How A Path Less Travelled Led To Belize’s Most Popular Jungle Lodge
November 2021 marks The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s 40th birthday, and we’re hoping you’ll join our celebrations.
Yes, Chaa Creek has travelled a long and winding road since that memorable day when Mick and Lucy Fleming first came upon an overgrown piece of bushland on the banks of the Macal River in Western Belize.
Where others may have only seen wrack and ruin, the young adventurers saw potential.
But even they couldn’t imagine how much that potential would change not only their lives, but the entire area, and with it, the lives of so many others – both in Belize and abroad.
For this extended birthday invitation, we’ll just cover some of the highlights.
Let’s start at the beginning
It’s 1977, and young Mick and Lucy have just arrived in Belize from England with not much more than the packs on their backs and some six hundred British pounds sterling. What they did have in abundance, however, was enthusiasm, and an eagerness for new experiences – both of which were about to grow in leaps and bounds as the couple began exploring the land that was about to become their new home.
Belize, a former Crown Colony that, until 1973, was officially known as British Honduras, was a very different place than it is today. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a country that has changed so dramatically in such a short time.
In those pre-independence days, before tourism brought in such an influx of people, capital and recognition, Belize was a sleepy little backwater that somehow managed to get by on farming and fishing. And while there was very little cash, there was even less despair. The land is incredibly fertile, the waters teeming with fish, and the calm seas behind the world’s second largest barrier reef provide a perfect home for crayfish, conch, and other marine life. The vast rainforests were filled with game, cows and chickens were seen everywhere, and coconuts, mangos and other fruits literally fell to the ground.
As one local put it, you’d need to be very unlucky or incredibly lazy to starve in Belize.
The Flemings were neither, and they got to work soon after their flight touched the tarmac on the dusty little airstrip that back then passed for Belize’s international airport.
Their work ethic was complimented by a fair share of luck, enhanced with the sorts of open, easygoing personalities that people find attractive.
It was this combination that turned a Belview barroom conversation into an opportunity.
Luck placed them in the right dancehall at the right time, their friendliness turned a conversation into an opportunity, and hard work turned that opportunity into a working farm.
Before long, the farm became a welcome haven for backpackers, birders, Maya history enthusiasts and other wanderers looking for a place from which to explore the beauty of inland Belize. Back then, accommodation was in short supply in Cayo, as San Ignacio and surrounds were known.
Word of mouth spread through the coconut telegraph, and, as more hardy souls arrived, mostly unannounced in that era before telephone service - let alone iPhones(!), the Flemings attached a small open room to their little home. It was just large enough to accommodate a few hammocks and backpacks, but, being surrounded by so much pristine nature, guests didn’t mind.
With visitor numbers rising and privacy shrinking, the Flemings built a simple hut with materials sourced from the surrounding jungle. Slender saplings became walls, doors and window frames while bay palms provided the leaf for thatching roofs. The white marl earth, when levelled, wetted and tamped down, made sturdy floors. Pieces of old tyres served as door hinges, and the same bay leaf used for thatching roofs could be bundled to become mattresses for rudimentary beds.
A second hut (now known as the upgraded Cottage Collection) soon followed the first, and for the princely sum of eight Belize dollars, or $4.00 USD, guests enjoyed a night’s stay. Although self-accommodating initially, hungry guests soon diminished the Flemings’ meagre pantry. So, guests were invited to join the Fleming family in their kitchen where they shared rice and beans for dinner, augmented by Spam fritters or some stew if there was an extra rooster to kill. The chickens, too valuable to eat, contributed to the eggs, coffee cakes, and leftover rice and beans breakfasts.
The farm now produced enough that the Flemings became regulars at the San Ignacio Saturday markets. Coming downstream in a large old cranky dugout canoe to sell watermelons and other produce, along with eggs and homemade yoghurt, they returned home with the weeks’ worth of rice, dried beans, flour, sugar, instant coffee and, when things were good, a bottle of Belizean rum.
As word got out that the Flemings came to town Saturdays, a backpacker or two could be added as additional cargo.
With Mick looking after farming and building, Lucy began creating the elementary infrastructure for a new business venture. In charge of cooking and cleaning, and scores of chores, the addition of hospitality and marketing created a joyful respite. After making fliers and hand-dawn brochures that appeared in San Ignacio, and, with the help of an artistically inclined friend, a large sign that became a prominent fixture in Mom’s Restaurant, Belize City, advertising the Cayo District’s ambitiously named riverside adventure accommodations.
Chaa Creek Cottages was born!
Celebrate Our 40th Anniversary With Us
To celebrate, we invite you to book 4 nights and only pay USD $4 for the fourth night just like you would have 40 years ago.
This offer includes:
- Rainforest cottage collection accommodation (guaranteed room upgrade upon check-in depending on availability).
- Full breakfast
- Guided tours of our Butterfly Farm and Natural History Center
- Guided early morning Birdwatching
- Canoeing on the Macal River
- Hiking within our 400-acre private nature reserve
- Lounging in our infinity swimming pool
Contact our Belize specialists at reservations(at)chaacreek(dot)com or TOLL FREE at +1-877-709-8708 or via Whatsapp at +501-631-5711
Lookout for the follow up story: The Lodge at Chaa Creek Is Born