Monday, December 16, 2013

Foooooood Fiiiiiiiiight!!!!!

We ran into Jayson and Marie at breakfast and they invited us to join them. We had a great discussion about the common TV shows we were all fans of and American politics (in particular, our healthcare system compared to Canada's) and found that we were pretty much in agreement about things across the board. We felt a little bad for the other diners who had to listen to all of this, so Charlie apologized to everyone except Mrs. Loudmouth, who was dining alone that morning. 

The four of us decided to go hiking around in the bush around the resort. Along the way, we discussed the weirdness of the resort, like how there were dicks everywhere and that we suspected it was intended as a sex club. We also marveled at how dangerous all of the decor was. At this, they wanted to show us their "Chapel Suite" room, which looked exactly like it sounds. It had vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and a dark red color scheme. Jayson wondered aloud how anyone was supposed to have sex in there. They also pointed out that the walls were made of jagged rocks and decorated with fragments of broken bottles with sharp edges sticking out, just waiting to snag a passerby.

Chapel Suite

The only thing we really saw on our bush trek was a tree full of a half dozen vultures and a sizable dead locust that someone had taken the trouble of perching on top of a path-side light fixture.


"And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." - Revelations 9:3

We weren't able to venture very far because the rain had turned the already marshy land into a treacherous swamp. We didn't have the right shoes for such a trek and decided to call it a day when Charlie accidentally stepped into a bog up to his knee, mistaking some sponge-like undergrowth for solid ground. We had scheduled facials that afternoon anyway, and needed to shower beforehand.

One of the same masseuses from the day before, along with another unknown female staff member collected us from the lounge and led us back out to the spa area. They were just as silent as the women had been the day before. We carefully tread across the sharp rocks and climbed onto the same too-hard massage tables. Both of us became restless and squirmy about halfway through the facials as the massage tables began to take their toll on our backs.

These weren't so much what I would call facials as they were a food fight on our face. The treatment commenced with a cleansing with an almost unscented soap that I suspected to be regular hand soap or dish detergent. Each product application was rinsed with a warm cloth smelling of allspice, followed by a washcloth dipped in lemon scented ice water so cold that I nearly came off the table when it was applied my face. Then, I kid you not, they straight up peeled a banana, cut it in half, and rubbed the flat end of it all over our faces like a giant glue stick. After this, our skin was exfoliated with a handful of sugar. Next, they applied some soft clay mud, put cucumber slices over our eyes, and then commenced massaging our feet and lower legs with the same mosquito repellent oil from the day before while we waited for the mud to dry. As it dried it began to itch. I kept scrunching up my face to help crack up the thick coating so that it didn't itch so badly. The final touch was a layer of pure honey, the remnants of which mingled in my hairline with all the other ingredients that hadn't quite been washed off all the way. I spent the rest of the day scratching at it and picking out the dried bits of the fruit salad mud pie that they prepared on my mug. Any time I licked my lips, I got a sweet surprise from the substances dried in the corners of my mouth. Although it was a little bizarre as far as spa treatments go, it still managed to be a relaxing and pampering experience.

It had been a while since breakfast and, after all the food smells so near our noses we were ravenous. We headed into the dining room where we ate room-temperature BBQ chicken, another dose of nachos with canned cheese, plain white rice, and what we recognized as leftovers of the heart-of-palm salad that had been served as an appetizer at dinner the evening before. Maya the wiener dog made her rounds, visiting each table in hopes of receiving food, love, or both. She was probably the most charming small dog I had ever met. We asked our server whether the staff had quarters at the resort where they stayed between shifts. She said, "No, it stinks out here." I wasn't sure if she was literally referring to the odors at the resort, not that I perceived any other than the slightly mildewy bedding, or whether this represented her overall opinion of the place. I went to the lounge so that I could check us in for our flight online. Then I volunteered to talk to the owner about arranging an airport shuttle for the following day since he seemed to respond better to women. I had to wait for him to get off the phone, during which he mentioned to the person on the other end that heavy rain was expected. When he hung up, I approached him about the airport shuttle. He was very helpful to me indeed, and throughout the conversation it would have been apropos to remind him, "My eyes are up here."

