Sunday, May 18, 2008

Welcome, Baby Stevens!

This isn’t Belize news, but for all family and friends that are interested, my brother Tim and his wife Kelli just had their first child, a boy named James Thomas Stevens, aka Jamey. This is the first boy for the Stevens boys, after four blond girls between Pete and Matt. We tried to make the math work so it would look like Jamey was conceived while Tim and Kelli were in Belize last summer, but we think they were here just a couple of weeks too early!

Here are the vital statistics: Born Monday, May 12, 2008, at 5:38pm, weighing 6lbs, 13oz. Kelli had a c-section but Kelli and Jamey both came home from the hospital on Friday, and Tim and Kelli are now adjusting to life with no sleep.

This is Belize

Lately, Tom and I have found ourselves hearing and saying those three words frequently for all sorts of different reasons.

The first time we noticed those words coming out of our mouths was a couple of weeks ago when Tom attended a 7 Miles town meeting. In February, the People’s United Party (PUP) was voted out, and the United Democratic Party (UDP) was voted in for most district and national offices. Coming from the US where the President can be Republican but all sorts of different offices under the President can be held by Democrats or Republicans depending on how the constituents vote, we just sort of assumed that it didn’t really matter if the more minor offices, like town chairmen, were held by PUP or UDP. That was a bad assumption, because it seems to really matter, and the purpose of the 7 Miles town meeting that day was to force the mostly-PUP water board in that town to turn over their records to UDP officials, regardless of the fact that the water board had been voted in and their terms were not due to expire until 2010, and regardless of the fact that most consumers of the water were very happy with the job the PUP water board was doing. Tom talked about this meeting – which was attended not only by a lot of townspeople but also by armed police and Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers – with the chairman of Georgeville, who just happens to be UDP, and the only explanation the Georgeville chairman offered was that this is Belize, and that’s how it’s done.

We’re now waiting to see what happens with the water system because a pipe broke up in the Pine Ridge near the water source and we, along with the entire town of 7 Miles and all the water users, have been without water for four days. We’re not sure if the new water board knows how to fix it, or if they can get together a crew to do the job. But, this is Belize, and if nobody can get water from the public water supply, people will just figure out another way to supply their families with water.

Another very distressing thing happened with that village and the change of leadership this week. In January and February, the side of the road was chopped and electric poles were delivered so that 7 Miles could get electricity. After the election all activity on the project stopped, and the town chairman told Tom that they were waiting for wire, which was supposed to arrive in June. However, Tom was driving into 7 Miles the other day, and he saw a truck picking up any pole that had not yet been set in the ground. Making it clear he was asking just out of curiosity, he asked what was happening. The guys in the truck told him that they’d been instructed to pick up all the loose poles and take them back to Belize City. Tom asked if that meant 7 Miles wasn’t getting electricity, and the guys said that it looked that way. When Tom asked if they were going to dig up the already set poles, the only reply was “not yet.” Up until now, the picking up of poles had been sort of a joke, because in the last election, 7 Miles had also been promised electricity, and had even had poles delivered, although not set. After the election, a truck came and picked up all the poles and nothing more was done about getting electricity to the town until this most recent election. Before this election, most residents thought that they were good to go because so many poles had already been set prior to the election. But, now it looks like it was just another election ploy, although the powers-that-be had to take the additional step of setting the poles so it looked like they really meant it. When we talk to people around here who watched this in the election five years ago, and then saw it again in this year’s election, all they say is “This is Belize.”

