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.