Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Belize Escape: March 8 - 12, 2023

Blancaneaux Lodge is one of three luxury properties in Belize owned by Francis Ford Coppola (FFC) of movies and wines. Blancaneaux Lodge is in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve about 90 minutes from the border with Guatemala. It is spectacular. Privassion River runs through the property and most of the cabana rooms are situated along the river. Our room for the first three nights was just above the waterfall. 

One of the free activities at the lodge is tubing down the river. We took advantage of this one hot afternoon. The start is several yards upriver from the waterfall and the end is at the waterfall. There wasn't much current so it was a lazy float through the crystal clear pools toward the waterfall. 

We walked along the river trail and up to the lodge's organic garden and compost area. We definitely had garden and compost envy. The gardens provide most of the fruits and vegetables served in the lodge restaurants.

Our first morning at the lodge we went to Barton Creek Cave. The driver was also our canoe guide. He paddled us into the cave about 1.5 miles while explaining the relationship between the cave and the Mayan people. The upper shelves of the cave were used for burials by the ancient Maya. Caves were part of a mystical underworld populated with deities. It was a serene, quiet paddle into the darkness. The cave entrance looked like just a narrow slit in the rock, but we glided through it into the cave. 

We took a full day trip to the Ancient Mayan City of Tikal in Guatemala. Our driver took us to the border and another driver gathered us up after we passed through border customs and immigration. Tikal is immense and somewhat overwhelming for a first-time visitor. 

Looking over the Central Acropolis at Temple 1 from Temple 2
Detail of carving on Temple 2
Looking East from Temple 4
The amount of jungle that fills in all the spaces between the temples isn't apparent until you climb up Temple 4 and look east to see that only the tallest portions of the other temples are visible from above. Tikal existed as a city from around 200 to 900 AD after which time all southern Mayan cities became deserted. The rainforest consumed Tikal, and the outside world had no knowledge of it until the early 19th century when an outsider "discovered" the lost city of Tikal.

Another departure from the lodge was to visit the Saturday Market in San Ignacio. As markets go, it wasn't particularly exotic except for the presence of Mennonite and Amish vendors. Most of the Mennonites and Amish migrated to Belize in the 1950s. There are both progressives and conservatives in each group. Progressive Mennonites own a chain of tire stores, zinc siding operations, and a bunch more successful businesses. The conservative Amish cling to farming without any mechanized machinery. Like in the US, they use horses to pull their wagons. I came across one Amish vendor (blue shirt) who was selling both bunnies and guinea pigs. The guy in the white shirt wanted two bunnies which were placed into the red net bag. His friend came over to inspect the bunnies to make sure that both genders were represented in the bag. 

Because of the Tikal trip, our time at Blancaneux Lodge was out of sync. That is why we were moved to a different room for our last night in Belize. We thought our first room was pretty great, but the room for the last night was over the top in every way. Guatemalan textiles and furnishings decorated both rooms. Each room was equipped with a Shell Phone. The Shell Phone is an intercom system connected to reception. Flip a switch and speak into the shell and whatever you wish for will be granted.

Screened front had a telescope for night viewing

Rear exit to outside shower
A Private Plunge Pool

I understand why FFC called this place Paradise. It is.

Belize was a lovely escape all around.

Brian McCutcheon of ROAM put this trip together for us. We've known Brian for many years and he was our guide on two trips in Canada: Taku and Firth Rivers when he was mostly traveling in Canada. Now, he and his company are indeed roaming the world. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Belize Escape: March 3 - 8, 2023

16° 42' 59" N, 87° 50' 49" W - Glover's Reef Atoll, Belize
California badly needed rain, and then it rained, and rained, and still is raining. It felt so good to leave rainy California and travel to a place in the sun. Belize was that place and so easy to get to even from Sacramento. Just two flights for a total of about 7 hours flying time. We did have to overnight in Belize City followed by another overnight south at Dangriga. 

