A little while ago my husband and I decided to take a cruise. It had been awhile since our last vacation with just the two of us, and we were really looking forward to getting away without the kids. We researched and studied all of the places we were going to be seeing and decided to book some of our excursions through private party. My husband looked on line and found the top things other people had done and found one he thought we would both love. Never have any words been more wrong.

We were going to be docked in Belize for 9 hours, and the excursion he picked was their cave tubing expedition. He had located a local tour guide that would pick us up at the dock. Luckily, Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, and that made communication a little easier. He and my husband e-mailed back and forth working out all the details. My husband knew I was a little apprehensive about this tour and asked me if I had any questions I would like answered.

Well I knew a few things about Belize and knew that the tour was in a tropical rainforest, so I immediately thought of snakes and alligators and of course spiders. I am not a snake person, and well alligators are not on my list of things to see up close, but trying to be the agreeable wife, I asked the local guide by email if there were gators in the water.

I’ll never forget the response we got back. His reply was “There usually aren’t any gators in the water.” Now if you are like me, I only had a problem with one word, “usually.” If he was trying to put me at ease, he failed miserably.

My husband told me not to worry and that everything would be fine. Yes, famous last words.
Well the day of the tour finally arrived. The cruise was going beautifully, and we had already been to two other ports that week. We had visited the pyramid ruins of Chechen Itza in the port of Progresso and the white sandy beaches in Cozumel. We were now ready to take on Belize.

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Our tour guide was at the dock as promised and led us to a rusty old school bus. At dinner the night before my husband had convinced some of our fellow passengers and table mates to come with us. So after a few minutes of price negotiation we were off. The bus ride took about an hour and let me just say the bus was sorely in need of some new shocks as we traversed over the bumpy dirt road.

About an hour later we reached the drop off point. Upon exiting the bus we were all more than happy to leave, the forest awaited us. It was incredibly beautiful with the sun shining through its canopy.

We went through a quick orientation and were given a head lamp that we would use in the caves to see. Once they had gone over all the safety information, they led us to a pile of old inner tubes. Now I grew up tubing behind boats or on snow, and let me tell you these tubes were tiny. My husband and I are not small people at close to 200lbs., but our tour guide had assured us that our weight would not be a problem. Looking at the tubes that would be fine for an 8 year old, I had some serious doubts.

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I grabbed the biggest tube I could find though and set off on the trail into the forest. Halfway to our destination we came across a small snake sunning it’s self on the path, my heartbeat was really ticking away at that point, but we gave it a large berth and walked around it.

Upon reaching the river bank I couldn’t help but notice that the water level wasn’t very high. I pointed out this fact to our guide only to be told that it was the dry season and not to worry it should be deep enough for me to float over.

Walking into the river that only reached my ankles I was really beginning to doubt that this was going to be fun. Setting my tube in the water I watched the others begin their trip down the river. Not wanting to be last I quickly sat on my tube and promptly certain attributes hit the sandy bottom. The guide tried to drag me over to what he said was deeper water only to have my swimsuit fill with gravel. Lucky for me, I was not the only one having this problem. By now several other tours were entering the water, and most of my group was half-way down the river winding their way toward the caves. I decided that I could walk faster in the river than try to float, so I got up and began walking along the riverbed carrying my tube.

My husband had found some deeper water and kept encouraging me to get back on my tube but I was not in the mood to listen to him. Hind sight of course is 20/20 and looking back maybe I should have listened to him. Well, as I was walking along the very shallow water I noticed that it was light in some areas and dark in others but didn’t think about it too much as I stomped my way towards the caves. I then walked right into a dark spot and the water went over my head. I came up sputtering and swearing and quickly got on my tube. The river had picked up speed and I was being carried at a much faster pace now. Up ahead the caves were drawing near and there were several people being funneled together into them with the current.

When my tube reached the caves I turned on my head lamp and tried to look around. It was pitch black inside and my tube was slowing down. The caves were amazing and the river winding around through them at an easy pace was really cool. Just when I was starting to get comfortable and enjoy the “ride” my bottom promptly hit the sandy bottom once again.

