Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Can you Belize-zat?

Once upon a time I was pregnant with my fifth child.  My husband looked at me one day in my extreme discomfort of my 9th month and said, "You need a vacation.  We need a vacation."  And we did.  We needed some kid free time.  Some just us time.  I told him I could take a week off of mothering in February, enough time to wean the baby and take a little break.

Jon surprised me Christmas morning with plans to head to Belize for our getaway.  He arranged for Kylie to come into town to watch our kids and I handled the plans from there.  We hopped on a plane at 1:00 AM on an early Wednesday morning, did a quick stop in Houston and then headed to Belize.  We arrived at about 11 AM and our adventure began.

We started our trip with a stay at a private island.  We grabbed our rental car, which, as it always does, took longer than usual.  Actually the delay is our car rental place said we couldn't take our car over the border to Guatemala to go see Tikal, which was on our list of things to do.  So we went with a different company that let us.  We found out later it is a really bad idea to drive into Guatemala with foreign plates so we didn't end up doing that anyway... oh well.

But we hopped in the car and navigated our way south to Dangriga to catch our boat to our island, Thatch Caye.  The drive was wonderful.  I love having a rental car in new places.  We drove through coastal places and jungly places.  Belize has only a few main roads so directions were very doable with our little airport map and no cell phone help.

I wrongly assumed that there would be airport signs when we reached Dangriga, or it would be big enough that we would run into it.  Neither were true.  We wandered aimlessly, got some very vague directions, and stumbled on a small building with a small plane next to it without a sign.  But hey, it was exactly where we needed to be.  Our boat driver was there within 10 minutes, just enough time to change into summer clothes.  It was already about 80 degrees with all kinds of humidity.

The first boat they attempted to take us on had a flooded engine.  So they stashed us at a nearby resort and restaurant while they got another boat.  The restaurant had A/C so we ordered a few appetizers and enjoyed the ocean.

The ocean in Belize is as flat as can be.  Not a wave in sight.  There are a ton of little islands off the coast and we wondered which one would be our home for the next few days.  The ceviche and nachos we ordered were okay, but not great good.  This turned out to be the theme for almost every meal we ate.  If it wasn't the traditional chicken and rice and beans meal that we were served several times, the food ranged from average to terrible.  Even fun jaunts to local grocery stores weren't fun.  They all sold U.S. products for high prices.  No fun local treats, no homemade baked goods.  Food was not a highlight of Belize.  But they do make a mean chicken with rice and beans.

Warning, Jon and I have many skills but taking pictures on vacation is not one of them.  My cell phone, which takes better photos, permanently bit the dust on the way there so all we had was Jon's "barely smart enough to be be considered" smart phone.  Apologies in advance.

This is us waiting on the dock for boat number two to the island.

Our boat arrived and we took a quick 25 minute trip out to our island.  There's only room for about 20 people on the island at a time so it's pretty small.  There were only 8-10 while we were there.  And here was our private bungalow over the water!

Our neighbors.

This hammock with a night sky filled with stars and not a single light to block their view was a fantastic time.

I really thought Jon would get a little stir crazy on a small island with little to do but for the first time that I can remember, Jon reveled in relaxation.  We woke up late, ate breakfast, toured the flat water on paddle board or kayak, took naps, read books, enjoyed large fruity virgin drinks and stared at the stars at night.  It was glorious.  

Food was included for the week and our meals were pretty good.  The virgin pina coladas were fantastic and as one bartender kindly pointed out, "It takes a secure man to drink a virgin pina colada".  Love that man of mine.

The island was fun and very relaxing but woo hoo hoo expensive.  And we stayed on the cheapest one we could find. So we did two days there and then took off for inland Belize.

After our island stay we didn't have any set plans.  We had a few idea destinations but nothing booked.  We had a rental car and a map from the airport and we took off.  We got off the island Friday at about 2 p.m. and took off for the cockscomb national jaguar preserve.  We got there at about 3:30 PM and we took off on a hike called the Tiger Fern trail.

Our capturing of this moment was dismal to nonexistant, so we will let google document this part of the trip.  The hike started out like this, a beautiful jaunt through the forest.  And then we went up.  And up and up and up.  It was an impressive amount of up. 

Hey I just figured out how to capture images from GoPro! Not great, but better than nothing.  See, I was there! Sweaty face and all.

Jon was there too.  Thanks go pro

We passed this, a plane that had crashed and then parked right in the middle of the path.

And then all of a sudden we turned a corner and we saw this.  We were at the top of the world!  What a killer view.  And then we went down.  Straight down, it felt like at times.  The kind of down where you think...hmm remember how I will have to make this an up on the way back?

But then we came to this.

We happily stripped off our shoes and jumped right in the cold mountain water and stuck our heads under the falls.

Jon diving in

Me getting a nature shower

We hiked a little down the river to catch this beautiful view

And then we saw this.

Okay not really.  This was a jaguar preserve but we knew the likeliness of seeing a jaguar was slim.  That didn't help us from scanning treetops and assuming they were filled with jaguars who could see us just fine...

We left Cockscomb and took off to find a place to stay for the night and some dinner as it was getting dark.  We found a little outdoor food stand a little down the road and had some traditional chicken and rice and bean with a cool bottle of Fanta.  It hit the spot.  We were kind of in middle of nowhere Belize so when we saw a sign for a resort, we decided to take the 4 mile road in to check it out.  The front desk people were nice enough to give us a discount room rate since we would only be there for one evening and they even talked us into zip lining in the morning.  Our room was simple but comfortable and we had a good night.

I have never been zip lining before and I was very excited to go.  I'm not sure this was the coolest zip line of all time but it was a lot of fun.  Jon and I zig zagged across the forest tree tops with our two guides and had a great adventure.  The last run was the longest into an open field and it was really really exciting.  

