A Night on the Jaguar Preserve a/k/a The Toilet Incident

When your trip plans call for an overnight stay on a jaguar preserve, you assume that there’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 don’t want to know about or encounter.

There’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 wasn’t these things that ended up giving me the only injury from our Belize road trip adventure. It was the toilet.

Let’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 sea—we were happy and eager for the next adventure. #IgnoranceIsBliss

The jaguar preserve—the first of its kind in the world—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 stores—or anything else—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 didn’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 wouldn’t have fazed us. We were so certain that we wouldn’t get out alive that we recorded a video message to our families. We hoped that it would be found someday after our disappearance—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 couldn’t hear us—despite the fact that we were a foot away from them.

We were escorted to our cabin—the “deluxe†cabin—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: It’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: It’s got to be better inside. It’s….OHMYGOD.

You know there’s a problem when I’m speechless. The door opened up onto a “cabin†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 didn’t fall on us in the night, could help us in our losing battle to not be bitten to death.

Vanessa: This is the “deluxe†cabin?

Terri: It came recommended.

Vanessa: By the guy who just told us about the comfort of a Mayan bed—and then pointed to a hard wooden slab?

Terri: It can’t all be that bad. At least it has a bathroom. It’s…OHMYGOD.

Vanessa: It looks like someone died in here.

Terri: Do you think the body’s still here?

Vanessa: I think I’m going to kill you for this.

Terri: Well, at least he’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 tapirs—three of them.

Terri: Look, Vanessa, it’s the three little pigs! Aren’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: It’ll be okay.

Vanessa: I used the word ‘impale,’ Terri.

Terri: So I’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 don’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 alive—and they weren’t going to let us sleep.

1 AM

Terri: Think there are Criminal Minds types back here?

Vanessa: It’s too hot. Murder takes energy. Besides, pretty much anything that could be worse than this…is already happening.

1:20 AM

Terri: I forgot to take my vitamins. But I’m not going to take them because I’m going to die anyway. I don’t understand why we’re staying here. We don’t have to do this. I have money.

Vanessa: Jaguars don’t take cash. Shut up and drink the rest of the bourbon.

2 AM

So then I began to share random facts about the Cockscomb Basin…

Vanessa: Are you just making shit up now?

Terri: No, if I were making shit up I’d make up an air conditioner.

3 AM

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: I’m not peeing in that toilet. I’ll pee in the bed first.

Vanessa: Suit yourself.

4 AM

But a girl can’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 couldn’t stop peeing—as any woman knows, it’s impossible once you start. And I screamed. Loud enough to wake anyone for miles—except for our headphone-wearing “help.â€


Terri: The damn stool broke and I fell into the floor and I’m covered with pee and I’m covered in blood and I don’t even know what else I’m covered in…

Vanessa: I’ll come in. Do I need to come in? Because you know I can’t unsee this, right?

I couldn’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 I’d been wearing. And then I packed. In a hurry.

4:52 AM

Vanessa: Ter? It’s getting light. I think we should…

She didn’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.

“We just spent the night in a jaguar preserve, and the only thing we weren’t afraid of was jaguars. That’s some kind of messed up.â€

I haven’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. You’ve been warned.

Gecko Bungalow

Ladyville, Belize

Phone: From USA 208 285 7000

From elsewhere: +501 634 8010

Email: lyons@geckobungalow.com

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 libations…perhaps that’s why we immediately fell for the Gecko Bungalow?

Lebeha Beach Cabanas

Hopkins Village

Phone: +501 665 9305

Email: info@lebehacabanas.com

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 don’t have air-conditioning, but the ceiling fans work and you’re just steps from the beach. We also took a Garifuna drumming lesson during our stay. You should try it—you’ll probably be much better at it than we were.

Cotton Tree Lodge

Punta Gorda

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. They’ll hook you up with fun experiences like cave swimming, cliff-jumping into waterfalls, horseback riding through the jungle…all kinds of things to get your adrenaline pumping. Their cabanas are located along a raised wooden walkway, and you’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 encounters…

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve

You should go, really. There are beautiful hiking trails, waterfalls and at least three little pigs. Maybe you’ll get lucky and spot a jaguar, but even if you don’t, the drive into the preserve will transport you to Jurassic Park and that is something everyone should experience…once.

Renting a Car in a Third-World Country

Terri and I are all about supporting local businesses when we can, so when it came to renting a car for our road trip through Belize, we took the advice of a friend who lived near Belize City and rented from a local company. Excited to get on the road, we were perhaps not as cautious as we should have been when we signed on the dotted line.

