Discovering Spanish Lookout
We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto…we’re in Spanish Lookout
Discovering Spanish Lookout starts with crossing the Old Belize River via a hand cranked ferry, which, in this automated era of self-driving cars, is an experience in itself. To stand on an old three-car capacity barge watching the tranquil river roll by while the ferryman winds cable onto a revolving drum, conveying you to the other side completely by hand, is another of those “only in Belize” experiences.
And then you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow been magically transported back to farmland in Ohio or Saskatchewan.
With farmers riding around in pickups or tractors, John Deere and DeKalb caps on their heads, pastures filled with healthy looking cattle, the granaries and stores advertising farm implements, fertilisers and feed, Spanish Lookout is as tidy, pretty and scenic as any pastoral landscape in middle America or Canada.
And then you look closer.
While men’s farming fashions haven’t changed much over the years, with blue jeans, work shirts, suspenders and boots, you can’t help but notice that the women’s long dresses, bonnets and other attire harken back to a different, let’s say more homespun era.
If you listen a bit more carefully you’ll discover these folks are speaking German. And if you speak the language yourself, you’ll be surprised to hear the Plautdietsch, or Low German, of bygone years.
We’re not in Kansas, Toto – we’re in a Mennonite Community in Belize!
Briefly, Mennonites started in the 1500s as followers of a devout, pacifist Dutch Catholic priest named Menno Simons, whose break from the Church of Rome and refusal to take part in military service put him and his people at odds with various governments and rulers, keeping them on the move as exiles from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Prussia, Russia and other countries. Eventually, many Mennonites settled in Canada and the US, where, in Pennsylvania, they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, or Amish.
Some communities in North America relocated to Mexico, and in 1958, a group of Mennonites from Chihuahua moved to Belize.
Now, Spanish Lookout is not Belize’s only Mennonite community – you’ll find settlements, with varying degrees of conservativeness, in Upper and Lower Barton Creek, Indian Creek, Shipyard, Little Belize, Blue Creek, Springfield, and Pine Hill. But Spanish Lookout, comprised of what are known as mechanised Mennonites, is the community that has had the greatest influence on the country.
Starting out importing farming equipment and tools, Spanish Lookout is now the place Belizeans go to for chainsaws, pumps, outboard engines, portable generators and spare parts for just about anything.
Producers of dairy products, eggs, corn, melons, beans and other produce, Spanish Lookout farmers are also Belize’s main suppliers of chickens and… ice cream.
Which brings us to another reason to visit Spanish Lookout. In addition to the lovely rolling pastoral vistas, friendly people and unique ambience, a visit to Western Dairies is a delight to ice cream connoisseurs of all ages and flavours.
Started in 1967 by sixteen farmers with a vision to produce and sell fresh milk, the company moved into cheese production and then ice cream. With fifteen flavours now on offer, as well as fresh pizzas, burritos, yoghurts, various drinks and other treats, entire Belizean families make day trips to Spanish Lookout just to enjoy a meal and a healthy brain-freeze on a hot day.
Several other eateries have sprung up recently, and you can even get a Philly cheesesteak at Sista’s Diner, and the health conscious can find a healthy variety of vitamins and supplements at Reimers Health Foods.
For travellers to Belize, a visit to Spanish Lookout is a must to round out a cultural tour of Caribbean Central America’s most varied, vibrant and harmonious melting pot. To go from, say, the traditional little village of Cristo Rey across the river from the Macal River Camp, or after learning to make tortillas with the San Antonio Women’s Group, or sampling traditional Maya chocolate at AJAW in San Ignacio Town, a visit to Spanish Lookout brings home just how truly multicultural Belize is.
Oh – and there’s the ice cream…