Thursday, February 22
Belize Day 17/18
At breakfast, being served by the wisecracking Brit who ran the Midas Resort, I started talking to a group of 6 Americans who had a humungous SUV parked nearby. As I talked to them and looked at them there was something familiar about the whole scene. For some strange reason I couldn't put my finger on it. That's when it dawned on me and I asked them if they had been at Lubantuun. Then they asked me if I was one of the hitchhikers they had picked up. It turned out to be the same group that had graciously given Stu and me the ride into and out of Lubantuun more than a week earlier.
This morning I was determined to find a new top to replace the one I had left behind in Hopkins. I was tired of trying to function with one cycling jersey and one REI tropical travel top. Off I went into the wilds of downtown San Ignacio. I cautiously looked around to see if one of the two rastas who approached me last night were around. They had greeted me with "Hey baby! is it me you're looking for?". I did all I could not to guffaw in their faces. What would I do with some freeloading hippy rasta, even if I were interested in men ..sheesh!
When one wants groceries one goes to the "Chinese store". When one wants clothing one goes to the "East Indian" store. I'm not making this up. That's what they actually call the stores. So off I went roaming the East Indian stores. I had searched far and wide in other towns and all I could find were tacky tourist shirts, girlishly embroidered Mayan designs and hoochie dresses. Now don't get me wrong, a hoochie dress wouldn't be against my religion but it simply doesn't look good on someone of my "stature". Within minutes I had hit the jackpot. A surly local shopkeeper found me a short sleeved purple t-shirt. When I asked about sizes an even more serious look came over her face as she took one look at me. Then she uttered "..hmm, extra large". Ya gotta love their expertise in "sizing up" their customers. The shirt fit perfectly. Now you may even see some pictures of me in something else besides that blue REI travel top.
Giddy with my success I moved on to try and rent a canoe for the rest of the day. I finally found the "In town 1 person special" at David's Adventure Tours. It was a one person special because only 1 seat wasn't broken. But it floated and had a nice aluminum paddle, so I took it for US$10 for the day. The rasta owner was a bit concerned about some little girly thing like me taking off on her own. I assured him that I had been canoeing since I was 10 and then promptly slid off the bank into the water. I pretended that it was my normal way of entering a canoe and boldly stated "it's only water". To which he retorted "and mud" as my foot made a sucking sound as I pulled it back out from the river muck into the canoe. Off I paddled telling David that I'd be back in 5 days.
Freeloading Parasite Plants.
Of course I was the only one paddling upstream. Along the way many a gringo, fully equipped with guide, slid by effortlessly as they floated downstream. These pampered tourists get dropped off upstream so they can float back into San Ignacio ...slackers!!
Up came the rapids. I was able to paddle up a few of them by strategically using the backflow in the river's eddies and then sneaking up from the side while the old Macal wasn't paying attention. I also used a lot of overhanging branches to pull myself upstream until the water deepened and the current slackened a bit. Before long, the canoe was full of branches and leaves from my efforts. At most of the rapids I had to step out of the canoe, into the water, to pull the canoe past the shallow rapids. It was pretty amazing along the way. Shortly after leaving San Ignacio the noise of the town and highway faded off into the distance and all one could hear were nature's own sounds. If I knew my birds I'd tell you what I saw. Suffice it to say there were plenty of them, including some vultures licking their beaks at the sight of this juicy turista morsel making her way up the river. They'd be able to feast on me for weeks on end.
2 3/4 hours and 11km later I saw some concrete steps rising from the river and decided that I just had to stop since it was getting late. I hoped they had water and resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to reach my goal of the Chah Creek Lodge. When I got to the top of the stairs signs greeted me telling me that I was indeed at the Chah Creek Lodge. I had made it!! I paid triple the regular price for a bottle of water and talked to a dutch student who comes to the lodge with the workers to study in peace. Chah Creek Lodge seems like a fantastic, peaceful little place for those with money. I rested for 45 minutes and started the voyage back home.
Holy Bat cave!
