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Belize, Central America

In late 1991, we were in Austin, Texas, close to many exotic and inexpensive Caribbean destinations.

Looking for a vacation with good snorkeling, rainforests, and Mayan temples, we checked the guidebooks and found Belize.

Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize has all three, plus  an English speaking population. It sounded perfect.

We started with a flight to the island of Ambergris Caye. Our start was auspicious as Air Taca (known as Air Caca), lost our luggage on the first flight.

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The Streets of San Pedro

After a long delay, we then took an adventurous commuter flight to Ambergris Caye.

It was about 5:30 and getting dark, at the time of our departure. As we approached the airport, 45 minutes later, we couldn't see a runway. The sun had set during our flight and there were no runway lights.
Our pilot started to land too early. We hadn't even reached the island yet. He pulled up to continue and as he did, beepers, buzzers and horns kept sounding. I didn't know what they meant, but I knew they weren't good. Finally, with some jeep headlights illuminating the runway, we made a rough landing and got off the plane.
A local, who flies a lot, told me that the noise was from the stall buzzers. Great.

Anyway, we walked through San Pedro Town to the Paradise Resort.
At first glance this is a poor town, and at second glace, too.
All the roads, like the runway, are sand.
The houses are nothing more than shacks, with trash strewn around most of them.
The residents seemed to be mostly Hispanic, an observation I later confirmed with a girl working in a gift shop.
There are more dogs than cars, which might seem like a good measure of a place, if you haven't been to Taipei.

It rained for most of our stay in San Pedro, but that was okay.
The seafood was excellent and the people were friendly. Everyone we met had time to talk.
The bartendress entertained us with her stories about Belize culture. The security guard made his nightly rounds with his whole family. We sat and had a long talk with them. One shopkeeper closed his store to show me a talking macaw named Cappy.

The rain stopped long enough for us to snorkel. We spotted a shark and a lot of colorful fish.

We then took a second interesting flight, into the rainforest. Because of the storms, no flights had penetrated the interior for three days. The pilot said to us, "Well, let's give it a try".
So we did.

As we take off all is well, but we are heading for heavy clouds. No problem, we fly around them. It soon becomes obvious that we are just flying for clear sky. The pilot starts looking nervous. Making repeated calls. Leaning over the wheel and scanning the horizon.
We realize that we have flown around the storm and that he just can't find Gallon Jug, our destination. He doesn't hide it too well.
After many calls, he finally spots the runway and lands.

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Chan Chich Lodge

Chan Chich Lodge is set in a Mayan plaza, amidst 'sub-tropical moist forest'.
Our room has a beautiful hardwood interior with 2 beds, a nice bathroom, and a desk.

The rain continued here, to near record levels.
Tom and Norman, who run the lodge with Toms' wife, Josie, kept checking the river level.
Nothing stirs memories like bad weather does, so they started reminiscing about past storms and floods.
This led to other great stories, including 'Mosquito Coast'-type stories about the building of Chan Chich, and Somerset Maugham-type stories about locals and the culture.

Angie and I explored the wildlife and temples each day. And every night I would pull a stool up to the bar, in the main lodge, and listen to these stories.

One night, I decided to sit by the river alone, and look for wildlife. I walked there with my flashlight turned off. The noises of the forest were loud and extremely intimidating. I wanted to turn around, but I couldn't.
If someone else was with me, we could have found an excuse to stop, but alone I'd only be lying to myself, so I kept walking.
I took a seat, and listened, as the noises by the river got louder. I could only imagine what was making those sounds.
Killer vampire frogs from hell, I believe.

The longer I sat still, the more noise I heard. My heart was pumping, my skin soaked with cold sweat.
Suddenly, there was a roar that shook the trees. A howler monkey, I was sure, not too far away.
Suddenly all fear was gone, the fright of imagination replaced by the thrill of reality. The hunt was on.
I sprinted up the to the Sac Be trailhead.
Should I go up it in the dark? Nope.
Would I? Yep.

As I headed up the trail, the howler was getting louder. Suddenly, I found myself under his tree.
There were at least 10 bats fluttering in my flashlight beam as the ground below me trembled with the howler's roar.
I saw movements in the top of the tree, but no matter how I tried, I could not get a direct view.

So, I started mimicking his sounds. They were somewhat bird-like.
He stopped and listened, then answered me. I did my best to copy him, which was none too good. We went back and forth for 10 minutes.
Finally he let loose with a lion roar that almost knocked me over.
I laughed, looked up, and said, "I'm out". It was one of those moments where I was almost out of my body, aware of both the moment and the grand absurdity of the moment. Exhilarated with the contact and yet thinking about how weird it is.

Then I realized that I may be giving a mating call, or challenging his territory.
I really didn't want to see him that close, so I said goodbye, turned around, and retraced the path back to our hut.

Altun Ha

On the way back to Belize City, we completed our bad flight trilogy with a Spanish pilot who liked to fly with no hands. He mentioned that he used to fly 747's from Orlando, until he had problems and lost his job.
Did I ask him why he lost his job?
Of course I didn't.

At the airport we ordered a hamburger.
What we got was ham, cheese, and spices. Literally, a ham burger.
Someone must have told the cook that Americans like hamburgers without explaining the concept. Actually, it tasted great.

We then negotiated a ride to Altun Ha, the largest Mayan temple complex in Belize.
Our guide Richard showed us the two fully excavated plazas. The complex is an impressive site. There are altars where animal sacrifices would be done for various gods.
I checked the sun altar, because we had finally received the sun, on this last day of our trip.
There was, however, no blood.
I guess the sun god was just being nice.