Carnival Valor – March 31, 2011: Belize

Ah Belize… this was a dreadful place for us a few years ago when I did my first seven night cruise. We did not do a shore excursion and back then I had the idea that we would get off the ship, walk into town and visit the museum. Well, to make a long story short, back then the town behind the port in Belize City was totally chaotic. Just about anything you wanted to buy (including illegal substances) were available, and vendors were on the sidewalk and pushed guests into the streets as their tables took over everything. After about 15 minutes in this area, we skedaddled back to the relatively secure port area. It was just a horrible stop, and my kids were somewhat petrified—it was NOT a good place for Americans to be walking around. I actually wrote Carnival about how unsafe we felt and how disappointed I was that they went there. Shortly after I sent that letter, the port of Belize was pulled from most cruise ship itineraries, and Belize was told by the cruise industry that they needed to clean things up a bit to get the ships back. Obviously it had been a few years, and Belize really did make a strong effort to bring back the ships, and they poured money into attracting tourists. The Belize of today was a far cry from the place I visited three years ago, and the town did not look as downtrodden and run down as it did back then. Because of my last experience I felt that this was not a place where I felt like we should wander around on our own and I booked a ship excursion: Altun Ha Mayan Ruins and River Wallace. Basically this was a bus ride about an hour to Altun Ha, and then we’d go to the River Wallace for a boat ride back to the port. Time was projected to be about 5.5 hours.

We were supposed to meet in the Ivanhoe Theatre by 8:45am for our tender departure. Shore excursions get off the ship faster, and to get to land from the ship is a long ride.  The past three months have been rocky ones with Carnival and the Belize tender operators (Google it for the details) but they came to an understanding and Belize got larger tenders which move more people faster. Our tender group was called and we were off the ship by 9am, and on land around 9:20am.

Our group was pulled together and divided, and we were part of 31 people who were put on an older motor coach in good working order with air conditioning. Our guide was Elicio Ken, or “Ken” as he preferred to be called, and he lived about 86 miles away. On the hour long ride to the ruins, Ken talked about the city of Belize and its history, the importance of US dollars to his people, and he also gave us some background on the Mayan people. He really was a great guide and I learned a whole lot about Belize, and our trip through downtown during the morning rush hour was also interesting too as we got to see most of the city. Once we got to the ruins we were given a bottle of water and told a bit of the history. Ken had some artist renderings of what it probably looked like in 600AD too. A highlight of this tour was actually climbing one of the temples, which was steep—and high! It was pretty hot, although it was only 10am Belize time. Going up was not too much of a problem, but going down was a bit disconcerting for me as I do not like heights. Some guests on the tour went down on their bottoms, but once I got past the first 10 steps I was fine. While on the edge of the jungle we experienced the mosquitos—and had left all of the bug spray on the bus. Oh well… at least it wasn’t malaria season! After the ruins we got to see the vendors, and I found a guy selling bananas. He sold me four bananas for a dollar, and I gave him an extra buck as our money really does matter to these people who subsist on very little. These are not the Chiquita or Dole bananas we get in the USA—those are from Honduras. The Belizian banana had a different taste, almost sweeter. However I bought them because allegedly banana peels treat bug bites, and DD had really been chewed up. (I didn’t get any bites, which was sort of odd.) Anyways, on the bus we ate our bananas and drank some water (did I mention it was hot? Very hot?) The kids put banana peel on their bug bites and noticed relief. DS still has some bites but they no longer itch.

The bus took us to the Black Orchid Resort for the boat part of the trip, and we bought lunch. For $8 we got rice & beans, a slice of Plantain, a little dollop of cole slaw, and some chicken. This is a typical Belizian midday meal (which they call dinner). The seasonings were different from what we cook with back home, and I tasted allspice. I wouldn’t cook it myself, but it was far more interesting than a hamburger. After learning that the boat ride was going to be at least 90 minutes—maybe more, maybe less—I headed to the gift shop to get some sunscreen. (Did I mention that it was hot out?) We were going to be looking for crocodiles, manatees, birds and other wildlife, providing Nature cooperated. (That’s what Ken said anyways.) We got into the boat around 1:15pm and headed down the river slowly. We had been loaded by size and weight, and were told that we may have to shuffle. This was a rather nice boat and I was not concerned about traveling in it. As we headed out, the Captain moved someone around. Then I noticed that he was messing with the controls, and his helper soon went to one of the engines to start working on it. Uh oh…

 After about half an hour of going slow, the Captain and Ken were conversing in Creole. Ken gets on his cell phone and calls someone that we were having engine problems, and might be late. I was totally unconcerned about this because we were on a ship excursion, and if you’re on a ship excursion with a problem then the ship will wait. Had we been on a private excursion I would have been panicking because a cruise ship WILL sail without you unless you’re on an excursion that had a problem. Anyways, things were slow by the boat kept going on one engine. We were finally back to port around in time for the last tender at 4:15pm. No time for shopping, which was fine, but we had to queue up in a rather long line to tender back to the ship—and there were still people behind us. As we boarded the ship a guy in front of me said that there was a bus accident too and people were going to be late. We were supposed to sail at 5pm, and were finally underway by 5:30pm. DH and I had booked the Chef’s Table for dinner, which is a $75 per person extra charge. Kids were on their own and were planning on Room Service. More on the Chef’s Table in another post—but after dinner I came back to the room to check email, and DD & DH went to the production show. In bed by midnight.

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