Mickey and I decided to spend the rest of our lives together because we really enjoy each other’s company. We love to snowboard, rock climb, scuba dive, practice Kung-Fu, and eat interesting food.
Since we live in Colorado and take advantage of the snowboarding or rock climbing almost every weekend, we focused on honeymoon destinations that were on our diving bucket lists. We were torn between the Galapagos Islands and Belize (to dive the Blue Hole) but ended up choosing Belize because we could go first class for about the same price as the Galapagos economy trip. Hey, it was our honeymoon and we wanted to fly first class!
Once we chose Belize, we conducted exhaustive Internet searches on hotels and destinations in the country. Hamanasi Resort in Hopkins was our first choice because it is an eco-resort (my criteria) and it is fancy (Mickey’s criteria). Also, we got to stay in a deluxe tree house with a hot tub on its own private balcony, which was definitely a first for both of us. Hamanasi offers both reef and rainforest adventures, so we knew we would be able to dive, swim in the ocean, hike in the jungle, and probably rappel 300 feet into the Black Hole. It sounded incredibly romantic. For the second week, we wanted to see a different part of the country, so we researched hotels on Ambergris Caye. Honestly, we chose Mata Chica Resort because of the pictures on their website. It looked like a little beach paradise.
We arrived at Dangriga Airport in a tiny airplane and were met by an unbelievably friendly Hamanasi staff member. It was a 45-minute ride to the resort and our driver, a wealth of information, chatted about the history of the area while we bounced over rough gravel roads. His story was that Hopkins was settled by the survivors of a slave ship wreck, which is why the people in Southern Belize are much darker than the inhabitants of Northern Belize. Whether or not that was true, it was a good story.
We arrived at Hamanasi and were greeted warmly by the front desk staff and Mark the bartender, who brought us fresh fruit juice. Pam sat down with us in the lobby and explained how the resort worked, when to sign up for trips, when breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served, and the fact that they were there to make our honeymoon as perfect as possible.
We have never felt so welcome and comfortable in a hotel before. The lobby and restaurant were located on the beach, but we were led down a small path through the jungle to our private tree house. It was wonderful! Hamanasi management thought of everything to make our stay enjoyable, an example being the bowl of water at the foot of our stairs to rinse the sand off of our feet. This water was refreshed every day and they included fragrant local flowers. We had a private deck with a hot tub and hammocks, and the inside included a kitchen, living room, beautiful tiled bathroom, and the most luxurious king-sized bed I have ever slept in. Even the soap and shampoo provided were organic, locally made, and decadent. Additionally, there was a note and a bottle of champagne on our table, congratulating us on our recent marriage.
After we settled in we went to the front desk, where of course everyone knew our names already, and signed up to dive the next day. Elvis, one of the dive masters, helped us rent dive equipment that afternoon so we would not have to worry about it in the morning. We enjoyed sunset cocktails on lounge chairs at the end of the dock and then ate a delicious dinner at the restaurant. I think we ended up sleeping almost 10 hours every night that we were there.
In the morning, we headed down to the dive shop and were immediately attacked by bloodsucking mosquitos. We ran the rest of the way and Elvis gave us some bug spray. He said it was that time of year, and we were just going to have to suck it up and bathe in DEET most days. At least they sold bug spray at the resort. We grabbed breakfast from the buffet, which was as decadent as everything else with fresh fruit, pastries, eggs, and coffee. Although the ocean at the resort was churned up and cloudy, as soon as we reached the barrier reef in the dive boat the water was crystal clear and warm. We saw thousands of fish, turtles, sharks, and colorful coral. We were back at the resort in time for lunch, and then borrowed free bicycles to ride the few miles into the village of Hopkins. The little fishing village consisted of a few shops and restaurants, sandy streets, and friendly people. We ate lunch at a place called Innie’s a couple of days and tried the local food, which was delicious.
We dove two or three days at Hamanasi and also took advantage of their rainforest trips. The first one was a hike up to a waterfall with options for rigorous or tame. We chose the rigorous hike. The hike up was quite steep, but we stopped often while our guide pointed out interesting plants, birds, and had a snack on some live termites in a nest. When we reached the waterfall, there was a rope attached to a rock so we climbed up and jumped about 10 feet into the cool, refreshing pool. We then returned to the car and hunted around for tarantulas. Our guide found a big one and poked it with a stick until it came out of its hole.
Another day we went horseback riding in the jungle because I love to ride and Mickey had never been on a horse. It was a nice, tame trail ride and while we waited for the hotel shuttle, the manager told us a story. A few years before there were torrential rains, and the river flooded. The ranch workers scrambled to save as many horses as possible, but they lost several. When the waters subsided they made one more pass through the pastures and orchards to look for the missing horses. To their astonishment, they found one mare in the top of a grapefruit tree, alive but worse for the wear. She lost all of her hair from the stress, but also gave birth to a healthy foal shortly after that and grew her hair back. This was the horse I had ridden on the trail ride.
Our third rainforest adventure was another rigorous hike, but this one ended in a 300-foot rappel into the Black Hole, which is a sunken cave. Although it was pouring rain most of this trip, we had a blast and saw many beautiful birds as well as a Chaga Bug, which transmits the fatal Chagas disease to humans if it bites them. On our way back to Hamanasi, our shuttle driver stopped on the “highway” just below the crest of a hill and asked us if we wanted to see something cool. We said sure, so he turned the car off, removed his hands and feet from the controls, and the car started to roll backwards UP the hill. We were amazed, and he told us there was some sort of magnetic field there that was strong enough to move a car. He also said he often saw tourists stopping in the wrong spot, waiting for their cars to move, and not going anywhere. So we were pretty lucky.
