By: Terri Keen Coffman


A hundred acres in the middle of the Central American jungle, miles from the nearest town, was no place for Americans to raise their children, family and friends had said. But that's exactly what my parents did. After converting an old Greyhound bus into a "mobile home", they christened it "Keen's Karavan", packed up us five kids and headed for Belize and a new way of life.


Every day was a new adventure for us. Getting lost in the Mexican mountains and meeting a family up there who had never seen an ice cube or tasted koolaid; learning how they still washed clothes by beating them on rocks and hanging them over bushes to be bleached and dried by the sun; seeing how they cooked food wrapped in banana leaves outside on a primitive limestone hearth was all a pleasant cultural experience, but a bit overwhelming. Although they knew no English and we knew no Spanish, my family and I spent three days enjoying their simple hospitality then left them, rich with the knowledge that a smile and a handshake truly is the universal language.


As the Keen's Karavan pressed on toward our new future, we experienced for the first time the awesome numbing cold of swimming in an azure blue volcanic lake; our first encounter with a six-foot iguana who just happened to be resting in the tree we chose to put our Tarzan swing on; dangerous run-ins with giant scorpions, hairy tarantulas as large as a man's hand, poisonous snakes, and an invasion by deadly soldier ants.


As frightening as some of the experiences were, I quickly learned that we were the intruders into that pristine part of the world, and even that seemingly malign part of nature is perfectly balanced; balanced by the beauty of dew-drenched ceiba trees and green bamboo thickets and the snow-white orchids that grow wild high above the living forest floor; balanced by waterfalls cascading down the mountains into sun-kissed pools of crystal clear water; balanced by the songs of a myriad of birds and the cries and calls of a host of other animals that only a lucky few ever get to hear, much less, see. But, most important of all, I felt balanced, too, by the serenity of Belize and knowing that I was part of it all.