Here is a travel story about the jungle of Belize, but it is also a story about a person who created a bold new beginning for herself thanks in part to travel.
In this podcast hear about this quick adventure into the jungle including:
- The beauty of Belize
- The power of nature
- A complete lifestyle change
- The importance of travel
- And more…
Meet Allie: Queen of the Jungle. Allie used to live in the concrete jungle that is New York City. But today she lives in Belize in the middle of a real jungle.
Allie’s old world was that of a private equity career and her Harvard MBA. Seems prestigious and satisfying enough, right? Well, the reality is that this world became unfulfilling to her as of late, and so she decided to change her entire life.
The Importance of Travel
Through traveling, Allie began to discover a new world in the jungle. A few years ago, she traveled to Panama for two weeks to enjoy the ocean and the jungle in a more simplified way. Prior to that, she spent meaningful, peaceful moments traveling around Hawaii.
She was drawn to the jungle, and in it, she felt alive.
Both trips offered experiences with nature including the richness of the birds, bugs, green plants, and flowers, and the sea breezes from the nearby shores. While fully absorbed by this environment, Allie noticed the chronic pain she was experiencing was gone.
On traveling, Allie says: “My advice would be to travel until you don’t need to travel anymore…I might not have found where I want to be if I didn’t travel… Try to have an authentic experience”
And so over the last few years, Allie has been manifesting her life in the ways that are truly making her happy. In choosing herself, she began to indulge in her visceral longings for lush nature and experiential flair.
In her old New York City apartment, located all the way on the west end of the iconic 57th Street, Allie immersed herself in nature, albeit confined.
Growing inside her apartment she had hundreds of green plants from a cactus to long stems of ivy and everything else in between. She even had a 10-foot tall palm tree.
Allie trucked large granite stones, some 400 pounds heavy, and logs made of dogwood trees from her home farm in New Hampshire all the way to her New York City world, in an effort to complete her indoor nature environment.
I always gravitated towards her granite boulder that doubled for a chair in her small apartment. I would prefer to sit or sometimes stand on it placing the soles of my bare feet on that rock.
This rock cleansed me. It drained the built up stresses from my New York City world. It gave me strength; it took away my anxieties; and it calmed me down.
I think that was the environment Allie strived to create: The soft, soothing power of nature in a city of continuous, frenetic energy.
Allie and I empathized with each other about our experiences in the New York finance worlds that resulted in prolonged stress and pent-up toxicities. Naturally, we paralleled our career aspirations by pivoting towards and trying to sustain our trajectories in the renewable energy investment field as a way to marry career with personal values.
One immediate day about two years ago, Allie made a decision that she would not be confined to her expensive, high-rise apartment, too far away from the ground. Her make-shift environment was no longer working for her.
She looked up “English-speaking jungle countries” on the internet and discovered Belize.
Soon enough, she took a bold, highly unconventional step to quit it all – her career, her relationship, and her New York City pre-packaged life to move to the jungle.
A Complete Lifestyle Change: Moving to the Jungle
In a meaningful, serious next step to unleash her old world, Allie started to give away almost all of her stuff. She threw a jungle going-away party and then moved to central Belize near the capital of Belmopan in early 2015.
“I came to the actual real jungle. It just was like the world came to life. It was like everything was magnified. Everything in my apartment was one size and this was a thousand times bigger. It was pretty amazing.”
In Belize, Allie’s original intention was to live and work on an existing farm.
However that plan changed only 2 months later after having met her now husband Ray. Together they purchased land to start their own farm and plant nursery Allie Ray Plant Nursery located on mile 40.6 on Western Highway (George Price Highway) in Harmonyville, 10 miles outside of Belmopan.
Her path was not easy and a bit uncertain at the beginning, but she is quite satisfied how it all seems to be working out for her now.
Now Allie and Ray live together off-the-grid on their farm powered only by solar energy. They are situated about two or three miles inland from a main road, past the savannah grasses and the tarantulas, over the river and through the jungle.
