You Better Belize It: Part II

Time moves really slowly in the jungle. If you sit down to breakfast at 10am (far too late by any adventurous standards, far too early by freelance writer standards), and you're done by 10:30am, you still have a good 10+ hours to kill before it's time to sleep again. So yeah, according to some, I may not have made "the most" of my time in Belize but my idea of a vacation is sitting in one spot in possibly nice weather and reading my book.  Or several books.

According to Al, the owner/chef/designer/HBIC of our eco resort Macaw Jungle Lodge, (voted #1 by TripAdvisor people in 2012!), we needed to get out and do things. "See Belize!"  I'd seen enough.  I do things all the time.  Vacation is not about doing things. Somehow my parents were persuaded to "do things".

After a nausea-inducing 2+ hour drive on the unpaved roads, we spent an afternoon at Xunantanich, a Mayan ruin I'd never heard of, so it was kind of cool to discover some undiscovered territory (Just like the Spanish!).  That, and on the ferry (read: hand-cranked steel contraption) to cross the river into the ruin, I met neighbors from my block in Manhattan, so I felt slightly less out of my element.

The museum at Xunantanich (which actually kind of sounds like a lost part of Soviet Russia "zoo-naan-tan-eech", so yeah, I had an accent for about an hour there) hadn't been updated since 1996 (the year we climbed Chichén Itzá, and also the year Rent debuted on Broadway -- my kindergarten self didn't care), which pretty much summed up Belize.  But who doesn't want to relive the 90s?

This was admittedly pretty cool

We climbed the various temples, took pictures of monkeys, and eventually headed back for a healthy lunch of Pringles, plantain chips, and other grocery store items (fun fact: most Belizean grocery stores are run by Chinese immigrants who were granted instant residency to run businesses here), which we ate in the comfort of a grocery store parking lot before trying to beat the sunset back to our jungle cabana.

lunch

After reading by flashlight for over an hour, there was still time to kill before dinner, and without Twitter or you know, technology, I was not happy. Dinner came and went, and after a few rounds of creaming my family at Bananagrams (Creative writing is a practical major!), 8pm marked looming hours of darkness with nothing to see or do.  We couldn't leave if we wanted to. We couldn't order Seamless. There was a frog staring at me in the bathroom.

Yet another day (January 2) arrived with looming possibilities of adventure ahead of us.

While I was really content sitting on a bench reading my book all day, somehow we were pushed to leave the "lodge" and venture out to Río Frio (Cold River), which was an unthrilling proposition for me. Not only did all jungle drives take 2+ hours to travel a short distance, they were sickeningly bumpy, and no radio signal is available in the middle of nowhere.  Also, dogs run across the street, somehow dodging cars but ugh, scary.

After ninety minutes of trudging through the mud, we decided to kill our plans to visit a place called Cold River (and also not risk our lives in a particularly soggy part of road), we turned around to visit director Francis Coppolla's jungle lodge, Blancaneaux.  

Not "lodge" here people, this was a real resort! Pulling past the landing strip for private planes and helicopters into the property, which boasted an impressive organic vegetable garden for the hotel's restaurant, this was vacation.  We explored the gorgeous property (a pull!  huts with electricity! chairs with pads!) and sat down in the open-air dining room under the breeze of a fan from Apocalypse Now.

Lunch featured wood-oven pizza with imported Italian ingredients, and fresh salad and pasta dishes prepared with produce grown on site.  Easily the best meal we had in Belize, rivaling many New York Italian restaurants.  But alas, the run was setting in 2.5 hours, and we had to return to our "lodge" before dark.

spag

On the way back, we stopped at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, which is another one of those things I don't like, because bugs come flying at you and you're supposed to enjoy it because they're colorful.

My fearless father

Al prepared a coconut curry black snapper for dinner, no complaints, and we had coconut pie baked by Mennonite missionaries for dessert (there are so many of them in all of Belize!).

The next morning, we (read: not me) fixed the flat on our car, packed our bags, stopped at the Belize zoo, and headed for the tiny plane that took us to Ambergris Caye, where we enjoyed the beautiful week on the beach in San Pedro, which I won't write about, because polar vortex.

I didn't know how good I had it...

