Sunday, December 23, 2007

Season's Greetings

After months of searching the mountains and valleys of Boquete, Randy and I found our little slice of heaven. We are officially Panamanian landowners! See pictures of our property here.

We left Boquete in late October and flew to the States. While in the US, we have been quite busy with family gatherings including my Mom's 60th birthday party, Thanksgiving, our wedding and a baby shower for my brother Kevin and his wife Tracey who are due in February with the first baby in our family. Rand returns to Boquete mid January and I will join him there in February after becoming an aunt!

Randy and I have been relaxing and enjoying a long honeymoon at a beach house in Corpus Christi, TX. We've decorated our small Christmas tree with shells and sand dollars we've found on our daily beach walks. His family joins us for the holidays here at the beach for a festive "beachy keen" Christmas.

Construction of our house will begin in Boquete soon after our return and fingers crossed, by fall 2008 we should be in our new place! We are so looking forward to finally being settled in our own home. The coming months will no doubt be an adventure since we are both first time home builders. The fact that we're taking on this task in Panama should make it REALLY interesting.

The blog will pick back up with regular entries after we are both back in Panama, so check in with us here mid February for the stories and pictures of your pals the Panamanian Pigotts. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pacific Time

Rand and I haven't done any river fishing during our time in Panama (can you believe that?) because it has been rainy season and the rivers are muddy and rough. That being the case, Randy has been chomping at the bit to get his fishing fix in any way possible, so when our friend Thomas invited us to join him and his friend Bob for a day of fishing on the Pacific, we were more than eager.

Bob's 25 foot Panga boat carried us out amongst the many Pacific islands in search of tuna, roosterfish, wahoo or whatever else might be biting. The fact that we didn't catch any fish was overshadowed by the good fortune of seeing several huge frolicking whales in the distance. They were jumping out of the water, slapping the surface with their huge tails, seemingly celebrating some underwater triumph. It was the kind of thing you see in those National Geographic films. We wanted to get a closer look but when they became aware that we were gaining on them, they vanished from view for the rest of the day.

Undaunted, we proceeded to enjoy our afternooon, stopping off at sensational deserted beaches and finishing up with a WHOLE fish dinner before motoring back to the launch in the rain. When our heads hit the pillow that night, we slept hard.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Boquete Dog Show

The Boquete Dog Show was a nice little Sunday treat and was well attended by Panamanians and Expats alike with canine friends in tow. Dogs of all shapes and sizes were present including a tiny Chihuahua trying to live up to his given name - Thor - by snarling and yipping at any dog daring to encroach upon his personal space.
The crowd was entertained as puppies showed their recently learned (forgotten) obedience skills and adolescent dogs
dazzled the crowd,

rocketing through the air over five, and eventually six, people with ease.

One of the old timers confined to the sidelines was obviously NOT enjoying having to endure a young lad mounting him and desperately flashed a classic "Get this brat off of me!" face.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Panama Canal

From the Miraflores Locks, we watched as gigantic ships entered from the Pacific and made their way through the first leg of the Panama Canal on their way to the Atlantic. The canal cuts across the lowest point in the Continental Divide and through one of the narrowest points between the two oceans. There are 12 sets of locks. Each may be filled or emptied in less than 10 minutes, and each pair of lock gates takes two minutes to open. Electric towing locomotives, called "mules", pull ships by cable through the locks. The mules are the only locomotives of their kind in the world, designed specifically for the Canal. You can see two different ships passing through at different levels in the photo at left and the little mules as well.

The Panama Canal expansion project broke ground on September 3rd. The expansion will cost $5.25 billion (WOW!) and is scheduled for completion in 2014. When finished, the Canal will have a new lane for ship traffic and a whole new set of locks, which will double capacity and allow more traffic and longer, wider ships. It is amazing to see the Canal and realize that it was completed in 1914 and has been running efficiently, 24/7 with no reworking in almost one hundred years. Impressive indeed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Arrival - Panama City

We made a spur of the moment decision to go East instead of heading back West towards Boquete. Since we already had a rental car and were only an hour and a half outside of the big city we motored on to conquer Panama Ciudad and witness the marvel that is the Panama Canal. Upon our arrival, we realized that our entry was a bit ill timed as it was Friday rush hour. To be sure, the road rules aren't as obvious as they are in the States and we had no idea of where we were OR where we were going.

After bumbling through different areas of the city for an hour and a half, thankfully avoiding any accidents (good job Captain Randy), we were both nail bitten and frazzled. We decided to find ANY hotel, just to be off the streets. One of the first places we cased turned out to be a "by the hour" joint. We gathered this after observing the young, rotund chica pawing at the much older muchacho at her side, all the while flaunting her "goods" under the blue bra not even remotely covered by her cheetah dress. As the muchacho's hands fumbled for the money to pay the desk clerk, it was obvious he was in a hurry to get going on the "big game" he'd found on his afternoon's safari. Needless to say, we passed on that particular venue.

We found lodging at the Executive Hotel and ordered up a tasty Pizza Hut pizza-aren't we adventurous?-and watched from our balcony as a mystical sunset brought on the night.

