originally posted 2/9/04 on Linve Journal

Well, we’re back! We had a real nice time in Belize. Too bad it was just for the week. We got back late last night. I am really not ready to go back to work tomorrow. We arrived in Belize City late afternoon on the 31st of January. Our host from the Crystal Paradise Resort met us at the Airport and we were hustled into a van for a 2 hour ride across the country. Literally! the trip from the east coast to the western border with Guatamala takes only 2 hours and the roads aren’t very good! We crossed from the swampy coastal environs to the mountainous countryside surrounded by jungle… What we saw on the way seemed to be a microcosm of the third world with a Caribbean flavor. The 250,000 people of Belize are diverse. There are black Garifuna (descended from African slaves in the Caribbean region), Mestizoes who are mixed native Indian and Spanish, Creole (blacks and mixed races from the Caribbean), Mayans, and Anglo/Europeans. Of the last group an incresing number are American retirees. Though many English people stayed on after the country became independent of mother England in 1973.

But back to our trip. What I saw on our first drive across the country aside from beautiful green, green, green, was grinding poverty. Many people are living in fairly primitive conditions. Though a number did have TV anttenaes and a truck in the yard. There didn’t appear to be much effort to pick up trash or paint the slapdash wood houses/cabins in some of the black communities (and yes the worst of the poverty did seem to be there.) But the truckin the yard was new, or at least kept running. I can’t say that there is much separation between where the various groups live, but there was some that I noticed on this trip. In other communities where mostly Mestizoes and mixed others live there seems to be a little more effort to “keep up appearances”. This seemed to be so even though the level of relative poverty was about the same. I don’t understand what this phenomenon is, I really don’t. I won’t make any further comment. I can’t make any judgement, it just bothers me and we see it over and over, everywhere. I can’t understand it.

That’s not what I meant to write here. I want to write all about what we did and saw. I will and show pictures too. But here’s the short listing. We hiked up Mayan temples, spied Howler and Spider monkeys, Canoed a river, climbed a waterfall, trekked through the jungle, swam acoss a river, ans snorkled a coral reef! And that’s not all. But you’ll have to wait for the rest!

fter our trip across the little country to San Ignacio we were tired and ready to settle down in our thatched hut. It was about 7 pm when we arrived at Crystal Paradise resort. Shortly after we were shown to our room it was dinner time and after a reasonably good meal we made an early night of it and tried to settle in for sleep!

Here’s a link to the place we stayed. http://www.crystalparadise.com/index.html

In fact that first picture is the actual “thatched hut” we stayed in for the first night. After that night we were trucked off to a Maya ruin and then to the jungle! This Maya ruin called, Xunantunich is one of the smaller ones and it didn’t take very long to see it.

We crossed the Macal river on this ingenious hand cranked ferry to get to the ruin. This river doesn’t have many fish but the ones it does have are Cichlids like the ones in your tropical fish tank!

On the return trip we saw some big iguanas on the bank of the river. Our host Jeroney threw his banana peel over to the bank. We thought he was littering, but no, apparently iguanas like to eat them!

After we walked the ruins we went back across the river and I bought a Mayan calendar from (surprise) a Mayan woman. I bought this only because we happened to need one for the book we’re working on at work! Now that’s dedication wouldn’t you say?

Then it was on the road again to The Martz Farm for our stay in the jungle “treehouse”. We went through the little town of Benque and then on the road to the jungle. Our “jungle adventure” began when we turned off the road and onto a rough dirt track emerging from thick trees and tropical underbrush to a large clearing in which a few horses grazed and chickens scratched. this was the “Farm” of Joe and Miriam Martinez.

We pulled up across the clearing in front of an open air thatched building. This, were shortly to learn was the farm’s kitchen and where we would get our meals for the next two days. It was a very hot day and we settled down at the big, rough wooden table for a few more Beliken’s. (The Belizean national beer, and not half bad!) During our first few minutes we met Miriam and little Selva and her cousins, and their other guest, Irene from Switzerland. Jeroney and his girlfriend Katie (from Boston!) also stayed for a couple of hours just enough time for a visit the Belizean way.

