This is the last of three part series of posts on our our trip, pre-Covid-19, to Belize. I am so thankful to have been able to do this trip before the disease really took off.
Our trip was only a week long, including travel days at each end. The weather, although warm and sunny, was accompanied by winds that caused the expedition planners problems. There are links to the earlier parts of this trip at the end of this post.
Day 5 – Things go mostly to plan today, visiting Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Placencia
Today was another early start day. The plan was a light breakfast in the lounge starting at 6 am, and in the Zodiacs heading for the town of Placencia at 6:30 am. This was the second day with an early start. I thought we were on vacation.
The trip to the town dock in Placencia was just as the sun was coming up. A perfect time for pictures. It was a really pretty morning.
The plan this morning was to pick up a bus in Placencia that would take us to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for a short hike. We made the short walk from the town docks to the bus, picking up a box breakfast along the way.
It took the busses about 1 1/2 hours to cover the distance. The roads were in good shape and lightly traveled. There were local guides on each bus that provided a running narration covering many subjects; history, geography, cultural, etc. I have to admit that I spent most of the time just looking out the window.
The route we followed was pretty much up the Southern Highway (red line on the map). At some point we took a left on the main road but the map I have doesn’t give me enough information to say where.
We went through several small towns, and/or settlements, along the way. Some seemed dirt poor, some not. There was to be a real variation in income levels. But it is hard to say who owns the more prosperous looking houses. My guess it’s ex-pats from other countries taking advantage of the lower cost of living in Belize.
We eventually turned off the main (and only highway) towards the preserve. The road quickly turned from asphalt to dirt. It took us about 10 minutes on the dirt road before we arrived at the visitor center.
We all got off the busses and most of the group made a beeline for the 4 unisex bathrooms. It had been a long time between leaving the ship and arriving. Our first stop to relieve the coffee burden our bladders were containing.
Next, one of the rangers gave us an orientation to the park and the work they do there. I borrowed this description of the park out of the Frommer’s guide to Belize:
“This is a huge protected area composed of rugged, forested mountains. The sanctuary was designed to protect and help researchers study the largest new-world cat, the jaguar. The park is also home to Belize’s other four wildcat species, as well as Baird’s tapirs, coati-muni, tayra, kinkajous, deer, peccaries, anteaters, armadillos, and some 300 species of birds.”
We were then given a short history of jaguar research in the preserve before we broke up into 3 groups; the birders, the long hikers, and the lollygaggers. We chose to go with the lollygaggers.
This turned out to be an approximately 1 mile hike thru the forest to look for plants and animals. I took the opportunity to take too many plant photos. Although we did not see any jaguars, there was a paw print of one that we all stood around and looked at.
After the hike we all climbed back on the busses, and made our way out of the preserve towards our lunch destination. But, just before exiting the preserve, the busses stopped on the small village of Campo Chico for an opportunity to buy craft items produced by local artisans.
Our lunch spot was a thoroughly modern establishment. I will admit, that Covid-19 was starting to rear it’s head enough to make me nervous around all the people there. The lunch was served buffet style which would seem crazy at this point.
Years ago our family charted a sailboat with some friends in that sailed out of Placencia. The first night, I ordered a gin and tonic at a local establishment. When the drink arrived, it was pink.
Confused, I asked the waitress to verify that it was indeed a G&T. She looked at me as if I was a little slow, and replied that it was the right concoction. turns out that the only bottler in Belize colors their tonic pink. I verified that this was still true by asking the bartender for a bottle while we ate lunch.
After lunch, it was back to the busses, and then to the ship. The cover-19 news was starting to make me paranoid, and I wasn’t comfortable hanging around in the town. Besides, I needed a nap. That was the most walking I’d done in 3 days.
That evening, we had after dinner entertainment by a local group named the Garifuna Collective. Our program described them like this:
“Invested in promoting the local Garifuna culture, their music tells the story of a community struggling to retain it’s unique language, music, and traditions in the face of globalization… The lead singers of the current incarnation of the group reflect an intergenerational approach; their songs echo the joys and sorrows they have experienced during their lives.”
I have to admit that I only stayed for part of their performance. It had been a long day, and tomorrow was another early start. I was ready to hit the sack.
Day 6 – Weather cancels planned snorkeling, we spend the morning at Monkey River on a jungle cruise, head back to Guatemala
We started the last day of our expedition, before starting the trek home, taking a Jungle Book cruise on the Monkey river. It was another early start morning. Breakfast at 6 am, followed by the zodiacs starting to load at 6:45 am.
I believe we were on the second zodiac to load. It was a short ride over to the mouth of the Monkey river where we would pick up a smallish tour boat carrying about 15 passengers for our trip up the river. There was a little rain falling as we started our journey spotting the clear plastic curtains hung to keep us from getting wet.
The guides were great. They had good working knowledge of the plants, animals, and (especially) the birds. We spent a lot of time drifting while the guides described a bird that was hard to see unless you had a telephoto lens, or a pair of binoculars. Birds are not really my thing, and being so small, not good photographic subjects for my iPhone.
Nevertheless, the cruise was fun and informative. The scenery was lush, wet, and green. The banks of the river mysterious enough to capture my attention. We did get to see some howler monks from about 1/4 mile away. They were high in the trees, and moving around.
The cruise took a few hours, and by the time we got back to the mouth of the river, it was time to head back to the ship for lunch.
The plan for after lunch was to visit Ranguana Caye. But the weather, true to form, was not cooperating. The wind was blowing a steady 25 knots and would prevent the ship from being safely anchored at that location.
So, there was nothing to do but head to the lounge, procure a drink, and socialize with the friends we had made during the trip.
Day 7 – Disembark at Puerto Barrios Guatemala, travel back to Los Angeles
Now the story near it’s end. The ship motored all night and arrived at Puerto Barrios before dawn. I was up pretty early to watch us enter port and see sights of an active port coming to life.
Inside the bridge, everything was dark, except for the glow of the red light allowing the crew better night visibility. The temperatures were warm in spite of the threatening rain.
The ships at dock were a bright and colorful contrast to the dark clouds. The harbor was busy in spite of the early morning hour.
Soon the dock where we started the trip was in front of the bow, and the ship was secured. It was time to go have a last breakfast on-board and clear out our room in preparation for going to shore. It was a time for people to say goodbye.
Disembarking was pretty straightforward. We only had our carry-ons, the rest of the luggage had been transported separately to the airport in Guatemala City. We had to repeat the customs process in reverse order to enter Guatemala that we went through when we first arrived. Including the small customs office where I took this picture of the horse wandering across the road while we were waiting to get everyone checked in.
It was still raining and there weren’t many people on the roads. Most of the motorcycles we had seen on the way in were now parked by the sides of the road.
Our busses took us from the customs house to the military airstrip where our chartered flight to Guatemala City would leave from.
Guatemala city had more sun than the coast. The descent took us over some of the city as well as in sight of some of the local volcanoes there.
The rest of the trip was pretty straightforward. We flew from Guatemala City, then to Dallas/Fort Worth, and on to Los Angeles. It was pretty late by the time we arrived at LAX.
It was a great trip and something that is hard to envision in this time of Covid-19. I’m so glad that we had a chance to get away for some fun in the sun, and a chance to see new things and new people.
We’re looking forward to the pandemic abating, so we can get out again.
Links to other Belize Trip Posts
Thanks for coming. Be Safe. Have fun.