You read in the history books about this powerful, technologically sophisticated and sometimes brutal ancient civilization. But meeting them in person left a different impression. The Mayans we met in Belize were shy, quiet and above all sweet-natured. The children had warm sincere smiles and were genuinely inquisitive and fascinated by the work we were there to do.
At 5’9, I stood tall amongst them by a foot or two, which only accentuated their apparently timid and bashful characters. Their Mayan furniture and agricultural tools, obviously made to scale, shrunk in comparison to the Chefs, who sat on tiny stools and ate on low tables at the Welcome Dinner. It was evident that we had landed in a very distinctive and rich culture that was nothing like what the chefs and I had met before.
In Belize. I sampled for the first time very interesting and unusual proteins including armadillo, iguana and gibnut. The armadillo was an impressive dish, not only for its chewy, dry and bland texture and taste; but for its Mayan presentation. Its characteristic outer shell of ‘armor’, made for both a perfect grilling and serving plate. Nature usually provides some of life’s perfect solutions!
Iguanas have such an ancient and majestic look about them. I expected its meat to be tough and dense, but the Mayans had prepared this dish so that it was ‘gamey’ in flavor with chicken-like in texture. The chefs showed off their elite talents in turning these proteins into tasty dishes. I was particularly impressed with Kayne’s ability to impress the locals with Gibnut–a type of rodent!
For me, the most exhilarating part of the episode was the chefs arrival. Standing that close to a landing helicopter and feeling the power of the rotors was thrilling. I was trying hard to keep my feet firmly on the ground. My knees were knocking together from the sheer excitement and nervousness of such a beautiful machine hovering directly above my head!
The biggest challenge of Belize were the bugs. We were shooting in thick dense jungle – their natural habitat, so the bugs could argue that we bugged them. No matter how many layers of clothing we piled on (bearing mind that it was extremely hot and humid) and how much we doused ourselves in bug spray, they still managed to eat us all alive! They really got us as the sun was setting, generally the most beautiful and photogenic part of the day! This show location was untamed and unforgiving, but luscious and enchanting nonetheless.