This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.
We were at the Crystal Paradise Resort in San Ignacio, Belize. It had been a grueling day of cars, planes, airport trains, planes, and then a five-hour ride in a van over bumpy roads to get here, but it was all worth it.
There was nowhere to go for the evening, and nothing to do. We had some beers in the central cabana, then dinner, served family style. The food was really good, I wolfed it down and probably murmured, “Mmmm” out loud several times. Other people, they had questions. Was the bread gluten free? Was the rice vegan? Can I exchange the potatoes for carrots instead? Can I have the salsa on the side? Is the salsa spicy? And so on.
I’m not a gastroenterologist. I know there really is something called Celiac disease. My stomach doesn’t like greasy foods, so I believe people when they say that something—usually it’s gluten but I’ve heard dairy, sugar, and all sorts of other foods—makes them uncomfortable. But there is a certain segment of the population that is on a crusade against gluten, or dairy, or some other food. They say things like, “Dairy is evil!” As if a food group has intentions to harm them. I can’t imagine life without dairy. To me, cottage cheese is a food of the gods.
Then there are the people who say they’ve lost weight on a gluten free diet. “Good for you,” I said to one such friend. “But do you think maybe you’ve lost weight because you’ve cut bread, potatoes, rice, corn, and pasta out of your diet? In other words, you’re just eating less—aka ‘on a diet?’” That had not occurred to her. Somehow, it was easier to think she was following dietary restrictions because she had a “condition” than to think she was just on a diet.
The family who ran the resort accommodated every request. They must be used to American tourists. Finally, everyone was happy and during dinner we got to know each other a bit better because we were facing each other, not crammed side to side into a van.
I might have been the first one to turn in for the night, and even though the bed was hard and the pillow was lumpy and Liz snored, I slept like a rock.
Morning. Early morning, that’s my habit. I was up at 5 or so and went outside to sit under a thatched hut to listen to the rain and the birds. I tried to write down the bird sounds. Ooo, ooo, ooo. Aaargh. Wheeep! Wheeep! Harff. WooHoo! I could have sat there all day, but I needed coffee. I walked to the central hut and joined Stan, the other early riser and a veteran bird watcher. He was there with his binoculars and already had noted a dozen different birds in his notebook.
A tiny toucan landed on a branch 20 feet from us, cocked its head at us, then flitted away.
“Wow!” Stan and I both exclaimed, “Did you see that?”
After breakfast, another great meal, we were off to canoe into the Chiquibul cave system into the “Mayan underworld known as Xibalba.” We were promised it contained sacrificial remains and “spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, and the footholds carved by the Mayans over 1,500 years ago.”
We were back in the van for another bone jarring but much shorter ride, capped off with a steep hairpin road that descended way, way, way down into a valley. At one point it felt like the van was going to topple over the cliffside, and I involuntarily yelled, “Jesus Christ!” This got Liz laughing, and she couldn’t stop. In her southern Ohio drawl she kept saying, “Ah never heard anahthing so funny! A Jew saying Jesus Chrahst!” It was infectious; everyone in the van was soon laughing hysterically, although it may have been out of fear.
At the bottom, we met Jose, who would be our cave guide.
“Welcome to the Chiquibul caves!” he said enthusiastically. “They’re unbelizeable!”
Yes, he said unbelizeable—you better belize it.