Belize Feb 3 - Feb 8, 2017

Our journey started in Newark, at around 3 AM. Eyes heavy, we boarded the shuttle to the airport. This was to be a special trip, as it was going to be the first time my dad travelled with me internationally. Twelve hours or so later, we landed in Belize. Shortly after, we quickly picked up our truck, a Toyota Hilux, and began our cross-country trek.

Driving across an entire country in Central America was just as captivating as I ever would have imagined, but also provoked a thought that I have been reflecting on lately; and that is what it takes to be happy. These ideas first started in Cuba when my brothers and I experienced widespread poverty, but the same line of thinking really hit home while on our drive across Belize. As we drove by houses that would be considered to be beyond repair here within the United States, we still saw so much life and happiness. I believe that this is because happiness is relative. While many of those beautiful people we saw were barely getting by, they also do not face the same daily complications that we do. Life is simpler, more peaceful, and approached day-by-day.

The concept that our own lifestyles and culture drive us to work 2,000 hours a year to pay for items that our lifestyle calls for, scares me. Yes, of course we are happy possessing the ability to watch and connect with what we want. But to obtain those possessions, we must put ourselves through the stresses of work, and an infinite number of additional responsibilities. How much better is that, than a life in which you can pilot a boat out on a river and just float, lay in a hammock, and enjoy the peaceful world around you? How does it compare to the rat race we are all currently living? As of now I do not know, but I imagine it may, just all be relative.

Upon arriving at our AirBnB in Benque Viejo via many ill-kept Central American dirt roads, the sounds and smells of the rainforest immediately overwhelmed me with a refreshing wave of natural energy that I can only hope to experience again soon.

After some much needed rest, my father and I awoke the following morning, to the sounds of a passing rain shower, and the scent of a fantastic breakfast prepared by our wonderful housekeeper, Lucy. Shortly after freezing cold showers, we departed for our raft tour along the Macal River.

Our hand-built vessel was to be captained by an incredibly keen-eyed man named Lazaro whose main occupation was to escort scientists and archeologists throughout Central America safely. His ability to spot wildlife from the other side of the river was uncanny, something that could only be honed over the course of decades trekking through the rainforest. With the roar of howler monkeys in the backdrop we happened upon our first waterfall.

After jumping twice off this waterfall into surprisingly chilly water, we broke for lunch and just drifted, with the melody of onrushing water now replacing the growling monkeys.

Lazaro and my father talking philosophy in just one beautiful corner of the world.

As we boated on, it became clear just how special the Macal River was to our captain, Lazaro. From the mountains in the background, to the brilliant foreground comprised of numerous shades of foliage, we could easily see why. With the tour nearing completion at around 3:00 PM, our final stop was a waterfall over an ever-growing mineral deposit. After hiking up, he mentioned that, to him, this was his favorite place in the world. I smiled, the location truly was very special. I will likely never be back there, or to be honest, anywhere on the Macal River. But yet, here I was, in a tiny corner of Planet Earth, fortunate enough to have a stranger sharing his favorite place on Earth with me. How many more experiences like this will I have? How many places just like this exist in the world? If I could only share with a stranger their favorite places on Earth just once a day, what a life that would be.

Upon returning to the Casa Santa Maria, we were greeted by Lucy, our host, and a new woman, whose name I never caught. She had just retired from a life of selling makeup in North Carolina, and decided to purchase land and develop a house on it in Belize. She described the sensation of falling in love with her new home and the process of learning all about it. Her move down to Belize had enlightened her to the notion that the big-bad world that we are all told about, does not exist. Instead of fearing tarantulas, alligators, and traffic, she had embraced living side by side with those creatures, and taking the 2-hour bus ride into town with the school children, and the bus driver's bulldog. Too me, this woman was remarkable, and I can only hope I am as fortunate as her, and find my home one day. The world is such an amazing place, I cannot imagine staying in one spot. But this women, she found her home; should I ever be so lucky.

The following day was Super Bowl Sunday, but instead of preparing for a massive viewing party, we woke up early and headed out to Xunantunich, a Mayan Ruin that was not all that far from where we were staying.

