Category Archives: adventures

Belize Day 7 – Cave Exploring/ATM!

Note: They don’t allow cameras in the cave, so some of these pictures we poached from the internet. Apparently someone dropped a camera on some Mayan artifacts once. Nice job.

We got up early, packed spare clothes, ate a quick breakfast and met our driver, Jose, to take us to ATM (ATM is the anglicized abbreviation for “Actun Tunichil Muknal” – “Cave of the Stone Tomb” in Mayan).

Jose drove us 30 minutes in a rickety old Isuzu Jeep. The speedometer didn’t work, so the mileage was permanently stuck at 195,444 miles. However, there was a digital touchpad CD/DVD/mp3/radio/whatever else installed – an interesting feature in a car with manual windows. We picked up Ibrahim. Our 27 year-old guide was friendly and knowledgeable, if a little quirky. He had a habit of ending sentences with “mm hmm” and a gentle chuckle.

The road from Hummingbird Highway to ATM was 7 miles long, all dirt and rocks and washed out mud. We had to ford at least one stream in the jeep. Apparently they’ve kept it this way to keep the traffic down. The road passed through mostly Menonite (“Money-nite” or progressive) farms. Oranges and corn, plus some young teek trees.

Carly, looking tough.

From the parking lot, we geared up and had a 1.8 mile hike to the cave entrance. Almost immediately, we had to wade across the first of three rivers. Ibrahim pointed things out to us along the way, like tourist trees, or the plant on the path with cyanide in its prickers that will make your skin swell up and then fall off. The cave entrance is less than 30 miles from Sleeping Giant, but all told it took us at least two hours to get there.

Yeah, we went in there.

A river flows through the cave, so our first order of business was to swim (up to our necks and NOT touching the ground!) 20 yards with dozens of little fish to get to a walkable part on the other side. We’d later get used to the water, but at first it was cold enough to take the breath away.

We waded through the cave, usually between ankle and waste deep, with hard hat lights. In a couple spots we seemed to be at a dead end, until our guide showed us through a crevice between two boulders. One required you to push your head through an opening, then slide your neck through with about an inch of clearance.

Things we saw:

  • Bats, stuck into holes in the ceiling made by guano destroying the limestone.
  • An albino crawfish.
  • Spiders! Like a big, nasty-looking female grey wolf spider.
  • A rock that looked like a croc. “Rockadile.”
  • Calcite crystals that made many some of the wall sparkle and glitter.
  • Stalactites. Stalagmites.
  • Layers of rock that dripped or flowed like curtains.

We got some great use out of our boots in Belize – but they are not allowed in the Great Room.

About a mile into the cave, we took the high road. By climbing up a boulder onto a ledge, we left the river and approached the Great Room. We took our shoes off (keeps people more attentive to where they step), then went through a crevice into a massive room that expanded like a cathedral.

From ~650-900 AD, the Maya trekked into this chamber by torchlight to perform ceremonies. There were still several hundred pieces of pottery there – many embedded in the limestone, which had calcified around them.

Many of these ceremonies were quite sick.

Blood letting. The king and queen would shed blood into a bowl, which was broken to release its spirit and please the gods. The method of blood letting? The queen would pierce her tongue with an obsidian blade, then pull a string with barbs through the hole. The king would pierce his penis with a stingray tail. Yeah, you read that right. These might not have been as painful as it sounds, because apparently they first took an enema of fermented honey, magic mushrooms, and hallucinatory frog glands. Apparently the taste was too bad to take orally. Or, that’s what people believe happened.

Human sacrifices. Early in the Great Room, there are a couple skeletons, with bones scattered about. Apparently, the Maya believed more pain made for a better sacrifice – hence the broken and scattered bones.

Journeying further in, and up a 15’ ladder, we found more artifacts. There were more bones. Archaeologists believe only one died a natural death – likely a child who had water in the brain. Its skull was enlarged and had a bore hole in the forehead. There was also the Cave of the Stone Tomb’s namesake: the very intact skeleton of a woman. Only the back was broken. It is believed the woman was sacrificed toward the Mayan collapse, as drought led them to offer more and more valuable sacrifices.