We headed to the dick pool for a little relaxation and found Jayson and Marie just leaving after a sunbathing stint. We agreed to meet up for dinner so that we could exchange contact info before we left the resort. Charlie settled in with his book and a smoke. I took the opportunity to photograph one of the resort's most bizarre decorative elements. As I mentioned in the post about our arrival, hibiscus flowers appeared to grace just about every surface indoors and were used to garnish nearly every plate of food and every drink. But I realized that this wasn't just an indoor thing. The staff had been painstakingly decorating the outdoors with hibiscus flowers too, including affixing them to other non-flowering plants by stabbing their stems through that plant's leaves. You could see dozes of instances of this along every walking path and all around the dining and pool areas. Where were they getting all of these flowers? How did they have time to do this?! I gotta say, they never lacked attention to detail.

Seriously, what the hell?

A book, a smoke, and some tropical scenery

Taking it easy

Outdoor chessboard with stone chairs

A live locust. Hand for scale. Not my hand, that's for damn sure.

It appeared that a storm was rolling in, so we decided to take cover on our veranda so that we could shoot the final tasting notes for Smoking in the Park. And now, without further ado...


A downpour began, just as the owner's phone conversation foretold. We relaxed on the veranda for a bit. Charlie smoked and I attempted to clean what looked like a dusting of green mold from the giant wooden penis that Charlie had purchased in the gift shop.

Boy for scale

Polishing my shaft

We met Jayson and Marie in the dining room, where ridiculous belly dance music was playing over the speakers. We had a great long conversation about everything in the world. We knew these two had a few years on us, but we had a whole lot in common despite the age gap. The question about whether we planned to have children came up. We said no, to which Jayson responded, "Good for you!" I think that was the first time someone had responded so positively to the divulging of that information. Our meal lasted nearly three hours. 

Charlie ordered bananas flambé for dessert which came arranged on the plate with the banana in the middle and a scoop of ice cream on either side of it so that it resembled, you guessed it, a cock and balls. Not only this, but the syrupy rum sauce had been drizzled in such a way that it appeared to be ejaculating. Our server set down the flaming plate and then tried to sneak away as the table erupted in laughter. Charlie coaxed the poor embarrassed girl back to the table and asked her what the deal was with all the dicks. She giggled as she told us they were supposed to be fertility symbols and asked whether we had noticed the penis and sperms tiled on the floor of the main pool. I asked her who the mastermind was behind all of the phallic symbolism and she confirmed that it was the male half of the ownership team. "I knew it!" I exclaimed, realizing at that moment that he was sitting in his office adjacent to the dining room, well within earshot of our table.

We paid our bills and then showed Jayson and Marie our bohemian room before parting ways for the evening. We are still in occasional contact with these two, and hope to visit them in Ottawa during our travels someday.

Then Charlie and I turned in since we had to get an early start to make the journey back into Belize City in time for our flight home the following day.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Marie to the Third Degree

Charlie and I rose with the sun and went to breakfast. That day's Lamanai visitors were already in the restaurant eating before their trip. Two women who would be on the tour showed up quite late, also wanting to grab a bite. The tour guide informed them that the van would be leaving in five minutes. One of the women responded with a simple, "No."

Oooookay.

