Our adventure begins…
If I could describe my trip to Belize in one word, that word would be adventure. My vacation days were filled with bumpy trips to Mayan sites, snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea, seeing a jaguar (or two), and even spelunking in the “Mayan underworld”.
In a country only recently achieving its full independence from Great Britain in 1981, the primary language here is still English (thank you Queen Elizabeth). I must say it is quite strange driving around a less developed country in Central America and seeing billboards advertising Coca-Cola in English (my favorite: the one pictured above stating “Da one dola deal”).
It was a relief arriving in Belize City, where the population is only 80,000 and not a high rise was in sight. Sure made navigating around much easier for a first time central American driver, Mister Brian Molloy. It was a delight being with Brian on his first “real” trip down south. Brave and willing he was with our first meal, a BBQ chicken kabob wrap from a Belizean street vendor (and our stomachs survived!–at least for our first meal).
And away we drove to our first destination, San Iganacio.
Driving down the Western Highway, you surely see the diverse mixing bowl of people who reside in Belize–Mayan descendants selling their craft work, Amish and Mennonites selling watermelons. A quick stop at a gas station and you’ll be greeted by a Vietnamese man watching “Friends” from a satellite larger than his store, at another you may have the pleasure of hearing Belizean creole.
At one stop on the way to San Iganacio to pick up some Belizean Lemonade, I had my first experience here listening to this unique language. It honestly sounds like jibberish at first, but with each passing day you pick up a few words here and there from this native pidgin language (gawping mope= what’s happening, dude?).
We arrived in San Ignacio after about an hour and a half of driving in our little white pick-up truck. This small town is located on the western side of the country, close to Guatemala, in the Cayo District of Belize. Our resort, Cahal Pech Resort, sat at the top of the town right beside the Mayan site Cahal Pech (small in comparison to other Mayan sites, but still worthwhile to visit). Here in San Ignacio, Brian and I enjoyed relaxing by the pool (the only pool in town) trying traditional cuisine, including their famous drink, the Belizean Snow (mixed by the creator himself, Oscar), chatting with other tourists, and swinging on the hammocks of our thatched roof bungalow.
Through our resort, Brian and I trekked on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on (which is a lot to say from a girl who grew up on dirt roads) with our local guide, Dora, or her full guide name, “Dora the Explorer” (she loved it!) to the famous Mayan site Carocal. Carocal holds the tallest Mayan structure in Belize and during its prime covered an area larger than present day Belize City and housed around 160,000 people (double of present day Belize City). After visiting the Mayan site we also visited the Rio Frio Cave, cooled off in the Rio On Pools, and stopped at a local Mayan shop owned by the Five Garcia Sisters.
Other adventures in the Cayo District included zip lining, cave tubing, and a well worthwhile stop at the Belize Zoo. Surprisingly the Belize Zoo houses an extensive range of native animals including jaguars, pumas, sleeping ocelots, hungry tapers, howler monkeys, playful spider monkeys, eagles, and brightly colored inquisitive macaws. For the reasonable price of $100 you can even risk your life and feed a jaguar!!! For an even more reasonable price (free) you can hold a snake–noooo thank you.
Our second stop on our trip was San Pedro located on Ambergris Caye. The cayes are famous for their plethora of local diving spots. The water surrounding this island is every shade of blue imaginable. Lucky for us, our hotel here was located on the northern side of the island with a perfect view of this classic caribbean scene.
Here, Brian and I went reef fishing and snorkeling. I finally saw a sea turtle in the wild!!! My dream come true! Snorkeling here felt like swimming in an aquarium. We touched sting rays, as wide as my wing span (over 5 ft!!), a Nurse Shark, more afraid of us than we were of it, and held conch shells and starfish, bigger than my head (no touching the coral though!).
At night we enjoyed local spots and attended the much talked about, “chicken drop”. At this event they actually drop a chicken in a bingo pen and you bet on what square the chicken will poop on. Needless to say PETA would be furious! Hey, when in Belize…
Actun Tunichil Muknal
On our last day in Belize,
Brian and I decided to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal or “The Mayan Underworld”. ATM as it’s advertised to us tourists (fitting, as it wasn’t the cheapest adventure), was used by the Mayans as a ritual and sacrificial site.
So we boarded a 10-passenger plane and flew back to the mainland. After a 45 minute drive from Belize City, you hike about 45 minutes through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. After entering the cave you have to swim, wade through chest deep water, and hike for about ¾ of a mile to reach the inner chambers of the cave. Once you reach the chambers, you are surrounded by artifacts (over a 1000 in the cave). I mean they’re e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. The Mayans believed both living and non-living things had souls. In the beginning, mostly non-living things were sacrificed to the gods. They do this by chipping or cutting a hole in the pot to release the spirit of the pot. Your final site in this cave is “the little princess” which is a complete female skeleton. She was sacrificed when the Mayans suffered extreme hardships in their culture (for example, and extreme drought). There were around 15 total human sacrifices in the cave (a little creepy).
I left this trip feeling so lucky the Belizeans preserved this cave as a “Natural Museum”, knowing I would most likely never see a place like this again.
Can you Belize what a trip we had?!?
Through our many tours and experiences here, I appreciated the ease of the Belizeans, their rich culture, laid back lifestyle, and their willingness to entertain a few tourists just looking for adventure.
I hope Brian and I can go on many more.