Boat Launch at Dangriga
From Dangriga, we were picked up by a "speedboat" large enough for staff and guests that delivered us to Glover's Reef Atoll for three nights of glamping. Glamping, a portmanteau of glamorous and camping, infers that amenities exist above normal camping. We didn't bring towels, shampoo, soap. Unfortunately, none were provided either. Our lodging was an oceanfront, generously-sized white tent structure with a comfortable bed. 

Glover's Reef Atoll is 18 miles long and 6 miles wide; it is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef which is the second largest reef in the world (after Australia). It is one of only four Atolls in the Western Hemisphere. The Atolls in the Caribbean are formed from the peaks of old limestone mountains. The land that has formed along the reef crest was created from storms pushing coral rubble up, building an edifice higher than the reef itself, which then accumulated sand and plants were able to take root. While the depth inside the atoll is quite shallow in places, outside the atoll the depth drops to around 2,000 feet. Patch reefs which dot the area within the atoll are home to colorful fish, silvery barracudas, the lovely French Angelfish, a gold tailed moray, spiny lobster, and huge tarpon (in the deeper areas). Spotted eagle rays hung out near the dock as did a couple of small nurse sharks. Invasive Lionfish have migrated to the atoll, and our snorkeling guides made it a point to spear them whenever they were found outside of the reserve.

The Kitchen

Magnificent Frigate Birds soared overhead while we kayaked and snorkeled each day. One afternoon when it was especially windy, we were taken by speedboat to visit Glover's Reef Research Station sponsored by Wildlife Conservation Society (est. 1895 as the New York Zoological Society). Coral protection research is conducted here. Live coral cover has decreased from 80% in 1970 to just 8% in 2008. The reef not only provides food and shelter to marine life, but it also absorbs the impact of rough storms on the coast. We snorkeled in the marine reserve where the fish seemed quite secure in their safe space. 

The station is on Middle Caye which is just a few minutes north by boat. Earlier in the day, the boat moved our kayaks and paddle boards to the research station because we were going to use them to get back to our part of the atoll.

Our lodging is on the distant tree covered island on the horizon
Sailing by Kayak
Those of us in double kayaks, sailed with the wind at our backs to a shallow area to have cocktails and snacks before arriving back at our island as darkness fell.

One day our mission was to find conch for our happy-hour conch fritters. The boat delivered us to a very shallow, clear part of the atoll to hunt for conch. I found a conch shell which after several dives to snag it I hauled back to the boat only to find that it housed a very large hermit crab and not a conch. I don't think anyone found conch except for Budge (the paddle board guide). Budge easily and quickly gathered 8 or 9 of them. 

Boat Yoga led by Shawna in the shallow water
Each morning around 6:30am, I joined Shawna for morning yoga on the beach. It was a great way to begin the day and a wonderful amenity.

Budge cleaning Conch-no pearls found
Full Moon over Dan
On March 8 after a morning snorkel, we piled into the boat and returned to Dangriga where a driver from Blancaneaux Lodge was waiting to take us to a much more amenity rich environment with ensuite bathrooms, hot showers, towels, toiletries. 

Something I've noticed in spending time at beach areas that wasn't apparent 35+ years ago when I first began diving and snorkeling is the pervasiveness of plastic trash--whole or in shards. It is everywhere coming from near and far to wash up on beaches. Sadly, Glover's Reef Atoll, especially the outer side of the reef was no exception. While some is from Belize, most comes from a village-sized floating plastic island in the Gulf of Mexico. Plastic, all plastics, are the scourge of coastal communities. The photos are from the research station at Middle Caye. Each year the British Military sends a group of soldiers to the research station to pick up the plastic garbage that litters the land mass.

Several years ago Viewpoint Photographic Gallery in Sacramento had a show of photographs of the stomach contents of dead birds. Most of the contents inside these birds were plastic objects. Plastic never goes away. It is the detritus of our time.