Monday, September 24, 2007

We Do Decameron

Decameron catered to all tastes with 11 restaurants, 11 bars and six large pools with gardens surrounding them all on a hill overlooking the Pacific ocean. We ate at a different locale for each meal and the food wasn't bad, certainly acceptable. What's not to like about gigantic buffets? There were ala carte options in some of the restaurants too.
The weather cooperated perfectly and we took lengthy walks on the 2 mile long playa both days of our stay. As usual, Rand planned and provided an exquisite birthday for me as he seems to be able to do not just on special occasions, but daily. I'm spoiled and LOVING IT!

The Get Away

Apologies for the SEVERELY delinquent blog entry. We've been quite involved with the land scene lately. Randy wisely advises me not to count any chickens before they hatch but if all goes according to plan, we will soon be land owners in Boquete (and it's a seriously sweet piece of land, so fingers crossed!) All the time spent with builders, engineers, surveyors and architects was weighing on us and becoming pretty consuming so we were ready for a hiatus!

Randy made reservations for my 33rd birthday at the all-inclusive Decameron Resort. The price was right but we weren't sure how it would turn out because all-inclusives are a toss up. We were optimistic though, hoping for the best. The resort was a 6 hour drive from Boquete and we saw some exotic road kill along the way.

We arrived at Decameron and went to check in but found no reception desk. Instead, we were given a number and told to sit and wait in a huge room for them to call us up. When our number was called, we proceeded to one of the five tables at the front and were given oh so classy neck lanyards with our room keys on them and fashioned with hot pink wrist bands on our left arms. Not looking good so far, we thought. Fortunately though, our room was charming and large with a nice view. We changed into our beach gear and set off to explore the premesis.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We Want the Funk

Always keen to take full advantage of the sunny mornings before the now much longer lasting afternoon rains, we hopped a taxi for El Explorador. These gardens are known more for their quirkiness than for their beauty. To say that "the trees have eyes" is quite literally true at El Explorador. It was as if the owners of these gardens purposefully populated them with things one would never think of finding in a garden setting: gutted TV sets, shopping carts, empty plastic containers and old shoes among other strange choices. Instead of items being thrown away after their purpose has been served, they were used to create funky, recycled garden "art".

Although it may not sound like a pleasant aesthetic experience, Rand and I actually found it more charming than our recent visit to the more traditional Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin (see earlier post); both boasted beautiful flora but El Explorador enchanted with an odd but kind of creative and cool style that made a lasting impression on both of us.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Can't Take It With You

On one of our drives through the surrounding areas of Boquete, we passed an amazing castle that appeared to be either only partly completed or dilapidated, we weren't sure which. It sat in the shade of many tall, majestic eucalyptus trees and just back from the clear, thundering Rio Caldera. It was quite a sight to see and Rand and I wondered if it might be for sale.

We asked Arturo, our friend and realtor about it. He explained that it was not for sale and told us the following story about it: An elderly man bought the land years ago and was bound and determined to build himself a castle. The old fellow had made up his mind that he would do the construction alone and refused help whenever it was offered. Arturo said he would see the man transporting materials from town on his horse, pulling three other horses loaded with supplies behind him. Randy and I weren't the first to admire what we'd seen; many people offered the old man millions for his pristine plot of land but he refused time and again.
Sadly, the old chap died before he could complete his dream project leaving behind his partially finished castle on its amazing piece of land. Sadder still is that his 8 siblings are now engaged in a bitter family feud over the property as the one thing he didn't leave behind was a will.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin

Everyone is welcome at Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin, a charming display of Boquete's flora. Private homes within the gardens share the grounds with visitors who meander across the stone paths taking in the surrounding colors and fragrances. Rand and I passed a pleasant morning at the gardens, collecting a slew of botanical photographs (click on our photo gallery to see them) as we toured. There were even some figurines interspersed and as you can see, we amused ourselves posing with them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A "YES" Could Cost You

A lot of local folks in Boquete don't speak English. This is good for us. It forces to continually improve our Spanish comprehension and conversation.

We were out with our friend and realtor Arturo recently. He is a native Spanish speaker now completely fluent in English. He recounted a story to us about being "lost in translation" that we found quite hilarious.

Arturo went to the States years ago for college and specifically asked to room with four American guys so that he'd be surrounded by English speakers, thus learning faster. One day, none of his roommates were home and the phone rang. He answered it and said "Yes" numerous times to things he didn't understand (I find myself doing this a lot) and gave the person on the other end of the phone his name and address and ended up ordering a $200 set of Encyclopedias! He was on a strict budget so it was a costly mistake for him that he certainly couldn't afford. He said that he was petrified to talk on the phone for months and months afterwards. Poor Arturo! I hope we are lucky enough NOT to lose $200 as we stumble down the road to fluency.

Sticky Ending

We've made friends with an Irish chap named Tom. Tom is a jolly fellow and both Randy and I enjoy his company. He invited us to join him and a buddy of his on a trip to one of his favorite locales - the Caldera Hot Springs, 45 minutes away from Boquete. Rand had been feeling a bit under the weather and Tom claimed that the natural minerals in the springs were just the thing to sharpen him right up. It sounded like fun to us. If we got the added bonus of Rand starting to feel closer to 100% as a result, all the better.

