Caye Caulker, Burrell Boom - Lamanai, San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal & Tikal, Ambergris Caye
February 17, 2009
We are currently on Caye (pronounced key) Caulker a few miles off of the coast of Belize. We really haven't taken any pictures yet, or for that matter done much of anything. We arrived here yesterday after travelling for the few days prior.
We started this trip on Saturday the 14th with a fligt from PDX to Dallas-Ft Worth. Shannon really liked the idea of traveling on Valentine's Day and then hopefully be able to eat dinner at Denny's her favorite place. A luck would have it, there was a Denny's right acros the street from our hotel. I wasn't really in the mood for Denny's so she had to make do with room service.
We had a 6:00AM flight out of DFW and had to get up at 3:30 which felt like 1:30 in the morning to us. Not our favorite time. We flew to Miami and then changed planes to Belize City. On the flight to Belize Shannon sat next to a very nice woman who happened to be Aremnian but who worked in Toronto for the last 30 years and had a daughter attending medical school in Belize who she was coming to visit(I could give you all of the details but it would take a few hours)> At one point the woman broke down in tears because she had just had her cornea replaced two months before and had not been able to see a thing out of that eye until her previous flight into Miami when she was able make out a few words on a magazine cover.
Anyway, we landed in Belize City and caught a cab to our hotel, which happened to be the Radisson and one of the only American chains of anything in the county (there is also a Best Western and a Subway, unless you count the Home Depot which really doesn't look like any of the Home Depots back home, this one was kind of ramshakle and broken down). Belize City is like a lot of Central and South America cities, it isn't very nice. Not in a dangerous sense of the word but with few qualities which would make it endearing to a traveller. We spent the night at the hotel and woke up on Monday ready to leave the city. y meets Jimmy Buffet kind f place
Everything was closed on Sunday, so we walked around for a little while and saw what thee was to see in town, which wasn't much. Cruise ships come to Belize City and if this is all that someone saw of the country they would really be missing out. At noon, we caught a water taxi to Caye Caulker. After a 45 minute ride we got off the boat, walked down a pier and into the Belize that we came here for. Caye Caulker is a small island, 4 miles long by less than a mile wide. It is a backpackers haven, a Bob Marley meets Jimmy Buffet sort of place. We have seen two trucks today, but the main mode of transportation is golf cart and bicycle (as I write this a golf cart is going down the road outside our balcony). The hotel that we are staying at, the Iguana Reef Inn, is one of the nicest on the island, costs about the same as he one that we stayed at in Dallas and is nice but different. No TVs or telephones, but we do have a bathroom with hot water (there is a place less than a block away that probably costs $15 or so a night with outhouses) and we have AC wich is nice but I would be OK without it. The beach (which quite frankly wouldn't rank on any worlds best list anywhere on the island, it is relatively narrow everywhere and kind of hardpacked, not the light fluffy stuff) is right out of the back of the hotel.
The low is around 70 and the high is just over 80. It is humid and during the middle of the day it is a little hot under the sun, but I really couldn't ask for better weather. It is partly cloudy, in that occassionally a cloud will blow by. There were a few rain sprinkles yesterday afternoon for a couple of miuntes but it was so light that I barely felt it and just notied it on the pages of the book I was reading.
Last night we went to one of the local resturants, no walls in the dinning area and a sand floor. The food was really good, but unfortunately we arrived just a few days late. Lobster dinners are in the $12 range and lobster season just ended on Sunday. So we may have mised out on the chance to get good cheap lobster. I do have to say the shrimp is great, the best that I have had since I livd in Savannah. Shannon had the crab, which she really enjoyed.
The people here are nice. The is a decent percentage of ex-pat Americans here that run busineses (the hotel that we are syaing at is owned by an American guy and his wife who I think is German). Most of the locals all speak English with an island sort of accent, youy get called mon a lot, in a hey mon come look at my jewlery sort of way. And a lot of Rastafarians, with their dreadlocks and lots of Reggae playing everywhere you go.
