PUNTA GORDA, BELIZE, December 19, 2012 — The Maya Apocalypse is coming. The end of the world. Doom.
If the world is ending, how do you face it? Cowering in a basement surrounded by stockpiles of ammunition and boxed mac ‘n cheese, which will make you wish you’d died in the apocalypse after a few months? Rioting through urban streets and ruining other people’s apocalypse? Bargaining with God?
God doesn’t bargain, and riots aren’t as fun as they look on TV. If you believe that the Maya calendar really predicts an apocalypse, there’s only one sensible thing to do.
And where better to celebrate than at ground zero for the apocalypse – Belize?
The Belcampo Lodge (formerly the Machaca Hill Rainforest Canopy Lodge) combines a 15,000 acre rainforest preserve, a 3,000 acre farm, an agritourism center, and a luxury 12-cabin resort all on one property. Located near Punta Gorda, Belize, the lodge boasts exquisite dining (most of the food produced on site), river excursions, incredible birding, scuba diving, horseback riding, a pool, a spa, outstanding service, and all the privacy you could ever need or want.
An open jeep will meet you when you arrive at Punta Gorda’s airstrip, a puddle-jumper away from the Belize City airport. In 20 minutes, you arrive at the main building of the lodge. There you will be greeted by a delightful concierge who will give you a hot, scented towel to wipe away the dust of your trip, then proceed to check you in while you help yourself to some refreshing ginger water or wonderful hors d’oeuvres. You know from that moment that you’re somewhere special.
Next you’ll be escorted on garden paths to your cabin. Large basilisk lizards will lazily watch you go by, and humming birds and butterflies will add dazzle to the flowers in the gardens.
Your cabin will be simply wonderful – if you remember that you’re in the rainforest. The cabins have tile and glossy polished hardwood floors, screened verandas, air conditioning, and bathrooms where you can shower with your eight or nine closest friends without feeling crowded. The showers are covered in river rock, and they overlook the rainforest canopy through large picture windows. Noticing my look of mild consternation, the concierge assured me that only monkeys would see me through that window, and they’ve all signed non-disclosure agreements.
My cabin was open to the veranda, which meant that the air conditioner had to do some heavy duty to keep my cabin cool. I found it very comfortable, but I moved to Louisiana from Moscow because I love heat and hate cold. I had a good wifi connection in my room, and my desk was under the air conditioner, so it was a very pleasant place to work. The management planned to shut off some verandas to give the guests a room closed to the outside, but I very much prefer the open rooms.
My first morning there I woke up with a nasty start. It sounded like there was a riot going on outside my veranda. “What do they mean privacy,” I thought, “there’s a mob down there.” In fact, there wasn’t. I believe it was peccaries rooting through the leaves beneath my veranda, and howler monkeys being howler monkeys. It was a nasty shock, but if you don’t want rainforest sounds, don’t stay in the rainforest. By the third night I slept through it like a baby, tired out by eating, walking, and eating some more.
The Belcampo’s restaurant is on the second floor of the lodge building, and it’s completely open to the outside. It’s a beautiful, romantic view, and the food is wonderful. Most of it is farmed on the Lodge grounds. Breakfasts all included black beans and plantains, but also pastries, fresh juice (all wonderful, though I couldn’t identify them all), eggs, and fresh fruit. Dinner was grilled fish (caught that day by the hotel staff), lobster, fresh poultry and meat (well, hmm, yes – I’m glad I never went down to meet the livestock), chocolate made from their own cacao beans, and a wonderful variety of vegetables, pilafs, beans, and other local produce. The food was absolutely spectacular.
(And now a note on apocalypse dining etiquette: My first night there, a beautiful young couple at the next table had a drink, looked into each others’ eyes, and pulled out their MacBook Air computers and got to work. Talk about a waste of a romantic dinner! They didn’t exchange a word all evening. The apocalypse is coming; it’s time to forget about work!)
One afternoon I went with a small party for a ride down the river. The lodge has a tram that goes to the bottom of the bluff on which the lodge sits. Or you can take the stairs. I took the stairs down, counted them, and then got my counting mixed up. But it was hundreds. Lots of hundreds. Feeling virtuous, I decided to take the stairs back up to the top. That’s one thing not to do in the Belizean heat.
There’s a bar at the bottom of the hill, an area for picnics, a dock, and a lot of wildlife. The hotel staff packed an excellent collection of snacks for us to take on the river. It was a wonderful and memorable excursion.
(A note on wildlife: Remember that if you explore the rainforest preserve at the lodge, it’s full of rainforest flora and fauna. That includes some beautiful birds and entertaining monkeys, but I also saw a fer-de-lance (a venomous snake) and a spider big enough to carry away my cats. Not all wildlife is cute.)
I never availed myself of the masseur or the spa facilities, but the spa was lovely. There is an open pit fireplace by the pool where guests can sit and chat in the evening. I don’t know how they managed it, but I didn’t see a single mosquito there. On a trip to a Maya ruin I was nearly devoured.
The Belcampo is a wonderful place just to lie around and read books, but no one seemed inclined to do that. One elderly couple from Texas was there for the birding, armed with the biggest telephoto lens I’ve ever seen in my life. They described some of their finds to me, but I’m afraid my interests are more in reptiles than birds. Another couple was there for scuba and snorkeling. I was there for the Cacao Festival. (More on that another time.) We all found time to visit nearby Maya ruins, the most spectacular being the Lubaantun ruins, where the infamous crystal skull was “discovered.” There was a festival going on at the ruins, and the food was excellent.
There’s much, much more. A friend of mine went there to visit the caves, which are numerous and interesting, and some contain Maya relics. The Lodge offers a snorkeling excursion with the chef – a six hour fishing trip down the river until you anchor at Moho Caye and dive for crabs, conch, lion fish, and lobster. (The lion fish ceviche is superb.)
Aside from the Cacao Festival, my interest was the Lodge’s farm. They produce bananas, passion fruit, citrus, cacao, pumpkins, beans, nutmeg, vanilla, allspice, and much, much more. The techniques are meant to be as eco-friendly as possible, eschewing the use of most chemicals to make the food as close to “organic” as possible. I have no strong preference for “organic” foods, believing that modern chemistry can make vitamin C as well as nature can, and happy to exterminate white flies on my citrus with the most powerful insecticides I can find, but whether because it was perfectly fresh or “organic,” the culinary results were wonderful.
Does all this come cheap? Of course not! Various packages cost from $500 to $800 per person per day. That includes your room, food, guided tours, tastings, laundry service, and transportation to the airstrip. Scuba excursions add $190 to your bill.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. For most of us it will be a very special occasion, but we can stay at the Motel 6 when we set out to visit Grandma to help us save money for it. And here’s a kicker: The Apocalypse is scheduled to occur before your bank can bill your credit card. There’s no apocalypse without a silver lining.
The Belcampo Lodge * 135 Laughing Falcon Reserve, Punta Gorda, 70068, Belize
Electrical voltage is 110, the official language is English, it’s about a two-hour flight from DFW to Belize City, the usual temperature range is 60 F (winter low) to 96 (summer high), and the rainy season is in summer. All major credit cards are accepted, and many establishments will accept U.S. dollars. The exchange rate is $2 Belize/$1 U.S.
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