Tested to My Limits on an Adventure Vacation in Belize
Middle age was pounding on the front door of my life, yet the intensity of parenting young children was easing up a bit. It was the perfect time for my friend Sarah and I to take a trip, but it had to be somewhere we’d never been, doing something we’d never forget. With some research, the perfect opportunity appeared: an adventure vacation in Belize! The website said a good attitude and average fitness were the only things needed to enjoy eight days of exploring, hiking and kayaking, including a few days on a private island.
A moment was all I needed to consider my decision. My glass-half-full personality and size 14 jeans convinced me I was the perfect person for this experience. Without hesitation, I clicked ‘submit’ and committed to my first (and last) adventure travel vacation.
“I won’t poop for four days,” I whispered to Sarah.
Naïve enthusiasm brought Sarah and me to the jungles of Belize six months later. However, it was only halfway through day one when clues emerged that we were in over our heads.
“Ladies!” our guide shouted like a drill sergeant. “This morning we hiked through Mayan caves and now we will kayak ancient waterways. Pull yourself out of the water and onto those kayaks then the Mopan River will be yours to explore!” Shoreline spectators quickly realized there was free entertainment and enjoyed our innumerable, unathletic attempts at this impossible task. Finally, like slow, thick slugs, we dragged ourselves onto the kayaks.
We ignored the clapping from ashore as our guide expertly zipped around, spewing rapid and vague instructions on how to steer. With one last spin and a splash of water with his paddle, he shouted, “Let’s go!” and made a beeline for the first set of rapids.
My glass-half-full personality and size 14 jeans convinced me I was the perfect person for an adventure vacation in Belize.
“Holy shit, he’s gone,” Sarah said as we watched our guide speed through chutes and over rapids with little effort.
We were alone, stunned someone actually believed we were capable of this activity. Over the next 90 minutes, with mostly blind luck, we navigated our way downriver. Relief flooded over us when our route’s end came into sight. However, our excitement was short-lived as one last obstacle appeared. Ahead were the biggest rapids so far, which culminated in a small waterfall before our take-out point.
“There’s got to be another option,” Sarah said with white knuckles clasped around her paddle. There wasn’t.
I went first. The swift current bounced me off exposed boulders like a pachinko ball. In the blink of an eye, I was over the falls and miraculously, still upright. I looked back just as Sarah began her free-fall into the churning water.
In an instant, she was gone.
In an instant, she was gone. Her kayak flipped. Where is she? Oh my God, where is she? Sarah surfaced quickly but was in tears and pissed off.
Sarah stumbled to keep her footing as she dragged her kayak ashore and yelled at our guide, “Where the hell were you?”
“You did fine,” he replied. “I knew you’d make it!”
“But I wasn’t fine! You just left us. I could have died!”
After making sure Sarah was OK, I told our guide we were simply Midwestern moms and not suited for activities like this. He agreed to adjust our upcoming plans to better match our abilities.
With day one of our adventure vacation in Belize officially over, we lay exhausted and motionless on our hotel beds staring at the ceiling. I turned to Sarah and said, “I feel like we might be a bit out of our element.”
Four days in the jungle taught me that an adventure vacation in Belize wasn’t synonymous with going on vacation.
At that moment, two men carrying semi-automatic rifles walked by our porch. “Oh, I know we are,” she replied.
Four days in the jungle taught me that an adventure vacation in Belize wasn’t synonymous with going on vacation. Physical endurance and some level of risk were expected. Despite what the brochure said, my good attitude and average fitness were not enough for this experience. Thankfully, the land portion of the trip was over.
Sarah and I relaxed as we headed by speedboat to the travel company’s private island while feeling cautiously optimistic the next few days would be “filled with relaxation and connecting with nature” as the website promised.
We approached our destination and saw a tiny island Mother Nature had grown on the edge of Glover’s Atoll. We docked at its even tinier eco-resort. The resort owner warmly greeted us and began our tour. The island had no running water or electricity. Beauty certainly was all around us, but the accommodations were clearly rustic.
Beauty certainly was all around us, but the accommodations were clearly rustic.
