Un-Belize-able

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’ – St. Augustine

Our recent trip to Belize for spring break wasn’t just an opportunity to get away to visit and experience a new country, it ended up being quite an experiment. Usually, when rw2 says ‘let’s take a trip’, I head for the book store for travel books, hit up Google for umpteen travel sites and information and ‘put it out there’ on facebook to hear about friends’ trips/tips/info about our destination. This last January had me heading in a completely and very uncharacteristic direction in my world of trip-planning. I didn’t research a thing.

I already have several friends that think we’re nut cases for traveling to some of the destinations we’ve been to in the first place, but this time they stared at me with wide eyes and gaping mouths uttering things like, ‘Really?’, ‘I could never…’, ‘Where IS Belize’, and ‘Huh.’, while scratching their heads in disbelief. I can’t even imagine their surprise if I told them that we literally booked our plane reservations and hotel in about an hour without knowing anything about Belize.

As if the unknown was experiment enough, I left my phone in the states (way too expensive to turn on in Belize) and also, my computer. I’m not a tech geek or slave to the laptop, but let’s face it, we live in a tech heavy society and it’s nearly impossible to live without one. From social networks to email to shopping to information gathering, I use my laptop on a daily basis which is why the thought of going off-line for 8 days thrilled me from the start. There was something exciting about a phone number being the only way someone could reach me and laying by the pool, walking on the beach, talking with locals and exciting activities that made this trip extra special.

After the crowded, loud, college student swarmed beaches of Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, Belize turned out to be a quite and serene tropical paradise. We opted to stay on Ambergris Caye just off the coast of Belize. The caye (pronounced ‘key’) runs parallel to the Belize Barrier Reef, the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We stayed at Cocotal Inn and Cabanas and couldn’t be happier. The coast is sprinkled with resorts and private residences but Cocotal is a quiet boutique property with a large house, beach front casita and 3 small cabanas located at the back of the lot. Complete with pool, honor bar and personal staff to book excursions, we found ourselves having everything we needed.

A short, or even a long stroll, down the beach brought us to anything we wanted: sushi, BBQ, steaks, seafood, entertainment and of course, those frosty tropical drinks with the little umbrellas! Being 3 miles north of the town made for a fun adventure walking along the beach, or taking a water taxi into town. Although, walking along the uninhabited lots did offer a unique array of garbage that had washed up on shore. We found ourselves tip-toeing through everything from plastic bottles to doll parts to shoes. Interesting.

Most days were filled with lots of sun and fun, but the most memorable event while at Cocotal was paddling out to the caye in a kayak and snorkeling on the reef. We’ve scubaed and snorkeled in several locations over the years, but this was the most pristine and beautiful reef we’ve ever experienced. Rich also took a half-day excursion to the Hol Chan marine preserve and shark-ray alley to see the local sea life.

After several relaxing days, we decided to hop back to the mainland for the day to experience even more that Belize had to offer(and Rich just can’t pass up the opportunity to fly in a small plane). We found ourselves 3 hours into the mainland and almost to the border of Guatemala standing on top of Mayan ruins being amazed at the expansive jungle before us. Xunantunich is certainly not the largest or most famous Mayan ruins, but the small footprint (about 1 sq. mile) was charming and beautiful. Our private guide was very informative and even though the temp was around 100°(F), we enjoyed climbing the 130 ft. ‘El Castillo’.

Our next step was to ‘zip’ through the Belizian rainforest. Having major back surgery just over a year ago, I’m always leery of new activities, but I was certain that I wanted to try. Donned with crash helmet, harness and heavy leather gloves, we were soon flying through the tree tops 100 feet in the air. It was truly exhilarating and worth every second. Odd, but the fact that I’m not thrilled about heights didn’t occur to me at all. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t see the ground, perhaps it was because I didn’t have my glasses on, or perhaps it was just *that* cool!

With sweat rolling back our backs, we headed for the river in the nearby Cave Branch Archeological Park and spent the next hour leisurely floating through the cave system and jungle. Our guide continued to point out fascinating flora and fauna as well as birds and bugs. The drive back to the airport was filled with beer (Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more) and sharing fun moments of the day with our guide and trip mates.

It seems impossible to ‘top’ the events so far, but we actually did. Ok, well, maybe not. On our second to last night, we headed to downtown San Pedro to experience what everyone had been telling us we HAD to see since we landed… the Chicken Drop. Yes, we took bets on what number the chicken would ‘drop’ on in the hopes that we’d win $100. *sigh* This was not a proud moment for me (i’m a vegetarian) but it was a fun time and meeting up with our friends from the tour made it a great social event and memorable evening.

So, even though I hadn’t planned out every moment of our trip beforehand, scoured the internet for info and painstakingly researched our destination, we had a great time. Not having the distraction of the computer was a welcomed treat, but I did miss the opportunity to sit quietly with a beer, reflect on the day and write my blog. You can bet that I will be bringing it with from now on. I don’t think we will be heading back to Belize in the near future, but it was a great trip and we again found ourselves immersed in culture, talking with locals and experiencing all the great things that make travel awesome.

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