The tour guide looked bewildered and just walked away. The hot-tubbing Blondie from the other night and her loud mother came and sat right next to us. Blondie wore full makeup and a leather jacket. Who wears a leather jacket in the jungle?! Charlie and I were checking e-mail on our tablet while we waited for our food. Mrs. Loudmouth noticed and complained to her daughter that today's youth was too dependent on technology. Adding irony to insult, she mentioned how much she liked the sexy lounge music that played at all hours of the day. Personally, I would have preferred to listen to howler monkeys and other jungle sounds. A recently arrived Canadian couple sat nearby. They began watching a video with sound on their device. We later found out that this was in response to the woman's loudness and passive aggression. She asked them to turn it off, so they did. Then we all had to listen to her yammer to her daughter about how generous she was being with the poor natives here. Her daughter responded with a comment about how she had tipped the man who packed her bags for her. You read that right. Packed. Her. Bags. We felt sorry for the other Lamanai tourists who would be stuck with this pair all day long.

Found this little fella on the bannister outside our room

After breakfast, we showered in preparation for our couples' massage. We returned to the lobby to meet our masseuses, where we found Richard and Gail getting ready to leave. We said our goodbyes and then two masseuses wearing leopard print robes greeted us. Go figure. One was smiley and friendly and the other frowned the whole time. Both remained almost silent throughout the whole ordeal.

The spa area sat on one edge of the resort and was just an open air hut with translucent curtains. It would be easy for anyone passing by to see our naked asses on the massage tables. For what I assume to be artistic design reasons, the floor of the massage room was a bed of jagged gray pebbles. So before indulging in relaxation, we had to tiptoe our naked asses across this torture chamber. Then we had to climb onto the too-tall massage tables with tiny stones stabbing into the bottom of our feet. 

The massage tables were pretty hard and I suspected they weren't real massage tables at all. The music was also way too loud. It bombarded us with the likes of Enya, some Hare Krishna chanting, and rain and thunder sounds. Despite this, the massages were pretty good. These were "aromatherapy" massages, so they just doused us in citronella oil. I guess it made sense in the mosquito ridden climate. I was also pretty sure I had seen my masseuse working as one of the housekeeping staff. This meant that she had strong hands and sandpapery fingertips to scratch all the mosquitos bites on my legs. 

Afterward, we had lukewarm but delicious Belizean stewed chicken and nachos. We were certain the cheese had come from a can. Good thing I like canned cheese. Once we were full, we wandered the grounds, exploring and looking for a good place to shoot "Smoking in the Park." We found the resort's little chapel and went in to check it out. The fact that it was a Christian chapel surprised me. I half expected to find a temple to Rati, the Hindu goddess of love, carnal desire, lust, passion and sexual pleasure.

Resort chapel

Chapel interior

We shot a few segments of Smoking in the Park and then Charlie decided to take a break from smoking (shocking!) and swim in the dick design pool. He has a bad habit of opening his eyes in the pool. The citronella oil from the massage ran into them when he swam, so his eyes were beet red and his vision was blurry. Cha opted for a break from swimming and resumed smoking while I played FreeCell. 

Sperm mosaic

Contemplating the mysteries of the universe


We went back to the room for a shower and to finish the cigar. I scratched myself for the umpteenth time on a godforsaken decorative pillow. It had sharp metallic sequins and hard beads sewn onto it and assaulted anyone who came into contact with it.

This pillow can fuck right off.

We heard a small crowd of people pass by our building, signaling the return of the Lamanai tour. We headed to the restaurant for dinner where I saw several familiar faces. Tracy, the young man who had disappeared with Blondie the other night, sat at the bar. The Canadians from breakfast were dining at a table. I had overheard that the Canadian woman's name was Marie. In fact, a third Marie staying at the resort as well, although I never found out who she was. I only encounter other Maries once in a blue moon so I thought I should introduce myself. I walked up to their table and broke the ice by asking them to keep it down the way Mrs. Loudmouth had that morning. We all laughed and exchanged statements like, "I know! Can you believe those two?!" We all introduced ourselves and we learned that they were Marie and Jason of Ottowa. They had enjoyed their excursion that day, but said that the mother-daughter duo had been rude during the tour. Quelle surprise.

And speak of the devil, right then the two walked in. Mrs. Loudmouth and Blondie sauntered over to the bar and sat next to Tracy. Something negative must have transpired since their first "hang-out" session. They neither looked at nor exchanged words with one another. The awkward tension was palpable as Blondie checked her e-mail and Tracy read his menu very, very hard.

