In mid-October 2016, I visited the Gateway Retreat in northern Belize to meet up with my former workmate Henry Elwell and his wife Rose. I went there full of excitement and pleasant anticipation.
Because Henry, 19 years my senior, had been more than just a colleague to me during the six years (1988-94) that we worked together in conservation tillage in Zimbabwe. His razor-sharp scientific mind, his thoroughness in work, and his persistent spiritual quest had always fascinated me and had been a treasure trove of professional and personal experiences.
But, then, in June 1994, my assignment to Zimbabwe came to a close and though we’d maintained contact initially, we ultimately lost track of each other. I guess we both moved houses too often!
And now, just over 22 years later, I meet with him again and, amazingly, it was as if we’d never parted! Good old Henry still has the same incorruptible, marvelous approach to life. I felt at home at once!
And, because of his and Rose’s ease and unobtrusiveness, I also decelerated most peacefully. Their beautiful agricultural and ornamental gardens, both embedded in a protective fairies’ forest that presented me with some beautiful hummingbird and other wildlife observations, did the rest!
Rose & Henry have achieved an overall aesthetics, which is well rounded! While Rose keeps adding an artistic note to the Gateway Retreat, Henry keeps setting the agro-ecological mark.
Not surprisingly then, I enjoyed a most wonderful extended weekend. Thank you both kindly!
Heartfelt thanks also to Chris (Harris), who was kind enough to establish contact early this year.
Mid January 2016 saw us heading back to the Gateway Retreat in Corozal, Belize, for a second visit.
It was lovely to see the Retreat how much Rose had developed the Om & Fern gardens and also Henry’s extension to the vegetable plot since we last visited in December 2013.
One of the main highlights of our visit was having the opportunity of being present at the Retreat Open Day on January 31st. After being able to help with the final couple of days’ preparation, we enjoyed meeting so many of last year’s supporters and also some new ones.
The morning Satsang each day was particularly peaceful, beginning in the darkness and coming to an end sometime after sunrise. We were fortunate enough also to have been able to participate in the weekend Satsang and meet the Retreat Satsangees.
This time we also took the opportunity to visit some new parts of Belize and experience the local transport, taking the Thunderbolt over to San Pedro and onward to Caye Caulker for a few days, and then a local bus from Corozal down to Crooked Tree Lodge — both highly recommended.
First of all my deep thanks for arranging and accommodating me during my visit to Belize. I greatly appreciate your hospitality and concern in every aspect of my stay with you. This is what makes the Gateway Retreat a beautiful, relaxing and stress free place. You take the burden of worry away. Thank You.
The beautiful satsang sessions we had every morning and the in depth talks we shared were wonderful. I like Henry's philosophy that we need to grow with the environment so that all life thrives in the best way it should. This would really be a true example of SPIRIT in MOTION.
I was very lucky to be able to stay with my dear friends Rose and Henry at the Gateway Retreat last year for about 6 weeks. In that time I got to know a little about life in Belize in general and at the retreat in particular. I loved the rhythm of life there and the chance to be more in tune with nature (apart from the dreaded Doctor flies which took great delight in biting me!). I loved learning about the vegetables/plants from Henry in the garden, then researching some and cooking with them creating new, interesting dishes. I loved cooking and experimenting and sharing our meals around the table — my favourite pastime! Rose introduced me to the birdlife in the garden, the brightly coloured orioles singing, nest building and generally being very busy and the gorgeous iridescent Yukatan Jays flashing bright, bright blue as they enjoyed the corn. I felt very privileged to be part of their lives there in such a beautiful setting which they have lovingly, with an unbelievable amount of hard labour and dedication, turned in to a magical oasis of lushness and growth.
As my time with Rose and Henry at Gateway Retreat is coming to a close, after three weeks in their company, I have had time to reflect on just how grateful I am to have such wonderful people in my life. During my stay, I have not only learned a great deal about agriculture in Belize, I have also grown to appreciate who I am and all that I am capable of. Together, we have planted crops (following the moon cycles and ancient mayan practices), collected wild legume seed to be planted as soil enrichment, harvested mung beans and ghost peppers and reorganized the Fern and Om garden.
I have helped test the specific gravity of the solar batteries, embraced living with rain collection water systems and solar energy, and even learned how to bake bread rolls! We have laughed, meditated, and shared our lives together and it is through this exchange of energy that the insight to understand the value of life became a little more clear.
Henry and Rose are wonderful hosts and we were made to feel very comfortable. It’s easy to become absorbed very quickly in the lush greenness and tranquillity of the Retreat and it is evident how much thought and hard work has gone into planning how the land will be used and also into clearing it, whilst retaining as much of the natural beauty as possible. Henry showed us many of the eco friendly aspects of the Retreat including the solar panels, well and pump and explained some of the agricultural techniques, such as taking forest litter to improve the soil quality. We also explored the surrounding grounds, seeing the Mayan well, the newly exposed Mayan Mounds and also appreciated Rose’s work on the Om garden and her sculptures. The guest room is very comfortable indeed and surprisingly cool. Rose and Henry provided delicious meals upstairs.
Immediately on arriving I felt at home in Belize. The countryside and the towns and villages and in some places the lay of the land, even the potholes and the garbage, made me feel like I was back in Zimbabwe or for that matter even my village in India.
The atmosphere at the retreat is very peaceful and I was fortunate to be there during the mango and avocado season. This is the right way to eat, when the fruits are in season. So many people that I came to know during my very short stay gave us gifts of bananas, guavas, bread fruit a new one called marmee as well as the avocados and mangos. I also enjoyed all of the fresh veggies, green peppers, sweet potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes from the garden. I was able to see the Mayan site and Henry showed me the cropping area. I saw how much hard work and time is necessary to transform the poor soil into fertile land.
Despite the miniature scale of Belize, the country has numerous and varied attractions to offer depending upon your interests. Our main focus was bird watching with a small dose of Mayan ruins. Two places which offered an abundance of birdlife as well as extremely good bird guides were Crooked Tree Lodge and La Milpa Ecolodge and Research Centre. We spent several days on Caye Caulker which has a very relaxed ambience. There are plenty of good eating establishments and the snorkelling was excellent. The Belize Zoo is also on the highly recommended list, and we braved the traffic chaos of Belize City to go to the Museum, which was very informative and quite delightful.
It has to be said that Rose and Henry have, between them, created a very lovely “space” in the forest near Corozal — and this has come about through incredibly hard work. Hacking that space out of fast-growing, almost jungle, vegetation, and just keeping the re-growth at bay is really an astonishing task. With that work, and the house that has been erected — including the lovely spare room, and also the beautiful little garden with Rose’s charming inputs, all make for precisely the kind of peaceful space required for the retreat.
Staying at the Retreat was a fantastic learning experience for me on sustainable living. It is not as hard or scary as I had imagined; sustainable living does not mean living with less quality. In fact, because one is so in control, it is possible to live cheaper and with better quality of food, water and electricity. The house is a good example of sustainability working smoothly and I realised how much of the Earth’s resources we waste daily. After one night I fell in love with the place. It is like a sample of heaven or a little piece of paradise. The jungle is full of creatures that chatter away, bright coloured birds that swoop in and parrots that sit on the trees outside the house. It feels safe and calm and far removed from the unnatural, man-made stresses that modern day life brings. I miss it already now that I am not there and wouldn’t mind heading back soon.