Adventures in Belize: Day 3

We awoke early to the sound of birds chirping loudly and the howlers off in the distance. Today we were going to Che Chem Ha, the Cave of the poison wood. Lucy’s cousin William had discovered the cave when he was just 18 when he was hiking for palm leaves with his dog. He wanted to get high atop a hill, where people rarely went, so he climbed up the valley and his dog ended up chasing a critter into a hole. This had behind it the cave!

Excited for our Mayan jungle cave experience, we headed into the jungle, leaving Williams house and small restaurant behind us. It was blazing hot, despite it being only 9:30 am, and we were drenched in sweat before we even descended into the jungle. The hike plummeted into a valley, then rose switchback style up the mountain. Thirty five blistering minutes later, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. Before entering, William retold the tale of discovery and had us on the edge of our seats. We were prepped and ready, so William unlocked the gate that kept wild animals out, and plunged into the cave.

Pre classic pottery was found, dating back almost 3,000 years, and the cave had plenty of it scattered without. William explained that the cave was used for ceremonial gatherings, to offer up things to the gods and ancestors ho had left the world for the under world.

As we traveled deeper and deeper into the mouth of the cave, light became scarce and we were glad to have brought our headlamps. William let us know when the archeologists came to inspect his discoveries, he helped them and learned much about what they used the caves for. Remnants of grain were found around the mouths of pots and carbon was discovered within the holes of the cave walls, allowing torches to be placed upright, shedding light in the cave. We crept deeper and deeper into the cave.

It was cool in Che Chem Ha, and there was an earthy dampness smell. Around each bend there were nooks and crannies, more broken pots, and a sticky clay floor that clutched onto your shoes. It was wide enough in the cave so we all stood upright and with much room around us. At some points in the cave, the ceiling stretched 30 feet above us and looking up, our headlamps cast shadows on the opposing walls.

After about 25 minutes, we reached the end of the cave and climbed down into a huge cavernous room. There was a ceremonial rock in the center, where rituals and offerings had been found. A small hole in one of the sides of the cave led to another room and Mike felt compelled (and brave enough!) to go through it. His 6ft 4′ frame barely made it, but he slid through then climbed up into the upper levels and back down to meet us. There was no way in HELL I was squeezing through, so we got ready to ascend into the light. William asked that we shut our lights off, just for a moment to truly feel the darkness. It was as if our eyes were closed and black filled everything. It was time to head into the fresh air!

When we hiked up to Williams, his dogs close at our heels, we all raved about the experience we had just had. Our guide books had explained the awesomeness but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. We paid and thanked him for the wonderful tour. Having sweated profusely (I mean, we were drenched) we opted for a shower break, since the cave was only a few miles from the house. Although I say that, so you’d ink it took us a few minutes to travel….well, the bumpy road was unpaved and extremely undulating, so a few short miles took 20 minutes!

Showers refreshed us, so we headed out to the Belize botanical gardens which were relatively close by and said to have a nice cafe. The guidebook told us to go to Duplooys jungle lodge and we’d find ourselves at the Botanical gardens. Down another extremely bumpy road and we were there!

The cafe was just beyond the main office for the jungle lodge, so we meandered back and ordered a delicious lunch amidst a tropical paradise. There was a back patio that had a long walkway that overlooked the jungle where we were able to see a number of birds flying about. The collared Aracari and the plain chachalaca were among the bunch and their coloring was gorgeous! The shade felt nice and while we ate we were thankful for the fans that blew overhead. We finished lunch and moseyed through the gardens; Mike was fascinated by all of the citrus, avocado and fruit trees. He plucked two lemons, the biggest I had ever seen by far, smelling the goodness of the sun kissed fruit, then putting them in our backpack.

With over 45 acres of plants, there was quite a lot to see and in the heat, we knew we wouldn’t last long, so we chose the medicine trail to follow, which led us to a replica of a Mayan dwelling, where there was a palm bed, what looked like a clay stove and handmade tools. The Mayans were a crafty people and they knew how to make use of nature. Pretty cool!