A bumpy, misty ride in Tom's 4x4 Jeep eventually brought us to the end of the road, we'd continue the rest of the way on foot. We disembarked and made our way in the direction of the springs with Tom in the lead. Down a rocky slope we trudged, through a marsh and finally into a flat pasture area shaded by the canopy overhead. Tom paused in front of a log bridge and waited as a young kid shimmied across the log to collect a dollar from each of us-our entrance fee for the springs.

We chose one of the three pools and eased into the agua caliente. My, MY it was wonderfully warm and relaxing! It began to rain and the cool drops were a nice compliment to spring's temperature. When we started to get too hot, we stepped out and walked down to the river. The cold water took our body temperatures back down quickly.

It continued to rain and after another soak in the springs we decided to make our way back to the Jeep so as to traverse the footpath prior to nightfall. Rand remarked that the pouring rain reminded him of "Nam". On the road, we were thankful for the Jeep's 4x4 capacity as the uphill climb was now a mud pit. We arrived home safely and agreed that we'd had a splendid time and also that we'd never been so drenched from a rain storm. The only things negatively impacted by the downpour were the candy suckers tucked in Randy's soggy backpack. They had thoroughly melted coating the inside of the pack with strawberry, grape and cherry goo. The clean up proved a sticky one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the Land Quest

We've devoted time to looking at land lately. A lot of the existing houses here are too large for us and out of our price range. The Boquete property boom is underway and has been for a few years so prices are climbing consistently. Forbes Magazine's article listing Boquete as one of the top 5 places in the world to retire heightened the already escalating attention and prices.

So far, it seems our best bet will be to buy land and build a home. This is an exciting but intimidating possibility as neither Rand nor I have experience in this area. If we do build, we'll rely heavily on our chosen architect and builder for guidance.

Our list of "must haves" grows more and more vivid with each new piece of land we see. We know that we want to be quite high in the mountains so as to have that "I'm on top of the world, lookin' down on creation" feeling. Secondly, existing water and electricity lines are paramount. Too many nights of barking dogs and improperly timed wee-hour-of-the-morning, repetitive rooster calls have caused us to add the NO CHICKEN/BARKING FACTOR to our list as well. Continued refining will undoubtedly occur.

Above is me in a tree on one of our property faves and one of the views from another top contender with Volcan Baru hiding in the clouds in the background. We meet with a potential lawyer today to discuss securing permanent resident visas.

IN on Boquete

It is undeniable that Boquete has an unusual magic to it. Our exploratory missions of the towns near by just haven't enchanted us the way this little town has. It doesn't matter if it is a sunny morning, or a misty, rainy afternoon...Randy and I are IN. We've guzzled the preverbal Kool-aid. If all the puzzle pieces fit, this will be HOME for us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Coast to Coast

Though we had originally thought we would spend both days with our rental car in Volcan, we decided to really get our money's worth and drive to the Pacific Coast and then to the Caribbean. Panama's horizontal, sideways "S" shape lends itself to easy access to both coasts. The Pacific side (below) was smolderingly hot partly due to the black volcanic sand. Having started our day in the mountains, we weren't appropriately dressed and hurried back to our car's a/c after snapping a quick picture.

We took the only road in the area that cuts through the country and were bowled over by Panama's beauty, especially in the high altitudes. We made our way up, up and up and then down witnessing the scenery change from lush, green mountains to lush green jungle. It only took us about an hour and a half to slice through Panama and reach the Caribbean coast (right). The road spit us out in anti-climactic Grand Chiriqui, a port town from whence we'll eventually take a ferry over to the famed beach area of Bocas Del Torro. With our rental due back the next day however, we had to save the Bocas del Torro trip for a later time. With Captain Randy at the wheel, we headed back to Boquete. We decided to milk our car time the next morning and motor to areas of Boquete inaccessible to us on foot.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


We got a lot more than we bargained for at Don Tavo's that night. I guess the glass door separating the lobby from the rooms should have been a clue. Upon check-in though, we failed to notice the bar in the rear of the motel. An easy mistake to make as it was early when we turned in for the night and things hadn't yet begun to hop. The road noise was pretty noticeable from our room but we were tired from our day and found slumber easily. Later though, the bar started pumping, and the music, singing and partying rose to a level that was the antithesis of soporific, to say the least. Either someone left the glass door open, or it didn't do squat to muffle the sounds.

To top it all off, at what we guessed must have been midnight, everyone in town owning a car got into their vehicle and began honking their horns and yelling. The "joyful honking parade of fun" continued for about 15 minutes as the cars motored up and back and up and back down through the streets of town. It was one of those situations where all we could do was laugh. Little did we know that we had just audibly witnessed our first Panamanian GO BIG OR GO HOME celebration. We had arrived on the 156th anniversary of the Chiriqui Region and the locals did indeed GO BIG and NOT HOME until the wee hours of the morning. Silly Gringos, sleep is for wusses!

