Sunday, May 12, 2013

Un-Belize-able Time, Part 2

Thursday

We left Cucumber Beach Marina and headed along the Western Highway and the Hummingbird Highway to Hopkins. The Hummingbird Highway is really a very pretty drive through mountains and tropical forests.

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After leaving the relative quietness of the highways, we drove 7 miles along a dirt road to Hopkins. With nothing other than North Side or South Side to direct our search for a place to sleep, we picked the road closest to the beach and went south. We went to the one that supposedly had air conditioning, All Seasons Beach House. They only had 2 rooms left, at expensive prices (relatively speaking) and the one we chose only had fans, no A/C. Jonathan was already tired of looking, though so we went with it.

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We wanted to go snorkeling, so we walked down the road to the person the owners had recommended. We talked and they said $50USpp. I didn’t know if that was what I wanted to commit to yet, so we walked away from the deal to get some lunch. After a bit of rest and research ($50USpp is the going rate), we walked back over and said we wanted to go the next morning. She said it would be $50USpp, and then said it would be $300BZ total. That meant $75USpp. It was too much for us, so we said no and left. We decided the day would be best spent relaxing.

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Friday

After a night of fitful sleep between the hard beds, barking dogs, and critters running around in the attic (rats maybe?), I got up early. It was daylight (at 5am) and with the creatures scurrying around upstairs, I wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep. With me up, Jonathan followed an hour later. We were up way earlier than expected, but with nothing to do there, we took off for our next activity: cave-tubing in Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch.

We arrived an hour early at Cavetubing.bz, but they took it in stride and called up our guide, Alfredo. They were very gracious and professional. Soon, we were driving to the site, where we walked our tubes up the river. Along the way, our guide took the time to tell us about unique Belizean plants and animals. He even ate some termites for us. Apparently they taste like peppermint (everything else tastes like chicken). It made the scenic route even more interesting.

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When we arrived at the river, we decided to try some cliff jumping.

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The tubing was calm and scenic. It takes about twice as long to get back via tube than it does to walk there.

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Here is what you need to know if you are considering cave-tubing (the rest of you can skip ahead):
  • the going rate from online vendors seems to be $50USpp, whether you are picked up or meet them at the location.
  • they make it sound like you get a special jungle hike in addition to the cave-tubing; this hike is required to get you to the point where you start tubing. Now, if they provide informational stuff along the way, that is an added bonus.
  • you can drive to the park yourself, but you must have a guide to cave-tube. You can pick these up as you leave the Western Highway at Mile Marker 37. These guys are supposedly cheaper, but they aren’t as professional-looking and have a more pushy attitude (must get a driver’s attention somehow), but they are licensed. I do not know if they provide any extra perks like telling about the local fauna and flora along the hikes. You can also stop at the offices of advertised services along the way and pick up a guide there. It will probably take a bit of time to call a guide in, though.
  • as we left the last cave, we saw a tour group in front of us actually stop there and pick up their tubes to walk the last bit back. Our guide with cavetubing.bz actually let us continue tubing to the point we crossed the river initially to start the jungle hike, adds another 10 minutes or so of tubing.

Saturday

The day began with me waking early and having to make a decision: should I try to blog some more to catch up, or should I start making pancakes as that can take a while? See, I had run out of fruit to eat for breakfast the day before. So in honor of it being a Saturday (old ritual from back when it mattered), I decided to make pancakes instead of just eating some PB&J for breakfast. Deciding Jonathan would be annoyed if I took too long to get ready, I decided to start breakfast. Unfortunately for him, it just woke him up as I searched everywhere for my missing vanilla, so he wasn’t exactly excited about that either. The pancakes turned out alright, well at least for me. I have a hard time regulating the temperature of the frying pan for pancakes, so the second batch burned and Jonathan didn’t get any.

Saturday was the day we planned to cross the border, and on the way, we stopped at Xunantunich, a small Mayan site. While it is one of the most easily accessed sites, you have to get there in a very unique way: crossing the river in a hand-cranked ferry.

DSC03622 Apparently there is not enough traffic to warrant a bridge yet.

 DSC03643 View from the ferry.

Then at the top of a very steep hill (I believe we had to drop Chuck down to 1st gear to get up), the small site awaited us. Climbing the top of its tallest pyramid provides you one of a more the most scenic views I have seen from a pyramid (the ones in the Yucatán only provide a view of plain of unvaried tree tops—a bit boring). 

 DSC03633 From the top, you can see Belizean mountains and the nearby town of San José Succotz. Supposedly you can see Tikal from here on a clear day, but it was too humid to see very far.

Our explorations in Belize complete, we drove to the border. Borders in some of these places are interesting. Belize being no exception. In Belize, you have to pay a departure tax. So to get your exit stamp, you have to park your car and go inside.

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Love the sign! Who uses alight? In fact, I thought it meant “to get on” not “to get down” but I was wrong. a·light /əˈlīt/ Verb (of a bird) Descend from the air and settle: "a blue swallow alighted on a branch".

First, we had to pay, then we went to another booth, where they stamped our passports. Then we had to go to the other side of the building (where those entering Belize go) to get our temporary vehicle import permit canceled. After haggling with some money changers, we got back to the vehicle and drove across the border after presenting our passports again.

To be continued in: Another Country.

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