I don’t even know if I can truly explain just how amazing this day was for me. I know that the next port (Roatan) was Sunshine’s favorite, but this one almost felt life-changing for me. But before I get too far ahead of myself…
We woke up at around 5:30am because we knew this had to be an early day. Y’see, the tenders were arriving at 8am to begin taking people off of the ship so we knew that we’d have to be waiting nice and early since we had booked a private tour and not one with Carnival (those folks got priority seating based upon their excursion).
Room service had been pre-ordered the night before, so while we were getting ready for the day, our breakfast arrived at 6:15am, just as we had requested.
We were the second couple waiting outside of the Follies theater at 7:05am, knowing that they were opening up the doors at 7:30am. We were glad that we got there early, too, because by the time the doors had opened a very large line of folks had begun to gather behind us.
As we entered the theater, we were divided into two groups: Carnival excursion folks and “independents” (we got stickers with an “I” on them to distinguish us from the rest). Sunshine and I were the first of the independents, so we knew that we’d be ashore early enough to make our 9:30am private excursion time.
Three or four Carnival excursion groups were called to board the first tender, then they called for the first four rows of independents…meaning we were going to go on the first boat to Belize. This was pretty exciting for us (we really don’t get out much…honest!).
It was a REALLY cloudy day…cool and windy. The guide told us that it would “burn off” by mid-day. Sunshine and I thought he was nuts…how in the world are CLOUDS going to burn off? I mean…we’re used to fog burning off, but clouds? You’re insane.
We arrived at the port and, quite honestly, weren’t overly impressed. It was nice, I guess…but not nearly as nice as some of the other ports we had visited over the past couple of years (even Nassau had a better first impression).
We were let out through the front door by an armed guard (always a nice sign) and were hit with a dose of reality: a ton of locals trying to get us to go on tours with them. The street looked dilapidated and I was a little taken aback.
Fortunately, I immediately saw a sign for the group that we were going with: Cave-Tubing.com. Now, you may find the rest of this post to be similar to an infomercial for these guys, but I can’t help it…they were awesome in every way. Anyway, they checked my name off of their list and we waited for their bus to arrive.
The bus was a regular bus…not some broken-down converted school bus, but a “real” bus with air conditioning and even a customized paint job. I immediately recognized that the Cave-Tubing.com guys weren’t just some local yahoos taking us on some wack “adventure”.
We were told that it would be an hour-long bus ride to the jungle so we settled back for a tour of Belize City. The first guide to help us learn more about his country was “Ex-Con” (a nickname only…he’s not really an ex-convict…or at least that’s what they told us). While he made jokes and provided a lot of information, Sunshine and I couldn’t help but notice that Belize appears to be one of the poorest-looking areas we’ve ever seen. While looking at the poverty all around, it made Sunshine and I ever happier to know that we had put our money directly into the hands of the local economy. No offense to Carnival or any other cruise line that does excursions, but we knew that the money we gave this group would 100% be going to the group…and that’s why (1) it was cheaper and (2) they worked harder.
Anyway, while our 17-year-old bus driver (nickname: Seven) was passing cars and motorcycles on the VERY narrow highway, we were given a GREAT tour of the countryside from the main guide for the company: Speedo. He really made us feel at ease and have a bit of fun. What kind of fun?
Well…in Belize they produce something called Cashew Wine. The cashew nut is connected to a piece of fruit, but when it’s harvested the fruit portion usually gets thrown out. Not in Belize. Instead, they’ve taken the fruit portion and have made Cashew Wine out of it. Speedo told us that if we were hot he had cold bottles of water for us. However, if we were cool we’d REALLY enjoy some Cashew Wine.
So out came the shooter cups and out came the wine. We were told not to sip it, but to swig it back like a shot of hard liquor. I’m not a big drinker, but you know the old saying…
We were asked if we liked it. We both said it was alright. Speedo immediately suggested that we needed a second shot to come to a more definitive conclusion, so down went shot #2!! I gotta say…the taste wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but after two shots the entire group was officially on the “Party Bus”.
We arrived at the Cave-Tubing.com hut on the outskirts of the jungle so we could let those doing the ATV jungle tour off first. They would meet up with us later. After driving down the road about seven more minutes, we arrived at the Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, which is a protected area managed by the National Institute of Culture and History and the primary starting point for almost every cave-tubing company..
Speedo told us something that seemed a little odd at the time…we were going to get some dirty looks from the other tourists on cave-tubing excursions but didn’t say exactly why. Boy…would we find out quickly.
Turns out that not only is Cave-Tubing.com “twice the fun at half the price” (they are almost 50% cheaper than the Carnival excursion that does the exact same thing), but they carried the tubes for us!! It was crazy…as soon as we arrived at their building at the jungle entrance, we saw a number of guys load up two large tubes on each arm and just start hiking through the jungle trail on their own. The guys handed over our LED lights that would be strapped to our heads and that was it…we started to make our way through the jungle.
Our guide for this part of the excursion was Jimmy. If I remember correctly, Jimmy used to be an auto mechanic until he started doing cave-tubing tours about seven or eight years ago. He’s a LOT happier doing this. Jimmy was well spoken and knew a LOT about Belize, the jungle, and just about everything that our small group had asked him about. He was in no rush and took the time to make our hike a fun learning experience.
I cannot tell you just how amazing of an experience this was for me. I’ve always lived around forests as my neck of the woods is dense with trees, but there was something surreal about being in an actual jungle…hearing the sounds and seeing the sights. I couldn’t have been more in awe as we trekked along.
And where some people were just looking around and/or eager to get to the caves, they appeared to not really care that much about the hike there. For me, I never want to reach the point in my life where walking through an actual jungle is taken for granted.
And sure enough, just like Speedo said, as we were making our thirty minute hike/walk through the jungle we ended up passing other groups who had stopped to rest. The reason they were resting was because they were wearing helmets and carrying their own tubes. As we casually walked past them, believe me when I say that if looks could kill…
At one point we actually stopped to look at a termite hive. Jimmy asked if anybody wanted to try one. Apparently, if you’re lost in the jungle and need some food, termites are full of protein and can keep you going with their minty after-taste. We all declined, but we asked Jimmy if he was interested himself. His answer? “Nah…I’m a vegetarian.”
We finally made our way to the river and could see the river and the caves directly in front of us. It was at this point that the ATV folks that we had dropped off met up with us, along with the zip-lining folks that had gone off in a different direction when we arrived at the site. It was all timed very well and you could tell they were organized and knew exactly what they were doing.
It was at this point that I put my camera away in a plastic ziplock baggie to ensure that nothing happened to it should I drop it in the water or if it got wet. As it turns out, I probably could have not worried about it at all because we were safe and sound with our new guide, Nico.
But the next part of our journey will have to wait until tomorrow’s post…