Friday, June 28, 2013

Random thoughts

In the documentary A Map for Saturday, there's a brief discussion on saying goodbyes and how difficult that can be as a traveler because you build quick connections with people, spend time with them and create memories with them, and then one of you is off to the next destination. I've just experienced my first goodbye of the Central America trip. More on that in a moment.

Yesterday was my last full day in Caye Caulker. I decided to have a chill day (well, they all were pretty chill, in reality) which got started with fresh cut mangoes and ice cold water as I walked along the beach. I ran into one of the locals that I'd made friends with and asked him where a nice shady spot was to hang out for awhile. I figured I'd finish up my water and read for a bit, but Aaron decided to show me his favorite spot rather than tell me - it was at the end of a pier, cooled by a breeze and shaded by a palapa (a thatched roof dwelling) - and we ended up chatting and sharing music for awhile. Using one set of earbuds, we'd listen to a song or two of his, then a song or two of mine. Sometimes we were familiar with the other's song, but sometimes it was brand new for us. It was pretty fun to get an idea of what Belizean people listen to. Finally I needed a pee break, so I promised Aaron I'd catch up with him later and I was off. At around the same time, I decided I also needed some a/c so I grabbed a coffee and free wifi from this coffee shop I'd found a few days earlier.

I also decided that since it was my last night in Caye Caulker that I was going to have LOBSTER for dinner. Because yes, it's lobster season and it's plentiful and cheap and I'm leaving the coast. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself? :-) Anyway, one friend declared it "scary looking" when I texted the picture, but I can assure you it was deeee-lish!
(Lobster with salad and coconut rice, plus a Cuba Libre in the background)
So then it was time for goodbyes. Aaron (the Belizean I mentioned earlier), Peter (Aussie), Brittany (Canadian), and I were all having quiet nights in for various reasons. I met this gang on my first night in Caye Caulker over a week ago and then fell back into step with them when I came back, too. It was a group that shared a lot of laughs and jokes, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to saying goodbye. But we hugged and did the traveler's version of it - "hey, see ya around! Maybe we'll run into each other again!" - and it wasn't so terrible.
(Me, Aaron, Peter, and Brittany enjoying Taco Tuesday)
This morning I went to the water store to refill my water bottle and then had the most delicious (and cheap!) breakfast ever. It was eggs and pulled chicken stuffed into a fry jack (a kind of fried dough, almost similar to pita bread). It wasn't until six hours later that I finally started to get hungry again and it only cost me $1.25! After checking out of my room, I headed to the ferry for my last ever ferry ride (well, at least for a while). Back in Belize City, I took a taxi to the bus terminal and there realized that I'd meant to stop at an ATM and found myself with only Bz$17 (a little more than $8). This is a silly mistake, one I should know better than to make, but it wasn't the first time and it surely won't be the last time either. I wasn't sure how much the two and a half hour bus ride to San Ignacio would cost, so I asked about an ATM and started walking in search of it. Now, the thing about the streets in Belize is that they aren't particularly well marked. So if you're given directions, it's usually something like "walk that way for five minutes and then turn left." Kinda crazy. But...not at all crazy that I didn't find it. I could've kept walking, but I didn't want to miss the bus and besides, I was melting in the heat. 

As it turns out, the bus only cost Bz$8. Yep, only four dollars to cross from one side of the country to (literally) the other side (here's a map for perspective). While I was waiting for the bus, I was offered an opportunity to take a taxi instead for only $65 - that's US dollars, ya'll, a mere difference of Bz$122, or more than 15 times the bus fare! I couldn't help but remember the time that same thing happened in India.

Transportation between cities or countries is always a time of quiet reflection for me. Sometimes I'll pop in my headphones and just stare out the window, other times I chat with the people around me or "listen in" on conversations that are happening in a language I don't understand. Today, as I watched the lush countryside pass me by, I couldn't help but feel a peaceful happiness come over me. It was a similar feeling to the one I had upon arrival in Belize. It's kind of hard to explain, but it's a "this feels right" kind of a feeling. Do you ever get that?

One thing I've always loved about this kind of travel in third world/developing countries is the food. Now, that might seem like an odd thing for me to say, but hear me out. There are always people popping on and off of buses and trains selling snacks. (You get hungry and bored after traveling for a while, ya know?) Sometimes the buses and trains are so crowded that the vendor conducts his business through the windows instead. These snacks vary from region to region, but you can count on them being made by someone's mother or grandmother, in a home kitchen and not a factory. In Belize, the most common snack is plantain or cassava chips, but today it was lemon tarts, coconut tarts, and jam-filled pastries for Bz$1 each.

Anyway. I've gone on way too long about the most random collection of things. It's only 10pm and I've been yawning for the last hour and a half, so I think that means it's time for me to go to bed now.

Caves and ruins and archaeological stuff coming up in the days ahead...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Cayes, Part II

As I mentioned before, I'm back in Caye Caulker, just kind of hanging out, enjoying being shoeless for days on end and eating lots of seafood. Yesterday would've been a great day to snorkel...but I didn't and now today's a bust because we had a big thunderstorm last night. Oh well. There will be other chances. 

I'm slated to go to San Ignacio tomorrow and am waiting to hear back from a potential couchsurfing host (referred to me by my last one). There's not much else to report, so how about some pictures?

(Coral, my scuba diving string doll travel totem courtesy of Toadmama. You'll be seeing a lot of her!)

(Rooftop view at Ak'Bol, a yoga retreat north of San Pedro. Click for a larger view.)

(I got lucky and randomly found this quiet pier from which to watch the sunset.)

