Posted by Gatley On July 23rd, 2016
(Pardon the typos- wifi is rare and edits are rarer) Waking up in the middle of a jungle is a surreal experience. The orchestra of bird calls and insect noises along side howler monkeys and thunder storms numbs the mind. We fell asleep last night planning an epic trip cave tubing through one of the many limestone caves in the jungle. Much to our dismay however, the rains over the past 2 nights had left the river level too high and our guide for the day had to break the news to us that river tubing was not an option this particular morning and with this, Jessica’s heart practically broke into a million pieces. She immediately began negotiating with the man (who would ultimately be responsible for our lives) pleading with him to let us go in spite of whatever dangers may be present. Since we started planning this trip to Belize (a spur of the moment trip for us) Jessica had just one wish list item, tubing down a jungle river. The poor guide didn’t know what to do and finally caved by offering to take us 2 hours away for a private tour of the Mayan ruins in hopes this would provide a welcome distraction from our tubeless predicament.
We had just spent the past 24 hours seated in one form of transportation or another and a 90 minute drive through the Belizean country side wasn’t tops on our lists. But who can turn down Mayan ruins when the opportunity presents itself!?
So, without further ado, we were off to visit some ruins we had previously never heard of only because our original plan had fallen through.
Original plans falling through on our vacations have become a specialty of ours. We have started to crave this situation, for, more often than not, in these moments we find ourselves completely without expectation and open to whatever surprises this country can throw at us. We become subject to the whims of the world around us and ditch our pre conceived notions of what “should be fun” or what “everyone says we need to do” and instead we become interwoven and dependent. There can be a lot of fear and trepidation when planning a big trip. Will some awful thing happen while you are so far away from your network of family and friends? The imagination can run wild. I think it’s common to distract ones self with plans or reservations when planning a trip, to the point where you a no longer visiting a place, but rather following a schedule. Traveling without reservations, the literal reservations where you are scheduled to be somewhere at a certain time is incredibly liberating. And should you be so lucky as to have a situation where a reservation falls through, that’s when you get to explore a place as it is truly experienced by those who live there day to day.
Plan A wont work. “What would you two like to do instead?” What a wonderful question. So, with that, Jessica and I turned over our preconceived and allowed this new stranger in our lives to recommend something for us (in exchange for a solid wad of cash, of course) and in that moment we crossed whatever imaginary line there is between tourist and traveler or favorite part of traveling.
Abel, our guide for the day, decided to work on his day off because he knew that we would be stranded without a plan for the day. He owns the company that serves the lodge and hauls tourists all over Belize. But rather than relegate us to the poolside daquiri crowd, he gave us some options. Experience his Belize, and the ruins of his ancestors, the Mayans as he knows them.
How could we refuse?
2 hours later and our car was pulling up to a roadside village and a river crossing was in order. To this point, the conversation with Abel, Jessica and I had been sparse. We were delicately dancing around the whole “are you a cool human” subtext conversation while talking about whatever comes to ones mind while driving together for hours at a time. When I realized where we were currently parked, I had forgotten what we were doing and found myself watching a ferry being hand cranked from one side of the river to the other. There was a floating barge, hooked up to a steel cable, floating one car after an there from one side of the river to the other.
Belize is a mystical country. It’s equal parts developed and developing country, while also being so laid back it makes San Diego feel like it’s in a perpetual frenzy by comparison.
I was about to be pulled across a river by a dude with a pulley and a hand crank. This could have been mideval times for Petes sake. Whatever lay on the other side of this river had to be good. Even if it sucked, the method by which we had to get there would have made it epic.
Mayan ruins do not suck.
After being cranked over the river, we drove up to the national park entrance, paid our entrance fee, and proceeded to walk up a slight hill towards a clearing in the dense jungle trees. When the tree line opened up, there, immediately before us, lay a sprawling expanse of terraced land, flat as a tennis court, dwarfed by several monumental pyramids of stone, steps and Mayan artwork.
