Friday, November 16, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest...And Beating Ernesto


August 4, 2012 – “Leaving the Last Best Place”

We were ready for our trip…Waiting anxiously at the Missoula airport.   Did I hear “weather delays”?  Yes, it was true.  Fog in San Francisco was thwarting our plans.  When we finally arrived to SFO, (two hours late), we had the opportunity to run through the airport like under-trained marathoners only to watch our plane pull away.  We also saw news of the impending Hurricane Ernesto due to guessed it...Belize!

August 5, 2012 – “Let the Games Begin”

In honor of the world athletes currently battling it out in London, we decided to travel international, of course!  Despite the fact that Belize only had three athletes competing in the Olympics, it seemed appropriate.

We FINALLY made it to Belize City International airport where our guide, Mike, was patiently waiting for us.  He had a sweet, quiet demeanor and was so accommodating and welcoming.  Naturally, we nicknamed our kind new friend “Jaguar Mike”.
First stop was AMIGOS for a Belizean meal of barbecued chicken, rice & beans, homemade tortillas, and habanera sauce.  This was our first meal and our first glimpse of the Mayan Mountains.

 Our stop at the Belize Zoo gave us an opportunity to see animals native to Belize:  spider monkeys, tapir (national animal of Belize), macaw, jaguarondi, kinkajou, and grison.  All the animals were rescued and placed in the zoo.

Mike took us onto our home in the jungle – Pook’s Hill.  We were oriented on the Mayan ruins on the grounds, our casita, the lounge, and the dining area where we would have our first dinner with our Pook’s Hill “family”.

August 6, 2012 – “Just Another Manic Monday”

Or the antithesis of “manic”.  We started our day off with sleeping in, a big breakfast, and visiting with our new friends from across the pond, Kirsty and Alex.  Francisco then led us on an adventure through the jungle.  I loved learning about the medicinal plants – it is neat how we are provided with remedies and cures right from the earth!

The afternoon brought with it tubing down the river, swimming, rope swinging, and laughing…a LOT!  Laughter is the best medicine – yet another natural remedy one finds in Belize.

August 7, 2012 – “Go With the Flow…to Guatemala”

This morning started with another delicious breakfast…only at 6:00 am!  We were heading out to do the ATM Cave!  Bumping down the road out of Pook’s Hill was an adventure of its own!  One of the first homes we reached cut that adventure short, however.  A large, shirtless man nonchalantly mixing what looked like biscuit dough with his bare hands on his front porch was shaking his head “no”.  The Belizean government had closed ALL sited in the country in anticipation of Hurricane Ernesto.  It wasn’t even raining, but they were taking extra careful precautions apparently. 

What does one do when the country of Belize closes down?  Go to Guatemala, of course!  Tikal, here we come.

The ruins were absolutely fascinating – what an interesting culture.  And to learn that 63% of Guatemalans are Mayan was so surprising!  We walked through the jungle that has overtaken what once was a city, we climbed the temples, and we observed the wildlife:  spider monkeys, howler monkeys, tarantulas.  All the while, taking in what Samuel Moreno, our guide, had to teach us.

Firsts:  trying hibiscus juice, chewing natural chicle (gum base), seeing the animal in the wild that makes the sound of a hungry T-rex, holding a tarantula, and entering Guatemala!

Pook’s Hill welcomed us back home after our journey with the fresh, hot tortilla chips and salsa that wait for us every evening at 6:00 pm.  Dinner was full of fun and laughter as we sat with Vicki, the owner, and Jake, her son visiting from England.  It is quite amazing how one can grow an affinity for others in such a short time. 

We said bittersweet goodbyes to Kirsty and Alex this night.  Who in the world will help me capture the scorpions in my room from now on??  Oh, wait….

August 8, 2012 – “Conquering the ATM”

Is that Vicki banging on our door shouting “the cave is open!!!”?  Hard to tell when you are deep in slumber. 

Since it didn’t end up raining as expected, Belize decided to open everything back up to travelers.  Good thing because the ATM cave was an incredible experience.

After hiking 2 miles, crossing 3 rivers, and using a restroom that made roadside stops in Thailand look like the Waldorf, we entered the Actun (cave) Tunichil (stone) Muchnal (sepulcher).  And not just by waltzing in but by swimming in with a helmet and headlamp on!  It was awesome!

From there, it was wading, swimming, climbing, balancing, crawling, and squeezing through the cave.  The ultimate reward was worth it all:  ancient Mayan artifacts and skeletons still sitting in the cave chambers where the Mayan men used to gather and perform ceremonies.

It was an incredible two hours in the cave, not only because of the historic and cultural significance, but because of the glitter geological formations, physical challenges, and the mere thrill of being deep inside a cave filled with water.

We returned just in time for a hearty lunch - black beans, chicken, and cheese on homemade tortillas.  The rest of the afternoon, I took full advantage of the lounge hammocks.  We got to see a toucan, spectacle owls, and “Jesus Christ” lizard (that can run across water) as well.  You know, just everyday wildlife….

Another amazing dinner with great conversation left me with the question:  Why would a woman with a design degree and a career as a puppet box designer decide to move her family to the deep jungle of Belize to share this special place with so many others?  But then again, why not??...

August 9, 2012 – “The Island Life”

After our last breakfast at Pook’s Hill, we said our goodbyes and headed to the municipal airport in Belize City.  You can get a free cup of coffee, make a new friend, and spit farther than the length of the building at this airport.  Truly charming.

Victoria House was our home on Ambergris Caye.  A taste of luxury and pampering after our time in the jungle.  And AIR CONDITIONING!  We were in paradise!  I mean, really…

We borrowed bikes from Victoria House to explore town, came back to swim in the infinity pool, walked along the beach, and took in the beauty of our surroundings.  I think Hurricane Ernesto needs a GPS because the weather was picture perfect – palm trees blowing lightly in a warm wind through a surreal blue sky.

August 10, 2012 – “Jaws”

The term “continental breakfast” typically evokes thoughts of sugary cereal, powdered eggs, burnt coffee, and stale English muffins.  Put those assumptions aside and think warm, homemade bread with butter and preserves, zucchini muffins, fresh tropical fruits, and watermelon juice.  All served at your beachside table.  Thank you, Victoria House!

Hol Chan was our first snorkel stop – a 30 foot deep channel teaming with sea turtles, tropical fish, eel, and coral reef. 

Shark Ray Alley was our next stop.  This is when the sound of my own breath through my snorkel became louder and heavier.  It wasn’t as frightening after the initial jump in.  Perhaps this was due to the fact their faces were quite reminiscent of large, friendly catfish.  Needless to say, I was still in the open sea surrounded by sharks…then came the rays.  Could we get any more deadly animals in the mix here??

It eventually became a sense of camaraderie.  They weren’t “out to get me”.  They probably aren’t’ too keen on the taste of human anyway…
After a poolside lunch, we were back in the dilemma of a critical decision:  should we lay by the pool or on the beach?

August 11, 2012 – “And That’s the Way How It Is”

Giovanni was our snorkel guide this morning as we headed out to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos.  He is a native Belizean, but he looks more like a pirate with his hair slicked back in a ponytail, big hoop earrings, and tattooed arms.  His accent was Caribbean islander with his favorite phrase being “And that’s the way how it is.  Yea maan.”  You learn to like Giovanni quickly.

Then, you like him even better after 2 hours of snorkeling when he brings out thick, coconut macaroon tarts he has baked for all of us.  It was the perfect treat after swimming around brain coral, elk horn coral, flounder, and sea turtles all morning.  This is the life!
And that life continued with a lunch of fresh ceviche and a mango pina colada.  We are getting SPOILED!

We took our daily bike ride into town and then were faced with that critical decision once again:  poolside or beachside?

August 12, 2012 – “So Long, Farewell”

Our last morning on Ambergris Caye and it was bittersweet.  One last bike ride, one last lunch of fresh seafood, one last walk out onto the Victoria House dock, one last conversation with Jeremiah and Marlon – our favorite staff members at the resort.

Riding through San Pedro to the airstrip, I tried to take it all in.  This place was so reminiscent of Thailand to me.  The sticky humidity, smell or exhaust and grilled meats, dust flying into your face, dilapidated buildings, and people making a living however they can.  It created a stronger realization that there are similarities between so many places.  Whether it is the landscape, the people, the sights or smells…we truly live in a small world.