(Panoramic view of said sunset - click for larger view)
(Chill spot at The Split where people gather to listen to music and drink rum cocktails)

If you're still itching for more pictures, head over to my Flickr page because everything is posted there.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Back in Caye Caulker

I spent four days and three nights couchsurfing in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and now I'm back in Caye Caulker. I knew after about a day and a half in San Pedro that I was pretty sure I liked Caye Caulker better and wanted to come back since I'd only spent about 24 hours here before. There is something very surreal about coming back to a place you've only been to very (very) briefly before, and seeing people you know and actually having a clue about where you're going. Kinda wild. I'm even staying at the same place as before because I liked it so much. And now, having been here (for the second time) less than three hours, I'm already thinking that I'll stay for at least one more night than the two I've already paid for. It's just that kind of place, you know?

(Not in Caye Caulker. Also not a great picture, but at least you can't tell how sweaty I am!)
So, here I am, eating fresh (super yummy) fish for at least the fourth time in the last five days, having a 2-for-1 rum and coke, and waiting for my friends (from the last time I was here) to join me. 

The weather had been a bit rainy when I first arrived to Belize which meant the waters were a bit murky. It's cleared up quite a bit, so tomorrow I'd like to try my hand at some snorkeling. Other than that, I imagine I'll be taking it easy at the beach for a couple of days before I head west, away from the coast, for some culture and Mayan ruins exploration.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cayes

(I just love the colors and whitewashing of the Caribbean.)

(It's been mostly rainy and overcast, but we did have this lovely day at The Split, an area at the northern end of Caye Caulker that had been cut by a hurricane in the 60's.)

(She asked if I wanted her to remove her feet from my shot. You can probably figure out what my answer was. ;-) )

(There are a few good things about the rainy season: it cools things down and the rains never seem to last too long.)

By the way, in case you're wondering, caye is pronounced like key. Even though I know that, it's still tough sometimes to look at the word and not say "cay" in your head instead.

Also: more pictures posted at Flickr.

Also: Lobster Fest is this weekend. It's the celebration of the return of lobster season (in which everyone makes up for lost time by...eating a lot of lobster). So, guess what I'll be doing? :-)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Go with the flow

Last Friday as I was preparing to leave San Diego, I was feeling pretty anxious. Anxious about being back on the road, living out of a pack, not knowing what was going to happen from moment to moment, day to day, week to week. But then I got to Dallas, spent a few days catching up with friends, and forgot all about the anxiety...until Tuesday morning when I found myself packing...again...this time for the real deal.

And although my flight was an hour late taking off due to mechanical issues which meant that I arrived in Belize City an hour late which then meant that I missed the last ferry and had to make a last minute decision to stay a night in Belize City after all - the "plans" have already changed, practically before they even had a chance to get started - all of that, and yet all of my anxiety melted away as soon as I stepped off the plane. It's kind of strange how it all just came back to me. This is what traveling is all about for me - rolling with the punches and not letting anything bother me.

So I grabbed my bag from the carousel, bought a bottle of tequila for my first couchsurfing host, and skipped the long "nothing to declare" line in favor of the much shorter "to declare/duty free purchases" line and was quickly through customs. I consulted my travel guide and chose a guesthouse almost solely on its near proximity to the marine terminal.

At the North Front Street Guesthouse, I was lucky enough to snag a triple room all for myself. Bathrooms were shared and cold water only, but I've never been so grateful for a cold shower after the humidity that greeted me upon arrival. I found out the guesthouse has been in the same family for 38 years - apparent from the way they treated me just like family almost from the moment I arrived. I settled in, asked for a restaurant recommendation, and ended up at Nerie Restaurant II, also family owned and operated.

Again I asked for a recommendation and I wasn't steered wrong. I had a whole fried snapper (caught fresh that morning), stewed beans, white rice, coleslaw, and fried plantains with a fresh watermelon juice to drink. It was a-maz-ing. SO good. I ate until I couldn't eat anymore. And...then I ate some more. :-) My server was a sweet gal who asked me if I lived in Belize. "No, I actually just arrived for the first time, oh, about four hours ago. Why do you ask?" Apparently, I look Belizean with my style of dress. Now THAT takes talent! Less than four hours and already being mistaken for a local!

After getting a second watermelon juice to go, I headed back to the guesthouse with the intention of sitting on the back porch, soaking everything in, and maybe reading a bit. What I ended up doing was spending hours talking to one of the family members, Briony, and one of the long-term guests, a retired Canadian army vet named Norms. We chatted, shared stories, listened to the lizards croak and watched the bats fly, and ducked for cover when a super strong, super quick thunderstorm poured in.

As I finally was saying goodnight and turning in, I couldn't help but think: "Ah. This is what I've been missing."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Belize bound

Dallas is rainy and gray and so is Belize, but so far everything is on time. Some of you will freak out that I still don't know where I'm staying tonight, but at least I kinda (sorta) have a plan. :)

Next post will be from Belize...

Friday, June 14, 2013

And I'm off!

Well, I'm off to Dallas anyway. I'll be hanging out with some friends I haven't seen in awhile - this trip was planned before the Central America one - and probably remembering all the little things I forgot to do or pack.

Packing was made easier because I wrote it all down once before. Good thing, too, because there are lots of things I'd forgotten about. On the flip side, packing was made more difficult because I waited until seven hours before my flight to do it. What can I say? I like to live dangerously! But it's all in there and I think I packed more clothes than I did last time, so everyone who said before "Only three pairs of underwear?" or "What about the socks?" can rest assured that this time I'm taking four pairs of underwear (and I didn't just plain forget the socks like I did last time!).

So, parting shot of me, ready to go and waiting for my ride to the airport:

I'll be in Dallas until Tuesday and then I fly to Belize City. