Thursday, September 28, 2006

We Got Social in Placencia


It's Emily's birthday today, please celebrate with us and show your appreciation by posting comments... it's weird to celebrate far from home. We miss you all!

We've mentioned some folks we've met here and there in our journeys, but until we left San Pedro, Belize you could say we were "honeymooning". We're back in exploring and adventure mode, and made some new friends in Placencia.

Like the movie credits, we'll go in order of appearance. Omar own's Omar's diner and guesthouse, right in the middle of Placencia. We woke him up from a nap in his hammock and asked if he could make us lunch. We got some amazing seafood burritos from him and learned that he catches all his own fish, or gets it from his buddies if he can't find someone to watch his hammock while he's out fishing. Omar is what you might call a character, tells a lot of jokes and keeps you on your toes. He said he's been in Placencia thirty years or more.

Our second time at Omar's (dinner this time), we ran into a couple of Omar's customers - Jerry and Judd from Louisiana. These were some good ol' fly fisherman from waaaaaay south, and they were characters of a different sort. These two are hard to describe, but we'll leave you with a quote... Jerry was describing his wife's cooking, and when asked how good it was, he exclaimed - "Make you slap yo' momma!" He went on to explain that you wouldn't normally slap your mother under any circumstances, unless you tasted his wife's cooking and then reacted by slapping your own mother for not cooking as well.

Jery and Judd

While at Omar's for the third time (breakfast), I saw our friend Luke walking past on the sidewalk. We knew our friends Luke and Molly from Portland would be in Belize, that in fact they were in Dangriga the day before. We had no idea Luke would be wandering around Placencia, so I tackled him. Apparently this is very uncommon in Placencia.

Later we got to experience the way the locals catch dinner (see Luke and I below). Good thing we could also buy dinner from locals who were somewhat more successful than we were.

spear fishing

We really got out and about in Placencia, taking a snorkeling trip and a jungle trip before meeting up with Luke and Molly... then we made our own custom trip, getting a boat for the day and visiting three islands out near the reef. Two of the islands were in the Silk Cayes and were stunning, the third was equally interesting but just known as "The Sandbar", which was sand and a few million conch shells previous fishermen had left.




We said goodbye to Jerry and Judd a couple of days ago, Luke and Molly yesterday, and Omar came with us on the water taxi part of the way to Livingston so we said goodbye to him last. We took a water taxi, a regular taxi, a bus, an international water taxi from Belize to Guatemala and a "private charter" to Livingston where we are now. The private charter was a boat that our stuff got thrown into as we arrived in town, and because we had six people going in the same direction we got a group deal. The normal ferry goes at regular hours but apparently takes a lot longer.

Now we're back in Guatemala, a bit of an adjustment after Belizean beaches. We hiked through the jungle all day today, seeing some incredible views and some tiny towns. We ended in a pool of 7 waterfalls, not quite as high as those our homeland boasts, but with beautiful smooth rock formations. When we reached la ultima, our guide stripped to his smiley face undies, climbed to the top, and jumped in! After a moment of hesitation, we joined and it was fabulous and quite refreshing after the muddy sweaty hike. We even went for a second leap and got a pic at the top.

Tomorrow we're going to try and make it to Rio Dulce, a town at the head of the river we're exploring. Maybe we can get some kayaks and go with the flow, come back here and then on to Honduras!

Here are some pics from San Pedro that have been on backorder.

dragonfruit-a new fave

balcony of our honeymoon suite

golf cart-we got wheels!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

And the Beach Goes On...

We're in Placencia, Belize, about halfway down the eastern side on the Caribbean. The beaches are wide, the town is sleepy, the food is good, the weather is incredible.

How did we get here?

We left San Pedro two days ago after our third night straight of celebrating with the locals. Roll up the celebration of the Battle of St George's Caye, a party put on by Belize's largest beer distributor, Belikin, and the 25th anniversary of the nation's independence and it gets really hard to leave the tiny island.

The Belikin party lasted two nights, and everyone on the island and a few people from other islands showed up for the fiesta. The crowd was a little stoic at the beginning, but warmed up after a few hours, a few Belikin beers and some thumpin' reggae. The music here is a little unbelievable - we have pictures of a stack of speakers in Belize city the size of a building. I'm getting ahead of myself.