You Better Belize It (Part I of... well, let's see if I survive)

This is was the first year that it wasn’t assumed I’d be going on family vacation. Every year I’d go home on break, of course I’d be traveling rather than left at home.  Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel were all givens (yeah, no complaints) but this year when my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Belize (which I mistakenly heard as Bolivia…) it was an invitation.  I accepted it, of course, I love South America (although we were going to Central America, and I’m apparently a terrible listener) and got excited for a break when I wouldn’t have to check my grades or bring my AP textbooks (high school) and actually relax.  I also was looking forward to actually speaking Spanish, as I seem to only be bilingual now past midnight and after a few drinks and in search of pizza (shout out to 121 First Avenue!).  Belize (Not Bolivia) was colonized by the British, not the Spanish, so yeah, English.

I was not informed, however, that we would be “roughing it” in Belize. Roughing it means buying all the supplies ahead of time and living in a staffed house, but still.  No cell service. Limited Internet.  I was tricked.

We arrived in muggy Belize City on the morning of December 31.  It took almost an hour to go through customs, interrogated as if we were members of a drug cartel – “What did you pack?”  “How did you pack that?”  “Why are you here?”  -- fingerprinted, and finally sent out into drizzly and muggy Belize, where we scrunched into the slim hallway of the rental car agency to try and claim a vehicle.

After switching from the stick shift SUV incorrectly given to us, we piled into the correct car and made our way through Belize City to the jungle.  With only one highway, we weren’t concerned about getting lost, so of course we did.

Somewhere, Belize

Finally in the right direction, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, Cheers: With a Tropical Twist, for a quick lunch and some socializing with baby goats.  I hadn’t checked my email in almost 10 hours, and everything seemed to be okay.

We headed further down the Western Highway and eventually made it to a dirt road with wooden signs leading to various “resorts” (yes, “resorts”) and started slowly ascending through the muddy road.  Very slowly.  Like, 6 train held in rush hour traffic slowly.  At the approximate speed of 1 mile and hour, we watched as the sun started to set and no sign of civilization existed in the near distance.

We were warned not to drive in the dark, because of animals and large potholes, not to mention the lack of streetlights, or any lights whatsoever, but what could we do, we needed somewhere to sleep.  The humid car, packed with snorkel and “outdoorsy” equipment was not an option.

"Road"

It was dark.  And I say this as someone who lives in a Manhattan closet with no windows.  Even with the brights on, we could barely see three feet in front of us, and what we could see was rocks and potholes and deep, gooey mud tracks.

With my mom hysterical that we were going to die (not an unlikely prospect at that point), my brother chiding her for not knowing physics, and my dad trying to steer through the dark, treacherous “road” (this was no longer a road, perhaps a path for cars would be more accurate), I was starting to wish I stayed at home.   Plus, we were going to miss Miley on TV, which essentially meant I couldn’t write snarky articles the next day.

After passing a “resort” (not ours), we drove over some moon-like craters, knocking against each other in the back seat (a great method of sibling bonding, not), and stopping a few feet short of a river.

“This is really off the grid!” my dad smiled, as if this were something we’d be really happy about.  I like the grid.  Actually, I love the grid. I live on the grid system!  Leaving the grid, I have learned, is almost always a mistake.

Stars illuminating the walk downhill to examine the river (wait, I mean flashlights, stars are overrated and give off zero useful light), my brother and dad ventured off to examine our options, while my mom and I sat in the dark and humid car, hoping not to be eaten by jaguars.

The river in the road, in daylight

Since Hurricane Sandy, I’ve spent my life in a disaster preparedness state—I always have snacks, a warm sweater, reading material, extra iPhone battery with me—but when I was invited on “vacation” I didn’t realize I’d be risking my life.

After determining that in fact, there was no bridge across the river, we decided to turn back in the mud (not easy, or unstressful) and return to the resort we’d seen earlier, the last chance at civilization. As we pulled into the parking lot, our car died.  Dead.  Like no lights or anything.

A nice French woman, Nadesh, let us use her phone to call the lodge we were supposed to be staying at, which was, in fact, across the river (“no big problem”) and they would pick us up, while we waited at this hotel’s bar.  Which was outside and had nets to cover your drinks so bugs didn’t swim in them.  Lovely.

A large SUV finally dropped us at our eco-resort (read: one-room solar-powered cabin in the woods) and we were welcomed by fresh, thick globs of mud (the kind that ruins your gold Sperrys). We headed to the restaurant (read: thatched-roof, wall-less space with tables) for a New Year’s dinner (fish and some other stuff, it was good!), prepared by the resort’s chef (read: owner/manager/concierge) and went to bed by 9pm.

Our humble jungle abode.

I woke up the next morning covered in itchy bug bites, so yeah, spiders were probably attacking me in my sleep, and with a sip of rich, jungle French press, I was informed the wifi wasn't working.

And this was only the start of the jungle adventure.

issabelize