Miriam is a German girl schooled at the American school in Berlin, and married to a Belizean Mestizo from Guatamala. We felt we got to know her in the two days we spent there, partly because she reminded us so much of a California girl complete with the California accent! Irene is a fifty-something woman traveling Belize for a year on her own! She was quite interesting to talk with too. It’s amazing that so many people from all over the world are so multi-lingual and we Americans are so pitiful in our one language!

But back to the kitchen. The building has low walls all around and is open to the outside with a high thatched roof. It has dirt floors and a mud wood-fired stove next to a sink with running water (cold) that drains outside. A center island of rough wood and shelving across the back wall to hold dishes, utensils and food stuffs make up the rest of the rather primitive cooking facilities. There was no visible means of refrigeration and the eggs and milk were left sitting on a shelf. This was a bit of a shock after the resort, which was hardly luxurious, but at least acceptable. (Jeroney brought a cooler with the beer and ice!)

To top it off the little one, eighteen month old Selva was allowed to crawl all over the table and countertops in her diapers sticking her hands in everything she saw. To his credit, our host Jeroney (from the resort) did ask us if we wanted to stay 2 nights, or only one. (I think he recognized we were a bit surprised by the conditions.) But we’re not ones to shy away from “adventure” and I volunteered that yes we’d stay the two nights we’d planned.

After we got to our private quarters I remarked to Jeep, “If we’re going to get sick, we’ll get sick here.” Well, luckily we didn’t get sick but we were careful about what we ate.

As you may have guessed by now I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the “Jungle Adventure” package I’d signed us on to. Our “tree house” wasn’t exactly that. It was rather an open two story thatched house built on stilts over a small waterfall. It was quite nice actually. It had a little sitting area overlooking the waterfall on the lower floor and a ladder down to the water. Then up the wooden stairs there was a bed and a “wash up” area made up of a bucket you lowered into the creek, and a wash tub on a shelf! Very cute and actually convenient. Because the weather there is so hot, the water temp isn’t icy like it is here. And washing in cool water is kinda nice. The creek is surrounded by jungle vegetation and down an embankment, so it can’t be seen. We took advantage of that for our all over baths.

That night we couldn’t hear anything but the waterfall.

That evening we had some chicken soup and interesting conversation. (we passed on the salad). That was when we got to know Miriam, after her chicken soup (for which her flock was “reduced”) and a bottle of wine the kitchen didn’t seem quite so filthy. Since the only form of illumination was a few candles, you couldn’t see much of it anyway.

The next morning we had our “jungle adventure.” Well it was BEFORE noon. In Belize, time is a rather loose concept. This would’ve driven Jeep mad, but we were only there for a week. So, after breakfast (we passed on the eggs and milk) we went on a little hike in the woods.

It occurred to me as we marched off down the path through the jungle that we were going into a remote, thick, forest with a man we hardly knew, who happened to be carrying a very large knife. A Machete to be exact, about 2 feet long and pretty sharp. We had nothing to fear though. Joe Martinez turned out to be a trustworthy, kind and interesting guide.

Joe who had moved to this land as a six year-old, resembled a rasta-man complete with dreadlocks. On the way down the path, which followed the creek past our treehouse, Joe explained many of the plants that grow in this dense subtropical jungle. Though frankly I had a pretty hard time telling one tree from the next he seemed to know them all and the uses of them.

There were two trees he pointed out that looked identical to me. If you brush up against the bark of one of them will give a terrible, burning rash. The other, is the antidote. Furthermore they always grew in some proximity to each other. He pointed to another tree with red, papery, peeling bark and asked us what we thought the name of this tree was? We couldn’t guess. He said with a straight face, “We call that one the Tourist Tree.”

We continued to walk down the path along and through the creek. The ground here is full of limestone, the Yucatan peninsula is riddled with caves. So the creek has a crust of limestone that makes up the creek bed and forms a series of pools or basins terracing down the slope. This limestone leaches out of the ground at such a rate that leaves, twigs and debris that catches on obstacles form the lips of these little pools very quickly. Joe showed us newly formed rims and said that they can form a coating of this crusty substance about one quarter inch thick in about a week.

In spite of the fast forming limestone, the creek water was very, very clear.

Down, down we hiked through the leafy green and steamy jungle, until we came to an abrupt vertical drop. The creek flew over the edge of the yellowing limestone crust and so it seemed would we.