Dena and Steve from Leeds, England, visited us over the US Thanksgiving week. Dena and I did a lot of preplanning via email because I was worried that things could be busy since it was Thanksgiving week and lots of people from the US would be here on vacation. As it turned out, our US visitors who were scheduled for that week postponed, so Dena and Steve ended up being here by themselves for five days.
Steve and Dena arrived in San Ignacio after using William’s Belize Shuttle transfer service to get from the airport in Belize City to San Ignacio. William doesn’t want to wreck his vehicles on our road, so his driver left them at Hannah’s where they were able to get a snack since they missed lunch, and Tom met them there and brought them back to the farm. When they left, we did the reverse and dropped them at Hannah’s where William met them to take them back to the airport. This worked out great as far as we were concerned. While we don’t mind doing transfers and understand that for many people it’s not only less expensive than renting a car, but also much less stressful, it was nice to have somebody else do the driving and put miles on their vehicle instead of ours, and after paying both us and William for our respective legs of the trip, Dena and Steve saved a few dollars.
Dena and Steve did the kind of vacation that Tom and I think we would do if we were guests at Moonracer Farm. The only thing they did that took them out of the Mountain Pine Ridge was their ATM tour, which, if you’re adventurous, is a must do when you visit Cayo.
The first day they were here they rode with Joe from his farm near San Antonio to Big Rock. This gave them a good introduction to the jungle, and in addition to seeing the caves on Joe’s property and the Big Rock waterfall, they got to see both the broadleaf jungle and the mountain pine ridge. They said they rode all day and didn’t see anybody else on the trail or at Big Rock, which surprised us since we expected people to be at Big Rock during the holiday week.
The next day Selmo picked them up bright and early and they headed back into the Mountain Pine Ridge. Their first stop was Rio Frio Cave, and then they made their way up to Caracol. On the way back, they stopped for a swim at Rio On Pools, and remarked that Rio On must be the place all the swank hotels use to model their natural-looking swimming pools. Selmo said the water was perfect in both temperature and depth so the area was just like a water park.
The following day I joined Steve and Dena on a hike from the back of 7 Miles to the base of a beautiful 700 foot waterfall in the jungle. Melvin was our guide, and he led us through the land his family farms, across government land, and then up the river to the base of the falls. Prior to coming here, Dena and I had discussed whether or not a guide was needed to hike in the jungle. I basically insisted that they use a guide, and Dena, slightly reluctantly, gave in, since she and Steve have hiked all over the world, frequently without a guide. Here, however, we don’t know of any trail maps, and especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Richard, many of the jungle trails are very windy with seemingly inexplicable detours, and it’s difficult to describe where you’re supposed to look for other trails and which way you should go. In addition, if you haven’t spent much time in the jungle, a guide is good both to tell you what to be careful of as far as the flora and fauna go, and to help you spot wildlife that most of us would never see on our own. During the hike, Melvin led us off the trail to see area caves, and pointed out a variety of birds we wouldn’t have seen including toucans, blue crowned motmots, a red capped manakin, and a crested guan. He also told us which trees weren’t safe to grab as we negotiated the muddy, steep, and often treacherous trail, and helped us keep our hands off the poisonwood, basket taitai, and give and take trees.
And, best of all, he got us to the base of the waterfall which, with the number of stream crossings we had to do, was an accomplishment since it would have been difficult for us to follow the trail alone since it used the waterway as the trail in multiple places, before shooting back into the bush. As we were hiking out, Melvin suddenly stopped in the trail and put up his hand for us to stop behind him. Steve, Dena, and I stopped, and Melvin gestured us forward and pointed to the side of the trail, where a very beautiful but very deadly coral snake was coiled. Chances are we could have walked by without disturbing it, and coral snakes are generally not aggressive, but at that point Dena turned to me and thanked me for insisting that we take a guide, and said that she didn’t even want to think about how many dangerous things they may have walked blithely by without Melvin’s eyes and jungle awareness.
For their final trip, Steve and Dena went to ATM. We usually send our guests to ATM with Gonzo, but Gonzo was out of the country so we booked Steve and Dena on a PACZ tour. PACZ is an excellent tour operator with a great reputation and great guides. However, for Dena and Steve, this trip was a little bit of a letdown after the rest of their Moonracer Farm stay. They’d gone horseback riding and hiking and visited Caracol with the two of them being the only guests of our hand-picked guides who are also our friends, and had come back raving about each tour. For the ATM tour, they were part of a fairly large group – two vans with two guides, and eight people with each guide. Dena was a little nervous about the trip; she’s a triathlete, so she’s a good swimmer, but she’s a little claustrophobic and wasn’t quite sure about swimming in a cave and could have used a little reassurance from the guide. However, one of the other women in the group was a non-swimmer, so the guide understandably focused most of his assistance and reassurance on the non-swimmer, who he judged to need it more than Dena. Dena understood, but remarked that it was a very different experience with a very different feel than their other three tours. Nonetheless, they really enjoyed the trip and were amazed, as everybody is, by what ATM offers.
The next day we dropped them at Hannah’s bright and early, where William met them to drive them to the airport.