Volcan & English Trap

There is no direct road from Boquete to Volcan. Currently, to reach Volcan, you head South to the city of David then West in the direction of the Costa Rica border then North up to Volcan. David is very still and muggy, a sharp contrast to Boquete's and Volcan's higher, breezy climates. We were surprised to see that although Volcan is situated just on the other side of Volcan Baru, the look of the countryside was quite different than in Boquete. Large, gorgeous mountains graced the sky on either side of the city, beautiful to behold but the town itself was flat. Another difference is that Boquete is overflowing with flowers everywhere you look but Volcan had very few. We drove around all afternoon, seeing what Volcan had to offer, going down side roads anxious to see what was off the beaten path. It was a beautiful area with rolling, green hills and outstanding views.
The town to the North of Volcan, Cerra Punta, is a farming community and we were amazed to see farmers working on a very steep incline. Sadly though, the town is so heavily drowned with pesticides that you can actually smell them when you drive into Cerra Punta. No thanks.

Upon arriving back in Volcan, we found an acceptable little dive called Don Tavo's that would house us for the night. The folks there suggested the Pollo Loco for dinner and it was quite good. The guitar on the wall made Randy miss and wish for his, so the owner of the Pollo Loco called a local Gringo named Wade and had him bring his guitar to the restaurant.

Wade was a nice old fellow and he and Rand traded off playing guitar and singing. It was a nice "fix" for Randy. As the two played and the evening continued, other Gringos arrived at the place. That night, it really hit us that if you don't make a concerted effort to speak and learn Spanish and really TRY and break into the local culture, you could easily find yourself with only English speakers as friends. Don't get me wrong, it is very comforting to have the option to converse in English sometimes, however these folks, while nice, seemed lonely and in a way, trapped with only each other in their foreign language "paradise" of Volcan.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lilliput Land

These "trumpet plants" (not sure of what their official name is yet) are pleasantly scattered on many of the roads all around Boquete. We see them in white, yellow and pink. On one of our walks, we saw these and they were bigger than the normal ones we'd noticed before. Randy said that they looked like the flora that the munchkins danced amongst in the Wizard of Oz. Plants and flowers here look like they are constantly fed on Miracle Grow x 10 but it's the daily rainfall "bajareque" and volcanic soil that nourish everything so perfectly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Our home in Boquete

We are staying at the beautiful and serene Boquete Garden Inn for at least the next month. Everyone is so kind and helpful though the day after we arrived their internet connection went down. Apparently, the wires got cut by mistake or something....our fingers are crossed that it will come back up soon. One thing we can certainly say for the Panamanian people is that they are so friendly and kind and love to smile. That works well for Randy and me as we're big smilers too.

We went on a long walk yesterday and saw a lot of areas of the Boquete that we hadn't yet had a chance to see. We also were fortunate enough to see a toucan! Talk about brilliant coloring! Here is a picture of it:
We rented a car today and will spend the next few days in Volcan, the city on the other side of the volcano. We have heard that it is even more beautiful than Boquete (how is that possible?) so we are going to see for ourselves. We'll post again in a few days with a full report.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Differences

We watched a movie last night and the name of it in Spanish was "VASELINA"
It starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton John....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back in Action

It has been three months since our last blog entry during which time we've been in the U.S. Unable to reign in our wanderlust any longer, we hopped a flight South. We flew to San Jose, Costa Rica which saved us some money versus flying into Panama City and made our way to the Costa Rica/Panama border. The border crossing was a frustrating racket of a nightmare (which we'd read would be the case) but after some palm greasing, we were safely on our way to Boquete, Panama in the Chiriqui highlands (see map). After our month in Belize it became clear to us that we desire mountains instead of beaches. Boquete is in the valley of Volcan Baru, an extinct volcano that boasts the highest point in Panama at more than 11K feet. With the rich volcanic soil, one could practically stick a boot in the ground and it would grow. It is a truly enchanting area, cool breezes, perfect temperatures all year round and spectacular views to savor in all directions.

Over the next few months, Randy and I plan to thoroughly explore Boquete and the town on the other side of Volcan Baru aptly named "Volcan" as well as the rest of Panama including Panama City and the Canal.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Call Back

Our travel blog will be on hold for the next period of time. Family priorities have called us back to the States and we will be in Arkansas with Randy's fam for the foreseeable future. Family first, ALWAYS.

Before leaving Belize, we gave our superfluous food and cosmetic supplies to a little family that lived in the apartments behind our house. We could tell that they weren't really living high on the hog when this is what bath time looked like:

We invited them over to get their booty which also included one of our new bikes. With gratitude in his eyes, the dad lifted the two kids onto the bike and wheeled them homeward; the mom beamed at us as Randy and Kevin carried the two big boxes full of useful things back to their apartment for them.
It made us feel so good to share.

We'll send out an email when we're on the road again.

Hasta pronto!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Differences in Acceptable Cuisine

As we were relaxing in the shade, taking in the blueness of the Caribbean Sea we saw a local guy riding by on a bike with a large cooler strapped to the front of his cycle. As he passed, he yelled out "Hot tamales!" We quickly whistled to get his attention and inquired about what kind they were. "Chicken" he responded. We hadn't eaten lunch and this sounded like the perfect solution. We each got one, pleased to see that they were of a nice size. Grease leaked out as we pulled back the tin foil...usually a good sign. Instead of a corn husk, the tamales were wrapped in a large, green banana leaf. Normally I would have pried the tamale open to look inside to make sure the insides contained nothing unsavory, but decided to live on the edge and just take a bite. Not bad. With my second mouthful however, I bit down on something hard. It was a bone, but not wanting to make a big deal about it, I slyly took it out of my mouth and threw it on the ground. Just a fluke, I thought.