The third night was the eve of independence day, complete with a marching band, delegates (they had cool sashes on and we got kicked out of their reserved seating area, so we can only assume they were delegates) and tons of dancing and music. Pretty much every resident of San Pedro (officially a "San Pedrano") was in the streets either enjoying beverages from or working at one of the makeshift bars on every corner. They had a music-off between them-whoever had the higher stack of speakers won. Miss San Pedro herself led a random parade down the street at midnight-ish while 6 year old girls were shaking what their mothers had yet to give them onstage...then the fireworks show everyone was waiting for.

These things only made it harder to leave San Pedro, but alas, at some point the honeymoon has to end. We boarded the ferry back to Belize City yesterday (seems like a lifetime ago) and arrived just in time for the mainland independence day festivities to start. Every store and shop in town was closed, and everyone in Belize City and a lot of people from everywhere else were just wandering the streets trying to implode their eardrums. As a tribute to tourists they played Shakira every other song, so we could follow along with the pop music and be assured that our hips weren't lying. It's ok if you don't know who Shakira is.

We wandered around in the blazing sun until we were overstimulated and then went back to our hotel and read while still enjoying the sounds of the celebration. Probably the biggest party we'd ever seen, probably the biggest party Belize has ever seen. We highly recommend being here for the 50th anniversary celebration.

Actually we don't. It was a little too crazy for our tastes, so much so that instead of taking the traditional bumpy bus ride out of Belize City we snagged a Tropic Air puddle jumping flight from Belize City to Placencia. All of an hour and a half later we were checked into our hotel, sitting on our private deck listening to the waves crash on the beach. The flight was incredible, we got some stunning views of the Belizean coast with its many cayes. And both take-off and landing were quite successful despite the looming ocean just beyond the edge of the runways. We're confident that our bus STILL would not be here if we'd chosen public transportation. Apparently the last 18 miles to Placencia is still unpaved.

So we've got Placencia to ourselves, so you're quite welcome to come and visit - there's plenty of room. We're snorkeling tomorrow at 9am if you're really ambitious.

We've still got some country to cover, but Belize in the off-season is turning out to be an undiscovered gem. The beaches are amazing, the prices reasonable, the people incredibly friendly and it's all ours.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

We Stayed

Ambergris Caye (pronounced "KEY") has been really good to us. We stayed and turned this into our honeymoon. We've been enjoying AMAZING weather, incredible meals (seafood!), some fabulous snorkeling, some remarkable good luck, and fun new friends.

We wanted to share just a few of the blessings we've received...

Several restaurants we've gone to lately have given us appetizers and drinks "on the house" for no apparent reason.

Our hotel is on sale - we're enjoying the sunrise suite overlooking the ocean for less than half of the price listed in front of me...

The prices are listed in front of me because I'm at the front desk enjoying free unlimited internet, normally $10 an hour at an internet cafe.

Our hotel also provides all the bottled water we can drink.

We learned all about a time share on the island, and won prizes just for attending. Prizes from the raffle included a 24 hour golf cart rental (something we really wanted to do anyway), a week vacation in Hawaii (we had the same reaction you just did), and we enjoyed kayaking and snorkeling on the reef in front of the resort gratis.

The idea isn't to brag really, it's just that we are extremely grateful for all the big and little blessings that have come our way and we wanted to share them with you. We were going to go gamble at the slots in our hotel, but thought it might be pushing our luck.

Today we spent the day at Caye Caulker, a slightly bizarre little step brother of our island. The land is almost completely owned by three families that are really reluctant to see the island developed, so it's really ... interesting. It's a paradise of sorts with no real amenities to speak of, just a cute town with some cafes and restaurants and a whole lot of beach front without real beach. It's weird, you should see it. Maybe when you do you should bring one of those little spray-bottle-fans, it was ridiculously surface of the sun HOT there too. We were glad to come back to "our" island.

More chilling out before we help celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Belizean Independence. Should be wild, it's all happening on Thursday!

You should probably know that Emily and I brought an Ipod on the trip, but it has almost no music on it. Not on purpose. We've postulated that if you spend enough time on a mostly deserted island without music, all the weird music trapped in your head starts to play. Weird enough that I don't want to mention any by name, but we've taken to humming strains of 80s tunes as we walk around.

