You Better Belize It!

“Mom, can I go to a sleepover at Bryony’s house?  Please, please?”   This request from our daughter, Jenny, was definitely decision-overload for us.  Our family of four from Virginia had arrived at Chaa Creek just an hour or so earlier.  We were certainly surprised that our 12-year-old daughter had found a new girlfriend so quickly.  Mick and Lucy Fleming and their daughter, Bryony, had already made us feel wonderfully welcome.  We were in awe of the jungle setting and our beautiful thatched-roof cottage overlooking the Macal River.  We were cautiously curious about the resident tarantula that made her home in a tunnel under the tree next to our cottage.  I seriously wished not to make the acquaintance of the resident boa constrictor usually hanging out in a tree just downstream nor any Fer de Lance in the neighborhood.

[pullquote]“Jenny, do you realize that LOTS of tarantulas live in that grassy field between here and Bryony’s home?”[/pullquote]

“That’s OK, Mom.  Bryony says we’ll stick to the path and get to her house before dark.”   I’ll always remember watching our little girl walk across the field in the fading light on our first night in a mountain jungle environment.  But that was the beginning of hers and our love for the remarkable Belize.

That was July of 1991 – the first night in Belize for John and me and our two children – Jenny age 12 and Todd age 15.   I was traveling on money from a Teaching Award and we decided that this was an opportunity of a lifetime – to pay for three extra airline tickets to visit, with our two children, the former British Honduras.  John is an avid history buff and had done much reading on Mayan culture and Central America.  I had enjoyed the stories of one of my second grade students whose family visited Belize in 1990.  My proposal for using grant money from the R.E.B. Teaching Award was to visit Belize, make contact with a teacher in San Ignacio, and to compare and contrast public education in Belize with that in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  We were anxious to travel and learn experientially the rich culture and natural wonders of this country.

We all stayed in the one-room cottage and were surprised at every jungle juncture.   We slept with our front door wide open, the moon light reflecting on the red tile floor, the night songs of insects, monkeys, and birds lulling us to sleep despite our excitement and anticipation of the adventures to come.

Nearly twenty years later I found, with this Vacation Sweepstakes contest, a chance to retrace our steps in Belize.  It is one of the top three vacations we took with our children in lieu of where  “Mom, every one but us has been to” – Disney World.   Besides Belize, we also learned about Native American culture in one trip out West – to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Monument Valley.  The other of the top three family vacations was to a mountain cabin in the LaVerandre National Park in Quebec, Canada.  But Belize remains our favorite.  So I really hope to win this story contest and return to Chaa Creek.

It is not merely because this year is the 20th anniversary of our previous trip.  It is because our daughter, Jenny and her husband Parker Roe, have inspired us seniors (we’ll celebrate our 43rd Wedding Anniversary in August) to enjoy retirement, traveling, and spending their inheritance.  I suspect they are really trying to distract us from our hints about wanting grandchildren!

Jenny and Parker have vacationed at Chaa Creek in 2008 and again in 2010.  Guess who got to cat/dog/house sit while they were gone?  Yes,  ‘twas us, the ‘rents.

The photos and their stories were awesome.  The Lodge at Chaa Creek is truly an unexcelled world-class site.  Jenny and Parker are considering renewing their marriage vows at Xunantunich for their fifth Anniversary..  We would love to be there with them during a stay at Chaa Creek. (We would promise not to tag along and cramp their style when they hang out with Bryony.)

In November 2008 Jenny and  Parker visited Chaa Creek retracing our 1991 experiences and adding to them to an extraordinary degree.   Parker fell in love with Belize zoo.  They tell of their adventures with nothing but superlatives.  Who could have known how far the ripples of our ’91 trip to Belize would have traveled over nearly 20 years?

They returned in June  2010,  became members of the Belize Zoo, are sponsoring a family of eight Belizean children by funding  school tuition for a year, and have contributed to two wildlife rescue/advocacy groups.  It is my pleasure to think that our family trip to Belize was such an inspiration to our daughter and her husband.  They also explored the ATM Cave and stood in awe of the Crystal Maiden, enjoyed the Butterfly Farm, found out first hand why Cahal Pech is the unpropitious Mayan name for “Place of Ticks.”  Jenny and Parker experienced much more of Belize than our family had seen in 1991.

John, Todd, Jenny, and I did visit the Belize Zoo (much smaller then), Mountain Pine Ridge, met the Garcia Sisters, and toured Tikal.  We spent several nights on South Water Caye, met Polly, the scarlet macaw, now in Belize  Zoo, snorkeled over the second longest coral reef in the world, saw a tiny seahorse bouncing along the coral.  John fulfilled a dream to fish and catch a permit.  That has made for great stories over the years – by now the permit is at least three feet long J.   We both made our “bucket list” to visit Caracol, see an  active archeological dig,  see Altun Ha, meet the Crystal Maiden, and check out the Rio Frio cave where we had seen fresh jaguar tracks during our morning tour two decades ago.

John and I also want to visit Santa Elena and track down Consuelo Waight, the teacher I met in San Ignacio.  In 1992, the summer after our trip, Consuelo called from North Carolina where she was attending an international seminar on wetlands ecology and the environment.  To our great delight she was able to visit with us for several weeks.  We called her our Belizean daughter.  We lost track after a decade or so.  I believe she served in the Peace Corps, earned a Doctorate in Illinois, and taught in a Texas University.  Now that would be a “bucket list” reunion.

Today is January 1, 2011.  What better way to spend New Year’s Day than writing, reminiscing, editing, reminiscing, and thinking about the possibilities that 2011 might present to us?  One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to write more, nurture happy memories, and enjoy the Journey.  I hope Chaa Creek is part of the Journey.

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