Car guy: You are ready to go. Here is a cellphone, a cooler and a map.

Terri: We get a cooler!

Vanessa: We get a map!

When we go to get in the car, we notice that ALL of the inside indicator lights are on—important ones like the engine light, brake light, oil light…you get the idea. So, discretion being the better part of valor, we get back out of the car to talk to the car guy, who is studiously ignoring us, despite the fact that we are standing in front of him.

Terri: We think there’s a problem. All of the car lights are on.

Car guy: It’s fine.

Vanessa: I’m pretty sure it’s not fine.

Car guy: It just got checked out. My guy says it’s fine. If you have any problems, you have a cell phone.

Terri: And a cooler.

Vanessa: Maybe it’s just an electrical short?

Car guy: It’s fine.

Vanessa: Or maybe it will stop in the middle of nowhere, and we will die a horrible death.

Car guy: You have a cell phone.

Terri: Thank God we have a cooler.

So still dubious but pretty much stuck, we take off on our road trip, which involves driving Belize’s four major highways—which are, in truth, its only highways. The scenery is gorgeous, which is a problem, because it distracts me from noticing that Belizeans LOVE speed bumps, which I hit, hard, at almost every opportunity. And each time that we hit a speed bump, the radio comes blasting on, which we find hysterical for the first hour, and not so much after that. The car, which should have been repossessed, is simply possessed.

Terri decides to distract us by pointing out landmarks.

Terri: Hey! There’s a G&T Bar. Maybe that stands for gin and tonic.

Vanessa: I’m thinking Gutted Tourists.

Terri: There’s a sawmill….and a slaughter house…..

Vanessa: There are far too many weapons on this road.

Terri: There’s a guy on a bike. And he has a shovel. Seriously, why is the guy carrying a shovel?

Vanessa: Normally, they’re carrying machetes.

Terri: I’ll go with the shovel.

We make good progress across the country, relieved that no new lights have come on while we’re driving (as if there were any lights left), until we come to Punta Gorda in the Toledo District, where we’re planning to spend the night. At this point, we’re not even surprised to see a prancing herd of goats in the road coming toward us, as well as a car in the other lane.

Terri: Aww, look at the goats! They’re so cute! You should probably slow down a little bit.

Terri: Seriously, you’re getting really close. You’re going to hit the goats.


Vanessa: (lots of cursing) WE HAVE NO BRAKES!

Through some miracle, the car coming toward us (and its panicked driver) passed us just in time for me to swerve into his lane, narrowly missing sideswiping a goat, whose hair is probably still embedded in the frame of that cursed car. We drift into a parking lot of an auto supply store—the only auto supply store in southern Belize, mind you—where we try to use the cellphone. Which doesn’t work. And did I mention that the cooler was empty?

After a slight tantrum in the parking lot (mine), Terri suggests we go in the store and borrow a phone. I call the car rental agency, who informs me that we have brakes. I tell them we do not. They tell me that we do. I repeat that we do not. Then Terri, who is normally Mary Sunshine, puts out her hand.

Terri: Give me the phone.

Vanessa: But I…and then they…and I….

Terri: Give. Me. The. Phone.

So I’ve heard the expression “going all New York on someone,†but I’d never actually seen it in person. And it is scary. Like nuclear plant meltdown scary. I’ve blocked most of the conversation out of my mind at this point, but some choice bits included “Do you know what would happen if we’d hit those goats? I’m in the car with an animal rights activist!†and “No. We will not wait here to make sure that your car will not get stolen. It NEEDS to be stolen. I HOPE it gets stolen. It DESERVES to get stolen.â€

So we catch a ride to our eco-lodge and wait a couple hours for their mechanic to come pick us up and trade us cars. Which he does.

Leaving us with a battered SUV with 100,000-plus miles. And no transmission.

If You Go

Rental Cars

Should you decide to tackle the roads of Belize and prefer a vehicle with brakes, a working transmission and without warning lights blazing, we suggest checking out these websites where you’ll find reputable internationally known rental car companies that are conveniently located at the Phillip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. Seriously, check them out so the poor goats in Belize have a fighting chance:


Phone: +501 225 3300

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Fri 8:00AM – 5:00PM

Sat 6:00AM – 8:00PM

Sun 6:00AM – 5:00PM


Phone: +501 223 0641

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Fri 9AM-6PM

Sat 9AM-6PM

Sun 9AM-6PM


Phone: +501 225 2280

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Sun 8:30AM–4:30PM