Thursday, December 21, 2006

Belize Navidad

The Belize Navidad I enjoyed with my favorite man in a little thatched roof cabana on a beach in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is probably my favorite Christmas. We had Chinese food for dinner that night with our new friends, one a Brit the other Czech. There was a parade down the unpaved, sandy main drag. And I actually got to talk to my grandparents and dad on the phone. That was 8 years ago.

I would love to go back. The only part I'd change is staying a few nights in Belize City. It was a dump. But, I would like to see if any of it has changed at all. I remember there was a cute park on the coast with a little lighthouse and some jungle themed jungle toys for kids to climb on. One was a gorilla. I saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher there for the first time.

The ride into Belize City from the airport should have said it all. It was a an old wood-grained sided station wagon complete with a severely cracked windshield and several coconuts in the back. Our driver said nothing until we spotted a billboard that spelled out VAT and asked him, "What's VAT?" He said three words.

It's a killer.

Later we found out VAT was a tax on just about everything.

Inside Belize City we got the lowdown from a friendly guy with dreds who was associated with our hotel, or at least the bartender who worked there. He told us where it was safe to walk. Basically one block down that way and a few blocks up the other way. Don't go there or there he said pointing off:

They even be chancing on my own self.

We took a speedboat to the Caye. The guy drove without regard to waves - it was fast and furious and very bumpy. A piglet got shoved into a cardboard box which was then sealed up with fruits and whatnot piled on top. The pig squealed loudly and the box jiggled noticeably for a while. Maybe it went to sleep or suffocated.

On the Caye we went snorkeling a few times, ate raw conch right out of the ocean (delicious!), walked around birdwatching a lot, and drank rum with Dr. Pepper on the beach every night. We took a boat ride to see manatees. When they stuck their snouts out of the water to get a breath of air they looked like big dogs.

We rode a boat out to the reef with scuba divers so that we could see Red Footed Boobies. It was well worth the expense and the ride. The boat was in shambles. It rained every night and since we slept on the deck, our mattresses got soaked. We slept on soggy mattresses. The captain had the same philosophy as the water taxi driver who took us to thew Caye - drive as fast a possible, ignore waves. It was a seriously choppy ride. I got a little seasick and so did my favorite guy, so I know it was bad.

By the end of the four day trip the door to the can was hanging on by only one hinge and had a smell to match.

But - the boobies were glorious. We could get so close that one actually crapped on Alasdair's shoulder as we walked by. My own animal encounters were similar, but at least the giant cockroach that fell on me in the middle of the night when I got up to pee and the mouse that ran across my bare leg as I got dressed didn't leave any lasting marks.

On a whim we bought plane tickets to Flores, Guatemala so we could see Tikal. We bought handwoven textiles in tienda typicas, drank cheap beer, and found a wonderful guide who was an excellent teacher. I can almost smell the bark of the allspice tree he cut off for us to smell. The golden glint of the Chestnut-Colored Woodpeckers in full sunlight is a sight! We wondered around the temples and climbed two of them.

We watched a beautiful sunset from the top of one where we met a young guy from Walla Walla who was serving in the Peace Corps there. Small world.

The coatis looked like miniature dinosaurs as they sauntered off into the dim light of the forest. One night we stayed too long in the park and had to walk back half-lost in the dark. It was a full moon that night which added to the drama of walking along in a mostly black jungle where we had just been told about poisonous fer-de-lance snakes that stalk their prey, not to mention the jaguars and ocelots.... which we would be lucky to see in the first place!

After Tikal, we stayed on a ranch in central Belize that is owned by a Montanan - the Banana Bank Ranch. That was a treat. They were excellent, warm, and friendly hosts. I went horseback riding for the first time there which supports to my claim that I am a MT city slicker. We saw boat-billed herons and a jabiru that made the wood storks it stood next too look like crows. Riding around with the rancher was a lot like riding around with my dad. It all made me a little homesick. I would love to stay at the ranch again!

I saw and heard howler monkeys. They really do sound like lions roaring. If you don't believe me, you can listen to them here. And they are LOUD. I didn't mind at all being woken up by them at 3 o'clock in the morning. It added to the experience. I saw spider monkeys too.

We caught a flight on a three seat Cessna to Chan Chich Lodge. Chan Chich is an expensive, luxury lodge situated in the heart of the jungle near the Rio Bravo Conservation Area. The bird watching was spectacular and we were extremely fortunate to be able to go there at such a young age. We were both in our early 20s and by far the youngest people there. While I painted a watercolor postcard form the porch of the lounge I spotted a green hummer. A new bird! I thought to myself and quickly trained my binos on it only to discover it was actually an enormous grasshopper.

We also saw "jesus christ" lizards, pygmy kingfishers, king vultures, jacamars, a red-capped manakin whose neon orange head was so bright it looked cartoonish, bare-throated tiger heron, purple-crowned fairy, ornate hawk eagle, sungrebe, chacalacas, northern jacana, trogons, motmots, aracaris, toucans, oropendulas (who make huge hanging nests!) and my favorite: the full-of-personality and mischievous looking yellow-billed cacique.

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