The first time we visited St Ignacio, three years ago, it was much like many of the little towns dotted all over this part of the Americas, ie a small, slightly tatty Hispanic town. The only place for the likes of us to stay was in the Royal Casino Hotel (with price tag to match), and it was really the only place to eat too. Recently, however, the town has been spruced-up and there is even a pedestrianized area where one can sit out to eat or drink of an evening – a must in any warm climate.
St Ignacio is situated to the west of Belize, just before the border in to Guatamala and on the two rivers Mapan and Mocal. It is a market town with a tolerably good selection of shops, a very good hospital and rather too many churches. The population of approx 10 000 consists mainly of Mestizo and Creole peoples, with a fair amount of Mopan (Mayan people from Belize or Guatamala). When Belize was the British Honduras, St Ignacio (and the attached village of St Elena, now swallowed up in to the town) exported mahogany and chicle (for chewing gum).
It is a pleasant little place with several inexpensive places to stay and eat and where you can get most of your shopping done. Note, by the way, that you will find almost nothing of quality apart from the Mestizo woven fabrics and similar.
Nearby is the Mennonite settlement of Spanish Lookout. This is definitely not worth visiting unless you wish to buy a lawn-mower or a car radiator or something along those lines! Spanish Lookout has no village centre, but is a huge green area dotted with wealthy farms, factories of varying shapes and sizes, all spread out amid lush green fields. There are about 2000 Menonite adults living and working in Spanish Lookout, many of whom wear the traditional old-fashioned clothes (women in long dresses and bonnets and the men in denim dungarees and hats) and get about by horse and cart. An equal number have adopted modern dress, and the modern way of life is evident everywhere with their expertise in argriculture and engineering. In fact, if you purchase something from Spanish Lookout you will almost certainly find it works: this cannot always be said for purchases anywhere else in Belize!
The Mononite people have their own school, church and even bank. On the whole they seem to be quite affluent, in direction contradiction to what one assumes they try to portray. Approximately 2000 local Mestizos and Creoles have converted to the Mennonite way of life and have adopted their way – essentially Evangelical – and traditions. It cannot be disputed that they contribute hugely to the Belizean economy. However, they do destroy large areas of jungle for their farms – and thence destroy all animal and plant life there – and in many cases have an unashamed use of pesticides and fertilizer. There have been cases of jaguars (which are protected by law) being shot on Menonite land.
Catherine Broughton is a writer, an artist and a traveler. Her books are on Amazon & Kindle. For more about her work go to http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk