The tour guide as well as all the information on the ship recommended not risking good cameras on this tour. I was loath to bring my Canon along only to trust it to the bus while we were on the river. Having had the experience of disposable camera before, I decided not to bother. You are stuck today with just the words.
Gazing out the window, bus bumping clumsily along the broken pavement on the way back from our tour today I realised what was bothering me about the foliage. Lush green on both sides of the road in spite of this being the dry season. (Please not that 200″ of rain is not uncommon in a year here, nor is that a small amount of water) There are varieties of palms, orange groves, cashew orchards, the occasion cactus and small tree of slender birch appearing wood. Lush leaves all the way around. There are aloe plants and philodendron cousins. On the return trip we passed the Hattieville police station all gleaming with fresh yellow and green paint while the football (soccer) field next door was dusty and empty in the late afternoon sun. The extensive bus system has shelters along the main road. Open to the elements, many had passengers just waiting, talking, relaxing. House fragments – trailers, shacks and empty cement shells show the wake of previous years’ hurricanes. Trees growing in the middle of many testify to the fact that the damage is not all that recent.
What is missing is anything with needles. I am not sure why it should surprise me that there are no spruce, pine, or fir here. This is not exactly the same type of climate where I grew up. It is not like they are going to do well in the heat and high humidity that is year round here. But some how it just does not seem right to my eyes. Instead, mahogany holds sway between fields of sugar cane and blacked streaks from slash and burn agriculture.
Most of the land between Belize City and here seems open and uninhabited. Belize, we were informed is a country of 300,000 with 80,000 living in the main city. Formerly British Honduras, the country may still have QE2 on their currency but has recovered to American standard of driving on the right side of the road. Tourism is just behind sugar cane as a major contributor to the economy along with oranges and cashews. The official language is English, the patois an English based Creole. Some Spanish is spoken as well (take a look at the neighbouring countries). School children are all in uniforms – maroon, red, quiet brown, elegant navy jumpers, skirts or trousers with the occasional young girl in lavender or light blue. White gleaming shirts and blouses complete the look. Since each school has a unique uniform, returning straying students to the correct location is apparently accomplished with ease.
The day was clear and hot; the water deliciously cool as we climbed into our tubes after a short trek under the rain forest canopy looking at plants, trees and not seeing snakes. We pushed off in groups of eight with miners helmets, head lamps and life jackets. The river bottom was smooth stones mostly hand size with the occasional larger spike just to give you a jab should you not be paying attention. Entering the mouth of the first caves, I spun in silence just looking at the overhead rock, dangling moss and obvious evidence of bats (fruit and insect bats in this region). At its lowest due to lack of rain.
Floating along, we were lazy – enjoying the quiet – vent holes and rock cracks above. With the water at low ebb none of us could reach the cave overhead but managed to bump into the sides and push off more than once. Light reflecting off the limestone in glittering streaks. Except for me – my lamp died not 20 meters into the caves. My Timex turned out to be water proof, at least in shallow cool water. Paddling along, I decided that the rowing machine was not on my exercise agenda this evening.
The tourist industry has adapted to the idea of some tourists wanting “adventure” or at least out of hot, crowded cities. Some even able to walk away from the buses and food. This trip had a minimum age limit of 10, a height requirement, a maximum weight. Tubing is not as taxing as zip-lining (another new favourite for those who really want to play Tarzan and Jane well above the jungle floor).
Oh, and I take it back about my watch. Cool splashing water is apparently not an issue – but the hot tub is a no go….