When your trip plans call for an overnight stay on a jaguar preserve, you assume that thereâ€™s an element of danger involved. Elusive and stealthy jaguars occupy over 150 square miles in the southern Belizean jungle in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. They share this space with wild boars, snakes and all manner of creatures I donâ€™t want to know about or encounter.
Thereâ€™s also the inherent risk of two women staying alone in a place where cell service is a distant memory and all other preserve visitors get the hell out before nightfall. But it wasnâ€™t these things that ended up giving me the only injury from our Belize road trip adventure. It was the toilet.
Letâ€™s back up, shall we?
We were about halfway through our 12-day Belize road trip adventure, having just left a tranquil beachfront villa in Hopkins Village where we had NOT succeeded in mastering the beats of Garifuna drumming despite our extremely patient instructor. But we had sipped on tropical libations and spent some time relaxing by the seaâ€”we were happy and eager for the next adventure. #IgnoranceIsBliss
The jaguar preserveâ€”the first of its kind in the worldâ€”had been recommended to me by a lovely Mayan chocolate maker who lived nearby. He assured me he would reserve us the best cabin in the preserve. He also recommended we bring food to cook since there are no storesâ€”or anything elseâ€”for miles.
A stop at the local grocery store in Hopkins Village had yielded a box of mac and cheese and some chicken hot dogs (since we didnâ€™t recognize the other meats). As we turned off the main highway onto the rocky dirt drive that led to the preserve, things changed. We entered Jurassic Park.
For what seemed like ages, we drove deeper into the thick jungle, passing jaguar crossing signs and NO OTHER PEOPLE. Had a Tyrannosaurus Rex chased a velociraptor across the road, it wouldnâ€™t have fazed us. We were so certain that we wouldnâ€™t get out alive that we recorded a video message to our families. We hoped that it would be found someday after our disappearanceâ€”possibly in the belly of the aforementioned jaguar. Or a pterodactyl. It could happen.
By the time we finally reached the end of the road, we saw a few groups of hikers returning from the jungle trails, and a couple of young guys who assured us they would be there all night should we need them for anything. A few minutes later, they put their headphones on and couldnâ€™t hear usâ€”despite the fact that we were a foot away from them.
We were escorted to our cabinâ€”the â€œdeluxeâ€ cabinâ€”in a clearing at the edge of the jungle. The workmen we passed on the way in shook their heads and laughed, no doubt already writing off the foolish white women who wanted to spend the night alone in the jungle with the third largest, and probably hungriest, cats in the world.
Vanessa: Terri, that is not a cabin. That is a shack. A hovel. A death trap.
Terri: Itâ€™s not that bad. Let me unlock the door.
Vanessa: Is that a padlock? A teeny padlock? Is that our protection against jaguars and whatever else wants to kill us out here?
Terri: Itâ€™s got to be better inside. Itâ€™sâ€¦.OHMYGOD.
You know thereâ€™s a problem when Iâ€™m speechless. The door opened up onto a â€œcabinâ€ with a high ceiling, lots of bunkbeds, and no mosquito netting. The good news is that the rafters are full of lizards, which, if they didnâ€™t fall on us in the night, could help us in our losing battle to not be bitten to death.
Vanessa: This is the â€œdeluxeâ€ cabin?
Terri: It came recommended.
Vanessa: By the guy who just told us about the comfort of a Mayan bedâ€”and then pointed to a hard wooden slab?
Terri: It canâ€™t all be that bad. At least it has a bathroom. Itâ€™sâ€¦OHMYGOD.
Vanessa: It looks like someone died in here.
Terri: Do you think the bodyâ€™s still here?
Vanessa: I think Iâ€™m going to kill you for this.
Terri: Well, at least heâ€™ll have company.
Having about an hour of daylight left, and nowhere else to go, we set out on a little hike to clear our minds. Along the way I spotted the cutest little baby tapirsâ€”three of them.
Terri: Look, Vanessa, itâ€™s the three little pigs! Arenâ€™t they adorable?
Vanessa:Stop! We need to get the hell out of here.
Terri (edging closer): I want to see if I can pet them.
Vanessa: You realize that those babies have a big mama who will impale us in ways that we do not want to be impaled, right?
Terri: Itâ€™ll be okay.
Vanessa: I used the word â€˜impale,â€™ Terri.
Terri: So Iâ€™m vetoed.
After the abrupt end to our hike, we trudged back to the cabin, grabbed our dinner stuff and headed to the communal kitchen where we took advantage of the one dented, dirty pan on the stove to make the most disgusting meal ever created. EVER. I donâ€™t know what part of the chicken ended up in those chicken dogs and I have no idea why the cheese sauce for the mac and cheese was brown, but it was a sure thing that we were going to die hungry.
We returned to the cabin to eat what we had left: a half-bag of potato chips, a piece or two of cheese, and a half bottle each of vodka and Jack Daniels. Semi-sated and more than a little tipsy, we decided it would be best to be inside the cabin when darkness took hold and the jungle came to life. Unfortunately, without mosquito netting, all sorts of other things came aliveâ€”and they werenâ€™t going to let us sleep.
