Orange Walk is even smaller than San Ignacio and more 3rd world looking as well. The population is 13,400. The hotel we were at Hotel de la Fuente was especially nice and the young clerk gave us the suggestion to visit a new restaurant for dinner, the Paniscea Restaurant and Event Center. Dinner was so excellent, we had to gush our delight to the owners. They had just opened New Year‘s Eve.
Being this was our last day in San Ignacio, Sergio the tour company owner wanted to show his magnificence in planning our day. We had booked the cave tubing tour, not that I didn’t have some trepidations about this. As I have said a multitude of times in the past, my outdoorsy day quota was used up in Cub and Boy Scouts, so anything now is pushing it.
Timing was near perfect with our guide due to pick us up at 11am, the time of check out from the hotel, it still gave us plenty of time have breakfast across the street. At the stroke of 11, Sergio was waiting to introduce our guide Ping and the driver Tony, who would take us to Jaguar Paw in the Cayo. Sergio had it worked out that the drive would take 1 1/2 hours, the tubing would last for 2 1/2 hours, we had 45 minutes for lunch, and then Tony would get us on the bus to Orange Walk. All the best laid plans.
Since I had been ill the day before, I slept the entire trip; there wasn’t much enthusiasm running through my veins for this great adventure. Once we were at the location, we were issued a head light like a miner would wear and a heavy duty inner tube. After being directed to change in the rooms provided, we emerged in bathing suits and t-shirts with the recommended shoes.
“Now, we will have an hour hike through the jungle”, Ping informed us. An hour, I questioned? Sergio said it was half that at most. Hike is a dirty four letter word in my list of nasty things that should never be uttered in pleasant company, nor mine. Ping explained that there was a shorter route, but that also meant a shorter tubing experience. Throughout the walk/hike/excursion/ramble Ping pointed out different medicinal plants the locals who are in the know, use for remedies. I wasn’t sure how to interpret his telling us about the one plant that was better than Viagra. He was so informative, the trail whizzed by without breaking a sweat.
What was a bit creepy and not my favorite part was walking into pitch black caves where we barely have room to stand upright. Claustrophobia wanted to creep in, but I held it at bay. The sights that dripping water can produce over time is remarkable. We passed one turn-off which could have led us to the river, but Ping had a longer hike in mind. He promised this would extend our river ride by a considerable amount of time.
When we reached the river where we were going to enter, we secured our life vests, put on our head lamps and hopped into our inner tubes. We were warned that when we heard Ping yell “Butts UP!” he meant it as the water was shallow in spots and we would be getting butt burn on rocks if we didn’t pay attention. To keep us together, he anchored Ron’s feet under my arms and then he used his foot to hold on to my tube, while using his arms to paddle and direct us in and out of caves. When we were in the caves, it was black, so we used our lights. Ping described everything. The adventure was staggeringly wonderful. By the time we reached the spot where we were to get off of our tube and leave the river, I was resistant. I wanted to stay for another hour or more.
After getting changed into dry clothes, we had a sack lunch ready for us and sat around talking to the locals who were selling drinks and trinkets. At the appointed time, Tony had us on the street with out luggage sitting on the road, ready to flag down our bus to Orange Walk. Tony spoke to a number of people who had a number of different ideas about our bus. The consensus was that the bus we had planned on would not stop for us on the roadside, because it was an express. This put Tony into a dither, not knowing what to do, but knowing he was in charge of getting us on the bus or else. Bus after bus passed us by, spewing roadside dust in our faces while the sun beat down evaporating any moisture we may have collected from the river. We waited. We waited some more.
Tony panicked and made calls, but still nothing definitive. After an hour passed and knowing there are only 2 buses a day to Orange Walk, he hailed a bus that was speeding by. The destination sign was not Orange Walk, but Tony confirmed it would stop there. The driver’s assistant put our luggage underneath, but there was only one seat on the whole bus.
I made Ron sit while I stood by his side. We still had 2 hours to drive and being an express bus, we were not expecting a number of stops to relieve the seats of their occupants. After an hour, I was saved. We stopped and while a man jumped on, a woman got off. He took my seat. The driver’s assistant saw what happened and made the man get up to give me the seat. He had to stand for the next hour.