Travelogue – Belize in Five Days

Hello there! Well, we are back and feeling more refreshed than ever. Our trip to Belize was nothing short of fantastic, and somewhat of a natural, spiritual journey for us both. I found out a lot about myself, and took on some new adventures I didn’t think I could physically do. The time away has mentally prepared me for a lot of new things I want to take on, and goals I’ve been wanting to achieve. I’m excited to see what the future will bring, and a little nervous too all at once.

Belize in five days, a lot harder I think than we both expected. This country kicked our butts, and five days didn’t even put a dent in the amount of things to do here. Brad and I are the type of travelers that squeeze out every hour of every day wherever we are, we have to, our travel time is usually just so limited. It’s one of those things where we say to ourselves, “we may never come here again, let’s do this,”  and I think it’s really allowed us to have amazing adventures, tiresome trips, but amazing none the less. As a warning though,  if you aren’t in good physical shape, (seriously a requirement unless you plan on resort bumming)  don’t enjoy small tight spaces, darkness, deep water, mosquitoes, and an adrenaline rush, this place isn’t for you. Not to say that Belize doesn’t have a million Cayes to dive, snorkel, and beach on, but if you’re really wanting to get to know Belize, it requires leaving a little of that “tourist-y” comfort behind. This country is beautiful and amazing..and I have to be honest, I didn’t want to come back home.

Day one: Since this was a birthday trip for my husband, I tried hard to plan things I knew he would enjoy, and put us in an area where we’d be close to doing a lot of those things. I choose Hopkins, Belize as our base camp, and I have to say our little bungalow we stayed in was incredible. The Belizean Dreams has nine private suites/bungalows, you are literally on the beach, and they have running water and private restrooms. We were 2 of 25 people there, with a pretty snazzy private restaurant and beach bar; we fought the temptation to just lounge around, trust me, it was hard. Next time though, I think hotel hopping will work best to get to some other, more hard to reach, areas. Make sure to rent a car when you go, taxi fees are pretty crazy here, but gas is $6.00 a gallon, so you can see why. Belize also only has two main highways that are actually finished and paved, the others are not. Four wheel drive is a must, and you really do need a car if you want to get into some neat areas. It may be a bumpy ride sometimes, but just think of it as a free back massage. Hummingbird Highway is their main highway, and it’s an absolutely stunning drive, rain forest and mountains everywhere! Life just seems so simple and peaceful there. You better Belize it!

After getting in I made reservations to go snorkeling. They only had two trips going out, so luckily we were able to catch one.  Early the next day, we got on a boat that took us down the Sittee River to two different snorkel spots off the barrier reef. Snorkeling is incredible here, so much life. The coral reef is outrageous too, it’s humongous, so diving, as you can imagine is top notch. We saw damsels, parrot fish, an array of angel fish, and lots of other species I’m not familiar with, swam with an Eagle Ray and saw nurse sharks. I was speechless. After snorkeling we hit up a few other cayes, the most notable  of them all was CoCoPlum Caye, or basically paradise as I like to call it. We got lunch while we were there, and found an awesome conch shell that our guide actually let us keep!

Day 2: After all our snorkeling, we ended up back in our bungalow, and headed out for dinner. We hit the sheets early to get up for a 2 hour drive in San Ignacio, to see probably one of THE most amazing sights on Earth, Actun Tunichil Muknal, or otherwise known as the ATM cave (more info here). It is considered one of the ten most sacred caves on the planet, and unfortunately by the time we traveled here, cameras were no longer allowed in or near the cave at all. Just six months prior a brilliant tourist dropped their camera on a thousand year old skull, smashing it, so to protect their sacred lands, the Belizeans have prohibited all cameras, and according to our guide will probably soon shut the cave down to tourists completely. This is one of those must- sees, but I warn you, it is no easy trek to get there. We were actually very lucky to have received a private tour of the cave, from Juan Carlos who has explored this cave since the 90’s. We also had in our group the small family of  Professional Survivalist, Gustav, who helps train the Specials Forces for both Britain and the U.S. he’s also been the babysitter for the infamous Man VS Wild guy, he’s been spelunking and cave diving for years. Needless to say we got a very in-depth tour and felt completely safe. Both guys had machetes and guns which they instantly revealed when we heard a Jaguar on one of our river crossings. This cave requires a 6 mile swim,walk, spelunk in total. We trekked through about a mile or so of rain forest, ate termites (actually not as gross as you think, minty with a hint of woody flavour) for the first time, bamboo, and peeled back some rubber from a rubber tree. Then we crossed three rivers, two of which I’d say were more difficult than the others to get across, and finally you’ll reach the cave. ATM was considered by the Mayans the path to their underworld, and so it’s to be respected that way. The cave is completely pitch black and is a maze of dead ends, rushing cold waters and tight spaces you will be required to squeeze through. Once you reach the opening of the cave an ominous feeling sets about you as you’re asked to put on your helmet, turn on your head lamp, jump in (to 60 degree water, uh) and swim to the nearest ledge within the cave, and it’s really dark. Once in, you’ll walk about 2 miles or so within the cave climbing rocks, swimming under them and past them, crawling through tight spaces, and hoping that you don’t slam your shin against underwater rock ledges. The whole time having no light but that of your head lamp. You wonder how the Maya did this in the dark, barefoot and more naked than you are. Our guide said they would go in with torches but if they dropped it in the water, well..that was that. The point was though, the Mayans knew this, they believed so strongly in the spirituality of the caves and of their religion that they willingly accepted the fact that they may never come out of the cave alive., and most didn’t. It was a privilege and honor to enter one.

