Kugler: A mother-daughter birthday trip
By Charlotte Kugler
Thursday, January 5, 2006
New Yearís greetings from sunny Placencia, Belize, where I am having the best vacation of my life and experiencing the joys of being a travel writer! I am here on a special mother-daughter trip, celebrating my 14th birthday. I decided to keep a journal while on my trip, and to use it as my column for The Concord Journal.
It took us three flights to reach our destination. All went smoothly until we got to Belize City and the enormous 737 disgorged its hordes of exhausted passengers directly onto the tarmac, leaving them to stampede into the tiny terminal and fight their way through customs. Passengers Charlotte and Lori Kugler were the absolute last two travelers from American Airlines 2193 to get their passports inspected. We almost missed our domestic flight. One could clear customs in Iraq more quickly than in this terrorist-free paradise!
No sooner than we had flung our suitcases frantically into that space between the countertops at the departure check-in for Maya Island Air and dashed to the gate, we were told it was time to board our puddle jumper, whose propellers were just slowing down as it rounded the corner of the rugged dirt runway and came to a halt. We raced outside, determined to be two of the 12 passengers who would make it onto this particular plane, since apparently there is no organized system for boarding people onto flights - it was every man for himself! Flying in such a small plane and seeing the landscape below was amazing, and worth all it took to get there.
Days two and three
My mom and I are staying at an awesome resort called The Inn at Robertís Grove. It is situated right on the beach among many shady palm trees. Some of its amenities include three pools, three rooftop Jacuzzis, two restaurants, private balconies with wonderful views of the sea, and a labyrinth of brick pathways leading through beautiful gardens of exotic trees and flowers.
The resort is on the ocean side of a narrow peninsula; on the other side is a lagoon. There is an open-air restaurant on the beach and it is frequented by the innís dog and two cats, who wander through hoping to catch a bite to eat. In front of the restaurant is a long pier with a thatch-roofed hut at the end with hammocks strung from the posts. Walking along the pier, Iíve seen schools of snapper, needlefish, and mullets swimming around the pilings, sometimes jumping out of the water in feeding frenzies when minnows shoot by.
We left by boat early this morning to go snorkeling around an island called Laughing Bird Cay, 40 miles offshore. As we neared the island, we watched the antics of a school of bottle-nosed dolphins before docking alongside some other boats from different resorts.
The beauty of the underwater world of the coral reef was beyond anything I had expected. Fish of every color with shimmering scales drifted in and out of the pink and green coral, whose forms reminded me of magnificent ruins of an ancient city. We saw a lemon shark and a Queen conch, and on the tiny cay there were hermit crabs and lizards.
People often mention what a small world it is when they are on a trip and run in to someone from their own town. But how about this for a situation? There I was, on a remote island the size of a football field with about 30 people from all over the world, and I looked up and saw someone wearing a Concord Academy T-shirt! She was walking with an older woman who was wearing a Thoreau Society T-shirt. I asked her if she lived in Concord, and she said no, but she had grown up there, gone to Sanborn, and then to CA. Her mother, Lorna Mack, still lives in Concord. I thought this was the most coincidental of all the small-world experiences Iíve ever had!
We visited the site of Lubaantun in the mountains near the Guatemala border and saw excavated Mayan ruins. The miles of bumpy dirt roads leading into the mountains were dusty and primitive, and there were very few other travelers we passed along the way. We drove through many small villages of native people who were descendants of the Mayans. They still lived the authentic lifestyle of their ancestors...wearing traditional clothing, growing food, washing themselves and their laundry in streams, making crafts, cooking corn tortillas over open flame, and bearing many children. All sorts of animals wandered through the villages fending for themselves. The poverty of these people was humbling - I admired them for their persistence and for how they seemed happy and friendly despite their circumstances. Our groupís tour guide, Juan, lived in one of these villages with his wife and seven children. He took us for lunch to his own home, a small stucco building with several thatched-roof huts and an outhouse. It was something I will never forget.
Juan then led us on a long, sweaty hike through the jungle to get to some isolated caverns with a river flowing through them. We were given life vests and minerís lights to wear on our heads. We swam through caves, navigating various tunnels of icy cold water in pitch-black darkness, illuminating the walls and ceilings with our lights, observing amazing stalactite formations. The water was a milky green color due to the leaching of the limestone that formed the caverns. The coolest thing was that it was so remote, and there was nothing commercial about it. We saw little Mayan boys jumping off rocks into the water as theyíve done for thousands of years, and it was a privilege to be among them.
Days six and seven
As our vacation came to a close, I reflected on how interesting and fun it was to see a tropical landscape and a whole different way of life - an opportunity not everyone can have, and for which I am really grateful. This travel writer gives Belize five stars!
Charlotte Kugler is a student at the Concord Middle School Peabody Building. She is a regular contributor to The Concord Journal.