Belize; Waterfalls, Jungle and Polish Wetsuits
Kristin followed our sons and me to the top of Mt. Fuji. A task and destination she would never have chosen alone. Her tenacity and resolve enabled her success that day but also fueled the encouragement and understanding to wave good-by as I departed with our first born to an African summit a full mile and a half higher than Fujisan. I love her dearly for both. It is why our anniversary destination had to be somewhere very relaxing, a place to be pampered, interesting and diverse but carry the potential for adventure. A place where the serendipitous, intuitive, risk taker meets the measured, calculating, pragmatic and the outcome was the country of Belize.
My research began knowing very little about the country, history or its people. Our mission was to experience the mountains, jungle, beach and culture so I surfed my way to three potential scenarios.
Ultimately, we discovered a combination that enabled us to write one check for; ground transportation, lodging, food, transfers, most tips and multiple adventures. It was the first time I’d ever been on a vacation where my wallet stayed securely in my back pocket if I carried it at all and with English being the first language, we were soon using surnames with staff and able to engage in informative conversation.
Processing from the plane through customs only took a few minutes. The first thing we saw passing through the doors of the airport was the sign and guide from our inn. During our educational and informative 3-hour drive to our mountain lair, Rick began explaining nuances about him, the culture and the country, a perfect introduction to a new and wonderfully diverse country.
Hidden Valley Inn is perched 1980 feet above the lush jungle on an escarpment with its own Caribbean pine meadow ecosystem. The 7200 acres of private land offer many activities. The 12 mahogany trimmed cabanas keep the guest numbers low enough to insure complete privacy on the trails but offered interesting conversation in the lodge at meal times. There are many delights on the menus to choose from.
Our nearly four-hour hike the first day took us 850 feet down an Indiana Jones pathway along an ever-growing sparkling cascade of water, jungle and rocks. Kristin stayed behind as I worked my way to the top of the Tiger Creek Waterfall for the view of the valley 500 feet below.
After dangling our feet in one of the wonderfully cool pools, we traversed up and over the typography to the next valley entrance anchored by a manmade lake. We then regained the elevation to the inn up and through an enchanting intimate valley crisscrossing the stream across half a dozen handmade bridges. The final pitch out of the timeless vault took us up ladders and steps carved out of the valley wall.
A rope was available to assist us but the pitch was perfectly manageable without it in the dry conditions.
The inn has a pool and Jacuzzi that relaxes and rejuvenates the trail weary guests. For those needing additional assistance to unwind, let’s not forget libations like; Estelle’s Rainforest Delight or the Panty Ripper are available.
One morning, Kristin went birding with other guests at 6:00 a.m. while I sat in the lodge on top of the escarpment in the middle of nowhere wirelessly connected to the Formula One race from Barcelona, Spain on my laptop quietly sipping coffee grown, roasted and brewed on premise and penning additional paragraphs of this journal, totally relaxed.
Rick, the fellow that met us at the airport and took the guests birding was also our guide for many adventures.
Rio On Pool is a swimming spot created by a series of cascading pools down across water hone granite covering four football fields. I had my diving mask so I porpoised from pool to pool exploring eddies and corners for unfound treasure. The inn furnished a terrific picnic lunch.
Caracol is an ancient city Mayan city that covers 55 square miles. Only a small portion has been excavated. As we crossed the Macal River during our pothole dodging drive, Rick pointed out one side of the river was Caribbean Pine Forest and the other was Rain Forest, quite a dramatic contrast. He also spotted a toucan, the national bird if Belize. The only time I’d ever seen one was on a cereal box. The other fateful moment was when the truck full of Belizean Army men passed us on their way out of the area. Rick mentioned they are there to protect tourists from Guatemalan bandits.
It was dark when we finally reached the van. Two thoughts entered my mind; will we see any wildlife and will we be robbed on the way out. Rick figured one van was not worth the trouble to stop and he turned out to be correct. It would not be until the following day when five vans full of tourists were stopped at gunpoint and lost money, cameras and jewelry to the SOB’s. One of the vans was from Hidden Valley Inn where we were staying. The fellow who lost his $1000 digital camera was angrier about the lost images than the device. The newlyweds had their rings locked in the safe at the Inn and lost very little but felt violated and spent serious time in the bar. This Guatemalan activity has only happened two or three times over a few years and only near the border so it is not widespread. It was embarrassing to the staff at the inn and all Belizeans because they depend on tourism for their livelihood. The drive alone is reason enough to visit Caracol.
I recommend using the safe at the inn and have an extra $5 along.
