Occasionally we have seen a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron hanging around Grand Caribe at dusk. And sometimes Paisley flushes one out of the grass during her night-time walk that I don't even see until it flaps off, startled. But recently Barry saw one down the beach, hunting in the shallows, in the light of day. He rushed back in for his camera, hustled back down the beach, and the heron was still there. He managed to get some really nice shots, which had proved impossible at dusk. I love this hunting sequence.
Before we head back to Belize, this seemed as good a spot as any to share the photos of birds we saw in various spots in Mexico. Although this was not a trip where we focused on birding, as some of our mainland Belize trips have been, we did bring our binoculars (of course!) and managed to see some beautiful birds. Several species we'd already seen in Belize (or in the US), but we managed to snag a few new ones for our life lists.
The following birds were all seen in the beautiful Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden, which we previously blogged about. This was a real haven for hummingbirds, thrushes, and flycatchers especially.
Stay tuned for our trip back home to Belize!
One of the most interesting things we did in San Cristobal, Mexico was visit the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden. The garden is a preserve for over 600 species of Chiapas orchids, cacti, bromeliads, ferns, and other flora. Most of the specimens were rescued from within the Chiapas state from sites that were disturbed by human activities.
It was a little over a mile from our hotel as the garden is north of the city in a more rural area, but we had a beautiful day for it. We had a bit of difficulty finding the entrance and ended up hiking along a woodland trail in the Moxviquil Reserve (which the garden is part of). We finally realized that we were not in the right place, back-tracked, and went farther up the road where we saw this sign.
Before we knew it, we found the gardens up the road just a bit.
This place was absolutely gorgeous! The owner met us and gave us a quick tour as he had to get back to a ceremony there on the premises. We spent a good long time walking around and looking at orchids and other specimens. And after we'd seen all the plants, we spent a good amount of time bird-watching -- of course we had brought our binoculars!
This sculpture demonstrates the natural erosion process of a cube.
We'll have to do a separate blog post with bird photos, as well as one about the wonderful woodland hike we took in the Moxviquil Reserve behind the Orchid Garden. In the meantime, check out the Orquideas Moxviquil website for much more information on this unique and fascinating site. We would love to go back again and hope to get the chance to.
Birding in southern Belize is great fun and very productive, with many exotic specimens just waiting to show you their colors. We spent lots and lots of time looking for and watching birds on this seven-day trip and got quite a few new additions to our life lists, even though we certainly didn't get photos of all of them. We also saw many birds we'd seen before but never mind seeing again, like the exotic Montezuma Oropendola, this time hanging from its very interesting pendulous nest. This was right outside Hickatee Cottages, and very easy to spot, thanks to its distinctive call, appearance, and size. This is a BIG bird!
While we were at Hickatee Cottages, Ian, the proprietor, presented us with a very thorough list of the birds of the Toledo district, keyed by whether each bird was a full-time resident, whether it had been previously sighted at Hickatee, and the likelihood of seeing it. This list was very helpful, especially if we were trying to determine a bird identification and were torn between two similar species, some with a very high likelihood of being seen, and some with a very low or nil likelihood.
But let's back up a bit. Here are the birds we identified at Mama Noots or Mayflower Bocawina National Park, on the first half of our trip, in the Stann Creek District of Belize. Starred birds are new for our life lists. Photos we managed to catch are included below. Sure wish we'd gotten more!
Black-Cowled Oriole* ~ Black-Headed Saltator* ~ Stripe-Throated Hermit ~ Chestnut-Colored Woodpecker* ~ Brown-Crested Flycatcher* ~ Purple-Crowned Fairy* ~ Ivory-Billed Woodcreeper* ~ Violacious Trogan ~ Great Kiskadee ~ Social Flycatcher ~ Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird ~ Smoky-Brown Woodpecker* ~ Buff-Throated Saltator* ~ Emerald Toucanet* ~ White-Collared Manakin* ~ Long-Billed Hermit ~ Yellow-Winged Tanager ~ Crimson-Collared Tanager(*Barry) ~ Masked Tityra* ~ Golden-Hooded Tanager(*Barry) ~ Blue-Black Grassquit* ~ Olive-Backed Euphonia*
And here are the birds we identified at Hickatee Cottages or nearby in the Toledo District. Once again, starred birds are new for our life lists, and when we got photos, they are included below.
