The thought of just a seven hour window to wander around Belize was nerve wrecking and at the same time unsettling. Many questions came to mind: What if the ship leaves without us? What are we going to do if we are stuck in traffic or the van breaks down?
Waking up early in the morning before 6am, we got ready to stay in line for the distribution of tender tickets for our boat ride from the cruise ship to the Belize City port. It was to be distributed on a first come first serve basis and according to the lot numbers. Those are the challenges for booking excursions from ‘the outside world’ (not with the cruise ship).
Belize City had just experienced heavy downpour for days. The water was choppy and sky was grey as we sat on the first tender boat from the cruise ship to the port of Belize City.
Our appointment was for 9 am with Chaa Creek staff…clueless…but full of confidence that they would show up. Indeed, Lorenzo and Joe were already there before 9 am.
We were heading for Cayo District, the Western part of Belize to visit The Lodge at Chaa Creek, experience a Belizean lunch and explore the Mayan Ruins.
Traveling on the Western Highway from Belize City, our guide Joe began to educate us about the culture and life of the people of Belize. Along the way in Belize City, we saw houses on stilts and as we went further to the western part of Belize, there were miles and miles of green rich vegetation, hills and locals hanging out on the streets or in front of their houses.
The scenery reminded me of Malaysia…there was a sense of familiarity while traveling on the van through the outskirts of Belize City. Passing through the first town in the west, Santa Elena with its little shops, restaurants and hotels was like passing through a little town in Malaysia…tropical, small with folks walking leisurely around town.
The difference was…
The Mennonites, Mestizos, Creoles, Mayans…
A Mennonite family was all in a truck ready to head off somewhere. Another Mennonite man was selling watermelons by the street. Out of respect for them, we did not take a picture of them but have a picture of one of the carts.
We crossed the single-lane Hawksworth Bridge, the highest and only suspension bridge in Belize, through Macal River to the town of San Ignacio. From a distance, the town reminded us of parts of Italy.
Crossing the bridge and through a traffic circle of San Ignacio to the left, on a hill were the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech. Cahal Pech was a pleasant surprise. We were diverted from the original plan of visiting Xunantunich Mayan ruins because of flooding in the area.
While on the road in the van with Joe and Lorenzo, we noticed these gentlemen were speaking more than one language at the same time. Most Belizean speak more than three languages. They are English, Spanish and Creole….gud mannin (good morning)….
Meet Joe Awe:
Joe our driver and guide is a fourth generation Lebanese in Belize with Mayan, Spanish and Mestizo heritage. His Lebanese great grandfather immigrated to Belize in the 1880s. He has been working with Chaa Creek as a tour guide since 1999.
Other than leading tours, he is also a part-time professor at a local junior college. Joe’s hero is Dr. Paul Farmer, an American physician and anthropologist, who has devoted much of his life in Haiti. Joe told us he will be interviewed by The Travel Channel the next day for a show called What’s hot in 2012.
When asked about tourism and travel, Joe said:
Travel allows us to meet people outside of our norm.
We can be empowered by the people we meet and the conversations we have.
Travel makes us better…it helps increase knowledge of other cultures and at the same time raises self awareness. Questions like, which area can we improve in our thought patterns and behaviors.
Travel helps us relate better with other cultures.
Travel shows us first hand the suffering, joy, failure and triumph of our fellow man across the world.
Belize is a country with a very young population with 36.8% below age 14, 59.6% between ages 15-64 and 3.5% above 65.
Joe is not your average Joe tour guide. He knows Belize and is passionate about sharing Belize culture and life with travelers. Though we did not get to meet the owners of Chaa Creek, Lucy and Mick Fleming, who were on vacation, Joe, Lorenzo and Ben were a great representation of the professionalism, knowledge and hospitality of The Lodge at Chaa Creek and Belize.
Our seven hours in Belize was well worth it. We saw, learned, explored, interacted and we will be back for more. When traveling on a cruise, don’t limit yourself to only the tours offered by the cruise ships. There are many options out there. One of them could be a trip with Joe to The Lodge at Chaa Creek and Mayan Ruins.
Note: In our next two articles, we will write about Lorenzo, a young man that represents the young generation of Belize (smart, ambitious, hard working and relevant), more about The Lodge at Chaa Creek and the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech. I am a guest writer with The Lodge at Chaa Creek…check out the website for more information on traveling to Belize.
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