The Orchid Waterfall is one of two private waterfalls that can be reserved for a day while staying at Hidden Valley. So aptly named after Kristin’s favorite flower, it was prize enough to see to look on her face as we approached the 20′ cascading falls. The screened octagon hut covered with a Mayan thatched roof already had the table set with white cloth, china, silverware, chilled champagne and the flutes decorated with beautiful red flowers and a sprig of fern. The small deck led to some simple steps that access the refreshing pool beneath the tumbling water. I hadn’t told her anything so she had expected a towel on a rock.
It’s nigh impossible to imagine a more Eden-like place anywhere on this earth to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
The stocked cooler that waited for us was filled with goodies like; marinated shrimp, potatoes, salad, papaya and some baked bars and cookies. Fresh towels, bug spray, two hammocks and an outhouse with a ceramic tile floor and flush toilet, rendered every possible need for the next seven hours before our man Freddie would pick us up at our agreed time.
Only a quick thunderstorm would have completed the setting and we suddenly heard the rumbles from one of the typical orphaned cell boomers that wander over Belize at this time of year. Perfect!
After four beautiful days in the mountains it was time to be driven to our beach location just outside the city of Hopkins. On the way we made a stop at Barton Creek Cave. Rick paddled one kilometer into the darkest spot I have ever experienced. We were given a small battery and light for the journey but Rick had us turn it off at our deepest point in the cave. Both Kristin and I tried to outlast the other with the light out. I’ll call it a tie but we both had the creeps pretty fast. The Mayans used the cave for human sacrifice. No kidding. The cave is only 10′ wide in places and as I’m shinning the light around we spot the elusive scorpion spider sitting 18 inches from my head. Rick is all enthusiastic about how rare they are. This specimen has been in total darkness and now I’m adding huge candle power to his world. I tell Rick, “I don’t care if it’s endangered, if he jumps on me he’s history”. As our canoe found its way into the light of day we both felt a tug of slightly desperate relief.
We had forded two rivers with the Land Rover to arrive at the cave. As we worked our way back to the main road a group of school children was wading through the water to cross the river. That is the way to cross because there is no bridge but I was struck by the juxtaposition of the simplicity and of knowing that could never happen in the USA.
Our new resort was called Hamanasi. I chose it for its conservative physical size and the fact we could stay in a “tree house”. The “abode on stilts” were very romantic digs and quietly away from the main building tucked into the woods. The serpentine pathways with steps made from sliced tree trunks that ran to the tree houses brought feelings of Peter Pan’s Neverland. I loved it!
A smiling and accommodating staff again greeted us ready to meet our every need. The management received word from another guest that it was; indeed, our anniversary day and we found chilled bubbly waiting for us in our room that night with a charming note of congratulations written on a leaf from a local plant. It was a simple gesture of real customer service that set the tone for the entire stay.
Cockscomb Wildlife Reserve was a day trip to the huge jungle habitat for jaguars set aside in the 80s. Both Kristin and I had read the book about its creation. The text described all the bugs, snakes and dangers waiting for those brave souls that penetrate the forbidding and claustrophobic jungle. The manicured paths we traveled were the only way to explore around the area. It is impossible to move anywhere off the path without a machete. After seeing a 5-foot wide swath of army ants crossing the trial, I was glad we were not camping in the jungle. Our guide had us all move up trail from where they were crossing because the line of ants could have been 100′s of feet long and they wouldn’t like being stepped on.
We used the complimentary bikes from Hamanasi to ride the dusty washboard road into the town of Hopkins. It is a collection of stilted shanties and newer cinderblock buildings. Mangy dogs roam the streets but are all into their own business and none paid any attention to the tourists. At the very end of town we discovered the Drum Center. The two men inside saw us looking and invited us in. We spent a very charming hour talking with and playing with these very happy and kind people. Kristin played maracas with these drummers and looked to be having the time of her life.
The last two days of the trip were spent snorkeling along the second largest barrier reef in the world. We saw many types of sea animals; string ray, eagle ray, 8″ brown ray, lobster, sea worm, moray eel and all the styles of coral known to man. On our final snorkel, the Caribbean was treated to a Polish wetsuit. The day before, Kristin was sunburned in places like the back of her legs above the ankle. To protect herself, she entered the water completely clothed. The seven other snorkelers with us found the situation very funny, as Kristin is, indeed, half Polish. Everyone listened, however, as all our fellow amphibians entered the warm waters at least partially clothed to protect themselves from the relentless Caribbean sun.
The only question that remains is; how does anyone stay married for 25 years?
The answer is very simple; I learned to say, “Yes dear.”