Traveling Around Belize’s Cayo District

Life In These Wide-Open Spaces Is Simple, Sweet, And Safe…Uncomplicated, Unhurried, And Unassuming

I stood off to the side of the road, out of the way, while the good people of San Ignacio went about their midday business. I watched as the elementary schoolchildren, having finished their morning studies, filed out onto the street, skipping and racing and giggling as they made their ways to their respective buses for the ride home for lunch. Across the road, the river gurgled, and children too young to have been in school all morning splashed in it in raucous defense against the noontime heat. Vendors offered cold drinks, fresh fruit, fried fish lunch specials, pirated DVDs, housewares, and canoes for rent from small wooden structures and open-air huts. Young mothers passed by on bicycles, their babies on their backs or balanced on their handlebars.

The canoe man dragged one of his biggest canoes down to the riverside and positioned it on the bank for our eventual use, as we’d asked him to do. I waited and watched, then, finally, identified a lull in the traffic and darted across the road to make my way down to the river to join the others.

Such a busy place for the middle of nowhere.

The surprise, though, is that this place, San Ignacio, is not nearly as nowhere as I remembered it to be. I traveled to this town in the heart of Belize’s Cayo District for the first time 23 years ago. Over the coming decade, I would return dozens of times, but it’s been maybe a dozen years since my last visit.

The Macal River is just as I recall, perfect for paddling. The view from the San Ignacio hilltop is as impressive, especially at night, when the city at your feet twinkles. The nighttime sky is remarkable. Young Jackson, traveling with us, had to be urged in from the balcony of our hotel room last night, well past his bedtime, so amazed was he by the starry sky, which appeared so close he wondered if he jumped might he be able to touch it.

In San Ignacio, Belize, life is simple, sweet, and safe, uncomplicated, unhurried, and unassuming.

“Don’t you wish we could just stay on here?” Lief asked over his shoulder, as he and our friend Phil carried the canoe we’d rented back into the canoe guy’s shop after we’d completed our afternoon river run.

“Just here, in this middle-of-nowhere spot.”

We’d spent the morning hiking and on horseback, the afternoon, as I said, on the river. We city-dwellers felt like serious adventurers come dinnertime, shoulders and arms sore, faces and necks sunburned.

“I’m an outdoorsman,” Jackson had proclaimed with the unembarrassed certainty of a 10-year-old as he’d led his borrowed horse back into the corral after his ride. “I think this is where I belong.”

He and his dad seem won over, this trip, by the charms of these wide-open spaces. Me, I was sold 23 years ago. As far as I can tell, this back-to-basics real-life adventure land has only improved in the intervening two-plus decades. The rivers, the rain forest, the caves, the waterfalls, the many Mayan ruins, most unexcavated, and the jungle-covered mountainsides, they’re all still here, just as I’ve remembered them all this time. But now, I’m delighted to discover, they’re supported by things like bathrooms with ready hot water, air conditioning, and wireless Internet.

I’m with Lief and Jack. I can easily imagine settling in here for the long haul.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. We were in the Cayo to explore the site of friend Phil Hahn’s newest undertaking, the sustainable community called Carmelita he’s developing on the banks of the Belize River. After our visit, we had to rush back to Belize City to catch the 10:30 a.m. Tropic Air flight over to Ambergris Caye for our next appointment. The digital clock on the dashboard of our truck read 10:27 as we pulled into the municipal airport parking lot. We parked and jumped out. Lief grabbed our bags, and we dashed in the direction of the little terminal building. A representative of Tropic Air approached us as we reached the door.

“You’re on the 10:30 flight to Ambergris?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Lief replied.

“No worries, mon. Let me take those for you,” he offered, reaching out to take our bags from us.

Inside, the man behind the Tropic Air counter asked our names, checked his roster, and handed us yellow boarding cards. Then he picked up the microphone on the counter between him and us and announced, “Now boarding for Ambergris Cay.”

We walked out onto the runway, handed the man by the door our yellow boarding cards, and climbed into the plane.

I looked at my watch. 10:33.

That’s my kind of airport experience.