Golden-Hooded Tanager(*Emily) ~ American Pygmy Kingfisher ~ Barred Antshrike* ~ Bat Falcon* ~ Black-Headed Saltator ~ Brown Jay ~ Montezuma Oropendola ~ Red-Legged Honeycreeper* ~ Grasshopper Sparrow* ~ Red-Lored Parrot ~ Blue-Black Grassquit ~ Eastern Meadowlark* ~ Muscovy Ducks ~ Common Pauraque* ~ Little Hermit* ~ Lesser Greenlet* ~ Long-Billed Hermit ~ Masked Tityra ~ Orchard Oriole ~ Spot-Breasted Wren* ~ Roadside Hawk ~ Bank Swallow* ~ Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher* ~ Plain Chachalaca ~ Olive-Throated Parakeet ~ Northern Waterthrush ~ Black-Headed Trogan ~ White-Necked Jacobin* ~ Thick-Billed Seed Finch* ~ White-Collared Manakin ~ many Seedeaters ~ Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher ~ Yellow-Green Vireo* ~ Yellow-Faced Grassquit*
This photo is blurry, but since it includes both the male and female in the same shot (so rare), I wanted to include it. Interestingly, unlike with most birds, the female is more showy than the black and white male.
I had to include several photos of the beautiful Black-Headed Trogan. They were singing madly on the grounds of Hickatee Cottages, and at one time we saw four in the same tree! I love their Carolina blue eyes and brilliant yellow breast.
There was a Plain Chachalaca nest in a tree right outside our cottage. Ian was sure it was a Brown Jay nest, but we saw her coming and going. Definitely a Chachalaca!
And, just for completeness, this precious little Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher on her nest on the grounds of Hickatee Cottages that I'd already shared in a previous post:
Please stay tuned for the final post from this trip -- bug bites!
There are cute stone paths around the property, perfect for watching birds and butterflies from.
The paths did get a bit wet after a heavy rain one night, but they didn't take that long to drain.
There's a pretty creek with lily pads.
And the road right outside the property is great for birdwatching too since it's the perfect wood's edge environment. We spent many an hour here.
The office/restaurant/lounge is well equipped with a bar, sitting area, and library, in addition to outdoor dining. We loved eating meals out on the porch.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the food here is super tasty and beautiful as well. Kate is a wonderful cook! Continental breakfast (hot breads, butter, jam) and an excellent French press pot of coffee is included in the daily cottage rate, and a HUGE plate of fresh fruit is just an extra $10 BZ ($5 US) and worth every penny. We got two of these every morning. I'm sure we could have split one, but we love fruit! There's also a hot breakfast available for $15 BZ, but we had eaten so many eggs at Mama Noots that we skipped it.
My favorite breakfast was these hot and melt-in-your-mouth English pancakes (similar to French crepes), served with raw sugar and lime. Ian explained that these pancakes were historically made before Lent began to use up all the eggs in the kitchen. Sure enough, a quick glance at Wikipedia under "pancake" says the same.
And here is the other dinner we enjoyed on our last night at Hickatee. (Our first night's dinner is documented in a previous blog post.) It was delicious and healthy to boot. Dessert was more of the yummy local dark chocolate drops and a shot of "Belizean Bailey's" liqueur. We did not leave hungry!
Ian and Kate were great -- helpful, knowledgeable British expats who positively bubble over with enthusiasm for what they do and where they live. They seem to be doing exactly what they were born to do, and we enjoyed all they had to offer and share. From birds, to bats, to butterflies, to howlers, to plants, to spiders, and even to salamanders, there's very little about the natural world that one or both of them don't know. This makes Hickatee such a delight for nature lovers like ourselves, and very hard to leave!
Stay tuned for blog posts on our short trip to Placencia and finally back home to Ambergris Caye.
Here are photos of many of the birds we saw on our recent trip to Hopkins. Most of these birds we saw while hiking in Bocawina Mayflower National Park or Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, but a few we sighted right near the place we stayed, Beaches and Dreams, technically in False Sittee Point, just south of Hopkins Village. We added quite a few new birds to our life lists and only wish we could have identified all the birds we saw and/or heard. Some we only got a fleeting glance of and not even a photo.
We are fairly confident of all the identifications below, but if you disagree, please let us know in the comments section -- we are certainly not infallible!
Note: New birds for our life lists are identified with an asterisk (*).
We saw other species we were unable to identify or get photos of, as they moved away too quickly. We missed getting photos of the White-Breasted Wood Wren* , but we did identify it for our life lists with binoculars and our Birds of Belize book.
The following photos are obviously not birds, but we thought they were particularly interesting:
I thought the photos that Barry took of this interesting fly were particularly attractive -- and I'm certainly no fan of flies!
