A Path Well Chosen
So this is not really an extended story of our last journey, but a new one altogether. Don’t worry; I will get back to The Lodge at Chaa Creek and the creature to blame for my swollen arm. But today, I wanted to write about our more recent trip back to Cayo or Orange Walk, Belize.
In my last story, I talked about how the journey is always as inspirational as the destination and a part of most travels often overlooked. This recent journey was just as adventurous, but my mind goes blank when I recall the stops because the ride itself is the story.
It all began in our typical fashion – missing ferries and scrambling to decide when, and even if, we were ever getting on the road. We finally headed out for the mainland at 1 p.m., which meant we were at least three hours delayed in the driving portion of my vague outline for this trip.
We realized the morning of our departure that Danny’s visa would expire before returning to the island. We rushed to immigration, realizing as we hit the town in break-neck golf cart speed. We could not make the ferry and renew his passport. The next ferry would not be until 1 p.m., and so, we waited.
We connected with Judy Cleland again at CarOne to pick up our faithful steed. We checked out the car for three days but said we might be gone longer. And in her wonderfully Belizean hospitality way, she said no worries.
And we were off.
This time I don’t really have the space to write about all the stops. If I want to tell you the lessons in the journey, I have to start in the middle.
And that brings me to a gate. The sun is setting or just beginning to wane. We decided to skip getting more gas and were now trying to figure out why GPS led us to a gate. A big yellow, road closed gate.
We turned left to bypass it but could tell it was not in a good direction. GPS had no solutions, no rerouting. It only wanted us to go to the gate.
I called our destination and tried to explain we had hit a roadblock. The connection was terrible. We were, after all, headed into a 300,000-acre preserve in the jungles of Belize. I hung up.
A frustrated Danny asked, “Did you actually get directions? We don’t have a lot of gas. How much further is it? Do you know where we are going?”
“Well, you’re the one driving. Why didn’t you stop for gas?” I responded, in my mind.
What I really said was, “Yes. I called for directions. They said we could come this way. GPS says we can go this way. It looked like the shorter choice.”
Then I mumbled, “I have never been here before either, so I have no ideas for you.”
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. Let’s ask the guy at the gate.”
Yes. There was a guy at the gate. We turned around again and asked if this was the road to Chan Chich Lodge.
“Yes!” He said. “Do you have a reservation?”
Relieved, we listened as he explained it was a right turn up ahead and then just follow the signs. He noted our license plates and names, which made us feel good, as we assumed he was calling ahead to let them know we were on our way.
After a short drive, we turned right and then drove. And drove. Cows and incredible farmland vistas entertained us. About 30 minutes into the drive, we began to question ourselves and GPS and the man at the gate.
A Road Less Travelled
“Are we still going the right way?”
I could hear a touch of anger setting into Danny’s simple question.
“According to GPS, yep,” I replied, not wanting to claim any responsibility for the events as they unfolded.
The dirt road extended before us for miles. No structures in sight. No power lines, No people. No towers. Just cows and crops and skyline and mountains.
Then finally, people. They were working the fields pulling something from the ground I could not discern. They had makeshift tents of tarp and wood. Campfires with kids. Five-gallon jugs of water standing in the open. Some of the neater tented structures had bigger water storage.
I wondered aloud if the workers were Belizean-born or immigrants from nearby Guatemala. I could only imagine their wages, Belize’s minimum wage is $3.30 an hour.
“Well, at least there are people if we run out of gas now, we can camp out,” I said half-joking. “Who do you think they work for? What are they picking? Do they have a school somewhere for the kids?”
Danny was not entertained. He knew full-well I would have no problem pulling over and settling in for the night and finding the answers to all the questions swirling around in my mind.
GPS told us to turn off the white dirt road and onto a darker, looser dirt gravel hill.
I could feel his anger rise, mixed with some angst as he looked at the gas gauge. I stayed quiet.
We rode this way for what seemed forever; the sun was really waning now. Danny tried to entertain himself by spotting birds. And then I saw it – a sign – finally. We passed it quickly as we headed around a bend.
“What did it say?”
I didn’t respond, trying to determine whether I was going to laugh or cry.
“Nothing. You don’t want to know,” I said finally because he definitely didn’t want to know. If the sign were still accurate, we would know soon enough.
Then we passed another sign warning us of logging trucks.
“Well, that’s a good sign!” I said, relieved. And after getting an odd look from my driver, I explained the last sign read, “British Army Live Firing Area Do Not Enter.”
He seemed to be stuck on that word.
What seemed like another eternity, we came upon an old camp, which I could only assume was for the logging company that cleared out from the area. The Yalbac Ranch and Cattle Corporation Limited, as we later discovered, left the area and recently turned over conservation management to our destination on this journey, Chan Chich Lodge. Chan Chich was now responsible for conserving more than 300,000 acres of land, and we were driving in the heart of it.
“Well, there is a truck there. If we run out of gas, we can walk back and hope he doesn’t kill us,” Danny said. He was beginning to sound more upbeat.
And then finally we saw it—a matching yellow gate. We stopped, and a gentleman came from his screened house where he was enjoying dinner with his family. He pulled out a flashlight and shone it on us. He spoke little English. So between the three of us, we found enough common Spanglish words to get us logged in and passing another gate – license plate logged, gate lifted, and we were again on our way.
This time he said 15 minutes left for Chan Chich. I hoped we had 15 minutes’ worth of gas.
You know how everything seems longer and slightly scary in the dark when you don’t have any idea where you are? The last 6.2 (miles kilometers?) took forever. And it was even longer from the first Chan Chich sign to the next Chan Chich sign and finally to the entrance where Annabella awaited our arrival.
We nearly kissed her.
Nestled Snug in our Bed
The stay was incredible, so much that we booked another night—the location well-worth what seemed to be an insane drive. When we asked about the other route into the lodge by car – through Orange Walk and Gallon Jug – Annabelle explained our chosen path was a great new shortcut. We did not quite believe her, but we did trust her judgment when departing.
It took less than an hour to get from yellow gate to yellow gate. We stopped to take a photo of the British Army sign, which seemed so less intimidating, even though we were told the Army had just arrived to practice their jungle training.
Danny stopped and started as he peered upwards, still practicing his newfound bird identification skills. I spotted a cat crossing the road, obviously not a housecat, and I couldn’t determine what kind of cat.
But it was a completely different drive this time, a well-traveled path, familiar and welcoming. And another journey underway…stay tuned.