Beautiful Belize III: Thrills and Spills on a Jungle River

I gulped once, then hung on for dear life as our inflatable kayak plunged 12 feet down the vertical face of the waterfall.P1030863

And that was only one of the first of what must have been dozens of waterfalls, pour-overs and twisting rapids we paddled over or through for the final three days of our Epic Belize trip.

The three days started rather benignly with a three-hour drive south to a series of remote villages near the border with Guatemala populated by a mix of Mayans and Mennonites. P1030816From there we would embark on a three day paddle in inflatable kayaks through the jungle on the Moho River.

First, though, we visited the homes of our two guides, Pedro and Vanancio, for lunch and to get an authentic look at the every day life of the local people. This wasn’t a contrived tourist show put on by the locals. The only visitors they get are the occasional participants in the Island Expedition trips that include the Moho River paddle. P1030824As you can see in the following photos, Venancio’s daughter was the star of this non-show.P1030835P1030833

After lunch we headed to the river and loaded up the kayaks. Within a minute or two of launching our kayaks on the river we encountered our first pour-over, then several more in rapid succession. A number of the pour-overs were higher than the length of the kayak. After pausing on the edge of the drop-off for a second or two, the kayaks would plunge nose first into the water, engulfing its occupants in a huge splash. It’s like the best possible amusement park ride – instead of hordes of screaming people and metal towers and contraptions, it was just us whooping and laughing in the middle of the jungle.P1030859P1030875P1030864

On the first two tries I ended up bouncing out of the kayak into the warm water. Then I got the hang of it by grabbing the straps that held my seat and flinging my legs over the sides of the kayak for stability as we hit the water. After those first two dunkings, the only time I ended up in the water is when I wanted to.

After 2-3 hours of paddling and plunging we pulled into camp, a large open, flat area with lots of space for our tents, kitchen area and overturned kayaks converted into sofas for the evening. After setting up my tent and changing into dry clothes, I sat on one of the overturned kayaks within arms reach of the bottle of rum that Pedro and Venancio had thoughtfully brought along on the trip. I leaned back on the makeshift sofa and sipped the rum straight while they made dinner.P1030872P1030873

The night was quiet except for the howler monkeys who woke us up during the middle of the night with growls and screams like creatures from a Grade B horror movie.

The next day was pretty much the same, a peaceful float down the river through thick jungle until we heard the sounds of rushing water ahead. Then the adrenaline took over as we paused for a moment on the lip of a waterfall before plunging into the water. Invariably we would end up wet and laughing on the other side. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun sober.P1030876

P1030922 P1030917 P1030921 P1030920 P1030913P1030887P1030885Pedro and Vinancio seemed to have as much fun as we did. But they didn’t let their playfulness compromise our safety. They knew every turn and drop in the river and made sure that we got through each one without incident, save for an occasional dunking.P1030881P1030867At one point the skies opened up with a tropical downpour that was somewhat colder than the river. It didn’t last long. The sun soon came out and warmed us up.

We saw no one else the entire trip. The only sign of “civilization” was the occasional clearing for a farmers field just behind the fringe of trees and bushes lining the banks. P1030906 P1030905 P1030894The only sounds, besides the rushing water, were the birds (cormorants, herons, eagles, buzzards, among others) and howler monkeys. We never saw the monkeys, but we did see lots of iguanas in the trees overhead. At one point, Vinancio grabbed an iguana that had fallen from a tree into the water and held him long enough for a few photos.P1030931The trip ended with a couple of miles of flat, mellow water, another authentic encounter with the locals over lunch, and a long drive and flight to Belize City to a hotel room with showers, wi-fi, and breakfast buffet.

As the millennials say, this was epic! At some point I may compile a list of my favorite adventures. Plunging over a waterfall on a jungle river will no doubt be among the top ten.

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