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Trying not to panic and failing miserably, I tried to get myself to some deeper water. I couldn’t see anything and I was too beached to move so I had to get up. My husband was somewhere, and I could hear him calling my name, but I couldn’ see him. Even with my headlamp the water looked like a mass of ink in the darkened cave. I tried to feel my way with my foot to see where the water might be deeper, other tubes were ramming up against me as I tried to keep my balance. Finally, I could feel the slope of the bank go deeper and I got back on my tube. There were so many people in the cave now that I was pushed into the wall of the cave. Looking over my shoulder at the wall of the cave I looked right into the hairy eyes of a very big tarantula.

I let out an ear piercing scream as I frantically tried to get away. It scurried up the wall and out of sight before I was finally able to catch the current once again. Now, if you are thinking that this can’t possibly get worse at this point, boy are you wrong. When I finally made it out of the cave and was still afloat I could see my husband holding a tree branch waiting for me. He asked me how it was going, and all I could say was that I hated him. Yes, this was not the best experience of my life, and I just wanted it to end already.

The current was gaining speed again, and up ahead I could see a turn and a guide in the water attached to a rope. He was grabbing people’s hand and pulling them towards the shore. The water was really flowing fast now and we were flying down the river. My husband was right next to me and as we came to the turn the guide reached out and grabbed my husband but when he tried to grab me I flew right past him and over the edge of a drop off. It wasn’t a huge drop off but I had clearly missed the exit. I looked behind me in a panic trying not to scream and saw another guide grab a tube and come after me.

Once I was through the rapids, so to speak, the river slowed enough for me to paddle over to the side and find a shallow spot to stand up and wait for the guide to come find me. Missing the extract point meant that I had to walk another 30 minutes in the forest with a guide who kept apologizing the entire way back to the bus. Apparently, this kind of thing never happens, yeah go figure for me.

The rusty old bus was a welcomed sight to be sure, and even with its terrible shocks I was never so happy to be heading back to the ship in my life. I didn’t talk to my husband during the hour ride back, and I think he knew it would be best not to say anything. One thing was for certain, I would never ever forget Belize.

I could end it there but feel it necessary to mention that I have actually been back to Belize several times now and really love it there. The coral reef is gorgeous and the canopy tour is outstanding. I have not as of yet ventured back into the river to see the caves again. Who knows, maybe I will test fate once again, um…maybe not.

Belize, that little country south of Mexico off the Caribbean Sea, formerly called British Honduras, is a beautifully rustic, yet luxurious vacation retreat. When I had the opportunity to visit the Casa del Caballo Blanco eco lodge, I jumped at the chance. A brief chat with American owners and managers, Jodi and Vance Bente, and you too will be infected with their passion to help the environment. Upon more investigation I found Belize had a number of appealing locales, attractions and is a focal point of Western Hemisphere history.
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Casa del Caballo Blanco (www.casacaballoblanco.com), sits on a hilltop on the outskirts of the interior town of St Ignacio, Belize. The lodge is home to the Casa Avian Support Alliance, which is a chance to give back to world wildlife through the lodge’s support and rehabilitation of endangered birds. Here it’s possible to pay off any vacation guilt by hands on contributions to CASA’s bird hospital and habitat. Depending upon your length of stay you can be as much involved with benefits towards bird habitation as you wish. You might observe and participate in aviary rehabilitation, when perhaps a spotted owl with injured wing is released back into the wild after a 2 month stay. A one eyed parrot named Captain Jack, is a permanent resident, who gregariously greets each visitor.
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Native birds are frequent visitors to the hill top lodge, with its comfortable thatched roof casitas. Even a neighbor’s noisy rooster is a reminder that wild life rules, while you slumber beneath a comforting mosquito netted bed. Along with comfortable accommodations comes local comfort food, accented by large pitchers of fresh cold juice of watermelon, orange, grapefruit or papaya. Miss Gracie is queen of the kitchen and her fresh simple meals accentuate the easygoing nature of Casa. Housekeeper, Miss Terri, is a stunning Mayan beauty who is a reminder that you are in the heart of Mayan culture.
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Tours to two local Mayan ruins, Cahol Pech and Xanantunich, can be arranged by the lodge and is a must, especially when you have “Junior” as your private guide. A couple of hours across the Belizean border into Guatemala is the ancient Mayan center of Tikal. If interested in history and its physical evidence through ruins, Tikal is a must. Despite the strenuous safari required to see most of the expansive site in just one day, it is an effort worthy of a once in a lifetime trip.
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One clear January evening, as the full moon was rising between giant palm trees, we stepped out of our casita and headed toward the dining hall. We were pleasantly greeted by a sky filled with stars and the hill side and grounds covered with millions of twinkling fire flies. It was as if the twinkling stars were reflected across the earth. The feeling of a natural wonder, like this, is an indescribable bonus for visiting an exotic locale. That sense of place and wonder is an all time unforgettable travel memory.

