Tuesday, March 14, 2006

House Guest in Paradise

For our stay in the Cayo District, after doing tons of research on the many options for accommodation, we chose Ek Tun on the Macal River, 12 miles upstream from the visitor-friendly town of San Ignacio. We chose Ek Tun because it seemed the most authentic and unusual of the higher end jungle retreats. Not really a “resort”, nor a bed and breakfast, Ek Tun defies categorisation. With only two traditional stick and thatch cabins, and spectacularly situated on 200 acres backing onto a large jungle reserve, Ek Tun feels like your own private paradise. But being gringos from London, of course, we needed a local interpreter to this Garden of Eden. That’s where Phyllis, the owner and host, comes into the picture.

Now Phyllis is as authentic and unusual as the retreat she has carved out of the jungle. A passionate gardener, formerly from Colorado, she is a woman of strong opinions who runs an idiosyncratic operation with expert local knowledge, superb cooking skills, and a big heart. Everything at Ek Tun is informed by the personality of this “larger than life” individual.

As far as the practicalities are concerned, be aware of the following. First, the cottages do not have electricity. Forget the hairdryer. Instead, oil lamps are lit at dusk and the effect is archly romantic. The bats and geckos eat the bugs so they don’t eat you. On top of that, the beds are comfortable, and the hot showers were the best we found in Belize.

And what Phyllis is able to whip up in a simple kitchen, where all the ingredients must be hauled in from San Ignacio, puts us “big supermarket, sub-zero freezer and fancy oven” cooks to shame. Meals are generous, thoughtful, beautifully executed and delicious. Even my French educated husband who measures most experiences by the quality of the cooking was charmed.

Finally, when Phyllis says Ek Tun is remote and private, she’s not kidding. After a tortuous ride on a bumpy dirt road, the last leg of our journey was by small boat. - sort of a “Dr Livingston, I presume” experience. On our first day at Ek Tun, while Phyllis and the other couple in residence busied themselves with kayaks, we went hiking, swimming in the beautiful natural mineral pool ( pictured above) and ended up tubing down the Macal with beers in hand. We saw not a single soul all day and I decided there and then that in the firmament of NoCrowds destinations, a new standard had been set by Ek Tun.

If it’s a “proper” resort you are after (which you have to share with other people, perish the thought), Cayo has several very good ones. We took a look at The Lodge at Chaa Creek, downriver from Ek Tun and in business since 1981, which seemed to offer the full range of services and activities in a lovely setting. Also well known and ultra-luxe is Francis Ford Coppola’s former hunting lodge, Blancaneaux, in the Pine Ridge Reserve.

But for my money, Ek Tun offers something more valuable and interesting than service and amenities, although much has been done in this “middle of nowhere” place to make you feel comfortable. Ek Tun somehow takes you outside your comfort zone. It encourages you to see things a bit differently and in the end of the day, sticks in your memory like a book or a song that is different from all others.

n.b. Ek Tun has a three day minimum stay. No children. No singles. Our cottage was $190 per night. Meal plan (breakfast and dinner) was $29. Phyllis charges very fair prices for your liquor. If you drink as much red wine as we do, best to let her know in advance. I'm afraid we cleaned her out.

Photo is of the Ek Tun swimming pool built from local stone and fed by a natural spring.

Ek Tun
Macal River, Cayo District
Email: info@ektunbelize.com
Tel: 501-820-3002 (best between 7 – 8 AM and 6 – 8 PM CST)

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