Saturday, February 8, 2014

Belize 12 – Sun - NFC Champs

The final morning of Tranquility Bay, Maeve and Theo headed out to breakfast early to play some cards on the dock.  We found them playing with one of their friends at the beach the previous day.

At breakfast, Zeke chews on one of those awesome Jack Fries, a deep fried puff that was the perfect vehicle for anything you wanted to load it up withDSC04765

A look at the lower unit of our digs at Tranquility Bay

Our final ride out… off to Captain Morgan’sDSC04770

I'd organized this trip, and for the most part, it was surprisingly easy… with Belize being an English speaking country, I was able to email and even call to make arrangements.  But I’d waited too long finding a place for the last 2 days of our stay.  By the time I circled back on that task everything was booked, I was beginning to get quite nervous as I searched desperately on the web for a place to stay.  Finally someone pointed me to Captain Morgan's.  They still had space, probably because they are way overpriced, but that's the price of procrastination.  They were posh though.  Complete American posh comforts.  Theo put it this way when I asked him how he slept, 'That bed was TOO comfortable', lamenting the more remote and casual feel of our previous locale, Tranquility Bay.  On the flip side, I was pretty happy to see TVs when I realized that it was indeed Sunday... the final Sunday of the regular NFL season and the Packers were playing the Bears for the NFC championship. I hadn't even realized it was Sunday until I walked into their pool/bar area and saw the 3 TVs on the wall playing NFL games.  Even more luck, the Packers/Bears game was a late game, so I hadn't missed a snap.  I'm sure you all watched and LOVED it.  Gotta tell you that the Packers have a huge following.  I think they're just generally a team everyone likes... But everyone was cheering for the Packers and most were not from WI or the area.  What's even more amazing was 1 of the 3 TVs were playing another game that had gone into overtime and NOONE was watching that game.  Who cares, it's Packers vs Bears.  Huge cheers when Kuhn was able to just get enough of the rush to allow Rodgers to spin left avoiding the near certain sack, and launch it to Cobb who had been lost in the coverage.  Cobb had time to camp under it while we watched and hoped that Rodgers had been able to muster enough on the throw so that the defender didn't have time to recover.  Watching seconds later as Cobb not only had time, but was able to run the final few yards for the score.  WHAT A MEMORY.  

NOT looking forward to San Fran.  If they have a few significant injuries like we have, we may survive.  Count on it being a high-scoring affair.  I'll be really surprised if our defense can keep them under 42.

I'm realistic about our ability to go deep into these playoffs, still it's fun to be a part of them, and you never know, right??

Waiting for our room at Captain Morgan’s, with the kids back at the electronics.DSC04771

A shot of the inside of the condo and the impressive thatch roof made of palm tree fronds.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Belize 9,10,11 – T,F,S - Beach Paradise

We had 4 nights stay at Tranquility Bay.  It’s been a great stay.

View from our front porch.

Kids goofing on the couch.

Theo and I built this stupendous sand castle.

The kids were surprised by Cesar’s rainbow drinks.

Couldn’t resist this cute shot caught during a game of ‘freeze freeze American cheese’.

Zeke created this awesome shot where the crystal clear waters of Belize meet clear skies.

Underwater shot of Zeke

Kate and Jane snorkeling

A 6’ ray (manta?).  Smaller than the one that startled Kate in the shallows.GOPR0447

Lionfish.  An invasive species introduced in Miami area in mid-80’s.  Now found in all areas of the Caribbean.

Me rowing into shore.

Highlights from each of the kids

Maeve: Chulupa the one eyed wonder dog, Mr, Mrs and Baby Crabby Pants in their custom built sand crab castle, swimming with the manatee, Playing with Sonia from Pasadena, the beautiful butt dance, Mom getting scared by a giant ray

Theo: Skipping Woboba ball, Sand in my pants dance, Urinal attack at the restaurant, Coastal Shrimp kabob, Cormorant chasing fish underwater like an otter, throwing coconut fronds on a ginormous fire, breaking coconuts without a knife and enjoying the meat,

Jane: Reading in a hammock, Ocean Kayaking, Helping dad see the lionfish on our first snorkeling outing, Discovering the manatee (contention with Zeke), Winning the first official Iota match, Losing a card between the boards on the dock

Zeke: Discovering the manatee, Lionfish, Scaring a complete stranger to the point of profanity, Mangorita drink,

