Kayaking and Camping on the Monkey River
Craig and Steph's Adventures in Belize
We heard the corn grinder fire up at 5:30 am, so we got up and took a walk around the town in the beautiful morning light. It had rained a bit overnight, but the skies were clear and bright and the village was very serene. We saw the school (with a water pump out front) and a small library. Children would hide as we walked past, but we could see them peering at us, and they would come out again once we had passed. A little girl was hanging laundry on a clothesline. She propped up a long stick (taller than she was) to hold the clothesline down at a level where she could reach it.
We wandered back to Pedro's house where the women prepared eggs, beans, and fry jack bread for breakfast. This was another fantastic meal, and we were very appreciative for the way we were treated while staying here. We got a chance to meet three more of Pedro's daughters, who were so adorable. One was around age 1, one was around 3, and the other was around 12. We also met his 17 year old son. The 12 year old daughter was taking care of her younger siblings, carrying the baby like a pro. We were very happy to get a chance to talk briefly with the family, and suddenly everyone seemed a bit more comfortable.
We gave Serafina some pens, notebooks, and Matchbox cars to distribute to the children in the village. She clung to them happily and thanked us for them. We asked if we could take her picture. She asked us if we could send her a picture of the whole family. We said, "Of course." They gathered the family together quickly before Pedro headed off to work. Pedro obliged, even though he was needing to go to work. I think he was really enjoying all the interaction and wanted to be a part of it even if it meant starting his day a little later than normal today. We took a few quick photos and then said goodbye to the family. The 12 year old helped the baby to wave goodbye to us. Although the family visit was a bit shorter than we would have liked, by the time we left we were feeling very happy with our interactions. We left the village a little after 8:00 and drove north to our put-in point on the Bladen River, just off the main highway that we had traversed only a day earlier. It felt like so much had happened since that time.
David helped us to inflate our Stearns IK 140 kayaks and load all the gear. Marlene and Greg were in one kayak, Craig and I were in another, and Arthur was in a third, laden with gear. David headed back to Placencia in the van as we strapped our gear to the front of our kayak and hopped in the lazy river. At first I had some trouble getting into the rhythm, but after a while I got the hang of it. The sun was very hot and strong. Throughout the course of the day I got burns on my legs and arms, despite keeping a healthy dose of sunscreen on at all times.
After a few hours paddling downstream, we stopped at a sand bar for lunch at around 12:30. We had ham and cheese sandwiches with homemade bread, tomatoes, fresh pineapple, juice, and lemon cookies. While paddling, we saw an occasional iguana clinging to the trees, sunbathing. At one point we pulled up on a sand bar for a better view of a lone howler monkey who was up in a treetop. We also saw a tiger heron, and a bunch of egrets that consistently kept a good distance ahead of us. We saw a pygmy kingfisher which was very colorful. There was a river otter who looked at us, blinked, and then went under water. Craig and I stared at it for a few moments as we realized, "Wow, a river otter". It was very cute and seemed to be quite curious about these big yellow inflatable things floating downstream. It was a very peaceful ride, and we were very much enjoying being surrounded by such incredible natural beauty.
At around 3:00 we made it to the beach where we were going to camp for the night. We were a little earlier than Arthur's prediction at lunch, which worked to our advantage. It was a beautiful spot to set up camp: a nice, clean sandbar with various vegetation nearby yet plenty of room for us to make a home for the night. There were jaguar and crocodile tracks in the sand. We set up our tents and then had a swim in the river, washing our hair with biodegradeable shampoo. There wasn't too much current here but just enough so we could float downstream easily and still had to be careful to not float too far away from home. The swim was very refreshing after doing so much paddling today.
We had worked up quite an appetite so we ate chips and salsa while Arthur caught a small fish using a makeshift fishing rod he constructed just for fun. We sat on the beach relaxing and writing in the journal while Arthur prepared dinner for all of us. We helped where necessary but Arthur really had things pretty well under control. He made us curried chicken with coconut milk and rice, including a red spice called ricardo. It was delicious. We also had fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots. We gathered firewood and then sat around talking. We saw a marine toad and Arthur tried to sneak up on a bird and catch it with his bare hands (it flew away at the last second and we were very impressed at how close he was able to get).
When it started to get dark, we walked along the beach and Arthur shone his spotlight in the undergrowth on the riverbanks. We saw a pair of crocodile eyes glinting in the beam of light. We got into our kayaks and paddled upstream a little ways. It was pitch black except for our flashlights. It was very creepy. The stars were shining brightly and there were various fireflies darting about, making it a very interesting place to be at this point in time. Once again we found ourselves in a surreal moment, simply trying to come to grasp with our dream-like surroundings. It was a challenge to avoid the obstacles in the river when we couldn't see very well, but we all managed to stay dry and not have any issues arise. Arthur saw some small crocodiles and chased one up an embankment while trying to catch it (he's done it before), but they eluded him this time so we paddled back downstream to camp.
We lit the campfire and sat around listening to Arthur tell us Creole trickster tales. All of the stories ended with "He stepped on a pin. The pin bend and the story end." Many of the stories were old tales his father had told him when he was young. Arthur was a great storyteller, and it was quite a magical night so we kept prodding him for more stories. Despite never wanting this day to end, eventually we were too tired to stay awake any longer so we went to bed at 9:30. We slept on thick foam pads (provided by Toadal Adventures) with our travel sheets making us feel covered.