Then, Kevin got a bone too. I knew it was time to go with my first instinct and inspect the innards. I pulled the tamale apart and found a gigantic, full size chicken breast bone nestled inside ever so neatly.

Needless to say, that was the end of THAT gag-reflex-begging nastiness. We were amazed that someone would actually make and sell tamales with almost half the chicken skeleton included. Maybe the guy knew that he could get his money and be out of there before we bit down on the first crunch. No wonder he rode off so fast.


Randy's close friend Kevin came for a visit, eager to spend time hunting for fish and unwinding from work. The two guys fished almost every single day and caught bonefish, snook and baby tarpon. They scouted the lagoon and flats solo and also employed a veteran Guide to put them on some serious fish action. [See photos in our San Pedro, Belize album]

Kevin's visit also coincided with Randy's 49th birthday. The boys (of course) began the day with an early morning fishing excursion after which all three of us lounged by the pool. We enjoyed a wonderful birthday meal together at Casa Picasso, a hip little restaurant with excellent ambiance accentuated by the Picasso paintings that draped the walls. We rounded out Rand's 49th by visiting Wet Willie's, a bar located out on a pier that celebrates a recurring Wednesday night Ladies Night. We enjoyed the people watching and snickered at the drunk tourists trying to bust a move out on the dance floor.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mainland Wrap Up

The last two towns on our list in mainland Belize were Dangriga and then Placencia. Both are on eastern coast. We picked up three girls hitch hiking on the outskirts of the Dangriga and they guided us right into the little guest house where we'd read was a cute, clean place to stay - Ruthie's. We got cabana number one, right on the beach (you can also see our truck in this photo).

We'd heard that Dangriga was a good place to take in some Garifuna culture and dancing as the Garifuna have a distinct dancing style. We watched some kids kick it in the park and it was as if their hips were operating independently of the rest of their bodies, very different and cool. Ruthie made us a pork chop dinner with rice and beans and mashed potatoes. Afterwards, we walked the beach for a while and took pictures. Later, we listened to the sound of the waves as we drifted off to sleep.

The next morning we took the ROUGH road to Placencia. The last 20 miles of the drive took us an hour and a half and unfortunately when we got to Placencia all we found was a tourist town with a bad vibe. We'd planned to spend the day and night there, but after eating breakfast (which we waited an hour and a half to receive) we yearned for our casa in San Pedro. We waved goodbye to "Pla-shi*-cia" and beat a hot trail back to Belize City and caught the last ferry home.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Our open truck bed allowed us to do something we could never do in the USA - pick up hitch hikers. Now Mom, don't freak out....this IS safe to do in Belize, especially since our truck's design didn't allow for any real physical contact between the hitchers and us. Although at times, and especially on certain roads, I bet our short time passengers wished they could have been inside with the air conditioning and not having to contend with the thick, invasive clouds of dust generated as other vehicles passed. In the truck bed, there was no hiding from the dust and our riders would often hop out, thankful to us but COVERED in dust. I guess they didn't care as long as they reached their destination, but Randy and I sure were glad we were inside.
Our pick ups ranged from Rastafarians to Mennonites, to Peace Corps workers. Randy has such a helpful personality and has always wanted to aid hitch hikers in the past (in the States) but knew it was unwise. He was glad to be able to help at last, and we picked them up by the dozens!

The First WOW

The 49 miles of the Hummingbird Highway treated us not only to a welcome PAVED thoroughfare but also to the very first "WOW" of our entire trip. As you might imagine, we'd been earnestly seeking "The Wow" and here it was. I wish our pictures could do it justice. As you can see, the view consisted of lush green jungle vegetation covering rolling hills. Not only was this a visual feast but also one for our noses as the many flowering orange trees saturated the air with a lovely sweetness. Every so often, we would cross a bridge and get to see the rivers that cut through the valleys.

Randy and I both agreed that if the towns at either end of the highway were large enough to support a supermarket where we could get supplies or if we could afford a helicopter and pilot to get us to Belize City to stock up on a weekly basis that the Hummingbird Highway would be on our wish list of places to make our home. Alas, neither of the previous prerequisites were a reality, so 'twas not to be. We'll just have to keep looking. Hopefully, our next WOW won't be far away.

Bol's Cave

We continued our drive West across Belize and spent the night in San Ignacio a town right near the Guatemalan border. This is a mountainous region and includes an area called Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR). On a map MPR didn't look far at all from San Ignacio but we were told it would take us a while to get there. We booked a local guide named Jaime for the next day to take us to MPR and show us through several caves and natural pools. Jaime was 30 minutes late to meet us and was on foot sans his vehicle that was supposed to transport us. He said his transportation "wasn't reliable" so we decided to go it alone. This is the part of the story where the seriously rough roads come into play. It made sense to us WHY his transportation wasn't reliable. It took us an hour and a half to get the the entrance of MPR during which time we were jostled to the bone and praying that our little truck (with no spare tire) would make it. We asked the gate attendant how much further to the caves and pools and he explained that it was 14 miles to the first one. Not far at all IF the roads were the least bit easy to traverse, but they weren't. Our truck was getting more and more beat up and making bad sounds even though Randy was only doing 5 miles per hour. We really wanted to see what we'd driven all this way to see but decided we, our time schedule, much less our poor truck just couldn't handle it. We left the MPR discouraged.

