Map showing Belize, San Pedro (where we live), and Lamanai in Orange Walk district
I won a trip to Lamanai for two from Suya Tours
in the Saga Humane Society's silent auction back in the fall, but we wanted to wait until January to go, since the odds of getting rained on and eaten alive by mosquitoes would be less. We finally had the opportunity to go on Monday, and it was an amazing trip. A very long day and occasionally uncomfortable, but definitely unforgettable.
Since Suya Tours is located south of town as well as all the tourists joining this tour with us, they couldn't come all the way to Grand Caribe's dock to pick us up, but they did agree to pick us up at the SunBreeze Hotel dock in San Pedro at 7 am. That's my usual waking up time, so this would be an early morning!
In order to get there on time, we had to catch the first southbound Coastal Xpress water taxi of the day at 6:25 am, then hike a short ways down the beach to the Sunbreeze dock. I set the alarm for 5:25, but we both woke up quite a bit before that. We had gotten our packs ready the night before so didn't have to do too much in the morning other than dress and take Paisley out. We also ate our usual cereal with fruit and nuts, since I'd overlooked the fact that we'd be served breakfast on the tour. Still, I am glad I ate because boat rides on an empty stomach aren't always too wise, and we weren't served breakfast until we'd been on the boat over the open waters for quite some time.
The sun was just rising as we caught the water taxi; unfortunately, the cloud cover made for a less than stellar sunrise. There was a nice pink glow on the horizon, though, and the clouds soon burned off.
Waiting for the water taxi
We made it down to the Sunbreeze dock by 6:45, just as our captain for the day, Allan from Suya Tours, was pulling alongside. Great timing. After we boarded, Allan guided the boat down a bit south to the Caribe Island dock to pick up a couple vacationing from Los Angeles. We also happened to notice one of our very favorite bloggers, Rebecca, taking photos for her "San Pedro Scoop
" in front of Caribe Island and called to her. She walked out onto the dock to say hello. It's always a pleasure seeing her when we are out and about.
Allan in rear, Rebecca pretty in pink
Our next stop was at a dock at a private residence even farther south, where a family of six vacationing from Tennessee climbed aboard. We were lucky to have such a nice group of people to join the tour with; everyone was friendly.
The boat ride continued southwest across the open water at a high speed. It was somewhat choppy, making for a bit of a rough ride. I was glad for the food in my belly as I might have gotten a bit green otherwise.
Leaving Ambergris Caye in the distance
Emily and Barry
After an 18-mile ride at high speed, we arrived at the mainland and entered the North River. Here is where the trip started getting more interesting, and my stomach started settling since we were no longer pounding in choppy waters but gliding on flat water. Allan occasionally slowed the boat to point out things to us; he had great local knowledge and was an excellent boat captain and guide.
North River ahead!
Ah, the flat water of the North River...my tummy is feeling better already
Emily enjoying the boat ride
Allan told us that snake cacti are very common on trees here
At some point Allan slowed the boat and set out our breakfast on the bow. All the food we were served on the tour was made by a local Belizean lady, and it was authentic and delicious. Even though we'd already had our cereal earlier, we had no trouble putting down one of these delicious warm chicken and refried bean burritos with some Marie Sharp's hot sauce, a traditional Belzean breakfast. The tortillas were homemade, thick and yummy. We skipped the fresh pineapple slices as we'd already had quite a bit of fruit that morning, but it smelled great.
Our first stop after traveling the North River for roughly five miles was Bomba Village. This tiny village of only about 60 local people has no electricity or other modern amenities. Villagers make a living by selling wooden carvings, bowls, and other locally made art.
Approaching Bomba Village
We saw lily pads all over the rivers, much to my surprise. These were by the Bomba Village dock.
We had a few minutes to shop and use the rest rooms, so I made a beeline to the facilities first. They were quite unique, and I was just glad to find a flush toilet (only one of the two "girls" toilets actually did work, however). The men had open-air urinals that didn't provide a lot of privacy but made for a good photo op.
Yes, the guys on the left are using the open-air urinals
Yes, we did take a photo -- you wanted to see, didn't you?
