Saturday, May 5, 2007

Belize Day 8: Buh Bye

The last morning in San Pedro! We woke up, grabbed some breakfast, and watched as the new crew of people came rolling into the island. We walked to Ramon's one last time. Wyatt snorkeled, and Ann took in the ocean views and soaked up a little more sun before returning to the hotel to pack.

We set out for the San Pedro Airport and awaited our plane. It is hot and dusty, but it is time to leave before we know it. We climb into the same 12 seater plane.

It's another smooth and uneventful flight. And the views are fantastic.

Upon arriving at Belize City International Airport, we collect our bags and check in with American Airlines. Once we remembered to fill out our departure forms, we paid our exit fee of $65 and headed off in search of food. We must have forgotten that this is the smallest international airport on earth, so the only food available are hot dogs, candy bars, and beer. Jett's Lounge was hopping with hungry travelers. (Jett's is run by a short man whose voice sounds rather munchkin like.)

Alas, our flight to Dallas is delayed and the chances of actually making our connection to KC are bleak. Fortunately, we have adopted the easy going Belizean attitude and just don't worry about it (even though by this point, Jett's has run out of beer).

We land in Dallas a little before 10 pm and despite the easiest customs line we've ever seen, we miss our KC flight. American Airlines immediately shuttles us to the Grand Hyatt where they pay for our dinner of hamburgers and fries. Ah, it is lovely to be back in beef country.

After an all too short night of sleep, we board the 7:05 am flight to KC where we are greeted with torrential rain and a flooded basement. Home sweet home.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Belize Day 7: NASCART

We could not find a tour group to take us to the Mexican Rocks snorkel location, so we decided to rent a golf cart for a few hours. Our cart was gas powered and could probably get up to 20 mph. Wyatt did his best to exceed the 15 mph speed limit posted on some streets. In San Pedro proper it was just too crowded to go fast.

We went about 1.5 miles north. In order to go north, we had to pay a $5 toll at the bridge over the split in the island. There was a ton of new construction going up. Nearly every beach front lot was filled, but the further we went, the more the trees would cover the buildings. It gave the illusion of the jungle--kind of the tropical version of the burbs. Parts of the road were not very flat, requiring Wyatt to do some fancy maneuvers to both avoid bumps and maintain a high rate of speed. Ann thought it would be OK to go slower, but she wasn't driving.

After terrorizing the north, we headed south to complete the circle of our reign of terror. (There was one couple that Wyatt almost clipped twice.) We probably only went a mile south of Corona del Mar before we realized that it would just be more of the same.

Feeling a bit dusty and soar, we carted ourselves to Estel's for lunch. The floors were sand, the menu was a chalk board, and most of the clientele appeared to be locals. Wyatt had the snapper sandwich (9/10). Ann had the shrimp sandwich (8.5/10).

Ann then went to the beach to read. Wyatt watched part of "Seraphim Falls," which was kind of entertaining, but the ending was even more preposterous than Pierce Brosnan being a superhuman warrior/survivalist.

We tried to snorkel off our dock, but the boats and wind reduced the visibility to less than 15 feet. All the beaches on the island are public, so we headed to Ramon's, which has an artificial reef. There were thousands of smaller but colorful fish darting about in small and large schools.

We walk back to Corona del Mar, where the power went out right at the end of "Seraphim Falls." We later found out that a truck carrying metal joists clipped a power pole which took several other poles down in a disastrous chain reaction. The power came back about an hour later.

We went to Wet Willy's to listen to the best blues band on the island play the last gig of the season. They were extremely talented. We ran into Roy again, and chatted with him about jobs and growing grass on an island and septic system proximity to drinking water wells and other vaguely interesting minutia of island life. He also brought a cute puppy over for us to pet.

