It’s been a period of extended long silence here, but I am back hoping this space is not totally forgotten. I bring you the story of my experience in this little country called “Belize”. We visited this land in Central America for just about a week in total, but came back with experiences worth a lifetime. Penning-down the good,bad,funny and all that was Belize for me. A long post coming up.But, please show some love and read on, will you? :)
Checking-in at the airport, Paapu was seen talking to this employee – an old lady in black uniform, wrinkled face, wiry silver hair, sharp nose and a pair of thick black spectacles. She was laughing hysterically at something Paapu said. When I approached and asked , she kept laughing and so I asked Paapu. Paapu matter-of-factly told me “I asked her if she was a witch”. * Gulp* Thank God that nice lady had a sense of humor to laugh at this unsolicited question!
The almost-four year old kept at her non-stop chatter on the plane. Talking about this and that, really loud most times. I shushed her as much as I could, pleaded her to talk soft, also warned her a couple of times to no avail. An uptight looking lady in our front seat rose up and turned back only to yell at Paapu’s face -” You are so noisy! Gosh, you have to learn to be quiet!”. While I muttered an embarrassed sorry, Paapu burst out into wails even louder than the chatter! How I wanted the floor to just gobble up and remove me from the scene altogether. Bah, the joys of plane journey with a non-cooperating toddler seated next to a mean passenger.
The Belize airport was so small, almost as big as a bus station in a big town. I recall browsing through the wares in the airport shops and thinking -”wow, this stuff looks really cheap and badly made. If airport shops have such low standards, I wonder what’s in store outside?”. I was wrong of course. The outside, I was to know, had great shopping options, only if I looked at the right shop. :)
Never thought I would be flying on a 10 seater airplane sitting right behind the pilots in the cockpit, but it happened! ‘Tropic Air’ took us from the mainland Belize city to this little island called San Pedro. Vividly recall Paapu seated next to me and singing her made-up song “We’re going in a jet! going in a jet! Hey-ho-the-merry-ho,going in a jet!” while I clapped and bobbed my head along. Jet? Ah, it was not even a real plane, if you ask me :P
The first destination took my breath away. The Ak’bol Resort so picturesque…straight out of a post card! The thatched cabanas and rooms were so rugged, not a piece of plastic or shiny metal used in construction. The mud floor ingrained with smooth pebbles, the hand made clay sink with a beach sea conch for a water faucet, bamboo framed bed with a mosquito net, wooden ladder up to a loft !To top it all, the bathroom was outside, four walls with open top where the trees hovered high. The shower was the bare basic, pulling down an attached string to the faucets showered lukewarm water. Although I missed my regular carpeted floor and automatic showers, this was a humbling eco-friendly experience.
The ‘soul kitchen’, the restaurant inside the resort kept true to its name and served soulful food, all local cuisine, made from scratch. My favorite was the ‘Papusa’ , a variation of our poori’s stuffed with veggies and black beans, served with spicy salad on the side. Mmmm. Over the period of 3 days, the creaky stools and wood chairs on the sand here saw us gulp countless glasses of fresh fruit smoothies and beer. They even have a special menu of drinks to counter hangovers! Go check out the Michelada recipe if you wanna know :D
While we spent so much time hanging out in the “Soul Kitchen”, we got acquainted with a lot of interesting souls. First to mention would be the owners of the resort – Kirsten and Milio They lived and worked in Chicago . About 10 years back their love for Belize made them pack up and buy a one-way ticket to this remote island, where they set up shop and never went back! She used to be a clothes designer and he a rock punk..and now they run a beautiful resort, teach yoga, employ hundreds of locals and raise 2 kids. To see that they truly followed their heart and are blissfully happy..how inspiring!
The story at Ak’bol resort isn’t complete without the mention of the invisible mosquitoes that make grand entry after sunset. They are so tiny, you’ll never even notice them sitting cozy on your legs and sucking away to glory. No wonder they are called “No-see-ums” ( nobody sees them!). One of the unforgettable momentous I brought back from Belize were the pink/red mosquito bite marks all over my lower legs. Yay! ( not)
To go from one part of the island to another was, in itself, a trip to look forward to. The road access isn’t great, but the water-taxi’s made up well for that. Water-taxi’s run on schedule every few hours and charge a minimal amount. All you have to do it stand at the pier and switch on the blinking light facing the ocean and wait for the these fast engine boats. They stop to pick passengers when they spot the blinking lights. Green lights to travel right and red lights to travel left. I loved sharing seat with random strangers on the boat – some locals taking their kids to a nearby park, some tourists going to the downtown, others returning back after a shopping spree, loaded with souvenirs and sporting huge smiles :D
If you have “Swimming with Sharks” in your bucket list, this is the place to go! Belize is paradise for snorkelers and deep water divers. No, I am not exaggerating. They take you to so many spots in the ocean – one of them is named “Shark and Stingray alley”. True to the name, we saw huge sharks and gigantic stingrays comfortably passing by underwater. While I literally shuddered to be next to those creatures, they seem to be least bothered about this weird flip-wearing snorkel people ;) However, the experience beautiful overall – clear blue waters, corals of all shape and colors, tiny school of fish.. some yellow striped, some shimmering blue, happily moving around in their natural habitat. It was, as if, I was given this rare invite to visit their gorgeous world and they didn’t care as long as I didn’t bother them :)
Renting a bicycle and going around the little island was one of the best things we did during the entire trip! The warm ocean breeze on the face felt refreshing as we rode around exploring the unknown narrow paths in the island. Every smile was met with a smile back and friendly wave from the locals.While Pappu chattered along from the toddler backseat, I took every chance to stop – to buy banana chips from a shop, check on the handcrafted jewelry, bags and carvings, admire the stunning strokes on a hand made painting, click pictures and watch the sunset :)
The husband had booked a driver to pick us to our second destination. He interacted with the company using an email alias which he created on a whim to sound funny. So, this lady driver stood there with a name board awaiting us. It read “Erume” , That means “Buffalo” in Tamil. Yes, they thought it was his name, even though he specified his actual name on emails several times. I laughed so hard, could not stop giggling all the way through the 2 hour car ride.