Terri: Think there are Criminal Minds types back here?
Vanessa: Itâ€™s too hot. Murder takes energy. Besides, pretty much anything that could be worse than thisâ€¦is already happening.
Terri: I forgot to take my vitamins. But Iâ€™m not going to take them because Iâ€™m going to die anyway. I donâ€™t understand why weâ€™re staying here. We don’t have to do this. I have money.
Vanessa: Jaguars donâ€™t take cash. Shut up and drink the rest of the bourbon.
So then I began to share random facts about the Cockscomb Basinâ€¦
Vanessa: Are you just making shit up now?
Terri: No, if I were making shit up Iâ€™d make up an air conditioner.
And then I met the toilet. It was a compost throne elevated to a height that required the use of a two-legged, clip-on stool to access it. What the hell kind of stool has only two legs? A bucket of peat moss waited patiently in the corner and a shower with about a foot of sludge completed the features of our top-of-the-line accommodations.
Terri: Iâ€™m not peeing in that toilet. Iâ€™ll pee in the bed first.
Vanessa: Suit yourself.
But a girl canâ€™t hold it forever and as the first light of day emerged, I really had to go. I climbed up on the rickety stool and positioned myself in the best hover position possible. And just as the stream began, the stool broke loose and I was going down, face first in the filthy floor next to the disgusting bucket holding the peat moss. I couldnâ€™t stop peeingâ€”as any woman knows, itâ€™s impossible once you start. And I screamed. Loud enough to wake anyone for milesâ€”except for our headphone-wearing â€œhelp.â€
Vanessa: WHAT THE HELL?
Terri: The damn stool broke and I fell into the floor and Iâ€™m covered with pee and Iâ€™m covered in blood and I donâ€™t even know what else Iâ€™m covered inâ€¦
Vanessa: Iâ€™ll come in. Do I need to come in? Because you know I canâ€™t unsee this, right?
I couldnâ€™t bear to burden a friend with the frightful sight of my naked ass, blood running down my calf and me crying in a puddle of pee. So I gathered myself up, took off my shirt and cleaned off as best I could, and threw away everything Iâ€™d been wearing. And then I packed. In a hurry.
Vanessa: Ter? Itâ€™s getting light. I think we shouldâ€¦
She didnâ€™t have a chance to finish the sentence as I was already running for the car, jaguars be damned. As we headed for civilization, and hopefully hydrogen peroxide, Vanessa summed it up.
â€œWe just spent the night in a jaguar preserve, and the only thing we werenâ€™t afraid of was jaguars. Thatâ€™s some kind of messed up.â€
I havenâ€™t gotten to make our travel reservations since.
If You Go
We covered most of the country during our adventurous road trip through Belize, and we stayed in some lovely places along the way. And yes, we spent a night at the Jaguar Preserve which we suggest you visit during the daytime and lay your pretty little head down somewhere else for the night. Youâ€™ve been warned.
Phone: From USA 208 285 7000
From elsewhere: +501 634 8010
Cute, cute, cute! This two-bedroom bungalow just outside Belize City is an ideal place to start and end your time in Belize. Hosts Scott and Michelle Lyons will treat you like friends, show you around, suggest things to keep you entertained and become your BFFs in Belize. Oh, and Michelle greeted us at the airport with frozen libationsâ€¦perhaps thatâ€™s why we immediately fell for the Gecko Bungalow?
Lebeha Beach Cabanas
Phone: +501 665 9305
We chose to stay in the traditional part of Hopkins Village right on the beach in a lovely little cabana. Our host, Dorothy, was a pleasure to work with and offered detailed directions to the cabanas and tips on great local places to eat. The cabanas donâ€™t have air-conditioning, but the ceiling fans work and youâ€™re just steps from the beach. We also took a Garifuna drumming lesson during our stay. You should try itâ€”youâ€™ll probably be much better at it than we were.
Cotton Tree Lodge
Phone: From USA 212 529 8622
From elsewhere: +501 670 0557
One of our favorite eco-lodges in Belize, the Cotton Tree Lodge is located in the Toledo District in the southernmost region of the country. Theyâ€™ll hook you up with fun experiences like cave swimming, cliff-jumping into waterfalls, horseback riding through the jungleâ€¦all kinds of things to get your adrenaline pumping. Their cabanas are located along a raised wooden walkway, and youâ€™re surrounded by wildlife everywhere you look, including massive iguanas and howler monkeys. And yes, they have normal (eco-friendly) toilets.
And for potential wildlife and toilet encountersâ€¦
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve
You should go, really. There are beautiful hiking trails, waterfalls and at least three little pigs. Maybe youâ€™ll get lucky and spot a jaguar, but even if you donâ€™t, the drive into the preserve will transport you to Jurassic Park and that is something everyone should experienceâ€¦once.