A Great Little Central American Country
I was lucky enough to escape the endless Chicago winter last week when my husband and I headed to Belize. We spent one week in that tiny country wedged between Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, and I hope we will have the chance to return some day.
We started out our trip on the beach of Ambergris Caye, and it felt miraculous. In the days before our direct flight to Belize City, the North Pole had descended on Chicago. Literally, in the form of the Polar Vortex, or the unleashing of Arctic Air to the US, likely from climate change-related loss of sea ice. I had also struggled with a bad cold. Upon alighting from the plane and walking by palm trees at the airport, my cold symptoms magically disappeared.
We cleared customs, grabbed our bags, and headed by taxi to the dock where we would catch a boat--or a 'water taxi'--to Ambergris Caye, the largest of the Belizean Caribbean islands. We had time for a quick rum punch, and then boarded a boat with a lot of other tourists, and made our way out into the ocean.
Ambergris Caye turned out to be the right place to start off our vacation. We enjoyed 2 snorkeling excursions--the coral reef off the coast of Belize is pristine and teeming with fish--the salt water washing away any hint of winter dryness and chill. We saw every manner of aquarium fish, the occasional lobster, flounder swimming sideways, the various plants of the reef, barracudas, and small sharks known as 'nurse sharks.'
We spent part of another day at the 'Secret Beach,' a not-so-secret beach at the north end of the island. The ride out there and back on our golf cart--the main way to travel on the island--became an adventure in itself. For the cost of a cocktail or snack, we were able to grab lounge chairs on the beach, and wade out into the warm water for hours. We spent the afternoons napping or reclining at the beach at our hotel, reading. I completely devoured "The Great Believers" by Rebecca Makai; more on that later. At night, we left our golf cart at home, and walked from our hotel up to the crowded center of Ambergis Caye for dinner. Lobster, shrimp and every sort of rum cocktail appear on the menus of the menu delicious restaurants on the island; we indulged every night.
After 4 days on the island, we boarded the boat and returned to the mainland. I had felt so coddled and relaxed that I hardly wanted to leave, but I had planned a jungle stay for the second part of our trip, and that's what awaited us. A staffer from the Hidden Valley Inn met us at the boat pier, and for the next 3 hours, we made our way into the Cayo, or the jungle of Belize. We drove on a small highway for the first half of our trip, through Belize City and out onto the surrounding countryside. Once we reached Belmopan, the highway gave way to an unpaved dirt road. We probably only traveled 20 miles during the second half of the trip, but it took one and a half grueling hours of bumpy roads, the SUV jolted by every rock underneath. The driver told us that the Belize government has promised to pave the road...and we hope they can do that soon.
The second part of our trip took place in a lovely inn surrounded by miles of hiking trails in the Cayo. When we were not enjoying delicious meals lovingly prepared by the chef, we were off exploring the jungle on horseback or on foot. During the day we saw many types of birds, the ruins of Mayan homes and industrious rain forest ants. From the summit of our horseback riding outing, we could see much of the Belizean rain forest from one side and Guatemala from the other. At night, we could look up and see nearly the entire Milky Way; the stars blanketing the sky and winking back at us Our little cottage was tidy and comfortable. The inn provided just about everything we wanted for a great stay; we needed only stronger coffee and stronger bug spray.
Vacations always end, and while I was ready to sleep in my own bed again and drink my own espresso, I was not ready to leave Belize and the tropical weather. I intend to return and can't wait to do so.