However, on the way out, we stopped at a place that said "CAVES" on the sign and a little guy came down to greet us. He explained that he had a cave on his property that beat those in MPR so, eager to see a cave before we left the area, we set off with him. His name was Bol. He was a Mayan fellow and quite pleasant. The entrance to his cave was padlocked to keep looters out and he unlocked four different locks before removing the iron chains and lifting up the big iron gate that lay over the entrance to the rock cavern. He went first with the flashlights, then me then Rand. We negotiated our way down the eleven foot ladder that descended into the thick, moist air of the cave. Our flashlights guided us as Bol showed us the various exhibits of pottery, jewelry, tools and even some bones and skulls left by the Mayans of old. In my mind's eye, I'd seen a huge beautiful looking cave with its internal aesthetics and twists and turns being the highlight and not a smallish cave with the emphasis on artifacts but Bol's personality and special twist on a banana leaf made us glad we'd come and seen.

Little did we know that the roughest road yet lay between us and our next destination. It looked like a short cut on the map but it was in fact something even an authentic Hummer would struggle to maneuver through. We held our breath for 2 hours hoping against hope that we would emerge with our rental truck's tires and two axles in tact.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Black Howlers

The town of Bermudian Landing is a self made sanctuary for the black howler monkey, found only in Belize. As Randy and I pulled into town we were flagged down by a guy named Shane. He said that he was a guide and had coexisted with and gained the trust of the family of howler monkeys on his property. We weren't sure if we should pay our money and give our time to Shane or rather to the "official" building that bore the Bermudian Landing Monkey Sanctuary name. After a few minutes of letting Shane sell us though, we decided to go with him. It was the RIGHT choice.

Shane was very versed and knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna. When we entered one area of his property, Shane's pace quickened. He put his finger to his lips giving the "shhhh" motion and listened. He pointed up in the trees above us. There, amongst the branches we could make out several black shapes. We were REALLY awed when Shane called two small monkeys by name and they immediately started scampering down the tree to him.

"Tiny" and "Happy" were the smallest of a family of black howlers living on Shane's land. The whole family was up in the trees but these two youngsters were seemingly the most docile and friendly. We had been told by other Belizians NOT to feed the monkeys as they'd been known to bite, so I was a tad nervous when Shane put a piece of banana in both mine and Randy's hand. Shane led by example and fed them without issue. He then beckoned Randy to try (Happy gave Randy's finger a small but harmless nibble). Then it was my turn. I fed Tiny, fascinated as I felt his miniscule fingers hold onto mine as his little mouth cautiously went for the banana piece.

After the feeding, Shane made a threatening call to the larger adult male in the tree so we could hear his howl. Again we were amazed not only at the sound of the howler's cry but also at the volume. Turns out, black howlers are the second loudest land mammal in the world and can be heard from a mile away (second only to the lion who's growl can be heard from five miles.) It was an alien sound unlike anything we'd ever even imagined.

Shane rounded out our time together by showing us his latest catch. A real, live baby crocodile who we got to hold. What a photo op! If you're ever in Bermudian Landing, Belize ask for Shane (everyone in town knows him) and you're sure to get an amazing up close and personal black howler monkey tour.

Jungle Boat Cruise to the Lamani Ruins

On our list of "to-do's" while in Belize was a trip to the mainland to explore the different regions and see what the interior had to offer. We got up early Friday morning and caught the express ferry over to Belize City. Our transportation for the journey was a little silver truck that we rented from Crystal which we'd heard was a reliable rental car company. The truck was a bit more expensive than a car, but we were told that a lower wheel base would never withstand the roads upon which we were going to be driving. They SURE knew what they were talking about, but we'll get to that point of discussion in a later blog post.....

We drove North towards the town of Orange Walk and stopped at a toll bridge to catch a boat to take us on a river cruise to the Lamani ruins. The owners of the tour also lived on the property under a huge palapa. The wife served us a tasty breakfast before we boarded the little vessel, piloted by the husband Fernando, that would take us on our adventure. We cruised up the New River in search of the ruins. It felt like we were straight off a page of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The jungle river wound around, in places very narrow and in others, much wider. After an hour and a half, the view opened up as we came out into a huge, wide lagoon. We were able to see the top of a temple high above the lush, green trees as captain Fernando turned left and idled over to a dock.

Fernando fed us a typical Belizian meal (stewed chicken and rice and beans) made by his wife before beginning the tour of the ruins. We were given tidbits of information not only about the various temples and Lamani Mayan rulers, but also about the way the Maya used different types of plants and trees to cure whatever ailed them. Even with the cloud cover, our walk around the ruins was breeze-less and muggy. We boarded the boat and began our trip back down the Apocalypse Now-esque river, glad to have the wind whipping our faces again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Mamma Jo's Visit

We were paid a visit by my (Jamie's) Mom this past week. After flying into Belize City, Mom hopped over to Ambergris Caye and San Pedro on a Tropic Air puddle jumper. We all three enjoyed a relaxing "no schedule" visit together.

