As you cross the great Belize River and climb up the opposite bank, reality fades further from view with each step. At the top is Banana Bank Lodge, situated on 4000 acres of jungle and ranch land, seemingly out of sight of the rest of the world. If you value your hard earned vacation time and don’t want to spend it with ten million annual tourists in all the usual places, you are a prime candidate for an adventurous holiday at Banana Bank.
Banana Bank retains its name from the early days of Belize, when small steamboats plied the waters of the Belize River as the only means of transport between the coast and San Ignacio. Shipments of bananas were laid on the bank here awaiting the next riverboat.
A delightful and talented couple, Carolyn and John Carr, emigrated to Belize from the U.S. in 1977 and created a unique lifestyle for themselves here. Carolyn was inspired to create wonderful paintings and John, an honest-to-goodness cowman from Montana, had the opportunity to continue doing what he loved. Several years ago, they built a few cabañas and began sharing their lifestyle with guests from all over the world.
Today, the Lodge consists of several palm-thatched buildings, including the dining/gathering area and five two-bedroom cabañas, with rustic but comfortable furnishings and private baths. These are situated high on the river bank in a large open grassy area, dotted with centuries-old trees, coconut palms and assorted fruit trees. In the mornings and evenings, the entire area is abuzz with creatures that venture out from the surrounding jungle.
Banana Bank has probably the heaviest concentration of bird activity that we have seen anywhere. Toucans, parrots and woodpeckers vie for your attention in addition to the Carr’s menagerie of “pets” in a large, natural enclosure nearby. Most of these animals were orphaned and taken under wing. While some have eventually wandered off on their own, back into the wild, there remains a pair of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, deer, a toucan, macaws, and various other creatures…all curious to meet you. There is even a beautiful jaguar that they have raised since she was abandoned as a baby.
In the early morning hour, the birds began their daily activities and we wandered around the grounds spotting many beautiful species. We were even greeted by a baby warrie (a wild pig) that came trotting out of the bush and walked right up to take a good sniff of us before going on about his business. About 6:30 a.m., John and the manager drove us over to the lagoon where we climbed an observation tower to watch for wildlife.
We saw many species of waterfowl as well as hundreds of other birds, and were fortunate enough to spot (from a distance!) a very large crocodile, about eight feet long, as he skimmed the surface of the water. We were back at the lodge by 8 a.m. and sat down to a very hearty, tasty Belizean breakfast of omelettes, bacon, beans, fresh fruit and Fry Jacks (squares of deep-fried wheat flour dough).
Horseback riding is a popular activity here on the site as they maintain a stable of 25-30 gentle riding horses. There is a nearby lagoon for bird and crocodile watching and a small Maya ruin. With over six square miles of ranch, half of which is still in tall jungle, you’ll have enough room to do about anything you’d like.
You can take a tour of the ranch, looking at crops, pasture, horses, ruins and exotic birds…and at the same time, get a running history of the ranch from John that would impress even a Texas cowboy.
Tours are available to all the various sites in the region, including the most popular Maya sites of Xunantunich, Cahal Pech and Caracol, many cave and river trips, nature parks and hiking. A trip to Tikal, in Guatemala, is also available. Before you leave be sure to tour Carolyn’s “gallery” of beautiful paintings, depicting the many facets of Belizean life and wildlife; and visit her orchid house, filled with dozens of different varieties of these exotic beauties.
With the sun leaning low over the western horizon, we gathered with the other guests in the lounge, sharing stories of the day’s adventures, and enjoying the local brew. (Hard liquor and wine are not sold here, but guests are welcome to bring their own.) A hearty appetite brought us happily to the dinner table for a delicious, well prepared and plentiful Belizean dinner which included the local favorite of rice and beans with chicken, as well as freshly baked bread, vegetables and pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. We ate family-style, along with our hosts and the other guests, and enjoyed lively conversation along with the good food.
As night-time fell, and the sound of bullfrogs and wilderness rose, you could almost hear the old river steamer coming ’round the bend, with the captain shouting out, “Ba–nana Baaaank!”