We had a new underwater camera for our trip, and we were having some trouble figuring out how to make the flash work properly. It turned out we need to attach a flash diffuser, and to do that, we needed some twine. Mickey headed down to the front desk and asked Stephanie if he could have some twine. Elvis, who was sitting in the office, asked Mickey if it was to tie up his wife and Mickey laughed and said yes. Then he (jokingly) asked Stephanie if he could have some duct tape also to tape my mouth shut. Stephanie laughed and gave Mickey a length of twine. He turned to leave and she said, “No wait a minute. Here’s your duct tape.” They were very accommodating! Anyway, we fixed our camera (sans duct tape.)
When we left Hamanasi we were incredibly sad, and we still had another week of vacation ahead of us. It was like leaving family members behind. But we had to move on to the next place, mostly because Hamanasi wasn’t making a Blue Hole trip anytime soon.
Our second destination was Mata Chica resort on Ambergris Caye and we took another tiny airplane to get there. The staff members met us at the airport with a golf cart and then took us down to the pier to get in a speed boat to the hotel. Mata Chica was very different, it was a lavishly decorated lobby but they had irritating lounge music playing all day long. We missed Hamanasi, where we could ask Mark or King (the bartenders) to put in some reggae or rock or whatever CD’s they happened to have. They did greet us with champagne at the hotel and the staff was very friendly, but we missed Hamanasi! Our first night there we were laying in the king-sized bed in our beachfront casita, wondering if we should forfeit the cost of our stay and head back down south. (We didn’t, and I’m glad we didn’t because we ended up having a lovely time).
On our first full day we went scuba diving on the barrier reef, which was extremely close to the island. We saw many nurse sharks, some eagle rays, turtles, and a plethora of fish. We also borrowed kayaks at the hotel and kayaked out the reef to snorkel. It was the prettiest snorkeling I have ever done, and the water was warm and crystal clear. The food at Mata Chica was also delicious, and we decided we could stay there while we sipped rum and cokes in the infinity pool.
We made friends with some of the other guests, and one lovely couple told us that two people had just left who had tried every day for a week to dive the Blue Hole, and every day the trip was cancelled. This trip included a three-hour boat ride out to the Hole, so divers had to be ready on the dock at 5:15 A.M. We got pretty worried about not making it to our main dive destination.
The next day we were on the dock for sunrise, and the dive boat arrived only slightly late to pick us up. The trip was on! We started out in a tiny dive boat, really a speed boat with an awning over half of it. There were dark clouds on the horizon, and an even darker squall in front of us with highly visible rain pounding down in slanted white sheets. We hoped it wouldn’t last very long. We hit the squall and the rain pelted us for two and half hours. Mickey and I wrapped a towel around ourselves and crouched beneath it, soaking wet but staving off some of the piercing rain.
We finally reached the Blue Hole and the rain let up a bit. It was cloudy, but the water was clear and dark blue where the hole dropped off. We geared up and got in the water for a 135-foot dive. At 130 feet the stalactites start, as the Blue Hole is an underwater cave. There was very little light as we swam through the stalactites, and looking up we could see Caribbean reef sharks eerily circling above us. It was worth the squall.
We stopped on Half Moon Caye for lunch and to see the red-footed booby birds. We could see hundreds of them nesting in the trees from an observation deck, and this area is the only place to see them. We then did two more dives on the reef around the islands and saw more sharks, eagle rays, and gorgeous reef fish. The rain stopped on our way back, the sun came out, and we enjoyed rum punch on the boat. When we arrived back at Mata Chica, they brought a table to our casita and served us dinner on our front porch as part of their honeymoon package. Adam, our waiter that night, was very sweet and when it started raining asked us if we wanted him to bring the table inside. He had just brought our dessert and was already soaking wet so we told him not to worry about it and we would eat dessert on the couch.
We also spent some time exploring the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We tried out some local restaurants, visited little bars, and witnessed the world famous “Chicken Drop.” This is the game they play for tourists. There is a platform set out on the beach with numbered squares, and players can bet on certain numbers. Then they bring a chicken out that has been fed and cooped up all day, place it on the platform, and when it poops on a number, the people who bet on that number get to clean up the poop. We watched for a few minutes and then met up with one of our dive masters and went to play pool instead.
The couple from Boston we made friends with at Mata Chica went reef fishing and brought back a dozen red snapper and three barracudas. We had tried barracuda in Thailand and loved it, but couldn’t find it at a restaurant in Belize because they consider them “third-rate fish.” So we decided on our last day to try our hands at reef fishing. Chris from the hotel took us out in the speedboat and tried to show us how to fish. He baited the hooks for us and at first cast for us also, only letting us reel in the fish. We caught several snappers and then he let us try to cast, although he did continue baiting the hooks. I think he could tell we had no idea what we were doing.
We ended up using four bags of bait to pull in seven edible red snappers and a little snapper to use as barracuda bait. Chris was not excited about the barracuda, but we told him we wanted one so he baited a big hook and we started trolling. Mickey manned the fishing pole for what seemed like forever and got nothing. He got tired of it so I took over and almost immediately felt something on the line.
I said, “Um, what do I do?” Chris and Mickey shouted directions at me that were completely opposite of each other. “Hold it straight, hold it flat, reel it in, don’t reel it in, don’t drop the pole, don’t break the pole!”
My karma must have been pretty good that day, because I managed to pull in the barracuda and drop it on the floor of the boat. Chris bashed it in the head and showed me how to hold it under the gills so Mickey could take a picture. It started wiggling again so I screamed and dropped it until Chris bashed it a little bit better. That day we had barracuda curry and barracuda tacos for lunch, and snapper three different ways for dinner. It was absolutely delicious.