Speaking about the ride, the driver lady, Daniella, was a very interesting personality.She was a mother of two teenagers with a husband who served Belize as a soldier. She was chatty and warm, answering all our curious questions about the life and ways of locals. Told her life story, how every woman in her family were school teachers except for her- who chose to take on the rough roads as a driver. She had lived in Los Angels, USA for more than 6 years as a teenager, taking up menial jobs to gather enough money and buy her own car in her own Belize. Somehow, Daniella made me proud. She stood high as an example of strong willed women who achieve what they set out for.
The Belize Zoo has a story, that brought me happy goosebumps. About 30 years back ,this lady, Sharon Matola, came to Belize in order to work on a documentary on Belize animals. She did not have any plans to make a zoo! But, when, at the end of it, she ended up with more than a dozen animals in need of care, she decided to stay back and build them a shelter. Over time it has evolved into this very well maintained space where mammals, birds and reptiles local to the land roam about free ( almost) and are taken very good care. Most of these animals are old or injured and cannot survive out in the wild. The deers, monkeys, tapirs, owls, toucans, macaws, jaguars and something called the ‘coatamundi’ – they all seem totally at home here. Don’t you love the concept of this ‘zoo’? I do :)
Paapu was walking around this place, totally amused and looking at all things we pointed out “Look, a Howler monkey”, “Look, a Tapir”. She was quiet and taking it all in very sincerely, when a zoo employee walked out of a gate. She piped up to point him and exclaimed, “Look, a human!”. To say we had a good laugh over it is an understatement :D
Belize hosts a number of ruins from the Mayan Civilization. There are many high profile ruins ( Altun Ha, Xunantunich, Caracol..). Because of several reasons, we couldn’t go to any of them, so settled-in for this low profile ruin called “Cahal Pech”. This was the hilltop home for an elite Maya family in 1200 BC. It felt surreal to see where the king sat and to imagine a full court of people. The main courtyard, I was told, hosted this special ball games where the winner was beheaded to offer to their rain Gods ! The players still fought to win , because it was a honorable death promising their place in heaven. *gulp*
Our second place of stay was this highly regarded resort in the country – spanning an enormous 360 acres on the Maya mountains. It offered a range of options to lodge – upscale suites and villas , medium priced cottages and tree-houses and also the least expensive camp sites. We, of course, chose that last option, wanting to stay rugged and adventurous ( ok, also to save money :P).The camp site offered tented rooms with the bare minimum to survive – beds, tables, and 2 kerosene lamps. That’s right – not even electricity :D Although was a bit disappointed at the bare basics at first,the untouched feel of the forest ambiance grew on us. A common area served freshly made local food to the campers. The kitchen next to the common area housed a Belizian family, where the wife was the cook, husband and the grown-up son were the care takers of the campsite. Such warm and friendly people – they loved Paapu like their own for the few days we were there :)
The resort offered wide variety of options for the lodgers to enjoy – hiking on guided trails, birding, visits to the onsite Butterfly Farm, Natural History Museum, and rain-forest tours, to name a few. How this beautiful resort was established in the middle of nowhere, by a regular couple is a story in itself. Still boggles me to think just a pair of husband and wife got this all started and sustained it so well! Read here to know the actual story.
On the last day, we canoed down the Makal river, rowing sparsely, and mostly sitting silent taking-in the serenity and sounds of the beautiful rain-forest around us.The guide who accompanied was born and raised in the little village right there and he was very proud of his roots. It was quite humbling to hear from this seemingly smart and english-fluent man say, ” I have worked hard and earned my respect. I have had various offers to go to lot of different countries given my experience in surviving the wild jungle, but I refuse to take them up. This is my home. This is where I belong.I need to be nowhere else in the world to be happy.”
I guess that last line from the guide sums up the experience in beautiful Belize.
Until I have another story to share, adios my dear readers!
Wish you a very peaceful, refreshing and utterly gratifying new year 2014.
See you on the other side :)