Lucky for me, Westjet has a new direct flight from Toronto to Belize, so in about five hours, I land in Belize City with the G Adventures group. We check into nearby Black Orchid Resort in Burrell Boom. Famished, we dig into a Belizean lunch—that is, chicken, plantain, some salad, and rice and peas—and wash it down with the local drink, a Panty Ripper (a name I will cringe saying each time I order the coconut rum and pineapple juice cocktail).
Crocodile spotting! It happens during our boat ride to Lamanai. Once we get to this ancient ceremonial site, we trek up to the top of three of temples. “It’s the Mayan stairmaster!” jokes our tour guide of High Temple, the tallest one at this site.
The animal lover in me is giddy because we’re set to visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary. Which, by the way, are actually black howler monkeys (not baboons). After a few howls from our guide, the alpha male of one monkey family of six replies and we get within arm’s reach of these cuties.
Our next stop has me wanting to sing, “Who run the world? Girls!” We’re at the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative, which was launched in 2001. “It was slow and challenging to bring the women together but we work as a group now and solve problems,” says co-op director Timotei of learning how to embroider and make pottery. They’ve since exhibited at the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, and spoke about their embroidery at the Smithsonian in 2014. Thanks to money they’ve raised, a handful of students have been able to attend high school and a few other are off to vocational school.
My first caving experience is legit: first we hike 45 minutes—including crossing a river three times—to get to Actun Tunichil Muknal. Headlamps on, we explore the cave for three hours, climbing and twisting our way through, and wading (but not once do we have to swim with our head underwater, phew! The sparkling stalactites and stalagmites are magnificent but it’s the pottery, skulls and one skeleton—artifacts from when the cave was used for sacred ceremonies—that steal the show.
A visit to Marie Sharps’ factory where we meet “the hottest lady in Belize” herself, who was the only woman and non-American inducted into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame. We all leave with hot sauce in our bag, swag (we’re just like Queen Bey!). Our next stop is Hopkins (population, 1500), where our beach shacks have no running hot water but we’re just happy to have our first swim in the ocean and to go to our drumming lesson with the local Garifuna drummers. Descendants of Carib, Arawak and African people, the Garifuna have held onto not only their traditional drumming but also their own language and religion. Wawa, our 27-year-old drumming teacher, adores his craft. “I love to travel and getting to know people, and we have more tours coming up—I’ve been to six places in Canada.”
Off to our final destination of the trip: the island of Caye Caulker. We set out on two wheels to sight-see, and our guide is an Ocean Academy student in the Bike with Purpose program (which is a project of G Adventures’ Planeterra Foundation); the program helps to raise money for the school, while the student earns money, too, toward their education, while also helping them gain exposure in tourism industry. I bond with our foodie guide, Trynell, who plans to study abroad as a pastry chef, over cupcakes.
A great snorkeler I am not, but I brave it and the experience is incredible: the Mesoamerican Reef (the second largest reef in the world) is otherworldly, we swim with supersized stingrays and nurse sharks, and my fave part? When our snorkel guide leads us through the channel, pointing out various fish and creatures that I’d never have been able to identify…although seeing snapper frolicking at sea does have me feeling a bit ill at ease about all the fish I’ve been eating all week!
Back on the ferry to get us to the airport in Belize City, where we spend our last Belizean dollars in the airport on local chocolate and coffee, oh, and coconut rum—so we can make Panty Rippers at home in the 6!