Jon taking off

Me taking off!

Coming in for a landing!


After that we left Bocawina and headed more inland.  We didn't have a set plan for the day but after some exploring we ended up at the blue hole natural swimming spot and did a cave tubing adventure.

Blue hole.  Quick stop with a quick dip in the water.  Beautiful little place.

We found a tour guide right outside the cave, they handed us a tube and a head lamp and we headed down the tunnel.

This is a good view of the entrance from deeper in the tunnel

We hiked for a bit out of the water then hiked for a bit in the water then we hopped in our tubes and floated down.  There were a lot of cool cave features and at one point we all turned of our head lamps and sat in the pitch black darkness and it was amazing and disturbing.  At the end of the float, we had to get out and water walk back to the entrance, that part was a little lame but overall a great adventure.

We then raced into San Ignacio and went and saw two of the Mayan ruins in the area before we wente hotel searching for the evening.    They were really cool ruins, but Jon is always a little more into ruins than I am.  I probably just need to get a book or a guide and I would enjoy it more.  Of course guides tend to walk and talk sooo slowly... 

I made the mistake of letting Jon be in charge of our meals on this trip.  And to his defense there really wasn't a lot of ways to just grab a meal on the go.  But we pretty much skipped lunch this day and it was hot and humid and I was all kinds of done with the hunger part once we finished the last set of ruins.  Jon, sensing the danger he was in, rushed me to the nearest restaurant and we enjoyed an average curry dinner.

Then we went on a hotel hunt.  There were small hotels on every block in San Ignacio but the first 10 we approached were full for the night!  Jon almost talked me into staying in a hostel, but we finally found a place with a private room.  The owners were an elderly couple that were napping on the two couches of the lobby when we arrived.  We had walked there and needed to move our car and there was only one spot out in front of the hotel.  So the elderly lady yelled at the shop guy below her to move his gear into the spot until we got there.  And that's exactly what he did and we scored a great parking spot.  The room was very simple but clean and the lady gave me every piece of information three times because she forgot she had already told me.  It was an experience for sure.  We went out and got some ice cream at a place we spotted down the street.  The ice cream and homemade waffle cone were the most delicious moment in the whole trip.  Mmmmm.  

Then we headed back to our rooms and it was a long, loud night.  San Ignacio is a busy city and the hotel was right downtown.  The noise never stopped.  Car horns blaring, people shouting, loud music.  It was a party all night long.  Not a lot of sleep to be had but an adventure nonetheless!

The next day was Sunday so we got in our church clothes and headed to the chapel we had spotted the day before.  It was a small branch made smaller by the fact that the city had shut down all electricity that morning.  No fans for us.  It was their Spanish branch so I didn't understand much but it is always great to feel the familiar spirit there.  We spoke to a man before the meeting and asked if there were any members that led tours to Tikal.  He said there weren't be his recently returned missionary son was trying to start his own tour company and include some LDS research in his tours.  We were excited for him, but sad we didn't get a guide.

So instead we left church and headed for the Guatemalan border in the hopes of making it to Tikal.  We had been told multiple times that driving ourselves there was a bad idea.  I kind of slept through the drive to Tikal but Jon said he would definitely had been uncomfortable if we had driven ourselves.  We hired a guy at the border and he drove us there and back.  

Guys, Tikal is huge.  And you just know looking around you that there is probably a ton more just under the dirt.

This was my favorite part.  There was a set of 200 stairs that took you to the top of the highest ruin and from there you could see everything.  It felt like you could see the layout of the city that used to be.  

You should not sit on Monuments, you should Build :)

We made it safely out of Guatemala and back to our rental car then headed out to find somewhere to stay that night.  We saw a sign for a place and took a turn to check it out.  Then we drove.  And drove and drove and drove.  It was getting dark and everytime we almost turned around, there was another sign for the resort.  We drove for 20-30 minutes before we came upon two guys in their very early 20's walking down the road.  Turns out we were still 30 minutes away from the place!  And it was definitely not what we were looking for.  The guys had been at the resort for the day and were walking back to San Ignacio.  We offered them a ride and headed back the way we came.

The Belizeians were very grateful for the trip back and pointed us in the direction of some more likely places.  We stayed at the Rumors resort just down the street.  We had another average dinner and got a good night's sleep.

The next day was our last in Belize.  We had hoped to spend it at one of their beautiful beaches but real life called and Jon had to do a conference call before we got on our flight.  So we headed back towards Belize City.  We took a quick detour to the Belize Zoo though.  I was not necessarily looking forward to this stop.  You've seen one zoo, you've seen them all.  And most non US zoos I've been to have been small enclosures with very sad looking animals.  Belize zoo I apologize for my doubts.

Have you ever seen a tapir?  Oh my goodness.  Now that is a weird looking animal.  They are huge!  And they just wander wild around Belize.

Pretty birds.

This owl knew what I did last summer...

Oh yeah, and then the jaguar.  So so cool.

And that didn't include all of the amazing cool cats, the spider monkeys, the enormous eagle.  Seriously, cool cool zoo.

And then we made our way to Belize City.  We found a telecommunications store in the middle of downtown that sold Jon an international calling card. Then we did a little shopping for our kids while we waited for the assigned time.  There is nothing like a treat and a small trinket from your parent's vacation to make a kid feel like parents should leave more often.  

At the right time, Jon called on the payphone outside the telecommunications building.  After a hectic 10 minutes trying to get the card to work, he got connected and then sat in the blistering sun for over a hour on the phone.  I rested inside the air conditioned room with my book.  

I finally had to drag him away so we could catch our flight.  Rental car, customs, plane trip, delicious meal in the Houston airport, and back to Las Vegas.