We’re one step closer now to our permanent residency here, and that’s also happening Belize style. At our interviews with the immigration officer in Belmopan two weeks ago, we were told to wait a couple of weeks and then contact the police in San Ignacio about our police interviews. The immigration officer told us that our paperwork should have reached the San Ignacio police barracks by then. On Wednesday of last week, which was exactly two weeks from our interviews in Belmopan, Tom stopped at the police barracks to inquire. He was told that they didn’t yet have our file, but that the police officer who does the interviews would be glad to talk to us, and then he could just fill out the paperwork and send it back to Belmopan as soon as he got it. The police officer asked Tom a few questions, and then told him to come back with me at 9:00 the next morning. We got there on the dot of nine, and waited just a few minutes until the officer showed up with his bag of breakfast and a cup of coffee. He took us in the office, looked at our passports, and told Tom he already had the information he needed from him, even though Tom hadn’t been aware that he was being interviewed the day before. He then proceeded to ask me a few questions. One of the questions was whether or not I have a job. I said no, and he looked at me with one eyebrow raised and said, “So, should I put “domestic” on this form?” I think he expected an American feminist rant, which he’s probably heard before when he’s “accused” American women of being, gasp, housewives. I just smiled and said, “That sounds good. I seem to do a lot of sweeping,” whereupon Tom had to turn his head and cough/laugh into his hand, because it’s a joke around here that I’m never far from my car, aka my broom, and I’m always complaining about how much I have to sweep here between the dog hair, the dust from the road, many men in and out of the house with their boots all day, and the simple fact that everything here seems to somehow end up on the floor. Tom regained control of himself, and I smiled at the police officer, who seemed to know my answer wasn’t as straight as it seemed, even though it was said very nicely. He then asked if I’ve ever been arrested, and when I said no, he gave me the one eyebrow up look again. I smiled, he smiled, and he put my answer on the form. And that was the end of that interview. We walked out and Tom said he couldn’t believe the police officer and I were pulling each other’s chains like that at what was supposed to be a serious interview, and I just said, “This is Belize. If he wants to call me domestic, he can call me domestic.”

A couple of weeks ago, we took the truck to one of the mechanics in Spanish Lookout because the brakes were getting a little squishy. They took a look at them, said they didn’t have the parts to do them that day, but after a few phone calls to parts stores they said if Tom brought the truck back the next Monday, they’d have the parts and they could fix them. On Monday, Tom took the truck over to Spanish Lookout, and noticed as he drove into town that everything was very quiet and closed, including the mechanic’s shop. He ran into someone he knows, and asked why everything was closed, because Tom knew that Monday was not a Belize holiday. He was told that it was a Spanish Lookout religious holiday. Because this is Belize, it didn’t even seem that strange that the mechanics had forgotten about the holiday, and because this is Belize, we don’t have a phone so they couldn’t call us to change the appointment – not that the thought would have crossed their minds anyway, because everybody is so laid back none of it matters much. So, Tom ran a few errands in San Ignacio, got our new passports in Belmopan, and then headed home. He was busy on Tuesday, but on Wednesday he took the truck back to the mechanics to see if they had time to fix it that day. They had the time, but after they sent him to the auto parts shop for a part that Tom thought they already had, and after the auto parts shop said they didn’t have that part in stock, the repair couldn’t be done on Wednesday either. Oh well. This is Belize, and Tom will get the part within a week or two, and then the mechanic will fix Tinkerbell.

On the way home that afternoon, Tom came up the Georgeville Road and ran into a trucker who was under his truck trying to repair it. Tom stopped to see if he needed help, and he said that he needed a deep socket of a certain size, which Tom carries in Tinkerbell’s well stocked tool box. To make a long story short, Tom spent the rest of the afternoon helping the guy try to fix his truck, and when it started to get dark and they realized they weren’t going to get the truck running any time soon, Tom told the guy to get in Tinkerbell so he could come tell me that he was driving the guy back to Spanish Lookout where he lives, and then Tom would be home for dinner. Because, in Belize, that’s just what you do; if somebody needs help, you help them, and if you need help, someone will help you. On the way back through Georgeville the Georgeville chairman’s wife came out to stop Tom and tell him that the chairman wanted to talk to him. Tom talked to the chairman, and found out that he wanted a cash donation. The chairman had attempted to buy gifts for every mother in the town for Mothers’ Day, and had come up a few bucks short. So few taxes are collected here that the towns have very small budgets, and part of being the chairman of a town is being able to get either money or labor from the residents to do what needs to be done. While buying gifts for the mothers isn’t exactly a necessary expense, it’s a nice gesture, so Tom donated $30, which provided two or three gifts for two or three mothers.

After what turned into a pretty hectic week with more running around than we’d planned, we decided to take off yesterday and ride the horses to Sapodilla Falls. Tom rode Tony, and I rode Esmerelda, who seems to be over her latest witchiness. It was very warm and we wanted to see how long it would take to get to the Falls if we just walked, so we had a slow and pleasant two-and-a-half hour ride through the jungle and the Pine Ridge. When we got to the Falls, we parked the horses in the corral area and walked down to the foot of the Falls. Sapodilla Falls is about four miles from the nearest road, so the only way to get there is walking or on horseback, and as usual, we had the entire beautiful place to ourselves. As we were walking along the river to where we wanted to picnic, Tom spotted movement in a tree on the riverbank. At first we thought it was a coati, but as we got closer, we realized it was a tayra, which are seldom seen in the wild because they don’t like people and don’t live around civilization.