It were as though the breath was stolen from me. We’ve seen some ruins before in Ankor Wat and in India, but these were somehow different. Perhaps because of the deliberate care the archaeologists have taken, or perhaps because of the intense jungle surroundings, but something was tangibly different here.
It may also have had something to do with the stifling heat and humidity today had sprung on us. I wasn’t 5 minutes from AC before I had completely sweat through by linen shirt.
And so we explored, and sweat, and explored some more until finally we had summit end every pyramid and tomb and ancient structure one could traverse on this site. Jessica did hand stands, I took photos, this is our happy place and we didn’t shy away from enjoying it.
Now, im no geologist, but I’ve found a mysterious power with the stones that are used to construct ancient structures like these. Not your ‘energies of the cosmos’ powers, rather a fantastic power of retaining the much colder temperatures of the night before and remaining virtual ice boxes throughout the heat of the day. Thus providing David with the only possible way of cooling down. Laying down on these stones, sweating like an alter boy in confessional, I couldn’t help a connection those those poor souls who had been sacrificed on these very pyramids. A haunting feeling, let me tell you.
Before I knew it, our time here was done and we were off to stop for lunch before returning home. Abel took is to a local joint filled with tourists from the cruise ships anchored 3 hours away in the ocean. Undoubtedly he gets hooked up for bringing us here, and I was so hungry I couldn’t even think of complaining. Wouldn’t you know it, I was served the best freaking beans and rice I ever had. Go figure.
2 hours later and we were back in our hotel room bathing in conditioned air and drinking tropical frozen drinks served by a bar tender who’s sole purpose in life is to get over privileged tourists drunk on fruity concoctions. At the bar we made fast friends with some fellow travelers and spent the evening regaling each other with the day’s adventures.
The lodges bar is set in the middle of an open air lobby that is nestled amidst the tree tops of the jungle that surrounds it. A nice breeze constant flows through the place and with it is carried the sweet sounds of the jungle creatures below.
Night was starting to fall and Jessica and my room had our own patio with a large hammock sitting right atop the best vantage point of the valley below us. We had been eying that hammocky goodness since late last night and had plans to finish our drinks there while trying to distinguish multi layered noises of the animals around us.
We swung there for hours, watching as fire flies danced around us, listening as howler monkeys searched for a mate miles away, and feeling the incredible energy of the jungle.
At some point, the hotel staff found out it was my birthday the day before (thanks Jessica) and served me a slice from every type of cake they had…they have 8 different types of cake here. I basically had an entire cake to eat. Already stuffed from dinner, I took the cake to our friends from the bar and we finished the night planning our day tomorrow.
With any luck were going to be able to start the day chasing some birds with binoculars and spotting scopes followed by a trip through the caves floating in inner tubes.
Posted by Gatley On July 21st, 2016
Today started much like any other trip. The rhythms of traveling have started to meld with Jessica and my normal existence as though today were any other mundane Wednesday morning. Wake up, brush teeth, get uber, catch flight, have some sort of chaotic issue mid journey, etc. etc. etc.Today is also my 33rd birthday. But who cares about that, Belize baby!
We almost didn’t make it here today. Southwest air, which flies nonstop from Houston to Belize, sustained a “technical issue” that took down the entire computing system for the airline, nationwide. Accordingly, southwest responded with a nationwide grounding of all flights not currently en route. This occurs approx 30 min before we were scheduled to board our plane. I’m not sure if anyone reading this blog has ever experienced such a thing before, but for those who haven’t, I’ll paint you a little picture…
When an airline hub, like Houston is for southwest, has their primary airline ground all flights, the airport goes from smoothly operating machine to zombie apocalypse in about 20 minutes. First off, those waiting to board their next flight are informed of a possible delay, so they camp in the nearest bar or power supplied seat and start to stew. Shortly thereafter those who have just arrived and need to make a connection slowly learn of the fact that no connections are being made and, bonus, all the good seats at the bars and power stations are gone. From here, things devolve rather rapidly. Those trying to check in to their flight outside of the security check quickly learn the they cannot access their digital boarding pass nor will the checkin counters work to get them in, and they are stuck outside the airport, presumably late for their flight that they don’t know is also late. Add to that a terrified southwest airline rep who has the incredible job of having to announce to the airport that “all Southwest Airlines are grounded due to a technical issue. Our computer systems are down. We do not know when we will have an update. Please refrain from attacking us.” And you have pure pandemonium.