 

Belize, is less than a 3 hours flight from Dallas, but worlds away from our urban American lifestyle.

Some people come into your life, they leave footprints on your heart, and you are never the same.
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We came with no more expectation than to feel the warmth of the sun for a few weeks… We left almost five months later feeling we were saying goodbye to brothers and sisters.

Those who call Ambergris Caye home come from varied racial, socio-economic backgrounds and geographic regions. By luck or design, we stayed at the Corona del Mar, a small, beachfront hotel that was owned and operated by an island icon, Woody Canaday who has since passed away. Everyone we met had a story – and over time, an incredible tapestry of tales was woven. Although the island has grown, a diverse mix of hotels, restaurants and bars are now part of the culture and can meet any budget or style. The majority of streets are still made of sand. Hotels are no higher than three stories, and there are no franchises in sight. Golf carts are the main form of transportation, although tourists staying in the vicinity of San Pedro can easily walk or take occasional taxis.
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From the beginning, the Belizeans welcomed us with open arms. We were invited to their homes, fished the blue-green waters with them on their days off, cooked together in the evenings, shared milestones, and we were honored to get a glimpse of their lives. We heard in detail the devastating effects of Hurricanes Mitch and Keith. Many of Corona del Mar’s employees and their families took refuge at the hotel – some returning to find their homes destroyed; others grateful they were spared.

People take many paths to Ambergris Caye. Some are running away from life – others are running to it. Longtime expatriates like Woody, who came to the island 30 years ago, had a vision that the nearby reef – the second largest in the world – would beckon those who wanted to explore life beneath the ocean. And he was right.
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While on Ambergris Caye, the reef offers snorkelers and divers alike an underwater experience right out of a Jacques Cousteau documentary as a myriad of fish, coral and sea life abound. And there is nothing like having your first encounter with nurse sharks as they swim alongside you, oblivious to the reactions they cause. Intellectually you remember being told they are not dangerous, but the very sight of them makes even the bravest’s heart beat faster. Our trip took place before Steve Irwin’s tragic death, so with just a bit of trepidation, we took the opportunity to also stroke stingrays and marvel in their grace. Snorkeling in various places along the reef, spearing lobsters for lunch, enjoying fresh conch ceviche, and barbequing red snapper were as much a part of our day as having morning coffee. It all seems like such a dream.
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Are you ready to pack your bag? If so, go to Ambergris Caye with a sense of adventure and no expectations of it being Hawaii or Acapulco. Be ready to experience an island that is unique, a little wacky, but a special place like no other.

 
Top 5 Touristy Things To Do:
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Snorkel with stingrays and sharks at Shark Ray Alley
Experience a day of snorkeling north of the Cut along with a beach BBQ (see contact information below)
Join throngs of tourists at the weekly betting bonanza at the “Chicken Drop”
Take a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha on the mainland
Visit neighboring Caye Caulker by water taxi and get a taste of what Ambergris Caye was like 20 years ago
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Top 5 Things Guidebooks Don’t Always Tell You:
Sip Belikin beer at the beachside bar, Cannibals. It’s a great place to meet people from around the world, and to see passengers get on and off the water taxi
Enjoy the Burrito special at Mickey’s Restaurant on Middle Street every Wednesday
Play horseshoes with locals, (and wanna be locals) every Sunday afternoon at Crazy Canucks
Spend an evening listening to island musician icon, Dennis Wolfe. Ask him to play the perennial favorite, “Another Gringo in Belize”.
Take time to talk to the locals that work at your hotel or in your favorite restaurant.
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At a time in our lives when traveling away from the beaten path was our goal, we found islanders on Ambergris Caye had a generosity of spirit that touched our souls and who reminded us that simplicity can indeed bring happiness.

As they say on the island, “It’s Unbelizeable”!
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