The tayra is about the size of a raccoon, but it’s in the weasel family, and looks like a very large weasel with a whitish head. You can read more about it here, where I found this picture. Because this waterfall gets so little human traffic, the tayra spent about ten minutes checking us out as we watched. He’d march out on a branch so he had a clear view, then bounce his head, and sometimes his whole body, trying to get a better look at us. Lucky for us, he let us get a pretty good look at him too before he had enough, dropped out of the tree, and wandered back into the bush.

We picked our rock at the base of the Falls, changed into our bathing suits, and ate lunch, which included a fresh mango. We only get mangoes when they’re in season here, but when they’re in season they’re plentiful, cheap, and oh-so-good. As we were biting the mango chunks off the skin, Tom said “This is Belize,” which is what got me thinking about the theme for this blog entry. After lunch, we swam in the pools and hiked all the way to the top of the Falls, which can only be done in the dry season. Tom had only been there when too much water was coming over the route to the top, so he’d never done it, although I had. We took in the view from the top, climbed back down, swam back to our clothes, got dressed, climbed back up the hill to the horses, and headed home. Later, as we sat on our front porch sipping cold drinks, pleasantly tired, sunburned, and muscle-sore, watching yet another Maxfield Parrish sunset and listening as bird song transitioned to cicada buzz, we looked at each other, smiled, and simultaneously said, “THIS is Belize.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Now we can get mail...we think

While we still live on the Mountain Pine Ridge Road between San Antonio and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve gate, we finally have a post office box in town, which should get our mail to us a little more reliably than General Delivery in San Antonio. Our address is now PO Box 183, San Ignacio Town, Cayo District, Belize, Central America. Mail away!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lots of words for not much happening

We don’t have a lot new to report this week, although we ended up being pretty busy last week. Mark from Minnesota was here with a friend, so Tom and Selwyn spent a little bit of time working with Mark on the orange grove property so they know what needs to be done while Mark is in Minnesota. Mark won his first Belize scavenger hunt paper chase, obtaining his citrus producer’s license so the Citrus Growers’ Association will accept the truckloads of his oranges that he hopes to have reaped in the next few weeks. Getting the grower’s license is the same sort of paper game that Tom and I have played for the BTB and our residency applications, so all we could do was smile as Mark was explaining the couple of days he spent running back and forth to Dangriga and from office to office for forms and pictures and paperwork. But, he got the license before he left, so it was a successful trip.

Mark and Tim stayed here on their last night in Belize, and just as we were sitting down to dinner a car pulled into the driveway. It was our neighbor Bol with two men from Colorado who had decided spur-of-the-moment to spend a long weekend in Belize. They usually stay at the Pine Ridge Lodge when they do this, but PRL is closed right now, so Bol brought them here. Fortunately we had enough dinner for a few extras, and we had the rooms made up, so we ended up with guests for the weekend. Tom had to make an emergency run into San Ignacio for more food and beer on Saturday morning, despite the fact that we had just been shopping on Thursday, but that was a small price to pay for being busy doing what we planned to do, and what we want to do, here in Belize.

And, we did a little bit of what we didn’t plan to do, which is just be a restaurant. On Saturday afternoon a truckload of people pulled up to the house. It was the owner of a guest house in Belize City, along with his helper and five tourists. They had set out for Caracol from Belize City in the morning, but didn’t realize how slow the going would be. At about our driveway, they realized they wouldn’t get to Caracol and get back to Belize City by 6:30 as they had planned, so they wanted to call back to the guest house. Since we don’t get cell reception here, we gave them our phone and told them to try to make the call when they were higher in the hills, and to drop the phone off on the way back down. That’s exactly what happened, and around 9:00 on Saturday night they pulled back in the driveway, tired and hungry. They wanted to get on the road, but we invited them in and I heated up some rice and beans from the fridge, along with some barbeque sandwiches and brownies. They all got a drink, a tour of the guest cabins, ate, and they were on their way. Now we’re just waiting to see if we get an email from any of the tourists wanting to come spend a couple of days with us so they can take a little more time seeing the Mountain Pine Ridge sights.

Tom and Selwyn have been working on our Purple Heart bed. They’ve also been putting shelves up in our room, so we can turn the bedroom into a bedroom/office when the bed is done. They had to do a little emergency fence fixing, and they’ve been working with Selwyn’s friend Eric getting the last big cage down. We’re going to keep a few of the panels to use as stall walls when we put the barn together, and we’re going to give the rest to the Zoo for their new Harpy Eagle enclosure.

