Like a hot knife through butter our boat sliced through the shimmering
Caribbean. Our destination, Caye Caulker, a small tropical paradise nestled in
the coral reefs of Belize.
Upon arrival we were immediately surrounded by a village of pastellic hues.
Every other building was painted a bold shade of yellow, pink and orange. Just
walking through town felt like a trip through a technicolor candyland. The
vibrant green palm trees and crisp azul skies added the final touches to
Caulker's motto is "Go Slow" and the entire population of 800 locals abide by
that philosophy. There are no paved roads, no cars and no stress. Enormous
pelicans gracefully coasting overhead like living, breathing kites add to the
ambience. The only ones in any rush here are the tiny lizards that scurry past
us as we lazily swing in our hammock.
A soothing coastal breeze prevents the island from boiling under the intense
Central American sun. This is definitely the tropics, the sun here means
business...You better "Belize" it!!!
The main reason Marna and I came to Belize was to experience its enormous coral
reef, the second biggest on the planet. We hired a local guide, Carlos, to
take us to some of the reefs highlights. Carlos was an amazing
individual...like a cross between Jacque Cousteau and Crocodile Dundee... We
couldn't have asked for a better individual to show us the hidden secrets of
We gathered our gear and boarded our boat...the appropriately named S.S. Gypsy.
Our first stop was the Hol Chan Marine Reserve...an immense underwater
biosphere. It was like a coral metropolis...thousands of organisms competing
for space in this densely packed interspecies conglomeration. Fiesty moray
eels slither among multicolored sea anemonies, as flourescent purple lobsters
scurry under a glob of brain coral the size of our boat! The food chain was
definitely on display for the patient snorkeller.
We moved further down the reef...coasting through the aqua marine waves...
As the boat anchored, Carlos signalled us to jump in the water quickly...a
turtle!!! The loggerhead coasted along without a care in the world. It
appeared oblivious to Marna and I swimming inches from its upper shell. We had
seen a couple in Maui...but we never imagined we could get this close.
The next stop on Carlos's magical mystery tour was the appropriately named
"Shark Ray Alley". From the second we anchored, six foot sharks swarmed around
the vessel hoping for some "chum" scraps to dine on. I have to admit, after
seeing one of these beasts inches from the boat I was filled with a sudden
sense of fear. Here I am...going to jump in the open ocean filled with dozens
of these unpredictable wild animals. I could see the headline now:
"Backpacker Devoured by Hungry Swarm of Sharks"
I'm glad I took the "plunge"...It turned out to be the highlight of our trip so
far. In the water Carlos literally embraced one of the sharks and tamed it
long enough for us to touch it. The two of them looked like old buddies. He
flipped the beast over on its back and calmed it enough to open its mouth and
show us the numerous rows of piercing teeth.
Further down the reef, spotted sting rays the size of a dining room table
coasted right below our feet. They glided through the aquatic landscape
unphased by our presence. These creatures are massive...I never realized just
how big they can get.
Just when we thought life couldn't get any better a pod of dolphins flipped
around our boat as they splashed and played. What an extraordinary finale to
this "unbelizeable" day.
The following day, Carlos agreed to take us to another amazing
destination...Swallow Caye...Here, nestled amoungst the mazes of mangroves is a
chance to see a side of nature that few will ever experience. Our boat coasted
through the untouched scenery until we reached a quiet lagoon, totally
surrounded by a twisted mess of mangrove roots.
We were told to make as little noise as possible... It was important to be
calm and quiet to attract the reclusive and very shy manatee. We waited and
waited.... Then suddenly, bursting out of the water was a gigantic figure, the
size of a cow! It wasn't alone... moments later two more manatees flipped
around the water's glassy surface, inches from our boat!
Our patience paid off...pretty soon they were popping up everywhere...
Unbelizable! For a nature lover seeing such a rare peaceful creature in its
natural habitat truly warms the soul.
One thing our guide book failed to mention about Caye Caulker was the sheer
awesomeness of a Belize sunrise. Four mornings in a row I awoke with the local
roosters to witness a glimpse of G-d's paint pallette. Smeared shades of
orange, yellow and pink graced the horizon in perfect harmony. Colors looked
like they were right out of heaven's paint box. As the sun pierced the clouds
it highlighted their every dimension. The morning sky appeared like it was
caught in a raging wild fire. For a brief moment in time my eyes tasted a
glimpse of the divine.
