On January 2, 2017 I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. I, along with 34 other strangers, boarded a plane to Belize not knowing what was ahead of us. As I arrived to Belize, I did not know what to expect. What I ended up experiencing was creating new friendships and stories that will last a lifetime and learning about as well as seeing a new country that now has my heart.

Caye Caulker, San Pedro, and snorkling!

Our first official day started out at 9:00 am when Griffith, his daughters and granddaughters picked us up to go to the boat. This day was our snorkeling days as well as exploring the island of San Pedro. We hopped off the bus and got onto the boat that would take us to our destination. The boat ride was about 45 minutes from Belize. We made a quick stop at Caye Caulker, an island that is part of Belize’s Keys. Fun fact: there are no cars, only golf-carts. On Caye Caucker, we picked up our snorkeling gear and walked around for a few minutes. This particular island was a place I would like to return and spend more time at. The stands were filled with fresh juice, custom jewelry, and other goods unique to Belize. Once we had all of our gear, we boarded the boat and headed out to Belize’s barrier reef, the second largest in the world and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere.

The tour guides briefed us on the snorkeling protocols and we jumped off the boat into the ocean. In the water I saw coral, fish, stingrays, and even sharks. We then headed to the island of San Pedro, a spot frequently visited by celebrities. The white sanded beaches and clear blue water greeted us as we docked to eat. Once at the restaurant I had fresh fish tacos, some of the best I have ever had. We had a few minutes to walk around the island and explore. Golf-carts raced by us as we walked through the narrow streets. A few of us stopped to get fresh smoothies and then continued on our journey. Although a short and sweet stop on the island, it was my first immersion into the Belizean culture. A beautiful sunset followed us back to Belize City and I sat amazed by the beauty that Belize had to offer.

Photos courtesy of Mary Kilmek Photography

Lamanai and the Baboon Sanctuary

The next day we visited our first set of Mayan Ruins, Lamanai, once a big Mayan City. To get to Lamanai we traveled an hour on bus to get to a boat that would take us into the village of Lamanai. During the bus ride, Griffith discussed the history of Belize and pointed out sites as we made our way into the rainforest. When we reached the boat dock, we boarded a boat on a lagoon. We traveled on boat for about 20 minutes since Lamanai is only reachable by boat. The only hills in Belize, are old Mayan Ruins that have not yet been discovered. The village of Lamanai is secluded in the rainforest.

We began our walk into the rainforest where we were greeted by the distant horrifying hollows of the hollowing monkeys. A sound so ear piercing and loud, it’s hard to believe a little monkey can make noise like that. We arrived at the first Mayan ruin of the hike, we instantly climbed on top of this massive ruin to see the breathtaking sights of the river and rainforest all around. We continued our journey to the neighboring ruins and climbed on top. The size of these ruins is what made me speechless as I stood small beside them, heading backwards and looking up. As soon as we got to the last ruin it began to rain and rain and rain. We ran to the boat that was open with a seeping roof to try and hide from the rain, it did not work. There we were all 35 of us huddling together, cuddling our bags to protect them from rain. Cries, laughter, and a lot of rain is what consisted of this boat ride back. We all were soaked as the rain pelted us on the boat ride back. Thankfully, the sun was shining when we returned to the dock. We ended the day visiting a monkey sanctuary.

Photos courtesy of Mary Kilmek Photography

What was unique about this sanctuary was how open and natural it was. Instead of enclosed environments as seen in normal zoos in the US, this sanctuary was in nature where the animals freely lived. We walked into this sanctuary and were once again greeted by the hollows of the monkeys, this time a lot closer and louder. The tour guide called the monkeys to come down to be close to us. Afraid at first, the dad monkey made his way down as the momma and baby followed. Never in my life have I been that close to an animal in nature. The monkey and I were only a few feet away from each other. I could see the detail of the face, hands, and feet. The baby made its way down to a branch above us. Not realizing at first, I felt warm drops of rain on my arm, only to look up at realize it was not rain but the baby monkey peeing on me and a friend nearby. Needless to say, I made sure to wash my clothes extra carefully that night and to pay more attention when near a monkey.

