> Destinations > Belize > Trip Reports > Trip Report
Day One - Departure
Friday, November 19th, 1999
It's mid afternoon and we are packed and ready to go. At least we
think we are, but there is always the chance we've forgotten to pack
some key item. Every time we go on a trip I'm reminded that we
really -must- create a checklist for use on the next adventure.
Judy's brother, Rick, is going to take us to SFO tonight. The
flight leaves at 11:55pm, but we need to get there two hours early.
The airport is reporting weather delays of 1 to 6 hours and there is
no manned number for our airline, TACA, for us to call. Finally I
call TACA Cargo, they transfer me to the gate, and I find that our
flight is scheduled to depart on time.
We get to the airport and unload the bags. If it were not for the
diving equipment we could get by with one bag each. As it is, we
have four, plus carry-ons. TACA check-in is kind of strange. The
queue in front of the ticket counter is mostly empty because TACA
has set up a ticket checking station at the place you enter the
queue. As a result, we have an empty formal queue and a long line
of passengers backing up into the concourse area.
Our arrival at the airport was perfectly timed. In just a few
minutes we had our bags checked and our seat assignments made. When
we turned around, a flood of people had arrived and the line was now
We made our way to International departures and I was nonplused to
find that the flight was now scheduled to depart an hour earlier
than printed on my ticket. There was no one at the counter to ask.
That time came and went before they finally corrected the display.
We didn't know what to expect from TACA, which is a consortium of
South and Central American airlines. What we got was a new Airbus
A319 with decent seat pitch and a friendly crew. If it wasn't the
middle of the night, it would have been perfect, or as perfect as
coach class air travel can get these days. We were fed at 1:00am
and then tried to get some sleep. I did a bit better then Judy
since TACA serves free wine with dinner and I was willing to use
that to get to sleep.
We caught a connecting flight in San Salvador, El Salvador and spent
an hour hanging out in the terminal building. Can we now add El
Salvador to the list of countries we've visited? Perhaps not
Day Two - Belize City, the Great House, and the Zoo
Saturday, November 20th, 1999
The International Airport in Belize City is small. No jetways. We
deplaned in the morning light where a balmy tropical day awaited
us. A stark contrast to California in late November. I really like
tropical climes. One could get used to this.
The National Rental Car van was right there to pick us up. The
mandatory porter for the bags cost us BZ$2.00 or $1.00 US. Our
porter ported the bags the 50 ft. to the van and loaded them in.
At the car rental agency we found that, because we had reserved the
car over the Internet, we qualified for a free upgrade. Our steed
for the next 600 miles was to be a 1998 white Jeep Cherokee with
60,000 miles on it. It was in great shape except for the cracked
windshield - a quick look around assured us that this was perfectly
normal for cars in Belize. As it turns out, it was good that we had
a larger vehicle than originally planned, but that's for later in
the story. After a quick review on engaging 4WD in that model car,
we were off!
I'd like to say that we spent the next week totally in 4WD, tires
spinning, mud spraying as we winched and groaned our way through
almost trackless tropical jungle, but the roads, despite being
mostly dirt, were in pretty decent shape. 4WD is primarily needed
during the rainy season and we didn't see much rain.
We wisely decided to spend out first night in Belize City rather
than spend our first day traveling long distances over uncertain
terrain after an all night flight.
Belize City is not what I'd call charming. It is the largest city
in Belize with a population of 60,000 (200,000 total in the
country). Those 60,000 people are pretty much packed one atop the
other and they all seem to be in the streets at the same time. The
mix of pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles mixed well together in a
sort of organized chaos. All of the windows in the city are barred.
Crime is a problem, as we shall later see, but do not let it deter
you from visiting this lovely country.
Lest I seem too harsh, I've never really been a city traveler. It's
always been the countryside that has drawn me and I feel a bit
claustrophobic when there are lots of people and buildings around.
After making a few wrong turns, we arrive at The Great House. A
lovely colonial style mansion set in the coastal tourist area. We
settle our luggage into our room and go downstairs for lunch at the
Smoky Mermaid. Food was to be one of the eye-openers of Belize,
although after frequently finding exquisite restaurants in unlikely
places, I suppose we should no longer be surprised.
Judy had a salad with lobster and shrimp. I was intrigued by the
lobster burger on the menu, but alas, they were out. I settled for
a whole lobster tail. That was all I needed to prime me for the
week. I immediately determined to consume every lobster I
encountered during the next week. Except for the three or four who
eyed me warily from their dens underwater, that's exactly what I
did! (6, you can count them as we go along J.)
After lunch we walked down to the local wharf. Belize is a big dive
destination and three of the largest liveaboard dive boats were tied
up at the dock waiting for their weekly departure. If you want to
do nothing but dive and live in the company of other divers, this is
the way to go. Big ships, luxurious quarters, great food and a
dedicated crew. I doubt we'll ever do that, there is just too much
else to see when visiting a new place .
Strolling back to the car we decided we were in good enough shape to
make a run for the world famous, and I kid you not, Belize Zoo. As
avid zoo visitors and supporters, both Judy and I will attest that
this is one of the best zoos we've seen.
... but, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Getting in to Belize City is easy, getting out is entirely another
matter. It wasn't until the very last day that we managed to drive
straight out, and that was only by slowly and very carefully
following a map.
The first time we meandered about the back alleys of the city for
quite awhile, going the wrong way on one way streets several times
before being turned around by cheerfully yelling locals who probably
thought the gringo tourists were quite daft.
Once we found the Western Highway from Belize City to Belmopan, San
Ignacio, Guatemala and points West we were set. The Western Highway
is paved throughout it's length and in excellent shape.
The Belize Zoo is 30 miles outside of the city and we sailed right
by the entrance before realizing that it was there.