We now have our fancy new passports, so as soon as we have our police interview and get the paperwork processed, we’re ready for our Permanent Residency stamps. Tom had an appointment with a mechanic in Spanish Lookout yesterday, but when he got there, he found that the whole town was shut down for a religious holiday. Since he was already out, he called the US Embassy to see if our passports had arrived. Technically, he shouldn’t have been able to pick them up for both of us, but because it only took a week and a half, the woman who helped us remembered that we had arrived late to drop off the paperwork, and we had told her that we had come from the Zoo. When Tom told her who he was, she remembered the whole story and told him that it would be no problem to give both of them to him, as long as he had my old passport to be punched, which he did. Now Tom has to go out later in the week to get the truck fixed, but one more job is crossed off our To-Do list as far as getting permanent residency here.

Mel is still hanging in there, although he’s now noticeably weaker day to day. However, he’s still all there mentally, and has taken to going out in the afternoon and sleeping under the house, which is probably the coolest spot on the property. The pups are doing well, and with the weekly ivermectin treatments Beli is almost looking like a normal dog again without all the bald patches. One of Stout’s recent tricks that cracked us up was his latest attempt to talk. He makes all sorts of noise, and frequently gets noises out that can be pretty easily taken as words. We usually get up around 5:30am, so on the weekends when we want to sleep in a little, Stout thinks it’s his job to wake us. To do this, he puts his front feet up on the bed, and starts talking at Tom. We were trying to ignore him, when he very clearly said “Yoo hooo…” We both looked at him and started laughing, but he got what he wanted – our eyes were open and we got out of bed. Nock has become obsessed with lizard hunting again. The lizards love the hot dry weather we’ve had lately, so they were tormenting Nock as she sat on the porch. She finally figured out that all she has to do to open the screen door is to get one of her claws in the wire and pull, so she now watches for a few minutes, then opens the door and goes out hunting. She chases them around in the yard for a little while, then starts work on some digging project she has going under the stairs. Lou is Lou, and I’m still trying to decide if he’ll drive Tom crazy if I leave him here when I head north this summer. I’d rather not travel with a dog – even Louis – but I’d like a sane husband when I get home, and Lou’s whining and pining for me for two weeks might make Tom crazy.

The horses are also doing well. We’re almost through the dry season here, and with a little extra grain and hay, they all seem to have held their weights, and they all look pretty good. Tony is a little ribby, but not bad, and all the mares are within about 50 pounds of perfect. Es and Elphie’s weights are perfect, Glin could use just a little, and Nessarose could lose just a little, but they’re close. They all have nice shiny coats which stay clean thanks to the lack of rain, so they look good.

Unfortunately, Esmerelda is making ME look bad. She’s become a little barn sour lately, and while she’s fine if she goes out with other horses, she’s awful when I take her out on her own. A few weeks ago, she caught me by surprise and turned and bolted down the road for home. That day, I decided to do the old “just make her keep running” trick, so we galloped past the driveway and on to San Antonio. I swear I only passed three or four cars, but for the next couple of weeks, it seemed like everybody I met wanted to know why I was galloping my horse to San Antonio, laughing like a maniac, and kicking for all I was worth. Then she started to act up yesterday, and because she has a nasty tendency to rear til she’s pretty much perpendicular to the ground, I decided to work with her from the ground. I attached the long lines to her bit, and worked on ground driving her. When she was mostly listening to me, I took her up to the property line so I could work her in the same spots where she likes to misbehave. We worked ourselves back out to where the property line meets the road, and where I wanted her to turn up the road, knowing she’d want to go down the road towards home. You can only see the trail there if you know it’s there, and we were having a bit of a tussle as Es tried to turn right, and I was holding her to the left and whacking her butt with the driving whip. Of course, my timing was perfect. First Bol walked by, and wanted to know how he could help. I assured him I was fine, just working on a little problem, and he went on down the road. Then a friend from San Ignacio drove by, caught a glimpse of us out of the corner of his eye, and did a quick U-turn in the road to help me. As I talked to him for a few minutes, with Es pointing up the road and dancing between the long lines, at least half a dozen cars drove by, all pointing at the crazy gringa in the hard hat and half chaps, brandishing a whip and growling at a dancing horse. People who either know me or know horses probably knew exactly what I was doing, but I’m waiting to see who I run into for the next few days wanting to know what the h*** I was doing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Visited by a Jaguar!