Photos courtesy of Mary Kilmek Photography

Cave-tubing with Oscar!

Cave-tubing was on the agenda for this day, we boarded our bus to travel through the countryside to get to the location of the caves. Once we got deeper into the rainforest on the windy roads, it started to rain. What was going to be a fun day of cave-tubing soon turned into a miserable rainy day as we ran off the bus trying to hide from the rain. Upset with the weather, we grabbed our gear and began our journey to the point of the starting point of the cave-tubing. Little did we know, it would stop raining and be the best day of the trip. The walk to the departure spot was filled with information about the local flora and fona. We walked for about 45 minutes through the rain forest to get to our spot. Along our way we also ate the local cuisine, termites, or as those who tried it explained “a small minty thing.” We finally arrived to the departure place and jumped into the clear water and floated and played as they finished getting our tubes together.

Before traveling, we were asked to form a group of 8 people. Our group had the first choice as we ran over to the nice looking inflated tubes, only to quickly learn we may have picked the wrong ones as the first, of many tubes, began to deflate. Within a few minutes of the start of the float, our tour guide Oscar, had to switch his tube out for my friend Kara’s, whose tube had no air. At the same time that was happening, my friend’s in front, Emily and Amanda’s tubes also began to slowly deflate, but Oscar and another tour guide ensured them they would be okay. We first entered the mile-long cave, filled with bats, rock formations, and water that is believed to bless you as it drips from the ceiling. Within the cave is where the two tubes up front continued to deflate. Emily and Amanda remained good sports since there was nothing our tour guide could do. Within the cave we learned about how the Mayan’s believed this cave was hell and only people who died traveled through it to reach heaven. 

When we emerged from the cave the tubes up front began to deflate more and all chaos broke out. Amanda’s tube was the second to go as she got stuck on a branch and she and Emily teetered back and forth only to have Amanda fall out. Emily’s laugh erupted as she saw Amanda walking along the side of our tubes and we all, including Amanda, were all laughing uncontrollably. We caught up to another group of ours, and Amanda had to hitch a ride with them. Emily, still in her deflating tube, began to sink more and more as she held on for the last stretch of the ride. Sadly, this ended as we ran into the side of rock and she was thrown off of her tube and was stuck underneath my tube. All was fine as Oscar came to our rescue. The laughter from our tubes could be heard for miles and my stomach hurt so bad from laughing. The events these day were filled with laughter because of the light-hearted, hilarious girls in our group. By far, this was the best day we had.

Altun Ha

This day was a special day as we were able to attend a mass at one of the oldest churches in Belize. I was filled with emotions during this special mass. I thought about my Grandma and her love for the church, as well as how lucky I was to travel and for the life I have been given. The church ceremony also included baptisms of the local children, a truly special event to watch. Once church was over, we boarded a bus to another Mayan Ruin, Altun Ha. Unlike Lamania, Altun Ha was closer together and gave you a feeling of what an old Mayan Village was like. We climbed up the many ruins and learned about how the Mayans lived.

Photos courtesy of Mary Kilmek Photography

What I learned about Belize during our excursions was the variety of cultures and sites to see. I ate the food and met the locals, and developed friendships with the people on this trip. I traveled to new cities and old and the beautiful countryside full of monkeys and rainforests. This was my first time traveling to Central America and gave me even more of a reason to travel back to see the neighboring countries. Belize is a beautiful country with beautiful people and places to see. More importantly my time spent there was a gift I will have for years to come. All I can say is that it was “Un-belize-able”

Stay tuned for a blog on the Belize Service Project and my experience working in the schools while in Belize and check out my highlight video of the trip!

Mary Klimek Photography

Did you like the pictures used in this blog? Follow and support one of my dear friend’s photography page, Mary Klimek Photography. We bonded over our love for travel and documenting our trip through pictures and videos during this trip. Click to follow her work and many travels around the world. I promise you will not regret it!





As Always,
Hannah Marie Tree

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