Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BELIZE: The Cotton Tree Lodge

The jungle, from the air.

Our first stop in Belize was the Cotton Tree Lodge. It’s a compound that was carved out of the jungle on the Moho River about 30 minutes east of Punta Gorda. Someone described the yurts in Big Sur as “luxurious camping”—meaning, it’s part hotel, part camping—and the Cotton Tree is somewhat similar, although I would say it leans more towards the camping side of the spectrum. For one, you’re in the middle of nowhere and the only thing between you and nature are some flimsy screens and mosquito netting. Plus it’s “off the grid,” an annoying term this drunk, douche bag from San Diego used to excess. Grrrr, more on him later. But it’s completely self contained, runs on a generator, they have their own organic garden where much of the food came from, etc.. “OFF THE GRID, BRO!” Fucking douche bag.

These are a couple of the huts. They're hard to photograph because they're all clumped in trees and shit.

Everyone stays in a thatched hut cabana. They’re kind of like little tree houses along the river. “The cabanas,” their site reads, “each have hot and cold running water with a private bath, bay leaf thatched roofs, eco-friendly flush toilets, screened in windows, ceiling fans, and some feature spacious private decks with hammocks that overlook the river.” Cold water? Yes. Hot was a bit more of a challenge. “Eco friendly toilets” means you can’t flush your toilet paper. You have to throw it away in the garbage can next to the toilet, Brazil style. On one trip to Brazil, my roommate, Chuck Wampler, complained that our room smelled like shit. “I wonder why,” I said, “maybe it has something to do with that BASKET OF ASS next to the toilet?”

Our room in our cabana hut.

In short, there’s was some mild “roughing it,” but you’d have to be a complete pussy/priss to complain about the accommodations. I thought it was amazing and I never felt uncomfortable once. We had a porch with two hammocks, surrounded by some of the most amazing nature I’d ever seen. There were strange fruits hanging from every tree, the leaves were as big as your torso, every bird was a different color—and I mean COLOR, red, blue, yellow, how do they stay alive, you can see ‘em a mile away?

Tania, totally roughing it with her rum punch in her hammock on the porch.

Tania's view of me in my hammock.

After we arrived and settled into our cute little tree house, we hit the main lodge to relax and have some beers and wait for dinner. The one weird thing about the Cotton Tree Lodge is the cruise ship mentality that pervaded our visit. It’s created by the scheduled, communal meals. There’s a set menu every day: breakfast is from 7-9, lunch from 12-2, dinner from 7-9. The first two are more casual and serve-yourself, while dinner is more of a group affair.

Dave drinking beer and letting his gut hang out.

As we were playing dominoes and taking it all in, a gaggle of gals loudly approached the lodge. Have you ever seen a rich white lady at a luau? That’s how they were all dressed. Brand new tropical dresses, mumus, sandals, and exotic flowers in their hair did. We barely had time to take them in before we were attacked. “OH! YOU PEOPLE ARE NEW,” one of them said swooping in our table, “WHAT ARE YOUR NAMES?” I stood up and politely shook her hand and gave our names. “DAVE? TANIA? WHERE ARE YOU FROM DAVE AND TANIA?”

The Welcoming Party. Remember Alison on the left. You might know who she is.

We were introduced to the mother and the other two daughters. The mother was named, Eve, and the three daughters (all in their 30s-early 40s) were named Toni, Alison, and The One Whose Name I Forget (her name was Stephanie, I think). Although we just called them “The Welcoming Party.” Because they were insanely outgoing and social with everybody. It was surreal. They were very loud, stereotypical Jews from the Northeast. I actually ended up enjoying them, but at first they were quite a shock to the silence and tranquility we thought we had found in the jungle.

Our hut from the outside.

More campers arrived and ordered drinks and mingled. There were only about a dozen people total, so we couldn’t really hide like one can on a cruise. Everyone wants to know where you’re from. “WHERE YOU FROM?” No one’s every from anywhere good. You never hear anyone say, “Milan.”