 

We wrapped up the botanical garden and headed back to Casa Santa Maria. Mike and I ventured out onto the river on the canoe that came with the house, hoping to catch sight of a crocodile. At dusk, the river was calm, quiet, full of bird songs and soft breezes. We paddled quietly hoping to catch glimpse of wild life enjoying the same breezes. Although no crocs were spotted, it was a lovely trip down the Macal with the sun setting and the jungle surrounding us.

Back up the switchbacks, we came to the house, where dinner of fish wrapped in grape leaves, coconut rice, and a zucchini medley awaited us. Scrumptious beyond words!!!

Tips, Reality Checks & the Nickels & Dimes of our Vieques Vacation

Traveling is one of the few things I spend my money on. And when I say spend money, I mean on non-necessity items, the bare necessities, the icing to my life’s cake. I’m not a shopper, don’t have a shoe fettish, rarely get pedicures, never spa and am not a salon girl. I splurge on travel, good food and flights to new places.

Prefacing this blog entry with that bit, one could conclude I’m frugal. One would be perfectly correct in that assumption. I’ve found great resources to afford me the luxury of jet setting on a budget (not shopping would be a huge factor). Mike and I just got back from a 9 day vacation to Vieques (my daily activities are captured in previous posts) but I wanted to break down the tips we figured out once there, the reality check I got with a few things and how we did it (at least certain things) on the cheap.

Tips

Airbnb.com – no matter where you are going, check out this site. We found an amazingly simple apartment, with all the necessities, in a great location, for $75 a night. Yup, no W retreat for us ($300+ per night).

Rent a car – we initially thought bikes would suffice, it being a small island. Well, the first full day there, we saw most of what there was to see in Isabel iI. We found Coqui car rental (awesome!!!!) right near the ferry and couldn’t have been happier with our decision. There are beaches that would have taken hours to bike to. For $75 per day, it was worth every penny – We saw everything!

Bring your own snorkel gear – this is a personal thing, but if you like to snorkel, think you’ll do it more than once or twice in your life, it’s worth it! To rent can be $15-25 per day. We snorkeled the heck out of every beach and were glad to have our own gear.

Reality Check

It is hot!!! Sounds obvious, but I thought it might get chilly at night. It didn’t and I wish I had packed a few more sun dresses!

Learn a few phrases in Spanish – everyone spoke English, which is lovely, but a few of the local places have Spanish speaking employees and you can tell they appreciate you attempting. Plus, I got two breakfasts with meat, two days in a row, despite having asked for sans meat. If I had said it in Spanish….

5 days probably would have been enough. Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time, but with staying in the same area for the entire time, well we saw it all (we are also go,go,go,go kind of people, so could just be us!)

Charter a sailboat. This was by far the coolest thing we did. Maybe it was the captain of the boat that took us out that solidified it, but the day we sailed on our private charter by far outweighed any other activity. For $300, which included a ton of drinks, 4 hours on the water, and a delicious lunch, amazing experience.

Buy breakfast things to make/eat on the go – we did not do this at all, despite having a kitchen. It’s fun to go out for breakfast, but I’m much more inclined to grab something and have a leisurely lunch. In hindsight, we should have done a few breakfasts in the apartment to save some $$$

Nickels and Dimes

Here’s a breakdown of what we spent

Denver flights: $743 for 2 adults
Cape Air flight: $448.20 for 2 adults
Car rental for 6 days: $481.50

Vieques charter: $300
Bioluminescent tour with black beards sports: $130 for 2 adults

Breakfast:
At the corner panaderia (3 mornings): $15
At Buen Provencho (3 morning): $24-$36
At Roy’s: $21

Lunch:
Most between $42-$65 depending on cocktails

Dinner:
Coqui Fire cafe: $100 one night (several margaritas were had) $75 another
Bieke’s Bistro: $100
Duffy’s: $60 (just nachos & cocktails)
Noche: $200
Local restaurant (forget the name!): $45

All in all, we did good! Where we saved on lodging, we spent on food & cocktails, boats & bio tours. It was a beautiful trip, filled with sun, surf and sand. Any questions about what we did, drop me a line!!!

Happy traveling!