Getting hungry now, we bailed on Roy and the fantastic blues band, heading to the Reef Restaurant, where someone had told Roy you could get some tasty seafood. It took some convincing, but we eventually went in. Ann discovered that the bathroom did not have a sink, and Wyatt thought the chips and salsa were mediocre. Ann had grilled snapper (8.5/10). Wyatt had Mexican conch (9.5/10). We didn't get sick later..yay.

We were ready to party, so we hit Fido's. A rock cover band was playing. They were exceptional, making us 2 for 2 on bands for the evening. The only problem was that they paused for too long in between songs. Tens of Brits were filing into Fido's. We guess the invasion was thanks to a large flight that had arrived in the afternoon. We saw Tiger briefly, but it was a little too crazy for him to handle.

The conversation denominator from Cannibals came up to Wyatt and started talking about his broker, a truck, and how he was a 3rd world white boy. Wyatt told the man that he did not understand. The man repeated the insanity. Wyatt told him to go away. He called Wyatt a "little pussy." Wyatt signaled the bartender. The man ran off, keeping his distance for the rest of the night.

We finished our flight of Belikins, and hit the dance floor for 8 to 10 songs. Yes, we finally stayed up past midnight!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Belize Day 6: Scuba Wyatt

Wyatt and Ann split up for the morning, so Wyatt could do a little diving outside the reef and Ann could soak up rays and read. The scuba company was Aqua Dives. They picked Wyatt up a little after 9 from the dock to get measured for equipment, etc. There were 7 divers, 1 guide, and 1 captain. The wind was particularly strong, so some of the waves around the edge of the reef were 8-10 ft. It was rough! We were getting a little bit of air off our butts.

The first dive was Tackle Box Canyon. We jumped in and descended immediately, not wanting any part of the chop on the surface. We were greeted by 3 nurse sharks circling at the bottom. Hmm...I wonder if people feed these guys? We spent most of our time going through "swim-throughs," which are tunnels and tight canyons that are no longer than 60 ft. It was an interesting challenge, but it was not a good way to see fish and it wasn't eco-friendly. My tank banged into the reef at least twice. We did see lots of grouper and nurse sharks. Our maximum depth was about 85 ft.

San Pedro Canyon was Wyatt's second dive of the day and last dive of the trip. 3 divers from the previous dive were nauseated and chose to sit this one out. Generally, that's a good thing: less divers tend to see more fish. This was definitely the case on this dive. It was unreal how much stuff we saw: 2 sea turtles (one was 10 yards away from Wyatt), 2 moray eels completely out and swimming around, and a 2.5 ft. grouper nearly kissed Wyatt. Our guide was playing with one of the moray eels as if it was a cat. That was probably the craziest thing Wyatt saw the entire trip. (He likes his fingers way too much to play with an eel.) During the eel play time, 5 nurse sharks started circling us, thinking they were going to get some food. Our maximum depth was about 60 ft.

Wyatt got back from diving around 1. We went to the Blue Water Grill for lunch. Wyatt had a shrimp po'boy with fries (8.5/10). Ann had the fried fish sandwich with pasta salad (9.5/10).

We walked back to the hotel and cooled off with a nap. Feeling rejuvenated, we had a happy hour cocktail out on our dock. A pelican showed off his fishing skills for us. Wyatt tried to photograph the sunset, but found the greatest beauty on the dock.

We walked to town to have dinner at Elvi's, which is probably the most storied restaurant on the island. She started as a take out stand vendor on the street. With some success, she added a few tables, and ultimately built a restaurant with a sand floor and a large tree growing in the middle. There was also a 2-man band playing lots of Bob Marley. Ann had the seafood special, which was conch, shrimp, scallops, squid, and a crab claw covered by a fruity salsa with coconut rice on the side (9.5/10). Wyatt had the same, despite the fruity salsa (9/10).

Feeling the food coma start to kick in, we headed to Fido's. It was recommended by a guy that tried to sell us some weed. He also played keyboard for the band playing that night. His eyes were very red...hmm....we thought nothing of it. The owner's cat was named Tiger and had free reign in the restaurant. He found some cat haters and aggressively bugged them for at least 10 minutes.

