My friends and I were recently reminiscing about a trip we took to Belize the summer before last, and I realized I never published anything about the vacation. What a shame. Belize is one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever visited. The people are friendly, the drinks flow freely (usually) and the scenery is beautiful. We even made a few friends along the way. It would be impossible to list all the lessons I learned there in this blog (don’t tease the tarantulas, don’t touch insects in the jungle, howler monkeys make scary sounds, smoking pot is illegal in Central America, blah blah blah), but I’m going to give it a go anyway for your reading pleasure:
1. Never let a drunken Canadian lesbian borrow your rented bicycle. Rest assured, I have nothing against drunks, Canadians or lesbians but this particular combination does seem to have something against rented bikes. Unless you’ve purchased the insurance on your island cruiser or don’t mind explaining why it’s being returned with a flat tire and substantial denting, I suggest you spring for the water taxi to take your new friend home … especially if your respective holiday retreats are located on opposite sides of the Ambergris Cay split – an area particularly prone to headlong tumbles into a pit of rock and water … but mostly rock.
2. There’s a reason you shouldn’t drink before hiking Lamanai. We bought the tour package to the 16th century BC Mayan ruins of Lamanai through Seaduced by Belize, and the marketing swag boasted the excursion was ‘all you can drink.’ This elicited a hardy round of knowing chuckles from my travel companions, as we could easily have bankrupted the tour company on drinks consumed alone. Laughing promptly ceased, however, when our guide told us there would be no drinking until we were headed home. Like a gang of petulant children, our sober asses complained for every inch of the 26 mile boat ride up the New River. Then we saw the 112 foot High Temple, which, apparently, has resulted in more than a couple liquor induced falls, resulting in deaths and an abrupt end to summer vacation. Talk about an ah ha moment.
3. Rastafari bus drivers are good for nothing but a heart attack. Okay, so there is one other thing they’re good for, and it just might help the onset of that heart attack you’re bound to have if you sit anywhere near a window. I wanted to see the sites, so I sat in the front seat of the old sky blue school bus. This may have been a worse idea than drinking before hiking Lamanai, and I only lasted 5 minutes before relocating myself to an aisle seat further back. What pushed me over the edge? Mark my words, when a man puffing on a joint the size of your forearm announces loudly that the oncoming traffic “will move” while barreling down an unpaved road at mach speed, let me tell you, you get a disturbing taste of your fiery death, and it ain’t pretty folks.
4. Bug spray is your friend in the jungle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mocked my mother for trying to get me to use insect repellant. I hate the smell of the stuff, and that lovely active ingredient burns the hair off my arms and usually takes some skin with it. It didn’t take me long to realize the error of my ways when I returned from a walk to the grocery with what could easily have been 100 mosquito bites to show for it. Thank the pharmaceutical industry for antimalarial drugs and thank you Belize mosquitos for teaching me a lesson but good. I’m pretty sure I have a heartfelt, ‘I told you so’ coming my way, but maybe the boil-like red bites will heal before I head back stateside.
5. Water ferries are not your friend. Don’t get roped in by the siren call of ‘experiencing the local culture.’ You will be tightly packed with more locals than the boat can safely hold and your luggage will be precariously strapped to the ramshackle roof. Miraculously, we (and our treasured belongings) all arrived safely at our vacation home … albeit sweaty and tired from the long ride surrounded by screaming children and live chickens. No, that last part is not a joke … there were actually live chickens … though they were in crates. We polished off all the duty free airport liquor we had only just purchased and it didn’t help ease the pain of the eternally long, tightly cramped boat ride. I hate puddle jumpers but at least a healthy dose of Xanax can ease me right into that ride and it’s over in 20 minutes.
6. Spider monkeys are pick pockets. You heard me right. Sure they’re cute, but those grabby little buggers will rob you blind if you turn your back on them. If you value your purse, your camera, your sunglasses and your dignity, I suggest you don’t allow them on your boat or within jumping distance of your valuables. Thank you Seaduced for yet another lesson learned … and not the hard way. If you’ve really got a hankering to get up close and personal with the local primates, may I suggest you visit Jaguar Paw Resort. The owner has a pet howler monkey who loves attention and won’t make off with your stuff like a miniature Chi-Town pick pocket. Plus, they have amazing cave tubing and zip lining here.
7. Don’t drink liquor with a viper in it. Really people, this one should go without saying almost as much as not eating the raw turtle eggs in Costa Rica (one of my friends has also done this, which promptly resulted in a trip to the local hospital). And, yet, I am the only one of my little gang that didn’t indulge in this Belizean libation bottled on the mainland by monks … or so the bartender said as my friends choked down what smelled like battery acid. Fast forward 20 minutes and I’m the only one standing (and still holding down lunch) even after the bartender bought me 3 shots of straight vodka for being smart enough to pass on the viper rum. This may be the first time in my life I considered the consequences of drinking. Score one for me.
8. There are Mennonites in Belize. That’s right, blond haired, blue eyed, German speaking Mennonites and they happen to like Coca-Cola. Having their pictures made, however, not so much. We did find out you can trade an icy cold Coke for a picture of these handsome – if oddly geographically located – gents if you’re resourceful and quick enough. Just don’t try to barter for their colorful hand woven hats as they fish with a stick and string from fallen trees along the riverside or you’ll get a translated tongue lashing through your tour guide. Apparently, American women in bikinis don’t get very high points for modesty, decorum or just about anything else in this traditionalist community.
9. Tattoo from Fantasy Island owns a bar at the Belize City Airport. And, just like on Fantasy Island, he can grant your every wish … if that wish includes a strong drink. Thankfully, at the end of 8 days of Central American partying, my wish was, indeed, a little hair of the dog … especially after that ride on the puddle jumper. Just don’t think you’ll get out of there without a little PDA because small men in Belize (at least this small man in Belize) will do a little grab ass with drunken American women. Note to self: next time bring a date to the Belize City airport bar.
10. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the most amazing snorkeling in the world. In all seriousness, there are a million reasons to holiday in Belize but Hol Chan should be tops on your list of activities. Seaduced can take you here as well (they’ll even let you drink on the Catamaran trip out there) and the guides are well prepared to tell you all about the nearly miraculous abundance of marine life you’ll see here. From sea turtles and sharks to barracuda and an array of salt water fish, trust me when I tell you that you will never find any place else in the world that will take your breath away and connect you with nature quite so much as Hol Chan.