So, Deb and I were just about to take a ton of time off for vacation. We were going to be in Toronto for almost a week, but that left two weeks or better at home. What to do? Belize was what to do! I found a couple places to stay on the web, worked with a travel agent to get everything booked, and off we went.
The following text is Deborah's. My comments are added in italics.
Friday, January 5th Travel
Left Cleveland for Houston 9am (got there way too early and sat around for a very long time) Houston to Belize- arrived 4pm
We were picked up by Ed Turton and his son Joseph (5 years old) and driven to Howler Monkey Lodge, about 30 miles West of Belize City. Joseph was an extraordinary field guide. He had us studying the animals of the rainforest in the car. At the lodge, we also met mom (Mel) and their other son, Youssef (7 years old). Amazingly, even the pictures of the snakes scared Deb. The Lodge
There are several air-conditioned cabins with full bathrooms along a stone trail. The
Belize river runs through the backyards. We ate all meals at a large table in the main lobby, which was the downstairs of the hosts’ home. Night Time
Dinner: coconut chicken, cabbage salad, potatoes
The most striking thing that we noticed on the first evening were the sounds. In addition to the birds and frogs, there is a sound much like lions roaring in the distance. We were told that it is the howling of the howler monkeys. It was surreal. I wish we could have recorded it. Well, we tried to record it, but it turned out none of our recording devices recorded sound.
We also noted that we had never seen such dark sky in all of our lives. The stars literally looked like what one sees in a planetarium show. Here, we're lucky if we can see all the stars that make up Orion. In Belize, not only could we clearly make out the belt and sword, but we could also see hundreds of other stars filling out the constellation.
The ‘bar’: had Belikin beers and a bottle of cashew wine ($4.75 US)- this stuff tastes like very
sweet sherry. We shared some with the locals. Everyone there was speaking English Creole and drinking and smoking. The entire area smelled of weed. There were tiny geckos sitting on the ceiling eating bugs from the light fixtures.
early to bed.
Saturday, January 6th
Breakfast: pancakes and sausage with coconut Cave tubing
There was a 1-2 mile hike into the start of the run, which we had to do carrying our inner tubes. I hiked in my water shoes, which ended up broken. The rainforest trail was gorgeous and the sounds were unique. It is impossible to describe the whole thing in words. We had to stop to look at all of the nature and had to be rushed along, as we had a full day of activities. We learned here of the ‘tourist tree’, a tree with red, peeling bark- much like the tourists have after a bit too much tropical sun. I thought this was pretty funny. Turns out the tourist tree is also a cure for 'poisonwood', a tree with poison-ivy-like effects.
We were alone with Ed in the river- no other guests were there. This was easily the most
relaxing thing I have ever done. The caves were very tall and not in the least claustrophobic and the water was very comfortable.
We didn’t see much in the way of sea life, but as we were rounding a particularly rough bend in the river, there was waiting for us a vulture. We thought ‘does he know something we don’t know?’. Zip Line
Scott did this, but I saw no reason to pay $60 to zoom past the scenery at that speed. There were 8 platforms and 6 lines. He sailed over my head like tarzan. I took pictures of fungus and ants. Hey, it was a lot of fun, and I always wanted to try it. Nearby Belizean Restaurant
Lunch: served us chicken, beans and rice, plantains. Good stuff! Belize Zoo
They have only rescued animals there, including the cutest Toucan in the world. He is a ham and clearly everyone knows it, as he is featured as THE toucan on all the postcards.
All of the signs there are done in handwritten, amusing island-style poetry.
We also saw a Tapir, who strongly objected to my saying that his
long toothy snoot was rather unattractive by projectile peeing on me as he walked away. I guess this is a standard tapir-related hazard. Who knew?
Also there were white-tailed deer that are apparently rare there (unlike here), otters, a jaguar, an ocelot and a very very large bird called a Jabiru stork. Also, not as rare, there were crocodiles, monkeys, and some unbelievably smelly pig-like creatures. Back at the Lodge
We watched in amazement as a family of leaf-cutter ants systematically chewed up the tree next to our cabin and carried the pieces to a mound about 10 yards away, where they farm fungus to eat. On many of the leaves, there were passenger ants. These are amazing creatures, considering what they can carry, and how far they can carry it, relative to their size.
Dinner: garlic chicken, eggplant lasagna, habanero salsa with Culantro
picked from the yard.
Sunday January 7th Morning at the Lodge
Went to breakfast and were told by our lodge mates from Alaska (Holly, a fishery biologist with a degree earned studying baboons in Africa) that there were howler monkeys in the trees by the pool. We
ran down to see them and couldn’t find them.
Breakfast: eggs, ham, homemade tortillas
After breakfast, we found the monkeys and got incredibly close. The kids scared them away a bit, but we got some great photos. This was one of the highlights of the trips. While we saw monkeys at least a couple other times, there was always some clear human involvement. They were in a zoo or had been habituated to dealing with people. These monkeys were neither. They were just doing their monkey business, right in front of us. Altun Ha
Traveled to the Maya ruin site Altun Ha. Learned a lot of history, but mostly enjoyed the unbelievable view from the tops of the temples (of course, this necessitated climbing said temples, which was taxing, but not as high at Chichen Itza. Many many photos were taken. We also ate some wild plums from a tree in the middle of the square. Ed really enjoyed trying to get us to pretend we were Mayans -- peasants or priests -- in order to get us to appreciate what it must have been like. He clearly enjoyed teaching about his heritage. I
also like that he provided his own speculation about how things may have happened.