Here in New York City, it seems like some, including me, strive to live a greener and cleaner, authentic lifestyle by choosing some hip and alternative ways. Allie is actually living the real deal.
“I came here for a total lifestyle change. I came here to really experience the environment, to be in the jungle,” she notes.
Allie and Ray grow some of their food, collect the rainwater used for drinking and cleaning, and bathe in the rushing creek. They live among their horses, the birds, the reptiles, the bugs, and the occasional jaguar that sneaks by in the middle of the night.
“There isn’t a big divide between us and plants and animals, and it’s tangible.”
Nearby on the property, Allie and Ray are building their house, but in the meantime, they have two small cabins, one by the creek and the other deeper inland.
Recently Allie and Ray endured Hurricane Earl, a Category 1 hurricane, the first to hit Belize since 2010, in early August. Talk about some excitement there. They hunkered down in their cabin as the winds blew, the rain fell, and the eye of the storm passed over them. The creek flooded the grounds and their outdoor kitchen was in complete disarray. After the storm blew through, they cleaned up the area and even found a baby parrot recovering from the storm.
Their Allie Ray Plant Nursery is located down the road where they have been constructing the grounds and the buildings and have been growing ornamental plants and fruit trees.
What started as a concept is becoming a reality and for that effort, I find Allie’s bold move to be impressive.
Dirt in your fingernails; the freshness of the earth; a complete blanket of stars in the sky including vibrant views of the Milky Way: What a difference from New York City.
Booking This Trip
I believe this quick trip to Belize for me was universe-sent more or less. It materialized very quickly for me just as I completed my travel journal #17 and because of a pigeon, I think…
Allie and I could have easily taped this podcast conversation over Skype. Yes, despite being off the grid, Allie still very much is in touch with the world through the internet. Instead, we taped this podcast in person, in the middle of the jungle among the crickets and the reggae music.
I was craving a trip. I wanted to be surrounded by nature, and horses, and pick-up trucks, and mountains. I was thinking the answer was to go out west to Montana. However, it turned out that Allie’s farm in Belize was the answer.
Allie kept pinging me, and finally I said, “Yah let’s do it! Last minute tickets were still quite affordable at around $450. Within a week of leaving, I booked the flight with my credit card points and paid the balance of $30. And then the next day I found $50 in Bryant Park in New York City all because of a pigeon.
Walking along First Avenue in New York City, across from the United Nations, a lady and I came across an injured or sick pigeon on the sidewalk. Carefully, we put it into a little box and placed it near a tree on the sidewalk. The lady volunteered to drive the bird to the animal clinic, and so I went on my merry way. On my way back, I passed where the pigeon was and saw a volunteer with NY Pigeon Rescue. She received a call from that lady and had arrived to the pigeon at the same time I did. While we were talking, another person who tried helping the bird earlier just so happened to walk by too. It was as of the universe brought all of us good Samaritans together at the same time in the same place to send the bird off to the hospital. This bird was white with light tan coloring. A pigeon lying on the grass in Bryant Park looked exactly like the bird from the day before. And just as I noticed this bird in the corner of my eye, I found $50 on the grass near the bird.
Arriving in Belize
Belize is located in Central America, south of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, north and east of Guatemala. Its entire eastern border is made up of Caribbean Sea coastline. Belize has cultural blend of a Central American and Caribbean flavors. It was once called British Honduras until 1981 when it gained its independence from the British Empire.
I woke up in New York City and grabbed a real New York City bagel before hailing a cab to LaGuardia Airport. After making a brief layover in Miami, I was in Belize by late lunchtime.
Allie and Ray met me outside of this outdoor, fairly laid back airport. They waited on the bench until I arrived. My trip was actually easy and straightforward without hassle.
It was the first time I met Ray. He has this gentleness to him, is a bit shy, and smiles a lot. Although growing up in a concrete village in Cayo area of Belize, Ray has a strong affinity for the jungle.
From the airport we traveled leisurely to their farm in a pick-up truck listening to reggae music and eating a home cooked lunch along the way.