The reggae band was good; although some of the songs we were hearing for the third time that night, as Elvi's band doubled up on a few of their songs when they changed lead singers. The people watching was exceptional. We knew Fido's would be a repeat.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Belize Day 5: Scuba Ann...or not

Ann decides she will give the resort scuba course a try. The resort course is intended to give you a taste of scuba diving, to see if you're interested in getting certified which takes 3-4 days to do. We are once again picked up from our dock around 9 am. We are joined by two other couples and two tour guides. One couple is from San Francisco and are snorkelers. The other couple is from the DC area: one is scuba certified and the other is doing the resort course as well.

We return to Shark Ray Alley and it is much less crowded today. The nurse sharks are plentiful and the stingrays are huge!

The snorkelers and Wyatt enter the water, and swim around the boat while the guide feeds and picks up stingrays. Ann and the other guy (along with his wife who is too freaked out to get in the water) stay on the boat to take a crash course in scuba theory from the other guide. After listening to the guide talk about the B/C vest, the regulator, clearing the mask, and all things scuba, Ann thinks she is in over her head.

While Ann and company are still learning the scuba basics, Wyatt, the 2 snorkelers, and the snorkel guide swim close to the edge of the barrier reef. The guide picks up a hairy starfish and lets everyone hold it. We see a few more nurse sharks, and bright schools of yellow and white fish.

Everyone piles back in the boat and we go over to Hol Chan. It is the moment of truth and Ann is FREAKED out. That armada of stingrays is nothing compared to this! Despite her desires to go snorkeling instead, she decides that she might as well give this a try. The B/C vest is heavy and awkward, but manageable. Breathing through the regulator is fine as well, but she just isn't ready to descend 30 feet below the surface (but she's going to spend some quality time at the deep end of the pool this summer to conquer her fears) and decides to let Wyatt and the other resort diver carry on. Unfortunately, the snorkelers have setsailed, so Ann climbs back in the boat (after waiting for a nurse shark to clear the ladder area). She chats with the resort diver's other half who is still too scared to get in the water after the last stop--how did this girl get scuba ceritfied? Unfortunately in all the excitement of Scuba Ann, we failed to actually get a picture of Scuba Ann. This is just as well. The B/C vest is less than flattering.

Snorkelers return and report that they saw a sea turtle. Ann is very jealous. The scuba divers return and say their trip was successful, although the current was exceptionally strong. Apparently, that morning was the second strongest tide of the entire year due to the full moon. Information that would have been handy prior to the dive. Wyatt reassures Ann that she made the right decision by hanging back as conditions were not optimal for a first time diver.

Back on land, we opted out of the chicken pooping action. Instead, we vegged out: Ann read her book on the beach; Wyatt watched a movie up in the room. Around 3:00 pm, we decided a snack was in order so we walked into town.

Wyatt is beyond famished and suggested the first food place that we came across that was still open for lunch - Ali Babba's. It is a tiny place, very stuffy and warm. A large picture of Jordan hangs on the wall and there are several chickens roasting outside. We each had a falafel wrap. Ann rated it 6/10. Wyatt rated his 5.5/10, but later changed his rating to -5.5/10 for reasons we do not need to explain in great detail.

We strolled around a bit more and landed at Cannibal's beach side bar where we encountered the San Francisco couple from our trip earlier in the day. Everyone at the bar seemed to swapping diving/snorkeling stories including one guy who would not shut up about his new dry snorkel. Much to the bartender's chagrin (and frankly everyone else at the bar), we quickly finished our beer, headed elsewhere, and left the others with Mr. Dry Snorkel Conversation Dominator. Unfortunately, we would see him again....

