Friday July 25th – Bring on the weekend!
Just this past weekend I took my first adventure trip to a town called San Ignacio (about 15 miles from the Guatemalan border). I ended up going with an American student named Angela where I met in Caye Caulker the previous weekend. The both of us live and work in Belize so it was thrilling to finally escape the bustling city.
The neighboring two towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are only connected by two bridges. San Ignacio is the largest town in the Cayo district and has a relaxing atmosphere and engaging ambiance that allows travelers to explore and enjoy some of the best street food.
It has a positive local vibe where you will find a mix of Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Mennonites, Europeans and North Americans. It is one of the few towns that have evening actives for young children in the towns center and music playing in the streets from the bars (they turn up the volume so you can dance on the street – if you wish). On my first evening there, the two of us wandered around the town’s main center and compared to Belize City, I felt very safe.
Saturday July 26th
First thing we decided to do was to check out the local market and find some breakfast. We stumbled upon some women frying pupusas (freaking delicious). The Mennonite community had tents set up too!
The cool morning was changing into another hot afternoon. We decided to find a nearby falls/swimming hole to cool off at. Angela knew about one already, but we wanted to try and find something completely new. I was told by one woman at the market that there was something close by in a little village of San Antonio (30 min bus ride from San Ignacio). In time, we caught the bus and when we arrived we went into a local store to ask for direction. What we found out was that the closest water hole was a 3 mile walk to the national park while the second oasis was a 7 mile path through the bush. Guess which one we chose… the swimming hole that Angela knew about ( going back towards San Ignacio).
We were thinking of hitch hiking back but instead we decided to check out a sign that said San Antonio’s Women’s Co-op (SAWC). Although we weren’t technically “lost”, it was amazing finding SAWC because we got the chance to buy a hand-made Mayan style gift and support the local female artists! Josefa (in picture below) is the lovely woman who presented the art and explained SAWC to us.
San Antonio Woman’s Cooperative: A great place to make a group reservation and learn hands on the way women in that area make pottery, dresses and artistic stitching in traditional Maya. During the 5 hours session visitors also get a chance to make their own tortillas and are served Mayan style lunch. From what I remember the cost was around 50$USD. (Contact me if you are interested to book a session!)
Afterwards we trailed back to the bus stop and caught the next ride towards town. This time we got off at the side of the road where a dirt road started. I didn’t know what to expect walking towards the green bush. On both sides there were small scale farms and near the end a grand Yoga house (which looked like a big hut).
Right after the Yoga place, there were two routs; right going to a natural pool and left taking us to Monkey Falls. I don’t know why the name “Monkey Falls” (definitely did not see any primates), but there was this carved face that is apparently “the Monkey” of Monkey Falls.
Definitely went swimming!
As I look back on these pictures, they are quite lovely, but the experience you get by being there is enchanting (I’d love for the readers to experience it too). Imagine a place with a constant soft sound of water falling on smooth stone and running down into a collective pool. The rays of sun piercing through the tree canopy forming spot lights on the surface of the teal blue water. It is well shaded so you don’t feel the stinging heat you would at a coastal beach and you breathe this crisp refreshing air. Nothing more therapeutic than laying down on the large stone and allowing streams of water flow against you.
Time went by at a perfect pace. Eventually we went back up the dirt road to catch the bus back to San Ignacio. Waiting for the bus a couple that we met at the falls were also going our way. The four of us chatted until we got back into town – then went our separate ways (but not for long).
Towns in Belize are quite small, so you are very likely to bump into someone you just met again. This can be a fun/good thing, or an annoying/inconvenient thing. For instance, when I ran into the couple patio bar that evening, it was great! Chatted with each other more and they offered me a beer (a delightful time). Now when you run into a person whom you are not too eager to interact or your gut feeling says “damn it”, it’s harder to hide in small towns. Belize is a small populous country and more than often you get a mix of both interactions wherever you travel.
FUN-DAY Sunday (July 27th)
The next morning, IT WAS HOT. How can I prove this to you? Oh yah, I almost fainted (thank you, again, Angela and kind Belizean waitress for aiding me). As soon as I got my energy back we were off for one more trip to a place called “Iguana Project” at the San Ignacio Hotel. Our tour guide Jorge was super. He placed us in a cage filled with vegetarian Iguanas and gave us banana tree leaves to feed them. Holding them was an option, and I took it!
There was also a second part to the habitat where it was filled with baby iguanas! Now these baby lizards are cute. They don’t scratch or try to escape from you, in fact they climb on you – to the highest point, your head. Iguanas search for high places in order to keep safe from predators (hence the frenzy on my hat).
About Iguana Project: The Iguana Project isn’t a zoo for people just to hold the reptiles. The projects purpose is to repopulate the females and send them out into the wild. Because of global warming, in the wild there is a larger population of males being hatched compared to females. Iguana eggs are sensitive to temperature, if the temperature is high there will be males, when the temperature is low, more females. The Iguana project collects eggs from the wild, hatches them at a low temperature and releases the female Iguanas back to the wild – when it is time. However the Iguana population is a problem isolated in Belize and not other Central American countries…yet.
Finally we were on our way back to Belize City. And what was going to happen next I could not “Belize” it. Public bus transportation in Belize are school buses and this one was going to be packed. I felt like a sardine in a can (a heated can). The fare collector managed to fit an entire bus of people and their luggage – at least 2-3 people on each seat and everyone else stands next to one another (closely).
Angela and I were the last ones on the bus so we were right by the door when we departed. Oh and I failed to mention, the couple we met previously were also traveling back to the city (small world). After 2 hours of basically standing and being shuffled around (people getting on and off while the fare collector goes up and down the isle) we made it back to the city. But I had no reason to complain because that’s how it is in Belize when everyone starts work on Monday.
It was a weekend filled with little adventures and getting back home felt so bizarre – as if the amount of time we had was too short. I am calling for weekends to be longer, please!