There were also several infant skeletons in the cave. Maya women having trouble conceiving would pray to the underworld gods and promise to sacrifice their firstborn in exchange for fertility.

Our guide also told us the “abbreviated” story of the Maya origination. It was about 20 minutes long and involves twins besting the underworld gods in a ball game. You can look it up.

Belize Day 6 – Depart Turtle Inn :(

We woke up early to make the most of our last day in paradise. We sat on the beach with coffee and homemade mimosas. Ate breakfast, and Edvin opened a coconut for me to drink from:

We borrowed snorkel gear and a kayak. Going out on the water, we thought we’d jump in and snorkel, but there were a lot of big moon jellyfish. So, we kayaked around a little – a small something-or-other jumped out of the water at us. Returned the kayak and snorkeled a little from the shore. Not a lot to see – lots of kelp, some coral, and a fish. The rain had churned the water up a bit, and visibility was not-so-great.

We’re really sad to leave the Turtle Inn. From Terrianne at the front to Edvin at the bar, to smiling Jason the concierge, everyone has been so friendly! They remembered our names and even our dietary preferences (though they had a cheat sheet). The people, combined with the surroundings are the anti-thesis of New York City. The waster coolers, speakers, outdoor showers, and other ugly infrastructure are disguised by wicker baskets or plants. It smells nice.

Drearily, we packed our things. With a call on the shellphone (see below), our bags were swept up to the front desk, and we went for one last lunch. We finally tried Craboo run, the namesake of our cabana (#6). It was served in a fresh coconut, with pineapple. Served with a bamboo straw and a lime bull, it was yummy with a very big cool factor. Also, Sea saw a huge sea hawk/stingray leap out of the water.

Bidding our mournful adieu, we dipped our toes in the ocean, said goodbye to the staff and the turtles, and loaded into the van with Eric, who drove us the two hours to Sleeping Giant Lodge (he brought along chocolate chip cookies and water bottles for us so it wasn’t totally sad).

Eric told us about the founding and history of Belize, its polyglot people (half mistaso, or Spanish-Mayan, plus African-British Creole, Maya, Garifuna or African, and pockets of Asian, Menonites and Amish). He also gave us a glimpse of its future. There is no shortage of rich developers looking to the Belizean beaches for luxury cruises, resorts, etc. The country is so sparsely populated, and its government so pliable, it’s hard to see how they could resist those with money who can make more by paving over the country. A stalled project we passed included a giant hotel, casino, and international airport being developed by a strong-handed Italian.

We passed many homes with chickens running around or horses tied up in the front yard, just feet from the road. We also passed citrus and banana farms. Banana trees only bear fruit once in their life. Then they are chopped down, and young ones grow in their place. They grow so fast, two harvests a year are normal this way.

Finally, we arrived at Sleeping Giant Lodge, named after a nearby mountain ridge that looks conspicuously like a man’s face in profile.

We were quite tired by the time we got to Sleeping Giant, so we took a long nap. We ate dinner upstairs – there was only one other couple while we were there (ironically, honeymooners from Manhattan). The restaurant at the lodge is the kind with four sections on the menu: appetizers, seafood, chicken, and meat. However, they made us some vegetarian rice and fava beans, which were delicious!

Belize Day 5 – Rainy Day

It stormed all night.

We got breakfast in bed – chilequiles (yum!) – and made our own mimosas with champagne we’d bought at the duty-free shop at the airport. After it cleared up a little, we sat on the beach and wrote. It started to rain, so we went under the beach bar and ate with Pam and Rachel. When it rained, Carly jumped in the pool.

They went off to bike in town, and we putzed around our cottage. During the afternoon, the rain really picked up again – shifting betwen torrents and a drizzle. We wrote thank you cards. I read a story out loud from Coppola’s literary mag All-Story. (“Penlight,” about a girl with a voice in her head by a Japanese author). We napped.

