On the Sunday (Nov 30), having decided to go for a final swim, Conor persuaded me that we should head for San Pedro rather than Caye Caulker. San Pedro is the main tourist resort in Belize, on Ambergris Caye, a peninsula hanging down from the Yucatan. I had been determined that it was too touristy, aznd expensive, and just not worth going to. Some of the other interns had said it was better than Caye Caulker because it was bigger, and that there was more going on. (I interpreted that as meaning more tourist attractions, and had been adamant that it was not the place for us.)

Anyway, on our last Sunday I gave in, and instead of alighting at Caye Caulker, we went on a wee bit further. San Pedro is a tourist resort on the eastern side of a pendulous promontory off the end of the Mexican Yucatan.  It is one of the main places that tourists head for, and was indeed a larger, more ‘with it’ version of Caye Caulker. I have to admit that it wasn’t as bad as I feared, and I began to understand what one of the interns said – there was more to do. One eco village overlooking the ocean and reef (one of the attractions is that the barrier reef is closer to the main land here in San Pedro than anywhere else along its length – gradually moving more to the east) had a substantial wooden jetty from which we could swim. It ended up being quite the best swim I had had in the whole six months – perfect for our last week end! We then found some good jazz being played on the beach beside a bar, and enjoyed the ambience enormously!

As the Caye Caulker Water Taxi firm sped us homeward, a perfect orange disc was setting slowly on the horizon, symbolising the end of our stay.

Monday was full of domesticity, various bits and pieces in preparation for our return. Tuesday, our last day, was all ours, and we had decided to have a last walk in the jungle. We caught an early bus to the edge of Belmopan, to Guanecasta National Park. It was on Roaring Creek, which we had been reading about in a novel set in Belize in the mid 1800s, and wanted to make its acquaintance. We quickly realised why it was called Roaring Creek. Walking round to a spot above the creek, near to where it flows into the Belize River, and ideal for observing birds, we could see the grey silt marks of the recent floods at least 30 feet up from the water level. The gorge is relatively narrow – perhaps 35 feet wide – and was obviously channelling a vast amount of water. The walk around the park was lovely, and with great excitement I could hear both a parrot and a motmot near the Belize River – but I was still no good lookin’! When we got back to the rangers’ office, they asked us what we had seen, and to write it in their log book. The guinea pig-like animal is a paca, and very common in Guanecasta. When I tried to copy the bird sounds I had heard, they told us very authoritatively that yes that was both a motmot and a green parakeet! Even more frustratingly, they said 2 motmots had been on a branch outside the rangers’ office, their tails ticking like a pendulum clock, about 4pm the previous evening. Oh well, near is closer than far away.

Being a lovely day, we did our usual return walk along the bus route until we felt ready to catch the bus back to BC. And lovely it was – warm sun, not too hot, very little traffic, another vermilion flycatcher accompanying us much as it had done in Crooked Tree on the start of our epic.

And thus we ended our journey. Lunch, packing, cleaning the apartment, handing some bits and pieces on (having a card stolen but fortunately realising it and able to stop it before any money was taken) purchasing some last minute Christmas books for grandchildren, and meeting up with the other volunteers and interns for a final drink at the Radisson.

Our journey in Belize was over. A beautiful country, interesting people, difficult politics, and a young country in many ways. Many thanks to all who made it possible. Our odyssey was over, and we were grateful for the opportunity.

Goodbye Hummingbird Highway

On Saturday (November 29) we decided to make the most of the perfect walking weather, and catch a bus up to the Blue Hole – one of our first ever jaunts – have a swim and walk till we tired, and catch the bus home again. And who knows, we may even see a motmot. Setting off good and early, we suddenly realised that in no way could we walk without our hats because it was heating up, and that we had left them at the Radisson. I don’t think we have spoken much about that, but the Radisson is the better of the two main tourist hotels here, and has a particular table on a verandah overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, a few huge royal palms blowing in the wind like shamans’ headdresses, which Conor and I might stop in at after a day’s training or whatever. The staff are congenial and always welcome us (most of their customers are transient tourists or businessmen) and since our apartment offers no opportunity to savour the balmy cool evenings, it has become a favourite of ours. On Friday afternoon there had been a big rally and march about domestic violence and HIV/AIDS with local politicians, dignitaries and school children which had been organised by the Women’s Dept. It finished about 6pm a few yards away from the Radisson, so we popped in for a beer before making our way homewards. It had been a hot afternoon – cooler now – so we both had had our hats with us, and duly left them beside the table.

