Adventures in Belize
What typically happens to me when I’m in Belize is that I meet someone. Someone who is a visitor, as I’m am; someone who is here to live the magic of Belize. And it’s strange, because my husband, Paul, and I are not the sort of people who go up to strangers and start a conversation. But there’s something about Belize. One year, we met James. We loved James. He palled around with us for days. We took him to all our favorite places. We had a great time. One of the things that makes this so easy is that we have always been privileged enough to rent a car, which is very expensive in Belize. It’s not an easy place to get around in without a car, so we like to share the transportation with others.
Well the trip I took to Belize with my eighteen-year-old daughter this summer proved to be no different. When my daughter, Sarah, and I left the upper falls of Antelope Falls, we met Valerie and Ryan, from Vancouver. Antelope Falls is a beautiful, strenuous hike near the Mayflower ruins off the Southern Highway between Dangriga and Hopkins. I just naturally asked them, as we pulled our hiking clothes over our wet bathing suits and prepared for the hike back down the mountain, if they wanted to go to Cockscomb Basin with us later in the week, as they had no car and it’s one long walk into the park.
Valerie and Ryan were on their honeymoon. They’ve been backpacking through Central America for two months. They were sweethearts in high school and were brought back together via a high school reunion. He’s going to be going to law school and she’s a horticulturist. By the next day they are showering in our unused bedroom suite of North Hopkins Bay where we are staying for the week. My husband and I built a house south of Hopkins two years ago. We have long term renters living in our home who work at Hopkins Bay, so we have a sweet little arrangement allowing us to stay at the resort on those visits where we don’t demand the use of our own home. Ryan and Valerie were camping, with sand flies and barking dogs. They were on their honeymoon. They deserved a king-sized bed!
So, the four of us went hiking in Cockscomb Basin, up the Tiger Fern Trail. The hike is a challenge, but not impossible, even for a woman of my advanced years. What makes this hike my favorite are the twin falls and the beautiful jungle pools into which the waters cascade. But what makes this hike a great big pain-in-the-rump, is that once you reach the top of the mountain, you must then hike down a very steep twenty to thirty minutes decline (depending on how closely you’re related to a mountain goat) to get to the falls. Once there, it’s pure heaven! The problem becomes, that you either have to decide to live the rest of your life by a jungle pool in Belize, or you must drag your tired body back up and out of there.
But, where I’m heading with this is that I need another reward for getting out of there. The first reward, being, of course, swimming in the jungle pools and the second reward is renting a tube for $2.50 US from the park office and spending an hour floating down a lazy river in middle of Cockscomb Basin.
This is what the four of us do -- Sarah, Valerie, Ryan and myself, after we’d made it up and down and back up and down the Tiger Fern trail; we go the park office to collect our tubes. There are two places you exit the river when you’re done tubing. We always float to the second exit. So as we pay for the tubes, I told the park ranger that we are going to the second exit, where the rope is tied across the river, clearly marking the exit, and he says, “I think the rope is still there . . . ” This bothers me a little, that the rope might not be there anymore, but I’ve done this tubing several times before -- I know what I’m doing. I joke with him. “So if we miss the exit, we end up in the sea?” He mumbles something about getting out somewhere else and walking several miles back up the road, but I didn’t quite catch it and besides, I know what I’m doing.
So I lead my daughter and our new friends down a path and into the jungle, toting our tubes, a bag of beers Sarah’s insisted on bringing (legal drinking age is eighteen in Belize) and my dry bag with: car keys, bug wipes, Ryan’s and Valerie’s passports, papers and money. They’ve already been robbed once on their journeys, so they’re not taking any chances. Sarah and I have on sandals, Ryan and Valerie are barefoot.
It is a longer hike than I remembered, but we finally reach the entrance point of the river and it’s divine! The sky is a clear blue. The river is a calm movement towards the sea. The butterflies are bright splashes of color. The birds are flittering movements of pleasure . . . We sit ourselves in our tubes, an open bottle of Belikin stuck between our legs and float with lazy rapture through the jungle.
Well, the first minor glitch is when we reach the first exit point. I am ahead, as I am an extremely fast floater, and I wait for the others to catch up. At this point, my beer is gone, and I am only mildly concerned. When my companions reach my spot on the river, I tell them that I am ninety percent sure that is the first exit and that we should keep going. The words “I think the rope is still there,” are floating about in my head. Ryan and Valerie like the odds and Sarah is, “Whatever.” We float onward.
It is not too much longer before Ryan stops. My ‘dry bag’ is no longer dry. Everything is wet -- their passports, their money, their wedding vows, my bug wipes . . . But they’re cool. We reseal the dry bag.
We soldier on. A few lazy turns in the river later, Sarah announces, “I’ve lost my pants.” “Your pants!? How could you lose your pants?” She’d removed her pants to float in her bathing suit and tied them to the tube -- now they are on their way to the sea. Oh, well . . . Onward, down the river. Then we reach a fork. I stop again and wait, as I am, of course, ahead. I recognize this fork -- I’m almost certain. And I swear that there used to be a sign -- an arrow telling you which way to go. But there is no sign -- no arrow . . . Do I know where the hell I am? Once my companions catch up, I am honest. “I’m pretty sure we take the right fork. Ninety percent sure,” I say, with authority. Ryan likes the odds. Sarah and Valerie are silent.
We soldier on. The fork becomes narrower and narrower, the jungle bends down around us, the water grows dangerously shallow. My ninety percent seems to be shrinking away. “Let me walk on ahead,” I say, as it is not too late to push back up the river and take the other fork. It is only a short wade down the river before the fork widens and joins the other fork. I am greatly relieved, but still wondering about that damn rope.
We float onward. I push ahead. Valerie is right behind me and the water begins to move faster. We are zipping along and I’m thinking of rapids and waterfalls and nights spent in the jungle unprepared, when suddenly, like an answered prayer, I see the rope! We are saved! I have not led three people astray in Belize!
Valerie and I get out at the exit. We are both happy. Her faith in me is restored. We wait. “I wonder where they are?” I say casually. “They were right behind us . . .” “I saw Ryan stop,” she says. We wait. Finally Sarah is floating towards us. She grabs the rope to stop herself and says, “Ryan’s lost his wedding ring.” “What!? You’re joking, right?” is Valerie’s response. But Sarah would never be that cruel.
So the three of us desert our tubes on the bank and swim back up the river to help Ryan look for his ring, which, by-the-way, is not an easy task as the current was strong, the water deep. When we finally reach him, poor Ryan is standing in the shallow water. He’s been looking for quite awhile. He’s peering down at a riverbed sprinkled with small colored stones and looking lost -- his hand naked. His wife stands near, her hands to her sides, peering at him. He looks at her. “My hand hit a branch. It just pulled right off . . .” They both look as if they might cry. I see their entire marriage raveling apart. First the wet passports, the ruined wedding vows -- now the lost ring . . . I have failed them . . .
But before we even get the chance to help scour the riverbed, Ryan suddenly looks down. He bends over and picks up the ring, which has wedged itself between two stones. We all look with relief and wonder at the ring he holds up, secure between his thumb and his forefinger, and that’s when I knew that these two would always be together, and not me, or Belize, or rivers could change that.