanish speaking Central America but almost seems more like a Caribbean island.   It’s a land that seems to be filled with those doing their own thing…

You’ll find modern fields of soy and corn being sprayed by crop dusters and leveled with state of the art technology in Blue Creek, Orange Walk district.  Just a stone’s throw from rural Mexico but you’d think you were in Iowa.  You’ll see “Confederate” homes in the style of Gone with the Wind’s “Tara” in the southern Toledo district.  Rusting crumbling railway bridges alongside the Southern Highway that were once used to transport oranges to Dangriga town.  Mostly abandoned British army barracks on the way into the “mountains” and Belize’s Pine Ridge area.  Oil wells and Mennonite horse and buggies in Spanish Lookout.  Chinese and Lebanese shopkeepers.  American missionaries – you’ll almost always see a large group of volunteers on holiday in matching tee shirts at the airport.  Garifuna musicians and artists.  Maya chocolate farmers.

The open spaces, the small population, the “to each his own” attitude, the history of piracy, Belize has attracted all sorts of people, part of what makes it is so incredibly unique and special.

So I guess I wasn’t THAT surprised when I went to visit Sittee River – the SLEEPY village just outside seafront Hopkins – when I found an old sugar mill that was abandoned at the turn of the 20th century by Confederates who had left the US after they had lost the Civil War.

Ok…I was still surprised.

Here is a slightly blurry map I could find of the area.  I’ve driven along the Sittee River before and was dazzled by the lush green properties right along the river front.  River, beach, jungle, cayes, mountains.  Mango and breadfruit trees, bursting with flowers and wild life.  It’s one of my dream retirement locales.

So I called Julian, a taxi driver who is lovely and has given me rides before to take me on a short tour from Hopkins.  And here is what I found.

Due to recent rains, the river was swollen and muddy but still beautiful.

A flock of sheep and all the new spring lambs.

The mothers eyed me suspiciously.  And the owner came by and gave us the live weight price.  $2.25bzd per pound.

They were right to be suspicious.  My mind went right to delicious BBQ.

I know.  I’m a monster.

We continued up the dirt road just a bit outside of town to the Serpon Sugar Mill.  It is an area managed by the National Institute of Culture and History and maintained by two NICH employees.  Lovely gentlemen who keep the property looking gorgeous.  (The link also says it was the country first historical reserve! – one of 17 in Belize)

Side note:  I need to get back to this list later.  Who knew that this sugar humble mill was included on this short list along with Lamanai, the ATM cave (aka the most amazing thing I’ve ever done) and other show stoppers.  Later today, I will be writing my proposal to NICH so that I can visit them all.  Clearly a spot light needs to shine on some of the small gems like this mill!

Here are my pictures and some of the information I gathered.

The sugar mill is in a patch of jungle, 114 acres in all, that borders the river.  I was told that there is a small troop of howlers that live here and LOVE the giant fig tree.  I really wanted to see them but they were not available.  Apparently there is a new baby.

Giant fig tree and my friend/driver Julian

There is an information booth and then neatly maintained paths around the property.After the end of the Civil War, some Americans living in the South of the US migrated to Belize.  They initially settled in the Cowpen area of the Toledo district but then spread out to other areas – investing a large amount of money into sugar estates.

Two steam powered mills were established in 1863 – marking the beginning of the industrial era in Belize.  The mills were abandoned in 1910 when it was found to be more profitable in Northern Belize.

A locomotive was found…

A locomotive in the jungle!

Strange and interesting and for history buffs, very worth visiting.  It’s given me so many new ideas for travel.  And REALLY makes you wonder what else is hiding in the jungles of Belize.

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