This was our third full day in Hopkins and supposed to be a rest day after two tough days of hiking in the heat and humidity, but it didn't turn out to be very restful! Still, it was a fun day and gave us a chance to see more of Hopkins, finally.
I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog (because we forgot to take a photo) that Angela made us some absolutely melt-in-your-mouth blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Thursday. We hadn't had pancakes in an awfully long time, so they went down really, really easy. And she served them with real -- yes real -- maple syrup. Don't see that too often in Belize. Yum!
Today we were back to scrambled eggs, English muffins, and fruit, which was excellent as well. We were delighted to see mango and kiwi on the fruit plate for the first time. She also served us yogurt every day. These were really excellent breakfasts, especially for being included in our room rate.
After breakfast we headed down the road south a bit doing some casual bird-watching.
We were joined by a couple of dogs who seemed fierce at first -- a Rottie and a Pittie -- but ended up being friendly and just wanted to walk along with us.
We spotted some excellent birds including this Black-Headed Trogan and a while bunch of chatty Olive-Breasted Parakeets. We'd seen both before, but we never mind seeing them again.
We also met one of the cutest puppies you'd ever hope to see. Just tell me this little guy isn't adorable?
We did relax after our walk -- but only for a few minutes.
We knew we wanted to try the pizza at Driftwood Pizza Shack, after reading how good it was on Sharon Hiebing's blog. Our taxi driver from the previous day, Julian, had given us an idea -- why not take a kayak up? It seemed like a pretty long way, but the Caribbean was nice and calm in the late morning, so we figured we'd give it a try. One of the kayaks available at Beaches & Dreams was a tandem, so we grabbed that bad boy and took off.
When we got north of the village, where we knew the pizza place was, I started looking at any possible places along the shore through my binoculars. Before too long we spotted the sign and surfed in to the sand. The wind was up a bit from when we left, and thus the waves were starting to kick up a bit.
It only took us 55 minutes to paddle up there, so we were a little early for lunch. There were two local ladies working at the shack, and they didn't seem to mind that we arrived before their advertised opening time of noon. They were happy to take our order and serve us a cold drink. We had a great place to sit under a palapa.
Here's the menu (all prices in Belize dollars, divide by 2 for US dollars):
And here's what we ordered (medium size):
Here are some of the interesting sights around us as we waited for our pizza.
It took awhile, but our pizza was worth waiting for. It had a crispy thin crust and was really, really good. Thanks, Sharon, for the recommendation!
As I mentioned, the wind had started kicking up a bit as we finished up our paddle. During the time we were waiting for and then eating our pizza, it kicked up even more. By the time we got ready to leave, it was seriously choppy out there. Even worse, the wind direction was southeast, so we'd be paddling into the wind the entire way back. I was not looking forward to it.
I won't lie, it was a TOUGH paddle back. Very tough. It's not like we've been paddling a lot lately, though we have been lifting some home-made milk jug & sand weights (mostly Barry) and doing yoga (me). Still, nothing makes you a stronger paddler than actually paddling, and we just haven't done that much since arriving in Belize. We actually had to resort to tacking so we wouldn't get buffeted by the swells coming directly abeam (like our sailorly term?!) So we paddled a lot farther on the way back in addition to fighting the wind and waves. My shoulders were screaming, and by the end, even Barry was hurting and getting cranky.
We thought that Beaches & Dreams had the very last dock and palapa in False Sittee Point and had been aiming for that from a long way north. Just when we thought we couldn't possibly paddle another stroke, Barry looked over and realized we were THERE. It was the third palapa up from the end, not the last one! Whew! Never have I been so glad to be "home". We wasted no time in making a hard right turn and surfing FAST (no paddling needed in these waves) to the sandy shore. It had taken about twice as long getting back as it had getting to the pizza place, and I think I'd burned off all the pizza I'd eaten (two slices) by the time we pulled up on the sand.
But we were on a roll now, so why stop and take it easy? Instead, we decided to walk up the beach a bit on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a place for dinner. We had read in a Hopkins tourism brochure that the restaurant at Belizean Dreams resort had quesadillas and burritos, which are two of our favorites, so we decided to check it out. Turns out it was the northernmost resort on False Sittee Point, but still only a short walk for us.
