Reflections on Belize

20140101-141947.jpg Gilly I've really enjoyed Belize. It has been so different from Mexico and I think will be very different from what we are going to see in the next few months. The harmonious mix of the five main ethnicities make for a very friendly population. It has felt so Caribbean at times with both the culture and the mellow accented English. I've also loved trying to understand what people have been saying when they speak Kriol to each other. It sounds so, so like something I should be able to understand completely but absolutely can't. See the yellow writing on the chicken label to get an idea:

20140101-142543.jpg Admittedly the weather hasn't been great.....

20140101-142159.jpg And don't get me started on the jungle insects....

20140101-142258.jpg (Steve's ankle not mine, I'm not that hairy!) I've loved seeing my Mum and Else here. Placencia was a great relaxing break on the beach and it was great to go off for 3 days to explore the jungle and the zoo. We were very sad to see them go. You've got to love a country whose two main dishes are 'rice and beans' and 'beans and rice'! The former is the two ingredients cooked together with coconut milk and the latter they are served separately with the beans being more of a soupy consistency. We've also eaten some great seafood at the coast. Lucy We are living on a farm it is great there are lots of turkeys, chickens, ducks and goosey lucys.


20140101-142503.jpg I also loved the zoo and feeding the tapirs at night. My favourite animal to feed at night was the deer, they ate peanuts. They had little nibblely lips. I loved the tiny red brocket deer best. In the day, I got to get really close to a jaguar and it did 'roll, high five' with me and got a treat for it. The jaguar's name was Fieldmaster.

20140101-142718.jpg Alisha We saw Grannie and Else at Christmas at a nice hotel and we got to swim in the sea a lot. We got lots of lovely presents for Christmas and l've been reading all the Harry Potter books on my kindle since then.

20140101-142943.jpg I loved following the jaguar, tapir and deer tracks in the jungle and trying to work out what they had been doing in the night. But I HATE mosquitoes and biting insects, I wish they had never been invented. Steve Belize has been very different to Mexico. It has felt like a Caribbean Island and the coast has all the same things as you would find on such an island. With the 2nd longest reef in the world we had some great snorkelling experiences swimming with nurse sharks, rays and a large turtle. We also had a wonderful Christmas with family at a perfect hotel for the occasion, Belizean Nirvarna which was set right on the beach in Placencia. We also took full advantage of the great seafood and whilst not very traditional barbecued lobster, red snapper and prawns made for a tasty Christmas lunch. Gilly's mum even brought Christmas pudding and cake with her, so we still had some traditional fare.

20140101-143107.jpg We then saw the other side of Belize away from the coast. Heading inland we experienced the jungle, tracked howler monkeys and saw the footprints of big cats before getting to easily see Belizean native animals at the Belize Zoo. There were a number of consistents though throughout the country, friendly people, ice cold beers (Belikin) and rain. Whilst we saw plenty of sunshine during our 2 and a half weeks we also had lots and lots of rain. And when it rains here it really rains. We were told one night on Caye Caulker we had 9 inches of rain! We have now driven 25,000kms and it is 6 months since I retired. Whilst a lot has happened in that time I can not believe the trip we were planning for so many years is now well and truly underway. It's going very well and is exactly what I want to spend 2014 doing. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.

Jungle, Jaguars, Bites and more Rain

After a wonderful relaxing week we headed off into the interior of Belize. Margaret and Else were joining us for 3 days to see some more of the country before we were dropping them at the airport. First up we headed to the Cockscumb Jaguar Reserve. This was the first reserve in the world created to protect the elusive Jaguar. To get there we had to drive down a muddy road, made worse by the rains. It was one of the few times we have used 4WD on the truck. We were able to camp at the reserve and Margaret and Else were able to rent a rustic cabin, with an emphasis on the rustic. The reserve had lots of lovely walks in the jungle. The ranger said we would be alright doing them by ourselves, even at night. When we asked about the presence of Jaguars and Pumas he said yes they were there but we would be very "lucky" to bump into one on the walk and they would just run away. The first walk we took was through the jungle to a lovely waterfall. After the hot walk we all decided to take a swim in the pool beneath the falls.



