Placencia is perched at the southern tip of a 16 mile long, slender peninsula. Once an isolated, sleepy fishing outpost, a mile-long concrete sidewalk serves as the main street for Placencia Village. It has the distinction of being the narrowest street in the world in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
The Cayo District is the largest in Belize. It is located on the western side of the country which borders Guatemala. The nation’s capital, Belmopan, is in the district. The district capital is the town of San Ignacio.
My horseback riding experience is limited to nose to tail, group trail rides in tourist destinations and I love it. It is a beautiful way to see and experience a place. I didn’t think we’d be able to ride in Belize due to our children’s ages so was happily surprised when we learned they could accommodate us.
We depart Sleeping Giant for a 30 minute drive into Belmopan. Our driver turns down a narrow, dirt road surrounded by brush. The road comes to a dead end and he tells us we have arrived. 9am, not a soul in sight. There is an abandoned shelter to my right surrounded by high grass. Where are the horses? He gets out of the car and rings a bell letting them know we are here. No one comes. We follow him down a path that opens up to reveal the river ahead and my hesitation vanishes. Our boat arrives. Using strength and a rope our boat captain literally pulls us across the river to bring us to Banana Bank.
None of my children know how to ride a bike. Our neighborhood backs to a farm filled with wooded trails, streams and waterfalls. We’ve only explored the trails once. When we went to Great Falls Park last summer for a family hike we enjoyed a solid hour of whining and complaining.
Based on my children’s ages and their obvious love of adventure and exploration I had managed expectations of our excursions.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park features 575 acres of forest rich with wildlife, two cave systems and the Blue Hole, a sapphire-colored pool formed by the collapse of an underground limestone cave. The main attractions in the park, the St. Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole, are connected by an underground stream. Julio, our guide, meets us at the park entrance and fits each of us with a helmet, headlamp and inner tube. As we walk the 200 yards through the forest to the cave entrance, Julio points out the national tree, termite nests and the path left by cutter ants. When we arrive at the cave entrance my children fall silent. Backlit by the depth and dark of the cave Julio begins telling us that the Maya believed that the Rain God, Chaak, lived in caves and therefore performed rituals and sacrifices within the caves. Maya also believed that many caves were entrances to the underworld, or Xibalba. Today many native Belizeans do not venture into the caves.
Oliver clutches my hand a little tighter and whispers, “Mommy, I want to go back.”
“So that our guests may fully disconnect and enjoy the beautiful nature there is no wi-fi and television in the guest rooms,” says our host moments after greeting us at the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge. I hear gasps from my children and sense some discontent from my husband. We will soon find that being surrounded by over a hundred thousand acres of untouched wilderness is more than enough for our senses. By the end of our stay Lucas will tell me that he enjoyed not having wi-fi. Without the distraction of video games he was able to get lost in the wonder of this place.
Our day started at 5:30 am EST. The kids woke easily as excitement set in. Twelve hours and two time zones later our driver pulls over on Hummingbird Highway and asks us if we know why our resort is called Sleeping Giant? He points to the mountain range ahead and challenges us to see something. After some assistance we make out the profile of a sleeping giant in the mountain range. We turn onto a dirt road. After climbing the bumpy hill our driver stops and tells us we have arrived. I look out the van window and see the beautiful flora and fauna but not much of anything else. The kids find the pathway first and we are greeted by a warm voice telling us we are in the right place. Before us is an unassuming Hacienda style open-air building. Gareth learns our names and gives high-fives while Swift begins making our rum punches. Over the next four days Gareth will serve us many meals; Oliver will become his “main man”, he will make the table for two in the romantic alcove become a table for five because Oliver, and I, want it, and on our last day the kids will give Gareth homemade cards as we say our goodbyes. Our host gives us a tour and points out the view of the sleeping giant, I can see it more clearly now. The kids still struggle to see it but our host reassures us that the view from our room is even better.
We make our way up the steep, newly constructed walkway to our room. We stop halfway to catch our breath. It will surprise me in the days going forward how easily and swiftly we make this steep climb and how none of my children ever complain. We are rewarded with this view and now we can all see the sleeping giant.