Dinner that evening was better than normal, and the service moved along at a less sluggish pace. We left satisfied and went back to our room. From our balcony we could hear howler monkeys calling to one another in the distance. It was a haunting, awesome way to end the day.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Call of the Howler Monkey

We woke early for a river boat excursion. We would visit the archeological site Lamanai, a large ancient city in northern Belize. We sped through breakfast, thinking that we were holding up the tour. Charlie attempted to ask the owner, Nicky, about the trip. Nicky responded to him the same way I had seen him respond to other men. He spoke in a low, almost inaudible voice. He avoided eye contact, turning his body away as if he had better things to do than talk to another man. When it came to women, he was always friendly and helpful. For a dick decor connoisseur, he was downright frosty to other humans who actually had dicks. 

As it turned out, we were on time for the excursion. We found ourselves waiting in the van with a nice couple whose names were Richard and Gail. A third couple, who had arrived the night before, dragged ass and made us all wait. I know it's wrong to judge a book by its cover, but I was immediately annoyed at them when I saw them. The man was a middle aged douche bro. The lady had giant fake balloons on her chest and was wearing shorts that left little to the imagination. They spent the day appearing to compete with each other and everyone else. They had to be the first to climb to the top of every structure we encountered.

When we got into the van, we found a brochure in the seat pound with a photo that looked awfully familiar. It showed a man posing much in the way I had made Charlie pose on our bed (as a joke) the day we arrived. They were taking the sexiness a little too seriously. This only furthered our suspicions that they intended for the resort to be a sex club.

Charlie unknowingly imitated the sexy pose in the resort's brochure.

The segment of the Northern Highway beyond Maruba was even worse than the segment we had taken to get there. The fact that it had been raining only exacerbated the situation. The van fought through big muddy trenches and small ponds, doing its best not to get stuck. We definitely had a few close calls.

Rough, muddy road

We passed through the village of Santa Martha. It was a tiny community of about six hundred residents. There we saw several traditional Mayan huts and lots of front-yard livestock. Goats, cows, skinny horses, and chickens grazed near the dwellings.

Mayan hut in Santa Martha

We passed several unexcavated Mayan sites. They were just uncharacteristic low mounds rising out of an otherwise flat area. Vegetation and millennia of soil had accumulated on top of them. I would have walked right by them completely unawares. These types of sites are commonplace in Central and South America. Local governments often lack the resources to fund full-scale excavations and archeological studies. Many sites suffer damage and erosion from visitors and the elements. It is a constant, expensive fight to keep the jungle from creeping back in. Otherwise, it would swallow up the structures all over again. Even famous, important sites remain somewhat unexcavated due to lack of funding.

Along the way we also encountered a sprawling papaya orchard and a limestone quarry.

Papayas on the tree

We arrived at the river boat tour establishment along the New River. We emerged from the van with broken backs and well-shaken bladders in need of emptying. Unoccupied dudes lounged in the shade everywhere. Kids watched TV in huts. A sweet-eyed mama dog sought affection and food from visitors. Nearby, children inundated her puppies with affection.

A man named Nathaniel herded our group onto a boat. He was our captain and took the time to learn everyone's name before the journey began. Our trip would take 90 minutes or so and Nathaniel would help us to spot local wildlife along the way. He spoke in a clear, meticulous manner, taking time to pronounce the names of the animals we spotted. It felt as if we were students of another language. I suspect that this was so no one could complain that they could not understand his Belizean accent.

A shot of the calm river

First, Nathaniel took us to visit a spider monkey that lived alone on an island in the middle of the river. At one time he had had a female companion, but she died. He couldn't swim and evaded the forest service when they attempted to check on his welfare or move him. The monkey had learned that approaching tour boats meant free food. He swung himself through the dense greenery to meet us at the water's edge. We each fed him half a banana, which he gobbled up, tossing the peels aside to free up his hand for the next one.