What makes this Zoo so attractive is that the environment didn't
have to be crafted out of concrete and rebar. The zoo is set in an
environment where many of the native animals live. Fence a bit of
it in and bingo, you have authentic habitat. The zoo is lightly
enough visited that the animals view the visitors as a diversion and
walk right up to see what you are doing. There isn't a sense of the
animals being "caged" the way they are in more formal zoos. I could
talk about the animals for hours, but I won't. You will just have
to go there.
Judy, of course, had read the guidebooks and wanted to slather on
the 100% DEET insect repellent we had brought, even before we left
the hotel room. I wanted to see if there were going to be any bugs
before covering ourselves in that most potent of chemicals.
A few minutes into the visit, I looked down to discover that tiny
"pine flies" had quickly and painlessly removed quite a bit of me
and I was covered with spots of blood. Yikes! Thank goodness a
liberal application of DEET took care of them. There were to be
others later on who would not be so easy to discourage.
We met another couple in the zoo who had not thought to bring
repellent. In the spirit of adventurers everywhere we came to their
rescue and we all continued our happy visit.
A young Guatemalan woman attached herself to us and proceed to show
off the zoo. I don't know if she was a docent, employee, or merely
liked the animals. In any event, she was able to summon them at
will and point out creatures that were almost invisible in their
This was also our first encounter with tree dwelling termites.
These termites make fibrous nests a meter or more in diameter up in
trees. They look just like someone sculpted a big ball of mud
around the tree trunk.
We wanted to be sure to be back at the hotel before dark, so back to
the car we went and scooted up the highway for home.
Once again we headed for the Smoky Mermaid and dinner. Chicken for
Judy, which she enjoyed. I on the other hand, had steak and ...there
will be a quiz later... lobster! With few exceptions, we found that
Belize is not known for beef, but the lobster was great.
Day Three - The missing ruins, Belmopan and The Hummingbird Highway.
Sunday, November 21st, 1999
We awoke early, as is usual for us, had a nondescript breakfast at
the Mermaid, and headed Southwest down the Western Highway for
Belmopan, the Hummingbird Highway, and our final destination, the
Rum Point Inn, Placencia, Belize.
We intended to drive slowly and stop and look at things on the way,
and we did. We took a little over eight hours to make a nominally
five hour trip. The run down the Western Highway is through a drier
part of Belize, with pretty mountain vistas in the distance. We
couldn't find much to stop and look at along this stretch of road,
so we ran right down to Belmopan for lunch.
Belmopan is a new, custom built city that seems to primarily exist
as a center of government. We stopped at the Bullfrog Inn for a
quick lunch. I had a hamburger, which pretty much put me off beef
for the rest of the trip. Judy had a BBQ pork sandwich which worked
for her. The Inn had a nice little arboretum where we saw our first
treefrog and gecko of the trip. Across the street was one of the
ubiquitous Pharmacias whose proprietors are licensed to sell "Drugs
Before starting out, we had searched fruitlessly for a good map of
the country. In the morning, one of the other guests overheard us
discussing the situation, and graciously gave us her map. She was
leaving for home that day and didn't need the map any longer, but I
know she was giving up a little souvenir of her trip. If she ever
reads this some day - Thank you!
Scattered across the map like pepper are red markings indicating the
location of Mayan ruins. We set our sites on the closest one,
"Baking Pot," and went to have a look. A ways out of Belmopan, we
came up on a covey of bicycle riders, complete with truck escort,
completely blocking the road. We followed them slowly for some
distance, since there was no obvious way to get around them. The
people in the escort truck completely ignored our presence. Finally
a large truck came up to us from behind. We dropped back to let the
truck pass us and see how he handled the situation. The truck
driver was more direct. He just sounded his horn and drove at
them. They respectfully pulled over and the truck went by.
Before we could execute a similar maneuver, we noted on the map that
we had passed our destination by some bit and were almost to
Guatemala! There is not much distance between countries down here.
We turned back and drove slowly back towards Belmopan, looking hard
for some indication of the ruins. We never did find them...
We stopped at a gas station to fill up since we didn't know how far
to the next one. I then acted in the first of many little gas
station plays we were to have everywhere except Placencia. Gas
there is BZ$5 or about $2.50 a gallon. Not bad, considering how far
they have to truck it. US currency is accepted everywhere, change
is always tendered in $BZ and the exchange rate is always 2/1. I
don't remember the exact numbers, but I put in something like BZ$48
worth of gas and tendered US$30. The US$20 to BZ$40 calculation
appeared to work. Now we have a situation where I owe him BZ$8 and
have given him US$10. He hands me BZ$2 and waits to see what
happens. I continue to wait for more change and after a longish
pause, he hands it over. This happened often enough that Judy and I
decided there was more to it than gas station owners having trouble
dividing by two.
Back to Belmopan and the intersection with the Hummingbird Highway.
Perhaps the most picturesque road in Belize that we traveled, it is
also paved throughout much of its length, but bits are still under
construction and portions are still dirt.
There are two basic approaches to driving on dirt. The conservative
way is to go 20 or 30 mph and slow down when you see a rough spot
ahead. This causes the occupants to shake, rattle, and roll with the
road. The second way is just to zoom along at 50mph, let the
suspension take the beating, and hope nothing breaks. This is
smoother for the occupants, but the car begins to drift at anything
over 50 mph and when you hit one of the BIG dips, you really know
it. There are enough big potholes that you're punished no matter
which way you drive. The was one little hill where I believe all
four wheels actually left the ground, but that was the exception
rather than the rule.
Belmopan, and a right turn onto the Hummingbird, jewel of Belize.
The Hummingbird is well paved, for the most part, smooth, and the
prettiest drive in Belize. We cruise Southeast past banana
plantations (fruit covered in a kind of big hairnet, presumably for
protection from birds and bats), citrus plantations, and rainforest,
into the mountains towards our first stop at the Blue Hole.