Back at the Lodge
Lunch: bean empanadas at the lodge
Swim in the pool under the trees, all alone- this beats a resort in a million ways. I spent half the pool-time playing with touch sensitive mimosa plants that were growing by the pool. Deb wasn't impressed.
And now, what we’ve all been waiting for, the inevitable end of the problem-free portion of our adventures……. Baboon Sanctuary
The nature hike through the baboon (really they are howler monkeys) reserve, guided by Russell, a very knowledgeable local nature guide.
So, off we went on a fabulous nature hike, to get up close and personal with the monkeys (which of course we had already done at the pool). Russell is able to get this particular troupe to come down and eat from his hand. Holly the ecologist was not happy with this, for obvious reasons.
Anyway, on the way to the monkeys, we were given natural flyswatters to borrow, which consisted of essentially frayed palm sticks or something. You swing them over your shoulders to scare away the bugs,
of which there are a LOT. Neither this, nor the copious amount of DEET that I had sprayed on, seemed to make a dent in the bite number. I don’t want to consider how I would have faired without either. I don’t think I have contracted malaria or the like, in good news. I can’t say what sort of cancers the DEET might have been causing…. Scott was unbitten for the most part. I guess he is not delicious.
Just minutes after being handed the fly swatter, it was time to get onto the trail, which was just past the ‘road’ (if you can call anything in Belize a road), over a drainage ditch. The scene: on the left, a piece of wood that probably should have been a bridge over the 6 inch deep ditch. On the right, Russell jumping over the ditch with ease and grace then reaching over to give me a hand. Pshaw, says I, I can do that, pu-lease! I jump. Too short. Gravity prevails. I slide down the edge of the ditch and catch myself, full weight squarely not on the bottom of my foot, where nature intended it, but instead in a
more creative position wherein the bottom of my right foot was facing the left and the side of my foot was fully underneath me. I have tiny feet and a giant weight to begin with. My ankle is ill-prepared to handle this situation (as are most ankles, I suppose). I think ‘shake it off, don’t say anything, see monkeys and worry about this later’. I try to fake the rest of the hike and can’t do it. It hurts so much I lose the ability not to vocalize the pain.
Regardless, I hopped about and we looked at all of the flora and fauna and had many rainforest remedies explained to us. Russell had nothing for what ailed me, however, aside from a stick he broke off to help me walk. He apologized a lot.
So, we saw: a plant that has iodine like stuff in its stems that is good for bites; a plant called hot-lips that makes something that aids women in giving birth to their placenta. The winner on this hike was, however, a leaf that was handed to the both of us with the instructions ‘chew on this’. Sure, we say, (he had given
us several other rainforest treats) and Scott puts the whole thing in his mouth (I took a tinier piece). I do believe it was the most revolting bitter thing I have ever tasted. Thanks, Russell, we say. He tells us these leaves will cure malaria and are called ‘jackass bitters’. Perfect.
Then we saw some parrots in a tree, though I was having difficulty seeing them, or frankly focusing at all, as I was busy pretending I was fine and hoping that that would make it true. We also saw the monkeys, of course, as Russell is remarkably competent at mimicking their noises. They came down and grabbed a banana off a stick he was holding. As soon as the monkey got the whole fruit, he left. All in all, the interaction with the monkeys at the pool was superior.
We got back to the lodge and I put some ice on my foot (ice was hard to come by- I was given three cubes). It swelled up in the extreme and turned some fantastic colors. Later on I was given a bandage and some aspirin cream. I will leave this line of discussion here, but to say
that I kept the foot wrapped on and off for the remaining days and it did get progressively better, but for the next two days, it was nearly unbearable.
Dinner: Beef, steamed veggies and Jonny cakes (biscuits)
After dinner- crocodile spotting on the dark river from a canoe. This was unbelievable. The dark, the stars, the reflection of the trees on the glass-like water, the quiet. We spotted crocs using a bright light shined on their eyes followed by quietly paddling up to them, hoping to see them before they went down. We mostly failed at this, but did see some, briefly. Every time the crocs went down, Russell said ‘submerges’ in his Creole accent. We were out there for over 2 hours. We saw a night jar bird, which I am told is rare and an exciting thing to see.
Monday, January 8th Leaving the Lodge
Breakfast: coconut water with flowers and other things
Depart for Belize city with the guests at Howler Monkey (on their way to cave tubing). Got dropped off at the water taxi and had to wait about 1.5 hours to go to Ambergris Caye. There were a lot
of Mennonites there (apparently a lot of them live in Belize). We finally crammed onto a water taxi with about 100 of our closest friends. We sat and chatted with a 79 year old lady from Nevada who was on a tour and told us all about her tour companions, including a very crazy lady, and her other travels. She is a master diver and has been all over the world.
Next, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye
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