We talked with the bartender out by the pool at Belizean Dreams, who told us that the restaurant didn't open until 6:30. Huh? That's pretty late for a beach-front restaurant. We were going to leave, but he insisted on running into the restaurant to see if they could accommodate us earlier. Since we had an early lunch and so much exercise, we knew we'd be starving well before 6:30. Sure enough, they could take us at 5:30. When he told us what they were serving that night, though, lobster pasta, we again were about to pass. We'd just had seafood pasta the night before, so we were really hoping for a little Tex-Mex. But once again he insisted on running inside to ask the chef if they could accommodate us with some quesadillas. The bartender came back out with the news that they could do that. Very accommodating, that's for sure! So, we decided to come back later for dinner.
But first, it was now or never if we were going to explore Hopkins Village. So, it was time to grab a beach bike and go for a ride. See, I told you this "rest" day wasn't very restful!
We rode from False Sittee Point all the way to the north end of Hopkins Village (as far as the road went). We ran into the couple we'd met at the bus station on Tuesday in the village and stopped to chat with them for a few minutes. The road was bumpy in places, and my upper body was feeling really fatigued after the tough paddle earlier. I was kinda glad when the bike ride came to an end and we could truly just relax. This had certainly been one active vacation.
After the bike ride it was time to clean up and get ready to walk up the beach for our old folks' "early bird special". But first, a little swing in the hammock.
When we got to the restaurant, they weren't actually ready for us at 5:30. They said they just needed to sweep the floor, so we ended up going to the bar for a Happy Hour rum punch. They weren't actually ready for us until nearly 6pm. That was some thorough floor sweeping! But, it was okay because there was live music at the pool and bar area, and the weather was great.
When we were called into the restaurant, they were already serving our chicken quesadillas, and we were the only ones eating dinner. There were plenty of guests at the resort, but they were busy drinking and hanging out in the pool. So we had the restaurant to ourselves. The food was delicious, but the air-conditioning was way too cold, detracting from the meal a bit. Service was excellent -- I guess it would be, since we were the only ones there. Our server even went out to the bar to check on our much-delayed second rum punches. I guess the bartender had gotten busy and forgotten, but she managed to fetch them up for us!
They were offering carrot cake as the nightly dessert, so of course we had to indulge. The cake was warm, moist, and delicious. Notice the amount of icing compared to what you'd get in the US. I missed the icing, but I realize this was much better for me!
While we were finishing up dinner, a local Garifuna drumming and dancing group started playing. These guys were great and very representative of the traditional culture in Hopkins Village, home of the Lebeha Drumming Center, where new generations of village children learn the traditional skills. We really enjoyed listening to them and were glad we decided to dine at Belizean Dreams, definitely the place to be on a Friday night!
After an easy stroll back down the beach and some good conversation in the Beaches & Dreams palapa over the water, we went back to the room to pack up for our early trip home the next morning. We'd have to catch the 7 am bus to Dangriga in Hopkins Village, and since we'd missed Tony and Angela, who were heading out to eat right as we got back from our dinner, we left them a note on their gate about morning arrangements and crossed our fingers that they'd find it when they arrived home....
[To be continued]
Thursday morning dawned warm and sunny yet again. This morning we had arranged with Kaleem to pick us up again to take us to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for some more hiking and birding. We had read that the trails here were easier than we'd encountered in our previous day's hiking an Mayflower Bocawina National Park, so we were looking forward to that. We knew we had another sweaty day ahead, but hoped the hiking and birding would make it all worth while.
When the taxi arrived, it turned out to be another driver, Julian, instead of Kaleem. He told us that the Rav4 was actually his and that the previous day had been his day off, so Kaleem was using his vehicle. He took us on a different route since he needed to fuel up at the Sittee River Marina. So, he drove us from False Sittee Point along the Sittee River, through Sittee Village, and out to the Southern Highway. It was a really scenic drive, but the rocky road (until we reached the paved portion at Sittee Village) was pretty slow-going. Julian said it can be impassable at times during rainy season.
After a seven-mile access road into the park (again, unpaved, bumpy, and slow-going), Julian dropped us at the park at 9:30 am, and we agreed for him to pick us up at 3:30 pm. We wanted to allow an hour longer than the day before since we basically ran out of time then. We hoped it would be enough time.
First we checked out the visitor center. We knew these would be the only jaguars we'd be seeing today as they are seldom seen by humans and are mainly nocturnal.
We started our hike on the easy Green Knowledge Trail. It was quite muddy, not my favorite hiking condition, but it was beautiful, and as usual, we had it all to ourselves, as we did all the trails today. There were frequent creeks alongside the trails as well as creek/stream crossings.
We saw many of these giant grasshoppers hopping and flying around. They grow 'em big in the tropics! Interestingly, the inside of their wings are bright fuschia, so they look really pretty, and almost like birds, when they fly. But it was impossible to get a photo of them in flight.
