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Report 917: Belize - Jungles, Mayans, and Diving

By SeaJay from VA, Winter 2005

Trip Description: Crocs, Monkeys, Endangered Birds, Canoeing, Mayan Temples and Diving the Blue Hole

Destinations: Countries - Other Countries

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 13: Ready or Not, Belize Here We Come

Saturday, December 25, Merry Christmas

Doesn’t a relaxing vacation always begin with a 0500 wake up call? Last year we were landing in Rome on Christmas Day, this year we’ll be landing in Belize City. CJ drops Carol and the luggage off at the terminal and delivers the car to our favorite parking lot. One of the drivers, Fred, often knows more about our schedules than we do. (He just has a better memory). Christmas morning and none of the regulars are on duty. We are leaving on a cold 26-degree morning.

Somehow Carol has managed to get checked in without CJ’s physical presence. That has to be a violation of more than one security procedure. We have carefully packed to take high-risk elements of our dive gear and what we need for the first few days in the jungle as carry-on luggage. They force her to check one of the intended carry-on bags. Now we have to pray the luggage makes it. We notice that somehow CJ’s Chairman’s Preferred status isn’t indicated on the tickets. Now we understand why they were so annoying about the carry-on. In order to board in the first wave, we get that changed.

With US Airways on shaky ground and CJ having so many accumulated miles, we’ve decided to start burning them as fast as possible and are booked in first class. This flight, however, is on a regional jet and we suspect we’ll have to gate check our carry-ons. We are pleasantly surprised to find that the new Embraer E-170, a 72 person regional jet that US Airways has recently started using has the same overhead space as a full sized Boeing 737. It’s certainly a big improvement over those skinny little Embraers. It has no first class but very comfortable wide seats arranged two and two across. It looks like a small 737 with winglets.

We arrive in Charlotte to long lines stretching nearly the length of the terminal queued up at the service desk. We check the board. Our flight is listed as “on time” but there are a huge number of cancellations. Seems hundreds of the disgruntled workers at the airline have called in sick. This coupled with the bad weather that has left thousands stranded on Interstate highways throughout the Midwest has resulted in many of upset holiday travelers. We later find out that they cancelled more than 300 flights over the holiday weekend including 170 on Friday and that’s why the airport is a dangerous mess. We read that baggage was so disrupted that they had to fly five baggage only flights between Philadelphia and Charlotte.

We have breakfast with a man whose flight to Vail has been cancelled and will miss the family Christmas dinner. We are fortunate that they seem to be giving priority to their Caribbean departures. Following breakfast at “the usual place” we find our gate is just opposite the gate of our October St. Croix departure. There’s a Starbucks nearby so we dump Carol’s coffee and get her a cappuccino. We have a plane, the first good sign. Next the gate attendant requests a passport check, the second good sign. We gain confidence when a flight crew arrives. We board in the same corner as a flight to West Palm. What a contrast! Designer clothes, Gucci, and spiked heals in one line intersecting with t-shirts, sweatshirts, sneakers, hiking boots and backpacks. Guess which was going where? Following take-off the anxiety switches to our luggage.

We arrive to 80-degree weather in Belize. Typical Latin American baggage handling, they throw a piece of luggage on the conveyor belt when the spirit moves them. Our luggage finally begins to show up after about ľ of the plane is unloaded. Our luggage is in the 4th wave. We must shift some of the items between bags. We remove some of the dive gear from our jungle bag and clear customs.

A representative of the lodge meets us and conducts us to our driver. Neither of them knows anything of the arrangements to leave our four dive bags at the airport in “secure storage.” We were repeatedly assured that this would be “no problem.” First they decide to place them in the office of the porter’s wife. She is a tour operator with a storefront office across from the airport. Our driver, who just began this week, consults with the lodge and they suggest leaving them at the Tropic Airlines counter. They people at Tropic Air are flabbergasted at the request. They have no room and certainly neither wants to take responsibility for nor can guarantee security for that long a period. We go back to the woman’s office. We depart with the luggage in plain sight through the office window and taking up 2/3 of the floor space in front of the counter of her little storefront office. We are no sooner out of the parking lot than the driver receives a call. The lodge has figured out what they were supposed to do with the luggage. There’s a small building across from the airport. He finds that he has a key on his key chain to the building. He backs over a number of roadside markers and parks. We hope he has good tires. He tracks down the travel agent for the 4th time to get her to open her shop. He moves the luggage to the small building. CJ has a look around. We’re not real happy with the arrangement but not much we can do about it now. Secure to us meant under constant watch in a secure area and not left unattended in an abandoned locked building.

