March 13th, 2018

The Buttersmith’s Belizean Adventures

As a lot of you know, Chris and I are NOT the cruise/resort type. Being herded around like cattle and told what to do and when to do it is not our thing, resorts are perfect for those who want to sit on the beach and have a few (or many) umbrella drinks, but that’s not us. We like to explore.

About a year ago Chris, who is not a big – get on a plane and leave the “safety” of the United States – person, suggested to me – an I want to travel everywhere person –  that maybe we should go to Belize to look at purchasing land as an investment (we did not purchase land in Belize, so don’t get too excited). That’s all he had to say and I booked the flights before he could change his mind. The fact that it was initially his idea to go to Belize came in to play about 2 hours after we had landed and we were driving west across Belize towards San Ignacio. The landscape (both natural and man made) between the airport and San Ignacio is less than appealing in most areas and about the time we hit our second speed bump – which are the size of a sidewalk in both height and width, the same color/material as the road and lack warning signage – at over 30 MPH in James, our rental car (a Suzuki Jimmy), Chris looked at me and said, “I guess it’s a good thing this trip was my idea”. If traveling to Belize had been my idea in any way, he would have not been a happy camper about the entire situation and would have headed back to the airport without even giving it a second chance. Being that it was his idea, he couldn’t let it be a bad experience that landed on his shoulders. I on the other hand, knew it could only improve and started watching the road much more closely for speed bumps. Actually, I really couldn’t tell you much about what we passed because I was ONLY looking for speed bumps. 

As we neared San Ignacio with no GPS and poorly written directions that had us wondering after each turn if we were in fact heading in the right direction, we stopped at a grocery store and got some snacks before we headed out to our Airbnb, which was on the opposite side of San Ignacio. After some pot holes, more speed bumps, constant amazement at the fact that the road crew that cuts the grass on the side of the road is a horse tied to a post every few hundred feet, and some washboard-like dirt roads we arrived at our destination, the sweet little white house you see below:

We settled in a bit and then headed to town for dinner and at the suggestion of a few locals, at the Guava Limb Cafe. We were not disappointed and ate there at least 2 more times! Delish!

An aside: Belize should not have been in it’s rainy season in February, however for two weeks before we arrived, it rained almost constantly and continued to drizzle while we were in the western part of the country. We had planned to do several cave tours and go river tubing, but the high water level kept us from doing any of those things. So, plan B, we take James the Jimmy on an adventure. The roads into many of the areas we wanted to go were so muddy that even the tour companies were cancelling their tours, but that wasn’t going to stop us. And so we headed out with our new combination hiking boot/sandals on our feet (thanks, Mom!), towards Mountain Pine Ridge to make our own tour. 

When we arrived at Mountain Pine Ridge, again with no GPS or cell service to tell us if we were actually going the right way, the guard at the entrance to the National Forest was surprised to see us. We essentially had thousands of acres of land, mountains, waterfalls and caves to ourselves. What’s an adventure without the chance of being stranded in the middle of the jungle all by ourselves, right? Right.

An hour or so into the park, we got to our first stop. Rio on Pools. Normally, this area has slow moving water and you can swim in the pools created between the rocks. 

James! Such a great tour guide.

Next stop, Rio Frio Cave. A few wrong turns and one last ditch effort to find the cave and we finally did! We even had a glimpse of a monkey on our way to it. Chris also saw two wild Belize turkeys – he was super excited. I did not see them and did not care that I missed them, however apparently they are all different colors and very pretty.

Rio Frio Cave – it is open on both ends and is absolutely enormous inside. There is a video at the bottom of the blog post, you can get a better idea of the size of it from the video. 

We knew that our chances of doing the cave tour we really wanted to do were non existent and we decided to head out to our next destination a day early, leaving us one more day in San Ignacio. We headed into town for breakfast and walked around the market which has more fruits and vegetables than I have ever seen in my life. 

We booked a tour of the Green Iguana Conservation Project and got to hold and feed the iguanas that are part of the project…and then it started raining.

We waited out the rain and then headed to Cahal Pech, Mayan ruins that are right inside the city limits of San Ignacio. I wasn’t too pumped about this because I’ve seen Mayan ruins before and feel like it’s a seen one, seen them all situation, but it was something to do without taking James on another adventure. It turned out to be absolutely amazing and some of the structures are insane! Plus, the sun came out. 