We also had a competition to find the smallest intact shell on the beach today. Are we relaxed or what? It's not all paradise though, we've been arguing about who is tannest. Tannerest? Darkest. It's Emily, but it's fun to debate.

Following the smallest shell competition was a volleyball tournament with the Creole speaking inhabitants of Ambergris Caye. People here are from... everywhere and speak English, Spanish and Creole... Creole is really English, but English like you would speak if you lived on an island all your life with all the same people.

"Chayse-affa-dee-bull" becomes "Chase after the ball"

We asked someone to teach us Creole, but it just kind of happens over time. It can't be taught.

We like it here. It's going to be hard to leave. Un-Belize-ably hard.

You probably saw that one coming.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Paradise has an off-season...

Emily and I have taken turns sitting behind the front desk of the hotel we're staying at, checking email and trying not to look like we work here. It doesn't really matter that much, as the title suggests - I would guess there have been 7 other guests at the hotel since we've gotten here.

Before we forget, Tikal was amazing. The ruins were pretty spectacular, but their setting might be even more impressive. It was a lot like Jurassic Park, complete with CRAZY noises. We never saw but heard a group of howler monkeys that made spine chilling sounds. They started quiet and far away and by the time they got close Emily and I were running away. We thought they were either a pack of wild boars or a dinosaur.

The jungle was full of huge insects, other playful and less noisy monkeys, and colorful birds. The Mayan temples had incredible views of the jungle and landscape. Remember to bring tons of bugspray and sunscreen next time you're there.

From Flores we took a shuttle to Belize City, a 6 hour BUMPY journey. Most of the road is unpaved. We got to Belize City just after 1 pm, but with the time change from Guatemala to Belize it was just past noon - just in time for the water taxi to Ambergris Caye, Belize. We hopped on the boat as it was leaving the dock with no idea what we were in for. We grabbed a taxi who recommended we stay at Coconuts, where we landed the sunrise suite. We've been there since, and we booked it for another week. We practically have the island to ourselves, and though it's one of the more touristy islands off of Belize, it's really quaint and quiet. There are more golf carts than cars. Our room is about 40 feet from the water, and each morning we walk out to palm trees and sunshine hitting the ocean.

Life is good. Our next blog entries might be a little slow, but we need to unwind. It's almost comical how hard we've crash landed in the islands.

Apparently paradise has an off season.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Overnight Bus Ride... suprise comfort?

They gave us tuna fish sandwiches for a nine hour bus ride. Is that a good idea?

¨Panes de pescado¨ aside, the ride here was pretty darn comfortable. A double decker bus with reclining seats, leg rests, TVs with the movie ¨Click¨ in English, a juice box and some cookies made the journey relatively painless. Covering the entire upstairs windshield with a big curtain also helped keep the passengers at ease. We never knew if the horns honking past were at us or some other double decker monster.

We left Panajachel yesterday around 4pm, an uneventful day spent gathering snacks and shipping stuff back to the States. We met an incredibly friendly and helpful Guatemalan named Christian who ran a coffee shop/international shipping company. We really wanted to give him our business but he was more into shipping metric tons than the small box of gifts. He ended up selling us an incredible latte and giving us packaging so we could wrap our stuff up in his shop and take it to the post office where it would ship for half price. We really hope he does well - he´s also a painter, I forgot to mention his shop triples as a gallery.

The post office re-wrapped the package with more paper and tape than the entire contents, but we´re confident that whatever destination it arrives at, it will be intact. The US Postal Service could take a cue from the Correo Guateo, they have SERVICE. I should apologize to the amiable young man who helped us - I tried to ask if they had ¨boxes¨ at the Post Office, and asked him instead if he had any ¨nuts¨. Crazy Spanish! He didn´t flinch.

So now we´re in Flores, a little island of a town literally a couple hundred meters across. (Multiply by 3 for feet - remember the volcano?) They say it´s in a lake, and kind of dirty, but it´s in more of a moat and somewhat quaint. A bit surprising since it´s a stopping point for the area´s big attraction - Tikal! A small ancient Mayan city is located about an hour from here and boasts some incredible pyramids, ruins and carvings created by kings with cool names like Two Comb and King Chocolate thousands of years ago. We haven´t gone there yet, so we might be a little off on the names and dates. I´m sure it will be astounding.

