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.