DAY 0 Thursday, June 7th, 1990
Last minute shopping in San Jose, CA.
Boarded San Jose leg of journey at 11:15 PM. This flight was the beginning of an excellent adventure. The baby that sat right across the aisle, started crying immediately, but she only cried for a few minutes and was quiet for the rest of the flight. A good sign of what was to come.
DAY 1 Friday, June 8th
The flight had a stop in Ontario, CA., and our good luck continued. An older baby boarded the flight and didn't sit behind us, but did spend the entire flight kicking the seat back of the person sitting in the row ahead. We changed planes in Dallas and the leg to Miami was uneventful. We boarded the plane to Belize at 2 PM EDT.
Our first view of Belize was their
international airport (one small runway).
The terminal building was small, old and in disrepair.
There were goats, chickens, carts with vendors,
children selling newspapers (day old)...
Where was our luggage?
Who were all the people?
What were we doing here?
After leaving customs, we were met by our guide, David Vernon. He introduced us to our driver, Winzell Gill. We also met the rest of our traveling companions, Debbie and her Dad from California, and Phil from South Carolina. Debbie was just out of college and wanted to see the world, but didn't want to travel alone, so she dragged her dad along. Phil was on a beetle hunting expedition. Later we would learn lots about beetles, more in some cases than we wanted.
We drove to our hotel in Belize City where we would stay for the first two nights, The Fort George. After settling in, we took a short walk. On the walk we got our first glimpse of the blue land crabs, that lived in holes in the ground, they were every place. And then we meet the others for dinner. Dinner was at a restaurant named Four Forte Street (the address). It consisted of shrimp, pork and corn soup. Yummy... A word we will use a lot on this trip. After dinner we all walked around the local area and David gave us a history lesson. The city, like the airport, was old, dirty and in disrepair. However it was not as bad as we had anticipated from the books we had read. Back to hotel. We had a great breeze blowing through our room with the windows open and the door propped open. We were awakened in the middle of the night to a beautiful thunder and lightning storm. The wind was blowing so hard the flag poles outside our window were bending slightly.
DAY 2 Saturday, June 9th
Breakfast was in the hotel dinning room at 7 AM. Papaya (yum), scrambled eggs with sausage and fried eggs with bacon, as well as some great muffins. The coffee, which I never drink at home, was excellent. At 8 AM we were on the road. We drove to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a lake and surrounding area designated as a bird preserve. The roads to this site were extremely bad. Upon arrival at the sanctuary, we signed the guest book, boarded a four wheel drive vehicle and drove a short distance overland to the edge of the lake(?). A few pictures along way, Iguana and locals spear fishing. We then boarded a small wooden boat(?). As we pushed off, the sky opened up and a tropical downpour hit us. One of the hardest rainfalls I've ever seen. The rain was, however, soft and warm. We quickly pulled out our glad trash bags (previously designed as raincoats) and did as well or better than the rest at keeping dry. Could not believe the number and variety of birds we saw. Jabiru Storks (very large), Sail Kites, Heron and others. The lake was quite low, and Herbert our captain was forced to pole the boat along much of the time. At one point he actually had to get out and push us. Shades of African Queen.
Back on shore lunch was prepared by local residents and consisted of rice and beans, chicken, cole slaw and johnny cakes. This is actually the "national lunch" of Belize. Incredibly skinny dogs begged for and ate the chicken bones. After lunch, we drove to the Baboon Sanctuary, home of Howler Monkeys. We hiked through some jungle paths, got our first glimpse of leaf cutter ants and spotted three Howler Monkeys. We learned what cashews look like on the tree. Also saw lots of bromeliads, with many more to follow. We visited another museum here and as usual, signed the guest book.
On the way back to Belize City, we stopped at "The House" in Burl Boom. This was from an ad we had seen in the states, and we were interested in seeing it. I asked for directions from a few people and finally got the keys and went exploring. The house was VERY disappointing and overpriced. For the rest of our trip in Belize, we were unable to live down the phrase "formal dinning room". On the way back to our hotel, David pointed out a new house and told us we could have something like that built to suit on 5 acres of nice land for the same price.
Dinner was in the Fort George hotel dinning room. Two veals. This was postcard night (40 or so). We washed our shoes from the muddy boat trip and while setting them on the window sill to dry, I dropped one out the window and sent Elaine out into the bushes to retrieve it.
DAY 3 Sunday, June 10th
Breakfast was again at the hotel. Elaine and I reverse entrees from the previous morning. Yum again. And then we were off, Belize City behind. Our first stop was the Belize Zoo. This was the cleanest zoo any of us had ever seen and all the animals were cared for with love. We were impressed by the many beautiful birds, but the best was the King Vulture. A short time after leaving the zoo, we saw one in flight. We accused David of only having one of each type of animal and letting them out on cue to impress the tourists. There were Spider Monkeys who liked to look through cameras and binoculars. The Puma liked to be petted, but the Ocelot DEMANDED to be petted. It would growl loudly until you petted it, then it purred like a house cat (somewhat louder). The Agouti and Spider Monkeys liked the smell of Avon Skin So Soft very much. The Jaguars were regal and aloof.
After leaving the zoo, we drove through Belmopan the capitol of Belize. More of this town on the way back. But for now, it's off into a swamp for a short hike, then up one side of a mountain and down the other. Did I say "Swamp"? Yes, ankle deep in muck and sometimes water. On the way up the trail we encountered one of Belize's more interesting reptiles, the Fer-De-Lance also called the "three step" because that's how far you get if it bites you.. Also at some of the steeper and usually slippery parts of the trail, Elaine encounters the "Give and Take" tree. It Gives you pain and Takes your blood. A few other creatures of interest along the way included, a green tree snake named "Parrot Snake", lots of bright orange centipedes and the worlds largest wasp. Then the "trail" (I use that word lightly) made a sharp turn and we were looking into the entrance to a large cave. This entrance must have come directly from a Steven Spielberg movie. Large dark, deep opening with a jungle mist slowly wisping out. Pictures do not do justice to this sight. After exploring the cave for awhile, we continued on to a swimming spot called the "Blue Hole". This should not be confused with a diving spot also called the "Blue Hole". Here we met some British soldiers who left shortly after our arrival. The hole is part of an underground river and it breaks through the ground at this spot giving a 50 foot swimming hole. At one end it appears out of the rock wall and at the other it disappears again. The water is clear , cool and inviting in the jungle heat. As we leave an Amish family arrives.
The adventure continues after the swim, we head back to the capitol, Belmopan. Lunch is at the Belmopan Convention Center (a small hotel with one meeting room). Lunch was chicken, rice and beans plus potato salad, but the hit of the meal was the Soursop ice cream. The gang overdosed on it, especially me.
After lunch we drove west into the foothills of the Maya Mountains, towards our next lodgings, Chaa Creek lodge. Normally I don't get excited about a place to sleep, but in this case I made an exception. Wow, our cottages had thatched roofs and windows with no glass or screens. There was also no electricity. Dinner was excellent fried chicken (have you noticed, we seem to eat a lot of chicken?). After dinner we watched FROGS, not those little frogs down by the stream, but those GIANT Belize FROGS. They were all around the walkway lights (some electricity). The bartender fed a huge June Bug to one and you could hear his tongue lash out and suck that little bug right down. We had asked earlier why there were no nasty little insects, and were told we were too far from the river (1/2 mile). Right! I think it might be the fact that these GIANT FROGS have a very big appetite. We took a short walk to watch the stars, and noticed a lot of shooting stars. On closer observation, we discovered the shooting stars were really fireflies. And learned, like crickets, they are affected by the temperature. The higher the temperature, the longer they leave their lights on. So, they would fly across the sky and leave the light on so long it looked like a shooting star. This was so much better than Pirates of the Caribbean. For more info click here.