Whereas both of our last two trips have been to Europe where there is a lot of history and culture (and by culture I mean the art museum sort) you don't have any of that on the Cayes. This is a lay in a hammock, drink a beer and read a book sort of place. There is a decent amount of stuff to do. I am going diving tomorrow and Shannon is going to have a massage. We have trip booked on Thursday to go se Manatees and go snorkling and hopefully will go on a sunset sail tonight if enough people sign up. We are here until Saturday when we go back inland for about a week.
I will try to get out and take some pictures in the next day or two and get them posted to Shannon's Flickr page. More later.
February 19, 2009
We are still on Caye Caulker. Having a wonderful time. Things are just so laid back and relaxed.
Yesterday I went diving. I am really glad I went through the certification class back home, when I did the certification I wasn't too sure what I thought about diving. The class took about 16 hours, about half of which was in a pool. That was all ok. You have to do four open water dives in order to get your certification and I spent a weekend in Hood Canal, right off the Olympic Peninsula to do those. While there were aspects of that that I enjoyed like seeing several octopus, it was in cold water and because of that I had heard that the only way to dive in cold water was wearing a dry suit, which is a waterproof suit that you can wear additional clothing under to stay warm. That part worked well, I stayed warm and dry. The problem is that you need to inflate it with air to keep it from squeezing you. I could never figure out how not to become too buoyant and on several of the dives I shot to the surface with no way to slow down. Fortunately I wasn't that deep on those dives as if you were too deep when it happened you could end up with decompression sickness. I also didn't feel too comfortable moving in the water, standing on the bottom was just fine but swimming around was a different story. The visibility was also limited to about 30 feet or so.
So on Wednesday I went with one of the local dive shops, Belizean Dive Service, and it was a vastly different experience. There were nine of us who went diving, I didn't talk to everyone but it was a mix of people; there were two women from the Netherlands, a man and a women that were together with him being from Austria and her from England and then a few Americans. We went on a 30 or so foot open boat about 25 minutes from here to right off of Ambergris Caye, which is a place we are going later in the trip.
Belize has the world's second longest coral reef to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. As I right this I am sitting in a resturant that is right across the street from the ocean and I can see about a mile away where the waves are breaking on the reef, the same is true where we went off Ambergris which is called the Hol-Chan Marine Park. This side of the reef is relatively calm, weather came in on Tuesday night and we had a little rain and pretty strong winds. Crossing the reef things got a little rougher, with on average 2-3 foot swells with a few that were in the 4 foot range. This wasn't too enjoyable, I have yet to get sea sick but this is closest I have come. One of the women from the Netherlands got pretty sea sick.
This is the first time I have done an entry from a boat. At Hood Canal we just walked in. Here you have a lot of people in a relatively small boat trying to get ready with the boat rocking up and down pretty significantly. You get in your wetsuit, they give you all your equipment a couple people at a time and then you roll backwards off the boat into the water. You wait for your small group to get together with the dive master who is leading your group and then head down.
We did two dives and on the first we got to see three sharks on the bottom that were 10-12 feet long, an Eagle Ray that was probably four feet across, a moray eel that was in the reef with its head sticking out and I don't know how many kinds of small fish, probably 30-40 different kinds. We could see 70 feet or so, and in that view it is just like some of the pictures you have seen. We dove through canyons of coral, so you would have coral reefs that came up 20-40 feet on either side of you with a sandy bottom below. The coral is just covered with life, you see all sorts of vegetation and different kinds of non-fish life, and then you will see a school of blue fish go by, then you see a few yellow and blue fish over here, and a multi color fish over there. I was amazed by what I saw and now really understand why people dive. It was an incredible experience.
I found out that I have two main problems when I dive, the first I knew about. Some water leaks into your mask when you dive, and it is relatively easy to clear by tilting your head back and blowing through your nose, this blows all the water out. The only problem is that I can't do this at depth, I can do it on the surface or in a couple of feet of water but I can't do it at depth. Once we get back I need to see the doctor to see if they can operate and correct this but in the meantime it is just an inconvenience. The second problem is that I really suck air. Most of the people were down for 40-45 minutes. On both dives I made it about 30 minutes before I was low on air and had to come up. Part of this is because I still smoke and am not in the best shape, but part of it is just learning how to move and breath more efficiently and that will just take more time diving.
