A curious coatimundi uses Aaliyah as a climbing post - Belize
Taking a trip like the one we're taking is a unique way to travel.
Forget the stereotypical glamor of nice hotels and resorts in tropical locations. Our method of travel is more akin to a long-term camping trip.
We did the hotel thing once. In 2007 when we drove to Costa Rica, we stayed in a lot of really nice hotels, even a lot of all-inclusives. It was a lot of fun. But I'll tell you a secret…it was really expensive. Shhh.
So when we considered doing this trip from Alaska all the way to Argentina, we knew we needed another option in order to make it affordable. Enter the roof top tent, and our customized truck bed (now morphed into a camper).
During our first rodeo we would have never dreamed of camping. It was just 'too dangerous'. They only 'safe' places were nice hotels with secured parking.
This time out, I can count on my fingers the number of times we've paid for camping. The rest of the time? We've camped for free in farms, fields, forests, even gas stations, parking lots and police depots.
We've never felt unsafe or threatened…except by the one 'danger' we face on a consistent basis.
Our lifestyle gives us regular opportunities that 'normal' society doesn't often provide anymore - glimpses of innumerable stars in a pitch black sky; a path of light across a watery surface of glass, leading to the moon in her full glory; the coo of doves each morning as you prepare breakfast; the chirp of geckos each night; the bellow of howler monkeys as you fall asleep.
It's magical, and it gives you a connection to nature, God and this Earth that makes you feel more alive and appreciative of simply existing.
But along with all the beauty is my constant, unrelenting nemesis. The one affliction and torment that at times makes Mother Nature almost unbearable.
Biting ants. Mosquitoes. Sand flies (aka jejenes, noseeums). Flies. Gnats. Fruit flies. Cockroaches. Spiders. And countless other flying, creeping, crawling things.
We'd been attacked in the night by biting sand flies while we camped in Ladyville, Belize. We all looked as though we had a severe case of the chicken pox, and itched like mad.
A week long 'vacation' with friends on Ambergris Caye had cured us - (one major benefit of indoor living, reduced exposure to bugs.) We were back to normal.
The day we left, we took a water taxi, stopped over to Caye Caulker island for a quick visit, then back to the mainland of Belize. From there, we caught a bus to a city 20 minutes away where we'd parked our truck in a farmer's field.
As we got off the bus, and walked 'home', it felt good to be back. The sun was beginning to set, the clouds were a pinkish hue and all felt right in the world.
But as we reached the truck, I sat down on a log next to it, and was bit on the ankle by a mosquito.
"Curse you, bugs!" I thought. "Why do you always have to ruin the moment?"
The next day we left and drove toward Hopkins and Placencia, Belize to spend some more time at the beach, before heading to Guatemala.
Driving without a map, we followed the signs, and took a turn off toward Dangriga/Hopkins.
The road was dirt, but I thought, "What the heck, the main highway to Hopkins is dirt."
After driving for a half hour, the truck started to act up, as though it wasn't getting enough fuel. Within 2 more miles, it died completely, and we stopped on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere.
For some strange reason, the terrain gave me the feeling of being in Africa (although that's somewhere I've never been…yet.)
Wide open savannah with tall, stretching trees, gratefully, there were few bugs.
Having learned from my previous saga experience, I recognized this as a good opportunity to practice what I was taught. I pretended that we meant to stop here, and made the most of my time, instead of fuming in the front seat about being stuck.
Greg set to work on solving the puzzle, but came away baffled. It seemed the fuel pump wasn't working - a newer fuel pump that was supposed to be indestructible.
Only one vehicle passed on this remote road during the hour that he tinkered around trying to figure it out. The kids and I turned to praying, about the only thing we can do to help when we can't do anything else.
Before long, Greg's dream vehicle approached us from the rear - a Defender 110 (illegal in the United States). The driver, a British man living here in Belize, stopped and asked if we needed help. He then invited us to camp for the night on his property.
Watching him drive away, I had the strange feeling that he was who we'd been 'waiting' for, and now that he had come, we'd figure out the truck (Greg told me later that he'd had the same impression).
As his vehicle disappeared over the horizon, another one appeared, headed in our direction. He stopped, offered his expertise, and within five minutes had our truck running.