Mom: Complete isolated simplicity of the setting, Seeing kids play with local kids and Pasadena kids, Maeve’s crab family, the mosquito massacre on the 2nd floor, snorkeling with the kids, being saved by the kids in a kayak after being surprised by a 10’ ray, cocktails with every meal, lobster meal on the beach, Happening upon the next book club book and nearly finishing it in a day, the Conch Christmas tree, the memorable walk up garbage beach where we found digging tools for the kids, Sinking the Woboba ball into the bucket in a single shot (while Zeke and I took hundreds of attempts), WI flag in aquarium bar restaurant,  Playing Spite and Malice with Theo at the dock bar,

Dad: Watching the Cormorant chase fish and eventually catch and swallow one, Enjoying our kids enjoy each other,  Going to blog in the hammock and just closing the computer and surrendering to 10 minutes of the sounds and sights but then getting restless and needing to push off the sand and at least sway the hammock (Theo did the EXACT same thing the next day),  Sitting in the hammock with Jane discussing religion, Kayaking out to the scuba diving float and listening to the now distant waves crashing on the beach,  Building a sandcastle with Theo,  Running sprints on the beach and having my calf feel great, The still surface of the water the last evening I went out snorkeling and the underwater color of the evening sky, the manatee, Surrounded by large fish…

Snorkeling shots


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Belize 8 – Wed – Xmas at GL & TB

The kids awoke Christmas morning, to find their ‘stockings’ on their bed.  I’d thought I’d heard some rustling in the middle of the night, but I didn’t want to turn on the light and scare anyone away.

We gathered for a final breakfast at the central bar area.DSC04722

I’d told Jenny about the Mahogany and Teak farms we’d seen.  She pointed out this central pole she’d had carved for $1000 Belize.  She’d found the ‘rotted’ log in a ditch, but knew exactly what it was.  Mahogany.  She’s had estimates that it’s worth 5k to 6k American. I looked up Mahogany prices on the web and couldn’t get a good read on prices.  Let’s say a mature tree (60 years) can bring 10k at today’s prices.  The farm we saw must’ve had 10,000+ trees.  Even if they lose half of those, they’re still bringing in 5 million dollars.  Seriously!  But unless you’re a very young man, you’re probably not going to see that harvest.DSC04723

We said goodbye to our hosts on Christmas morn and drove back east to Belize city.  It was a simple drive in the daylight, as we entered Belize city, I blew through a “checkpoint” that appeared to be empty, but as we drove by Kate said she’d seen people in there.  I pulled aside ahead and they came out.  Funny, I think they only came out because I pulled aside.  They waved me along with a smile.

We had a decent map of where our Budget car rental sat in Belize City, however, soon we were questioning how much farther it could be, as the gas light had come on some 20+ km ago, and I really didn’t want to fill it up having opted into the auto-fill, only because we were returning the car on Christmas day and the Budget lady at the airport told us that gas stations would be closed.  They weren’t of course.  But it was a gamble I wasn’t willing to take.  We found a policeman who assured us we were heading the correct direction and soon would come across Budget on the right.  Sure enough, there it was.  The gate was ajar, a good sign indicating someone was about to check in our car.  I walked up to the office, but couldn’t find anyone.  The radio was playing in the back, so I knew someone was about.  He popped up in the office, and I explained my situation.  He said he wasn’t supposed to be there, he had just dropped by to clean his car, having been out the night before until 4 am.  He checked the books and said were were scheduled to drop our car back at the airport.  Ugghh, if there was one lady who was least helpful on this trip, it turns out it was our Budget Rental lady at the airport.  Nice.  But not helpful.  It was she who told us with certainty that Belize zoo and TEC were at mile marker 32 on the western highway (they were at 29), It was she who said gas stations would be closed on Christmas.  And it was she who had put us in the books for drop off at the airport.  Had no one been there, we’d have been in trouble and would’ve needed to scramble to find a way of calling Budget to arrange a drop off.  But as things have on this trip, it all worked out.  The man even offered to drive us down to the water taxi.  Which were more difficult to find than they appeared on the map.  King James received our bags at the water taxi, and just like an airplane, checked in 5 of our bags.  They would go into the belly of the boat and be given back to us at the San Pedro dock.  Zeke spotted this marijuana plant on the wall of a shop. 
Turns out they sold some cure all derivative from marijuana.  It was supposed to work as an anti-itch, so mostly for the science of it, I bought one.  Kate ordered us up a quick lunch at an Indian shop.  Zeke had gotten on the internet while we were waiting and was seeing all the Christmas day photos from his friends.  I took a shot of him in front of the water taxi on the ocean dock and he posted it, immediately getting likes from his friends back in the cold of Wisconsin, and even from Korowit, aka JJ, our Thailand exchange student we’d hosted some years back.  This was a similar shot of the entire family:

