The International Writers Magazine
:Central America Travel

Airboating Through Almond Hill Lagoon In Belize
Clint Hunter

Bursting with excitement and anticipation for our excursion to Indian Creek and Almond Hill Lagoon deep in the wildlife-filled marshes of Belize, my wife and I watch in fascination as the small tender boats circle our cruise ship and position themselves to receive those who wish to go ashore.

With a little help from the crew, we jump aboard our assigned vessel and settle in for the four mile ride to the colorful dock area we can see in the distance. Away from the shelter of the huge cruise ship, the winds gain in strength. The ride ashore becomes increasingly rough as salty splashes of high waves spill into the partially covered passenger area and the boat bumps its way at breakneck speed toward Belize City. This wet early morning escapade, however, fails to dampen our enthusiasm. In fact, it simply adds an extra bit of spice to the beginning of what promises to be a grand experience.
Once on shore, excursion guides gather us into groups and escort us to buses to begin our trip with a drive through Belize City on our way to the wildlife preserve. We pass beautiful St. John’s Cathedral which, the driver explains, the islanders constructed in 1812 using bricks salvaged from the ballast of European sailing ships. It is, the driver adds, the oldest Anglican Cathedral Church in Central America. We stop briefly at the Prime Minister’s mansion. Although visitors are no longer allowed on the property, we gawk at the opulence visible behind the gates and listen as our driver spins a tale or two about a bit of its history. Finally, we leave the city and ride across the countryside through thick jungle to a small covered dock which serves as the welcoming center for our tour.
Six or seven employees of the welcome center escort us to benches and chairs which are set up in the open air facility, and the airboat operators review safety procedures and answer questions before we board the airboat for a ride through the natural wildlife preserve. For safety’s sake, no children under six years old are permitted on the boat. The guides do a masterful job of making sure all of us are safely escorted onto the rather small flat bottomed vehicle. They take special care of one of the elderly members of our group suffering from a partial paralysis of her legs and help position her in the boat with a commendable amount of care and compassion.
Sitting four to a seat in the boat, we put on the furnished ear protection and with the roar of the 450 horsepower engines pounding in our ears, we zip off on a wild ride through the marshes leading to Indian Creek and Almond Hill Lagoon. As the boat turns steeply in the narrow channels; the guides wave their arms with directions and we lean into the turns keeping the craft upright and feeling the power of the engines and the rush of the winds against our bodies. Since nothing can be heard over the roar of the engines, the guide distributes picture cards of the preserve’s wildlife and balances himself precariously in the front of the careening boat pointing to the pictures to identify for us the birds we see rising in great numbers in all directions. White and Brown Pelicans, a variety of egrets, herons, hawks, and birds the guide identifies as Rice Birds and Scissor Tails rise and swoop in such profusion and rapidity it is impossible to catch a glimpse of them all. The experience is awe inspiring.
As the narrow channel opens into the broader venue containing areas of special habitation, the boat slows almost to a stop to prevent disturbance of the area and to provide undisturbed views of the lush landscape surrounding us. Large stands of mango trees line the perimeters and birds of many varieties circle and dive through the serene landscape. Shortly we enter an area containing a vast alligator breeding zone. Concealed among the lily pads through which we float are tiny baby alligators almost invisible beneath their camouflage. The guide throws out small bits of food and we watch as these still developing alligators snap the baits from the top of the water. Much to our relief, no mamma gators ever surface.
Finally we drift into the still waters of Almond Hill Lagoon where manatees congregate to mate and spawn their babies. Our guides tell us that manatees were once considered a delicacy in Belize, but now reduced almost to extinction they are on the country’s endangered species list. Poaching is, of course, prohibited and severe punishment is meted out to those who break the law. We make several circular passes of the area looking for the elusive mammals, but unfortunately despite the lengthy search, none are spotted on this day.
Leaving the lagoon, we return to the dock at high-speed and the dock employees escort us back to the waiting bus for our return trip to Belize City. As we pull away from the docking station, all of the employees of the center stand at attention and honor us with a long salute in appreciation for our visit to their wildlife preserve. We, in return, salute them with a rousing round of applause for a most satisfying and professionally managed adventure.
We stepped aboard the tender boat to begin our exploration of Belize with high expectations for an enjoyable and exciting afternoon. We returned to the ship elated at having experienced a ride we will remember for a lifetime.
© Clint Hunter December 14th 2005

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