DAY 4 Monday, June 11th
We had a 5:15 AM wake up call by the local birds. We didn't remember placing the call, but since we were already awake, we went on a 6 AM bird walk with David and Debbie. We saw more birds than most zoo's have. There were woodpeckers, toucanettes, emerald jays, humming birds and too many types of parrots to note. Breakfast came next, cereal, small bananas (if you haven't eaten tree ripened bananas, you haven't lived), eggs, bacon and tortillas. Yum, yum. Next a short walk to the river, board three canoes, and a lovely ride down stream to the town of San Ignacio. The water was warm. More birds, iguanas and bats. Yes, day time Fruit Bats. A tiny fruit eating bat. Thousands of them. The sky was overcast until the last 10 minutes of the trip, I think this saved all of us from some terminal sunburn. 16 degrees north of the equator makes for a bright and very hot sun. At San Ignacio, we walked through town (both sides of the bridge) and had a cool refreshing lime drink.
Gill, our driver, picked us up and we drove to the Rio Frio Cave. It was not like Carlsbad Caverns, but it was very interesting. From there we entered a part of the Maya Mountains called "The Mountain Pine Ridge". This area reminded us of the Sierra's back home. Cool breezes and pine trees. Here we ate a picnic lunch overlooking the Rio On Pools. Lunch was make your own ham sandwiches with some of the best sweet onions I've ever had. The local outhouse was an adventure all it's own. Termites had virtually destroyed the seat and some interesting spiders lurked below. I was fascinated with ants on the entire trip, and this stop was no different. I feed some giant black ants that had a trail through the picnic area. We then hiked down a long set of steps to the pools and swam. The water was almost too warm to enjoy. We stood / sat under the largest waterfall for a very nice hydro massage. The rocks underwater were VERY slippery from the moss that covered everything. A huge Swallowtail Kite flew overhead and didn't seem to mind all the splashing and carrying on below. David went for a walk alone and Mr. Worry Wart (me) started to search for him... Very steep waterfalls, Jungle noises, Imagination getting the best of me. David returned and I pretended I wasn't concerned.
Next, we are off to the Hidden Valley Research Institute (located on a mountain). A private research facility encompassing 18,000 acres. For ecological studies. They have a 12 room inn and store, but the best feature is the 1,000 foot waterfall.
Finally, we drove back to Chaa Creek and hiked in the back way to the river. I got to see both Leaf Cutter and Army ants. What a hoot. We decided not to try swimming across the river, even though we were all excellent olympic quality swimmers. I'm sure we weren't concerned about either the swift current or the Piranha. We let David swim across, and he brought back a canoe. Probably less safe than swimming.
Dinner was celery soup and pork chops. The after dinner entertainment included an "eel hunt" at the river's edge, which deteriorated into beetle hunting and scary stories. We did catch a glimpse of one eel and a huge crayfish.
DAY 5 Sunday, June 12th
Breakfast was the same as yesterday (No Complaints though) with some fried plantain added. We toured a herbal medicine garden in the jungle on a neighboring plantation. The proprietor was not available, so David told us what he knew (which was impressive) about the medicinal uses of many of the plants. we learned about the doctrine of signature (in which the plant gives a clue about it's uses by its appearance or smell or something else). This was Mayan lore that had been passed down verbally through the past generations. A colorful beetle landed on Elaine's hair and joined Phil's collection. We bought some of the Gumbolimbo (soup and dance) salve, made from the tree of the same name. This salve was supposed to be good for insect bites, rashes and other skin maladies. Phil was turning over logs, looking for beetles, and found a pseudo spider. A scorpion that pretends to be a spider. For what reason, we will never know.
Next we drove to a river crossing. But the crossing was by ferry. The boatman did not want his picture taken. Several native women were doing laundry in the river. A dog missed the ferry, so it swam across the river (beating the ferry). After a short uphill drive, we reached the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (pronounced "zoo-nan-too-nitch"). This was our first ruin and we were all impressed. Hiked through several areas and learned a little about the Mayans. Climbed the tallest temple for a windy but awesome view. We learned about the Mayan ball games, wherein the winners won the honor of being sacrificed at the 20 year rituals. We were the only visitors except for many humming birds and a King Vulture. Then we climbed down! Did you notice the railings and signs warning not to go near the edge? Of course not. There is only one lawyer in Belize. We thought we had seen it all, a great mistake on our part.