Just minutes from the airport, the country opens up to green tropical bush and palm trees with the occasional one or two-story concrete building along the side of the road. Despite the small villages that congregate in pockets on the main Western Highway, the area is, more or less, a rural jungle.
Surprisingly, only about 360,000 people live in the country.
Belize has a duality to it: The Caribbean environment and the jungle environment. This trip was my second one to Belize, and I concentrated my visit this time to experience the deep jungle.
“Some people are attracted to the oceans, some people are attracted to the jungle. And you do see people having a very strong preference one way or the other; two sets of people with two different affinities,” says Allie.
Click here to read about the Sites to See in Beautiful Belize including Ambergris Caye and its relaxed Caribbean island feel, a bird sanctuary on a remote island caye, ancient Mayan temples, spooky limestone caves explored by river tubing, two different Blue Holes – a fresh water one in the jungle and another in the ocean, and more.
Allie and Ray are located about an hour’s drive west of the airport and towards the capital, Belmopan. We drove the main road passing palm trees and flat savannah grasslands. Purple mountains stood back in the horizon as an impeding tropical thunderstorm began to roll through the countryside.
The Power of Nature
The rain and the breeze made me feel alive and rejuvenated. We kept the windows open in the truck, and I absorbed the freshness of it all. Nature was consuming me, and I began to meld into the pureness of this world around me.
Towards the end of this trip, Ray mentioned that he noticed a difference in me from when I arrived: I decompressed. That sense of always having to “do, do, do” dissipated. Freedom ensued. It was the power of nature.
“Having the natural surroundings can absorb a lot of your energy. Especially if you have any stress and anxiety, in the concrete jungle there is nothing around you to absorb that energy that you might want to give away. You can feel more healthy, more calm, and less stressed,” Allie believes.
Turning off the main road and onto a grass road, we passed a few abandoned concrete houses on the plot of about 250 acres of land once owned by a Chinese developer. Central American cattle were grazing on this savannah-like land.
At the end of the path appeared the borderline of the thicket of the jungle. Here Ray parked the truck, and we ventured inside walking along a dirt pathway through the vines and jungle trees toward the rushing creek.
At times, this creek is dry and that was when Allie and Ray constructed a concrete pathway stretching from bank to bank and lined with a railing strung with rope. Because of the recent hurricane and the subsequent rains, the creek has been moving. We walked along the path with our bags and rolled up pant legs to the other side at the entrance to Allie and Ray’s farm.
Together they have done much work on the property such as clearing the grounds to make way for plantings, laying down large gravel to create pathways lined on both edges with bamboo, and constructing their two-story permanent wood home with a Juliette balcony.
For the rest of the day, we settled in and relaxed inside the half-finished home, swinging on hammocks and listening to the sounds of rain, the birds, the creek, and the light meditative music playing on Allie’s large speakers. It was a good day.
My home for the week was the one-room cabin located on the interior of the property. It had a mattress on the floor and walls made of screens. By 7pm, the dark of the night had fallen. We would have to rely on the full moonlight and our headlamps to see. The deafening sounds of crickets, or the rumbling thunder and rain, or the occasional pack of howling dogs in the distance serenaded me to sleep.
After dinner and settling down for the evenings in the cabin, I read my books by flashlight: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl and There are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives by Robert Hopcke. Another reason why I think this trip was meant to be is because I needed a few solid days to focus on reading all of Frankl’s book, a powerfully transformative read for anyone: “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”
In the mornings, I gave bathing in the creek by myself a shot. I felt the coolness of the water and the energy of its motion passing through me.
It was an invigorating feeling to be immersed in the freshness this jungle nature both above and below the water, cleansing me inside and out. The feeling was blissful beyond relaxation. I meditated on the sound of the toucans and other jungle birds and of the rushing creek. This city girl became one with nature.
During the rest of the trip, I helped Allie and Ray as they continue to set up their plant nursery business. We toured the city of Belmopan running errands and getting plant clippings and then planting the clippings into the soil bags. We worked alongside Carlos and Geppetto, the laborers constructing the nursery building.
This hard work in the sunshine was a change of pace from my daily city routine. My back hurt, I was sweating, and my hands were full of dirt, but I enjoyed it all. Afterwards, we hung out with Carlos and Ray’s friends who popped by to say hello and drank some cold local beers.
One evening we ventured into town in the pick-up truck listening to American country music and hearing Ray sing along in his Rasta accent. Along the grass pathway in the headlights, Ray spotted a large black tarantula the size of my hand. He stopped the truck so I could get out to look at it more closely. Never had I seen a wild tarantula, and so I was intrigued. Over the week, I would see many more at the plant nursery hiding within the green shoots of their expanding plant inventory.
“We recommend people try to step off the beaten path. You learn things that you might not have learned if you just did your typical things. All travel is not alike. There are lots of different ways to travel, so I think it’s being a bit intentional about it to try to see something that you’re not expecting to see, good, bad or otherwise. It’s about putting yourself out there,” says Allie.
One day we explored the rolling green mountains of Belize along the Hummingbird Highway. Allie and I sat outside in the bed of the pick-up, watching the green world unfold. We passed orchards, and colorful flowers of blues, fuchsias, purples and yellows, and palm trees of all heights. Horses and cows grazed in grasslands. It was a sunny day and a Central American experience at its finest.
Another day we drove out to the Blue Hole, a freshwater cenote in the jungle. It is located at the Blue Hole National Park along Hummingbird Highway. This swimming hole had a palette of iridescent sea greens and blue colors, depending on the depth of the water and the shade from the surrounding, steep edges of the jungle. The water was a chilly cold that contrasted with the warm, humid air temperature.
It is an ancient sinkhole made of limestone that collapsed downward. Fresh rainwater seeping down through the porous limestone creates an underground network of streams. This upwelling of water is what fills the Blue Hole from below. I followed a stream of water that continues past the perimeter of the Blue Hole. This stream entered into a limestone cave with very low ceilings made of stalactites.
At the edge of the cave, I peered my head inside to investigate it. I saw a bat flying around that I must have spooked with the sound of my echoing voice. This stream continued deeper into the cave. I did not feel comfortable continuing inside, so I headed back to the Blue Hole, fighting a surprisingly strong current of water.
On my last full day in Belize, Allie and Ray took me to an area called Spanish Lookout. Before we left though, Carlos and I tended to the horses early in the morning, leading them around the lusher parts of the property so they could get some exercise and eat. Soon the horses will be moved to the plant nursery where they can graze freely and have more interaction throughout the day.
Later on we traveled to Spanish Lookout near San Ignacio where some of the German-speaking Mennonites live. The Mennonites are a religious and cultural community of about 12,000 or so who first moved to Belize back in the late 1950s from Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
If you have a familiarity with the Amish communities in the Unites States, these communities in Belize share similarities. The landscape in the Spanish Lookout area resembles more like the rolling green hills of farmland lined by white fences of Amish Pennsylvania rather than the tropical thicket like the rest of Belize.
My week-long trip had come to an end just as rains from a tropical storm were approaching. Allie and Ray gave me a ride back to the airport in Belize City in the back of the pick-up truck. First we stopped off at the nursery to check in with Carlos and Geppetto. Then we rode along the main Western Highway through the small villages and onward to the airport. I jumped out from the back of the truck, waved my goodbyes, and arrived to the concrete jungle of New York City after 6 hours of traveling. What a stark contrast from the morning to the evening.
It felt like it was a whirlwind dream: The Beauty of Belize. Gone were the sounds of crickets and the birds, but instead of honking horns and screeching brakes. I longed for the endless sparkling stars in the sky and the first rays of the morning from the rising sun peering into my cabin.
Although I would not be leaving it all here in New York City for the jungles anytime soon, I can truly understand why Allie made the change for the better. She chose a new beginning for herself and is thriving in her new home. Be sure to check out Allie and Ray at their Allie Ray Plant Nursery when you find your way through Belize!
In just a few weeks after I left, Allie and Ray got married at their creek.