Capturing the jungles and the seas

It had been a while since the last TREE Trip.

But we kicked off the new season in grand fashion - with a group of 12 amazing digital nomads in San Pedro and Caye Caulker, the latter of which is my favourite place in the world.

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Backing up: the reason why I was able to do this was because I had recently started working with WiFi Tribe, an incredible global co-living community (if you haven’t heard of WiFi Tribe check it out ASAP - especially if you work remotely then get in touch with me immediately!). SO, I was with these wonderful people for a month in Mexico, learning and sharing skills and experiences. We went to Tulum, explored cenotes, rode scooters around Cozumel - I even IG live-streamed a free-dive into a cave in one of the cenotes. I never thought I’d ever live stream anything! But wow, Mexico has so much to offer when you explore it with others who push you to go beyond what’s in front of your face.

That made me think of TREE Trips, because it is exactly what we do!

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Entonces, (en espanol, porque estuve hablando mucho espanol) I thought it would be great if we could all hop down across the border into Belize, which we did. It was a great way to start the first two TREE Trips of the year, both scheduled back-to-back right after this little island trip!

After bidding goodbye to my new friends that I had become super close with, I rolled up to the Phillip Goldson International Airport to greet the first visitors on the upcoming full-out TREE Trip: an earnest-looking Vancouverite with a huge smile, and a kind, French-speaking Quebecois with a gift for photography (and for whom you can thank for all of the lovely images on this post and several parts of the website). Yes, Natalie and Jacinthe were extremely excited to explore Belize with TREE.

Natalie was hired to do some marketing for TREE Trips and help with content on the ‘gram, making it only right for her to come down and experience what we do first-hand. She brought along a friend - an uber-talented photographer straight from the artistic streets of Montreal. They went to school together, and they’re good people. That’s the thing with TREE Trips: most people that want to explore nature and other cultures, with an emphasis on conservation, tend to be good people. More on that later.

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Back to the action. We set off for Cayo, the western part of Belize’s beautiful broadleaf forest, opting to take a local bus for the experience - and the stunning photos. Emil, TREE’s Project Coordinator, met us on our way out at Bird’s Isle, one of the best places to eat in Belize City. What was supposed to be a quick meal at a picturesque point, where the Belize River meets the Caribbean Sea, turned into a feast featuring impassioned speeches on sustainability, development, and what it all means for Belize. Natalie and Jacinthe were introduced straight away to what makes TREE Trips unique - the passion for not only adventure, but also sustainable development and conservation ignited by our exploration.

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Into the Jungle
Every time I reach Parrot Nest, the jungle escape outside of Bullet Tree Falls (near San Ignacio, Cayo), I experience an overwhelming of joy and contentment. The cabins on stilts, engulfed by several of the most beautiful tree species in the Americas, and the hospitality of Theo and Marcus, the stewards of this incredible place, always manages to impress me. After my obligatory climb and pose in the large bullet tree on the banks of the Mopan, we settled in for a dinner that would rival any five-star restaurant and took in the sounds of the forest after sunset.

The following morning, the two eager Canadians and myself caught a ride over to Cahal Pech Resort, the other place we stay with TREE Trips. Emil met us there for a wonderful breakfast of fry jacks, refried beans, eggs, and Belizean coffee. The conversation again drifted directly to sustainability and tourism, which was fitting given where we were headed from there: Xunantunich.

Cahal Pech Resort sits atop the Cahal Pech Mayan site, one of my favourite places to visit in Belize due to the lack of crowds and close proximity to San Ignacio. But if you’re looking for grandeur, the giant stone buildings of the ‘Stone Lady’ site known as Xunantunich provide it in spades. We climbed one of the largest Mayan pyramids in all of Central America and explored the grounds just after they opened for the day. For the first half-hour we had the place to ourselves, lending a surreal feeling to an already serene landscape.

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Keeping with our desire to explore places that few others were seeing, we made it to Monkey Falls with no other visitors present. The water levels of these falls fluctuate on a seasonal basis, and apparently so does the amount of visitors. The first few times I went there it was empty. The next couple times there were a few people swimming in the refreshing water. The time after that it was packed with almost fifty people! And this time it was back to just us. This place is an interesting litmus test for sustainable tourism - devoid of protected area status, the visible health of the ecosystem is directly impacted by how many people use it. With nobody there, evidence of human impact is minimal. When it nears fifty people in attendance, waste and usage impacts increase immediately. On this visit the falls were low, but that meant the impact was as well. I was happy.

What we did next, though, made me even happier.

Back at Parrot Nest, the four of us grabbed an old-school inner tube each and walked off the grounds. Emil and I went barefoot along the rocky path while Natalie and Jacinthe opted for sandals. A couple local dogs accompanied us on the twenty-minute walk to the Mahogany Hall Resort aka the jumpoff point for river tubing along the Mopan. The beginning is exciting, as choppy rapids launch you into a more tranquil flow in the thelwag. Peacefulness abounds as you float underneath the broadleaf canopy of Belize’s western forest - until you reach the ropes.

Almost every time I’ve been down this river there are a bunch of local kids swinging off ropes, flipping and playing in the water. I love the quick transition from pure relaxation to adrenaline fueled fun! We all crawled out of the river like giant amphibians and either tried the rope swing, flipped off the dock, hung out with the kids, or all three. I climbed the giant guanacaste tree to swing from the big rope. It was wilder than I thought it would be. I planned to do a backflip off the end, but it went so fast, and I was so high, that I just dropped into the river below. On my second go, I ended up spinning and had to swing back towards the tree before launching on the return. The landing was fine, but I opted to do a backflip off the dilapidated dock next to the tree instead of trying a third time on the rope.

It was such a great experience hanging out with the kids as they flung themselves off the dock and the riverbank and the rope. There is something about interacting with the innocence of kids that really breaks down cultural barriers and leads to loads of laughs and learning. It’s something I don’t ever see in Canada or the USA as safety is so highly stressed that you never encounter youth playing in a river unsupervised. It’s definitely something to cherish in today’s world.

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Into the Sea

As much as I love the jungle, and as much as it’s my home, Caye Caulker is still my happy place. To me, it’s the best place in the world. Hanging out at The Split, listening to reggae while sipping on rum and watching the sun set over the Caribbean Sea - it doesn’t get any less magical every time I feel it. And I absolutely love sharing this experience with people who’ve never had it before.

Visiting the reef is just as magical, if not more, than hanging out on the blissful Caribbean island. We went out with Keith and Hever of Stressless Eco-friendly Tours, because of their passion for sustainability and the importance of protecting the reef. They believe, as TREE does, that tourism can be a beneficial part of conservation - if it’s done right. My goal is for us to continue to work together to help contribute to protected marine areas and to foster a better understanding of the importance of the reef itself (and the mangroves), for people on land, not only in Belize, but everywhere.

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It was an amazing five days with some really good people, both on the trip itself and all the people we met along the way. A big thank you goes out to Jacinthe Morin (@morinjacinthe) for capturing the beauty of Belize in her photographs as best as it can be captured. Because, the truth is, no picture or video can ever do justice to one of the best places in the world, where the sounds, smells, and vibes contribute so much to its holistic greatness.

Hopefully more people can come experience what we did on this trip, and do so in a way that positively impacts the environment rather than the reverse.

That’s my dream. And I’m working every day to try and make it happen.

-Jordan Flagel-

Photos by Jacinthe Morin (@morinjacinthe) and Natalie Yergatian (@natalieyergatian)


Want to join us on the next TREE Belize Trip in August or October? Check out our Belize page or send us an email at info@treexploration.com or jordan@treexploration.com