Soon they were boarding our boat, and we were off on a 1 hr 15 minute journey to San Pedro.  Our first port was Caye Caulker.  I’d read it was more laid back and less developed, and the shoreline held to that form.  Many small mom and pop hotels.  Noone whatsoever on the beach, bar a few folk at the end of long docks sunning themselves.  Next stop San Pedro, which had larger, glitzier hotels and glossier beaches.  We were actually catching our connecting boat in San Pedro.
DSC04732  The Tranquility Bay boat was well marked and Winfield, our driver, was right there to greet us.  The smaller boat was uncovered, so we quickly applied sunscreen as Winfield transferred our bags. 

The smaller boat was actually a smoother ride the remaining 12 miles North to Tranquility Bay, seemingly floating over the waves.  It was so relaxing that Maeve fell asleep in my lap.

We reached Tranquility Bay and were greeted on the dock with a complementary drink for each of us.  Winfield and another man grabbed our bags and took them right to our room, while Kate and I signed in at the central office and got a quick introduction to the place.  First order of business, hit the beach!  We all headed down to try out the new water-skipping balls we’d gotten for Christmas.  I don’t know the technology, but man they work.  And are a lot of fun.  I was enjoying warming up my baseball arm. 

The staff had a special meal set that night, a grill out on the beach.  Kate setup this beautiful Christmas day pose of the kids while we waited for our seats.

Including a bonfire that Theo and his new friend Ethan enjoyed pyro’ing away at.  Carrying large coconut branches and coconuts themselves and throwing them into the fire.

Soon Theo and Ethan and Maeve were playing sword fights with the palm fronds.  Then Theo and Ethan became preoccupied with opening a coconut.  I was enjoying watching. Theo went to work with a butter knife to stab his coconut, while I tried to stay one step ahead of whatever injury he was about to inflict upon himself.  I convinced him to give it a rest and attempt to finish the coconut in the morn.  He agreed, and we headed back to the house for a quick shower and bedtime.

Belize 7 – Tue – Midnight Mass

It’s Christmas eve, everywhere, even in Belize.  Jenny and Mike decorated their place.  Even spring the extra energy for a Christmas tree, LED lights of course.  I asked if they’d tried LEDS on their normal lights, and they had.  But the lasted only 2 weeks.  Having spent $40 Belize ($20 US) on each,  they won’t try again until quality improves  Maybe our FTC team can travel to Belize and sell light bulbs, since those are holding up nicely in my house. 

That afternoon a family checked in with kids Maeve and Theo’s age.  Theo and Maeve spent no time introducing themselves at the pool.DSC04695

The kids were actually from 2 families.  We’d overheard one of their mother’s was a ultra runner, her personal record being 114 miles.  I thought, that’s nothing our friend and neighbor, Ryan Dexter, does 200+ miles.  Funny, I’m at that point in my life where I take pride in other’s fitness, I guess.  Actually, Kate and I have been doing pretty well as of late.  She better than I, but she’s been stymied by an ankle injury that we fear may be lifelong and require surgery.  She’s been wearing a brace when she can and toughing it out when she can not.  A real trooper.  My excuse?  I took almost 2 months off from nearly every other day runs with Ruby so that I could focus on work and getting ahead for our big Sabbatical trip.  I’d intended to bring my running shoes, but I forgot them.  Maybe my new low key self intentionally forgot, as I haven’t missed them much.  I’ve spent my free time instead journalling.

We enjoyed our downtime at the pool, and then forced FOB time on our kids.  They all napped and so did Kate and I.  The plan was to wake in time to head into San Ignacio for a meal and some Christmas time downtown, before driving back to Joyce’s Anglican church in Georgeville, the village on the Western Highway where we turn off for Gumbo Limbo.  Joyce is the daughter in law of Mike and Jenny, and is quite involved in her church.  Hodas came highly recommended by our hosts as well as Francisco our ATM guide, so we’d been wanting to get there.  Nearly everywhere we drive, the kids fire up their electronics.  We ask them to find a saving point and turn them off as we near our destination, or if the drive is long like Caracol, we force them to put them away and gather in some of the scenery.  Modern parenting, I guess.  We made them put away their electronics early as we were struggling with directions, and sure enough, Zeke calls our Hode’s take a right.  I just followed his command, and asked how he’d known. He’d spotted a sign that neither Kate nor I had seen.  We were surprised to see Hodes was more of a bar like you’d see on Spring Break, not at all local Belizean as we’ve been searching for.  Big open warehouse like.  Stil, the food was good.  And the best part for the kids, they had a TV!  Had to get this picture of them in veg mode.  The funny part is the locals were not immune to this disease.  Kate and I laughed as a little girl and boy stood by our table jaw ajar seemingly unable to blink.  I would not have been surprised to see drool running down his chin, as Nickelodeon entranced him.
(Janie spotted me and did her best Sue imitation from The Middle)

Francisco had told us of the modern dams built upriver to protect San Ignacio from flooding.  Found this good photo of the dam in a series of historical photos hung at the bar.  Our server said this dam was only approx 10 years old.