Xunantunich was impressive to say the least. Climbing to the top, it really blew me away at just how old this palace was. Our guide Ramus, had cracked a joke about how whenever a hurricane comes through, everyone in the country loses their roof, but the Mayan ruins stay untouched; humorous but also true.

As we stood at the top with an incredible panorama over much of Belize and Guatemala, hearing all about what is believed to have taken place right in front of us thousands of years ago, it all became somewhat surreal. To hear the history lessons and the way various other Mayan sites interacted with one another, much like smaller nation states, was fascinating. Xunantunich had actually survived longer than many larger Mayan states. In fact, it is believed that the relative size of it in comparison to larger states, is why it did survive for as long as it did. The stories of war, peace, treaties signed, and trade routes led me to wonder how many true differences existed between foreign policy then and now. Despite technological advances, something tells me not all that much.

Of course, I would never have learned much regarding the ancient use for the site if it was not for our excellent guide Ramus. His knowledge was second-to-none, and this was in part due to his volunteer work at the site. When he was not providing tours, he was actually working in tandem with the archeologists to safely excavate the site. He did this for free, and only the yearning for more knowledge and pride for his own culture drove him. I thought this was admirable and I consider myself lucky to have crossed paths with him.

As we were making our way back to our AirBnB, we stopped in Benque de Viejo, at Long Lucky's store for some food. As we got out of the car, we were approached by the first beggar we encountered in Belize. He immediately began asking for money, and my father, being the man that he is, reached into his pocket to grab some cash. This of course is never a good idea when traveling, especially in Central America. We were in plain view of approximately 20 people, who could all see the relatively large amount of money, my dad had just produced. Fortunately, nothing bad came about because of it. In fact, a man actually pulled over on his motorbike to enquire if the beggar who had asked for money, was giving us trouble. He was no law enforcement officer, yet he took time out of his day, to ensure that two strangers that he has never met, were not in trouble. These interactions are some of my very favorite moments when traveling.

The following day marked our final day at the Casa Santa Maria, and our cross-country return to Belize City. Getting a chance to see the countryside again, was definitely worth the two hour drive. After dropping the rental car off, and catching a taxi to the ferry docks, we boarded our boat for our tropical paradise in San Pedro.

We arrived on San Pedro just in time to catch the sunset. The island air was definitely quite different from the humidity and moisture experienced in the rainforest. A fantastic key-lime pie wrapped up what was a long travel day.

The next morning started out with a search for a suitable method to bandage my foot due to a minor cut that I had sustained earlier in the week. This was important, as I did not want there to be any issues while snorkeling with sharks at Hol Chan.. After stopping into a local pharmacy, and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we met up with Carlos, who would be taking us out to the reef in his glass bottom boat.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Getting the opportunity to snorkel and swim with sharks, sting rays, and all assortments of fish was amazing. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed snorkeling and swimming, partially because of how cold it is in Connecticut where I live. Our guide Carlos made it that much more special, as he had grown up diving these waters for lobsters. He then proceeded to make a living working as a boat hand on a large yacht that would sell seats to people wanting to party. He explained how much he had hated working on that yacht, serving alcohol to people who would then drunkenly jump into the water and rip off a piece of coral for themselves. It was clear that this marine reserve meant very much to him, as he took great care pointing out every fish we saw. This was a man, who had spent all of his life earning a modest living off of this beautiful reef. His deep connection to it, only made our visit that much more authentic. I also admired him for continuing to work with travelers after so many tourists just looking for some sun and a buzz, had disrespected his home over the years. I think it is important to remember that whenever traveling, that we are privileged to be accepted into their homes. The very least we could do is offer them the respect that they deserve.

After our snorkeling trip, my father and I spent the rest of our day aimlessly wandering San Pedro, and enjoying our last day in Belize. The next morning we would be jetting back off to the United States. Belize was a pleasure, the ability to experience the rainforest, and then a reef just days apart was what made the location so very special. However, the best part, was that I was able to share this adventure with my father.

Created By
Drew Millum

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