We got a great room in Flores, third floor with a view and a balcony. We successfully negotiated the price down to twice what it should be, a source of pride for us! We are getting more comfortable with Spanish and making new friends here in Central America. Emily is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace, she actually resold some traditional Mayan crafts at a profit.

So we´re just going to wander around this afternoon, take it easy and then rock Tikal tomorrow - apparently there´s a lot of walking involved and a lot of ground to cover. We´ll try to get some pictures out there next time. Won´t that be nice!?

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Days Are So Bloggable!

There is so much to write about. I just realized you´ve been hanging in suspense since LAST Wednesday. Unacceptable. Vacation or not, the world needs to know things like ¨agua caliente¨ at a hotel means only between 7 and 10 in the morning.

You need to know that vendors here sell EVERYTHING, and I mean everything. I am writing you from an internet cafe, where above my head hang lovely woven shirts for sale. You can also buy CDs, purses, jewelry, and placemats (the government mandated in 1992 that every operating vendor needs to carry hand woven placemats called individuales...we've bought plenty). I´m almost certain the kind gentleman that runs the place would be happy to rent us a bicycle, book us a flight to Honduras, loan us his horse or find us one suitable for the day, and cook us a typical Guatemalan breakfast. All this for a reasonable price. All I have to do is go next door and ask, they´ll have very similar services perhaps including a photocopier and pharmaceutical supplies.

Now that you know that, you need to know that the weather is STRANGE here. By strange, I actually mean somewhat ... predictable. Today, the thunderstorm was off by 1 hour but it typically rains at 3pm every day, within 20 minutes. Today was an hour late, catching us in an open boat flying across Lake Atitlan - one minute we´re drinking in sunshine, the next we´re battening down the hatches (luckily they have unusually small hatches in Guatemala) and I found myself in an emergency row - aka holding the tarp that kept the rain out whilst Emily held the window in the rear of the boat. Luckily someone else took over tending the boat and securing it to the dock since it was my first time. We were on our way back from the little town of San Pedro where we were exploring and kayaking all day. Yes, one of the guys who offered us horses, a place to stay and matching luggage mentioned kayaks and we tried to call his bluff. To his credit the kayak appeared in 10 minutes. To his discredit the kayak was more like a bunch of packing peanuts taped together with two folding chairs strapped to it. San Pedro is full of colorful sights, like seeing nine guys fixing the dock by jumping up and down on the pilings to secure them. We had breakfast amidst breathtaking views of the lake and volcanoes surrounding us, and old ladies EVERYWHERE that you simply can´t say no to... two skirts and a huge piece of pineapple cake later... People swim in their underwear on San Pedro, that was pretty neat. And bathe in the lake, not so neat.

Those are the basics. The really interesting stuff has a more personal touch, like an allergic reaction to Guatemalan wool. I won´t get into the details, but the experience hit rock bottom with me in the shower just after being zapped by the poorly insulated built-in water heater (it´s in the shower head and looks scarier than it sounds) with shampoo in my almost swollen shut eyes. Emily exiled the blankets to the darkness outside saving me. Then we slept in everything we brought with us.

Grotesque, but you need to know these things. We switched to a hotel with synthetic blankets and inconveniently but safely externally heated water and things have been much better.

What´s the food like? I can imagine someone asking... we've had everything you can imagine, this afternoon it was banana curry soup from an ?Asian? restaurant/travel agency. We also had a lovely dinner at a Uruguayan steakhouse. The tequila cider was not to be missed, we'll be enjoying it at Yuletide with you all this year. The band was composed of mostly guys from Michigan on vacation and a couple of locals - colorful! Guatemalan fare really is quite delectable, with fried plaintains, crazy good sauces and intense guacamole. The pico de gallo is easily the best on the planet. Emily is obsessed with the chicken soup and corn tortillas and I'm obsessed with the everything else.

We've really taken a liking to the freshly baked cakes and pies that local women sell. Those are not to be missed.

If you're going to stay in Panajachel, you should ask how many roosters are near your hotel, and how close they are. You should also find out when the local high school is having its reunion and whether the band will be practicing in the same building as your hotel. These kinds of specific but helpful questions will help you have an incredible experience in this sweet but well touristed town.

An apology before signing off - more updates needed! We'll be writing more regularly, there´s too much to tell about in just one sitting.

Love you all - even you, weird guy who just stumbled onto this blog.