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To be fair, I had been warned: It would be difficult to paddle to the Lodge at Chaa Creek because I would need to row upstream for six miles from the gritty town center of San Ignacio.

Lloyd Alvarez, a reservations specialist, had advised it would be wiser to take a taxi to the luxury resort and then breeze down the river. Or, I could just stay at Chaa Creek, a stunning 365-acre property set along the banks of the Macal River and self-described as “wildly civilized.”

I resented that Mr. Alvarez had instantly branded me a lazy American like the complainers on TripAdvisor who whine they have to walk up two flights of stairs at a resort. Their perfect world would be devoid of ascents and inclines.

Screw Chaa Creek and its unspoiled rain forest and butterfly farm.

Sure I had little upper-body strength and zero experience canoeing any distance. But I would paddle harder and longer than Mr. Alvarez could ever dream. I would row another 45 minutes past Chaa Creek — to where the Belize Botanic Garden and pygmy owls awaited at duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge Resort.

I shared little of this vision with my partner, Paul, the real brawn on this excursion. I persuaded him that we should rent a canoe from a random guy in downtown San Ignacio around the corner from the cheap vacation rental I found online.

I won him over with the promise of cold beer and abundant wildlife.

We settled into the emerald green wooden boat: me in the front, Paul in the rear, and our overstuffed backpack on the floor between us.

As we pulled away from shore, I smiled broadly as we started upstream on the sun-dappled river. We totally had this.

By hour two, I was less certain. We spotted an overcrowded canoe barreling down some rapids, nearly dumping its occupants into the deep water. A woman screamed.

We had heard the water level was low in the morning, but I hadn’t read about any rapids. Could we manage those on the way down?


We took a break on the side of the river and ravaged the provisions — bread and cheese sandwiches and some water.

It was just enough fuel to get me back out on the water. But soon enough my arms felt like pudding.

I snarled at Chaa Creek as we passed it by.

“I thought we were going here?” Paul said, setting down his oars.

“Yes, we were,” I grunted. “And now we are not.”

When we finally spotted duPlooy’s sign about 45 minutes later, it felt epic.

We dragged our canoe onto a small patch of sand about 20 feet offshore. I noticed a wooden post and suggested we tie up the boat. Paul didn’t think it was necessary. I was too tired to argue.

We took our paddles with us and trekked up a steep hill to an open-air restaurant. Sweaty and slightly delirious, we scarfed down quesadillas and cold Belizean beer. Eventually, we trekked over to the 45 acres of botanical awesomeness.

A few hours later, intoxicated by nature and giddy to glide down the river into San Ignacio like professional rowers, we went back for our canoe.

Our canoe was gone.

“Someone stole our boat,” I yelled to Paul, who was standing next to me.

He was silent, craning his neck to look around.

I panicked, convinced that we would end up in some Belizean jail if we returned to town without our canoe. I pictured Mr. Alvarez at Chaa Creek shaking his head and looking at me with condescension.

As we scurried back up to du-Plooy’s restaurant to plot our next move, I spotted a filthy plastic boat overturned in the bushes.

“Look there’s a canoe. Let’s turn it over,” I insisted.

Huge spiders emerged from the hull. We swiped them away with the oars and ripped apart the cobwebs.

It was time for an executive decision: Commandeer the canoe.

“No one is using it. It’s just sitting here forgotten,” I pleaded. “We need it.”

We dragged it to the river and jumped in. I wasn’t sure how we would explain ending up with a cheap plastic canoe but it seemed better than showing up empty-handed.

About 45 minutes later, just after passing Chaa Creek on our left, Paul shouted and pointed in the distance.

“There’s our canoe,” he said.

The emerald beauty was floating by itself several dozen feet before the medium-sized rapids that had grown fiercer since morning. Yikes.

We debated separating but deemed that more dangerous given my lackluster canoeing skills. So we decided to do a mid-river boat transfer before we reached the rapids.

We quickly paddled up to the boat and Paul held onto the edge as I transferred the backpack and paddles. Then, I scooted into the front seat of the canoe and held it tightly against the plastic one as Paul stepped into the rear.

We felt badly about leaving the plastic canoe behind but rationalized that someone would recognize it belonged to duPlooy’s and return it.

As we settled into our downstream groove, Paul concluded that the rising tide, not canoe poachers, was the likely culprit. He did not want to admit that he should have tied up the canoe.

We fell silent as the long paddling journey resumed. After we returned the canoe as if nothing extraordinary had happened, we headed for a bar.

Over cold beers, we agreed that our parents would have freaked out knowing we had commandeered a canoe and engaged in a mid-river transfer. We agreed to impose a temporary canoe moratorium.

And then we swore we would never tell anyone.

Boston Globe