There were informational signs along the way on this trail. We found this one interesting and joked that we'd have a water source should we get lost in the jungle. Of course, there were all those creeks too.
Here's the "water bottle" vine. We had plenty of water with us so didn't try it this time.
Here's another sign about the roots on the kaway tree -- these were massive and so interesting.
There were lots and lots of leafcutter ants on the trails here. We tried very hard to look out for them (as we were already watching the ground for snakes). I find these little creatures fascinating. They work so hard!
I thought these blueberry-like fruits in the center of the red wildflowers were interesting and beautiful.
In addition to many exotic birds (which we'll save for a special post), there were many different butterflies flitting about. They rarely posed for photos, though!
After completing the Green Knowledge Trail, leading to the Gibnut Loop, which we also hiked, our intention was to hike the 5K Antelope Trail. However, it wasn't obvious that we were supposed to cross a creek to get to the Antelope Trail so ended up on the Tinnamou Trail instead. We didn't know this until we got all the way out to the access road to the sanctuary and saw the sign at the other end. We ended up having to double back to figure out our mistake. However, it was actually worth it as towards the end of the Tinnamou, we encountered large animal tracks in the mud. We found out from a park employee later that these three-toed prints were made by the tapir. Cool!
When we got to the access road and saw this sign, we realized that we were on the wrong trail. Time to backtrack!
After backtracking about half a mile, we crossed the creek we were supposed to cross. This is probably much dryer during dry season, but it was one of the few creek crossings without a bridge, so very easy to miss. We had to take our shoes off and wade. The cool water felt great on such a hot day!
Sadly, even allowing an extra hour, once again we just barely made it back to the visitor's center at the designated time to meet our taxi. There was just so much to see, and we did stop many times to photograph and watch birds as we were hiking.
The very end of the Antelope Trail hooked up with a more open, grassy path back to the visitor's center, where there were a whole different variety of birds than what we'd seen in the jungle -- and so many of them. We wish we'd had more time to spend in this area, but we had to keep moving.
Julian arrived right at the designated time. On the way back down the access road, he stopped the car to let us check out a small plane wreck. I looked from afar since another stream crossing was involved, but Barry just walked on through -- leather hiking boots and all. He was able to get some good close-up shots of the wreck, as well as of the sign explaining it. Fortunately the pilot of the plane sustained only minor injuries.
I've already blogged about the great private dinner that Tony and Angela served us that night (Thursday), but here are a few other photos from the lovely evening once we got back to the inn and cleaned up after some very sweaty hiking.
We had decided the day before that we were going to need another day in Hopkins. We had originally planned to leave Friday morning. But we had only seen the village while riding the bus into town on Tuesday, then briefly when visiting the grocery store on Wednesday, so we wanted to explore more and try a couple of different restaurants. We needed a slower-paced day to rest up after all the hiking as well. We had already confirmed with Angela that we could stay Friday night, so after a couple of phone calls back home to extend Paisley's stay at the Pampered Paws and cancel our housekeepers for Saturday (since we wouldn't get home in time to let them in), we were all set for one more day in this lovely paradise!
[To be continued...]
When we arose to bright sunshine the next morning, we were able to see Beaches and Dreams, where we had arrived in darkness the night before, in a whole new light. It is a perfectly charming place on the beach, set far enough from neighboring homes and resorts to be private, and with tropical foliage all around, including a large mango tree we could see out our bathroom window.
Angela made us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, English muffins, and a huge plate of fruit. The big breakfasts here were a really nice treat and stoked us for long days of hiking and other activities.
Our plan was to go to Mayflower Bocawina National Park today for hiking and birdwatching, so Tony called us a taxi. I have to give credit to Sharon Hiebing's Wealthships blog for alerting me to the existence of this park; I'd never even heard of it until this month, but after reading her description of hiking the super strenuous Antelope Falls, I knew it was a place Barry and I simply couldn't miss, and our entire trip to Hopkins evolved from the desire to visit this park. Yes, you could say we are a bit masochistic to even think about doing such a hike in the summer in the tropics, but hey, that's just how we roll!
Our driver, Kaleem, would drop us at the park in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon for a cost of $70 US. Traveling by taxi in Belize is not inexpensive, but the rates are understandable as gas prices are high, and once you get off the paved highway, side roads are typically unpaved, rocky, steep in places, and slow-going. The roads really do a number on the suspensions of the vehicles -- mostly older vehicles -- in Belize. Kaleem would have to travel from our inn, about two miles south of Hopkins Village (unpaved), then the bad four-mile road to and from Hopkins, then the Southern Highway for four more miles, followed by a 4.5-mile unpaved access road to and from the park. Twice. Definitely not a job I would want.
