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Xunantunich, duPlooys, and the Macal River

July 24, 2015
The Group at Xunantunich

The Group at Xunantunich

We began our activity-laden day with an early morning birdwalk around the grounds of duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge, followed by breakfast burritos, then headed westward toward Guatemala. A short ferry crossing and a mile of winding roads provided the final leg of the journey, where history awaited us. The majestic Xunantunich Mayan ruins is a place where time has stood still for 2,200 years. As we climbed the steep steps of this ancient temple and marveled at the vast view from on high, we couldn’t help reflecting on the 10,000 Mayans who once inhabited this sacred site. It was both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Sherry making tamales

Sherry making tamales

Brad making tamales

Brad making tamales

The smell of burning wood greeted us upon our return to duPlooys. At the “fire haat” we greeted John, who had readied the coals for our next activity. Liz had already explained that we would be given a tamale-making lesson! Learning about the ecology and animals of Belize has been amazing, but immersing us in its people and culture definitely adds to the whole experience. John and Lydia showed us how to mash the masa, add the stewed chicken sauce, and fold the banana leaves to create this savory meal. Our taste buds were activated, and we soon sat down to this tasty Belizean dish.

Iguana on a tree

Next on the agenda was a canoe trip down the Macal River. However, Mother Nature had something else in store for us. A torrential downpour hit, which made us all wonder if we would be able to embark on the river. Luckily, the rain subsided and we were able to load up and head down the river. Many epic events took place as we traveled. The most eventful was the Great Fig War of 2015. All the canoe teams were in competition to collect the most figs, and would stop at nothing to win! (Apparently, there is often an abundance of figs floating down the river — this year, there were many fewer, sparking intense competition.) While most boats were in competition for figs, one lone boat was striving to stay afloat as water leaked in. Luckily, Annabelle creatively used her water bottle as a bailing device and kept them afloat!


All of us read a book called the “Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw” in preparation for the trip. It tells the story of the opposition to, and construction of, a hydroelectric dam on the Macal River that flooded a lowland tropical forest that was home to the last 200 macaws in Belize. We were excited to experience a section of this controversial and important river. The dam was built in 2005 about two or three miles upstream from where we paddled.

We also experienced some interesting creatures while we were on the journey. We saw giant iguanas that looked like small dinosaurs. We observed white winged bats clinging to the overhanging limestone walls. We also saw Cormorants that took off as we approached. And we enjoyed the beautiful white spider lilies that grew along the edges of the river.

As we were about to end our adventure, the last encounter was trying to steer our boats around horses that were being washed in the river.

As we docked our canoes and headed back for our last night at duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge, we all enjoyed a Blow Pop to celebrate our fabulous day.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. meganchesser permalink
    July 24, 2015 11:49 am

    I hope someone took notes and can pass along the tamale lesson! I’d be willing to swap a recipe for “bean bread” that Cherokee storyteller Freeman Owle shared with our NCCAT group =)

  2. M Schwandt permalink
    July 27, 2015 9:09 am

    Did you have any mosquito problems?

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 29, 2015 6:50 am

      There were a few mosquitoes but more people were bitten by Black Flies and Ants. There are several types of ants, most of whom would bite if we accidentally walked into their nests or path. Their bites hurt. you don’t really notice it when Black Flies bite, however afterwards the bites itch, and leave a distinctive red mark.

  3. M Schwandt permalink
    July 27, 2015 9:17 am

    Would like to see some pics of local fruit and vege faves. Kids want to know what locals eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner normally.

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 29, 2015 6:47 am

      We have been enjoying delicious Belizean food! Breakfast typically is melon, fried jack (similar to a donut) , eggs, hibiscus juice, and refried beans plus something like bacon or sausage. The midday meal is the biggest of the day and might be fish sticks, Tamales (which we made) rice and beans, Stew Chicken, fried plantains, Breadfruit and Durasa (a dish made with grated green bananas). At dinner time we have had shrimp, chicken, fish, lasagna, lamb, pork and a variety of side items such as Chocho, squash, coleslaw, and rice and beans. Desserts have been a highlight and include ginger buns, Red Velvet Cake, Jam Roll, Coconut Pie, Flan and German Chocolate Cake with bananas on top.

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