In July of 2007 my husband and I, with our small daughters, drove from Dangriga to San Ignacio, Belize and beyond, in a flame-emblazened, low-rider, economy-sized, Mitsubishi pick up truck. Rental car options in Dangriga, Belize are as much of an adventure as Belizean back country travel, so Mischa found himself hopping the 15 minute flight from Dangriga to Belize City to pick up this trusty little truck.
While he drove from Belize City to Dangriga, the girls and I waited taking pictures at the beach and with Eddie Usher and his family (of Family island resort Isla Marisol) at their Dangriga home.
As my girls and I laughed at the red flames that ran the whole length of the truck, my husband, Mischa said, “Looking like the locals’ll is probably a safe way to travel Central America.”
“Ya, all we’ll need is a machete,” I said, referring to the tool of choice for the geography. We’d seen it used for everything from clearing brush and small trees, splitting coconuts, to peeling and slicing mangos and as a paint-scraper and screwdriver.
It’s common place to see Belizeans ambling down the road or through town carrying machetes. More than once I’d seen barefoot Garufina men carrying the machete over their shoulders with a knotted t-shirt or towel loaded full of sea grapes or mangos suspended from the sharp knife behind them.
The first hours driving out of Dangriga were tough-going despite the fact that this stretch of the Hummingbird Highway is paved and one of the best maintained in Belize. With the onset of hurricane season, the combination of heavy rains and one-lane, wood-plank bridges required we drive slower than we could have walked.
When the rain bucketed down and the wind flung palm fronds at a near 180-degree angle, we were thankful we weren’t on bicycle like other drenched travelers we passed. Inside the small truck, the tiny air conditioner—if it could be called that—labored to keep the moisture from building up on the windows and us.
The storm blew over in time for us to find our first destination: Belize’s inland Blue Hole which is a National Park, just 12 miles South of Belmopan on the Hummingbird Highway in central Belize.
While adventure divers are familiar with the pelagic Blue Hole, the inland version is a modest cirque or water-filled sinkhole set in the jungle. Fed by the Cave Branch River the swimming hole measures about 25 feet deep and 40 feet across. Due to the silt and mineral content, the fresh water is a luminescent turquoise. In the dark jungle, it seems to glow with a light of its own.
We parked at a trailhead and hiked the 10-minute trail through the Honduran Mahogany jungle cover. To my surprise a shack with pit toilets stood at the top of the trailhead.
The last bit of trail stepped down a hillside. We hiked over rocks and cement platforms jutting at angles probably upset from years of hurricane downpour. Other than a couple of slippery rocks, my girls were fine in their Crocks and water shoes.
The shallow part of the Blue Hole was perfect for wading for young children. The heavy sand clung to the bottom and didn’t get muddy. Swimming in the deep end was like swimming in liquid turquoise. And no gardener could have planted a more lush setting with tropical mosses, vines and ferns hanging over the bank rimming the deep end.
The gentle flow of the Cave Branch River emerges from underground in the Blue Hole, flowing into a stream-sized channel for about 150 feet. The scintillating water tumbles delicately over melon-sized rocks. The small river disappears into the wide mouth of a chalky, moss-coated limestone cave, joining Belize’s greater subterranean river system.
The riverbank rocks and the cave entrance and are guarded by dozens of delicate, jointy-legged spiders about eight inches in diameter. While my girls gasped with wary curiosity about the critters, I stopped to consider the disappearing river.
How far had this underground river been explored? What if there was an underground waterfall or a sudden subterranean sinkhole? And what size were the spiders that lurked inside, compared to those monstrous ones outside? And what unknown critters swam in the dark water?
What is it about the human desire to search out the unknown? We wade forward and find ourselves suddenly at the edge, wondering if someone before us had been there.
“Let’s check the cave out,” I said to my girls. With outstretched arms, we teetered and slid over wet rocks. Stretching our necks forward, I smelled moss, wet earth, maybe bat guano.
Just as we stepped into the cave opening, a group of howler monkeys in the jungle behind us let loose shrieking. “Aaaahhhh!! Mama!!!” My girls yelled. We laughed, and so did Mischa paddling around in the bright blue-green water behind us.
After leaving the Blue Hole we stopped at St. Herman’s Cave, for another child-friendly, self-guided side-trip. The cave is spacious, but flashlights are necessary. We had our own, but the ranger station will provide them too.
The rinse-off was refreshing after hours in a small truck in the humidity. And many times in the next few days, I would wish for a similar place to stop and cool off as we drove deeper into the heart of backcountry Belize.
Does travel or putting yourself in a new setting make you think about things in a different way?
Join me soon for our next Belizean Adventure Travel stop: Mayan Ruins in Belize: The Road to Xunantunich.