The views along the access road to the park were gorgeous, as was the day. What rainy season?!
We decided to start out by doing an easier hike to Bocawina Falls to warm up before we attacked the strenuous Antelope Falls trail. Most of this hike was along an unpaved road and was quite sunny, so we were soon dripping wet with sweat. We saw no other people after passing the zip-line area along the way. I'd love to try zip-lining one day, but today was all about hiking and birding.
We saved money by not hiring a guide to take us through the park -- we prefer to hike and bird-watch independently anyway, so we don't feel like we're holding anyone up when we stop numerous times to check out and photograph various birds. Entry fee to the park was only $10 BZD ($5 US) each.
Barry happened to look down and notice this tiny thumb-sized turtle along the path. How cute is he?
Finally we got to the end of the "road" and continued on a more typical trail through the jungle and up to the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous and nice to have some more shade, though the humidity was intense.
The falls themselves were really pretty, and the temperature may have even gone down a degree or two right by them. It was nice having them all to ourselves.
From the falls, the trail continued up, up, up to the upper falls area. We couldn't resist going just a bit higher through the lush jungle.
There wasn't too much of a view from the "upper falls", but there were additional trails that branched off to the Peck Falls and Big Drop Falls. These trails didn't look like they'd seen much use lately, and we knew we'd run out of time to see Antelope Falls if we continued on, so we backtracked down the way we'd come.
When we got back to our starting point, we realized that we probably had not left enough time to complete the Antelope Falls hike. We had asked Kaleem to pick us up at 2 pm, giving us five hours in the park, but time really flies when we're birding as we stop often to peer through our binoculars and take multiple photos, so our bird-watching hikes are not nearly as quick as regular hiking. It was 12:20 already, so we needed to turn around after about 50 minutes of hiking to be able to get back at 2 pm. We took off at a quick clip, unsure if we'd make it to the top of the falls or not. It was only two miles to the top, but we knew that it would be very steep and slow-going.
First we crossed the Mayflower Bridge.
I guess the trail used to be called "Tind's Trail", per this sign.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous. It started out easy to moderate, but didn't waste much time in getting fairly strenuous. Still, we had no idea what was soon to come.
First we got to the stairs. There were ropes along the banks to assist, but we didn't use the ropes on the stairs. We thought we were in good enough shape that we wouldn't need ropes at all. Haha! No, we may not have needed them on the stairs, but once we hit the roots and rocks and even steeper terrain on the upper half of the falls, we definitely needed the ropes. Some of the rocks were slippery, and it was difficult enough even with ropes. We were just hoping they wouldn't break.
Since we haven't been able to do much hill training on the flat island of Ambergris Caye, our hearts were really pounding, and I started feeling a little woozy from all this climbing in the heat and humidity. We've done some really tough things over the years, like century bike rides (100 miles) and hiking rim to the river and back in a day at the Grand Canyon, but this was actually a more strenuous effort, probably in part because we were just not well-trained for it. And they don't seem to understand the concept of switchbacks when building trails in Belize; they pretty much go straight up the mountain. I'm sure it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that we're a few years older now!
Finally, we realized we weren't going to be able to make it all the way to the top. It was a combination of not having enough time and being absolutely wiped out from the heat, humidity, and climbing. We could look up and see the top about 10 minutes away, but we just didn't have the energy to go for it at that moment. What a disappointment! We will definitely have to return and try again, perhaps on a slightly cooler day, and we'll do this trail FIRST next time, while we're still fresh. Sharon's blog says there's a lovely pool to swim in at the top, so I'll pack my swimsuit next time too!
As it turned out, going down was faster than going up, though my progressive glasses were making it a little weird since I kept looking through the reading part at the bottom and slightly misjudging distance, but we made it with no mishaps.
Since the trail down went faster than anticipated, we made it back to the visitor's center before Kaleem arrived to pick us up, so we got to look around a bit. There were some ornamental peppers growing and some unexcavated Maya mounds nearby. There was also a sign to a so-called "Bird Trail" we would have loved to have checked out. Wish we'd had a few more minutes to walk around more, but Kaleem arrived right on time.
After we arrived back at the inn, Barry decided to head out in one of the kayaks (complimentary). I was too worn out from our day, so I just watched and took photos after a quick dip in the ocean to cool off.
