Travel Take Two: Belize

For our second installment (see part one here) of our intermittently updated series rehashing our past travel adventures, we’re going to take you all back to our honeymoon with us. This was one of the few wedding tasks I was charged with (along with music selector and food taster) and it was a bit of a dilemma. My original decision divided between Portugal and southern Spain and Belize. To be honest, I can’t tell you why I chose these two to choose between. I wanted to go somewhere atypical and unique, and yet, at the same time, it was our honeymoon, so I wanted to go somewhere where we would be completely comfortable. As a person who generally travels very modestly with cost as a high priority, it was the one time I was going to splurge. But I also didn’t want to be stuck in a stuffy, dull resort. So to harken back to what I said about last week about adventure vs. comfort, I wanted somewhere that would provide us with a perfect combination of adventure and classic honeymoon relaxation. It was with this goal that we ventured to the beautiful cayes and raw jungles of Belize.

Destination: Honeymoon, Belize. Four nights on Ambergris Caye followed by three nights in the inland Cayo district

Date: August 1 – 9, 2005

Travel Partners: Just the newlyweds.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

1. The beautiful views off of Ambergris Caye. Here’s what we saw basically out of the back of our room. Not too shabby.

2. The Mayan ruins at Caracol. While we also went to ruins at Altun Ha, they paled in comparison (see Lowlights #2). Caracol lies two hours down a gravel road (with the last mile or so oddly paved) and deep in the heart of the jungle. It creeps in on all sides and the howler monkey’s chatter only adds to the ambiance. The tallest temple tops out above the trees leading to an incredible view of the surrounding valley.

We wandered right through a research camp that was closed for the season, and save for one other pair, had the entire ruins to ourselves. Most amazingly, they said that much of the ruins of the city are still hidden in the jungle. Definitely made me feel like Indiana Jones.

3. Snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark and Ray Alley. We started by snorkeling through the Marine Reserve, a vibrant and colorful coral reef teeming with fish. We enjoyed snorkeling and free diving through tunnels, though we were a bit jealous of the divers further down below us (see Lessons Learned #3). Then our guide steered us into the aptly named Shark and Ray Alley, where we jumped in with rays and nurse sharks drawn by the chum we were throwing overboard. I touched both before I got a face full of bonefish that got excited by the chum that landed much too close to my noggin.

4. Hiking to many waterfalls surrounding Hidden Valley Inn in the Cayo District. There’s nothing quite like a refreshing, cool pool beneath a waterfall after a hot hike, especially one this tall. And who can beat having your own private waterfall for the day, complete with catered meal and bottle of champagne (part of our honeymoon package)?

5. The Belize Zoo. This small but well-done zoo is home to wild animals, all native to Belize, that were either injured or had been domesticated for documentaries. It’s a difficult zoo to explain, but so totally unique and interesting. I’ll start with this picture.

Now take that same poetry and sense of humor, expand it to each exhibit and envision the paths through them so narrow you feel that you are in the exhibits themselves. It’s a very cool experience. My favorites were the jaguars and the howler monkeys

THE LOWLIGHTS:

1. Getting Peed on by a Tapir

This was the tapir that peed on Theresa, just after this picture was taken. He got close to the fence, raised a leg, and got good distance on his spray. I was fortunate enough to avoid the calamity. Theresa, ever the trooper, went on like nothing had ever happened, after a few brief squeals of disbelief, of course.

2. The no-see-ums on Ambergris Caye and the mosquitos at Altun Ha. No amount of bug spray was enough against these tenacious bugs. One afternoon on Ambergris Caye, we thought we would walk from our hotel to the main town, San Pedro, a distance of about a mile. We made it all of 200 feet down the road near the beach before we were both doubled over swatting insanely at the air around our legs. Fortunately, a passing taxi, complete not just with driver but also with the driver’s wife and two kids, picked us up and drove us to town. At least there the bugs had other people to eat too. At Altun Ha, the sun was blaring down, but the shade was even worse. The mosquitos literally formed a wall at the edge of the shadows, and if you walked in, the whole world turned black. We could either bake in the sun or get eaten in the shade. It was a no win situation.