This part of Belize is composed of Karst topography, which means
that the bones of this land are composed of limestone, worn and
eroded by eons of rain and water. The Blue Hole is a cenote, or a
pool of water formed when the roof of a flooded cavern collapsed
exposing the interior. The deep, undisturbed waters are an unreal
blue surrounded by jungle. Some cenotes are the doorways to miles
of unexplored underwater caves, but this one is old and shallow.
As we are admiring the view, several local children arrive for an
afternoon swim. We leave them to their play and take the trail that
leads to an aboveground cavern and a mile or so of rainforest. No
matter how many times I visit one, I'm always amazed at the density
of life in the rainforest environment. Be it in the tropics, or in
the Pacific Northwest, it is an awe-inspiring experience.
After a bit of scrambling, we arrive at the cave entrance.
Unfortunately, since we didn't pack flashlights, we can only go a
few tens of meters into this wild cave. In the fading light and the
feeble glow of my keychain light, we can see stalactites hanging
from the roof and a slow, extremely clear stream running beside us.
Next time we will be better prepared.
It's interesting to note that all of the parks and zoos charge
admission, and that there is an unspoken arrangement that there is
one price for the tourist and another, lower one, for the locals.
Only fair, to my way of thinking. National parks consume a large
part of Belize and eco-tourism generates a significant amount of
revenue. I'd much rather pay extra to see those magnificent forests
in their natural setting than see them turned into artifacts for
Time is marching on and we still have no idea how long it will take
us to reach the Rum Point Inn. The Southern Highway, which we've
just turned onto, is dirt along much of its length and its condition
is unknown to us. We run South.
To me, born and bred to the US freeway system, the lack of
directional signs is always something of a shock. As we drive along
we often encounter wide, graded dirt roads diverging from our own.
They never seem to quite match the map. They are almost always
unlabeled, but clearly lead to destinations of import. The question
is, does it lead to our destination? We pass one such road on our
left reading "Robert's Grove - Placencia". Well, we know Robert's
Grove is in Placencia, but is that really the road we want to take?
After a few more miles of discussion, we decide that it probably was
and turn around to take it. By now the light is fading fast, with
the lack of twilight characteristic of the tropics. We hope we've
made the right choice, for if not, we will be spending the night in
This road is seriously in need of grading, and provides a tooth
rattling ride at whatever speed you choose to take it. We're
beginning to worry, but eventually the towns of Maya Beach and Seine
Bight Village come into view, telling us we are on the right road
and that the Rum Point Inn is not far ahead. We arrive at Rum Point,
halfway to Placencia Village, just as the sun dips below the
The Rum Point Inn is a charming resort on the Placencia Peninsula.
The buildings are somewhat free-form, being made of ferro-concrete.
The rooms are large, airy, and air conditioned. The beds are
comfortable and we found it a thoroughly satisfactory place to stay.
Of all the resorts on the peninsula we chose Rum Point because it
offered the largest dive boat in the country, short of the
live-aboards, and the boat had a marine head - very useful when you
are out on it most of the day.
George Bevier, the owner, met us as we arrived and we were soon
settled into our second floor room with its accompanying geckos and
tree frogs - those indispensable residents of every tropical
hostel. They both eat bugs and having a resident gecko is
considered to be lucky by the natives of almost every country.
We decided we were not too tired to dive the next morning, so we
signed up for the boat before heading to the dining room for dinner.
The Rum Point Inn offers a complete meal package as part of their
service. Dining is family style, in a very nice open-air dining
room. The ceiling fans and ocean breeze made it quite comfortable.
However, Judy had done her homework and discovered that there were
several promising places to eat nearby, so we did not take advantage
of the meal plan. For someone only interested in diving and
remaining on the resort grounds, the meal plan might make sense, but
we liked the option of exploring.
Dinner that night was a choice of conch or marinated flank steak (no
lobster, alas). We both chose the flank steak, but since Judy
asked, the kitchen send out a sample of conch for us to try. Quite
interesting, but I think I preferred the steak. After dinner, we
made an early night of it and went to bed.
Day Four - Aboard the Auriga II and beneath the Atlantic
Monday, November 22nd, 1999
Breakfast in the dining room was again a choice between several
items. Most of the time we both chose a standard bacon and egg
option, although on various days waffles, pancakes, and fritters
were also offered. The servings were generous, if unremarkable, and
the staff gracious.
Ah, tropical diving! The schedules are always printed as if they
were an Italian railway timetable. However if you are there at
exactly the scheduled time, you may have to wait awhile for the
leisurely preparations to get underway to complete. No worries. I
wouldn't want it any other way. American dive operations, by
contrast, may well leave you at the dock if you are 10 minutes
late. Compulsive types that we are, we showed up on time and had
plenty of time to fill out the legal forms (that have infected even
the remotest locales) before climbing aboard.
The Auriga II is a 42 ft. twin engine open cabin dive boat that
easily outpaced the competition. We had about 6 divers on board and
an equal number of snorkelers. The Auriga could have handled many
All the dive sites are 30-45 minutes off shore. The drill is to
drop anchor at a small caye (pronounced "key"), drop off the
snorkelers, motor to a nearby dive site, make the dive, return to
the caye, have lunch, motor out for a second dive, pick up the
snorkelers, and head home. We usually got back a little after noon
which left a fair amount of time for exploring.
Laughingbird Caye was our first destination. Laughingbird is, like
most of the cayes in that area, a patch of sand a couple of hundred
ft. long, if that, and 50 to 80 ft. wide. It supports several palm
trees, some scrub, and a remarkable profusion of fish life.
Each dive site, of course, has a name. Unfortunately, I seem to
have misplaced the list I made during the trip! Fortunately,
conditions and profile were very similar for all the dives. Dive
one. 49 ft. 46 minutes, 78 degrees. 60 to 80 ft. visibility. I'm
getting better with the Ikelite Aquashot camera, but I'd really like
to go with digital video someday, perhaps on the next long trip.