We ended up once again at BC's and snagged a table out on the beach to watch watch the people walking by. Highlights included the Banana Nut Bread lady who sings "Fresh Banana Nut Bread" as she walks with her dog Diggity. We were also amused by some childhood love triangle between three 10 year olds. But the best part of the evening was the full moon rise. It was spectacular - the pictures just don't do it justice. The dogs enjoyed it too. The black dog is the male and the brown dog is his girlfriend, according to one of the local children. He is very protective of the female and bit Wyatt's entire forearm lightly when he tried to pet her.

Before heading home, we stopped by Celi's Restaurant for their beach BBQ and enjoyed grilled fish with beans and coleslaw (8/10). Cheap eats! We were entertained by a two-man band consisting of vocals, guitar, and keyboard. They played some Willie Nelson and Hank Williams for us.

We then retired to our room. Ann chilled on the balcony while Wyatt went to bed. Damn you Ali Babba!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Belize Day 4: Manatee Hunt

We spent the entire day on a Manatee Watching / Snorkeling / Beach BBQ trip around the cayes. Our "Searious" tour guides picked us up from Woody's Wharf a little before 9 am. The boat is pretty full: around 17 in all plus two tour guides.

We take a 60 minute (or 4 drink as our tour guide joked) boat ride past the major cayes. We cruised past the east side of Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, and St. George's Caye. Caye Caulker remains relatively undeveloped, while the other two cayes seem to have more of a "resort" feel to them. We also see some shacks on stilts positioned on sand bars over the open water. Wouldn't want to be there during a storm that's for sure! The water is pretty smooth and the boat ride is rather enjoyable.

After zipping through some mangroves, we come up on Swallow Caye and the manatee preserve. According to our tour guide, much of the manatee population's decline was due to accidental death by motors from passing boats or intentional poaching for their bones which are similar to an elephant's ivory tusks. Early settlers also used to make manatee jerky called buccan. This is where the term buccaneer came from.

At first it seems like the whole manatee portion of the trip is going to be a bust. The sun is beating down on us as we try to carefully scan the water for any movement. Our secondary guide is having trouble maneuvering the boat with the large stick and actually ran us into a sign. (As Wyatt says, this is ecotourism at its best.) We see two manatee surface, but they are quite far away.

But then we encounter the trusty park ranger who informs our guides that there is a friendly manatee just around the corner. Thank you Mr. Manatee Park Ranger Guy!

Now we're cooking! We carefully float over. You can feel everyone on the boat just holding their breath, actually hear everyone intently analyzing the water, when finally the manatee surfaces and actually heads towards our boat for a friendly hello. It is an awesome sight!

Next we motor over to Goff's Caye, a little further south and west of Swallow Caye. It is a 1-2 drink boat ride. Goff's Caye is straight out of a Corona commercial: the quintessential deserted tropical island. There are quite a few Belizeans enjoying their Labor Day national holiday and most seemed to have no qualms of sharing their little piece of paradise with us.

While our primary guide BBQ'd up some lunch for us, we went snorkeling with our other guide. Ann was a little unsure about snorkeling without a floatation device, but she decided she could make it and everything turned out just fine. (Even though it was rather crowded with 18 snorkelers all in the same area.) We saw beautiful coral and several large schools of smaller fish, plus a medium sized barracuda.

After a yummy lunch of BBQ'd chicken, potatoes, and pasta salad (plus Coke in a glass bottle and a coconut tart), we headed over to The Aquarium - a snorkel stop off Caye Caulker. (This was quite a long way: a 3-4 drink boat ride.) The Aquarium is Caye Caulker's answer to Shark Ray Alley, except here the water is only about 4 feet deep so the nurse sharks and stingrays are VERY close to you. Ann lasted nearly the entire duration, but returned to the boat after an armada of 5-6 stingrays floated right underneath her like B2 Bombers in flight formation.

Shortly after Ann's departure, Wyatt saw a huge barracuda, which was around 4 feet in length. It's the dark one on the right. Wyatt didn't want to get to close.