After cooling off, we realized we needed to find a grocery store for a few small items, so we grabbed a couple of the complimentary bikes to ride into the village. After my little dip in the ocean, I had more energy than I expected.
We stopped at this little store for a few things, which we had to stuff in our pockets on the way home after the bag broke.
When we got back to the inn, it was finally time to relax. I sat out in the palapa over the water and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset to the west.
The lovely Tapas dinner we enjoyed at the Barracuda Bar and Grill onsite as a fundraiser for the Hopkins Humane Society will have to wait for a later blog post. It deserves a bit of space as Tony's food was lovely, and we took plenty of photos.
Our cell phone alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am so that we could hit the road around 5 o'clock for the drive to Red Bank to see (hopefully) the Scarlet Macaws. We normally shower at night, so all we had to do was dress, hit the "on" switch on the in-room coffeemaker, quickly drink a cuppa with an oatmeal bar, brush teeth, and gather up our gear. We made it out the door at 5:09, a little behind schedule, but it turned out to be fine as we made great time getting to Red Bank, since there was almost no traffic (and more bikes than cars and trucks) on the drive.
As you can see from the map, to drive to Red Bank from Placencia, you have to go all the way north up the peninsula almost to Riversdale, hang a left, then drive west and south, ending up just a bit north of due west from Placencia. It would be quicker to take the Hokey Pokey ferry to Independence, then drive west, but there's no easy way to do that driving yourself.
It was dark for most of the drive and only started getting light at around 6 am. We arrived at Red Bank village by 6:15 and followed Jacki's directions to meet our guide, Selso Sho (son of well-known Geronimo Sho), at his home. We paid him the requested $70 BZD ($35 US) to be our guide. He told us we would need to drive about 15 more minutes, then hike up the mountain to the lookout to see the Scarlet Macaws.
He hopped in the back seat of our rented Dihatsu, and we headed down the road. It started out okay, but as we turned off the main road through the village, Selso suggested we shift into 4WD. I don't know that we would have made it in a 2WD vehicle, as there had been plenty of rain the day before, and the narrow, rough "road" (more like two tire tracks in the mud) was filled with large puddles and a couple of ponds. Selso suggested which side to drive on when we hit the worst areas, and we made it through.
Finally, the road opened up into a lovely, grassy meadow, with a river rushing down below. We could have lingered there awhile, but we had no time to waste as birds are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, so we started hiking up the mountain trail that quickly became steep. Southern Belize has red clay soil just like North Carolina, which is a real mess to walk in when it is wet and muddy. It was still wet from the rains the day before, and now the rain started again.
Light at first, it soon was coming down hard. Barry and Selso had rain jackets, but I only had a water-resistant windbreaker that didn't provide a lot of protection, and my non-waterproof trail running shoes were soon soaked through as well. The narrow trail got slippery, so we were thankful for the walking sticks Selso had found for us so we didn't slip and get covered in mud. He didn't use one himself. It was a lovely mountain trail and hike through the jungle that would have been seriously fun if not for the drenching rain.
We finally arrived at the lookout up high after a relatively short but strenuous hike and waited for the rain to stop. Gradually it eased up, and birds started coming out. We could hear and then see quite a few interesting birds, while waiting for the elusive Scarlet Macaws. Selso said that it would be awhile before they would come out to feed after the rain. He told us that they were very noisy, so we would definitely hear them coming.
While we were waiting, we heard what sounded like a frog, which Selso said was a toucan. We finally spotted the Keel-Billed Toucan across the chasm below us at the top of a tree, eating and looking around. He looked like a banana periscope coming up from the tree, looking every which way. Really cool. We had seen one briefly at Lamanai, but this guy hung around for a LONG time eating and chirping, so we really got a chance to check him out. Unfortunately, he was a lot clearer and brighter yellow in our binoculars than in this photo, but we did the best we could -- he was quite a ways off, so this picture has been seriously cropped.
We also got to see parakeets, like we'd seen before on Ambergris Caye; parrots, and a variety of other small birds. Barry took photos so we could identify as many as possible later.
We waited as patiently as possible for the macaws for almost two hours. As time ticked by, it seemed less and less likely that they would be feeding in this particular area this morning. Selso said that there had been fewer this year than in the past and that the fruits they eat were late to ripen. We thought this a bit unusual since it has been a very warm winter.
Sadly, we finally came to the decision to give up on the macaws. It just didn't look like it was going to happen this time, and we didn't want to keep our guide there all day. No other tour groups or individuals came looking for macaws while we were there that morning -- I guess the rain kept them away.