What can I say about the diving? Lobster everywhere, barrel sponges
and coral of all types. 30 dives worth of experience doesn't leave
us with enough knowledge to be able to classify everything that we
see, so I'm content to sit back and watch the wonderful scenery roll
by. Belize diving is not drift diving, so you follow your
divemaster in a big loop over the bottom, returning eventually to
the boat. If I had one complaint to make about the Rum Point dive
operation, it would be about its underwater policy. 40 minutes is
what they give you underwater and its 40 minutes you get. At
precisely 40 minutes the DM rounds everybody up and begins the
ascent to the surface. Both of us always surfaced with at least
1200 PSI in our tanks-more than enough for another 20 minutes at the
depth we were at. It makes no sense to fly to Central America and
then drive to a remote resort to have an artificial limit placed on
your time underwater. I must remember to ask about that before we
select our next destination.
Back at Laughingbird the crew prepared lunch. Lunch was always
hearty and satisfying, if not always identifiable. I take that
back. Bread, fruit, cheese, and cookies were staples and good.
Another staple was an interesting ham-like substance which exuded
water like a sponge if you squeezed it. It wasn't bad, and I ate it
every day, but I'm still not sure what it was.
After lunch we left the snorkelers on the caye again and proceeded
to dive site #2. 55 ft. 47 minutes, 78 degrees, 60 ft. visibility.
The highlight of this trip was a large ray hidden in the sand on the
bottom. It sped away in a cloud of sand before I could get a shot
of it with the camera. I'm beginning to yearn for an underwater
video camera again.
Back to the boat (again with 1200 PSI), we picked up the snorkelers,
and headed back to Rum Point. After a refreshing Belikin (rhymes
with pelican), the national beer of Belize, we took a short nap and
proceeded to investigate our surroundings.
First was a quick run past the local airport to the end of the
peninsula and greater metropolitan Placencia. On this first run
through, we just drove to the end of the road, admired the rustic
marina, and headed back up to resort-hop in search of dining
We first dropped in at Kitty's Place, a pleasant resort of more
traditional architecture, run by Miss Kitty. Kitty's Place would be
a quite acceptable place to stay should you find yourself in the
area and not mind a brief walk (or drive) to a dive boat. We had an
early dinner at Kitty's. Judy had chicken with a Caribbean flavor -
a bit spicy for her, and I had, well, lobster.
At Kitty's we first learned of the Thanksgiving tradition among the
resorts. Each and every one threw a lavish American Thanksgiving
buffet with all the trimmings! We didn't yet know it was universal,
but the menu looked so good we immediately made reservations at
Kitty's for Thanksgiving dinner.
After dinner it was dark and we were happy to get back to Rum Point,
a nightcap of Caribbean Light Rum, some reading and a good night's
Day Five - The Disneyland Jungle Cruise & Fine Dining
Tuesday, November 23rd, 1999
Tuesday morning-breakfast at Rum Point, bacon and eggs as usual.
Scheduled for today was our rainforest tour up the Monkey River.
We boarded our boat, an open cockpit speedster driven by twin
outboard 50's. The boat left the dock and proceeded at high speed
around the point. giving us an excellent view of Placencia from the
sea. This made us realize how large the peninsula is, which we had
missed on our first drive down the peninsula in the gathering dark.
We resolved to drive back up it in daylight.
First stop was Monkey River Town at the mouth of the Monkey river,
second largest river in Belize. This town (recently upgraded from a
village, but it still looked pretty small to us) is accessible only
by water. The roads are grass-covered, since there are no vehicles.
We picked up two mestizo guides (residents of the town) who were to
be our expedition leaders on this trip.
Belize, like Costa Rica before it, has realized that a small country
like theirs could be quickly stripped of natural resources if that
were allowed. A very enlightened government has designated large
parts of the country as nature preserves and is actively promoting
eco-tourism as a way to generate income and preserve the
irreplaceable natural beauty of their country. Part of that program
is training local people to act as guides (and incidentally hack out
little hiking trails through the jungle for the tourists). These
native guides now make a good living introducing tourists to the
wonders of their country. Our two guides had an encyclopedic
knowledge of the flora and fauna with which we were surrounded, as
well as an uncanny ability to spot the wildlife that blended in
perfectly with the surroundings.
If you want to imagine what it was like, imagine the Jungle Boat
ride at Disneyland. The resemblance is uncanny, except here it is
real, there are no hippos, and the guides don't make constant jokes.
The first animal they spotted was an iguana. These are large
lizards that live in the trees and come in a fantastic variety of
colors. After some time, we were all able to see it clinging to its
branch in the forest. As we grew accustomed to spotting them, we
saw that there were dozens of them, sitting out on branches or
crouching in the brush, watching us go by. Iguana is frequently
eaten by the locals, but unfortunately we never had a chance to try
There were a huge variety of butterflies and birds, large and small,
and our guides knew them all. At one point, we slowed as we
approached a tree overhanging the water and the guides excitedly
pointed out a boa coiled around one of the branches. Several people
in the boat claimed to see it, but I must admit that I couldn't
quite make it out.
A mile or so up the river our captain drove the boat aground and we
set off into the jungle on a little trail. We stopped a few meters
into the rainforest for a quick briefing:
"See that line of ants? those are army ants. Don't stand on a trail
"See that bush? It is covered with poisonous thorns. Don't touch
anything you haven't looked at first."
Thus warned, we continued on. Our guides pointed out animal tracks,
and named every bush and tree we came across-strangler figs, giant
kapok trees, stands of giant bamboo-and lectured us on their
history and medicinal uses.
