19 December 2008

Belize: Day Off, Return

(This is part 6 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

We didn't plan anything for Thursday, so we slept in. After a leisurely breakfast, we headed north into the shopping areas of San Pedro. We visited several shops looking for souvenirs and gifts. I found that most of the offerings seemed to be overpriced tourist junk, but I did splurge on a couple of Belikin Beer T-shirts. This shopping trip was also a pub crawl: we hit four or five bars, having lunch in one of them. There are lots of dogs in San Pedro. One would adopt us for a while as we walked along, and another would pick us up as we left a shop or bar. We finished out our last full day of the trip with a delicious dinner at the restaurant of a nearby coastal resort.

We took it easy again Friday morning. I partook of some wireless Internet by the Xanadu pool (my friends were impressed that I'd held out for nearly a week), L and KL swam a bit, and H and K did a little more shopping. Then we packed up and took a cab back to the San Pedro airport. Another Tropic Air flight with more breathtaking views of the Caribbean took us directly to the Belize City International Airport. Other than K having a bit of trouble with immigration/customs in Houston, we had an uneventful trip home. The temperature change was pretty startling: from somewhere around 85F to 33F. Ouch. Back to reality. *shrug*

Caye Caulker

It was a fabulous trip. I'd do it again.

18 December 2008

Belize: Caye Caulker and Snorkling

(This is part 5 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

Wednesday morning started with another speedboat pickup from Searious Tours. They took us and several other tourists back to the Searious pier where we piled onto a catamaran. There were ten of us on the tour with two crewmembers. We headed out toward a popular snorkling spot just inside the barrier reef. I'd never been snorkling before, so I didn't know what to expect, but this turned out to be my favorite part of the whole trip. The water was only twenty or thirty feet deep, and it was teeming with fish. We even saw a few stingrays and a couple of moray eels. The fish would swim almost right up to me: I guess they get lots of practice sharing the water with snorklers. We probably got to spend the better part of an hour in the water at this spot.

After another short run on the catamaran, we found ourselves at what the crew called "Shark Ray Alley." As the name suggests, it's an area frequented by predators. One of the crew (Daniel) jumped in and caught a nurse shark. Daniel said that the animals are used to him, and they just swim right up to him. The shark was about four feet long, and it just sat patiently in Daniel's arms while we touched it. Its skin was courser than I would have guessed. After we'd all checked out the shark, Daniel released it and grabbed a stingray, which had a much smoother skin. Anyway, the underwater petting zoo was pretty cool.

Back on the catamaran, we sailed south to the island of Caye Caulker, with plenty of Bob Marley, Belikin, and rum punch along the way. The crewmembers jokingly described Caye Caulker as a drinking village with a fishing problem. We had a delicious lunch of ceviche and fish burritos, followed by a little shopping.

The return trip was straight into the wind (and seemed to narrowly avoid some bad weather), so the crew had to rely on the two outboard motors. Back at Xanadu, we made sandwiches for dinner and again fell into bed pretty early, most of us nursing sunburns.

Caribbean waters

17 December 2008

Belize: Altun Ha

(This is part 4 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

We got up early Tuesday morning and were picked up from the Xanadu pier by a speedboat from Searious Tours. There were already several other tourists on board (along with the three crewmembers), and we picked up a few more at other resorts along the coast. Then we headed out over the open waters toward the mainland.

The fellow from Searious who drove the boat (a two-engine job, about 40 feet long) and served as our tour guide as we left San Pedro was named Willie. He was very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and he was fun to listen to: his speech was sort of a toned-down version of the frequently-overblown Caribbean stereotype (I'm thinking Predator 2 here). On the way to the mainland, we got to see a couple of bottle-nosed dolphins break the surface pretty close to the boat.

Once we reached the coast, we went up the Belize River a bit. We saw an iguana lounging about in one of the trees. We stopped at a dock and transferred to a van which took us to Altun Ha. The ruins there are pretty spectacular--I'll let the photos speak for themselves. We stayed for an hour or so. We got to climb to the top of one of the structures, and that was a real kick. There were no guardrails or anything to prevent a careless tourist from falling over the side--one of the many differences with tourist attractions in the litigation-happy US.

Belize River


Temple of the Green Tomb

After Altun Ha we spent a couple of hours at the Maruba Spa. They apparently offer massages, mud treatments, and several other odd things. We enjoyed a nice lunch and some time by the pool. Then we rode back to the dock (with one of the tour guides acting as bartender in the back of the van: Belikin and rum punch) and took the boat back to Ambergris Caye (the ride back offered a pretty spectacular sunset). That evening we walked up the beach to the Blue Water grill for some fantastic seafood (I had some snapper), and then we headed back to Xanadu and fell into bed.

