Turtle Inn - Belize

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Thursday
It was a light-hearted debate that began almost from the moment we set foot inside the gateway at Francis Ford Coppola's luxurious Turtle Inn. Yes, that Francis Ford Coppola.

Were we in Central America, or more accurately Belize?a tiny slice of English-speaking territory wedged in between the Yucatan Mexico and Guatemala were we in Asia? Shawna, who was enjoying breathing in the salt-fresh air drifting off a powder-sand beach shaded with coconut palms, had taken the literal definition. "Ah, Belize!" she exhaled as we stepped outside the private screened porch in our cabana. "Ah, the Orient!" I answered. I couldn't help myself.

I felt the need to point out that we were staying in (seriously) the Chinese Matrimonial Suite, and garnered some points when we were informed that the gorgeous and ornately carved, dark-wood four-poster bed was a two-century-old Chinese fertility bed. Bamboo-type reeds climbed out of two glazed, green vases beside the bed, adding another Asian flourish. There was also the sleek Chinese bath and even a private garden with an outdoor shower.

Of the nine other accommodations, the debate was split. Shawna pointed out that there were a handful of garden and seaview cabanas that seemed designed with sleepy siestas in mind, but one look at the Pavilion House with its tiled bathrooms with Japanese soaking tubs and hand-carved detailing on the doors and archways, and Asia took the lead.

Friday

Asia or Latin America--really doesn't matter I decided this morning when we went for a walk along the honey-colored strand fronting the property. A light breeze bent the languorous palm fronds and soon Shawna and I found ourselves, margaritas (score one for Shawna) and books in hand (margs ordered from the nearby Laughing Fish Bar with its cute fish sculpture). Soon we were swaying in a pair of yellow, cotton hammocks so comfortable we almost requested a wake-up call.

We spent the morning in the deep relaxation of tropical water, alternating between wading into the warm knee-high surf and then taking a dip in the tranquil, chilled water of the round aquamarine pool.

That afternoon we wandered over to the Turtle Inn PADI dive shop. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which stretches almost the length of the Yucatan Peninsula (including all of Belize), is considered the second largest in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. And you don't have to be scuba certified to enjoy it. Like many of the best reefs, so much of the fish and coral life is in the top 20 feet, within easy range of snorkelers like Shawna and me. So that afternoon, we joined a snorkeling trip out to the edge of the reef, chasing our shadows over a garden of elkhorn coral and watching multi-colored parrot fish dart and flash beneath us.

Dinner tonight was at The Mare Restaurant (Coppola's Italian roots coming through), where much of the produce comes directly from the Belizean highlands and Coppola's other favorite hideaway, his Blancaneaux Lodge. Not surprisingly, the two properties boast the only two brick pizza ovens in the entire country. We skipped the pizzas, however, and went for the split, butter-basted lobster covered in shrimp.

By the time we made it back to the fertility bed, a full moon was sailing on cloud castles over the dark water.

Saturday

It was an early morning today when we set out on a uniquely Belizean adventure--tracking the rare and beautiful jaguars in the nearby Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where steep, forested mountains compete with overgrown Mayan ruins for topography.

Though we didn't spot any of the elusive cats that have such a powerful role in Mayan mythology, our guide was able to point out several of their rounded prints in the mud along a creek, an exciting moment.

Later this afternoon we soothed our sore hiking muscles with massages at the Turtle Inn Spa.

Shawna emerged an hour later looking lighter and more refreshed, but I think she already knew what I was going to ask her. Earlier in the day our Asia vs. Central America debate had surfaced again during the uniquely Belizean experience of tracking jaguars in the jungle. Shawna summed up her case as she does when she moves in for the coup de gr?ce in chess. We saw the jaguar prints in the mud; she leaned close to my ear and simply whispered: "Check."

Now it was my turn. "What kind of massage did you have?" I casually asked. Shawna mumbled something and sipped some spring water.

"Sorry, I missed that."

"A Thai massage," she repeated.

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