Here you go, little buddy.

Nom nom nom

All of a sudden, Nathaniel's stoicism gave way to excitement. He pointed out two rarely spotted black-collared hawks perched on a riverside tree. He told us that this was a 1000-point bird in birdwatching terms.

A "1000-point" black-collared hawk perched in a tree while its partner takes flight

Next we cruised by the now-defunct New River Cove, a private drug rehab center. Several large iguanas sunned themselves on the concrete walls surrounding the facilities. Later we saw a few large bats hung upside down in the shade of a riverside tree.

Wild iguana sunning himself at the rehab center

The boat slowed as we neared Lamanai. While docking, I noticed several trees draped with green snake-like cactuses along the riverbank. Nathaniel said the locals called this fascinating plant "devil's guts cactus" or "snake cactus." I tried to find information about it later but couldn't find the specific species. I do know it is in the hylocereeae tribe and I suspect it may in fact be selenicereus testudo. But hey, I'm no botanist.

"Devil's guts cactus"

The group climbed out of the boat and hauled a bunch of coolers to the picnic area outside the visitors' center. The tour included lunch and it was time for our picnic. Nathaniel served the most delectable Belizean chicken I had had so far. Fresh salsas and hand-made tortillas accompanied this treat. As we ate, a terrifying sound began to emanate from the forest in perceivable waves. It was quiet at first, and then increased in volume. It sounded like the combination of a low guttural growl and a hiss, and it made my hair stand on end. For a moment, I thought a nearby predator was stalking us. I asked Nathaniel what the sound was and he explained that it was the call of howler monkeys quite a long way off. Their vocalizations are so loud that you can hear them up to three miles away!

The terrifying call of the howler monkey

After lunch we visited the small visitors' center containing a tiny museum. There we paid an entrance fee before entering the archeological site. The ancient city was quiet large and it took us a couple of hours to visit just the main points of interest. Archeologists first described the site in 1917, but did not excavated until the mid-1970s.

The first stop on our walk was Jaguar Temple, known for the blocky jaguar sculptures at its exposed base. Experts believe it to be the tallest structure in the city, but a large part is still buried under soil and jungle. At sites like these, a modern concrete cap covers the original stairs on many of the pyramids. As such, the structure itself remains undamaged while the concrete suffers wear and tear. This particular pyramid was not yet protected and the original steps looked pretty precarious. I am hesitant to climb pyramids anyway in the interest of preservation. Charlie and Richard chose to climb up while the rest of us remained below. Green moss veiled the pyramid, making its separation from the landscape appear tenuous.

Sculptures at the base of Jaguar Temple

Moss covered Jaguar Temple

Area yet to be excavated, still covered in soil and plant life

View from atop Jaguar Temple

Frontal view

Nearby several large black howler monkeys chilled in a tall fig tree. Nathaniel called out to them by doing a convincing impression of their vocalization. One male immediately responded with his own low-pitched hoot. Nathaniel called again, but the male had moved on to another tree. He was neither impressed nor intimidated by the imposter.

Howler monkey sighting!


Next we saw what experts suspected to be the royal lodgings, complete with stone beds. Tree roots clung to these structures. The jungle was trying its best to encroach on the site again. It would forever challenge humankind's feeble grasp on the landscape.

Small rooms in the royal dwelling

Nature attempting to reclaim these structures... again

The next structure along the route was the "Stela Temple." Its steps bore the famous "Stela 9," a white stone slab erected in 625 AD and inscribed in the Yucatec language. This temple had undergone no restoration and was not climbable.

Stela 9

Nathaniel next to a palm with sizable fronds. He estimated its age at about 100 years.