We travel in the van about an hour north of the airport on the road to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. We transfer to a very fast boat for the second part of the trip. When we are moving up the New River, we are hauling. However, we often stop to checkout the sights and what sights they are. We encounter a number of bats on the underside of a tree limb, a jacana (small wading bird), an Anhinga (snake bird, large black water bird), but the highlights are two sightings of black-collared hawks. This is a gorgeous rust colored bird with a black collar. Although they are not common sightings, we come across two. Now that we’ve relegated the luggage to the “what will be, will be” category, this is such a wonderful beginning to the vacation; a winding ride through the mangroves up to the New River lagoon.

Gloria meets us at the dock. A crew conducts our luggage to the room. She gives us a choice of immediately occupying the room we have reserved or taking another room for the first two evenings and transferring to the scheduled room after that. It’s not clear what benefit we’d derive but from her offer and encouragement we decide to give the offered room a shot. With the luggage restriction on the return trip, it’s not like we’ll have a lot to move. Our room turns out to be a brand new unit. It’s bigger than the other one and has air conditioning. As Americans I guess they feel we need A/C. All of the cabanas are finished in dark wood and are very dark. They keep turning the A/C on and we keep turning it off. In fact, we wish they had more covers during the first evening. There is no glass in the windows. The windows are screened with louvered shutters.

We partially unpack. Noticing it’s after 4:30 we head to the lodge and the bar.

Lamanai Outpost Lodge is situated on the banks of a 28-mile long spring fed lagoon amid the remnants of a major Maya city. It is surrounded by an incredible variety of habitats that facilitate unsurpassed nature-based and soft-adventure activities that depart right from your cabana's doorstep without the need for day-trips. The nearest full-service lodge or hotel is over 70 miles away.

Unlike many other lodges that all share the same area and attractions, Lamanai Outpost is very much in a world of its own. Whether you are exploring the Maya ruins or watching nature awaken as the sun rises over Crab-Catcher Lagoon, it is almost guaranteed that it will be just you, your guide and a few friends that you have made at the Outpost.

The average guest at the Outpost embarks on three activities per day all of which are included in the package price. Of course, seeking R&R as we are, we try for the maximum each day. Be it by keeping its number of cabanas below 20 or by limiting the number of guests on a tour to between 6 and 10 participants, Lamanai Outpost Lodge is totally focused upon the quality of your jungle experience. The average activity departs with 4-6 guests plus staff.

The grounds of Lamanai Outpost are beautiful. A wonderful tropical setting of palms, tropical plants and flowers scattered among cabanas, trails, the lodge and a hammock rest.

During registration Gloria encourages us to sign up for the “Spotlight Safari” this evening. We introduce ourselves to Raoul, the bartender. He introduces us to Belikin stout (a stout similar to the Randy brews that we love); a New River Water (coconut rum, lime juice, pineapple juice) and One Barrel rum, good sipping stuff. There is no choice at dinner this evening. The traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce with key lime pie for desert. So maybe traditional Key West Christmas!

“Spotlight Safari” departs the dock at 8pm. This is another boat that is a bit larger than the one that delivered us up the river. Highlights of the trip into a small channel in the New River include a baby crocodile in the mangrove, potoo, black catbird, proboscis bats, white-necked Jacobin, blue kingfisher (rare), and a kite. The bad boy, CJ of course, who has all too quickly become friends with Raoul passes out in the middle of the safari and begins snoring. Carol tries to suffocate him much to the pleasure of the other safari attendees.

Carol gets us a wake up call for the morning. CJ “sleeps!”

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