For dinner, we met up with Rachel and Pam at their massive villa (they got upgraded, we assume because almost all the guests were hetero couples, and they assumed Pam&Rachel were not a couple. They were right, although it didn’t seem fair to make an assumption). We all went to Rumfish, where we sat on the deck listening to the rain. They had delicious sangria, and a grapefruit mojito (also excellent). We ate fish tacos and homemade fettucini.

Toward the end of the meal, Carly started getting congested and head achy, so we went home, chilled with some tea, and bedded down.

Belize Travel Scrapbook: Snorkeling Pictures!

We finally got our underwater camera developed at a newly-discovered neighborhood camera shop (LOVE!!) and wanted to share some of our favorite shots!!

Belize Day 4 – Monkey River!

We left at 8:30 am for our tour of the Monkey River.

Our guide, Terry, was a native of Monkey River – a village of 200 people bisected by the river. Only side has roads to the mainland. The other is only accessible by boat. Formerly a banana town, the village is now mostly fishers. In recent years, they have gotten a water cistern and electrical connection (without noisy, unreliable generators), making life easier.

Terry was a great guide, who knew where the crocs and things were likely to be hiding. We saw 4 or 5 crocodiles,hanging out in floating grass (yeah, it really floats). We saw two pairs of crocs, which is rare because they are usually solitary. They would lie in the mud and grass, thinking they were invisible to the people staring at them from the boat five feet away, then – snap! – they’d go.

We saw a bunch of heron-type birds. Some were bright white, some blue. One species of bird lay their nests in sacks that hang from tall trees like slings. The males make their nests, while the females watch. If the female is not impressed, she tears down it down and makes the male start over. Draw from this what you will.

Terry pulled us off for a fifteen minute hike. We saw tall (50 feet?) bamboo, a “grass” that gives you a serious Alice in Wonderland complex. We also saw breadfruit, which has a big velcro-y leaf that kids sometimes cut numbers out of to stick on their soccer jerseys.

Terry called out to the howler monkeys – thwacking his machete on a tree and making deep grunt-shouts. The monkeys responded, terrifyingly. This video barely does justice:

These monkeys – smaller than a human, 50 feet up in a tree – produce the loudest noise. It echoes through the rainforest, and can be heard miles away. They sound like lions roaring. Or monsters. Or banshees. Crazy.

Terry showed us some trees with medicinal properties, too. This one you should chew up the bark of if you get a snake bite. It’ll slow down your heart and give you a couple hours to get to a doctor. This one is an antibiotic. The sap of this one is good for bug bites. A bunch of the species have symbiotic relationships: for example, ants live in this tree and bite the monkeys who will eat up all the leaves.

On our way back, we stopped at Terry’s “Mama’s Restaurant” (R.I.P.). The very pregnant waitress informed us they had rice-and-beans with snapper. Nothing else. De-lish.

On our way back to Placencia, we saw three dolphins. We tried to see some manatees, but they are very hard to spot when it’s overcast. We caught glimpses of them coming up for air – a coconut-sized nose, maybe a back and tail – but never got real close.

After, we got massages. The Sunset Spa had a nice smell, and was open to the outdoors. My relaxing massage was occasionally interrupted by abrupt smack on a mosquito, but eventually she rubbed an oil on me that kept the bugs off. My tiny (Thai?) masseuse walked on my back. Felt nice.

Today was Pam’s 40th birthday (see previous post about our new friends from Portland, OR). We ate dinner with them at the beach bar. Carly got the homemade fettucini. I got the “mixed seafood” platter: grilled shrimp, grouper, lobster, conch, and calamari. It was our first time having conch – rubbery, and kind of gross. The lobster came as half a lobster in the shell with eyes and legs and antenae. Tasted fine, but still kind of gross.

