By Jennifer Billock
It’s 5 a.m. I’m up and organizing my things for an early morning snorkel trip. Weak light filters in through the cabana window to rest on my suitcase. I draw in a deep breath to center myself for another day of adventure. Then I see it – black, furry, and as wide as a tennis ball, basking in the glow right on top of my suitcase – a tarantula.
All hope of relaxation vanishes as I let out an indecorous squeal and jump backward onto the bed, eyes darting around the room in a panic, expecting an entire family of giant arachnids to crawl out of the shadows and bear down on me with venomous fangs.
It was scary, but don’t worry! I’m okay now (obviously). Few Belizean tarantulas contain venom, and their poison only causes adverse reactions in allergic people. These arachnids pose about as serious a threat to humans as the common bumblebee. Just leave them alone, as I did, and all will be well. My tarantula scampered off towards the bathroom, I left for my trip and when I came back, it was gone. Problem solved.
Now you understand the actual danger of unexpectedly finding yourself with a hairy roommate – and you’ve taken your first step on the path towards a safe and healthy Belize vacation.
My first step came not with the tarantula, but before I even left. A few days before hitting the tarmac, I received a frantic phone call from my travel companion.
“Do we need immunizations?! I don’t want to catch malaria!”
After I calmed her down, we had a good laugh. One of us always has a pretty serious case of traveler’s hypochondria. Guess it was her turn this go-round.
Truthfully, frequently-needled tourists can relax: Belize-bound travelers don’t require vaccinations unless they’re heading in from a country plagued by yellow fever. Bug spray, closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, and good mosquito netting over the bed will stave off most ailments.
The day before our departure, my phone rang again:
“What about the water? Can we drink the water?!”
Yes, of course we can. Collected, filtered rainwater flows from the taps in Belize’s major cities, and the shops in populated areas carry bottled water. It’s always a good idea to stock up before heading to any of the more remote regions of the country, though. With the heat of the jungle blasting, it can be difficult to keep hydrated. Dehydration and heat exhaustion sneak up on you, and if you’re not careful you’ll be squeezing a hospital visit into your travel itinerary.
Luckily, I was hydrated plenty during my trek through the rainforest, but found I had forgotten to take one very important precaution: SPF. The sun rewarded my carelessness with some pretty serious burns as I hiked up to the High Temple at Lamanai. Of course, the gorgeous forested views from the top diverted my attention from the pain, but once I got back to the cabana, forget about it. Don’t make the same mistake I did – pack a powerful sunscreen! Belize sits just 17 degrees North of the equator, and the dry-season sun burns hot and bright all day. I should have known…
If a hospital does become one of the stops along your journey through Belize – say, because you decided to show off your mad snake-handling skills with the poisonous fer-de-lance – head to Belize City. The country’s most advanced medical facilities can be found at Belize City Hospital, along with well-stocked pharmacies and knowledgeable staff. Make sure you have adequate travel and health insurance before you leave home.
And don’t write off herbal medicine or holistic healers. The only thing providing relief for the few serious mosquito bites I got (okay, so I forgot bug spray too…) was an herbal anti-itch cream I found in a general store in the middle of nowhere. Traditional community healers won’t hesitate to soothe what ails a traveler. Some of Belize’s top holistic healers minister to a wide range of clients from the US and other countries.
The most important thing to do to ensure your health and safety in Belize: remain conscious of your surroundings. Those ants may seem harmless – until you break the army ant trail and they come after you. (Yes, that happened to me. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.) Just be careful out there, travelers! (For more information about visiting Belize, please check out www.amble.com/zophora)