Maruba Resort pool

Caribbean sunset

16 December 2008

Belize: San Pedro

(This is part 3 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

We had pretty luxurious accommodations in San Pedro, which is on the island of Ambergris Caye. We were in a three-level dome-topped structure, and we had the top two levels. Our downstairs had a well-equipped kitchen, a dining area, a common area (TV and couches), and a bedroom (L and KL took that one). There were two more bedrooms upstairs: I took one, and H and K took the other. Each bedroom had its own bathroom. There was a wonderful wooden deck/balcony off of our downstairs, and it looked out over the water. It was really quite fancy.

view from Xanadu balcony

The beach wasn't quite what I expected, because I hadn't read about the barrier reef. Ocean waves strike the reef, rather than the coast, which is a big part of why the water here is so clear. But that means that we didn't see or hear waves, which is one of my favorite ocean things. So that was a very minor disappointment, but it was still very cool being by the water. The reef is not that far out, so we could see waves breaking out on the reef just below the horizon, and that was pretty awesome to watch. The beach itself is very clean white sand, and it was fun walking around.

Caribbean barrier reef

San Pedro coast

That first afternoon in San Pedro we didn't do much more than have a good meal and settle in to Xanadu. We turned in early, because we knew we had an early start the next morning: the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha.

15 December 2008

Belize: Pook's Hill

(This is part 2 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

David introduced us to his co-manager (and wife) Kat and the owner (Ray) and took our bags to our cabanas (I'd never seen a thatched roof up close before). We took it easy that afternoon, and it got dark around 6PM. After the amazing sunsets, we mostly hung out at the main cabana, which has hammocks, chairs, a well-stocked bar, and a few sugar-water dispensers that were very popular with the local hummingbirds. This gave us an opportunity to get acquainted with some of the other guests: at one point I got to have a fun visit with a self-described "petrol head" from Britain, and we talked about Steve McQueen movies. After a few drinks, dinner was served downstairs, and we were treated to a delicious buffet-style meal. After some after-dinner coffee and tea (and maybe a few more cocktails), we retired to our cabanas for the night. I found that I really enjoyed falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

Pook's Hill sunset

American oil palm

main cabana

The next morning (Saturday), my companions went on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) adventure tour. I picked up a charming sinus infection around the time we began this trip, so I stayed at Pook's. My friends said that it was a great experience, in which they hiked, explored some caverns, and visited Mayan ruins. The hike to the ATM cave requires four river crossings each way, and there are no bridges: you swim across. So, although they said it was lots of fun, my friends told me that I'd made a good decision to skip it. So I had a quiet morning at Pook's, and by afternoon I felt perked up enough to do part of one of the hiking trails. By the time I got back to the lodge, my friends had returned from the ATM trip, and we enjoyed another evening at the main cabana.

Americal oil palm

Sunday morning we finished out the hiking trail I'd started the previous afternoon. That route took us across a large meadow and along several well-kept jungle trails. That afternoon we had a real treat: we went inner-tubing down the Roaring River. It was surprisingly fun and relaxing. The water was cool but not cold, and it was amazingly clear. There was a great swimming hole in a bend of the river, and we had a high time hanging around there for about an hour. We saw some sleeping bats hanging from a tree, some fresh footprints (probably a tapir) on the riverbank, and we got a kick out of watching the smaller fish nibbling at the skin of our feet (that tickled a bit).

canopy entry

River Trail bush

looking across the Roaring River

standing in the Roaring River

Sunday evening's pre-dinner drinking was on the roof of the owner's house, which is up at the top of the hill and afforded a breathtaking view of the valley. We saw several egret flocks fly to their nighttime nesting areas, and we were up high enough to see the hills.

flight of egrets

Monday morning we spent a little time on one of the other hiking trails near Pook's, this one through the jungle above the owner's house. At one point we all heard something moving around to our left, but we never saw what it was. And then we took the monstrously-bumpy road back to Teakettle Village, the Western Highway back to Belize City and its municipal airport, and a Tropic Air prop to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. That was a really cool flight out over the water. It offered a great view of the clear waters of the Carribean and the barrier reef. A short cab ride got us to our home for the next four days: Xanadu Resort.


14 December 2008

Belize: Arrival

(This is part 1 of a 6-part description of a trip I took to Belize with friends just after Thanksgiving 2008. I put my pictures a flickr.)

Two friends of mine (L and KL) and I flew to Houston on Thanksgiving where we were met by two other friends (K and H). We spent the night there and then got up the next morning and took a Continental jet to the Belize City International Airport. After going through immigration and customs, we stepped outside and were met by David, one of the managers at Pook's Hill Lodge. Pook's is a great place in the jungle of the Cayo District, far away from any population centers.

David packed us and our stuff into a van, and we headed westward on the Western Highway. After about an hour, we stopped at a restaurant called Amigos and had a delicious lunch of stewed chicken, rice and beans, and Belikin beer. Due to import restrictions, Belikin is about the only beer you can get in Belize--fortunately it's very good.

After lunch we went to the Belize Zoo, which features howler monkeys, spider monkeys, owls, tapirs (which were quite a bit bigger than I expected), otters, coatis, a puma (also larger than I expected), a pair of HUGE crocodiles, a couple of jaguars, and some really foul-smelling wild pigs called peccaries. I didn't get many good pictures, but I got a short movie of one of the jaguars (he came right up to the fence).


Another hour on the Western Highway brought us to Teakettle Village. We took a monstrously bumpy dirt road for about a half an hour, and then we arrived at Pook's Hill Lodge, where we spent the next three days.