BelizeCentral AmericaSightseeing

3/10/10 – Ambergris Caye to Cayo District

Since we only had a few hours left on the island, we had grand plans of getting up for some “early beach time”, but the lure of sleeping in won us over. This means we got up at 8:00, had breakfast, and spent the next hour packing.

Our flight was to Belize Municipal Airport rather than the Belize International Airport because the Municipal was cheaper. Though oddly enough we stopped first at the International and then got back into the air for the 4-minute flight to the Municipal. Not quite sure how that logic works, but the pilots told us it had something to do with the fees at the International airport. Fine by us, though.

View from the air

Belize City Municipal Runway (no kidding – that little brown strip is it)

The Western Highway
Because we’d called in advance about our arrival to the Municipal, a guy from Budget picked us up in “Jimmy” our little Suzuki 4WD. We filled out all the required paperwork and drove through Belize City to start our cross-country trek to San Ignacio. Belize isn’t very large: only about 68 miles across. And there are four main “highways”: the Northern, the Western, the Southern, and the Hummingbird. While the roads are fine, these are not “highways” as we know them. They fit a lane in each direction but there are no (or rarely) lines marking the lanes. And – as we later learned – once you get off the highway the roads are almost always dirt and rock.

Mike and the Jimmy
The trip across the country was lovely and interesting; lots of flat vistas and then large farms of trees or mangoes or some other produce we couldn’t name. We stopped at a place called The Art Box mostly because we had to use the bathroom but we also wanted to look at the local art work. We didn’t find anything for ourselves, but we did see an older couple walking away with unicorn painting.

San Ignacio
We stopped in San Ignacio for lunch, which started with us “getting lost” in town. Though the town of SI is really only 4-5 streets, so “getting lost” really entailed us finding our bearings by looking for matching hotels on our Lonely Planet map. (Note to self: don’t always trust a book that hasn’t been updated in a few years). For example we had lunch in the LP-recommended “Hannah’s Restaurant”, which hasn’t been “Hannah’s restaurant” since it changed owners in 2002. Now it’s “Café Han-nah”. Close enough, but someone at Lonely Planet should make an update.

We walked around town for a bit, bought a big jug of water and meandered through the city streets (all 4-5 of them) until we were hot and sweaty enough that we craved the air conditioning inside our little Jimmy.

The San Ignacio Market

San Ignacio Restaurant

Mike, Jimmy, and the police station

Hawksworth Bridge (one lane) that leads out of San Ignacio

We left San Ignacio and began the trip to our next accommodation, the Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge. Directions in the Lonely Planet were this: “For the adventurous travel, travel 3 miles south on Cristol Rey Road turn off and drive 3 miles on unpaved, dirty roads to get to the Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge.” What I thought would be a 10-minute drive turned out to be a long, bumpy, bouncy, excursion of about 30 minutes. (Thank goodness we splurged on a 4×4!) But the lodge was worth the bumpy ride.

Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge
The Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge was recommended both by Lonely Planet and by TripAdvisor as a wonderful, eco-friendly lodge in a beautiful surrounding. They were both right. Our little cabana was so sweet and comfortable, and though it has electricity I was charmed by the kerosene lanterns in each corner.

Mike and our cabana
The lodge is run by a couple named Al and Ron. Ron met us as we drove in and talked us through the layout of the land. They have three miles of trails we could follow to get to various places and to look at the wildlife. So after getting settled in, we took Ron’s recommendation and took a stroll down to the Macal River.

HUGE, 700-year-old Sabre tree

Gorgeous light in the forest

Macal River

Mike and the sign on the Macaw Bank Beach

We had a refreshing swim in the river and swam to the opposite bank to explore some rocks and a little cove. But we were ready for beer and dinner, so we went back to the cabana to shower and to meet Ron and Al, and the two other guests: Dan and Anne from Pennsylvania.

Dinner was a delicious shrimp stir-fry, and we entertained ourselves by reading through “The Birthday Book” and learning new things about each other. We also learned about how Ron and Al – from Baltimore – bought the land in the 1990s and finally decided to build it up and retire to Belize in 2003. They are dedicated to the idea of “reducing their carbon footprint” by reducing the use of electricity, using solar power, and never using a dryer. So this is an eco-lodge in the truest sense of the word. The boy who works there at night – Henry – is from a family down the street and Ron and Al have taken him under their wing, educated, and trained him. We already like this place a lot.

Our walk back to our cabana was up the lane and under a clear, gorgeous star-filled sky.

Kerosene Lantern in our cabana