20140101-140326.jpg That evening we took a walk in the dark with flashlights to see if we could see some of the nocturnal animals. It was very dark. With no artificial light or moon it gets really dark. And what is that rustling in the bushes? We did manage to see a Gibnut and a possum but nothing bigger. The following morning we took a longer walk. In the wet ground we were able to see the footprints from the animals that had been out during the night. Lots of deer, a tapir (they can weigh up to 600lbs) and these:

20140101-140426.jpg Yes that is a Jaguar footprint. And there was a lot of prints going both ways along the path, so there may have been more than one cat. From the reserve we drove up the lovely Hummingbird Highway until we reached the Blue Hole National Park. Here we explored St Herman's cave and swam in the Blue Hole swimming hole. The cave stretched about a mile underground and you can walk in the first 400 yards. Once inside, without your torch it was total blackness. We could see the small underground river and some stalactites.


20140101-140612.jpg The Blue Hole is a collapsed cenote and the pool is formed from water coming from underground which then flows into the cave.


20140101-140756.jpg As we could not find any where suitable to stay nearby we drove on to the Tropical Education Centre just opposite the Belize Zoo. We were able to camp here and Margaret and Else stayed in a cabin on stilts. It was in a very nice setting with some great bird life around. We could hear and see lots of woodpeckers and even saw grey foxes and gibnuts in the grounds. The next morning we headed to the Belize Zoo which we had heard so much about. The zoo is all set in very natural surroundings as all the animals are native to Belize and effectively it is just fences around their natural habitat. We saw monkeys, tapirs, deer, all 5 cat species as well as a lot of birds including the magnificent Harpy Eagle.



20140101-141052.jpg We went back to do the evening tour with a guide which was really informative as the guide was able to explain a lot more. The cats were also a lot more active and the kids got to feed some of the animals such as the tapirs and the deer.


20140101-141311.jpg Whilst the zoo is still a zoo all the animals are either rescued or there because otherwise they would have been destroyed. Since it is not possible to return them to the wild the zoo provides a great educational tool and is very active in promoting conservation across Belize. That evening the Tropical Education Centre was full so all 6 of us had to sleep in the truck. This meant one person on the sofa and me sleeping in the cab on a camping mat. Cosy! The next day we dropped Margaret and Else off at the airport. We then headed towards the border with Guatemala. Just before the border we stopped at a beautiful spot called Clarissa Falls which had been recommended to us. Here we camped on a farm by a swollen river. It was very peaceful camping with the geese, ducks, turkeys, dogs and cats and made for a very relaxing day and a half. As it was New Years Eve we went to the onsite restaurant for a final meal of Chicken, Rice and Beans (the national dish) before retiring back to the truck to watch a movie. We did not make it to New Year as we were all asleep in bed by 10pm.


Christmas in Placencia

Placencia is on a sandy spit that stretches south from the mainland 27 miles long. At points the sea is just metres from either side of the road. We were meeting my Mum and her best friend, Else there for a week on the beach at Christmas. They had been doing their own trip around El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and joining us on the road for three days after our week together on the beach. We were all so excited and pleased to be spending our first Christmas away with them.



20131227-142920.jpg The village is has 2 streets, one for cars but the Main Street is just a boardwalk through the sand. There are quite a few tourists here but it still feels very quiet with no big hotels or resorts in the village. The village is a mixture of local houses and guest houses. Mum had picked a wonderful small boutique hotel right on the beach with a big veranda to relax on. The sea was perfect for swimming and we had a fabulous time with them. We went snorkelling out at Laughing Bird Caye were we snorkelled on the reef and swam with big loggerhead turtles, nurse sharks and rays.



20131227-142410.jpg Christmas had many elements of our traditional Christmas celebrations: midnight mass, stockings for the kids and a big lunch. However there was a Belizean twist to it all, the mass although familiar as it was Anglican, was in a small clapboard church with 3 doors open and fans running to cool the midnight worshipers and the priest had a wonderfully unhurried rich Caribbean accent and we stepped out straight onto the sand. Santa's elves seemed to have bought mainly Mexican presents, which luckily passed with little comment. Lunch was a smorgasbord of marine delights that the hotel let us cook up on their barbecue.





20131227-143936.jpg We had to drag the girls out of bed on Boxing Day to go to the jungle at Monkey River. We saw so many birds, reptiles and even howler monkeys on the river and walk but we got absolutely soaked on the way back and couldn't find the elusive local manatees.