After, Rachel had arranged to get Pam up to the front desk so we and the staff could surprise her with cake and Happy Birthday. She didn’t know, and left to call her kids for an hour, so we waited for her and ate a long time. Pam was surprised though, and really happy.

After, they went out to town with the general manager, his friends, and staff. We retired.

Belize Travel Journal: Day 3 (Snorkeling!)

Monday, Oct 8

We got up early for breakfast, and got ready for snorkeling!

It was a rainy and rough off the Eastern shore, so we ended up boating almost an hour to a different Caye (pronounced “key”) than originally planned. The Caye in question was a tiny island that we joked about on our trip: “Wouldn’t it be funny if those three little trees were actually our island?” They were. Between our six adventurers and two guides, plus another slightly larger group, the island was pretty full. I’d call it a 10-car parking lot size. But first:

On the way out, the captain slowed us down, whipped the boat around and gave  us a close to some dolphins! There was a pod of about eight dolphins swimming very close together. One jumped in the air. Then, somehow, they all decided to flip their tails up and dive deep all together at once.

Things We Saw Snorkeling:

  • Many beautiful fish. I can’t remember the names of most, but we saw a few schools of medium sized fish, a big ugly grouper, a couple stingrays (including one our guide unbelievably spotted hiding on the sea floor).
  • We saw a lion fish. Didn’t get a picture, but google it. They look crazy. Also lion fish are an invasive species that kill adolescent fishes, and hence are killed by locals.
  • We swam through a swarm of millions of little shimmering minnows that seemed to move all at once with one mind. With all of them millimeters apart all around me, I don’t think I ever touched one; that’s how adept they are at directing themselves.
  • We saw a couple sharks (maybe 4′ long) from the beach. The other tour group threw chicken wings into the water to attract them.
  • We saw beautiful, multicolored corals. Some shaped like brains, some like fans, some like cattails.
  • Carly saw three squids. They were clear, and moving so fluidly they looked like fish.
  • Tiny jellyfish. Fortunately, the tiny ones aren’t the kind that sting. They just look weird.
  • Pelicans. Several were circling above our island. They perform the world’s least graceful, aquatic face-plant landings to catch fish.

After, our guides took us to a spot where fishing boats clean and dump their catch. We jumped in and snorkeled around the creatures attracted to the boat: stingrays, and two massive sea turtles. The sea turtles were about 6 feet from beak to tail, built like heavily armored dinosaurs. Really something to behold. Pictures will be forthcoming, when we get our underwater camera developed.

There were two other couples on our trip. One was SCUBA diving – she was uneasy about it, but he convinced her to go by buying her a handbag (when we dove with the sea turtles, she joked that she’d only jump in if he bought her a wallet to go with her bag. Yeah, that kind of couple). He liked to address the men in the group by “boss” or “buddy.”

The other pair were friends, nurses from Portland, OR. Eighteen months ago, Pam divorced her husband she’d been with for twenty years. Around the same time, Rachel had given birth to a child with special needs. They lived together for a while, and had decided that they really needed this vacation. They were nice (and impressed by Sea’s line of work).

We got back, and napped.

For dinner, the Italian place La Dulce Vida (Fishman’s suggestion) was closed for the non-tourist season, so we went to Omar’s, a traditional fish-rice-and-beans place in Placencia. It was a nice indoor-outdoor place, and Omar was very friendly. I couldn’t really deal with the bones in my barracuda. Oh well, not the worst of problems.

Halfway through dinner, Pam and Rachel met up with us, and we ate together. After, they explored town while we caught Eric, the Turtle Inn’s half-hour shuttle driver, and went home to our bed.

Sadly, we haven’t gotten our underwater camera pictures developed yet. We’ll update this when we do, but until then, enjoy these images of Turtle Inn:

iguana!!

Shell phone!

Belize Travel Scrapbook: Photos!

We just got an email from our friend Rachel, who we met at Turtle Inn! She took a couple photos of us (and a bunch of dolphins!!) while at the resort and we wanted to post a couple! Enjoy!