One 5-hour car ride, two tortes, a relatively painless border crossing, roadside dried plantains, a van switch, and 2-hours of bumpy off-road drive, we reached our first destination in Belize: Blancaneaux Lodge, a 20-room luxury eco-resort near San Ignacio, deep in the Maya Mountains. Francis Ford Coppola bought it while abandoned in the early 80's, fixed it up, turned it into a personal family retreat, and then opened it for public in 1993.
We were greeted by friendly faces and received a complimentary upgrade to the riverfront honeymoon suite! Complete with a heart-shaped lawn. The cabana itself was relatively small, but it felt very cozy. We could pick coconuts from our deck. Exhausted from our early morning drive, we watched a fascinating educational presentation on the elusive jaguar (nerds!), devoured a homegrown meal at their Guatemalan restaurant, and hit the sack.
The next morning, we sipped our coffee and tea from our deck. For breakfast, they served fruit, fresh squeezed juice and a basket of fry jacks. What are fry jack, you ask? They taste like a donut. Deep fried doughy goodness.
We were dying to explore the grounds by horseback before our scheduled tour later that afternoon, but we were short on time. So we set off on foot, discovering acres upon acres of pine jungle, rivers and streams, fruit and nut orchards, organic gardens, and pristine natural beauty. Blancaneax is truly a magical place.
Our local guide, Jorge, met us in the lobby to take us on our tour to Barton Creek Cave. During the 45-minute bumpy jeep ride, rain came down in sheets. This made for an adventurous drive. But thankfully it let up as soon as we arrived. Jorge stopped the car, pulled down an overhanging branch, and picked a few berries for us to taste. The leaves smelled so familiar, yet I couldn't place what it was. As we nibbled into them, the tips of our tongues became numb! They were from an Allspice tree.
Jorge told us that the cave was a spiritual place for the ancient Mayans, used mostly for ceremonies and sacrifices. It was the gateway to the underworld. If a water droplet fell from a stalactite upon your head, it was considered a blessing. At one point, the stalactites hung so low that we had to stop. Jorge said this is where he usually turns around, but since he liked us, he let us bend down to go a little further. And bend down we did. Our heads were between our knees. Not for the claustrophobic!
We slowly made our way back toward the entrance. It started with a tiny speck of light. It grew and grew until I could no longer tell what was moving, us or the light. It was breathtaking. So beautiful, I was moved to tears.
We climbed back into the jeep and bounced our way back to Blancaneaux in the pouring rain. That was by far one of the coolest things we've ever done.
The next day, we had a tour to Caracol, the most extensive Mayan site in Belize. The adventure began with a brief visit to Rio Frio Cave, the largest cave system in Central America with a massive 65-foot entrance.
And then, the main attraction. Geronimo was our knowledgeable guide. He informed us that Caracol took 600 years to build and was only recently discovered in 1936 by lumberjacks. Situated 1600 feet above sea level with no body of water nearby, it remains a mystery how more than 150,000 people were able to survive there.
Finally we get to the top.
And then Geronimo (our guide) picked up a tarantula!
It was a scorcher of a day, so on our way home, we stopped by Rio On Pools, to swim and cool off. On September 20-21, a few days after we left Caracol, they held a huge Equinox celebration with a traditional fire ceremony performed by a native Maya shaman. 100 people gathered there to camp overnight underneath the stars and watch the rising sun over the temples. We were kicking ourselves for leaving too early. How amazing would that have been?
To be continued…