Business suits begin a mad dash to another airline to book a different carrier out of town. Couples on their honeymoon begin to dissolve into over emotional stimulation breakdown. People with connecting flights begin to call their loved ones to tell them they are stuck. Parents abandon their babies, ATMs run out of money. Beer taps run dry. The horror!
Meanwhile, no longer strangers to chaos and travel induced panic and terror, there Jessica and I found ourselves. Nestled comfortably into our aisle seats with usb power chargers, beer and drink in hand, and warm lunch slowly being munched on in a zen like peace and tranquility. It was as though everyone around us was living life in a frenzied fast forward while we slowly laughed the nonsense away and mused at what a week in lovely Houston Texas would be like.
It was at this moment I channeled my inner Norma Wales and wandered over to a group of, obviously terrified, southwest employees. They looked at me, side eyed, and assumed I was coming over to demand an upgrade or points or the deed to their homes for such a travesty! (aka not a Norma move) Instead, I eased on up, looked them up and down, and offered to bring over a few cups of vodka and soda water to “ease their pain”.
4 hours later and Jessica and I were welcomed onto the plane with VIP status. They practically carried our bags for us out of sheer enjoyment for my bribery. They also made it clear to the rest of the plane how “special” we were.
So yah, airport drama. Blah blah blah.
Now I’m going to brag about my wife.
Jessica packed me a little birthday survival kit for flying. Partly to save me from blowing our savings on airport boredom enduced purchases and partly to make the most epic birthday gift ever. For in said kit she included an “airplane old fashioned drink kit” all the essentials for a proper old fashioned minus the bourbon or whisky. Add in some southwest rapid rewards drink tickets and I had myself a proper hipster old fashioned at 30000 ft. What a time to be alive!
By the time we finally landed in Belize City, Belize, I had a solid buzz going. Happy birthday to me indeed.
At this point in the day, we had landed in Belize some 4 hours later than intended. 80% of our flight was now brexit’d (screwed) as their connecting flights to their island destinations were long gone. Even the water taxis were done for the day. Their only option was to stay in Belize city for the night. Which is similar to what it must be like to fly to Maui and have to stay the night in Long Beach, California…not fun. Meanwhile, a lucky few of us were staying on the mainland tonight and had another 2 hour drive ahead of us. Up to this point, that drive enticed me about as much as a trip to the dentist for a root canal would, but today, after everything we had been through, this was glorious.
2 hours later and we arrived at our destination for the next 3 nights, the Sleeping Giant Lodge in the middle of the jungle in the middle of Belize. Before we even checked in we were rushed to the restaurant for dinner and treated to a magical meal of spicy, delicious goodness.
Moments later and we were brought to our “room” which was really a 800 square foot house that had frigidly cold AC and…unexpectedly a bathroom that people will sing songs of long after we are gone from this world. This bathroom deserves an entire blog. It has a two sections, 1 indoor and 1 outdoor. An outdoor shower, and outdoor jacuzzi tub, and an indoor waterfall shower that makes you feel as though Zeus, himself, were spritzing you clean each day.
The outdoor shower and tub are more of a challenge than a pleasure in the dark hours of the night. The bugs, beatles, flying things and mystery animals that the jungle night produce are more science class than bathing environment. I, for one, was not about to expose my wobbly bits to the mysteries of a Belizean jungle. Daytime showering outside will have to wait till another day.
Tomorrow we head to the ancient Mayan ruins in Belize!
Posted by Gatley On March 29th, 2016
Posted by Gatley On March 29th, 2016