By Barbara Penny Angelakis
Eco Luxury At The Lodge At Chaa Creek
The Lodge at Chaa Creek in the Cayo District of the tiny Central American country of Belize mixes Eco-tourism with luxury accommodations. (www.chaacreek.com) Initially a farm, the Chaa Creek hospitality complex grew, literally one-step-at-a-time, into the beautifully designed and unique property it is today.
In 1977 Mick and Lucy Fleming, a young couple looking to put down roots and raise a family, serendipitously acquired an overgrown farm in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. They set about getting the farm back into working order using sustainable farming methods that they learned from their neighbors. Friends and family came to visit, along with archeologists interested in the unexplored Mayan ruins still buried on the property. A place was needed for them to stay and a guest cottage was constructed from materials found on the farm. That inauspicious beginning led to the first jungle lodge, i.e. in synchrony with the natural environment, to be built in Belize. Yearly additions were made to the property until currently Chaa Creek has 23 stunning thatched-roof, whitewashed cottage accommodations set into a hillside rising from the Macal river, all the way to the Spa and villa apartment at the crest.
Each of the cottages was individually decorated by Lucy and furnished with custom-made hardwood furniture and artifacts crafted by local artisans. Even the bedcovers and rugs are hand-loomed. My cottage was decorated with a magnificent hand-carved day bed, a leather covered lounge chair and a wardrobe and bathroom vanity constructed out of hand-polished rare hardwoods. By the way Mick has a carpentry shop on the property and fashions furniture using only fallen trees. For me the room’s outstanding feature was not its generous size or the comfortable twin queen sized beds festooned with flowers, or the hand-fashioned furniture and artifacts, nor the spacious, beautifully tiled bathroom. It was the large outdoor shower-garden, privacy-walled and open only to the sky and passing birds… what a treat!
Chaa Creek offers a different kind of luxury; one born from the environment and still living in it. Here there are no flat screen TV’s, telephones, radios or wireless internet connections in the rooms – you can still be in-touch if you wish, as there is a computer room open and available to guests 24 hours a day, free of charge. Doors are not locked and are left wide open during the day to attract the breeze rustling through the trees… and any jungle critters that fancy taking up residence. Here a wake-up call consists of a knock on your door. And do not confuse electronics with attention to service – at Chaa Creek you will be attended to by a friendly, helpful staff that, aside from the restaurant wait-staff, are virtually invisible. No one disturbs your peace or privacy unless you desire them to. This brings me to the Maya guides and naturalists that are employed at the property and who enthusiastically share their knowledge of and connection to the land. All guests at Chaa Creek are encouraged to take advantage of the complimentary guided activities they provide; such as daily early morning bird watching, visits to the Rainforest Medicinal Trail at Ixchel Farm, the Natural History Center, and the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm. Plus, there is complimentary tube, canoe and kayak riding on the river. Available on the property is a stable of horses for exploring the 365-acre Rainforest Reserve, including the still to be excavated Mayan sites.
Individually made breakfast is included with the room, and for those wishing to take their meals at the property, a food plan is available for the gourmet lunches and dinners created by Executive Chef Rob Pronk. There is a set menu of meat, fish, or vegetarian dishes nightly, depending on what is available fresh from the on-site organic farm or farmed locally. And if none of the preparation choices suit you, Chef happily accommodates. One evening I was not in the mood for meat and was all fished out, so I selected the vegetarian choice of Eggplant Parmesan; admittedly an unusual dish in a tropical rain forest setting. When the plate was placed before me I was sure I had made an unfortunate choice and tentatively cut into the eggplant rounds just touched with a green pesto on top and decorated with a compote of tomato on the side. No one was more surprised than I was, when an explosion of flavor hit my palate. I am accustomed to Italian style eggplant parmesan, not this “Belizean swing” dish, which consisted of freshly picked eggplant, washed in an egg and milk bath, dredged in freshly grated parmesan cheese, and baked in a hot oven for 10 minutes. The eggplant was crisp and flavorful with the hint of spice coming from the pesto and the savory tomatoes. What an inventive healthy alternative to a well-worn recipe. Refer to Cooks Corner for Chef’s unusual Cantaloupe and Cho-cho salad recipe.
Chaa Creek also boasts a full service Spa on the property. The Spa located at the crest of the hill features an open-air porch overlooking the Macal River valley below. The dressing and treatment rooms are festooned with flowers and herbs and radiate serenity. I was greeted by a smiling attendant and offered a hot or cold beverage while waiting for the changing room to be free. I elected to indulge myself in a facial leaving it up the esthetician to determine which one of the many offered procedures was best for my skin. I was handed a sarong, invited to shower to cool off from the heat of the day and when ready, was shown into the treatment room by a young woman who introduced herself as Nancy. After making me comfortable on the treatment table, Nancy began to stroke my face with fingers as fleeting as butterfly wings. While I was lulled by the singing of the birds and whispering of the breeze, Nancy activated the table and a rolling motion proceeded to knead-out the areas of stress left in my body.
There is a special delight in being part of someone’s dream of the good life. Being at Chaa Creek, you feel that you are sharing the utter joy in nature and the community of people that make up Mick and Lucy’s world.