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.
Selso and I heading into the start of the mountain hiking trail as the light rain began
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.
Our lookout post over the rainforest
Me with Selso in the background
In search of the elusive Scarlet Macaws...
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.
Keel-Billed Toucan, the national bird of Belize
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!
Still smiling despite the disappointment of no Scarlet Macaw sightings
Gorgeous rainforest, muddy trail
Out of the forest and towards the meadow
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.
Our rental car in the meadow - nice color coordination, eh?
River below meadow
Trying to wash some of the red clay off my shoes -- shades of North Carolina!
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.
The "good part" of the road back to Red Bank Village
And the "bad part" -- messy!
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.
The Sho household
Typical Maya hut in Red Bank Village
Contact numbers for campground: 668-1724 or 662-8340
Red Bank Village huts
There is also a bed and breakfast in a large palapa
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.
Traffic was practically non-existent on this drive...so nice!
Road back down the peninsula to Placencia
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.
Placencia Village mural, and I'm happy to be warm and dry
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.
Cute cabanas on the beach
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.
Flower at Casa Placencia
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!
Nice view of anchorage
Asian Fry Jack stuffed with shrimp and veggies, with pineapple slaw
Barry's curry and fruit smoothie
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