One of the biggest joys I find in life is discovering something I never knew existed but somehow feels so familiar that it lights up my imagination. This happened with our trip to Western Belize and it came out of nowhere. I was planning my trip to Naia and their PR said, "we also have this amazing property in San Ignacio if you want to extend your time in Belize!" Honestly, I ignorantly never knew that there was a magical place in western Belize that is chock full of adventure and healing. So of course I put aside whatever it is that I was meant to be working on (typical me) and fell down the rabbit hole. Mayan architecture. Rainforest medicine. Cave exploring. Jungle Horseback Riding. I was hooked before I even really knew anything about it but came to me at the exact moment where I could truly understand the magic.
I spent the next 2 days devouring Rosita Arvigo's book about her time with one of the last Mayan healers in the area. It was spellbounding. There are thousands of medicinal species of plants here. The biodiversity is astounding and it's been quietly healing people for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Bush doctors, shamans and village healers were common practice and had continued to scrape together this tradition orally after the Spanish burnt most of the important codexes that housed a wealth of critical information.
There was no other choice, I had to explore it.
So my fiance and I left Placencia and went back on the Hummingbird Highway towards the Cayo District. After stuffing our bellies with Bertha's Tamales on the way we finally arrived at our jungle palace, The San Ignacio Resort Hotel. The property is nestled gently between the rainforest and the center of town, so everything is walkable. Walk one way and we could be a few minutes away from the local farmer's market and restaurants. Walk out the back and we were in the thick of the rainforest completely captivated by the sights, smells and sounds.
I have so much to discuss about the medicinal healing. However, I'm saving the bulk of that for an article I'm writing with another website. Stay tuned! For now, I'll focus on the many other things you can get up to in this area that will make you almost want to quit your job, buy a jungle ranch, maybe restore an old British LandRover and live off the bounty that this land provides.
Horseback Ride to the Ruins
I've seen quite a few ruins in my day because I'm a history nerd but nothing is quite like the experience of riding a horse through the jungle to get to them. We explored Xunantunich which sits perched up atop a giant hill. From the stables it's around an hour or so by horse with the trail snaking along a river with crystal clear water, trees with dragon fruit and screechy howler monkeys yelling. On our way we could see part of the structure peeking out above the canopy. It' one of my most favorite travel memories!
Create Your Own Chocolate
This was my favorite! This process completely set my soul on fire. We walked through town to Ajaw Chocolate for a demonstration on how to traditionally cultivate and process cacao into drinking chocolate. What was most incredible to me was the volcanic stone that they used to grind the beans. It had been in her husband's family for generations. Family members would travel as far as the volcanos of Guatemala to bring back stone that was suitable. They are incredibly rare these days as the custom is fading away. We helped as the beans are pulled from the fruit, roasted and then ground into a paste. That paste is mixed with warm/hot water and mixed with fresh Cayo honey, cinnamon and other local spices. It's amazing!!
Bird Watch at Sunrise
Our morning ritual at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel was to wake up at sunrise and have tea while looking for birds. The toucan was high on our priority list as they are the most colorful and impressive to see. This species of toucan came pretty close. Close enough for my 70-200 mm lens to catch him in all his gorgeous glory.
Mingle with the Locals
Apparently green iguana is a delicacy in the rainforest. These poor little guys have seen a rapid population loss due to being hunted and also because of deforestation. The hotel has a Green Iguana Conservation program right on property. We were able to mingle with some of these friendly critters. I opted out of holding one with my hands and ended up with one on my head!
I really really really want to go in depth about the jungle healer that I saw and all of the amazing information on that front but I'm going to wait. I left this area feeling so inspired. More soon!