From Hodes we circled back around through some of the rougher area of San Ignacio back to the central downtown.  We killed a litlte time walking the downtown area.  Kate forced her Christmas present on me,  A $20 Bz ($10 US) Tshirt of an Aztec ruin and Belikin beer.  I’ve often said I have spending issues, and true to form I resisted.  But I love it.  Thanks Kate!  We wandered down to the new concert square (Marlynn at SI hotel, had said it was only a year old).  We couldn’t resist taking this photo with Santa who was doling out candy to the younger kids.   Kate and I chuckled again over News she brought back from her book club.  Evidently a Fox news lady had commented on air that ‘Everyone knows Santa is white, that’s a fact’, and caught a lot of heat over it to the point where she was required to apologize.  She was either quite thoughtless, or perhaps she was trying to express that Santa Claus is commonly portrayed as white.  In fact, the Coca Cola poster just below their central square fake Christmas pine tree, had the class white Santa on it.  It also reminded me of the beautiful painting we’d seen earlier on our trip of the last Supper.  Had I been more religious, I’d have been tempted to purchase it, even though the price was probably near $1000 US.  The artist had portrayed Jesus and all the apostles as if they were really born in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.  Wish I’d have taken a photo of it.  Gorgeous painting.  About 3’ x 10’.

A family band was playing music, that was much too synthesized.  The first song lasting 15 minutes, or perhaps there were 3 similar songs all mixed in their together, hard to tell.  We listened to one more song, while Zeke came to the realization that a great way to round up the town drunks would be to host a concert.  Anyone dancing within 10’ of the stage, was like a little over the limit.  I was hoping for more of a family scene, but it was still entertaining.  We then drove the 15 minutes back to Georgeville, to arrive about 10 minutes before 11.  We pulled up to the parking grass area of the church we’d located area, and given the proximity of the service, were surprised there was no one else present.  I jumped out the car, and walked up to the steps, only to find a young man in black robes with a white collar evidently rehearsing and preparing, but no one else around.  I didn’t interrupt him, and instead we drove around behind the building looking for the 11 pm service.   Finding nothing, we drove back and found the young man waiting for us at the door.  He introduced himself as David.  I apologized and said we must’ve gotten misinformation, but had heard there was an 11 pm service.  He said there was, and he was very glad to have us.  He also said we’d missed the 7 pm service, and that he was expecting only 1 or 2 more people tonight.  He was very kind.  He asked Theo to participate by doing a reading, and asked Zeke to run their new projector, a brand new experiment for that mass.  Janice, one of the members, joined us and was also quite warm and welcoming.  So the 8 of us had service together.  There are people in your life that you bump into that astound you with their faith.  David was one.  An American from Indiana practicing in Belize.  Rehearsing for an 11 pm mass, where there was good odds that no one showed up.  Faith like that is powerful.  As I said, it was an Anglican church.  I found that much of the worship and prayers closely fit the Roman Catholic church.  So much so, that several of the prayers came back to me nearly word for word.  We finished with Silent Night, as we rounded the corner for the last verse, some fireworks went off in the distance.  Pastor David had warned us that he was trying to keep things moving to finish ahead of the midnight fireworks, and we almost made it.  I really enjoyed the service.

After mass, we drove the 2 miles up the road to Gumbo, and quietly crept back to our room.  Theo and Maeve hung up the paper stockings they’d made earlier in the day.