Ball court at the foot of the High Temple

Palm nuts

We had arrived at the High Temple, which looked like a dangerous and arduous climb. Its exposed height was 108 feet and a rope extended down its front steps to aid visitors in climbing it. Gail and I opted out of the climb and sat on a bench in the shade. Charlie, Richard and the competitive couple (of course) conquered the slope. The mosquitos were relentless that day and feasted on Gail and me while we waited for the climbers to return. No amount of bug spray seemed to dissuade them.

Visitors use a rope to climb the High Temple

Looking down from atop the High Temple

Expansive jungle from the High Temple

Remnants of past excavations

The last stop before we left was Mask Temple, which Nathaniel also referred to as Olmec Temple. Two light grey faces –a different color than the rest of the temple– shone on either side of the central steps. The color difference was due to the modern concrete caps, installed prevent further erosion. One could climb this temple by the original front steps or by the modern staircase around the side. I opted for the latter.

Mask Temple

The Mask Temple's namesake

Nathaniel allowed us a few minutes to check out the gift shops before we departed. The athletic couple raced ahead of everyone else, as usual. Charlie and I, and Richard and Gail took our time to get there. They were retirees and seemed like a sweet couple who enjoyed one another's company. I hoped we would be like them someday. We bought a few souvenirs and then headed back to the boat. Once again, we had to wait an excessive amount of time for Douche Bro and Daisy Duke to do whatever it was they were doing. Nathaniel grew impatient and yelled at them to hurry up. They returned to the boat without even having purchased anything.

Awwwww

The trip back was much faster and we didn't stop once. It wasn't without excitement though, since we did catch a glimpse of a manatee as it submerged. When we got back to the boat tour place, the sweet-eyed mama dog reappeared to greet us. There was also a large flock of different waterfowl all wandering around together. Our driver returned us to Maruba, once again well shaken by the brutal road.

Once we were back at the resort, Charlie went to the gift shop. He had resolved to buy one of the giant wooden dicks as a gift to the kitchen staff at work. He asked Janelle, one of the nice young women working in the lounge, to assist him with the transaction. She obliged, giggling with embarrassment the whole time. Then we went to the hookah lounge so Charlie could smoke a cigar. We also used it to connect to the wifi, which didn't reach our room. Charlie ordered a coke from the server. Due to a misunderstanding, we were also brought a free coconut with a straw sticking out of it. Unfortunately, the coconut was underripe, so the juice was not pleasant to drink. We leaned back on the low sofa, almost braining ourselves on the sharp rocks protruding from the wall behind it. We repeatedly found ourselves being the victims of "form over function," as Charlie liked to put it.

Charlie has a cigar in the hookah lounge

Drinking out of a coconut

After Charlie finished his cigar, we headed into the restaurant with the coconut. Charlie had the kitchen staff break it open so that he could carve out and eat the flesh as an appetizer. The food at the restaurant was pretty hit or miss that evening. At one point during the meal I excused myself to use the lounge restroom. There wasn't much toilet paper left on the roll, which hung from a wooden peg on the wall. When I tugged it, the roll slid off the wooden peg and fell on the floor. I picked it up and went to replace it, only to find that the wooden peg was, in fact, carved into the shape of a dick. I felt like I was sitting next to a glory hole.

Charlie carves out his coconut under the restaurant's black light

Mood lighting, for when you want glowing teeth and sickly looking food

The bawdiest toilet paper holder you'll ever see

I returned to the table and told Charlie about what I had just discovered. He had to go investigate for himself, of course. When he left the restroom, the jock couple from earlier were standing at the door of the gift shop having a giggle. Charlie went up to them and told them about the toilet paper holder. The woman said she had seen it earlier and they all had a loud laugh about it. The resort's male owner observed them, stone-faced, from a nearby table.

We returned to our room. It had been sunny most of the day so the walking surfaces were, for once, not so treacherous. The dampness in our room had subsided to some degree, a welcome change in a climate where nothing ever seemed to dry. Even the toilet paper in the bathroom was usually moist. Charlie treated himself to a second cigar while I remained indoors to avoid mosquitos. Then we turned in.