Charging around the following morning to retrieve our hats and managing to catch the next bus, we zoomed up the Western Highway to Belmopan, and turned down the Hummingbird Highway towards the south. We passed through Armenia, as attractive as ever, and on through the stunning rolling ranges of hills bordered by the heavily forested purple tops of the Maya Mountain Range. The sheer variety of shapes and sizes of the tropical rain forest never ceases to delight and surprise me. Stopping at the Blue Hole, where we intended to swim, my addiction to coffee in the morning set in. The Caves Branch Jungle Lodge is immediately opposite, and Kate and Andrew, two other CWW volunteers doing a three month stint when we came over, had spent a very enjoyable w/e there. I suggested to Conor that we called in, as there was no doubt a restaurant and, since catering to tourists, it probably did a good coffee brew.

The track – about ½ mile – was lovely. It went straight into the rainforest, and despite the grey flood silt evident over much of the ground foliage, it still sported the twists of vines, the enormous plumes of palms, the gigantic hands of five fingered leaves, and the delicate fronds of jasmine that make the biodiversity so magnificent. It was a hot morning with the bird life being relatively quiet, but the greenery provided a welcome dappled shade. A bang, bang, bang could be heard more and more clearly, and then we came across a lot of feverish building work going on. Asking a man whether there was a restaurant, he showed us the way round the piles of sand, saying that the recent floods had delayed the new buildings, and meant that they were not quite as ready as they had hoped – December is the beginning of the tourist season. A big and rather good looking visitor centre was under construction.

The restaurant was sited on a picturesque bend of the Caves Branch River – a tributary of the Sibun River – and named after the caves along its banks. Many have Mayan artefacts still inside, and one of the attractions of the Centre is excursions into these caves inside tyre tubes, called ‘tubing’. The restaurant has a typical palm thatch, wooden pillars and sides open to the landscape, providing welcome shelter from both sun and rain. As we sat drinking our (free!) coffee and green tea, we watched the hummingbirds – blue, green and gold – gathering nectar from the various hibiscus or bougainvillaea blossoms in front of us, their bodies quivering in the constant elliptical motion which keeps them hovering in front of the flowers. Captivated, we breathed deeply, taking in the beauty around us.

Changing our plans, responding to the chance invitation to feel free to take a look around, we began wading up-river, our all-weather walking sandals dealing perfectly with the slightly slippery surface of the stony river bed. The temperature was still benign, and we marvelled anew at the banks of stones, no doubt drastically changed during the recent floods. We found ourselves remembering the Whiteadder Water, our river at Ellemford, and how its ever-changing profile reminded us of the spirit of the river: a constant shift and metamorphosis, as the shingle responds to the powers of the flood waters – a channel here, an expanding island there, only to change again in the next spate. Shallow banks suddenly dropped to reveal deep pools of blue water, silver fish of varying sizes shimmering below the surface. The large Amazon kingfisher flew up and down the river, calling loudly, and the egret and blue heron stood fishing quietly further up stream. We made our way to some dappled shade on a shingle bank, and prepared for a swim.

Sitting quietly, watching Conor enjoying splashing through the clear waters, feeling the atmosphere of the rainforest, the warm sunshine, I found myself musing how nature is nature….whether a river in a Belizean rainforest, a singing burn in the Scottish Borders, or a mountain stream in Japan, nature is miraculous. No landscape is better or worse at heart; when melding with the spirit of a place, any place, the spirit itself nourishes the soul; the bounty presents itself as a banquet, each course unique, laced with that particular ambience.

True to form, Conor began foraging along the banks, and found a ford a bit further upstream. We explored further, and to his delight came across a large orange plantation – perfect for scrumping! Slowly making our way back downstream to a deep meander sporting a path up into the cabañas, suddenly a large blue–green parrot alighted on a branch in front of us. Quickly opening up our camera, we got a poor photo of its profile before it flew off!

Back on the road, we began the walk back towards Belmopan, happy to keep going until weariness and a homeward bound bus coincided, a perfect ending to another fantastic day’s walking.