Sunday, January 20, 2008

You'd Better Belize it! (Part One)

It seems so long ago, but we’ve only been home from Belize less than two weeks! We had a great trip, and although we experienced some minor mishaps, they really only added to the memories. For a while it seemed like the trip was not meant to happen – Kim was going through a terrible time dealing with family matters, and although we hoped beyond hope that she and Gene would still be able to come, we were really unsure until only a few days before our departure. Thankfully, they made the decision to escape the requirements of real life for the week, and we were all set. My plans involved packing the boys for two separate mini-holidays, (one with my parents and one with Mike’s mom) which was overwhelming at times. I barely paid attention to what I needed, and indeed only packed myself about an hour before Kim and Gene picked us up. It had been a horrible morning anyway, with the news that Gran had died, so we were all really glad to just get in the car and try to leave all our cares behind.
We drove to Seattle and met Aaron and Marzia, Rachelle and Dave at the airport there. We had dinner and got on our flight. Some of us slept, some didn’t, but by the time we got to Charlotte the next morning I was so exhausted I crashed for a while on the airport floor. We grabbed breakfast and got on the next flight, arriving in Belize City at noon. First impressions – hot and sticky weather (Mar was smart and changed into a tank top on the plane), tiny airport where we deplaned on the tarmac, surprisingly green and lush countryside. A short taxi ride through town and we arrived at the Radisson. There are only two traffic lights in the whole country of Belize (so the guide books say), and they’re both in Belize City but we encountered neither of them. There weren’t many people out and about – it was a Sunday – but we certainly saw our share of garbage. It is a third world country in some ways, but it is beautiful and has a lot of potential. Belize City has tiny streets that are labelled in hilarious ways like “One Way (this way) Tuesday and Thursday at 9 am”. How does anyone get anywhere? It’s rundown, interesting and rustic. The Radisson is the nicest hotel in Belize, and we paid $200 USD for the privilege of staying there. It was actually only worth about $80, but it was safe and clean. Only our room was ready, so we dumped everyone’s luggage in it, and got cleaned up a bit. We had a quick drink and an appy in the lounge while Aaron arranged us a tour to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha.
Our guide Daniel showed up and we piled into his van for the trip. We stopped on the way for Belikin beer and Coke in glass bottles (can’t tell you why I love that so much, but there it is) and arrived at Altun Ha in the late afternoon. We applied lots of DEET and entered the ancient site. These incredible ruins were deserted; we were the only visitors there. It was so peaceful and the history was amazing. Daniel was an excellent guide and we enjoyed the tour very much. After taking a ton of photos and refilling our drinks, we had a sleepy car ride back to the hotel. We quickly changed for dinner and crossed the street to the Smoky Mermaid, where they seated us in our own private treehouse! We had jerk chicken and pork, and tequila shrimp, but skipped dessert because we were all falling asleep in our plates. We got back to our room at 8:16 and Mike was asleep by 8:19!
Aaron, Gene and I met at 7:30 the next morning for a run along Belize City’s seawall. I only did about 20 minutes and I was huffing in the tropical air, so I bailed back to the hotel while the boys finished about 20 minutes more. The hot headwinds were a little much, but what made the strongest impression that here we were, running along the Caribbean sea in prime waterfront, and we were running over garbage in vacant lots. How strange! In Cancun a few hours north that would have been millions of dollars for that real estate and in Belize it’s a junkyard lot. We met for killer omelettes at the Radisson brunch buffet and filled our bellies before dashing off to the water taxi. The boys had made a run to Brodie’s for cheap booze and we carted all of our luggage and beverages onto a crowded water taxi. I was really nervous but it turned out to be a very smooth ride, with stops at the golf course island (Caye Chapel) and Caye Caulker. We enjoyed beautiful views of mangroves growing into the sea, and clear turquoise water. We were excited and chattered non-stop. Well, I chattered non-stop anyway. 90 minutes later, we disembarked at the San Pedro dock. Hot hot hot! We were sweating into little pools when Armando came to greet us – he would be taking us to our villa. We piled into his van and were very confused when we arrived at a boat dock only two blocks later. We piled out again and he started loading our luggage into his boat. Apparently the roads were too bad to drive on, which was very ominous as we had rented golf carts for the week to drive to and from town. We decided to send the boys on up with our luggage while Mar, Kim and I shopped for some groceries. Armando came back for us and we had about a 10 minute trip up the coast, enjoying the beautiful coastline and the waves on the reef just beyond. The villa was beautiful and idyllic, isolated yet well set-up. We made some sandwiches quickly and drew straws for the rooms, then the boys went back to town via Armando to pick up the golf carts. Although Mike and I drew the short straw (the back bedroom), we had agreed that whoever got the back bedroom could change halfway so as to enjoy the view from the front bedrooms’ windows. Kim and Gene got one front bedroom and Aaron and Mar got the other, but they decided to keep their things in the back bedroom for the first half, and indeed ended up deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle to change halfway. We were very grateful and enjoyed our digs very much.
