Caves and Chill

Day 3 – Oh today was, in some ways, the exact opposite of yesterday. Not because today sucked, but because today was all about floating around and getting high on the scenery and turning off your mind. Pictures I have aplenty. Thoughts have merged into the sights. Today I mellowed out and floated down a river, through a couple caves, and out into this artificial-looking (because too beautiful to be real) river water. This is a WEIRD analogy… but I felt like I was on Wonka’s river boat, looking at all the creepy (in the cave) but stunning scenery along the way. So this one’s gonna be more of a picture log than anything else, though there were some notable moments along the way. 
Today I was actually on time for breakfast! I even had time to down some coffee (ok, so I was a tiny bit late). My guide, Marcel, looked like he’d just barely gone through puberty, which was just fine with me seeing as it was just me in his tour group today. Being alone with a youngin is far less scary than otherwise. We had a lively conversation on our drive to the cave tubing site. I learned that Belizeans don’t really have a national dance, except for a Garifuna dance called Punta, and (these are Marcel’s words, not mine) grinding. Sooo… kizomba and salsa/merengue/bachata are out, but I suspected as much anyway, so not a crushing blow. Though I am feeling the lack of dancing something heavy.

The drive was short and snappy. The cave tubing site was fairly empty. Weekends, it turns out, are better than weekdays because the cruise boats usually come by during the week. So it was fairly tourist-free, and for most of my trip down the river, it was just me and my friend Marcel.

Before we picked up our tubes, Marcel offered me a beer he’d brought from the resort—a classic Belizean Belikin—and who am I to say no? I quickly downed the Belikin, we grabbed our tubes, and started the short walk to the top of the cave tubing route. The walk was much more entertaining than I thought it would be. Marcel knew all about the flora, and like a good guide, freely shared his knowledge. I learned that there’s a tree called a Black Poisonwood that causes painful burns if your skin gets in contact with the sap. But, as Marcel said, whoever planned out the jungle (mother goddess, of course) was methodical about what goes where, because this tree grows in close proximity to one that offers the antidote. The antidote tree is called the Gumbo Limbo, and it’s one that locals affectionately call “the tourist tree” because its skin (bark) is red and peeling like that of visiting tourists (harsh, but true). The Gumbo Limbo’s sap is supposed to be cooling and soothing, and can quickly heal the burn of the Poisonwood’s sap.

Then there was a tree with forbidding thorns sticking out that Marcel called the son-in-law tree. Why? Because the story goes that a prospective husband asks his sweetheart’s dad for the daughter’s hand in marriage, and the dad says… cool, scale this tree, wrap your legs around it, slide down, and if you really mean it, ask me again. Marcel was full of these kinds of stories. And jokes. Some were ok. Some were funny. Some were neither good nor funny. But he was entertaining nevertheless.

The most notable thing that happened on the walk up was the incident with the termites. We came to a termite nest, and Marcel attempted one of his jokes. THIS ONE WAS NOT FUNNY. “So Lisa, this is a hornet nest. We’re going to knock on it and see what happens. Go ahead. You first.” Anyone who knows me at all knows that wasps/hornets/bees… flying things with stingers, are my number one fear in life. Even above bird-sized moths!!! I was not amused. He chuckled. Oh, it’s just termites. Fine. Termites. I can deal with termites. Marcel walked over to the termite nest and punctured it. They streamed out of the small hole he’d made, and onto his outstretched index finger. “Termites,” he said, “are an excellent source of protein. They’ve kept people alive who’ve gotten lost in the jungle.” And then… and then he put his finger in his mouth and ate the swarming termites. I about lost it. “Do you want to try?” My response was an emphatic no. Listen. I’m down to try weird foods. But I prefer my foods dead. I was not about to experience live termites crawling on my tongue. Am I lame for this choice? Perhaps. But I stand by it. If I thought things couldn’t get weirder, I was deeply mistaken. Marcel ground up the rest of the termites on his hand. He held the termite paste out for me to smell. Reluctantly, I did as I was bid. It smelled like sweet lavender and mint, with no hint of anything gross or insect-like. It was fragrant, and… honestly… delicious smelling. I did not go on to try termites after this, but conceded that they probably didn’t taste as nasty as I was expecting. Then Marcel made a dumb joke about how Mayans liked to eat termites on Fridays because it made their breath smell nice, and Friday’s were date nights. Cue the eye roll.

Because I was the only person on the tour, and because the place was pretty empty, Marcel took us up past the usual launch point which just covered a float through one cave system. We went up a bit further so that we’d actually be traversing two caves. The launching point was stunning. It looked like something from a movie, the water the color of jade. That set the tone for the rest of the ride. The next two hours were filled with cave and jungle vistas, with a quick stop to explore a few waterfalls within the larger cave.

Strenuous this trip was not. When we got to the end, I not-very-gracefully hopped out of my tube and swam down the river to our endpoint. We dropped off the tubes, I went to change into dry clothes, and then Marcel took us to one of his dad’s favorite restaurants for lunch (just realized this is starting to sound like a date. No. Nothing of the sort for many reasons, not the least of which is that sweet Marcel is barely 23 years old. And he visibly recoiled when I told him I was 31. Ha!) The restaurant is known for its sassy signs. They were enjoyable. I had a veggie burrito which was super gnoms. Then Marcel dropped me off at the resort, and I still had the energy to do some sunset yoga. All-in-all, another great day here in Belize. Though I may or may not be slightly regretting not trying those lavender-flavored termites.

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