We came up for break between dives and were close enough to shore that we went into San Pedro, which is the town on Ambergris Caye . After 45 minutes we came back out and went for our second dive. It was very similar to the first. The only difference is that, the only big thing that we saw was one shark. This one was about the same size, the only difference was that he was really close to me. Diving with a mask limits your peripheral vision so while I was turning to check on the rest of my group to make sure I wasn't too far ahead of them, I turned back and there was this shark coming right by me. He was probably 15-20 feet ahead. I wasn't in any danger, these were bull sharks, which don't attack people, so it was a very cool experience.
Once we came back to Caye Caulker I found out that I hadn't been as vigilant about protecting myself from the sun as I should have. I was already a little red after the first couple of days and am now sunburned in a couple of places. Not badly, after treating myself with aloe I am ok, but I am trying to stay out of the sun. I think I mentioned before that Shannon and I were going to go see the manatees and go snorkling today, but we put that off so I won't be in the sun all day.
I the meantime while I was out in the sun, Shannon went and got a massage which she said is the best she has ever had. We were pretty lazy for the rest of the afternoon, we were supposed to go on a sunset cruise but slept through that. We had dinner last night at a unique place. It is is called Fran's and is open for dinner only. It is a few picnic tables and a hut. It is always pretty busy and so we stopped and had dinner which was excellent.We had really good BBQ chicken with rice, mashed potatoes, two drinks and desert for $12.50 each. Not a bad deal.
We have not had good luck with Internet access. We have wi-fi at the hotel but it has been down the last two days. We came down to one of the restaurants that offers free wi-fi and it is down. So we are off to find working Internet. Neither of us have taken many pictures and I hope to take some today and will try to get the posted in the next few days.
PS. Happy Birthday Gracie! We hope you have a happy 2nd birthday!
February 23, 2009
We are currently about 5 miles outside of Belize City in a very small town called Burrell Boom. We are staying at a hotel that is the number one recommended (for the Belize City area) on a website called Trip Advisor. I use Trip Advisor when I am planning all of our trips, it allows users to rate their experiences at not only hotels but hotels tend to be the most rated item. I find it to be very useful, but there isn't a standard criteria for why hotels get highly ranked, it can kind of vary. As an example, when we were in Portugal we stayed at one that was very highly rated because it was in a 15th century monastery and the building itself was incredible, there wasn't much to complain about the service either. Hands down, this hotel has the most friendly and helpful staff that I have ever experienced in a hotel. The property itself isn't bad, the hotel is located on a river and it is a nice setting, but nothing to rave about.
We didn't do much of anything on Thursday because of my sunburn.Then on Friday we went on a manatee and snorkeling tour. There were five us on the the trip, a couple who were French Canadians, an 83 year old gentleman by the name of Stanley and our selves. Stanley was great. He served on a destroyer in the Pacific in WWII, spent a number of years in the Peace Corp and worked for nonprofit organizations around the world. He is the sort of person that I would like to be when I am in my 80's, his second wife wasn't up for the trip, so he used frequent flier miles to fly down for a couple of weeks. He used to scuba dive but can't anymore but that wouldn't stop him from snorkeling. We spent about an hour on a boat going from Caye Caulker to Swallow Caye, were we sat for about a half an hour and watched a manatee. You could kind of make out its shape when it was down on the bottom feeding and then about every 7 minutes it would surface to breath. The area right around the Caye is now a marine sanctuary thanks to a guy named Chocolate who started bringing tourists out to see the manatees a numbers of years ago. Now the manatees are safe from boat traffic and they are able to live without a lot of interference from people (no snorkeling or diving is allowed there).