This morning as we were finishing breakfast a little before 7:00, we noticed Nock crouched and staring intently at the door to the back porch. She’s usually somewhere around the table while we eat so her behavior was noticeably odd, and even when Tom called her she just sort of whined, banged her tail on the floor a couple of times, and kept watching the door. Tom got up to let her out, and she made a barking beeline to the back corner of the dog yard. Beli and Stout got up and ran barking to the front porch. Tom went after Nock, and just as I reached the front porch behind Beli and Stout he shouted “Marge! Jaguar!” I got to the front porch just in time to see its tail end disappearing into the brush right behind the dog yard, but lucky Tom was able to get a good look as it bounded down the path from the chicken cage (now empty) and went within a couple of feet of Nock as it bounded through the clear area around the yard before leaping into the jungle. We know they’re around, but we never thought we’d be lucky enough to see one, much less see one running through the clear area around the house. Now we’re really glad we have the fully fenced dog cage so none of our dogs have become jaguar supper when we turn them out at night.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kissed by a Jaguar!

Tom and I feel like we’ve spent the whole week being tourists, which is ironic considering we went for our permanent residency interviews on Wednesday. Our interviews went well, after a rocky start. Tom had an 8:30 appointment, and mine was for 9:00. Everything is done manually at the Immigration office, so all the appointments are handwritten in a book. Seems they didn’t get the book out the night before, so after they opened the doors at exactly 8:30, they spent a half hour searching for the book. They then spent another few minutes comparing our documentation to what was in the book, and then called Tom in for his interview at a few minutes past nine. He was in there FOREVER, or at least 45 minutes. I couldn’t imagine what the Immigration officer was asking him, but he finally came out of the office smiling and said it was my turn. When I went in, the Immigration office greeted me with a big smile, and then told me that she likes to ask the husbands all the official questions so she can just chat and gossip with the wives, which is just about what we did. We did cover the major points on the interview questionnaire, but then we just talked about things such as people we both know in Belize and places we like to eat, and we laughed a lot. She said the only thing we have to do now is talk with the police when they visit us at home, and then wait for the paperwork to go back through the system. When we were done, I came out of the office smiling too, and Tom and I spent a little bit of time running around Belmopan getting an up to date copy of our passport stamps and a tax document in my given name, Margaret, instead of “Marge.”

We dropped those things off at Immigration, and then went to the US Embassy. The Immigration officer said it will probably take another month to get our residency, and instead of the cards they’ve traditionally used, they’re now stamping passports with a Permanent Residency stamp. Our passports are almost full, they expire in a little over a year, and, on top of that, they’re moldy, so the Immigration officer urged us to get new passports before the residency paperwork is complete. We were a little worried about getting the new ones in time, but we found that when they’re ordered through a US Embassy, it only takes seven to ten business days. So, it looks like everything should fall into place, and we should have our passports in a couple of weeks, and our residency a couple of weeks after that.

We left Belmopan and headed for the Belize Zoo. Sharon is leaving on a fundraising trip to the US next week, and we’d all agreed we wanted to get together before she left. Since Belmopan is more than halfway to the Zoo, we’d made arrangements to meet Sharon for lunch. Sharon outdid herself in providing us with a very special afternoon. Just walking through the Zoo with Sharon or any of the zookeepers is an experience. The animals know who feeds and cares for them, so as any of the caretakers get to their enclosures, the animals are right there to meet them. Animals that you may usually see napping in the shade in the afternoon are at the edge of their enclosures begging for a treat or a scratch, which they get, so it’s a much more “up close and personal” experience than just walking through the Zoo yourself. We saw the tapir enclosure built with the cage material from here, along with the pond they’ve built inside the enclosure. It’s nice to know we’re helping the tapirs have a new and better home.