Some people believe the Midwest is G-d's country... I believe Belize is where
He goes on vacation.....
Like strangers in an even stranger land, Marna and I crept through the massive
jungle vegetation. We were surrounded by the ear piercing sounds of
Guatemala's howler monkeys. These secretive beasts have a roar that can be
heard for over 3 miles! Today, nestled in the Guatemalan jungle, we were
totally surrounded by them. Imagine the bellowing howl of the monster that
lived in you closet, combined with Chewbacca on a megaphone... now multiply
that by ten... that is the sound of a howler monkey.
Engulfed by layers of green, the Tikal ruins are comprised of dozens of stone
pyrimids, so tall they protrude through the forest canopy. Aging more than
2,000 years, some of these rocky structures rise more than 200 feet... proving
that pyramids aren't only made for Egyptians.
The ancient Mayans couldn't have picked a more perfect spot to build their
city... vegetation is lush, and animals are everywhere. In just our first
couple hours, we spotted dozens of frolicking monkeys, an anteater, coatimundis
(raccoon-like creatures), two foxes, and hundreds of brightly colored birds.
No jaguar sightings yet... but we are keeping our eyes peeled. The two of us
came here to experience the amazing ancient ruins... but the wildlife
definitely steals the show.
Engulfed in the heart of this living landscape is our cabin, surrounded by
folliage, flowers, and the noises of nature. No one here could possibly sleep
through the cackles, howls, and chirps of dawn. With the first glimpse of
sunlight, the jungle is alive with action.
In the middle of the night, all power is cut, leaving us alone in the complete
darkness. Even the moon's light couldn't illuminate our pitch-black path.
What an experience!!! The New York blackout was nothing compared to this!!!
With the sounds of howlers as an alarm clock, we awoke before dawn. We
strapped on our day packs and made our way to the jungle's edge. The morning
air was thick, and a haze of humidity made breathing an endeavor.
Our goal was to hike 2 miles deep into the park and watch sunrise from the
tallest Mayan structure in the world. We were the only people along the jungle
path, besides two photographers from National Geographic (how cool is that...).
The rigorous uphill hike took nearly 40 minutes. By the time we reached the
massive structure's base, we were totally winded and exhausted. From the
bottom, we could see the temple's crest shrouded in a haze of fog. Normally,
we would crash and regroup for an hour after a hike like that, but the sun was
rising, and we had no time to rest. We were at the doorstep of a 212-foot
vertical climb. We gripped the ladder and ascended the ancient edifice.
Upon reaching the top, our eyes were treated to a view fiew brave souls would
ever see. The entire canopy was enveloped in a dense layer of mist. As the sun
pierced the horizon, it shined through the fog and slowly revealed the tops of
the numerous temples buried in the dense greenery.
The vision was awe inspiring.
Throughout our "Indiana Jones" moment, the jungle was anything but silent...
the morning sun seemed to give life to the forest...howlers screamed, insects
chirped, and birds fluttered.
Just when life couldn't get any more amazing...it did. Five keel billed
toucans coasted by our perch, and landed on a nearby tree limb. Their colored
beaks and feathers seemed to glow against the green background. On this trip,
we hoped to see just one toucan... and here were five right before our eyes!
Guatemala is a shopper's Mecca. Every street corner and storefront oozes with
a multitude of bright fabrics for sale. Bargaining is the name of the game to
make your quetzals ($$) last longer. We made some great purchases, and after a
couple of days the local merchants seemed to know Marna by name. I don't know
how to say "shopaholic" in Spanish, but I think I heard them call her one!!
After our awesome time in Tikal, we made our way south to the colonial city of
Flores. It is a bonita city nestled on an island in the middle of Guatemala's
second largest inland lake. Totally surrounded by water, the town offers a
glimpse into modern Guatemalan culture and life. Like a well crafted quilt,
the city breathes colors of every shade of the rainbow.
The architecture is fantastic and resembles a Mediterranean Spanish village.
Women and children dress in traditional garbs of technicolor weaves, and men
stroll around in stetson hats like modern day cowboys.
At sunset, locals and tourists gather around the west side of the island to
watch the sunset over Lake Peten. As the tropical sun drags across the sky, it
creates a brilliant display of colors which reflect perfectly on its glassy
surface. Sunset looked like two of Monet's finest paintings mirroring one
another... connecting in the distance.
This is amazing Guatemala.