We then stopped of at St George's Caye for lunch. This caye has a number of houses, but from what we could see no businesses and relatively few permanent residents. Most of the houses are all weekend homes, with most of the owners being Belizeans. I would kill to have a weekend house with a view that they have on that island, it was truly phenomenal. After lunch, we went snorkeling which really didn't do much for me. They have several areas of the cayes which are marine reserves for diving and snorkeling which means that there is no fishing and a lot more marine life. We went a couple of different places which were not in a marine reserve which meant that there weren't many large fish at all. It was still pretty good. We then went to a restaurant on Caye Caulker called Habaneros that was incredible. We had an absolutely unbelievable meal their. I had the best pork, in some sort of sauce that I have no idea what the ingredients were, but is the best I have ever had. The boat that we had a caught from Belize City to Caye Caulker was pretty decent sized, it could probably fit 50 people or so. We went to catch the 1:30 and when it arrived it was overfilled. We had a number of people needing to get on and only 7 got off. Part of the boat was enclosed and a number of people went and sat on the roof, but they wouldn't let any one be up there. They sent another boat to pick us up and the people were able to meet the last tender back to their cruise ship with minutes to spare.
The hotel picked us up and took us on the 25 minute or so drive back to the hotel. Driving in Belize is interesting. As the owner of the hotel said a couple of days later the only time Belizeans don't move slow is when they are behind the wheel of a car. There are a few cars and trucks which are driving ridiculously slow, like 10 miles an hour in a 55 MPH zone, and everyone is doing 70. They pass everywhere. On the trip to the hotel we had to stop because the driver wanted to stop and pickup a sticky bun from a roadside stand. On one of the drives that we had to a tour, the driver stopped along the road and peed right next to the truck we were in. In both circumstances the people driving didn't think about the fact that this wasn't a normal thing for us.
At dinner on Saturday we meet another couple (Dave and Loreen) who were from Pennsylvania and with whom we were going on a tour to a Mayan ruin on Sunday. They were a fun couple to spend time with. Loreen is from Brooklyn and is the stereotypical New Yorker, she talks fast and is outspoken. Dave is pretty much along for the ride. Both very nice people and we had a lot of fun with them over the next few days.
The tour to the Mayan ruin on Sunday was to a place called Lamanai, which required a drive of an hour and then an hour boat trip. The four of us from our hotel met up with a bunch of people coming from Ambergris Caye (which we are going to next week) for the tour. The boat trip was about as enjoyable as the Mayan ruins. The tour guide was very impressive in handling the boat. We were on pretty narrow river and he was able to whip the boat around corners and instead of the hour and a half boat ride that everyone else has it only took us an hour. Along the way we stopped to see several different kinds of birds, bats which were hanging off of a tree and a crocodile. We also stopped of at one of the several Mennonite communities in Belize, there are about 10,000 Mennonites in Belize and from the way the tour guide was talking, they produce most of the furniture and a lot of the vegetables.
Lamanai was interesting. Belize is truly covered with Mayan ruins but most of them have not been excavated. At Lamanai there are several hundred structures and only four major ones have been excavated. We saw a family of howler monkeys which make a very impressive sound when they are threatened. We then toured around the structures they have excavated, and climbed up the largest of temples. Most of the structures were started around 2000 years ago and slowly expanded over time. At their height 1000 years ago their were 20 million Mayans living across the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, many of the sites were abandoned 500 or so years ago for reasons that they aren't able to explain. In Belize today there are 20,000 full blooded Mayans left out of a total population of 300,000.
On Monday Shannon, Dave, Loreen and I went cave tubing which is a lot of fun. They have a river that runs through a series of caves and you ride down the river on inner-tubes. While the weather has changed and isn't quite as sunny and warm, it was a lot of fun. The river isn't that deep since it is the dry season, in some cases there is barely enough water to get the inter-tube over rocks if you don't go down the right route. Dave is a diver and brought a diving camera, and his guide book mentioned a cave that was on our route and he was able to convince our guide to take us to it. At a point where there is a pretty cool waterfall in the middle of the cave that you are floating down, he had us stop and get out and we walked a ways back into the Crystal cave. It is called the crystal cave because of all the very small crystals which are covering the stalagmites and stalactites. At one point in the cave you are able to see a few remaining pieces of Mayan pottery which are the only remains of artifacts which were once their and have been stolen.
