Imagine the courage it would take, for a South Carolina couple with five daughters, to head out into the jungles of Central America in search of a new life for their family. In this high-tech age, where we are all bombarded with the pressures of life and work, such a scenario is very tempting-although few of us have the courage to take that big step. But, Judy and Ken duPlooy did just that. They wanted to immigrate to a country where they could raise their children in a natural environment with family values as a high priority.
On meeting Judy and Ken, it quickly became evident that they were rare people. Ken, who was born in Rhodesia, and lived in South Africa for many years, had always yearned to return to a pioneering lifestyle. He was a building contractor by trade, and he and Judy had dreamed of creating a small jungle lodge of their own. In 1988, it happened. They sold out, packed up the car and the kids, and headed south to find their dream.
They visited Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, but, after seeing a site in the Cayo District of western Belize, with its beautiful, crystal clear rivers, pristine jungle and magnificent birds by the hundreds, Judy and Ken knew that this was exactly where they wanted to be. The family settled on their land right away as pioneers, without running water or electricity, and the girls took up school in San Ignacio. During the rainy season, when the awful road into their place became impassable, they were transported to school down the river in a dugout canoe, by one of their workers, a local man known as “Mr. T.”
(Now there’s a story for your grandchildren!) Even today, at ninety years of age, Mr. T still works for the duPlooys, retrieving canoes left in San Ignacio by the guests, and bringing them back to the lodge.
The duPlooy’s have built one of the nicest jungle lodges we have seen. And we are pleased to report the road has been improved. Many native trees and flowers have been replanted, creating a beautiful, lush garden which surrounds the cabins. Judy and Ken are congenial hosts, spending a lot of time with the guests at meals and at bird watching sessions, and their staff is top notch. The kitchen serves a variety of well-prepared dishes, with multi-course dinners, and vegetarian selections, as well.
Three types of rooms are offered, all with hot water and ceiling fans: The three bungalows are large independent units, each with a seating area, and a private porch; The “jungle lodge” comprises three buildings, with two or three rooms, all having a private, screened porch; The Pink House, which was their original home, with six guest rooms, two baths, and a kitchen, is an economical alternative for both individuals and small groups. Electricity is generated on the site between 7 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., and kerosene lamps are provided for use during off-hours.
The dining room is situated at one end of the complex, adjacent to the well-known “Hangover” deck/bar, so named as it extends out, high over the jungle, putting you near the treetops for a bird’s eye view of the birds and the stars.
On our first evening here, Judy and Ken came down to our bungalow to visit. As we sat on the porch, overlooking the river and the jungle below, we enjoyed a batch of our own famous Margaritas, solved the world’s problems, and listened to the history of duPlooy’s. This was one of the most enjoyable evenings we have ever spent in Belize. In parting, Ken told us to be sure to come up to the Hangover deck at six a.m. for the daily bird watching event, which is guaranteed to impress anyone.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we joined the rest of the guests on the deck at around six the next morning. Even experienced birders get excited at the spectacle which occurs here each morning. As the dawn brightened, we were delighted by the visitors that came to nibble the fruit in the nearby trees…we saw incredible blue birds, red tanagers, flycatchers, araçaris and dozens of others that Ken was quick to identify for us. Unquestionably, the highlight of the morning was sighting a brilliant Emerald Toucanet (a small, green cousin of the toucan) that landed just ten feet away from us.
Because of the convenient location of duPlooy’s, you can participate in many day tours and activities that are offered. These include visits to Maya ruins, caves, canoeing, horseback riding and, of course, the traditional hammock swinging routine. Stargazers will want to bring their telescopes, as the night displays billions and billions of stars along with the fireflies. Anyone spending a few days at duPlooy’s will leave with their priorities rearranged.
Editor’s Tips: The duPlooy’s recommend a minimum stay of three nights, to allow plenty of time for all the activities available. Do not go without binoculars and a camera. Bird enthusiasts may want to take along “A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America,” by Oxford University Press, to make identification easier.