The final stop on the tour was the toilet tower. Since there was no plumbing, an innovative two-story structure had been built that used gravity to compost and break down waste. Two stalls were available for the entire resort. Each single-person stall had two wooden boxes fitted with toilet seats. A bin filled with sawdust sat between each box. The owner explained, “One box is for liquids and the other is for solids. Pour one cup of sawdust on top of the liquids and two cups on solids.”
“I won’t poop for four days,” I whispered to Sarah.
“We’ll figure it out,” she assured me. I disagreed.
Next, we found our cabin. It was a simple room on stilts. The surf gently lapped the rocks below our small porch. Inside, there were no windows but large openings letting in the continuous ocean breezes. Our furniture consisted of two wooden beds with blue plastic mattresses, clothing rods, one solar-powered light, and two plastic bins with lids for items needing extra protection.
I relaxed as we headed by speedboat to the travel company’s private island while feeling cautiously optimistic the next few days would be “filled with relaxation and connection with nature”, as the website promised.
Sarah and I decided our first island activity would be snorkeling in “The Aquarium”; a shallow reef perfect for observing beautiful tropical fish (and probably the inspiration for Finding Nemo). As we swam, we marveled at everything this sparkling teal water contained. Our guide noticed and said, “If you like The Aquarium, then you’ll love snorkeling “The Wall” on our last day.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s incredible! Like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s a continental shelf where the floor drops thousands of feet!” he explained.
“Thousands of feet?” Hmmm.
Our sixth day was perfection… filled with beach lounging and paddle boarding. A gorgeous sunset painted the sky as we finished dinner then headed to our cabin. Sarah settled into our porch hammock and I went inside.
I noticed a crumpled Powerbar wrapper on the floor. Where did that come from? We put all the snacks in the bins when we arrived, I thought. I gave it no more thought and got ready for bed. The sounds of the ocean and its gentle breezes floated through our room making sleep effortless.
“Kirsten…Wake up!” Sarah whispered.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Listen… Do you hear that?”
I flipped on the light. Two huge rats sat frozen on our plastic bins. They looked just as stunned to see us as we were to see at them trying to pry open our storage bins!
“Oh God, OH GOD!” Sarah screamed.
The rats scurried to a high shelf that circled the entire room.
The rats scurried to a high shelf that circled the entire room. I grabbed a broom and tried to smack them through the thatch roof. They were so fast! They kept running around that damn ledge. I kept swinging and missing. Sarah kept screaming. Finally, the rats found an invisible opening and disappeared. Sarah refused to go back to sleep without the light on. However, our solar lamp was depleted, leaving us to sleep with our headlamps secured to our heads in hopes of dissuading further visitors.
Our last morning on the island started with Sarah proudly telling me she had finally pooped in the toilet tower. I had not yet had that same success. Even though my bathroom skills weren’t cooperating, the weather was so we began our final excursion, snorkeling “The Wall”.
We boated to the edge of the atoll and first swam over expanses of white sand before reaching endless mounds of intricate coral. Hundreds of colorful fish, giant eels and squid surrounded us. Traveling further, we saw a definitive edge, where the coral stopped and the ocean floor suddenly disappeared into a deep, dark endless nothing.
Despite knowing I was safe, my body involuntarily trembled as I looked down at the abyss below me. I headed back where the schools of fish safely gathered and the coral grew.
While grateful for the unique experiences, it just took one final problem to demonstrate every part of me was ready to head home…
My goal of doing something I would never forget was achieved while also providing crowning proof I was not cut out for an adventure vacation in Belize, or anywhere for that matter.
After one last night of hearing the ocean waves below our beds, Sarah and I were taken back to a mainland hotel to wait for our flight home. We were delighted to be in accommodation with electricity and running water but without large, resourceful rats. I hadn’t pooped in four days and desperately wanted a hot shower.
I sat on the glorious, cool toilet in our air-conditioned room, thinking about our adventures and misadventures over the previous eight days. While grateful for the unique experiences, it just took one final problem to demonstrate every part of me was ready to head home…
“Sarah?” I called from the bathroom. “We need to call maintenance. I broke the toilet.”
Photos for Tested to My Limits on an Adventure Vacation in Belize by Unsplash.