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Free-range jungle chickens demonstrate pluck

Out of the Woods

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

One thing an alert vacationer will notice in Belize, Central America, is that there are no alarm clocks. In the large cities, all one of them, people are up and active at dawn to get the children ready for school and get to the bus stops to go to work. Farmers have already rattled into town in bad trucks with the day's produce. Sleeping in is difficult.

In villages all over the country, the day begins well before dawn. Just beyond the houses on the edge of the village, the jungle is teeming with noisy life, but the team member who routinely shatters a peaceful night is an antsy village chicken. All it takes is one vigilant rooster crowing into the star-studded darkness in the small hours before dawn, but, sadly, there is more than one. A few roosters will set up a blind volley, waking all the surrounding wild birds who, along with the vacationers, would prefer to sleep a little later. The symphony that slowly builds over the remaining hours until dawn includes some quite pleasant cooing, trilling and rhythmic croaking along with the Stravinskian elements of roosters and, no surprise, dogs.

The canine gene pool of the village we vacationed in runs heavily to German short hair pointer. This is not a breed celebrated for howling, but the village choir is a welcoming one and they get in the spirit with baying. One inspired individual manages a bit of a yodel at the end of each phrase. The finishing touch, when you're lying there in bed thinking it can't possibly get any better, is the bass mooing of one or more of the village cows. You'd have to be in a coma to sleep through this, but who'd want to? I busted out laughing the first time we got to the cow part, but my husband said, "you'll just encourage them," and stuffed a pillow down my throat.

People in the village are active with the dawn, greeting each other from one yard to the next and visiting. The various house construction projects begin hammering and sawing and the bus to points south roars through. The dogs, wild birds and cows settle quietly into the shade as the sun heats up the day, but the chickens go to work free ranging. They're fun to watch, but it's hard not to dwell on what they're finding to eat. You don't want to know. You'd think the roosters would be all tuckered out from crowing half the night, but they're out all day with the hens and chicks, crowing now and then for the heck of it. "They do have a lot of pluck," I said to my husband as we drove out of the village one morning. "I'll show you some pluck," he said and swerved to take a shot at a rooster standing on the side of the road. Missed. We had stew chicken for lunch that day, scheming that sooner or later, the rules of supply and demand would put a dent in the rooster supply.

To the generations of locals who grew up with the daily wake up call, it's white noise. Like the lap of waves on the beach. A modern addition to the background sounds of the village started about 10 years ago when electricity came. There are about as many boom boxes as there are roosters. What music do the villagers like to hear? Just about everything. As you walk from one end of the community to the other, you'll hear Bob Marley along with Patsy Cline and the Bee Gees. One morning right after some heartfelt mooing at the end of the livestock chorus, there was a poignant hush, then Edith Piaf welcomed the sunrise. I think that was the day we tried a new place called the Hideaway at the north end for dinner. The special was stew chicken and before the cook disappeared into the kitchen, she popped in a Freddy Fender CD.

After three weeks in the village, we were sad to leave. We'd made new friends, learned a lot about the area and just about got all the words to "Give Me a Red Neck Girl." We had our last dinner at a place frequented by tourists and were asked by some new arrivals what was good to eat. Barely able to keep our eyes open an hour after sunset, we both said, "the stew chicken."

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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