It wasn’t long before everyone was asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads (honestly, does anyone know what a sugar plum is??)DSC04708

Belize 6 – Mon - Caracol & Pools

Zeke had asked Jenny about the weather the night before, and she’d reported the next day was expecting rain, with more on the following day.  I set myself for 2 days of downtime, but the weather was clear Monday morning when we woke.  As we were up for our included continental breakfast, I asked Jenny about Caracol, she phoned someone and reported that the military caravan left at 9:30, and you wouldn’t be allowed in without that escort due to the bad roads.  She said if we left by 8:30, we should reach the caravan in time.  We casually finished our breakfast, making Jenny and Mike nervous, and departed at 8:35. The roads were bad, but not as bad as I’d expected given the 3 weeks of rain.  We didn’t need 4wd.  We crossed a couple smaller rivers via cement bridges, and arrived at the first checkpoint by 8:57.  The guard had us sign in and explained we were in good time to reach the caravan just 22 miles further down the road, he raised the gate for us and sent us on. This stretch of road was no worse than the first half.  We continued to drive at what I thought was a pretty good clip, but the clock was quickly approaching 9:30.  9:30 passed and still no sign of the check-in as we turned corner after corner only to see more road.  Finally at 9:37 we reached an area that seemed to be kept, and soon caught 2 more vehicles in front us, but no sign of the caravan.  They pulled over at a small covered shed and I followed them to the hut.  With the sense of urgency over the caravan, I truly felt like I was in the Amazing Race.  And this would’ve made a great leg.  The men inside had 2 books that I signed into.  I asked about the caravan, they said it had just left 5 minutes ago, but no problem we should be able to catch it.  Whew, I’d heard they’d turn us back if we didn’t leave with the caravan. So I was quite relieved.  I followed the 2 other vehicles.  The drivers wore official tour guide shirts, which assured me they probably knew where they were heading and how to drive these roads. 

At Caracol, we climbed the 2nd highest Mayan temple in the entire Mayan world.  the highest being at Tikal in Guatemala.  The climb up didn’t seem far, until we realized that we couldn’t see the entire height of the temple from the floor.  Each set of stairs would reveal themselves only after you cleared the previous set of stairs.  Sylvan, our guide, said that he ran the stairs each morning for exercise.  I noticed many of the other guides waited at the bottom, or climbed only the first set of stairs.  I pointed this out to Sylvan, who called them lazy.  All the Sebastians made it all the way up and were rewarded with a grand view over the jungle. 

This is Zeke sitting on the top of the highest temple, looking down on another temple built on the 2nd plaza.  We climbed that temple too, just to see the howler monkeys that were feeding in the trees.  Sylvan said these guys often kept him up at night as they often got loud right around 10 pm.

DSC04677  DSC04683

My camera began failing me (I found out later it was just low on battery), so I couldn’t get shots of the rest of Caracol.  This was one of my last shots, an original decorations found on the king’s temple. DSC04689

Just to the right of the king’s temple Sylvan showed us the ball court.  It was 3 large circular flat stones about 3 to 4’ in diameter, set in a straight line each about 30’ apart.  The game was played with a heavy rubber ball.  The participants wore heavy padding.  They weren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands but used sticks to scoop it up and shoot it through goals, in many ways similar to native american LaCrosse.  hmmmm… could LaCrosse, in some form, have travelled this far south, or vice-versa??  I was reminded of the playing fields surrounded by stone walls, that we’d seen in Arizona.  Where it was reported that these same fields were found all throughout Central America and Southern States, evidently tribes would travel and play against each other.  Sylvan said similar events happened between neighboring communities here.  He also said that the winner of the game was sacrificed, but I read later it was the loser that was sacrificed. Later we walked to another temple area.  This had many lose stones in the courtyard, and Sylvan said this was their calendar area.  The stones being indicators of the seasons.  And the largest temple in that area had once been the king’s temple, but one of the king’s had wanted something larger, and mostly through slave labor, had built the temple we’d climbed earlier.  Sylvan walked us back past the water reservoir and to 2 more major areas of the area, each looking similar to the last.  Earlier I’d asked if they had Mahogany or Cedar in the area.  He said, it had all been harvested, and they didn’t plant any more for safety, as Guatemalans would come looking for it and take it by force.  Guatemala was, after all, only 4 miles away.  A large Mahogany tree can fetch a lot of money.   The proximity of Guatemala was evidently the reason for the armed guards we’d seen spattered throughout the park.  We then entered the area where current archeologists were housed when they were on site in February and March.  In that area were about 10 of the large Stellas they’d found and puzzled back together.  Each depicting a king or prince, or commemorating a victory over Tikal (the only documented victory was by Caracol), or listing the Mayan calendar, etc.  Sylvan walked us back through a shortcut, which emphasized how close the jungle was.  He’d said that the entire area was clear, and archeologists believe that much of the surrounding 5 kim had been converted to terraced fields.  Impressive work to clear such deep jungle and keep it at bay.  Gotta wonder how quickly things were reclaimed by the jungle.  Unlike ATM, which was never truly lost, i.e it was always known to the local peoples, it’s easy to see that Caracol, being so remote from any current village or peoples, could have been completely lost.  It was discovered in 1947 when a British logger searching for Mahogany stumbled upon it and noticed the many small hills in that area, and reported it to local authorities. 

