Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hello Belize: The Zoo Then The Jungle

The flights were pretty much uneventful. While standing in line at the Belize immigration I noticed there were American flag stickers in each booth that said the immigration equipment had been paid for by the US government.

We already had a car arranged ahead of time so there wasn't any of that unfortunate hiring of sketchy cab driver business to look forward to. Our driver was a rather tall Dutch man named William. William had a very animated, run-on train of thought that reminded me very much of Robin Williams, complete with multiple accents and sound effects. William had a bummer of a story that because he had accepted Belizean citizenship without getting married to a local that the Netherlands revoked his native citizenship. Kinda lame move on their part I would say. He certainly didn't seem too torn up about it though, so that was good.

The airport was nice and laid back. None of that scary zombie movie, faces smashed against the glass business I've witnessed down south in the past.

We hadn't been driving long when he asked if we’d like to stop and pick up some beers for the road. Um, yes, yes we would. I’d read about the local beer company, Belikin, in the guide book so I had to have that one. I thought it was amusing that the two flavors of Belikin, original and stout, both come in the same bottle with only the bottle cap color to differentiate. We are also back to the returnable bottles, so each one weighs about a pound empty. Speaking of bottle caps, William told us to wipe off the mouth of the bottle after removing the cap because sometimes they rust.

Belizean dollars are pegged to 2x the US dollar which makes the math pretty simple. Everyone seems to take US dollars so I haven’t had to mess with ATMs at all.

Stopping at the Belize Zoo was a big reason that we wanted to hire a car in the first place. We flew into Belize City, but the guide books make it sound pretty rough.  A healthy level of crime mixed with not much to see made it a good place to skip. Typical wisecracking William chimed in that Belize City was really just Detroit with palm trees. Belize Zoo was pretty near the city but outside of it, so we didn't get to see any of the city charm. Going to zoos in other countries is awesome because you will definitely see creatures you hadn't seen previously. I would say the majority of the animals that I saw at this zoo I had not known to even exist.

The Belize Zoo has it easy because it is already in the jungle, so they really just put a few fences up around terrain that was already there. It's funny because the place is so wild that you'll often see awesome animals in places where they aren't even supposed to be.

Lydia got too close and got a camera full of comically large beak.

The gibnut, nicknamed the royal rat after it was served to Queen Elizabeth during a visit.

This Ocelot was making a whole lot of noise.

Jaguar. They apparently spend about 2% of their time murdering and the other 98% in a jungle coma.

Each animal had its own cool hand painted sign.

I gave bonus points for rhyming.

Harpy Eagle

Jabiru Stork

After rattling all of those animals cages and poking them with jungle sticks, we were famished. William suggested a local restaurant by the name of Cheers. I couldn't stop laughing.

Every last beer that we ordered in the country came with a napkin wrapped over the top. It's meant to wipe off any possible rust taste.

The food was fine but not a single person new my name. They didn't even seem super glad that I came.

Further down the road we reached a police checkpoint. Driver William asked us for one of our empties as we approached. Will asked them to hold his beer while he looked for his driver’s license. They all had a good chuckle and then we were on our way.

We stopped at a supermarket briefly, then took a quick cruise around Belmopan, the capital of Belize. (William: the Chinese control the supermarkets. They’re just better at it. Tenacious.”) According to my pre-trip reading, the capital used to be coastal Belize City but it was moved inland in the 1970’s after a particularly brutal hurricane. Belmopan looked pretty rough in its own way. Even the parliament building was pretty sad looking. He drove us by the US embassy which was quite imposing by comparison.

The farther we got from coastal Belize city, the more jungle-like the scenery became.

When we finally arrived at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Lodge, it was like entering the Garden of Eden. The thatched roof guest quarters are separated by mazes of all types of plants and flowers. One thing that we were concerned about were the bucket-full-of-holes jungle showers, but apparently the rooms have been updated and there are now indoor showers in each room. Suits me just fine. There are no glass windows, only screens throughout our little cabin, so I can occasionally hear large winged insects trying to get in.

We were ushered to the front desk where we got cool towels, some welcome drinks, and got to sign lengthy liability releases.

Each day our bath towels were arranged in an animal shape with flowers all over the place. There was a lesser version of this towel origami happening at our recent cruise.

We had been warned about the deafening cries of the howler monkey but so far the exotic animal calls are a constant, soft background music that you can just ignore if you want to. We brought earplugs thinking it might be hard to sleep with the monkey symphony outside but we've been fine so far.
The food is really good, but its presentation is a bit summer campy. There are four courses, and each one is preceded by the head camp counselor’s explanation presentation. Seating is assigned, but luckily dinner was next to a nice family. If you stay the entire time then dinner will take 2 hours, but mom of the family Cathy pointed out that since we don’t have TVs or really anywhere else to be that dinner conversation is not a terrible form of night-time entertainment. It's also a good way to get information about the place from the other inmates. Lydia said the whole thing reminded her of what our recent cruise’s forced meals were like, only these were completely way better.

Dinner time is when the tour guides go table to table to drum up interest for their respective adventure itineraries. We figured we would get all of our week’s worth of tours lined up immediately, but the situation here is much more relaxed. We don’t really know where we will be going until the day before. Tomorrow we will be starting off with some cave tubing. Sounds tubular.

I probably went to sleep at like 8pm this night. A long day of awesome experiences will really take it out of you.

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