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Sunday, 17 March 2013 14:02

ADVENTURING IN BELIZE

Written by  Cindy Ross
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Leaf cutter ants climb high in the trees of the Belizean jungle to get the choicest leaf chunks. They walk in long lines, their cargo hoisted on their backs, as though they are working in a chain gang. Coming and going, they march along our branch banister as we climb up to the next zip lining platform. I could stay and watch the ants - they seem like a sideshow, and are almost nearly as entertaining as zip-lining.

To zip line, we wear helmets and leather gloves with heavy flaps on the palms that act as a brake shield. It all feels extremely safe. We are zipping with a company called Discovery Expeditions (www.discoverybelize.com) which offers multiple excursions around the country, in the interior and also on San Pedro Island where we’ll finish up our trip.

I wipe the sweat off my forehead under my helmet. It is steamy here. The air is thick and heavy with moisture - like you should almost be able to see it. You can zip nearly anywhere in the world now, it seems, but not above gigantic palm trees and wild orchids and critters like leaf cutter ants.

We fly up to 500 foot lengths, and sometimes as fast at 35 MPH. I learn that if you move your brake hand too close to your head, you’ll spin, get dizzy and lose control. If you hold it back too far, it can yank your shoulder if you brake too hard. The best way is to relax and let it glide, with your hand positioned right behind your head. I love feeling like Tarzan (or Jane!) flying above the Belizean treetops.

Right after we zip down nine different stretches, we walk over to the Caves Branch Outpost and get ready to innertube down the crystal clear limestone river. Our guide, Oscar, wears paddles on his hands to help steer me. He holds onto my tube when we travel in the dark through the caves and teaches me wonderful things about the bats and the rock formations. When we hear the rapids roaring ahead in the pitch blackness it is a very strange sensation, to not be able to see anything! Oscar assures me that we are safe and that we will remain away from the cave wall. He holds onto my tube, making me feel very cared for. The sound bounces off the limestone walls as we rock and roll through the waves.

As we walked the muddy trail approaching the tube starting point, both of my flip flops got broken. The soft mud oozing through my toes felt good back then, but the return trail to the center is stony and very painful to walk on. Oscar and my friend Steve offer to carry me, but I cannot allow it. I am touched by their chivalry and feel honored, or at the very least, like a piece of green cargo atop the strong and sturdy leaf cutter ants.

 

SAN PEDRO ISLAND

Although mainland Belize has enough wonder to keep you happily occupied, an island experience is always special. Our main activity on San Pedro Island is to boat out to a forty-foot-long mobile dive base where we’ll learn how to Sea Trek with Discovery Expeditions. A 65-pound helmet is lowered onto on our shoulders, which is connected to a tube that pumps a fixed flow rate of air into it, like an inverted cup. Once underwater, it only weighs a dozen pounds and as long as we remain fairly upright, no water can enter underneath the open helmet. We walk the ocean floor, twelve feet down along the coral reef, the second longest living barrier reef in the world - 200 unbroken miles. It is loaded with waving sea fans, brain, elkhorn and rod corals and brilliantly colored fish. Nurse sharks swim by, as well as five-feet-long undulating rays and ribbony eels. Great schools of blue tangs engulf us as we hand out pieces of fish for them to pick chunks off of.

Sea trekking is great fun, but it is the simple pleasures of island life that often create the most lasting memories. The Banyan Bay Hotel (www.banyanbay.com) offers simple, one-speed complimentary bikes for all visitors. You can cruise the ten miles of island roads, stop at a roadside stand for fresh pineapple slices and coconut juice, chat with the locals and cruise down to the wharf where the fisherman unload their catch and clean their fish. We then watch huge 6-foot long tarpon mosey into the shallows for 
a feast.

Visit www.travelbelize.org

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