We arrived back at the entrance area and grabbed a seat at the picnic tables under the cover of a large thatch shelter, eating some of the snack food we’d carried in.  I had just enough time to circle through the small museum before Zeke came running with the message it was time to leave.  Kate noticed a few cars beginning to leave, and not wanting to get caught behind the passenger vans, we decided to leave with them.  They kept a good pace, and sure enough, also turned into Rio on the pools, a swimming area Jenny had told us about that ‘everyone stops at’.  It was a short walk down to the swimming hole which reminded me a lot of the rock slide in Arizona, though the water wasn’t melted snow from further up the mountain, and therefore was much warmer.  We goofed in the pools for awhile, jumping in where the current was strong and allowing it to float us downstream, then it was time to move on.  Mike and Jenny had told us of a nice restaurant on the way out that wasn’t too expensive, they didn’t know the new name, but it used to be called Five Sisters.  We found a place called Gaia in the same vicinity and followed the off road for at least 3 miles before getting there.  Unfortunately they didn’t start serving supper until 6:30, and with the condition of the roads, we didn’t want to stay that late and have to drive all of it in the dark.  So we ordered off their snack menu, which was expensive enough, and enjoyd the aroma of fresh pines and the sounds of the five sisters falls 400 feet below our dining deck.  Beautiful scene, but no camera.  Found this on the web:

Theo, Jane and I headed up to the car to drive it down and save us some daylight, Kate took longer than expected.  One of the help, Holly, made small talk with her and explained that Cesar from Tranquility Bay was a good friend of hers who had visited her recently.  And that we should say hi for her.  Funny how the hospitality community is all tied together.  We cleared the Gaia side road before it got too dark.  The drive back to Gumbo wasn’t all that bad in the dark either.  We’d told Jenny that we weren’t dining at Gumbo that night, but our small snack at Gaia had left our kids still hungry.  We didn’t want to impose on her staff, but she insisted so we sat down to a proper meal of beef and potatoes finished off with cheese cake for desert.  Yum.  Yet another great adventure day.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Belize 5 – Sun – Gumbo Limbo

Another down day as we transferred from our city San Ignacio Hotel, to our jungle Gumbo Limbo hotel.  Kate checked us out at the front desk and warned Marlynn that she’d told Gerald about her, and was trying to set them up.  Marlynn blushed and said it wasn’t the first time.  Before we left town, we decided to stop at another local restaurant for breakfast.  The recommendation this time was Pop’s.  It was easy to find, but quite tiny and all tables were full.  We noticed this impressive parking job on the drive in, so killed some time walking back to admire it, straddling a deep open sewer gutter.  Note the no parking sign.

Soon a table had cleared and we were seated.  Our order was in quickly, and as before, I was unimpressed with local fair.  But again, this was breakfast, so how local can things really be?  We did have their Fry Jacks, which are just deep fried bread, with air pockets.  The locals were loading them up with refried beans.  Jane caught this photo of the town mural at the old town square just before the old bridge.

The trek to Gumbo Limbo was only 5 miles down the Western highway, and 2 miles off the highway.  We had intended to stop at the store and grab bug dope on our way out of town, but by the time we remembered, it was too late.  We were nearly to Gumbo Limbo.  The road off the highway wasn’t bad.  The driveway into Gumbo Limbo, however was something else.  On dry days it was traversable with a normal car, but on wet days 4 wheel drive was near necessity as it got severely slick and had a steep ditch to descend and then ascend.  In fact, later in our stay a driver arrived to take 2 of the guests to the airport.  He got stuck at the bottom of that ravine and walked the rest of the way in.  We had 4 wheel drive and drove back out.  With passengers in the back, and more weight on the rear axle, he was able to take another run at the drive and made the slipper ascent, his wheels spinning the entire time.  We arrived at Gumbo an hour before our 1 pm check in. Kate decided to stay in the car with the kids to avoid bugs.  I jumped out and was immediately greeted by Mike and Jenny, our hosts.  I spoke of Kate’s bug fears and they immediately offered their ‘tin’ of bug spray, ‘tin’ as they were British ex-pats..  But assured us they’d been their ten years and had only heard of one bout of malaria and that was in the deep jungle.  The stiff breeze meant we were completely bug free, and Kate and the kids joined me as we carried our bags to our cabana.  Mike explained that they were off the grid by choice, he didn’t want them cutting through his bush to deliver electrical lines.  So they had solar, wind, and a backup generator to meet electrical needs.  He emphasized to us and our kids how important it was to turn off our lights and fans when not in use, and I appreciated the kids hearing and learning that despite what they might think, electricity is never free.  Even in the States, where we consume it to the point of obesity, there are hidden costs.  They’d spent the last 10 years of their retirement building Gumbo Limbo.  Jenny told us that they’d started the new concrete form walks this last fall, just she and Mike.  One of their hired hands had taken over most of the work and had become an expert. 