I have been seeking out colorful decorations for our condo since there are already a lot of wood and brown tones in its "bones" (cabinets, doorways, tile, furniture, and countertop), so I decided to forgo the wood pieces and purchase a painted sun in cheerful tones from one of the small stands in the village. The shop proprietor would hold it for me until our return trip, when I could pay and pick it up.
Typical Bomba Village "shop"
We then piled into a brightly painted bus, similar to the school buses I rode in my youth in North Carolina, but a bit smaller, and with higher-backed seats, making it difficult for a height-challenged person like myself to see out the front. Because of this, and the bumpiness of the ride down the old Northern Highway (which was unpaved off and on and pothole-ridden) towards Orange Walk, I felt a little car sick during this phase of the trip. It was an interesting ride, though, with small villages, sugar cane fields, and cattle grazing pastures alongside the roadway. And there certainly wasn't much traffic! Interestingly too, when we did hit the rare straight, paved stretch, it felt as if we were going SO FAST. It hit me that this was because I haven't been in a vehicle faster than a golf cart on a road in months. Barry caught a glimpse of the speedometer and informed me the bus was traveling no faster than 40 mph!
Our driver -- I missed his name, but he never said a word.
View out broken side of bus windshield, if you stood up to see over the seatbacks
Like a schoolgirl again
We got onto the old Northern Highway here -- the good section. It got a lot worse.
Sugar cane field
After what seemed like all day, but was really only a little over an hour of bumping down the partially paved old Northern highway, we turned onto the current Northern Highway, a fine, paved road. We were only on it for a minute or less, though, when we arrived at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge boat launch, a well-groomed park with much nicer rest rooms than Bomba Village. I was happy to notice that once we were through with the bumpy bus ride, my stomach settled again.
Lamanai Outpost and Northern Highway
Lamanai Outpost - another rest stop
25 miles to go!
From here, our group hopped on another boat to take us the rest of the way to the Lamanai park itself, about 25 miles away. Our captain and guide for this stage of the tour was Isidro. He was incredibly informative, with amazing knowledge of flora, birds, wildlife, and Lamanai itself. He also had a great sense of humor and a winning smile.
We started out heading slowly up the river towards Lamanai. This was a beautiful part of the tour with many interesting sights along the way. We got to see some great wildlife. I'm saving the bird photos from this entire trip for a separate blog entry, as this is going to be long enough as it is, but we did get to see some wonderful birds on this trip, including several for our life lists.
Isidro at the helm and helper to left
Large male iguana in the tree
Isidro pointed out Cuello's Distillery
, where our Carribean White and Gold (and other) rums are made. He also noted, with a sly smile, that there was a rehab center just next door!
Rehab center to the right -- very pretty place
We also got to see both a baby and a full-grown American Crocodile. These are creatures I want to stay plenty far away from.
Big croc with open jaw
One of the many highlights of the day was seeing spider monkeys, one of the only two species of monkeys in Belize (the other being the Howler monkey), up close. We pulled alongside to see these two playful creatures, and before I knew it, they had climbed onto our boat, completely fearlessly! This must be a regular part of the tour as they were super tame. I'll confess, I like my wildlife best at a little bit of a distance, so I stayed as far away from them as I could get on a small boat, but they were super cute to watch. They enjoyed a taste of papaya Isidro served them, then swung back into the branches and on their merry monkey way.
This monkey did a little prancey dance for us before coming onboard
Monkey had rhythm, yo!
Monkey on boat eating papaya like a little gentleman. Note tale wrapped around bimini line for safety.
Is this my seat?
Finishing his papaya as he says so long
Alas, we had to leave those funny fellows behind and move on....
Isirdro called this part of the river "Snake River", but we didn't see any snakes, fortunately.
Just a lot more snake cacti.
Termite nest in tree -- the termites eat the dead wood, so are actually a positive thing here in Belize!
Another sight along the way was a working Mennonite farm, with a horse and buggy in the distance, just like in Amish Country in Ohio.
Mennonite horse and buggy
Finally, our anxious crew arrived at our ultimate destination, Lamanai, excited about what was to come.
To be continued in Part 2...