We’d been talking about going there for the last couple months, but something else always came up. Friday was Veteran’s Day and an American (but not Belizean) holiday. So my hubby and I took advantage of the opportunity to get out and about while the baby stayed home with his sitter. Spanish Lookout is only half an hour from Belmopan on the Western Highway toward the Guatemala border and is the largest Mennonite community in Belize.

Just like the Asian influence on the grocery stores, the Mennonites are single-handedly responsible for keeping the agriculture industry afloat. They provide auto parts (particularly for farm equipment) and imported steel, as well as chicken, beef and produce. Western Dairies, based in Spanish Lookout, is the only commercial producer of milk in the entire country.

We had already heard about Spanish Lookout from a couple families from the embassy who all said that it had straight wide roads (compared to the narrow twisty things elsewhere), lovely rolling hills, a huge grocery store and ice cream by the cone. It was also supposed to be extremely tiny and easy to navigate. So we set out without being able to find any kind of map online and hoped that they were right.

And for the most part they were. As soon as we passed over the Iguana Creek Bridge and headed up the hill we began to notice changes. For one thing we were creeping along behind a horse-drawn trailer. When we finally passed it, we saw that it was driven by two blond men…one young and one old…both in long pants, long sleeves, hats and suspenders.

These weren’t the first Mennonites we’d seen here. We’d noticed a few in Belmopan, usually at the small Asian grocery store. Mennonites had first come to Belize in the late 1950s after leaving neighboring Mexico. The group was originally Canadian with a Dutch-German-Russian background and had entered Belize after Mexico passed a new social welfare law that they disagreed with.

Similar to the Amish and the Quakers, many Mennonites practice the “plain” approach to living, which includes separation from the secular world, simple living and plain dress. Compared to the other communities, Mennonites are slightly more relaxed in their attitudes toward technology and electricity. But the overall approach and goals of spiritual improvement through separation and hard work are still the same.

We only took one wrong turn in our quest for ice cream, but instead of fearing for our lives, like we would’ve had we taken a wrong turn in Belize City, we ended up driving quietly along a dirt road past giant chicken coops, large farmhouses with colorful quilts drying on lines strung across the yard, and grassy fields full of Brahma cows with their distinctive hump, flap of skin around the neck and floppy ears. Brahmas are popular for breeding and crossbreeding in South and Central America due to their ability to withstand heat, insects and disease.

We chatted with a few of the locals (mostly asking directions to restaurants and furniture stores) and heard the still strong Plautdietsch, or Mennonite Low German, accent. A few people directed us straight to someone’s front door, but we didn’t feel comfortable invading their homes in the name of shopping and capitalism…at leat not yet.

We eventually found the huge grocery store. All the girls behind the registers in the checkout lines had simple frocks on with their hair pulled back and covered. But first we stopped for pizza, burgers and ice cream. Even though we opted for milkshakes instead of cones, they were still wonderful.

But we both agreed that the best part of Spanish Lookout was the energy of the place. It was quiet and calm and hospitable. There were no hard stares as we drove by, no signs of the violence or poverty so common just across the river. Only a relaxed simplicity.

If you read my last post, you know that I was in serious need of an attitude adjustment. Like a soft mental breeze blowing through a clouded mind, the trip to Spanish Lookout provided one. I think we’ll have to make ice cream a weekly thing.

Mennonite farmhouse with work clothes and quilts drying in the yard.