A troop of howler monkeys lived overhead and lived up to their names
as we approached. I had a premonition about those monkeys and moved
to stay out from under them. Sure enough, they urinated and
defecated above us to show their displeasure at our interruption.
Luckily, no one in our group was hit.
Here too, the DEET defying mosquitoes lived. No matter how much
chemical we slathered on, only constant slapping and waving kept
them at bay. By the time we escaped, both Judy and myself had
dozens of bites and mild concerns about malaria (which is not
supposed to be a problem) and dengue fever (which is said to show up
Back on the boat we continued upriver to a lovely river sandbar
where we debarked for lunch. The lunch was remarkably like the dive
lunches about the Auriga II, including the mystery meat sandwiches.
Some members of our group (the kids) took a swim in the river while
the rest of us lazed away an hour or so in the tropical heat.
Reluctantly we boarded the boat for our trip downriver and home. We
had another go at the boa (no luck for me or Judy), spotted many
more iguana, and found a family of bats, nearly invisible as they
clung to the side of a tree. They looked more like patterns on the
bark than anything, but we finally saw them with the help of
Back at Monkey River Town we stopped for awhile to walk up and down
the grass-covered streets and have a soda at the local bar (run by
the wife of one of the guides). The town has part-time power from a
modern windmill and a generator. There is even a small hotel, and it
would probably be a nice, quiet place to stay-a more authentic
outback experience, I suppose.
A tame parrot lived in the town, and one resident kept a pet agouti
in a cage! They call it a gibnut, and we are told that they eat it,
but this one was a pet. I noticed more mimosa, "sensitive plant."
that closes up its leaves when touched. We saw these plants in Fiji
as well - they must be spread all across the tropics.
The boat trip back to Rum Point was a wild high speed ride through
narrow channels in the mangrove swamps. Our quarry was manatees,
which frequent the area. I've always wanted to see a manatee, but
these shy beasts did not show themselves on this trip.
Back at Rum point we decided to take a drive up and down the
peninsula checking out the other resorts and restaurants. We stopped
at four or five different resorts looking at menus. When we had
finished, it was clear that two places stood out for their love of
fine cuisine; Robert's Grove, and Luba Hati (which means House of
the Moon in Garafuna, one of the local languages).
After some discussion, we determined to have dinner this night at
the Inn at Robert's Grove (as advertised by the sole sign pointing
to Placencia) and the following meal at Luba Hati.
Robert's Grove is a more traditional, American-style luxury resort,
and a place we would not hesitate to stay at on some future visit.
We met Robert going in and he, like all the resort owners we met,
was the soul of hospitality.
I mentioned earlier that Belizian beef was, ahem, lacking in quality
by USDA standards. It makes sense, cows are enormously expensive to
keep and rear solely for food and Belize is not only a poor country,
but one with excellent access to seafood. The resorts that prided
themselves on providing a fine dining experience dealt with the beef
issue in decidedly different ways. Many places offered only ground
beef. Luba Hati simply left beef off the menu. Robert, it appears,
must import it at enormous expense.
Dinner at Robert's was truly excellent. Judy had conch fritters as
an appetizer and some sort of fish. I had the steak and lobster
special, what else? It was the only decent beef I found in Belize.
We determined on the spot to have Thanksgiving here instead of
Dusk fell as we were eating and it was time to go back to our geckos
and frogs at Rum Point and settle in for the night.
Day Five - Sailing, Sailing...
Wednesday, November 24th , 1999
Today is our second and final diving day. This time it looks like
we may have some real competition as far as air consumption goes. A
couple from another resort has joined our group. Like us, they
carry their own equipment and confidently and professionally set it
up. They, like us, are on the small side which means they have a
natural advantage over your medium-to-large diver as far as air
Our destinations today are two dive sites off Ranguana Caye.
Ranguana Caye offers some real possibilities as a future vacation
spot. Like Laughingbird, it is a tiny patch of land well offshore.
It sports a sandy beach all around and a few palm trees and scrub.
Unlike the other caye, it has several small buildings that serve as
a resort destination. Like floatplane trips into the interior of
Alaska, you can be dropped off on the island (with food) and left to
your own devices for as long as you want. A miniature Gilligan's
If it weren't for the dive boats dropping off snorkelers all day it
would be dead quiet and calm. It must be an eerie feeling at night
with nothing but black water all around you and the stars overhead.
We drop off our snorkelers and head for the first dive spot. When
we get there, the new folks are asked how much weight they want. I
forget what the guy wanted, but the woman asked for 20 lbs! My jaw
dropped since I carry 8 in tropical water and Judy carries 10. This
girl was rail thin and I couldn't imagine what was holding her up
even without additional weight.
In and down we go, following the divemaster as he leisurely find his
way along. Judy and I were taking pictures and admiring the
scenery. This dive set a new depth record for us as we briefly hit
70 ft. - no big deal, but we usually stay up where there is more
light. As the 40 minute magic moment came up the divemaster
signaled for us to begin our ascent. I looked around for the two
other divers, but didn't see them. Our DM wasn't concerned and when
we surfaced we found them already on the boat. This seemed unusual,
but I assumed that one of them had equipment problems or something.
Back to Ranguana, more mystery meat and cookies for lunch, a nice
loll in the sand and some snorkeling. This was the best snorkeling
we have ever seen anywhere, and made us think seriously about
staying in those little cabins for a day or two! There were huge
schools of fish of all sizes, as well as long beautiful coral heads
at all depths. Then, back out for the second dive.
This time I tracked the other divers a bit more closely. It
appeared that the woman was fiddling with her BC constantly,
inflating it and then letting air out. She wasn't using it up by
breathing, but by constantly venting it overboard! I was floored.
About 30 minutes into the dive she was out of air and up they went.