Mom treated us to a 24 our golf cart rental during which time we motored from one end of the Caye to the other on an exploratory mission. The cart allowed us to see much more of the island than what our bikes would allow. At times, the drive was difficult because of the huge, prevalent pot holes, but Captain Randy maneuvered us safely through.

Mom also treated us to a sunset catamaran cruise, an engagement present for Randy and me. What a highlight! It was serene and beautiful and we got lots of pictures (click our photo link to see more). We were sad to put Mom back on the plane, but all have such fun memories and additional stamps in the passports of our lives because of our time together here in San Pedro.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The "Coog"

Saddened by the fact that I had to leave my cat behind as Randy and I departed, I am so happy about a little black and white cat with a pink nose that has adopted us. She is friendly and smart. Rand named her "Couger" because she meows so loudly that she sounds like a mountain lion.
It is nice to be able to get my kitty cat "fix" with the Coog, she'll never be my Kitten, but she will definitely do while we're here in San Pedro....she's like a little consolation prize and I'm very thankful for her.

The little differences

If you've seen Pulp Fiction, you'll recall the conversation between Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson's character where they discuss "the little differences" one finds between things in the USA and things in other countries. How true that is.

If you are ever feeling un-cool, stop using COLGATE and start using this....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Crocodile Lure

Randy had his first chance to fish recently. He woke up early and was rewarded with his first ever SNOOK, a 26 incher. Snook share the lagoon side of the island with huge crocodiles and each night, local kids put on a little show for croc curious tourists. It's a simple and effective technique that they've come up with.
All that is necessary is:
1. A rope
2. A frozen chicken
3. A brave lad who isn't afraid to lose a leg
First, tie rope securely around chicken.

Second, chunk chicken into lagoon.

Croc comes after chicken, brave lad pulls chicken with rope so it bobs just ahead of croc's jaws. Curious tourists are happy and snap pictures of unsatiated croc.

If all goes according to plan, brave lad's leg remains intact and tourists leave with excellent pics to show the folks back home.

Our Shelter and Wheels

Rand and I found a cute house to rent for our time in Belize. The top floor of this spacious, colorful abode will be our home away from home. We are actually staying out on Ambergris Caye, an island off the East coast of Belize in the town of San Pedro. They call it La Isla Bonita - Madonna sang a song about it years ago that started out "Last night I dreamt of San Pedro...." We think she wrote that little ditty before the hoards of tourists came though. That aside, we are glad to be in our house with a kitchen, washer/dryer, cable TV and the all important FREE WIRELESS INTERNET!

The island is small enough to ride a bike and get where ever you might need to go....good exercise and transportation all in one! Here we are with our new cruisers and Joe, a local bike rental shop owner who worked out a nice deal on two new bikes.

Apparently, bikes here get stolen all the time, even if you leave them unlocked for a second. We've even heard that at night, people will come by and cut your bike chain and steal them. Hopefully, we can make it through without a bike theft.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rooster gets it REALLY WRONG

Randy (raised on a farm) and I were under the common misconception that roosters sound their loud and proud "cock-a-doodle-doodle-dooo" at dawn. When the rooster right outside our window crowded for the first time, I thought it was happening at the time one would expect it to happen.....sunrise. I even said to Randy, "that's cool" when we first heard the cock's cry feeling like we were getting an authentic, properly timed wake up call. Soon we'd be seeing the morning sun.

Some time passed and the rooster kept right on with his boisterous crowing, but the morning light did not come. We set an alarm for 5am the night before as we had an early morning ferry to catch to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye but the alarm had not gone off. When we checked to make sure that we hadn't set the alarm for 5PM by accident we were dismayed to see that the time was really only 1AM. Ironically, though his timing was way off in terms of the correct hour in which to begin, this rooster was dead accurate with his frequency. Every 10 seconds, he would make his announcement again, continuing ever so faithfully until the sun really did rise several hours later. About that time, other roosters who clearly had their internal clocks set properly echoed his cries.

We decided that this rooster must have been brand new to the brood; otherwise, his owner certainly would not have tolerated this LOUD fowl with his terribly premature calls in the wee hours of each morning. So much for a solid night's sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Farewell, San Miguel - Belize Beckons

San Miguel is a LONG way away from Belize, no matter how you slice it. Randy is still not well and the thought of many more days on the road on the bus is quite a formidable, looming "cosa" (thing). We thought about taking the 4 hour ride to Mexico City and then the next day just sucking it up and taking the 13 1/2 hour bus ride to Palenque just so we would be close-ish to Belize. Then I decided to check and see if there was any way we could fly to Belize instead. EUREKA! I booked a flight to Chetumal, which is right on the Belize border for only $215 for both of us. SO WORTH IT! It's cheaper to fly than it would have been to take all of those buses, plus the hotels we'd have to stay in, plus the food. And, the flight is only 2 hours. No brainer! We leave tomorrow. My toes are ready for the sand and I know Rand is aching for some pescando (fishing)! It's time for an Exodus as Bob Marley said...movement of jah people...oh yeah!