The girls unpacked and got things in order while the boys were gone, and we had just gotten into our bikinis and sat down to lounge by the pool when the boys got back with horror stories of the road. One golf cart’s roof had broken on the way home from a spectacular pothole – the road was like a lunar landscape! The boys cooled off with a swim and a little fishing, and toward evening we all glammed up a little for our New Year’s Eve dinner. We walked up the beach barefoot in the moonlight about 10 minutes to the Rojo Lounge, where we had an elaborate (and expensive) 7 course meal. Rachelle and Dave were already there, and the eight of us ate for 3-1/2 hours. The food was fantastic, featuring many local seafood dishes and vegetarian meals for me. We danced a little in the sand in front of the band, but most of the diners went home long before midnight. It wasn’t exactly a party atmosphere but we made sure we all had a drink for a midnight toast. The countdown never really happened although in Spanish they announced “two minutes to the new year”... then we waited five minutes and nothing happened. Finally the one English-speaking band member said into the mike: “Happy New Christmas” and we all laughed and hugged. We tried to start a Conga line but it fizzled quickly since we were the only ones involved! We walked home along the beach and had another drink or two before bed.
On New Year’s Day, we were slow to get up, and everyone trickled out to the palapa – the grass hut at the end of the pier. We spent time in our bathing suits in the sun and paddling in the warm water. Aaron was on the bonefish hunt, but we didn’t see any from the pier that morning. Rae and Dave arrived and we all lounged for a while before making some lunch. Mar and Aaron went with Rae and Dave back to their place while Kim and Gene, Mike and I lounged poolside and in the hammock. We got dressed a while later and took the golf cart on a horrible bumpy ride north to explore a bit. We got swarmed with bugs the moment we turned inland, so we abandoned that idea and headed south to meet the others for drinks at the Palapa Bar. We had drinks and nachos in the bar over the water, watching a kite surfer try to master the wind. The others saw a sting ray jump out of the water and we watched the boats come and go. It got a little chilly when the wind kicked up, so I drove us back via Captain Morgan’s Retreat to make reservations for dinner. We had our walkie-talkies so we could talk between the golf carts, so we had some fun with that! As we got back onto the main road, we saw something amazing – dozens of fireflies, flashing and dancing in the dusky air. None of us had ever seen firelies before so that was a real treat! We got dressed for dinner and got back to Captain Morgan’s for a poolside buffet. It was the location where Temptation Island was filmed, and it was a very beautiful spot for dinner. The reggae band was good, and we enjoyed a Belizean buffet of tamales, beans and rice, stew beef, coconut pie and key lime pie. I danced salsa with a man from another table who was an amazing dancer, and Kim and Mar participated in a musical chairs competition. We watched a limbo contest too (“Limbo Limbo Limbo!”) which was actually pretty pathetic! The six of us went back home and had a hilarious night playing games. We played Outburst and Cranium and laughed our butts off. If you get the chance, ask Aaron about the sleeping bag, Kim about DNA, Mar humming The Cars, Gene no “R” in chariot, Mike about the avocado, and my earthquake. OK, I know those are inside jokes but they’re making me laugh just writing about them...
On Wednesday morning we woke up to a storm. It was cold, as windy as could be, and the seas were rough. We had a light breakfast and then the girls did yoga on the beach while the boys took a golf cart back to R&D then ran back up the beach. Rae dumped her bicycle in some foul mud, so she was pretty miserable. We had eggs and toast for lunch, then Mike and Gene drove the golf cart into town with the intention of getting the roof fixed. The rest of us went down in Armando’s boat and met them at Armando’s dock. On the way, they had encountered an abandoned golf cart on the road with a broken axle, and discovered it to be our other cart that Rae and Dave had been driving. We were all very anxious since we had discovered Island Golf Carts tried to scam some other tourists, so we had no clue how much they would try to take us for. Aaron cancelled his credit card to be safe, but in the end they just gave us a replacement cart with no hassle. Mike and Gene decided to skip fixing the roof on our other one just so we wouldn’t cause problems. We were all quite glum due to the weather, and wandered around town a little. I got a few little things for the boys and changed some traveller’s cheques, but otherwise San Pedro wasn’t as charming as I’d hoped. We got yummy frozen custard, then got drinks and food at Fido’s – a Mayan Dragon drink for me, pina coladas and burritos. We were freezing and it certainly wasn’t the best meal ever. At 5 pm, Aaron, Dave and Rae got the replacement cart while Mike and Gene drove home. Kim, Mar and I went home via Armando with some more groceries. Aaron, Dave and Rae had another awful cart accident where Dave flipped the cart (driving too fast around a corner???) and nearly decapitated poor Rachelle. Aaron was thrown clear and the cart came down on Dave’s foot – we were sure it was broken. He is a doctor, though, so we deferred to his judgement and he treated himself with a few drinks to dull the pain. They were quite shaken up, so we took it easy, playing cards and ordering Pirate Pizza (Yo Ho Ho – Pizza to Go! 226-GOOD) that got delivered by water taxi. We sent Gene with the walkie-talkie in the pitch black to the pier to wait for the pizza guy and laughed a lot while communicating with him. We wrote communal postcards to our friends where we each wrote a sentence on each postcard to make a convoluted story, and we drank palapas (our own drink creation of coconut rum and Coke – yum!) We had a fun night listening to my iPod’s “Belize mix” and the girls even performed a dance routine to Footloose, choreographed by Kim when she was in elementary school. We played Pictionary and got to bed just after midnight.
I’ll leave you hanging here for now because this post is already so long. Part Two to follow soon!

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