February 28, 2009
We have been in San Ignacio in the eastern part of Belize for the last few days. I have written one post about what we have done but need to write a second. We are about ready to go horseback riding and will try and get both posted later today in addition to getting more photos up on Flickr.
February 28, 2009
This starts out with a section that I wrote a couple of days ago but didn't get a chance to post. I am adding a section below to catch up
Yesterday (February 24) we arrived in San Ignacio. San Ignacio is the main city in the western part of Belize. The ride out here showed us really how small Belize is. We were 15 miles from the coast and the drive to San Ignacio took us about an hour and a half. We are now only a few miles from the border with Guatemala.
Our hotel is kind of cool. We are up on a hill over looking San Ignacio and our room is actually a bungalow which has a screened in porch with a hammock and a reed roof. It is not the nicest hotel in the world but it isn't bad, and the type of the room and the view makes up for what the hotel and room is lacking in other areas.
We went down into town for a little while but didn't find much of interest. The town is like a lot of others in Central and South America. It is pretty dirty, there are lots of stray dogs and chickens everywhere.
Today (February 25) we did one of the tours that both of us has really been looking forward to. We went to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) which is a cave which was discovered about 20 years ago and which contains a number of Mayan skeletons and a large number of pottery remnants. The morning started out with about an hour drive, the last part of which was on pretty rough dirt road to a remote area. We then had a 45 minute hike during which we had to walk through the same river three times. We then entered the cave which requires a swim through a pool of water. You then have a 500 meter hike through the stream which feeds the creek.
If you were to continue straight at this point the cave continues for another 3 miles. We started to climb up. At this point they make you remove your shoes and wear socks. At this point you enter the second level which contains stalactites and stalagmites similar to what we saw in the Crystal Cave, pottery fragments (some of which are pretty large), a skull and a couple of other partial skeletons. We finally climbed a 15 foot ladder and entered the chamber of the Crystal Maiden. This is the full skeleton of a 14 year old girl.
The Mayans associated caves with the underworld, in which they saw 9 levels. There is no evidence that the Mayans ever lived in caves. There are signs in the pottery fragments that they used them to make offerings to the gods of the underworld. All of the skeletons are believed to have been the results of sacrifices. They found not only the skeletons of both men and women but also found the skeletons of infants. The caverns which these are in are pretty big. There are a couple of them that you could fit our house, and maybe a couple more inside.
It is kind of amazing that you are able to walk around in this environment and take pictures. Making everyone wear socks really started to make sense to me because I found out that I was paying a lot more attention to wear I was putting my feet. You are in a very dark cave, it only a headlamp for light and there are a number of people that are against picture taking because you can end up paying more attention to taking pictures than where you are walking. A few years ago someone did step on a crushed a skull. They have marked a lot of the items with orange tape, but there isn't anything covering or protecting any of the artifacts, other than some cable which has been strung to block off the area where the Crystal Maiden is.
After viewing the Crystal Maiden we then has to repeat the process to exit the cave. At one point when we had climbed down and were walking back through the stream, the guide had us for a single file line, hold hands and turn off all of our lights and we followed him in pure darkness of the cave. It was kind of interesting because you literally couldn't see anything, there was absolutely no light.
I would compare this cave to seeing Machu Pichu and Angkor Wat. It was an incredible experience, and one that I don't think will be available for that much longer. At this point they might being having as many as 75 or 100 people moving through on the busiest days and this is the only place in the world that I am aware of where you are able to experience seeing a large number of artifacts in their original settings. Everywhere else they either remove all of the artifacts and you see the artifacts in a museum and then can tour a site which no longer contains anything other than possibly a few copies of what was found or the site is totally protected and the average person has no chance of going in.
That finishes what I wrote earlier this week. So, the following day we took a trip across the border into Guatemala to go to Tikal. The border is about 15 minutes away, and they took Shannon and I and two other people (Wes and Desiree who are from British Columbia and who happen to be leaving San Ignacio and going to the same hotel on Ambergris Caye the same day we are, so you are sure to hear more about them) through the border and on an additional 2 hours to Tikal. Tikal was probably the greatest of the Mayan cities and is one of the best excavated. There are so many Mayan sites, like I mentioned with Lamanai which have been barely excavated. There is one about 15 miles from San Ignacio called El Pilar which hasn't been excavated at all to speak of. Tikal on the other hand has had a number of buildings excavated, but it is still a very small percentage of what they estimate exists, less than a hundred buildings excavated out of about 3000 or so that exist over the 16 sq kilometers of the site.