Too high in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende was a beautiful, colorful and charming city. Unfortunately, Randy and I both suffered very badly from altitude sickness. I was the first to get the high fever and total body ache and Rand followed. Fortunately, neither of us were throwing up from the sickness, but we agreed that we hadn't felt worse in a LONG time.

Illness aside, the Casa de Huespedes where we stayed was run by the sweetest lady named Saletta who always had a smile for us and all of her guests. She truly was an angel and helped Randy and me with so much, including of course, our Spanish. The roof top terrace provided a place to get a bit of sun plus an amazing 360 view of the city. We met a wonderful chap named Karl, a fellow gringo originally from Chicago who rented the upstairs apartment from Saleta. Karl, like us, has a serious case of wanderlust. He has lived in San Miguel for almost a year and was able to give us insightful information on everything from the best places to eat to some San Miguel slang. On top of it all, Karl was also a refreshingly unique artist and not only were we both quite impressed with his work but also with his company and personality. We'll meet again, I'm sure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lessons and Smiles

Our ride to San Luis Potosi was a rough one. After we bought our tickets on the Oriente line, Rand remembered reading NOT to take Oriente. We found out why soon enough. Although we bought "primo" tickets (the best) the bus was old and had seen a lot of wear and tear. We thought, as long as we get to our destination, it's all good. Well, we got about 45 minutes towards S. L. Potosi when the bus stopped, did a U-turn on a busy, blind curve and started going back towards the bus station. We were confused and a tad frustrated knowing that this would make for a longer journey. It all made sense when we pulled back into the station and over to the gas pump. Um, yeah, probably would have been best to check the gas gauge BEFORE heading off on a 5 1/2 hour drive, but we all make mistakes and we could tell that the drive felt bad about making this one. Four plus hours into the drive, we stopped at a gas station, but not for gas this time. We got a bathroom break and procured some snacks. An older driver climbed out of the internal trap door below and our driver climbed inside. The older drive took the helm. He drove so, SO slowly you would have thought it was his first time on the road....ever. We laughed and named him "Mexi-Pappy".

We stayed at the Principal Hotel run by a charming bloke named "Carlito" who took a shine to me calling me "Juanita" explaining it was pretty close to what Jamie would be in Spanish. He was great, but the room had no fan (note to self Jamie, always check for a fan) and was right off the main stairway. It was stuffy, noisy for most of the night and because of its proximity to the stairs, not very private. People literally could see straight into the room when going up or down.

We looked forward to our trip to San Miguel having checked out the best looking bus lines and times for the next day's departures. We anticipated a plush bus, like the ones we'd picked out the day before, but instead an old clunker pulled up. Turns out there wasn't a "primo" bus to San Miguel that day. DANG! We sure attracted a lot of attention seemingly being the only gringos in this large city and our bus was full of rough looking guys who obviously found our "What, no primo bus??" plight quite funny. We got onboard, all eyes on us - us returning their looks with huge smiles which I think are difficult not to reciprocate - and claimed the back of the bus for ourselves. A smile means the same thing in almost every culture and has, and I think will continue to be a powerful secret weapon in our arsenal as we feel our way through unfamiliarity.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Breathing fumes

Randy and I are charmed by Mexico. Every day we see and learn so many new things. I tell you what though, OSHA would have a field day here. Rules are.....there are no rules, at least not nearly as stringent as they are in the U.S. Case in point, while awaiting our bus that would take us to our second night's stop of San Luis Potosi, we saw a bus unload its passengers and a tiny door under the bus opened. A guy emerged from the bowels of the bus, stretched and started putting on his socks, shoes and clean shirt.

Apparently, he drivers switch off shifts, one pilots the bus and the other sleeps beneath. WOW- I guess that's one way to get the job done. Carbon monoxide poisoning anyone?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And they're OFF!

After much time, preparation and anticipation, the trip through Mexico and Central America begins. Randy and I were accompanied to the Texas border by our friends Kevin and Devin. They saw us off at the McAllen bus station and with a backpack each, Randy and I boarded the "Transpais" (cross country) autobus to Reynosa where we changed buses and caught our main bus to our first night's destination, Cuidad de Victoria. Our bus driver waved to every single truck and bus that passed during our 5 1/2 hour trip and when it was a fellow Transpais bus, he gave a HUGE wave. Que bueno!
It was a long ride but there was a lot to see an we learned a few new Spanish words during the journey including "cansada/o" meaning tired or weary...and at the end of the bus ride that is indeed how we felt.

Our hotel was clean with a high powered ceiling fan or "abanico de techo" and hot water - YES! Our hotel owner recommended Jalisco's for dinner, just a couple of blocks away. After an excellente authentic Mexican dinner, we took a stroll in the plaza and a "payasito" (little clown) was there entertaining some local children. He waved us over and made me a balloon heart. Randy later dogged the payasito's balloon efforts saying that it was a weak looking heart and that he could have made a better one. For those of you who don't know, Randy was practically raised by carneys at fairs for a few years of his life. His Dad owned a gourmet cheese shop and he and Randy would work the fairs together back in the day. I'm surprised he didn't get the small hands and cabbage smell often attributed to carneys.