We drove to the Guatemalan border, exited the vehicle and crossed a bridge into another country and another way of life. Belize had been a British Colony, with English as the official language, English history combined with the Mayan, Spanish and a dozen other cultures. A country and people with high standards. Guatemala had none of this, at least not at the border. Dirty, noisy, lazy government officials, barking dogs, crying children... Sandbags, concealing a 16 year old and a machine gun. Belize and Guatemala have not been on the best of terms for hundreds of years. Money changers crowded around us as we approached the bridge and on the far side as well. We exchanged $20 US for $80 Guatemalan. Across from the machine gun, was a nice open air cafe where we had lunch. David warned us not to take pictures of the machine guns. Lunch was Mexican in style, well almost, we had tostada, taco and enchilada combination plates. And as usual... Yum Yum.
After Gill made it through customs with the vehicle and luggage, we hit the road to Tikal (literally). The road was so bad, we got a flat and didn't know it for a few miles. People were shouting and waving at us as we drove through some of the little villages, finally David heard someone yelling about our tires. We stopped and sure enough, we had a flat. Everyone who passed us while we were changing the tire, stopped and asked if they could help. Would that happen in the US? Along the route we saw much poverty. Everyone had many children. Chickens, dogs, pigs, ducks, turkeys and horses were in abundance, but all were very very skinny. We stopped to look at a tree filled with pendulous nests made by the very huge Weaver Birds. We also saw our first wild Toucan in the air.
We finally arrived in Tikal and our hotel at about dusk. Daylight was from about 5:15 AM till 6 PM. After finding our rooms, we snuck into the park and went hiking. We saw some great ruins and Spider Monkeys. Also saw some Blue Foxes playing on the temple steps. the Spider Monkeys dropped Cajones de Caballos (large seed pods) on us. We were not sure if this was accidental or on purpose. Tikal and pictures will be covered in depth on day 6 of the first great Belize adventure.
Dinner (do you notice, I spend a lot of time talking about food?) was in the hotel dinning room. We had fun with the two waiters, Manuel (the prankster) and Ricardo. They pretended to know little English. We had great bean soup, a huge baked potato and roast beef. During dinner, Debbie had one of the local cats sitting on her lap. This was not the well kept US house cat, but a dirty, scrawny, central american cat. Near the end she was letting it lick pudding off of her spoon (which she was done with). She placed her spoon on the table and seconds later dad, Bob (Mr. Neat and Clean) picked up the spoon to stir his coffee and drank some before anyone could warn him. He was then mortified and I think went back to his room to wash out his mouth. Then the waiters rushed in and got David, we followed. David captured a small snake, which we all got to touch and pet before he released it outside. Later we looked up the snake in one of David's many flora and fauna books. Yes, that's right a mildly poisonous snake. Next we read the instructions FIRST!
After dinner we went for a walk along the abandoned runway. We repaired David's flashlight and ventured out. It rained for a few minutes but we saw a large Wolf Spider and some frogs with stripes. David used his light to hypnotize a Night Kite (small hawk) sitting on the runway, walked up to it and picked it up. We all got to see and pet it (no, we made sure it was not poisonous) before it was released. On the way back to our room, I spotted a rather large and very beautiful, red and black tarantula. The waiters were walking behind us and used a twig to tease the spider out of it's hole so we could get a good look at it. They then told us the this spider was "pequeno" and they would show us "el grande". El Grande was a HUGE tarantula. The waiters got a much bigger (as in longer and heavier) stick to tease it out of it's hole. Not as pretty as the smaller one, but I have never seen a spider that big. When we returned to our cabin (30 feet away), we found our own guard tarantula living at the edge of our porch. We then entered our room. We found more deadly looking creatures than a James Bond movie. There were false scorpions, leaches on the walls, ants inside and frogs that sounded like geese outside. There was a gecko on the wall of the cabana next door. Apparently the ants liked our herbal salve. Tiny ants had also infested a cookie I planed on eating before bed. Elaine ran next door to where the rest of the group was drinking on Bob and Debbie's porch, saying as she went, "I have changed my mind". I'm not sure what she meant, but I think she liked the room. My notes for the day ended with "This journal will continue tomorrow IF we wake up". And we did wake up many times, but only suffered a few bites. We sincerely hoped that none of these bites were from the dreaded botfly carrying mosquitoes. (see the book "Jaguar")
Continued On Day 6