After some sunscreen, The kids jumped into the small pool, while Kate read and I took a quick nap.  After I woke, I joined them in the not quite as cold pool, for more Marco Polo.  Maeve spotted this monster caterpillar, nearly as large as her foot, on the pool deck.

We finished the evening with a terrific meal of Seabass at Gumbo LImbo, served to us with a smile by Emmie.  There are folks that have hospitatlity,  I think they are more born that way, than anything.  Just considerate of others, and more concerned with their comfort than their own.  Just a God given quality.  Nearly everyone we met seemed to have this quality, but some were superstars.  We met many of these superstars on our stays here in Belize.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Belize 4 – Sat – Iguana & Cahal Peche

We awoke and made plans for our ‘down day’.  The kids awoke, and as they have every evening and morning, filled time with electronics in their jammies.

I asked Marlynn at the front desk when the Iguana project was open.  She said it left on the hour, so we considered rallying the troops for that trip now or first getting breakfast downtown.  The kids voted for Iguana so we went with it.  Turned out to be a good move, as later in the day we noticed larger and more frequent groups being lead that way.

We met Darryl at the front desk, and he lead us the long way through the jungle to avoid some of the construction.  He pointed out some of the plants along the way and even stopped at a termite nest, not in the ground as you might think but in the branch of a tree as they are often seen here in Belize.  He asked if we’d like to taste termites.  Kate was the first to say yes.  Darryl grabbed a stick and poked out a couple.  This is Kate chewing on the surprisingly tiny termites.

We all tried some bar Maeve who declined, and Jane, who did try, but hers fell off the stick.  She didn’t feel compelled enough to ask for another, however.  Darryl explained that there were all kinds of flavors of termites.  We believed we had the cinnamon flavor.  No question if I were with Bear Grylls and he asked me to eat termites… that’d be a tasty treat compared to some of the other protein he’s used.

The Iguana project was just a small 50’ x 50’ structure with screens keeping the Green Iguanas in.  And as Zeke noticed, keeping some Iguanas out.  There was a LARGE male Iguana on top of the structure.  (Not nearly as large as the Iguana the french family had pointed us towards at TEC).  Darryl explained that their mating season was coming up and if they left all the mature males in the cage they would fight, so they released about 5 of the mature males until after mating season.  At which point most, if not all, would return to their good life in the project.  Darryl brought over their oldest male, Gomez.  He was 15 years old and non-aggressive.  He let us pet and even hold Gomez.

Kate really enjoyed Gomez.

Zeke wanted to hold him as well, but Gomez was less cooperative, seemingly wanting to get back to Kate further down the hand rail.DSC04614

He also allowed us to feed the Iguanas, warning us to be careful not to touch the milk coming out of the broken stem as it was an irritant.  They came running as soon as you lowered the leaves near them.

Darryl then lead us to a separate area of the enclosure where the youngsters were separated.  These were all about 6 to 9 months old.  He loaded us up with nearly every youngster in the area.

Theo and Maeve stepped back through the counter to near the trees, where the Iguanas jumped off their hats and bodies back to their more common settings, the tree limbs.

