This is the life. Yesterday was an entirely wonderful day. The early start and huge amount of travelling on Monday had the great side-effect of knocking my body-clock out; making me go to bed and wake up earlier. So since I’ve been in Belize, I’ve been getting up at around seven each morning. Good job, really, because it gives me time to wake up and potter about before the full force of the sun kicks in. Yesterday, it meant that I was awake in time to go on a little four hour bird-watching trip. It also meant I would be stepping into a kayak for the first time in my life.
The British couple who are staying here also came along. Malcolm and Cybil (how perfect those names are for a terminal bore and his mousy wife) seem to be worriers. When we arrived at the edge of Joe Taylor Creek where our tour was to begin, George – our smiling, dreadlocked tour guide – gave us the briefest of run-throughs about the kayaks and already Malcolm was fretting. He precariously stepped into a kayak, and virtually the second he’d got his legs in there was worrying and jabbering away about not feeling stable. Ten seconds on the water, and he was asking if he could exchange the single-seater kayak for a sturdier two-seater.
George asks me if I wanted a two-seater, too, but, not wanting to be viewed as the pussy I’d just thought Malcolm was, I laughed it off and said I’d use a single-seater. Gosh, it felt unstable. Wobbling around, my pride was telling me stay in the kayak, my brain was reminding me that I really didn’t want to capsize and lose my glasses. Pride won. And once I stopped trying to keep the kayak stable, it suddenly felt stable. Five minutes later I was having the time of my life. I love those moments in life when you try something for the first time and the steep learning curve takes you from someone who’d never done something before to being someone who felt quite comfortable to be learning on the hoof. Every mistake that sent the kayak into one of the branches that occasionally drooped into the river was a very quick and timely reminder to make smaller adjustments and not approach corners too quickly.
So, we pooter along at a leisurely pace, checking out the mangrove crabs scuttling up and down the branches. George points out some bird in the trees. I nod and go “oh yeah” even though all I can see is a bunch of trees, and he tells us the names of loads of birds, all of which I’ve forgotten, so I’ll make them up: the red-headed blah-thingy; the wotsit kingfisher; the great whatjamacallit; and my favourite, the lesser-spotter dooflip.
Eventually, about three miles up the creek, we stopped near some slimy rocks, and all got out to have a bit of a jungle trek. When I say “all got out” what I mean is George, Malcolm and Cybil got out, and I rocked a bit, slipped, and went arse first into the creek. Thankfully, my camera and wallet were in a Ziploc bag, but I did lose a virtually full pack of cigs, which was a bugger, cos I was gasping for one. The spill, though, made me wary about taking the camera out of its bag while in the kayak, so, sadly, I’ve got no photos of that part of the trip; just some of the jungle.
A bunch of big trees, lots of other trees, and some plants, too. Ooh, there’s an armadillo hole that, weirdly, looks just like any other football-sized hole. More looking at birds in the gaps between thousands of branches and leaves; a hop, skip and jump across a stream; plenty of tedious chatter from Malcolm about thatching processes here, and how they compare to the thatching he’d seen in Malaysia and “Rhodesia”; and we were soon back at the kayaks.
Feeling a bit more confident on the way back, I got up a bit of speed and stopped now and again to actually check out the birds in the mangrove swamp. It was a pretty fine way to spend a morning. And the afternoon was boss, too. Ian, the guy who runs this cottage-y guest house with his dear wife, Kate (sorry to comment-ers who didn’t like my previous description of her!) is also the manager of a butterfly farm that supplies pupae to a place in England. (Coincidentally, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Malcolm and Cybil’s home town: cue about ten minutes of wondering where exactly that was… “Is that the one near The Swan?” etfuckingcetera.)
It was quite a trek in Ian’s pickup truck up to the farm, which is in the hills, up a dirt track, then up a dirtier track, and then up what felt like a bunch of rocks pretending to be a track. The conversation on the way ranged from, oooh, which was the first motor vehicle company to make certain types of engines, to which heavy plant manufacturer had cornered the souther Belize market (Caterpillar, not John Deere); and all other sorts of desperately dull Malcolm-topics; even the logistics of sending pupae from the middle of nowhere in Belize to Warwickshire got compared to sending industrial parts to Singapore.
Once we got to the top of a hill, the view was quite splendid. Jungle all around, and some lovely flowers.
A brief walk down some steps and we were at the farm. Lots of wooden huts with shelves of eggs and larvae, all meticulously labelled, and wood and wire-mesh structures housing thousands of stunning butterflies.
This is Malcolm
And this is me
It was a joy to be in amongst them all. Having them land on my hand, and watching them up close as they stuck out their proboscises to suck the minerals from my sweat. One of the lady butterflies – the flirty bitch – even landed on my crotch and laid three eggs there. I imagine even Prince at the height of his leather-underpants perv phase didn’t have this happen to him.
On the way back, we had to stop off at the airstrip to book Malcolm and Cybil’s flight (they’ve gone now… woo!). As I waited outside, there were four Mennonites stood around waiting for something. Not seen any of these folks before. The young men had chin-strap beards; the women long floral print dresses and little black hats. One of the couples were holding hands, which, to some of the more hardcore Mennonite factions, is virtually the equivalent of being in a “Girls Gone Wild” video.
The couple of miles from the airstrip back to the cottage, I rode in the back of the pickup truck, sat there in the open air, watching the streets disappear. Not sure I’d want to do it every day, but for those couple of miles, it was a relaxing and beautiful thing to be doing as the dusk came down.
In the evening I cycled the streetlight-less track into town, with a headlamp strapped to my bonce, making quick desperate moves as potholes came into view; the light occasionally picking out the flash of a hawk’s eye as they sat in the grass searching for food.
It was a long day. And I was in bed by 9.30. And I slept like a log.