Next, we took a quick ride to Caye Caulker where our guides dropped us off and let us walk the town for about a half hour. We strolled down really the only street in town, taking in this very laid back, undeveloped town. There are several small hotels and restaurants as well as shops and tour operators, but nothing flashy.

We ended up at the split in the island created by Hurricane Hattie in the 1960's. This is where the Lazy Lizard Bar is located and it was hopping, mainly with locals. Wyatt tried the Lizard Juice, but Ann played it safe with a Belikin.

Our guides picked us up at the split and we waved good bye to the kids who were trying to impress us with their human pyramid.

Before heading back to San Pedro, our guides took us to the east side of the island and showed us that the folks on Caye Caulker are working hard on preserving the ecology of their beautiful island. Mangroves cover the back side of this island, despite the fact that they could clear these out to make room for more beach and more hotels. In one particular area, seahorses flourish and our guide quietly floats the boat towards this area and scoops a few out of the water to show us.

But wait, there's more! We get a surprise wildlife viewing just as we were leaving Caye Caulker. Five or so bottlenose dolphins splash up out of the water and put on a little show for us. They are quick and very difficult to photograph, but it was the perfect ending to our fun-filled day.

Back at Corona del Mar, we get cleaned up and decide that we are starving! Unfortunately, it is Labor Day and several restaurants are closed so we settled on Mango's which was hopping: a 40 minute wait, which seems to be virtually unheard of on this tiny island. So, we grabbed a couple of margaritas and chatted with a lovely couple from Cleveland while we waited. Before we knew it, we were seated. We started with empanadas--the ones with fish were awesome! Ann had Grouper la Plancha (planchas = bananas) which was excellent. Wyatt had cashew-encrusted Mahi Mahi which surprisingly was just okay. Mental note: Belize does not have fresh Mahi Mahi.

No live music at Crazy Canuck's. We decided this was just as well. It had been a fun, action-packed day and we were pooped. Plus, we had big plans for tomorrow morning.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Belize Day 3: First Snorkel

We headed out to snorkel at 9, having set it up with the front desk only 10 minutes prior. Our tour was through Searious Adventures. Jeff, our guide, picked us up from our dock. There were 5 other snorkelers on board: an older couple that liked to take pictures, two women from Denver (one was originally from Overland Park and went to Bishop Meige, which is only a few blocks away from our house), and a younger girl from San Diego that just graduated from med school. (The San Diego girl had just been in Guatemala, and said there was no noticeable unrest.)

Our first snorkel location was Hol Chan. 3 or 4 other boats were already at the site when we arrived. Once our boat was anchored, a nurse shark greeted us with a wagging tail. The fish are fed in these areas, so they are very friendly. Once in the water, we saw tons of crevalle jack, a moray eel, a huge eagle ray, 5 nurse shark, a couple big grouper, a baby barracuda, and ton of other smaller fish. The reef was teaming with life.

Shark Ray Alley was our second snorkel location. There were less fish here, but there were still a bunch. We saw a little nurse shark, lots of social jack fish, and huge schools of fish trying to blend in with the coral. Very vibrant colors (even if you are color blind).

Afterwards, we napped, laid out, and read. Ann declared that it would probably take 10 years for Wyatt to finish the book he was reading: she's probably right. We noticed that we are 10 buildings down from a barge unloading point. It is kind of annoying, but we get used to it. When the hunger bug struck, we hit Coconuts, next door. Wyatt had chowder with conch, snapper, and shrimp with rice (8.5/10). Ann had fried shrimp with fries (7/10). We then watched "Blades of Glory": two thumbs up for the flying scissor finale.

We went to Caramba's for dinner. We had Ceviche and chips to start (7/10). Wyatt had jerk snapper fillet, which was shockingly spicy (8.5/10). Ann had Caribbean snapper (8.5/10). While were walking home along the beach, we witnessed a small black man tell a plus-sized white women that he was only interested in monogamous relations (paraphrasing for the kids). Furthermore, she was going to have to "make a choice." in tropics!