Judy and I stayed the full 40 minutes and once again surfaced with
1200 PSI in our tanks. I was going to mention what I observed to
the other couple, but the opportunity never presented itself. Oh
well, to each his or her own. 47 minutes underwater, maximum depth
73 ft, 60 ft visibility, 78 degrees.
Back on shore we treated ourselves to some killer frozen concoction
in the bar and went back to our room to read and relax a bit..
Judy had read about Luba Hati on the net. Luba Hati, "The House of
the Moon" in the local dialect, is a small, seven room resort on the
Placencia Peninsula just up the road from Rum Point. It was reputed
to have the best food in the country which, of course, made it
number one on our list of places to explore. Luba Hati was not to
As usual, we arrived before the dining room opened and dropped into
the bar to kill a few minutes before the main event. Sitting at the
bar we found the owner Franco, a large jovial man. We exchanged
pleasantries and had a very enjoyable conversation.
This being Luba Hati "The House of the Moon", and this being the
night of the full moon, we were invited to join a ritual. We
climbed with Franco and his resident dogs to meet his wife on the
third story observation deck, and observe the full moon rise over
the warm tropical water, perfectly framed by the two wings of the
inn, which was apparently built with just this in mind. It was
really quite spectacular and moving just to stand there quietly in
the warm breeze and moonlight.
Dinner was suburb, as promised. Judy had a delectable sauted
chicken breast with a balsamic vinegar sauce, which, surprisingly,
came with wonderful sauted plantains (rather than potatoes or
rice). I, of course, had lobster, but what a lobster! For one
thing, it was huge. It was served in the shell, which was a bit
unusual, but best of all it had been finished by poaching in a fish
broth. This not only added a wonderful flavor to the meat, but made
it remarkably tender as well. Bravo, Franco!
Day Six - Oh No! Perhaps We'll Stay Here at the Resort Today.
Thursday, November 25th , 1999 - Thanksgiving
You know it's bad when the owner of the resort meets you on your way
to breakfast and asks you if you had anything valuable in the car.
We hadn't, of course, but it was an ominous start to the day.
After reassuring George that there had been nothing of value in the
car, we trooped over to look at it. A small window on the back door
had been smashed and the glove box was open. Someone had broken
in. Apparently this is a rare occurrence, but it happened all the
same. The same group had also broken in to the Resort office and
stolen a cash box, which was empty. They left, ignoring all of the
computer equipment which was also kept there. The local
constabulary was summoned, but would not arrive until sometime in
Another resort owner arrived at Rum Point and the full story began
to unfold. A total of four resorts had been hit the previous
evening. Four cars were broken into and the sum total haul for the
thieves long night of work was a single pair of running shoes that a
guest had left on the porch overnight. A bicycle was missing, but
turned up the next day. Nothing else of value was taken.
As one of the victims we were able to commiserate with the other
resort owners on the circumstances of the night and thus gain a bit
of a unique perspective on life in Rural Belize. We would certainly
not let this event stop us from going back. Anyway, since there was
nothing more to be done about it, we went back to the dining room
and had breakfast.
George had one of the local Guatemalan workmen come to patch up the
window. I would have just cut a piece of cardboard roughly to fit
and used copious amounts of tape to stick it all in place. This
gentleman, however, was a real craftsman. He painstakingly removed
the broken glass and cut a replacement out of wood that fit the void
exactly. It was a real pleasure to watch someone who took such care
over an obviously temporary repair.
Today was the day we had planned to drive to Southern Belize. We
packed up the days necessities and prepared to get underway. I
tried to put the key in the ignition and it wouldn't go in. Oh no!
The idiot wanna-be car thieves had put a pry bar in the ignition and
given it the old heave-ho. It didn't work for them, of course, but
it also made it not work for us! We were dead in the water.
We informed George of this sad state of affairs and called the car
rental company for advice. After a brief consultation of the exact
state of affairs, the said they would put a mechanic on the next
flight out to put us right. We couldn't complain about the service.
Back to the hotel - what to do. Well, eat, read, and snorkel, of
course. We explored the grass beds and small coral heads off the Rum
Point dock. The water is extremely shallow and you can just walk
quite a ways offshore without getting in over your head. Divers
often turn their noses up at grass beds, but the life there is
fascinating if you pause to look at it. The visibility, however, was
not very good.
We had lunch just up the road at a little roadside cafe across from
the next resort. I had my final try at a hamburger before giving it
up for good. Judy had BBQ pork and claimed it was fairly good.
At 2:00 the gendarmes arrived and took a careful statement of what
happened. One of the staff remarked that in a country of only
200,000 people, someone would turn in the culprits and they would be
brought to justice. The local theory was a gang down from Belize
City-country people don't tend to steal from each other.
The mechanic arrived by plane around the same time. The carefully
crafted window seal was ripped out and a new piece of glass was put
in. The ignition was replaced as well - all in about 20 minutes.
We kept the ruined ignition as a memento. I bought the mechanic a
Belikin and he settled in at the bar to wait for the next plane
What to do now? The day was pretty much shot for driving anywhere,
although it was certainly an adventure. The resort had some
spectacular paintings by a local artist-the guidebooks all said that
her gallery was worth checking out, so we drove up the road to Seine
Bight to find it. It was distinctly picturesque, but unfortunately,
all they had for sale were smaller pieces that showed none of the
artistry of the resort paintings. We decided not to buy one for a
Seine Bight is a Garifuna village - a smallish minority in Belize
(8%), the Garifuna are a people from the Caribbean island of St.
Vincent, a mix of African and Carib Indian, with their own language
and very distinctive culture. They wear dreadlocks, and don't speak
as much English as other residents of this mostly English-speaking
but very multi-ethnic country.
