James checking in……
Our last day in San Ignacio and as usual we were abruptly awoken at dawn by the 'San Ignacio Canine Chorus'. It's a 6 piece group, I know because I have spent hrs. awake isolating the sound of each bark. Breakfast was pancakes, syrup and condensed milk (my own little flourish) which set me up nicely for a day of travelling.
Picked up our hire car from 'Flames' auto rental (more questionable Belizean branding) and headed off on the road to Mountain Pine Ridge. We were warned about the poor state of the road and it lived up to expectations, the locals optimistically refer to the ride as a 'deep tissue massage'.
We arrived at our accommodation (the Five Sisters lodge) duly shaken, where we received a glowing welcome from Xavier and the rest of his dedicated staff. The lodge takes its name from the fast flowing waterfalls it overlooks, one of which provides hydroelectric power to the complex. Our cabana was built in the traditional Mayan style with a breath taking jungle view. According to Hannah, Belize has more species of insect than can be found in the whole of Europe and I think most of them made an appearance in our cabana at some point during the stay.
We settled down to traditional Belizean fare (Stewed Chicken, Rice and Peas) then got chatting over drinks to Ari and Cat, a quirky couple from New York, that we instantly hit it off with. Eventually rain interrupted play and we retired to bed but not before we had all arranged to go to dinner at the lodge owned by Francis Ford Coppola just down the road.
Up early and off to Caracol, the remains of a gigantic ancient Mayan metropolis only rediscovered in the 1930's after many centuries lost in the wilderness .The site is home to a staggering 36k individual structures one of which is still the tallest building in Belize to this day. Caracol is literally in the middle of nowhere and is easily the most isolated place I have ever been. We were required to sign in with a military detail stationed there in case anyone was to get stuck on the road and to protect from Guatemalan Banditos. I can only do justice to the site itself through the photos we took which I will upload to accompany this entry.
On the way back we called in at the 'Rio On' pools for some fabulous swimming and lounging, the highlight of which was sitting right behind one of the falls, taking in the sheer power of water. A close shave in the car park with some fellow 'Gringos' (Hannah was mid wardrobe change and I was fertilizing some vegetation) and we headed back to the lodge for food and drinks before closing out the night with our new friends swapping tunes and lively debate…..
Up and out early despite feeling a little jaded from the previous evening's celebrations. Off to the '1000 feet waterfall' which at an actual height of 1400 feet is the biggest in Central America. Unfortunately only one of us made it to the falls that day as the poor state of the roads finally got the better of us. We had made it to within 4km of the falls when disaster struck and we found ourselves completely stuck in deep, bright red mud. After half an hour of digging and placing debris under the wheels in an attempt to gain traction we accepted the fact that we were completely helpless and stuck in the middle of nowhere. Just at that desperate moment another 4x4 appeared over the horizon and it was at this point that some of the worst decision making possible in a survival situation began. After limited discussion our would-be heroes decided that the best thing was to try to make it through the quagmire and head down to the waterfall at which point they would either get help or find a rope to tow us out. Since they mentioned they were from Kentucky I was prepared to hand over command of the situation assuming this type of thing was a regular occurrence for them. Unfortunately this course of action took them out of the equation entirely and approximately 15 minutes after appearing over the horizon to rescue us from our precarious circumstances they too became irreversibly stuck in the same mud pool. Clearly a terrible decision but please reserve any sympathy as my next move was at least as ill-advised if not more so. An adaptation of the same plan, I decided to run down to the waterfall while the others stayed with the vehicles, I had reasoned that even if help was not at hand I could comfortably run 8km (the distance there and back) without too many problems and we would be no worse off. So off I went, only for some reason I set off barefoot despite the fact that I had a pair of lightweight hiking boots sitting in the boot of the car perfectly suited to the conditions underfoot. This was ok for about the first km, and then the stupidity of my decision emerged as the road conditions altered from a soft soothing mud surface with the occasional cooling puddle of water, to hard compact gravel layered with small stones. I eventually made it to the site of the waterfall and approached an older Mayan gentleman assuming that our trials were over. The explanation of our sorry situation, delivered with the most desperate countenance I could muster up, was received with absolute disinterest. He finally suggested I run back to the unmistakably abandoned houses which I had passed on the way where he assured me a watchman would be present. This of course lead to nothing and so I headed back to the cars half crippled, dehydrated and unable to think clearly enough to formulate plan C. Imagine then my relief upon clearing the brow of the final hill to see a large Path Finder 4x4 having already freed one vehicle and making light work of the other. Fifteen minutes after I had set off on my fruitless rescue mission, Hannah had contacted our lodge using a cell phone belonging to our friends from Kentucky and arranged for them to come along and pick us up. I am not sure how long it takes for the pain of bruised feet to go away, the positioning clearly prolongs the recovery period, but after four days every footstep is a reminder to a) have total faith in my other half b) reject my natural instincts to use brawn over brains.
Refusing to let this incident spoil our plans, we arrived back at the ranch, cleaned up and headed to Francis Ford Coppola's lodge with Ari and Cat for some delicious Italian food , Coppola estate wine and good company. Perhaps naively I had expected Coppola to approach our table somewhere between our appetizers and main course to ensure that everything was to my liking and to regale us with tales from inside the industry, but it turns out he has not visited the ranch in nearly 6 years.
Day 17 and 18 were predominantly travel days, back to San Ignacio, overnight stop in Dangriga and onto the Garifuna village of Hopkins (The Garifuna are descended from a single boatful of Nigerian slaves, wrecked off the coast of St Vincent) all by local bus. Not too much of note along the way except the variety and quality of the food available onboard. So far we have sampled Banana Bread, Sweet Potato Pudding, Seed Cake, Corn on the Cob and Beef Patties all for $1-$2 a pop. Each time a large plastic container is hoisted on board my eyes light up, digestive juices are involuntarily produced and a new culinary adventure begins.
Our plans here are to drink rum, take some Garifuna drumming lessons, sample the Garifuna cuisine (Hudut, Sere and Boil-Up) and to laze about on the beach. We are staying in what is probably the largest house on the Island (built by a family from Atlanta so you can get an idea of the scale) with access to a roof patio that has major star gazing potential. More to come soon, hope you are enjoying reading……if there is more or less of something you would like to hear about then let us know and we will oblige.