See? Sun.

These palm trees are everywhere and they are soo big. I knew I wouldn’t be able to describe accurately how large they are, so here’s a photo using me to scale. I wanted to cut some of the fronds and bring them home to all of our florist friends but my suitcase was at its weight limit.

So this is where it gets funny. Or not. Either way. There was a sign that we always passed on our way back to our house that says El Pilar Mayan Ruins – 7 Miles. It was mid-afternoon and we had run out of other things to do so, we decided to take a quick trip to check it out. An hour and a half later there was no sign of El Pilar or really any civilization (Mayan or current) other than a few cows here and there, and we were debating on turning around or whether we should hope James makes it through the next giant mud hole (also see video). 

Finally, we reached El Pilar, where again, one guard greeted us and explained that we were the first people to visit in the last 3 days. Yay, us! He also explained that the majority of El Pilar has NOT been excavated in an effort to preserve the ruins (the excavation process and being in open air causes the ruins to deteriorate quickly). So, other than a few small excavated areas, you are essentially walking around looking at mounds of dirt with trees growing in them. Yay, us?! We pretended like we knew that all long, as he went on to explain the direction we needed to walk. It actually was fascinating to see what it looks like before excavation – if you didn’t know what you were looking for it wouldn’t look any different than any other part of the forest. The guard also said we would probably see monkeys and toucans, so I spent most of the time looking up into the trees any way. 

About an hour later I was hungry and thirsty (we didn’t think in a 7 mile drive we would need to bring extra food/water) and about to give up looking for monkeys and toucans when I heard a toucan and went about searching for it. In my toucan search, I happened to run across a few spider monkeys (photos below)!! When Chris caught up to me and also heard what I thought was a toucan, he simply said “nope, that’s a Howler monkey” with a big smile on his face as he started howling back at it. Within just a few minutes of back and forth human vs. monkey howling, he had a whole group of them yelling at him and no sightings and I suggested it was time to go.

As we headed out on the second longest 7 mile ride of our lives we came across two men walking down the road with machetes and a bunch of dogs. We were super puzzled about where they came from because there were literally no homes anywhere on this road. My window was down and as we drove by, one of them jokingly asked for a ride back to town. To his surprise (and mine a little bit), Chris slammed on the brakes and told them to hop in the back. They explained that they worked for the Mennonites (we think on the farm where the photo of the cows above is taken) and they walk to work from town on Monday morning (all 7 miles) stay on the farm all week to work and then walk back on Friday night so they can attend church on Saturday. We chatted about hunting (because why not?), wild life and the Belizean culture. It was safe to say our adventure just kept getting more adventurous. 

That pretty much concluded our stay in San Ignacio and we packed up and headed out early the next morning, back towards Belize City with a stop at the Belize Zoo on the way. Many people told us that the zoo was nowhere near as good as zoos in the US, but we wanted to see it for ourselves. By the time we were half way through the zoo, we both decided this was literally the best zoo ever. All of the animals had been rescued – either they were injured, or had been illegally kept as pets, confiscated and couldn’t be released back into the wild. The zoo is built in naturally grown wooded areas, swamp and jungle. And our favorite thing about the zoo was the lack of fencing. Don’t get me wrong, there were fences t0 keep the animals contained, however the only thing protecting humans from entering the pen with the salt water crocodile was the common sense (apparently people who go to American zoos lack this common sense) to not climb over the one, chainlink, 4 foot high fence separating you from the animal that could eat you. If I wanted to I could have reached over and touched it, rather than looking at it from far away or through a thick pane of glass. It was much more of an immersive experience than any American zoo.

The monkeys have a ground fence around their enclosure to keep people out of their space, but when you look up, they can easily move around the entire zoo (and even outside of the zoo) through the trees. The only thing keeping them at the zoo is the consistent food source. 

The zoo concluded our time on the mainland of Belize and next we hopped on a water taxi to Caye Caulker. I don’t have a lot of photos from Caye Caulker, but what I can tell you is that it was amazing and we will be going back. There are no cars on the island, all transportation is by bike or on foot (or call the golf cart taxi). The local food is phenomenal, the local people are so friendly and accommodating and the Barrier Reef is some of the best snorkeling I have ever done. The dogs on the island (both pets and strays) are well taken care by residents and tourists and well snuggled by me =)  

 

 

 

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