Don’t get me wrong. We enjoy seeing the rural parts of any country, including our own. But because we love the energy and culture of cities so much, we usually stay in one place longer than the tour guides or travel books might recommend. We’ve been to Paris, London, and New Orleans several times each, because those are all amazingly complex and diverse cities, with so much to offer it’s impossible to see or experience everything on just one visit. We stayed in Venice for a full week, where books advised “one day, maybe two”. That sort of thing sounds crazy to us; we like to get to know a place well – not just hit the highlights and eat one meal.
So, it’s an understatement to say that it was rather unusual for us to book a trip to the rainforest of Belize in October, 2011, where we would primarily be in the countryside the entire time, in a place with which we were completely unfamiliar. We had never been to Central America before; heck, we’ve never even been to the Caribbean. But, we had come across a promotion offered by an eco-lodge, and the more we looked into it, we thought it sounded both adventurous and relaxing. It was probably a bit more of the former, but we still had a fantastic time nonetheless.
The Cotton Tree Lodge is in the south of Belize, deep in the rainforest. To get there, we flew to Miami, then Belize City, then waited for a local puddle-jumper mail plane to take us to Punta Gorda, where after a 45-minute drive in a jeep over a mostly unpaved, rutted road, we arrived at the lodge just in time for dinner. We were so exhausted we were half asleep by the end of the meal. But there was more: a quarter-mile walk on a raised, two-plank walkway to our remote “Jungle Cabana”, which we had confidently booked, thinking to ourselves something along the lines of “in for a penny, in for a pound”. Let’s do this, all the way.
Boy, was it an experience. That first night, we fell into bed, tucked all around by mosquito netting, and were deep asleep before our heads hit the pillow. We felt like we slept for hours before the howling started.
Sounding like a cross between a lion and a dinosaur, the howler monkeys were in the trees directly above the cabana, letting us know this was their territory. They woke us up, of course, and after a few minutes of being disoriented, Rob managed to reach through the netting for the travel alarm clock, which showed it was only 10:30 PM, not the typical pre-dawn time the howlers usually start. Despite being ridiculously tired, we were both grinning like fools in the dark, because lying there, listening to the howlers and other sounds of the jungle, we both realized this was the most exotic, amazing, adventurous thing we’d ever done, and we loved it.
After that first surreal night, each day started with breakfast in the main lodge, which always included lots of fresh fruit, eggs, some meat or sausage, as well as bread or pancakes. The coffee, of course, was wonderful, and hot chocolate (Belize is a major source for cacao) was always on offer. In fact, all the meals at the lodge were fantastic, with everything locally sourced and actually most coming right from the lodge’s own gardens and farm.
Each day there was a choice of two excursions, and we were able to do most of the excursions we had hoped to do.
We hiked to the Blue Creek Cave with what started out as an easy walk and then became a moderately challenging climb over large river rocks, some of which you had to toe-and-finger-hold onto. These large rocks were more challenging on the way back, when your shoes are wet from the cave swim, which is your goal at the end of the hike: swimming–more like pulling yourself along–upstream against the rain-swollen current into the depths of a pitch-black mountain cave with only a headlamp to guide your way.
We toured the Mayan ruins of Lubantuun and Nim Li Punit, which were amazing, educational glimpses into a very advanced civilization. We rode horses through fields full of orange trees and butterflies, feeling like we were on a movie set.
We made tortillas from scratch under the supervision of a local woman from the nearby village. We slept under a canopy of trees, with the howler monkeys roaring us to sleep. We kayaked on the Moho river, and saw massive iguanas lounging on branches.
I got over my squeamishness of spiders (enormous and golden-eyed). And bats.