LESSONS LEARNED:

1. We are not relaxers. I believe we lasted a whole of one day, fresh from the insanity that always accompanies weddings, laying on the beaches of Ambergris Caye next to the pool at our posh resort before we were ready to claw our eyes out. This was the first day after arriving, when we were still declaring how ready we were to kick back, relax, and not do anything for the entire time on Ambergris Caye. Fortunately, the resort was equipped to arrange the snorkeling and ruin trekking trips for us.

2. The “rainy season” is not always rainy. We went to Belize in the offseason. The only rain we saw was a few drops the first day, and a little overnight in the Cayo district. The weather was beautiful, and everyone said it was cooler (though it sure felt hot!). Better yet, accommodations were cheaper and the places we wanted to go weren’t crowded.

3. We want to get PADI certified. It was fascinating to look down on the scuba divers from our sea level perch with our snorkels. I kept wondering what they were seeing. I had a similar revelation in the Red Sea, where we went on a similar trip. We hear the certification done well and cheaply in Thailand, so we will try that. Theresa is a little worried about the claustrophobia that comes with all your air coming from a tank, but I have a feeling we’ll both find it exciting.

4. When you’re at a prison and a man (not clearly a guard or an inmate) walks by with a live chicken in one hand and a machete in the other, be ready to leave. What were we doing at a prison, you ask? Well, on the way to Hidden Valley Inn, we passed the prison and saw the sign (in the picture below) advertising a prison gift shop, so on the way back we stopped to check it out. You didn’t really think we could pass it up, did you? After browsing and buying a nice picture frame, we were headed back to the car, when the machete- and chicken-wielding man came toward us. You’d be impressed with how quickly we got in the car, locked the doors, and got out of there. This was more a reaction than anything, but it’s good to know my common sense won’t abandon me on the road (unless of course you consider visiting a prison gift shop not a good idea.)

5. Take time to explore the local areas. We spent all of one afternoon walking through San Pedro just searching for the local areas. We found the cemetery, ate at some delicious “local” restaurants, and sauntered along the local’s beach. We happened upon some great kids that loved the camera too.

People here are not wealthy, but they’re not terribly poor either (though Americans buying property there and driving up prices is making things more difficult). It was just very interesting to wander through their haphazard mix of English, Caribbean, and Creole culture and just soak it in for a while. It’s a good lesson that it’s not always about checking another sight off the list, but also about enjoying the culture and exploring local life.

7 Replies to “Travel Take Two: Belize”

  1. I think the last thing on our minds when the man walked by was taking a picture. My brain was really busy trying to figure out if he was an inmate or not, all the while making sure we could leave in an instant if we had to. Recording the moment was low on the priority list.

  2. Damn! That would have been a great video for YouTube!

    Your adventure is going to be such an adventure for myself and Danny as we are relaxers. Put us on a beach and we’ll sit there until we have to pee or get another drink.

    Good to know that you learned from this trip and I can rest assured that Camp Gitmo is not on your destination list.

  3. Here here to the “not relaxers” revelation. That’s exactly what my hubby and I found out on our honeymoon. For this reason it was (while lovely) perhaps the worse trip I’ve ever spent that much money on. The whole time we were like “so what are we going to do now?” Kinda blew. Next time, we’re going some place exciting. Or at least some place with more than one museum and more claim to fame than an underground city (aka shopping mall).

  4. Oh, oh, I have another good lesson learned: When he cares to, Jeff can be an excellent planner.

    Jeff likes to claim that he’s not a planner, that details aren’t his thing. He comes up with schemes; I’m supposed to figure out the logistics or at least come up with a list of all the things that need to be taken care of and assign him very specific ones. But on this trip, Jeff did everything from research the destinations to book the flights to reserve the hotels to figure out a rental car and driving directions to account for what we needed to pack. So yeah, Jeff, your covers blown. Now get planning.

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