On this day, I left my family on the beach and ventured farther into southern Belize. The rivers, as I’ve mentioned, are upâ€”way upâ€”brown swollen snakes pushing swiftly through vast carpets of forest, savanah, and swamp. I saw it all from above, skimming a mere 800 feet above the canopy as I flew from Placencia to a private airstrip called Rio Dorado. I was there for a 24-hour tour of the vast Belize Lodge & Excursions property and so, apparently, were fellow slow travelers Paul “The Krazy African” Zway and Angelica. After our “Dr. Livingston, I presume” moment in the main lodge at Indian Creek (we’d been hearing about each other for days, as we each made our rounds of south Belizean properties), the pair showed me a 1979 Land Rover named Elsie which they’d bought and outfitted in San Jose for their Central American expedition. Zway runs a luxury safari tent company based in his homeland of South Africa and was here to inspect his products on Moho Caye, located four miles offshore in the Port of Honduras Marine Reserve. But first, we had to travel down Golden Stream, whose high waters floated us dangerously close to “tiger’s claw” vines and exotic spiders.
We realized the seriousness of the situation a half mile into our trip when our guides, both Q’eqchi’ Indians from nearby villages, pulled us to the bank to confer in their native tongue while we clung to roots and swatted at the bugs. Finally, after failing to reach the lodge by radio, they decided to push onâ€”Pablo ahead in his kayak, chopping vines with his machete, and Rosendo in the stern of our canoe, steering with the nearly-silent electric trolling motor. I sat in the bow, using our single oar to try to pivot us out of harm’s way, or at least minimize our many entanglements. Finally we arrived at Jungle Camp where we settled in with the owner, Ken Karras, for cacao martinis, dinner, and hours of conversation; in addition to Belize, we spoke of Africa, where Zway had worked as a Game Warden in Kruger National Park and where Karras had spent a decade shooting wildlife films before he discovered this massive chunk of land in Maya country.
The next morning, as the sun rose through a thicket of birdsong at 5:30 am, while Zway linked his laptop and telephone to his mobile satellite system to do business with his office across the world, I went back upstream with Rosendo and Pablo, to one of the biggest ceiba trees I have every seen.
Pablo and I ascended to a platform 70 feet about the ground. There we stood mostly in silence, staring at the jaw-dropping view of the sea of greenâ€”the same expanse of forest over which I’d flown the previous day. We stood there, in the middle of a million acres of protected land, watching in silence as a thousand birds serenaded our brief vigil. After lowering back to earth, I floated downstream through a thick cloud of aweâ€”and mosquitoes.
One of the things that makes a true adventure, said the Krazy African as we continued our downstream journey that morning, was reaching a point where a decision to turn back or to push on was necessary. At that moment, his voice was drowned by the wind and the waves, as our boat emerged from the river and entered the blue sea.