The site is very interesting. The excavations are continuing and there are buildings that have not been excavated that are planed to be excavated in the future, so in my life the site will continue to change over time. While the Mayans existed and there is evidence at many of these sites, including Tikal, of them prior to Christ, their height was after 500 AD. But something happened around 900 and their civilization collapsed. There are a number of theories as to what happened, with the leading idea today being climate change or some other catastrophe which impacted crops.
The buildings which have been excavated at Tikal and all of the other sites are either temples, palaces or housing for the elite (priests, architects, doctors, etc). Everyone else lived in wood huts outside of the area of the city itself. It is pretty impressive what they were able to accomplish. Some of the temples that are around 125-150 feet tall they built in around 20 years. Tikal was built on a site which had limestone that they used to build the structures, they had a pretty large labor pool from which to draw from and the build quality is no where near what the Incans achieved (the Incans where several hundred years later though) but they figured out how to build rather tall structures that remain today.
They are still trying to figure out more about their society. Both at Lamanai and at Tikal they have ball courts on which try tried to get a ball through a hoop only slightly larger than the size of the ball. They don't know how frequently they played the game and suspect that the captain of the winning team may have been sacrificed, or maybe the captain of the losing team, they don't really know.
The reason that we don't know much about them is that they did write all of their information on scrolls, which the Spanish ended up burning all but four of the scrolls. The Spanish priest who was asked with burning the scrolls later ended up making a dictionary of Mayan which ended up in Berlin but no one knew it was thee until a Russian took it when they captured Berlin at the end of WWII. It is only relatively recently that they have been able to study the symbols the Mayans used.
One thing that is well understood is their calendar. Their calendar is very accurate, it is off by only 13 seconds a year. It is broken up into cycles, and there has been a lot of discussion about it lately as the calendar ends on December 12, 2012 (this is one of the things that was contained in one of the four unburned scrolls).
Yesterday we didn't do much of anything. We stayed at the hotel most of the day in our hammock and read. I have read more books on this trip than I have in the last year, it has been nice to have the time to do that.
Today we went horseback riding. There is a big difference between animals here (and most other places in the world) versus back home. Horses are all working animals, dogs are rarely pets with ton of strays everywhere and even cats are left to fend for themselves. The place that we went to dinner last night had a few cats, and it is the firs time I have seen a cat beg for food like a dog. One of the cats did not want to be touched, and totally ignored us until we got our dinner when it sat on the ground next to me and stared up. We also had a two others cats come over and they circles us as we ate. I had beef fajitas and two of the cats would eat the tortilla, vegetables and the meat. The one cat didn't want to have anything to do with anything but the meat.
Horseback riding was fun, we went to a 600 acre farm that the owner of the hotel owns as well. The horses wee in the pasture and the guide had to go through quite the exercise to catch two of them. They then saddled them up and we went through a short ride across the fields and into the jungle. It was interesting to ride through the jungle. We have had several trips though the jungle so we didn't see much that we hadn't seen already. We didn't see much animal life while riding (we have seen a lot of birds including green parrots and tucans, their wild turkeys which look like ours except their feathers are very colorful, spider and howler monkeys and the zorra gris (spanish name, I have no idea what they are called in english) which are a relative of the raccoon and look like a lemur .
Afterwards we stopped by the market in San Ignacio, Market day on Saturday is when many people come to town to shop and it was payday for many people so it was much bigger and busier than normal. The produce here is gorgeous looking, and I might have already mentioned that the pineapple is incredible, we both eat it eery chance we get. The also had a lot of clothes and other basic necessities there. Everyone was dressed up, our guide mentioned that is the place to find a girlfriend if you don't have one.
