On our first full day visiting the lovely country of Belize, how did Team WestEnders choose to mark the occasion? Why, wake the teenagers early (again) for a half-day excursion...in which they'd be required to wear HELMETS, of course! ('Cuz that's just the kind of parents we are...and our sons are very well aware of this by now, fortunately, so there are no ugly surprises when our vacations aren't actually, you know, what you'd call "relaxing".)
Luckily, we didn't have to convince them to repeat any of that 4 a.m. nonsense--we got to sleep in until...5:45! (Siiighhh...) After a brief-but-yummy continental breakfast at the Great House (and JAVA, it goes without saying, right?) we convened at the front porch to meet our guide for the day, load our gear into the van, and hit the road. Our little gang included just the four of us and a very friendly young married couple (both teachers) from Connecticut. We chatted (well, the grown-ups did--the boys were mute and snoozy) and watched the Belizean scenery go by for about 40 minutes, until we arrived at Bocawina National Park, the site for our Rainforest and Waterfall hike.
After being issued the aforementioned protective headgear, refilling our water bottles, and getting a quick-yet-thorough orientation regarding what we'd be attempting, we forged ahead...into the wild. Now, let me back up a second and explain that when I signed us up for this...walk in the woods...we noted that, on a scale of 1-3, it was rated "3++" for intensity, and if that weren't enough to inspire the proper amount of fear, they gave it a "double red" designation as well (for extra-extra notice of "be careful what you get yourselves into", we could only assume). So suffice it to say, we were advised, we were cautioned, and ultimately we were outright WARNED about the potential dangers...and strenuousness of what we were about to undertake.
Team WestEnders, however, remained undaunted. We figured, "Pffftt--we're super-active, we're fit, and we can totally handle this...no matter how many pluses they throw on there!" With this attitude, we began our adventure on the flat, easy portion of the trail. Lorenzo, our fearless leader, stopped periodically to point out interesting flora and fauna, like the leaf-cutter ants hard at work on the ground below us, and the footprint of a tapir--although we didn't see the creature itself...which might have been a good thing, since that sucker's paw was easily as big as my hand! Lorenzo also informed us that these beasts can be 600 to even 1,000 pounds. (And their nickname is the "mountain pig", which is sooooo not flattering, so I wouldn't want to meet a ticked-off tapir looking to avenge his disparaging moniker...just sayin'...) Lorenzo even--after asking if we were okay with it--poked a stick into a hole to encourage a TARANTULA to emerge for a second. We got a good peek at it, but were not disappointed when the 8-legged creepy-crawlie opted to scuttle back into his shelter after coming out to see what all the fuss was about.
Aaaannnnd onward we marched. It wasn't actually raining, but the air was so humid it might as well have been, as we trudged along the muddy path. One positive: although insects buzzed around us constantly, we'd been instructed to lather up with repellent, so no one got eaten alive. Then we came to the "steps" part of our journey, which involved climbing upward on primitive wooden footholds, really--while definitely lung pumping, heart-rate-elevating work, still not TOO difficult yet. That is...until we reached the "grab hold of roots and nylon guide-ropes placed there to help you haul yourself straight uphill over boulders, on a narrow strip of land with a sheer drop a few inches to the left at all times "...section.
Holy scare-the-pants-off-ya, Batman, that was so far out of my Comfort Zone that I couldn't even catch a glimpse of it in the rearview mirror as we zipped past, and came to a screeching halt at "just this side of abject terror"! (Was that dramatic? Trust me, I was thinking all of that and more while convincing myself to keep going...) Thankfully, this was one of those rare times when an innate, deep-seated trait of sheer stubbornness won the day, and I pushed myself to get through it. (After all, the BOYS were doing it, and there was NO WAY I was missing out on this precious family death-defying bonding experience...or whatever...) Seriously, this ranked right up there among the most challenging things I, personally, have ever done, and you'll forgive me if I take moment to pat myself on the back for persisting and seeing it through. Okay, thanks! Moving on...
At last, the reward for all this toil was: a spectacular waterfall and icy, utterly refreshing pool in which to splash, float, rinse off the dirt and sweat, and rest the tired muscles for a while. TOTALLY worth it! Oh, and lest I forget, we were now so high up that we were looking DOWN on the rainforest canopy. Breathtaking! (Metaphorically, as well as literally, since were still panting a bit--ha!) Right...the flip side of the stunning vista...we then we had to slip and slide all the way back from whence we came, with weary legs. Lorenzo came through with some homemade peanut butter cookies before we began our descent, though, which was a very welcome physical pick-me-up for grumbling stomachs...and also a moral boost to our flagging energy. (And they were scrumptious--that man not only conquers the jungle...he brings a mean baked good!)
By the time we strolled triumphantly out of the trees, Team WestEnders had already ranked this among the best tours we've ever taken. As we re-hydrated and ate some fruit that Lorenzo had brought (from his garden, no less. The dude's talent apparently knows no bounds...) I reflected on the fact that we'd already enjoyed quite a full day of natural beauty, exercise of both the cardio and strength variety, and appreciation for the endless wonders of the Great Outdoors...and it was only 11 a.m.! Whoo boy...it MUST be nap time, yeah?
So we weren't at all dismayed when it began to rain on the ride back to the resort--one of those pleasant tropical downpours that provides warm drops and a fresh breeze...making it absolutely perfect for a well-earned afternoon snooze! (Again, for the adults--the youthful crowd reportedly spent a delightful couple of hours trying out hammocks in various spots on the property, horsing around in the swimming pool, and--contrary to the usual plan--taking some downtime to chill in their own way. Now all that's left to do for the day...is EAT a few more times! Yaaaayyyy!