We followed the directions our British friend had given us, and soon were accompanying his 110 down the private dirt driveway leading to his home.
Flanked by coconut, orange and flowering trees, with bright green expanses of grass, this seemed like the Garden of Eden.
Parking, we were introduced to his wife, and the 'family' - four coatimundis and a parrot that were part of a 'reclamation' project. We were also given free range to forage from the fruit trees on their 300 acres.
Had we arrived in paradise? It seemed too good to be true. And it was, thanks to my old nemesis, the bugs.
We weren't there but a few moments when the sand flies began their barrage. Added to that were the mosquitoes as the sun began it's descent.
The kids tried to play with the coatis, and we attempted to gather some fresh oranges, grapefruits and coconuts.
But the bugs were just too much. They drove us madly into the truck, where we barricaded ourselves with doors and windows closed, creating a stuffy hot box of hellish torment.
Throughout the night, the torment continued. Too hot to cover themselves with blankets, the kids woke again and again, crying due to the biting sand flies who could infiltrate through screens and miniscule cracks to bite any and all exposed flesh.
Sometime in the night, I climbed out of the tent, and gazed up at a brilliant night sky. I don't think I've ever seen so many stars, or even knew it was possible to see so many from our little planet.
But my awe couldn't last long, my enemies made sure of that. They quickly drove me back into my tent and under my covers, hiding me from the city of God which had been so swiftly revealed.
Morning couldn't come soon enough, and with it a small reprieve from the volley of insect attacks. We could actually enjoy the daybreak, walk the orchards, observe the coatis and play with the parrot, relishing the magnificent side of Mother Nature.
The morning brings a welcome reprieve from bugs...
And some incredible experiences with Mother Nature.
It doesn't last long. Soon the sand flies are out and biting again, and we're driven into the truck once more, while Greg tries to make a few more fixes, at the expense of getting eaten alive.
By 8:00 a.m. we can't take it anymore. We thank our hosts, and leave to find refuge in a moving vehicle, as we head toward Hopkins, Belize.
Continuing on the dirt road that we thought led toward Hopkins, we were surprised to find that it looped back and reconnected with the main, paved highway.
You mean that that entire experience was one giant detour? Did we misread a sign somewhere?
We took the wrong turn, just so that our truck could break down only long enough to get an invite by a British man, so we could play with wild animals and get eaten by sand flies? What did it all mean? We really didn't know.
Hopkins was a small, nice little town...
But we were afraid there would be too many sand flies.
We spend the afternoon in Hopkins, but gun-shy and having heard the sand flies were bad there, we leave and drive to Placencia. We pick the parking lot of an industrial building for a camp spot. Less nature equals less bugs.
Thanks be to God, we actually slept well that night, and were able to recover somewhat from the repercussions of natural living.
After a pleasant (bug-free) day at the beach and exploring the town of Placencia, we dare to try some beach camping.
Locating a quiet little spot, isolated from town, with a perfect clearing in the otherwise sea-grass filled sea of Placencia, and a sea-breeze that keeps the bugs away. It seems like one of the 'tender mercies' of heaven.
The evening is delightful. We splash and play and walk and beachcomb and have one of those lovely times that makes outdoor living so appealing.
That night, as the kids lay in their bed, Greg and I actually have the privilege of gazing up at the night sky unmolested (by bugs or munchkins).
It's one of those perfect moments. And I'm really, really appreciating it.
How can you look at the immensity of stars in the night sky, and not feel that there is something Bigger than you in charge of it all? It makes you feel so big and so small, all at the same time.
I suppose dealing with Mother Nature is just like anything else in life. You take the good with the bad; the ups with the downs. Opposition in all things, right?
Can we expect perfect moments all the time? I expect that if they were always perfect, we wouldn't recognize or appreciate them.
The key to living deliberately isn't to create a life that is 'bug free' so to say. There's always going to be bugs, annoyances, obstacles, challenges.
But instead of throwing up your hands and saying "That's it, I'm done, we're not traveling anymore because there are bugs!" you learn the best way to deal with them when they come, and more importantly, you learn to relish the times that are beautifully, peacefully and pleasantly 'bug free'.
What do you think?
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