We went to dinner with Wes and Desiree and an English guy named Pete that thy had met on the ATM tour that they did. When we got back to the hotel is was just before 11:00. They have local elections coming up on March 4, and our position on the hill overlooking town means that we pickup most of the sound. We were able to listen to the current mayor talk about all of the things that he has done for the town, them to read off a number of tickets in a drawing (they never pulled a ticket that had a winner and finally gave up) and then music. It finally ended around 11:30 or so and we were able to go to bed.
There is an incredible amount of corruption here. In reading the local papers, it sounds like every one is corrupt, the police can barely do their job half the time and I haven't seen some of the basic infrastructure that you do in similar countries, as an example many of the roads are truly horrible, even in towns and many other places I have been at least have decent roads in some of the towns. They have found oil in Belize, they are exporting a lot of food and have a good business in tourism. They have the money to spend but it looks like a lot of it is being taken by those in charge and if they could eliminate corruption there could be a lot of improvements.
3/1 Photos are updated. We are now on Ambergris Caye
March 2, 2009
It looks like we finally have the most reliable Internet access we have had while in Belize. We have had Internet access in all of the paces we have stayed but several times it hasn't worked reliably. So far, it has worked pretty well here.
We are staying at a place right on the beach in Ambergris. It is about 50 ft from our balcony to the water. We got here yesterday and have spent the time since our arrival exploring. Ambergris Caye is much bigger and more commercial than Caye Caulker. The island is about 25 miles long and a couple wide, but part of the island is actually in Mexico and is inaccessible. Still, the part that is accessible is pretty large. So much so that we rented a golf cart to explore today. While there are a number of cars here, and a lot of taxis that are cars instead of just the golf carts as on Caye Caulker.
One of the people that we spoke to earlier in the trip called Ambergris the Las Vegas of Belize. I wouldn't go quite that far, but there are a lot more hotels (and of all times, they are continuing to build a lot of hotels and condos) and businesses of all sorts here. It is a lot busier here, everything was slow on Caulker and here things move at a much faster pace although still nothing like back in the States.
The hotel that we are staying at is about a 30 minute walk into San Pedro, which is the one town on the island. It is nice here as you can walk the beach the entire way. We walked into town last night for dinner (we went to a Jamican jerk resturant where I was finally able to have key lime pie which I have been craving for months, this is the first place here that had it, the other times I have tired to get it they have been out and it was the best I have ever had) and walked back as it was sprinkling. Well, it started to rain harder than we have seen it here and got totally soaked on the walk back.
Today we rented a golf cart to explore. You can rent them by the hour, day or week. We ended up renting ours for about 5 hours and it cost us $45 which isn't too bad considering how much we would have paid for taxis to see what we did. The roads in town are either paved or cobblestone, everywhere else they are dirt and in some cases with a lot of pot holes. You have pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and lots of golf carts all swerving all over the place. It makes for interesting driving. We drove north of town and ran into a toll bridge. We had to pay $10 Belizean ($5 US) for trvalling both ways over the bridge. You see a combination of all things, there are the houses the Belizeans live in, hotels, small stores and resturants, the hourse the expat Americans live in (rather nice and expensive - $300-700,000), swamps and jungle once you get out of town.
We spent the afternoon laying on the beach and then went to what I think ties for the best dinner we have had. The restaurant (Hidden Treasures) was very nice. It is totally open with no walls but done in a very elegant, upscale style. I had ribs that had the best barbecue sauce I have ever had (we think it has pineapple based).
Tomorrow we are going snorkeling at Hol-Chan and Shark Ray Alley.
March 4, 2009
I just posted the view from our hotel room to Shannon's Flickr account. It is a view that I am going to miss here in a few days.
Yesterday we rented a golf cart for a few hours and took a tri up north of San Pedro for breakfast to a place called te Beach N' Kitchen. Nice little resturant and while it took a while to get our food it was well worth it. One of the better breakfasts I have ever had. Sannon had frnch toast that was stuffed with cream cheese and then covered in bananas and a banana sauce, she said it was incredible. We then spent a few hour on the beach at our hotel.
