This year I celebrated my birthday a month later. I decided to take my birthday trip over the long Labor Day weekend versus crunching it in to a measly 3 day time frame. Still in the limited PTO struggle, I had to find a destination less than 6 hours away. Initially I booked a hotel on my actual birthday weekend to Panama but the flights were ridiculous (a 10 hour layover on my return was out of the question). My 3 options were Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. Costa Rica was not feasible for this trip because I’d need at least 10 days to see the country so this narrowed my choices a bit.
My very own Mr. Flight Deal scored cheap one-way tickets to Belize for $142 and with that Belize became the final destination. Based on research we decided to stay at Ambergis Caye instead of Caye Caulker. Ambergis seemed to have more night life options, restaurants and bars which is what we wanted.
During my stay I made some new personal discoveries and certain events reinforced and redefined my outlook.
Some things I’ve learned on this trip:
I’m not solo traveler…
For one day I was a solo traveler, I arrived 1 day before Mr. Flight Deal. At first I was hesitant about arriving beforehand and even considered switching my ticket but eventually I decided to go through with it. This would be my solo travel test run. I had reservations about reaching my family at home in the event of an emergency (I even registeredwith the US embassy just in case and I was also dreading the 15 minute flight to Ambergis Caye. After reading some less than desirable stories from my travel group I expected Belize customs to flag me (read: presume that I’m a drug mule) since smuggling narcotics is a huge issue in their country. However going through customs was quite the opposite, it was a breeze. The officials were very flirty and friendly just giving out compliments. You guys know how to make a girl feel welcomed that’s for sure.
I didn’t have a working phone or BTL simcard that I can use to make phone calls. I had to rely on the good old wifi and my Digicel simcard with less than $5 on it.
After I went through customs I debated going outside to get a simcard but ultimately decided against it,and played it safe to make my connecting flight. I may have looked cool and calm on the outside but my anxiety was on 1,0000. I’m not a fan of small planes and after learning bout an accident on Tropic Air earlier this year where some passenger had to swim 3 miles to shore I was beyond nervous.
I thoroughly investigated both airlines and decided to book with Mayan Air as they seemed to have fewer incidences. Needless to say this short 15 minutes felt like the longest 15 minutes ordeal of my life. To make matters worst the AC was not working. I wished I had someone to talk to and crack jokes with to get my mind off the situation but I was left with a whirlwind swirling in anxiety. The pilot was too relaxed, sure he probably has 30 flights a day. This was like riding a bike for him, he was casually steering the plane with one hand, looking at his phone and piloting like a boss. The way he handled the plan put my nerves at ease for a bit.
Checking in the hotel without someone also was a new and weird moment. There was no one to share the excitement with, no one to jump on the bed and scream I’m in Belize (travel ritual).
I arrived around 2:30 pm and spent most of my day on FaceTime and watching TV. The time I most enjoyed alone was at the bar eating lunch and fully being present and in the moment. I’m an introvert by nature and I love to be in my own thoughts and as of late I haven’t had much time to myself. I was beyond appreciative to be in paradise, eating wings, sipping on cocktails and in complete solitude. There were other patrons at this popular the sea side restaurant but deep – in- thought I felt like I was the only person there. I wasn’t looking down at my phone scrolling through social feeds trying to keep busy and have faux company. I was confident being there by myself.
The rest of the evening I returned to my room and didn’t bother to venture off the hotel grounds. I was not 100% comfortable to do so. While I enjoyed the time I had to myself I prefer traveling with a buddy. It’s not as fun if I share moments and laughs with someone else. Maybe my #EatPrayLove solo adventures will come later in life but for now I’m happy to stick to my small group trips.
Fear of Heights?
We decided to do a combination tour that included visiting ruins of Xunautinuch and cavetubing. Earlier this year I went to Chichen Itza so I expected the same policy where you can’t touch or climb the ruins. The walk to the site seemed to take forever. It was sweltering hot, flies everywhere, and our tour guide stopped to show us monkeys. Something about spider monkeys is off putting to me. Just the thought of them flying down from the trees to eat out my hands gives me the hebeejeebes shudders. When we arrived at the site, there was a live excavation and our tour guide Alfredo continued on about Mayan heritage. A lot of the quick facts I remembered from the Chichen Tour so my patience was running thin.
Standing 140 feet high Xunatunich is the biggest ruin at the site. At first I climbed to the first platform to take pictures. Our tour guide then led us the right side platform a little higher up to get side views of the temple. After that I thought the tour was over but little did I know that we’ll have to continue to climb all the way to the top in order to get back down to the ground. He told us the only way to get down is to climb up to the top and exit on the right side. WHATTTTT. I really think he lied to us.