So, we started hiking back down the trail, which was even slicker after the heavy rain. Our shoes were caked in slippery red mud, and if not for the walking sticks and small trees along the way to grab onto, I am sure I would have fallen on my butt a few times!
We were super disappointed, as you can imagine. Seeing the Scarlet Macaws was the reason Barry had planned this trip, and I felt so bad that it wasn't going to happen this time. But it will give us an excuse to go back!
Fortunately, there was a silver lining. When we got back to the meadow where we had parked, it was absolutely teeming with birds. We hung out there for quite awhile checking out the river and watching birds, and Barry took lots of photos for us to ID later. One was definitely a Cuckoo. Unfortunately, very few of the photos turned out good as the birds were flitting this way and that, but we did have some nice sightings.
On the way out, the road, if it can be called that, was even worse thanks to the heavy rain we'd had on the way up the mountain. We plowed through deep, mucky puddles, and slid around some, but made it out okay, thanks to the 4WD.
We dropped Selso off and gave him a tip for his efforts, since he too got wet and muddy, and had to spend probably longer than usual as we waited in vain for the Scarlet Macaws to show up.
On the way out of Red Bank village, we were not in any hurry, and it was much brighter than on the way in, so we were able to take some photos. This Maya village is absolutely charming. There is also a campground that Selso gave us some brochures on, Hummingbird Paradise. His father Geronimo runs the place, and the prices are incredibly cheap. A one-time fee of $10 BZD ($5 US) gives unlimited use of the hiking trails, and camping is only $5 BZD ($2.50 US) per person per night.
There was nearly no traffic driving back; it sure beat driving in the US! In the middle of nowhere, seemingly, we picked up two young local ladies (early 20s?) hitchhiking. We never do this, but they were nicely dressed, and we felt the risk was small. Turns out they just wanted to go down the road a ways to a construction site at Maya Beach -- we presume they were visiting their boyfriends or husbands there.
When we got back to Casa Placencia, we changed into dry clothes and hung up the wet. By this time, the sun had come out, and it was hot. But things can change on a dime in Belize, because during our walk, the sky turned black again, and the rain started back up. We ducked into the Cozy Corner restaurant just before the heavens opened up. They had to pull down all their rain tarps since the restaurant is open-air. We were very thankful to be under a roof this time! We each got a huge burrito (Barry - chicken, Me - fish) for lunch, but we forgot to take photos until they were too far gone to look anything but messy. They were delicious, though.
By the time we had finished eating, the rain had stopped, so we walked on the beach before heading back to our room. It started raining yet again right before we got back, so we jogged the rest of the way. Since this is supposed to be dry season, we were surprised by all the rain.
We dried off and changed shirts again, then drove the rental car up north a bit to refill the tank with gas. We paid $35 BZD ($17.50 US) for just a little over 3 gallons. We then turned in the rental car. Winston wasn't there, but the younger guy who took it back first said that he would need to run my credit card again. Huh? Fortunately, I didn't even have it with me, and I was able to show him the receipt from when it was run yesterday. Not sure if it was some sort of potential scam or an honest mistake, but I wouldn't have let him do it either way.
Another man there, who worked for the airport, was able to give us a lift back to Casa Placencia. We talked to Jacki a bit, and she said that she'd give us a ride to the Hokey Pokey dock in the morning as we had to be there to catch a 6:45 ferry. We could have walked, but with our packs and the early hour, plus not being completely sure where the dock was, we were grateful for the ride. After our chat, Barry laid down and grabbed a nap while I caught up on the computer. I could hear rain starting and stopping a couple of times while we were in the room.
I finally had to wake Barry up at 5 pm, lest he not be able to sleep at night. We changed again and headed into town for dinner. We'd been wanting to try "The Shak", so this was our last chance. They're known for their fresh fruit smoothies, curries, and Asian specialties. Barry got Indian veggie curry, and I got an Asian veggie/shrimp stuffed fry jack. The place wasn't busy at all (it does more of a lunch business), but the food was delicious and very reasonably priced. The view out to the anchorage was beautiful, and we were protected from the strong north winds so were not too cool. Will wonders never cease; we didn't get rained on before, during, or after this meal!
After dinner we walked back to Casa Placencia, packed everything we wouldn't need in the morning, set the alarm for 5:45 am, read a bit, and turned lights out early (before 9:30 pm!) We are really the party animals, no?
Stay tuned for Day 4...our trip back to San Pedro