Going back downstream was a breeze. So I decided to drift a lot and just observe nature along the way. As it was now later in the day, there was more bird life around as well. I drifted underneath a limestone overhang and was greeted by a bunch of startled insect bats flitting above my head. They were clinging on to the limestone in the shade. I promptly paddled back and just sat in the backflow of the eddy while snapping photos of the little critters.
Insect Bat Along Macal River.
From that point on I decided to become a native Indian stealth paddler and went down the river without making a sound. I suddenly found myself getting within several feet of little blue herons and lots of other birds. The sun was now close to setting and a beautiful peacefulness was setting in along the shady river banks, with jungle vines hanging right into the water. A few locals were also silently sitting along the river banks as I neared San Ignacio. They were so motionless that I myself became startled when I finally spotted them. I hadn't seen any iguanas on the way up. But on the way back I suddenly saw one of the punky, spiky little dudes sitting on a branch beside the river.
Floating Downstream, Macal River.
Another Spiky, Punky Iguana.
Hawksworth Bridge, San Ignacio.
I alit beside the river bank back in San Ignacio and disembarked at the same spot where I earlier slipped on the tropical mud. I tied up the canoe, tossed all my stuff up the bank, and held on firmly to my camera case for safety. Then I promptly slid on the steep, muddy bank and went into the drink up to my hips, dragging the camera bag into the water with me. Unfazed, I grabbed the grasses growing along the bank and hoisted myself out of the water after several handfuls of ripped grass got turfed into the river. The camera was fine and the camp towel at the front of the bag had absorbed most of the water. That was pretty awesome since I could use the waterlogged towel to rinse off my muddy legs before I handed the paddle back to rastaman. Off I walked, up the bank, looking like I had just peed in my pants. I held my head high, handed rastaman the paddle and a soaking wet $20 Belize bill and pretended that this was all part of how I normally canoe.
Rastaman confessed that he had been concerned about me and he seemed happy to see me alive, hugging my hand against his face. I guess he had failed to ask for payment in advance :-) Off I trudged to the campsite, still looking like I had wet myself. I zipped on the long legs of my super high tech travel pants, the ones that were still soaking wet on top, and boldly walked into town for dinner ...looking even more like I had wet myself now that the bottom part of the pants were back on.
Praying Mantis? on Tent.
Late at night bright car lights illuminated my tent and I thought nothing of it. I must have fallen asleep since loud voices woke me up. Some local people were having a loud conversation about the police, or something like that. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 3:30am. Belize, schmelize! I don't care if they have different customs here. 3:30am is simply no time for shouted conversations in a resort hotel designed for tourists. Out popped my head from the tent and I shouted "Hey folks! There's people trying to sleep here!" That immediately shut them up. Makes me wonder what that police conversation was all about. As I yanked my head back into the tent I noticed that they had parked their vans about 20 feet from my tent, on a huge lawn with plenty of other space. The next morning, the bastards were up at 6:00am and greeted me cheerfully as I grumped out of my tent. I returned their greeting with a scowl that said it all. I was informed that they would be staying another night so I packed up and found a room in town.
I was hoping to be able to get down to Caracol, a Maya site which is apparently larger than Tikal but which has yet to be even properly mapped. They're litterally just scratching the surface there and it supposedly covers 117 square km in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately the military no longer allows individual travellers into the area. There have apparently been some incidents with Guatemalan bandidos in the past. They come over along trails from the Guatemalan border only 8km away. The most recent holdup was actually an inside job where bandidos were alerted of an incoming tour from one of the tour operators. They intercepted the tour vehicle and robbed the passengers. They caught the culprits and they're now simply exercising extreme caution. One must show up at the checkpoint at 9:30am and then all vehicles travel together in a military convoy. Then everyone has to leave the site with another military convoy at 2:00pm. Renting a vehicle had some serious drawbacks (lack of insurance coverage) and being on a tour felt too rushed and structured for me. So I'm not going there this time around. Tomorrow I'll try to catch the express bus back to Belize City and a water taxi for Caye Caulker for some loafing, snorkeling, and whatever.
Nothing really happened today except waiting out the rain, shopping for machetes ...unsuccessfully, eating, Internetting and really not doing much at all. Just a great day!