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Belize in January

Author: Paul (More Trip Reviews by Paul)
Date of Trip: January 2008

Only two days into our vacation and I am already starting an early morning routine that will become commonplace for the duration. I wake near 0600 and sneak quietly out of the room so Dallas will be able to sleep uninterrupted. I wander a bit and end up at the park across the street and just sit on the large breakwater and watch. Many people are on their way to work or shopping, peddling along on bicycles or passengers on the many local busses. The sun rises, slowly warming the windy air; it's going to be a hot one. There is only so much to see in the park but I check out every corner; the ditch bringing detritus from town, the dead rat floating in a still pool and the back yards of the few houses along the fence.

Shortly it is time for breakfast and we search for a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner. We can't find it. Maybe because the locals have such a casual attitude about giving direction; "just go up the street a bit and turn left at the big house" could mean the house next door or a couple miles away. And there is a definite lack of street signs. Anyway, we wander a bit and check out all three hardware stores for the white gas to no avail. It just doesn't seem to exist. Breakfast is at a newer restaurant in the heart of downtown. The young owner is obviously very proud of his accomplishments and goes into great detail of all his meals.

We are packed and on the road by 0900. Leaving town is ok but we somehow take a wrong road and end up on a "cane road" through fields of sugar cane. It is very rough so we turn around and ask directions. Soon we are heading in the correct direction to Burrell Boom and the turn off for Bermudian Landing where we plan to spend the night.

Signage is very poor. Some are missing completely, just the empty sign post remains or they are so faded by the beating sun that we have to stop and stand directly underneath to read them.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary is easy to spot and we pull in expecting crowds of people. It is virtually empty. No problem for us. When we open the car doors we are hit with a blast of heat and humidity. A couple of tour guides wave us over to their table in the shade and we sit and talk for a while. We book two tours; one for late afternoon and one at night. Then we get a cabana ($65BZ) and order supper from one of the local families who live next door. The cabana is only a few feet from the jungle. And this is jungle like we have never seen it; thick, damp and smelling sweetly of decay.

We unpack some clothes and sit on the porch, keeping to the shade whenever possible. One of the guides had told us that it was 98 degrees F with 100% humidity. Any small effort leaves us dripping persperation. We chat with the guides some more and then have a quick nap.

At 1630 we meet our guide for the afternoon tour; Fallet Young. He is one of the founders of the sanctuary and has been involved from the beginning over twenty years ago. He explains the organization and what has been accomplished to preserve the black howler monkeys. Like North America, the demise of many species here is a direct result of loss of habitat, the farmers need for expansion and destruction of the jungle. Baboon is a mistake left over from the early British days. The walk is pleasant, the temperature has cooled somewhat and Fallet does not rush. We wind our way through trails and over small bridges, Fallet calling occasionally to no avail; no monkeys make an appearance. After circling the trails for an hour Dallas spots some black movement in the trees on the edge of the sanctuary, almost in someone's back yard. We head that way and discover a troop of eight.

howler monkeys belizeThey are not shy, having been acclimatized to people by many tours. Dallas gets to "shake hands" with one on the ground as he looks for a handout. Another is on a branch just overhead and when I extend my arm he climbs down and perches on my shoulder. His hands are amazing, soft as a woman's who never does dishes; I expected calluses from swinging in the trees. I am a bit leery of him though he seems gentle; I had a good look at the one inch incisors he was using to tear leaves.

Fallet guides us back to camp and we find the hostess has prepared our supper which she serves at a picnic table. Chicken, rice, pasta and vegetables for both of us comes to $8BZ.

There is some time to relax and journal a bit before our night hike at 1930. We dress for what we expect; long pants tucked into socks, hiking boots, our paddling shirts and hats and plenty of Deet.

jungle night walk hike belizeThe jungle is black and noisy. Leaves rustle constantly and birds or bats are flitting about. Moisture landing on broad leaves makes a distinct splat, reminiscent of rain but it is not. An owl hoots somewhere to our left. The humidity makes the air feel thick even though we have good vision in the beams of the flashlights. Mosquitoes buzz loudly, they are very bad. Even Fallet, who says he is used to them, takes some of our proffered repellent. Our trail twists, turns and branches till I know I am hopelessly lost, I could never get out of here on our own. Fallet stops occasionally and points out many of the different trees and ferns and the varied uses, from houses to medicine, that the Maya would make from them.

The owl hooting moves from left to center to right. I have no idea if it has moved or our trail is taking us in circles. We sit and rest for a few minutes at an old tent site. Sounds of animals are everywhere but we just can't see anything. After a couple hours we head back, a little disappointed at not spotting any animals.

Fallet joins us the steps of our cabana, sharing our beer and talking about Belize. We are very interested in the upcoming election and spend an hour or so talking politics. At some point, Fallet, who has an uncanny ear for movement, shines his flashlight out at an opossum, some large bats and a night bird. The monkeys start howling shortly after we sit down, just over the next rise. Now we know why they are called howler monkeys. If we had not been told I would have thought the noise was emanating from a couple of large male jaguars in a fight to the death. They are LOUD! I guess we didn't have to spend a couple hours in the jungle to see wildlife but we are glad we did.

Before we know it, it is 23:30. Fallet leaves for home and we shower and hit the beds.

Sunday January 20

I'm up again before 0600 and settle in on the porch to journal and make coffee. The camp stove is out and full of kerosene which we are using as a last resort. Dallas rises early and we sit together, me journaling, she sketching. It is cloudy and cool, a pleasant break from yesterdays heat.

The car is packed and we are on the road to Hopkins at 0800. The road is good and familiar; this is the Hummingbird Highway, cutting through the Maya Mountains from the interior flatlands to the narrow coastal plain. The sights are wonderful. The mountains are a deep green with mist hanging in the valleys and orchards crawling up the hillsides.

One stop we have been talking about for two years is the Hattiville Prison. After passing here before our running joke when doing anything even slightly wrong was "you're going to end up in Hattiville". The gift shop is packed with mostly wood articles all made by the inmates. We purchase a nice container as a souvenir.

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