The climb to the top wasn’t too bad. I was amazed at the vast jungles that surrounded the site. This wasn’t easily noticeable from the ground level and I didn’t quite grasp the beauty and magnitude of it all. This awe and amazement came to a screeching halt when I looked down and the other tour groups literally looked like ants. It was at that moment I knew I fucked up. Alfredo cracked a few jokes and detailed some more Mayan history then it was time to climb down. There was a family ahead of us making their way down when the tourguide instructed them to not hold on the rock wall for support because it was slippery (the oils from people hands made the surface extra smooth). The steps were extremely narrow and steep. One foot in front of the other, after one minor slip on the second stair I completely froze up. That’s the moment where I thought I was done- my life flashed before my eyes. My entire body was shaking, palms sweaty, heart racing and panicked I yelled out to Alfredo I CANT GET DOWN, HELP ME. Even after holding on to his shoulder on the walk down my body was still shaking. I did ropes courses when I was a kid at sleep-away camp and recently done a few ziplines so I’m not sure when I developed a fear of heights. Maybe it was my fear of falling down the steps coupled with my fear of heights that paralyzed my body.
I’m Not Afraid of the Dark
After Xunatunich we hiked through the jungle with inner tubes for our next adventure- cave tubing. The hike was about “10 Belizian minutes” aka this affair turned into a 45 minute journey. Along the way I learned about trees and plans and their natural remedies, the ecosystem, and was bitten by fire ants. There was a bunch of cool stuff that he told us but after those fire ants bit me I zoned out as I was preoccupied trying not to itch my feet to relieve the pain. It was also incredibly humid and close to 100 degrees I just wanted to get to the caves. After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the caves, snacked on some mini coconuts (I don’t remember the correct name for this fruit).
The water was cool and refreshing and we were off in our tubes At first the cave didn’t seem too bad. Our guide told that that there are some parts where he’ll have to pull us through the water other portions the water was 40 feet deep. Our only job was to sit back and relax. When the river is high, our 45 minute excursion takes about 10 minutes. We went during low season so we spent the full 45 minutes making our way through the cave system.
The first five minutes were cool, Alfredo pulled us through the water and recited some facts about the cave. He jumped back in his tube and then it was pitch black. I turned on the headlight and I couldn’t see anyone. For a first few seconds, all the horror movies I watched ran through my head especially The Descent. I mean at any moment some zombie like creature could’ve attacked us and pulled us down to our deaths. Yes I know I have a wildly overactive imagination. A more realistic horror was the fruit bats hanging out in the cave. You know fruit bats that carry every plague like disease ever imagined even if fictional (read: Contaigon).
That moment of complete vulnerability were put as ease by simply appreciating where I was in that moment. In pitch-blackness, those few seconds in silence accompanied by the sounds of water trickling down the crystal formation, and our tubes swishing through the caves the immediate feeling of appreciation negated any nervousness that I felt.
Stop Trying to Capture Everything
The final activity on the list was visiting Hol Chan marine reserve and Shark Rey alley. Snorkeling is one of my favorite activities, I always joke that I’m a fake marine biologist. If I can snorkel everyday I would. Now the real marine biologist will hate me for this but there’s something about trying to catch starfish and touch the schools of fish when they swim by that brings me so much joy.
At Hol Chan Marine reserve our tour guide pointed out over 8 species of fish from barracudas, snappers, parrotfish and even sea turtles. It was my mission to capture the schools of fish as they swam by. I used my lifeproof case on my phone to snap a few pics. My phone was less than 6 inches underwater and it completely shut down.
As we made our way to Shark Ray alley I turned the phone back on and to my relief it was working again. At Shark Ray Alley I suited back up in my gear and was ready to pet nurse sharks (I had no idea that they’ll be so massive).
Our tour guide dropped shark food into the water and over a dozen nurse sharks came to our boat. Fidgeting to turn my camera back on I jumped in the water trying to get some video of them feeding live in action and the phone shut down.
I was on the boat for about 5 minutes trying to troubleshoot and turn the phone back on when Flight Deal shouted out “you’re missing the stingrays!”
Super bummed out about missing the chance to capture this once in a lifetime experience (unless I go back to Belize- but I’m not a fan of repeating trips) I jumped back in as our tour guide went diving for a stingray to bring me. When else would I get the chance to swim with sting rays in the wild. Though I don’t have it on time I have the memory of the sting ray charging in my direction when the tour guide released it. Not gonna lie I freaked out, they’re not debarbed and I definitely did not want to have a Steve Irwin situation (R.I.P). Despite the fact that we lost a phone while trying to capture these epic moments, swimming with schools of fish, holding nurse sharks and petting sting rays undoubtedly is the highlight of my trip.
Though it sucks because I thought we got really great footage the lesson is to 1) live in the moment and stop trying to capture everything or 2) invest in a damn go-pro. Maybe it’s a bit of both.