We were warned about the unremarkable food before we arrived. It is not a food destination and has little to nothing that could be called uniquely Belizean. It’s pretty much straight up American-style fair throughout the country. The food at the Cotton Tree was good. Nothing really worth writing about, but since this is a food blog I feel obligated to at least mention it. This is the only way we’re going to be able to broadcast our Belizean stories is by peppering them with little food bits here and there. But there was a kind of funny story regarding our first dinner at the Cotton Tree.

The menu read, “Eggplant Parmisan.” We were kind of bummed. Not that we weren’t going to eat it, but we had been traveling, we missed lunch, and we were hoping for something a little more substantial. Like some meat. But, whatever, we’ll eat it. I even put a smiley face on the meal, “The eggplant probably comes from the organic garden out back?” Besides, what are you going to do, ask them to make you something else? Well, yes, if you’re a crazy Jew Welcoming Party. They were so bummed on the eggplant that they weren’t afraid to let the kitchen know well in advance of the meal service. “We don’t eat eggplant,” they said, “can you make us something else?” They were very polite about it and all, but they were so polite it was almost condescending. I found it a bit rude considering we were in a poor part of the world where people don’t really have any choices when it comes to eating: you eat what you get. Plus we were in the middle of nowhere and it wasn’t like they could whip down to the store to pick up some chicken strips for them. But they got what they deserved.

This is how you fly around Belize in these tiny little prop planes. If you hate flying, you would have had a heart attack. I sat up front and watched the video game console and pretty much figured out how to fly the fucking thing without asking a single question. Yeah, that strip of dirt is the runway.

Every dinner was the same: soup, salad, then the main. We sat by the Jews. They seemed like funny old ladies. Tania can tell you more about how I gravitate to the funny old ladies. And we all ate our soup and our salad, and then the Jews reminded the staff that they were special and they weren’t eating the eggplant. The eggplant was served. It was actually pretty good. Then they brought the Jews their dinner: fish. HAHAHAH! THEY DON’T EAT FISH EITHER! Fuckers. [Note: when we arrived the staff was all in a tizzy about some guests dietary issues. There was a vegetarian in the group and—and here they were—some anti-fish people.]

They were really cool about it, though. They were the ones that thought it was funny. “Oh my God,” Eve said laughing, and whispered, “we don’t eat fish.” I thought Jews loved fish? What do I know? “I’ll eat it,” I offered. It looked good. It was good. They were happy to give it to me because then they didn’t look like such jerks asking the staff to make them a special dish and then not eating it.

Another photo from the plane. Tania said, "Looks like a turtle!"

Dinner finished and everyone promptly returned to their huts. Everyone except Ira’s fan club. Ira is a Jew from Long Island and he was the self-proclaimed photographer of the group. (I keep mentioning they’re Jews, incidentally, because the Jews really wanted to let everyone know they were Jews.) His photos weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. But oh how the others gushed over them. And that was the most annoying thing about him: after a day of shooting tourist photos, he’d go back to his hut, load ‘em up on his Mac, and then carry his stupid laptop around and show everybody his dumb ass slideshow. “OH MY GAWD! THAT’S SUCH A GREAT PHOTO!” No it’s not, it’s just a snapshot of the child who tended to the eggplants you refused to eat tonight. We’re in the jungle, one of the weirdest places on earth, and that nerd’s in his little hut making slideshows on his fucking laptop. What a tool. Tania and I couldn’t stand it and decided to retreat to our tree house.

It was nine o’clock. We couldn’t believe we were tired, but we decided, fuck it, let’s go to bed. We got into our mosquito net bed, pulled up the covers, and turned off the light… and then marveled at the noise. Holy shit, nature is loud! We didn’t know it, but it was about to get a whole lot louder. The “loudest,” actually.

To be continued. Next post: howler monkeys.

1 comment:

pjc said...

i had a little self chuckle at you wearing your beanie in tropical belize. dave is dave.