It was Thanksgiving, so we drove off to The Inn at Robert's Grove
for our Thanksgiving buffet. As we usually do for meals, we arrived
before everything was set and ready to go. Robert greeted us at the
door and we chatted a bit. I don't recall if I've said this before,
but all of the resort owners made us feel as if we were part of the
family. It must have to do with the tropical air. Not one is in a
hurry, there is all the time in the world, no worries. As a special
treat, the air was alive with fireflies.
After chatting with Robert we settled in at the bar to nurse a
couple of drinks while waiting for the dining room to open. I had a
margarita and the bartender kept asking me if it was strong enough
even though he had already been more generous with the tequila than
anyone else I've known!
The next thing we know, the kitchen is bringing out heaping,
steaming platters of conch fritters as free appetizers! I don't
know if this is a regular thing or a Thanksgiving treat, but it's
awesome. The conch fritters are wonderful, but any more and
Thanksgiving dinner will be out of the question. With great
restraint, we compromise on one more apiece just as the dining room
opens. Dinner was spectacular, as we had come to expect of Robert;
a true American Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.
Now replete, we drove back to Rum Point for the night. On the trail
back to our room (with flashlights) we surprised a large tarantula
out hunting in the night. I tried to place a coin next to it for
scale before taking a picture, but that only made it scuttle away
and earned a shriek from Judy.
Day Seven - An Uninvited Guest, Mayan Ruins, and the Southern
Friday, November 26th , 1999
We awoke early to the Sun coming in the windows. I headed for the
enormous bathroom to take my morning shower. To avoid dripping
across the length of the room, I grabbed a towel off the counter and
put it on the edge of the tub.
The shower has a gas-fired demand heater that emits water close to
the boiling point. It takes some care to adjust, but after that
it's heavenly. I take a long, hot shower, turn off the water, and
pick up my towel. As I pick it up, a giant scorpion falls out and
towards me! I levitated to the far side of the tub, while producing
a manly bellow of surprise. [Oh, is that what it was? J]
The relaxing effect of the shower having vanished, I took advantage
of its ability to produce boiling water and gave the scorpion a
personal bath. Normally I wouldn't do this, but I was still in a
bit of a shock.
Once I was sure it wasn't going anywhere, I called Judy and she was
almost as shocked as I was. We picked it up on a fin-tip and
dropped it into the jungle below. When we mentioned the scorpion to
George, his only comment was, "Well, you are in the tropics." Of
course, he was right.
We then began to do what we should have done from the start, and
shake out all of our shoes and clothing before putting it on. (We
were a bit shocked at all the scorpion stories we heard from then on
- as many from Florida as from Belize.)
Since the car was now in working order, we decided to spend this day
driving down to the southern end of the country to see the Mayan
Fortified with breakfast, we headed in to Placencia to fill up with
gas and purchase some stamps for a friend in the states. While were
there we walked up and down the "Narrowest Street in the World", as
certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. It's called the
Sidewalk, and is a concrete path, perhaps a meter wide, that goes,
well, a long, long ways. We didn't make it to the end. You can't
see it from the village's sole road. Most of the village's
population actually lives there, and it is much more pleasant than
what you can see from the road..
Back in the car we headed north up the peninsula to the junction
with the Southern Highway. We had eventually figured out that when
the locals waved at us from alongside the road, they were not merely
being friendly, they were asking for a ride. Just north of Seine
Bight, we picked up a Garifuna gentleman with a long machete and
dreadlocks who was headed north to a visit a friend and harvest
After dropping him off, we found the Southern Highway and turned
South into new terrain. Our destination, which we didn't quite
make, was Punta Gorda at the Southern terminus of the highway.
Along the way we intended to stop at the Mayan ruins and a Butterfly
Ranch mentioned in the guide book.
We drove a few hours along the Southern Highway, past the Jaguar
Sanctuary, over the Monkey River, and deeper into rainforest, all
the while the land becoming more agrarian and peaceful. The Creole
and Mestizo majorities of the Northern areas are here replaced by
the native Maya. The Maya are a graceful people and the women are
all dressed in brightly colored skirts. Families walk along the
roads between the tiny groups of two and three thatched houses in
the jungle, and the women wash clothes in the many rivers while the
children swim and frolic in the water. They are completely
unconcerned by (or perhaps resignedly used to) the clouds of dust
turned up by the passing traffic. I always tried to slow way down
when we met them.
We arrived at Nim Li Punit, a major archeological site, shortly
before lunch. We parked the car and toured the wonderful visitors
center they have there. Nim Li Punit is Mayan for "The Big Hat" and
is derived from one of the site's 26 stelae which depicts a figure
wearing a large headdress. Nim Li Punit was first settled around AD
400 and lasted, perhaps, until AD 1000. The site was only
discovered in 1976.
To get to the ruins proper, we had to first thread our way though a
group of 13 extremely polite and colorful Mayan children selling
souvenirs. After assuring them that we would look at their wares on
our return, we entered the ruins proper. Since there was only one
other car in the parking lot, I don't know that the children make
all that much.
Much to our surprise, the driver of the other car turned out to be
George, with a tour group from Rum Point. He invited us to join
them and we caught the last part of the tour before they headed home
and we went on by ourselves.
The ruins were different from others we've seen. This was more of a
cleared place in a forest where history could be seen in its living
state. While some walls had been rebuilt, and descriptive signs
told the centuries' tale, most of the once mighty city still reposed
under the jungle that was steadily working to reclaim it.
Someday, I'm sure it will all be reconstructed, glassed in, and
fenced off like so many sites in America, but I preferred to see it
this way and muse on the connection those colorfully dressed
children had with this ancient city.
On the way out we soberly examined the goods the children offered
for sale. Judy selected and purchased a pendent and then went back
to the visitors center. While I waited by the car, the children
drifted over and tried to convince me to buy something else.
Failing that, with the day drawing to a close, one of the older and
bolder girls asked for a ride home. I conferred with Judy and when
she agreed, thirteen Mayan children instantly packed themselves into
the back seat and cargo area of our white Jeep Cherokee! I just had
to take a picture.