This ATM cave as I said before was primarily used as a portal to the underworld, but it’s most recognized for the amount of sacrifices made here. The cave is laden with the skeletons of the sacrificed and with an array of tools used in blood letting rituals. There is one part of the cave, the most holiest part, where you are asked to remove your shoes and climb a few rock ledges to enter the tomb of the Crystal Maiden. As my husband and I stood there looking at this crystallized skeleton of a young female, our toes pressed into the ancient mud of the caves, this wave of awe comes over you. All seven of us stood there in silence, and you feel like you’ve left the world of the present and gone back to a place that’s really just indescribable. It was a surreal feeling, I mean how much closer does it get than this, to experiencing the past? So sadly, I don’t have photos, but it was amazing. Believe me. I went in with fear, and apprehension and I came out reborn sort of..and I guess that’s the point.

Day 3: So we woke up sore, I’m sure you can understand why, but onward. We got up early again to head to Cockscomb Basin. It’s basically a bazillion acres of protected land and rain forest. Let me tell you, this rain forest kicked me in the rear, hard. I like to think I’m pretty fit, I run 5-7 miles daily, avid palates/yoga follower, and I do plenty of weight training..and I was dying during a few hikes around this place. First off the drive is 7 miles long and a very very very bumpy trek into the rain forest, and you’re going slow because well you want to see everything! Luckily, “I  had an amazing four wheel off-road driver who can handle any terrain at high speeds while his wife yells slow down every five minutes, and can dodge pot holes with precise ability. Mario Andriette in a four wheel vehicle”  Finally, you reach the park entrance and there’s several hiking trails marked. I really suggest you stay on the marked trails, we didn’t even feel brave enough to meander off, well except once, but we found a lovely waterfall. This place seems like Jurassic Park. Everything was just bigger, including the insects, :::shudder::: give me caves, darkness, mud, goo, sweat, blood, rough seas, snakes, wild beasts, but bugs..yuck.

We did three different hikes in Cockscomb and I can’t even tell you how long they were, all I know is that at the end of the night, I was exhausted. Make sure to hydrate well, because the forest will make you sweat out of every pore in your body. Oh and bug spray is a must, the mosquitoes here are vicious and put our “Texas” sized ones to shame..you don’t know mosquitoes if you haven’t been here. Surprisingly, we didn’t get bit here at all, that’s another story. There are jaguars in this forest but they shouldn’t bug you, although you may hear them. They smell fear my husband says, real funny. Later on we got back to base camp, showered and went into town. We stopped by a cool wood craftsman’s shop and bought an awesome sting ray sculpture and went for dinner at Iris’. We met the owner and chatted with her through the night, two carafes of coffee later and it was time to get back. Sharing stories like that with locals is heart warming, she’s a wonderful lady from South Africa and her food is great! However, upon going back to the hotel, I realized I was itchy..really itchy. I felt like my legs were on fire. Turns out, I never got bit  by any mosquitoes through the jungles and caves..but when we sat down for dinner, I was demolished. Over 41 bites all over my legs!!! One hot shower and an antihistamine later I passed out. Thanks to my awesome husband for rubbing ointment on my legs, you’re my hero.

“Carito” our trusty rental

Day 4:  Technically our last day, since we came late Thursday night. I got up really early on our last day, sun rise is 5 am and I wanted to capture it in photos. Since Belize was dealing with some really weird stormy weather over the past few days, the sunrise was interesting and the moon was still out. Luckily we didn’t have to fly out till 3 pm, so we explored Hopkins a little more and set out for an early trip back, it’s about 3 hrs to Belize City and the airport. While we were walking along the beach early morning, it looked like some storm clouds were rolling in, we chatted with a local fisherman who introduced us to sea grapes. This giant tree makes a grape like fruit and it’s edible. The fruit is actually pretty sweet with a bit of a salty tang to it. We ate a few and headed on our way. Halfway to Belize City, near the town of Armenia there is St.Herman’s Blue Hole which is basically a kind of lagoon and another cave system. We checked out the lagoon which was lovely, and decided to do the “dry cave tour” of St. Herman’s Cave last minute. We figured we had a few hours till it was time to leave. Before we knew it we were meeting up with Vida who lives in Armenia to give us a tour of the cave. He stressed I leave my camera in the car, plus I figured it’s usually impossible to get good photos in a dark cave. We walked through some dense vegetation and finally arrived to the cave, we figured hey this will be easy, just some walking. Nope..not at all. If you’re looking for spelunking, this is it, there are no trails clearly marked, and the ground is insanely muddy. You are required to go in with a guide who is trained in cave spelunking, you will slip and fall and crawl and climb, so be prepared and steady. We had to climb some serious formations and rocks, it was pretty intense, and on top of that, hotter than heck! We were drenched by the time we finished, so dry cave tour, not so. The cave actually drew some of my blood, I lodged my foot into a crevice and cut up my ankle, but nothing major. This cave was darker, hotter, and I think a bit more difficult to climb than ATM, but we did it. It was an incredible tour. We were even able to see ancient pots and blood letting ritual tools. I kid you not, we were the only ones in the cave, seems not too many people are into this sort of spelunking, but it was very very worth it. At one point we climbed into an opening of the cave where it just opens into this cathedral like setting of stalagmites and stalactites, and we were silent for a minute catching our breathe. Our guide asked us to turn off our head lamps and you couldn’t even see your hands in front of your face, it was freakishly awesome. At the same time, we heard a giant growl/howl type sound, our guide claimed it was a bat. Apparently they can get pretty grumpy and loud, and kind of big. Needless to say, I picked up my pace. We finished just in time to get back on the road and on to Belize City. We didn’t have time to change and boarded the plan muddy and exhausted. Belize, we miss you!

Hope you guys enjoyed our stories!

MN

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