Then “up close and personal” became an entirely different experience when we got to meet Junior, the fourteen month old jaguar who was born at the Zoo. Because he was born in captivity, and because the Zoo wants to use him to teach the public about jaguars, he is in an “enrichment program” where they make sure he has positive contact with humans every day. Sharon has been teaching him tricks; when she says “alley up” he jumps on a log catwalk and marches along before returning to the ground for his treat, and he’ll turn somersaults on command just with Sharon standing outside his enclosure and giving him the commands. Because he’s a big, affectionate jaguar who doesn’t know his own strength, his enrichment training happens from a people cage inside Junior’s enclosure, and to our delight Sharon invited us into the people cage. One of the zookeepers calls Junior to his shelter and locks him in while the people get in the cage, and then releases him. Junior knows he’s about to get treats and attention, so as soon as he’s released from his shelter he trots to the cage and asks to be rubbed and patted. The people cage is made of 2” welded wire on the sides and the top, and there are some 6” or 8” holes cut through so people can get their hands out to pet him, but he can’t get in and the cage is big enough that the people can get out of his reach. Fortunately we didn’t have any of those problems, and Junior rubbed his way around the cage with us sticking our fingers through the wires and scratching him. He’d give us all of his parts to rub, and then Sharon had him jump on top of the cage so we could rub his stomach. Junior is a stunningly beautiful animal, and the hair on his belly – which is white with black spots – is incredibly soft. He was happy to lie down so we could rub him, and then Sharon put her face up to the bars so he could give her a kiss. I asked if I could do that too, and then proceeded to have my face thoroughly cleaned by his scratchy 2-inch wide cat tongue. He’s very unlike Wild Boy, one of the Zoo’s rehab jaguars who was captured because he was killing cattle. We met Wild Boy when we were at the Zoo in January, and where Wild Boy hissed, spit, and snarled, Junior purrs, and his breath is waaay better. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and I’m now in love with Junior. Handsome, affectionate, and just a little bit wild…what more could a girl want?

We then went on a mid-day tubing expedition down the Sibun River. Blad dropped us off about 45 minutes upstream from the Zoo’s River Camp, and we tubed down to the Camp looking at the birds and wildlife, limestone formations, and the bats nesting in the limestone. Sharon swam the whole way, and Tom swam about half since we found some garbage that had washed to the edge of the river, so Tom turned his tube into a garbage barge and contained the Styrofoam containers and bottles in his tube to get the garbage to where we could dispose of it. When we got to the Camp, Sharon had a lunch already set up for us, so we cracked a few Belikins and ate delicious Belizean food.

Blad brought our truck to the River Camp, so we dropped Sharon back at the Zoo and made a mad dash back to the US Embassy in Belmopan. We had to get pictures taken for our passports, and we didn’t have them in time to go back to the Embassy before lunch. We knew we could get into the Embassy until four, so we didn’t think we’d have any problems – but that was before we knew that we were going to have such a fun time at the Zoo. We drove the fastest we’ve ever driven down the Western Highway, and got back to Belmopan about five minutes after four. Fortunately for us, the US Embassy is staffed by very accommodating Belizeans, and they bent the clock for us and allowed us in so we could submit our passport applications. Phew! Now we just wait a few weeks, and hope all the paperwork falls into place.

Cave Tubing

On Thursday we went cave tubing in the Caves Branch River. Despite visiting Belize as tourists multiple times and now living here for over a year, we’d never been cave tubing even though it’s one of the most popular tourist activities in Belize. Every time we talked about doing it, somebody always came up with a different activity, and people here who know us were always sort of non-committal when we asked about doing it.

Finally, a month or so ago, we were contacted by a friend of our good friends Del and Vicky. The friend, June, planned to go on a cruise that was stopping in Belize, and she wondered if we could get together. We found out that their Belize activity was cave tubing, so we jumped on the opportunity to meet June and Mark and to do something in Belize that we hadn’t done before. We had a blast, meeting June and Mark and the friends that were with them, but cave tubing was the most un-Belize thing we’ve done in Belize. We’re used to going to the “tourist traps” around here, and we frequently have them all to ourselves. If a dozen people are at Big Rock at one time, we think it’s crowded. At Caves Branch, we saw more people than we’ve seen in one place since we’ve been in Belize.

Buses and buses and buses full of cruise ship passengers kept pulling into the parking lot, and there was a steady line of tubers carrying their tubes on the path to the river entry.

In the river, we were hooked feet to shoulders in rafts of a dozen tubes each, and the rafts were pulled by the guides. The guides made a good effort to teach the tourists about some of the flora and fauna we passed both on the trail to the river, and as we floated down the river, but it was impossible to hear them because of the high buzz of conversation.

Nonetheless, floating through the very large caves in an inner tube is pretty neat and the insides of the caves are beautiful. And, you can go to Caves Branch on days when the cruise ships aren’t in Belize and avoid most of the crowds, which is what we’d advise doing unless, like us, you’re meeting someone from a cruise ship. In that case, it’s the perfect activity!