The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings. ~Buddhist Sutra
Transitioning: Beach to Jungle
The plane took off and landed three times as we hop, skipped, and jumped from San Pedro Island to the mainland.The choppy hum of the propeller driven plane was still buzzing in our ears as we collected our baggage and climbed into the shuttle taking us to Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. The drive was an hour or so through the Belizean countryside into the mountains which were much cooler than the islands. When we stopped for gas, I was able to purchase a very cold and refreshing Dr. Pepper. Life can be most excellent in the tropics.
A couple of our friends visited Ian Anderson’s Cave Branch over a decade ago. They recommended it as a great place to visit if a bit on the rustic side. So, we arrived with the mindset of campers. We were greeted by gorgeous jungle grounds with flowers everywhere and excellent cabanas seemingly buried in the jungle, a private paradise complete with indoor and outdoor showers. There was no air conditioning in the cabanas so I, a person know to sweat in the dead of winter, was worried that I would wake in a pool of my own sweat. No worries. The cool tropical nights and ceiling fan provided perfect sleeping conditions.
Our cabana had two bedrooms. We chose the room with the queen sized bed away from the door. There was no glass in the windows. There were large windows with screens on all three sides with a view of the jungle. The vegetation was so dense, we could not see the other cabanas nor could they see us. The wood was mostly rich teak, beautiful brown red in color.
Dinner was served communally, buffet style. The food was savory and there was more than enough to fill every person to exploding. Every night we ate with different people, heard different stories, made new friends. It was a great setup.
Ian Anderson’s is known for the vast array of curated plant life. The grounds are a 15-acre botanical paradise. They have more orchids in their greenhouse than any other place in the country. Flowers of many varieties line the crushed gravel pathways connecting the cabanas to the bar/dining area to the pool and the front entrance. It seemed as though we discovered new flora every time we stepped out of our cabana.
The big adventure hoped for out of Ian Anderson’s was a trip to see Tikal, the ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The tour required a minimum of four people and, as of our most recent contact, we were the only two showing interest so we were a bit nervous. The Tikal adventure is not an everyday adventure operating 3 days per week. Our stay would overlap only one of the possible days. It was either going to be a go or disappointment. We had visited Lamanai in Belize as an insurance policy of sorts to ensure we would walk in the same footsteps, along the same footpaths as those ancient Mesoamericans. As luck would have it, six people, including us, were interested in Tikal. Game On!
We started out in the wee hours of the morning in the company van. I, an early bird, was ready to go. My wife, however, needed a bit of prodding with coffee. We drove in the dark jungle along misty roads arriving at the Guatemala border shortly after dawn. Breakfast was at a local Guatemalan restaurant.
We visited Tikal with a guide. This is a double-edged sword. On the one edge, we learned much we would never have known especially since our guide was raised in the Tikal jungle and could regale us with stories of his childhood. The other edge is there are significant time constraints when traveling with a guide and a group. It’s go, go, go with little time to wander or bask in the glory of the ancient wonders. I enjoy sitting in or on or near ancient monuments, letting my spirit settle, and trying to see what the ancients saw. I enjoy opening up empathic channels and sensing ancient spirits.
In our guide’s youth, the temples had not been unearthed. It was all jungle. However, his people called it the place of whispers. This leads me to believe the Mayan belief that the people who could not pass the thirteen tests to enter heaven after death were condemned to wander their earth forever was based in truth.
Our guide was very funny regaling us with many stories. How many were true and which were embellishments or complete fabrications to entertain the tourist we have no way of knowing. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. He made the jungle come alive with his stories and with the animals he pointed out, animals we would never have seen had we not shown us the way.
Despite not having time to meditate in the shadows of the temples, it was a fantastic visit. Definitely a high point for our Belizean adventure.
Most of the Ian Anderson adventures involve water. If one is not a swimmer, these can be scary. After Tikal, we chose a relatively easy water adventure requiring inner tubes to navigate a cave river and a headlight to see in the pitch darkness.
This is one case where a guide was definitely needed. Without Esperanza, we would have no idea where we were going and could have spent weeks exploring without finding anything. It was pitch black except for the small swaths of light from our headlamps.
We traveled the short few miles to the cave in a rickety old bus. It was tall enough so we could cross a small river without fear of getting washed away or water in the cabin. A short hike carrying inner tubes to the kicking off point. We sat backward in our tubes and had to paddle upstream. The technique took some getting used to. By the way out, we were able to flow with the stream and almost steer to the places we wanted to stop.
We did some cave climbing up to a long deceased fire pit where there was some broken pottery. The pottery was broken to free a spirit. If not broken, the spirit would remain stuck in the vessel. I was wearing water shoes that had caught a number of small pebbles between my foot and the footbed making the hike rather painful. It was impossible to keep the pebbles out of the shoes as they lined the floor of the cave and swirled into the shoes with every step in the water.
At the furthest point of our journey, we came to a fertility god carving. According to Esperanza, if a child was born based on prayers to this god, it was required to be sacrificed to ensure future children. I’m a first born so am glad my parents were of the Mayan belief system. It was on sandy shore that our guides set up a tasty lunch of sandwiches and fruits. I was very hungry so it was even better in my mind than it was on my tongue.
We had a late flight so stopped at a local zoo on the way to the airport. We spent a couple of hours walking around the zoo which is home to rescue animals, animals unprepared to live on their own in the wild.
We loved Belize. From the beach cabana to the jungle. From the snorkeling to the touring of ancient ruins. The one problem, a problem of our own making, is we tried to squeeze a lot of activity into a small amount of time. We should have taken more time to just sit and be, to absorb the tranquility into our souls. So, we have decided we will return next year. We will stay at Cocotal Inn in a beach Cabana the entire week where every morning we open our door we will be greeted by the pounding surf and the call of the local birds. Our plan is to buy local food and cook it ourselves in our cabana kitchen.
So, we have decided we will return next year. We will stay at Cocotal Inn in a beach Cabana the entire week where every morning we will open our door to be greeted by the pounding surf and the call of the local birds. The ocean will be that last thing we see at night and the first thing in the morning. Our plan is to buy local food and cook it ourselves in our cabana kitchen. I plan to rent a fishing pole and hope to catch edible fish off our dock. We will take long daily walks along the beach. We will feed our souls.