Touring Our Belize - Pt. 2 Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00

Dorian Pakeman and his monsterous Bacali Jack and view from Owner's SuiteLast week, I wrote of an adventure that led members of the local press corps on top of the 108 feet tall High Temple at the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and ended with the best view available of the Sleeping Giant in the Maya Mountains.  On day two of our familiarization trip, we got to enjoy the best of Placencia.

There are few things more beautiful than the sunrise from a third floor sea view balcony at Laru Beya Resort. Various species of birds fly up on the trees that stand next to the rooms and make pleasant sounds that even a morning grouch like me can appreciate. Such a peaceful rise from sleep makes the morning much easier to handle. On Friday morning, July 19th, we had breakfast at Laru Beya’s restaurant. Due to time constraints, we had a choice between breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches. Most of my colleagues chose the breakfast burritos. Nobody warned them that these burritos were not like the ones in Belize City; therefore, they were surprised and intimidated at size of the gigantic wraps. The burritos were about eight inches long and two and a half inches thick very loaded! Respect to those who ate the whole thing. My breakfast sandwich featured fried eggs, cheese and ham captured between two slices of perfectly toasted bread. Both dishes came with a side order of freshly cut fruits and a glass of fruit juice. Immediately after breakfast,we started our tour of Placencia.

The first activity for the day was to go fishing or snorkeling with Splash Dive Center. However, we delayed that adventure for a brief chat with Jolie Pollard, Executive Director of the Belize Tourism Industry Association-Placencia Chapter. Pollard describes the Placencia tourism experience as “having village integrated into the tourism aspect of things”. She says Placencia offers tourists “a more authentic experience” because visitors are attracted to the cultural environment that provides a very “rootsy vibes” and a true ecotourism package. Pollard says that Placencia has only been a tourism destination for over twenty years and it is already one of the most popular destinations across the world. She says the BTIA’s goal is to ensure that there is sustainable development going forward.

After our conversation with Pollard, we went on our way to Splash Dive Center. We were greeted by Patricia Ramirez, Manager of Splash, who introduced us to the boat captains and dive masters. Ramirez divided us into two groups: snorkelers and fishers. Before we boarded the boats, we signed a contract acknowledging that we realize the dangers involved with such activities. Those of us who chose to go fishing then followed Edlin to our boat. Edlin is a cool dude who doesn’t talk much but when he does it is direct and informative. He has only two rules: stay on your side of the boat to maintain balance and don’t fall off. As soon as those rules were established, we headed out to sea. We travelled a little over an hour out to sea where Edlin says the water is 120 to 140 feet deep. I asked him, “Where will we be fishing?” Edlin responded, “Nature will tell us bro.” I did not understand what he meant by that but I soon found out when he spotted a flock of birds flying above the water. Edlin said to me, “There! There is where we will catch the fish.” He took out two fishing rods and attached lures to them. Lures are designed to look and move like the prey of a fish. Unlike real bait, lures can be used over and over again because they are made of a rubbery material. Edlin then took the rods and connected them to the boat. He slowly drove the boat in the direction that the birds are flying. In a few minutes, we heard the rod made a sharp whistle like sound and the line became extremely tight. “Who is first?” Edlin asked. Dorian Pakeman, Director of the Government Press Office, accepted the challenge. It was an epic battle between Pakeman and the distressed creature. After trying to reel in the fish for a good four minutes, he suddenly remembered that he had an injured hand. Now, I know Pakeman to be an honest individual but it seemed a little convenient that he remembered an injury at the time when it appeared that the fish was winning the match. Nevertheless, we rallied behind him and cheered him on. The fish eventually got tired and Pakeman reeled it in. It was a huge Cobali Jack and the biggest catch of the day. However, in the words of our Captain Edlin, I caught “the only fish worth selling”. Like a professional, I reeled in a beauty that belongs to the tuna family. Fishing with Splash was a remarkable experience. After we overloaded our icebox with four huge fishes, we journeyed on to Silk Caye for lunch. There we had a delicious barbecue chicken with potatoes and beans. Our lunch break was short because Edlin wanted to give us an opportunity to do a little snorkeling as well. We went just five minutes out from Silk Caye and met a group of sea turtles, sharks and sting rays. The animals were very friendly, except for one huge sea turtle who seem to have been in a bad mood. It was aggressive to everyone in the water and had to be pushed away multiple times by the snorkeling guide. The turtle ended our day with Splash on a sour note but the overall experience was incredible. After snorkeling, we headed back to Splash Dive Center where we spoke to the owner of the establishment, Ralph Capeling. Capeling said, “Our goal is to not only be the best dive shop in Belize but the best in the Caribbean and eventually the entire Western Hemisphere.” He says they offer special prices to Belizeans and many times when the tours are not full “Belizeans get to go free”. Splash also provides free dive lessons to youths from the area. Splash Dive Center was recently recognized by the Belize Tourism Board as the Tour Operator of the Year.

After our adventure with Splash, we returned to Laru Beya to freshen up and then we visited Chabil Mar Villas. Chabil Mar is Maya for beautiful sea. It is a guest exclusive luxury resort that blends the natural and cultural wonders of the Placencia Peninsula with the lavish and upscale lifestyle of the rich and famous. There are only 22 villas available and prices range from US$250 in the slow season to US$650 in the tourism season. The rooms are spectacular and there are at least 1,000 square feet of living area in each. The resort offers personal butler service and many other services that can only be found at Chabil Mar. There is wireless Internet service, fully equipped and stacked kitchen, flat screen televisions in the living and bed rooms, washer and dryer and much more. There is no special package for Belizeans but management is open to offer very special deals for honeymooners and family vacation. For honeymoon or anniversaries, I personally recommend the owner’s suite.

After leaving Chabil Mar, we went to have dinner at the Restaurant of the Year, Maya Beach Bistro. The restaurant and hotel is owned by John and Ellen Lee. Maya Beach Bistro offers a wide variety of appetizers, meals and desserts. John says that opening a restaurant in Belize “provides a unique opportunity”. It allows them to feature several Belizean dishes with their own twist. The Belizean staff has a strong influence on the menu and John says the success of the restaurant is due in large part to them. Chef John receives an overall A for variety, taste and serving size of the three course meal he prepared for our group. The shellfish combo was a spectacular appetizer and the slowly cooked roast pork was perfect. Maya Beach Bistro certainly deserves that recognition as Restaurant of the Year.

From Maya Beach Bistro, we returned to Laru Beya and retired for the night. Another adventure awaits us Saturday morning. Next week, I will write of our day in Hopkins Village and our cultural experience with the Lebeha Drummers.