We finished with a full family shot Darryl took for us…

Darryl walked us back to the hotel front desk, where we jumped into our vehicle and drove down to Hanna’s restaurant for breakfast.  We seemed to get lucky most of the time finding parking and this time was no exception, we found a single spot right in front of Hanna’s.  Breakfast was great… but more standard fare than I was hoping.  Nothing truly Belizean, but then again it was just breakfast.  From there we walked down to the large Saturday market.  Along the way, I noticed a young man leaving a store, who looked remarkably familiar.  As I walked by, my mind tried to process exactly how I could recognize someone in a separate country in the 3rd largest city of the country.  From behind me I heard, “Mr Dave”.  Ahaa, it was Gerald from the check-in desk at TEC.  He was with his brother Patrick who also worked at the Zoo, and had guided us to the big cats before the rains.  This was their hometown, where they were born and raised and still lived in their family of 8 or 7 (one of their siblings had died from cancer).  Their father was the head keeper at the zoo, having worked their 21 years at the zoo.  They were kind enough to walk with us and just share our company.  They pointed out a cow that a local villager was selling, a tall young Menonite woman in a vibrant Belizean dress was bartering over the young heifer.  I couldn’t help but thinking how beautiful and exotic she must have appeared to Gerald or Patrick… a young tall white European.  Or maybe they were thinking how strange this was, even for them.  Or maybe it made no mark on them whatsoever, just normal life at the market in Belize.  A market they’d probably been to several hundreds of times in their lives.  We walked down through the market as they told us of life in San Ignacio, they greeted and were greeted by many of their friends as they strolled the market with us.  We stopped at the edge of the market where I got a close up view of the new bridge currently underwater.  Patrick told us he was just 16 yrs old, working an internship at the zoo.  He guessed Zeke was only 12 or 13 based on his young face and immature behavior, nope, he’s 15.  DSC04634

Gerald gave us directions to the best ice cream in town, a Mennonite establishment, and we said our goodbyes.  We headed toward a shop we’d heard of at the end of the walking district.  After a little questioning, we found it in the rear of a building that included the ‘Magic Touch’, a massage parlor.  And found some of the best selection and prices that we’d found in any souvenir shop.  Having heard that Ambergris Caye was much more expensive, we loaded up on souvenirs, $345 worth.  While we made our last selections, Zeke asked questions of the niece of the shop worker who was 7 years old.  Between her and the shop owner, he collected more Tata Duende stories.  Jane found a painting representative of Belize, as did Kate and I.  At checkout, Ruby told us there was a cash discount, but we didn’t have enough cash on us.  Ruby allowed us to come back later and pay for our goods while she wrapped them and held them behind the counter.  We then walked over to the ice cream shop.  It was quite busy, so we decided to buy a few quarts to go.  Theo and Janie didn’t like the smell in the shop, so walked with me up to Hanna’s to gather our car.  We drove it down and allowed the air conditioning to cool down the car.  Soon afterwards Maeve walked out with her own cone, evidently having warn mom down with her pleas.  We drove back up to the hotel and enjoyed our ice cream by the pool, while Theo, Zeke and Maeve swam.  I did a little blogging, and said I’d be in shortly, but the kids didn’t last that long.  To keep my word, I dove in and swam for a little bit in the FREEZING pool.  I can’t believe how long Theo and Maeve can swim in there without getting cold.  I last about 20 to 30 minutes.  I got back to the room and we rallied to go see our first Mayan ruins, Cahal Peche, inside San Ignacio just 20 minutes walk or 5 minutes drive from the hotel.  But first I needed to run a couple errands in town.  Drop off the 3 small bags of dirty clothing at the laundromat, and swing back by the souvenir shop with our cash.  I went down the hill at about 3:45, which turned out to be rush hour.  The new bridge was evidently still closed and despite adopting the local driving habits, I got stuck behind a tourist who refused to nose into the continuous traffic coming at us from across the one-way bridge.  I had to turn downtown just so I could circle back up toward the laundromat, and ended up choosing the lesser of 2 roads, just because it had less traffic on it, even though it landed me further away from the laundromat and souvenir shop.  I found both fairly quickly, but admit that I had a hard time relocating my vehicle.  Finally, I was on the way back up to the hotel.  Kate and the kids were waiting at reception, and we drove up to the top of the city and Cahal Peche.

It was a small site, easily waked in an hour.  With a nice museum explaining much of the arte\ifacts found there and more of the Mayan history.  This was the major temple on the grounds…

Jane had banged her knee up a bit in the ATM cave, and was complaining of walking.  She did OK.  Zeke seemed most interested, and Theo and Maeve didn’t get much Mayan out of it, but did enjoy climbing around on things…DSC04650

We explored a few of the restored rooms… Not much to see really. DSC04651

Like all Mayan temples, Cahal Peche was built at the zenith of the hill, as close to the upper world as can be obtained by man.  Here’s a shot of us looking down on the city proper.  There were definitely some nice houses up here in the hills.  The neighboring house looked completely modernized with a gate, car port, and modern grill on the stone patio.

We were looking to eat at Ceraidos, but they were closed for a private function.  I’d also heard good things of Ervas, which was nearby so we went there instead.  It was on a mud road.  Kate was disappointed to see all the white patrons, hoping for something more authentic, but she recanted when we got our food and everyone loved it.  She also noticed that the locals seemed to drift in later in the evening.  A good finish to our day.