There was a bit of a bump
on the road as we drove into the jungle.
What was that?
It was not the usual start to a holiday with an ecotourism slant. Most
people interested in ecotourism are also interested in wildlife and
therefore driving over one of its prime specimens was probably not going
to be popular.
Its okay. Its a Tommy Goff.
Tommy Goffs, also known as Jumping Tommy Goffs are one of the most aggressive
and poisonous snakes in Belize and therefore the best way to meet one
is to drive over it.
is well known for its diving but a better kept secret is its almost
untouched rain forest. And one of the best kept of those secrets
is the Lodge at Pooks Hill. The Lodge is in a clearing quite
literally carved out of the jungle. Ive lived in a tent in
the middle of an African jungle and Ive seen a lot of wildlife
but what is unique about Belize is that its jungle is so deep, so
dense, so dark that you may be able to hear an animal or even smell
it but you may not be able to see it.
I had come to Pooks
Hill for a few days R&R. And I had definitely picked the right place.
Pooks Hill is one of the most peaceful, relaxing places that I
have ever had the good fortune to stay in. This is in large part due
to the Snaddons who set up the Lodge in the early 1990s. Belize is one
of the biggest melting pots in the world and the Snaddons are archetypal
Belizeans having, between them, lived in Trinidad, Wales, Scotland,
England and South Africa before moving to Belize. They are perfect hosts.
Not only are they extremely knowledgeable about the local wildlife but
they also offer a huge variety of activities from swimming in the river
to horseback riding. The Lodge is also paradise for the true naturalist.
In addition to all the local wildlife (minus one snake) there is so
much plant life that many of the ferns and orchids have yet to be catalogued.
In addition to the main Lodge where the most delicious home made food
is served and eaten in company with the Snaddons and any other guests,
there are a small number of individual cabanas. They are built in the
traditional Mayan style with high thatched roofs and are both spacious
and cool. It is difficult to decide where the most enjoyable place to
listen to the wildlife is. I thought my favourite was from the verandah
of the main lodge sipping a delicious tropical cocktail last thing in
the evening, feeling the cool breeze and the brooding intensity of the
jungle, but that was until I listened to it from the comfort of my luxurious
bed first thing in the morning with the sunlight dappling through the
Pooks Hill has been developed within the tenets of ecotourism.
This is a word which has a different meaning for each person you ask
but for the Snaddons its all about size. As soon as anything is
done on a large scale it has an impact on the environment, be that the
human or the ecological environment. Thats why Pooks Hill
has only a small number of cabanas and thats why it is such a
magical place to stay. And as someone who wanted to avoid the usual
tourist haunts and stay in a place which did not destroy its environment
this was a good choice.
Pooks Hill is within easy reach of many interesting places to
visit. Still on my eco slant I decided to pay a visit to the Panti Medicinal
Trail. There are various ways to reach the trail, the most exciting
of which must be to canoe along the river. I took the bus. The trail
is located just outside San Ignacio (one of the largest and prettiest
towns in Belize and the only one outside Belize City which can boast
a set of traffic lights). The Lodge is quite difficult to reach without
a car but I was lucky enough to catch a lift with one of the workers
at the trail who had popped into town.
The Panti Medicinal Trail is run by Rosita Arvigo, who arrived in Belize
over 20 years ago from Chicago, via Mexico. Always fascinated by plants
and the natural rhythms of life she persuaded Don Elijio Panti, one
of the last traditional Mayan healers, to train her in his ways of collecting
herbs and treating patients. The result of his teachings can be seen
today in the Panti Medicine Trail which is based on the route that he
travelled daily to collect his medicinal herbs. I wandered along the
trail with Rosita as she explained the herbal qualities of each plant
in fascinating detail. I was particularly interested in the Doctrine
of Signatures, a theory which claims that some plants look like the
part of the body which they can heal.
On my return to San Ignacio I was devastated to find that I had missed
the last express bus back along the Western Highway. Thinking I was
going to have to find a hotel room, I was relieved when a friendly driver
explained that the local bus was leaving in five minutes.
Local buses are an experience not to be missed in Belize. No air conditioning
and permanent ringing of the bell whenever anyone wants to stop, whether
to actually get off the bus or just to have a chat with someone in one
of the villages means that you have to learn to relax very quickly or
you will explode with frustration. I loved it. In my view, travelling
is supposed to be about learning about other people and sitting on a
bus with them for a few hours is a good way to do that. Having said
that I was delighted to get back to my cabana and a large cocktail.
Pooks Hill was my destination there are a large variety of
ways to stay in Belize in an ecologically friendly way. The choice
is large and ranges from the basic to the luxurious. How about staying
with a local Mayan family in their home? Or, at the other extreme,
why not stay in Francis Ford Coppolas luxurious lodges at
Blancaneaux? Whatever your budget Belize will have a place to suit.
For more information
on Pooks Hill and the Panti Medicinal Trail please click below: