After a week on the island of Ambegris Caye we made our way to the Cayo District near the border between Belize and Guatemala.
We took the water taxi from San Pedro to Belize City then grabbed a taxi to the airport to meet up with Wes’ dad and his wife (“Granddave and Mimi”) who would be joining us for this segment of our journey.
Our home in the Cayo District was Mountain Equestrian Trails (MET), a lodge that our cousins have been running for over 30 years.
As the name suggests, MET offers horse riding treks to various attractions in the area. On our first morning there we went for a short ride through the nearby jungle. The kids had not ridden horses before but they quickly got the hang of it thanks to the gentle horses and expert guides.
As we rode through the jungle our guide Rigo pointed out some of the vegetation we were seeing, including plants that are used as food, medicine, or construction materials.
Barton Creek Cave
After our first ride we were confident enough to set out on a longer one to the Barton Creek Cave the next day. The ride took us through some spectacular scenery and down a steep hillside into the valley below. The terrain was rough at times but thankfully the horses were sure-footed.
At the Barton Creek Cave we boarded canoes and donned hardhats and flashlights for a paddle inside.
Our guide David explained some of the natural features of the cave as well as some of the items left behind by the Maya, who considered the cave to be part of the underworld. Nobility were often interred in the cave to help them reach the afterlife quicker.
At one point we shut off our flashlights and David lit a lighter to show what the cave would have been like for a Mayan explorer. It was dark (of course) and eerily quiet and we paddled along.
Eventually we reached the point where it would have been difficult to continue without laying down in the canoes so we turned around and headed back to the exit.
After the cave exploration we rode back to MET, passing by Mennonite Villages and settlements made up of people who fled wars in neighboring countries.
Rio Frio Cave
The next day we took a drive into the Mountain Pine Ridge reserve. This drive took us to higher elevations and it was interesting to see the transition in vegetation from jungle to pine forest.
We stopped at the Rio Frio cave to explore the huge cavern.
This cave had openings on both sides so we did not need flashlights. The cave used to serve as a campsite for Chicleros who harvested Sapodilla tree sap which was the primary ingredient in chewing gum before it was replaced with synthetics.
Rio On Pools
Our next stop was the Rio On Pools, a large area where water cascades down exposed granite. The kids were excited to look for natural water slides among the formations.
There were numerous waterfalls to cool off under.
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
Just across the street from MET is the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch. This center breeds seven different species of butterflies that are native to the area.
We entered a screened-in building where we were able to see butterflies emerging from their chrysalises.
The vibrant Blue Morpho butterfly was a favorite of ours.
With the enclosure butterflies often landed on our clothes and hats. There we also got to see where butterflies laid their eggs; each species had a preferred plant species to lay their eggs on.
Next we got to see the progression in growth of the caterpillars from newly hatched to the chrysalis stage.
Learning about the life cycle of these butterflies was a great educational experience.
During our stay in Belize we wanted to go see one of the Mayan settlements. There are many to choose from but we decided on Cahal Pech, which is located in the present day city of San Ignacio.
Cahal Pech was settled around 1200 BC and served as the home of a royal family. There is a museum on site that provides interpretation and displays some of the artifacts that have been found at the site.
Our guide David gave us an excellent tour of the site, explaining how the Maya would have used the various buildings. The Maya were excellent astrologers and also figured out how to predict weather patterns. The elite used this knowledge to portray themselves as deities and expand their power.
While in San Ignacio we stopped by AJAW Chocolate & Crafts to learn about cacao production in Belize and the chocolate making process.
We started off by taking a look at the cacao bean pod, then we got to try one of the beans right from the pod. The covering of the bean tasted like tropical fruit and the inside was rather bitter. Next we tasted a fermented bean, and then a roasted bean.
Next we got to try our hand at grinding the roasted cocoa beans into a paste.
The cocoa paste was made from the beans only; the moisture comes from the natural fats inside the beans.
Next, we were each given a half coconut shell with a spoonful of the paste and optional seasonings including chili, allspice and cinnamon. A bit of hot water was added and we stirred the mixture to make a chocolate beverage like what the Maya elite would have consumed. The drink was delicious and it was cool to be able to taste the cocoa this way.
After the lesson we went to the gift shop where we sampled wine made from cacao beans and bought some home made chocolate bars.
Now we know how chocolate is made; this was probably the kid’s favorite science lesson so far!
Mountain Equestrian Trails
MET is the most unique place that we have stayed on our trip so far. The cabins don’t have electricity, so light is provided by oil lamp and air conditioning comes from the breeze.
We were afraid the kids might not appreciate having no power or WiFi in the room but this was their favorite place so far and they wanted to stay longer!
With the lack of artificial light we slept very well. In the mornings we awoke to the sounds of howler monkeys in the distance.
Delicious homemade meals were served in the cantina.
The cantina was also a relaxing place to play games with some of the other guests and to sit and watch wildlife. We saw several different species of vibrantly colored hummingbirds.
We were also treated to sightings of other tropical birds including toucans and these crimson collared tanagers.
One night there was a “Super Blood Wolf Moon” (lunar eclipse) and our hosts made us a campfire where we roasted marshmallows while waiting for the eclipse to start.
Our stay at MET was definitely one of the highlights of our adventure so far. Thank you to Marguerite, Jim, Lacy, David and all of the wonderful staff at MET!
Next time, on to Pura Vida in Costa Rica, country number 22 on our family sabbatical!