The road to Nim Li Punit is very steep. Thirteen Mayan children
weigh a lot, taken together, and then there were Judy and myself. I
had visions of sliding down the hill and wiping out an entire Mayan
village in the process. In compound low, and very carefully, we
ground down the hill. It was only half a mile, perhaps less, when
we arrived at the village and let the children out. They didn't
really need the ride - it was just an adventure for them... and for
George had given us directions for a back way to another famous
archeological site, which took us off the main highway and into the
country a bit. The guide book mentioned the Fallen Stones Lodge and
Butterfly Ranch on the same road, and Judy didn't want to miss that.
The road to the Butterfly Ranch was one of the most exciting we were
on. Paved, in part, with fist-sized and larger rocks, it was
designed more to resist the tropical rains than to be a superior
road surface for automobiles. Still, we forged on (happy with our
tough new tires) and were rewarded for it.
Ray Halberd owns this lodge in the middle of the rainforest.
Entirely run on solar power, it blends well with its surroundings,
and would be a lovely place to stay. The lodge is run by Ray, a
British entomologist, to support his first love, butterfly farming.
Two large rooms support eight species of butterfly, with the
enormous Blue Morphos being the most spectacular.
Ray and his native crew raise butterflies and ship their chrysalises
to live exhibits around the world. It is clearly a labor intensive
operation, which provides much-needed local employment. Judy and I
entered the first room and were confronted with hundreds of bright
blue butterflies ceaselessly fluttering about or clustering around
feeding trays. Strings of chrysalises hung on branches ready to
burst into life as the next generation of these wonderful insects.
Soon we both had numerous huge butterflies settled on our heads and
In order to support his farm, Ray has also created plantations to
grow the food plants-each butterfly prefers a particular plant.
Since Ray primarily spoke in binomial nomenclature, I don't remember
the names of any of these plants, but it was a wonderful experience
nonetheless. Fallen Stones Lodge and Butterfly Ranch is definitely
on our list of places to stay when we return to Belize.
When we left Ray, in truly British fashion, was settling down for
The day was already growing late and we had a long way to go, so we
only paid a cursory visit to the second site, Lubantuun (The Place
of Fallen Stones), and then drove on. When we once again hit paved
road, it was too late to reach Punta Gorda and return to Rum point
in the daylight, so we regretfully turned our Jeep's nose towards
the North and ran for home.
Retracing out steps, we arrive back on the peninsula just as light
was beginning to fail. With many miles still to go, we noticed a
couple walking down the road. Miles, mind you, from the nearest
village. We stopped and picked them up. I don't know if they were
pleased or not since I was driving fairly fast on the washboard road
and at least one bump and perhaps more left them weightless above
the back seat.
Several times medium sized animals ran across the road in front of
us and our passengers identified them as "blue foxes". Sometime
later we dropped our passengers off in Seine Bight and continued
Dinner this night was again at Luba Hati. Once again we were early
and dropped into the bar to chat with Franco and Mariuccia. We
asked them about the couple who we picked up and were told that,
yes, they were prepared to walk the entire way. With the increasing
traffic on the road chances were good that someone like us would
come by to pick them up, but a ten-mile walk was just considered a
Tonight Judy and I reversed our choices for dinner with Judy
selecting the lobster and I the chicken. We were both immensely
pleased. Franco is truly a master chef.
With some pangs, we return for our last night at Rum Point Inn.
It's been a wonderful vacation, but it is time to return home to our
Day Eight - The Manatee Road, Manatee Lodge, and Home.
Saturday, November 27th , 1999
After a good night's sleep we bade goodbye to the staff and headed
North via the Manatee Road, aka the Coast Highway. The road is not
as picturesque as the Hummingbird, but it winds through some nice
karst terrain and is a very comfortable drive. When dry, it cuts
about an hour off the time to Belize City. When wet, it can easily
add more than an hour.
On the way to check out the last resort on our list, the Manatee
Lodge, we came across a largish box turtle crossing the road. We
stopped, both to take a picture and to ensure its safe crossing. It
eyed us warily as it scrambled over the rocks on the side of the
road and off into the brush.
Colonial-style Manatee Lodge is charming and located in a beautiful
setting, at the tip of a small peninsula surrounded by water.. The
charm comes from the small, unspoiled, Creole village of Gales
Point, and the beauty from the Southern Lagoon, home to crocodiles,
jabiru storks, and manatee. Alas, we failed to see any manatee,
although we looked for them very carefully. The Manatee Lodge has
also been added to our list of places to stay one day.
Finally, we clocked off the last few miles of Manatee Road,
intercepted the Western Highway at the Belize Zoo, and headed for
the Great House and the Smoky Mermaid for our final meal in Belize.
Judy had a grilled shrimp salad which was pronounced quite good.
I'd let you guess what I had, but perhaps it's been too many pages
since we were last at the Smoky Mermaid together. Lobster burger!
Chunks of savory lobster, lightly grilled in a mild Cajun sauce. It
was most spectacular and highly recommended. We jointly proclaim
Belize to be a country of fine food.
The rest is pretty much the details of returning the car (and paying
for the repair bill! Note most carefully that the deductible on car
insurance in Belize is One Thousand American Dollars), checking in
at the airport, changing planes again in El Salvador and returning
home. The final adventure was when Judy, at my suggestion,
identified herself as a pilot and asked to visit the flight deck.
Near the end of the flight she was invited forward to the cockpit
and spent almost an hour chatting with the flight crew and admiring
a view quite a bit more spectacular than you get out the side. If
it wasn't for someone already occupying the jumpseat, they would
have let her stay up front for the landing. Perhaps next time.
Thank you all for your patience in reading this little story. I
hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it!
Thanks to Rick and Judy for this trip report ...