In the afternoon we went with Wes and Desiree (the Canadian couple we met in San Ignacio) on a snorkeling trip to Hol-Chan and Shark Ray alley. The snorkling was great, I think we actually saw more and a greater variety of sea life than when I went diving. This snorkling trip was guided so the guide pointed out and named the variety of fish that we saw. We saw a couple of green sea turtles that have been living in the same spot for about 3 years, several moray eels, a lot of different kings of snapper, 6 ot 7 tarpon that were about four feet long and weighed about 60 pounds, a barracuda and 20 or 30 different kinds of smaller fish some in pretty large schools all living in the coral.
When we went to Shark Ray alley it was all grass beds, so that part was boring but the guide feed the fish (I don't remember what kind they are) which are incrdibly fast and have great eye sight. He would throw fish pieces and the fish would see it fly and be right there to catch it, sometimes jumping out of the water. He then feed the manta rays and nurse sharks. We saw half a dozen rays and sharks.
Today I am taking advantage of the last lazy day. Shannon is off shopping right now. Tomorow we are going for a half day of reef fishing with Desiree and Wes. We should atleast be able to catch some snapper but I hope we are able to land some barracuda and maybe a tarpon if we are lucky.
March 6, 2009
We are leaving today and flying to Dallas. We spend the night and fly back to Oregon on Saturday. We picked a good day to leave. It started getting windy on Wednesday night, was windy yesterday and got really windy last night. The wind howled all night and Shanon did not sleep well. It was raining lightly a few minutes ago and it is hard to say what the rest of the day is going to be like, but it isn't going to close to the weather we had on the rest of the trip.
Wednesday evening, after I made my last post, Shannon and I went to go see the crocodiles. The back side of Ambergris has mangrove swamps, and when we were on Caye Caulker, we met a woman who lived in Belize for quite a while (she now lives in Idaho) that we needed to go down by the water tower and see them feed chickens to the crocodiles. So at 4:30 we went down there.
After waiting for a few minutes we were approached by a guy who asked if we wanted to see the crocodiles and he told us that we needed to donate a couple of chickens, so Shannon and I hopped on the bikes that we borrowed from the hotel and went down the road to a local store and bought a couple of chickens. I didn't know if they were going to hand us two live chickens, but when I asked for them, the guy went to the freezer and pulled out two frozen chickens.
We went back and the guy spent the next hour throwing one of the chickens into the lagoon while attached to a rope. He would throw it into shallow water and try to make a large splash. There was sightings of a small crocodile and then two fly fisherman had a large one in water about ten feet away.
The guy moved down towards where the large croc was and started throwing the chicken in the water trying to bring him in. Finally after about 10 minutes he was able to get him to come into shore. When he came in the guy said that this was George, and this is the first time in 4 months that he has been able to get George to come up to the shore as he is hurt (he has a wound on his jaw). George is big, and somewhat friendly for a Crocodile. He put my sunglasses on George and I was able to touch George. Touching him was interesting, if you take your hand straight on between his eyes he can't see it and then part of his snought is tough enough that he can't feel it.
We were pretty lucky to be able to see George as he hasn't been around for a while and there was another couple there that had shown up for the last 2 nights who hadn't seen anything other than crocdiles off in the distance.
Yesterday we went fishing the reef. All of the fish that we caught (and I did the worst out of the four of us) were pretty small. We caught snapper, grouper, porgie, Wes caught a puffer fish and our guide caught a moray eel. We kept 2 porgie, 5 red snapper and 2 yellow tail snapper and had them for lunch. It was a fun day even though we didn't get into any bigger fish.
I wish this trip wouldn't end. Belize is a great country and I would recommend anyone to come here. This is actually the best place that I have been for a location for a first time trip out of the US. There is a wide variety of things to do, from the beaches, fishing, Mayan ruins; great food for atleast 99% of our trip perfect weather and what I think are the nicest people in the world. I am not used to people this nice and friendly and it has an impact on the travellers as well. I think that because the locals are friendly this makes the tourists be much more friendly to one another than we normally are. Because not only have we meet a lot of nice locals, we have meet a lot of nice tourists as well.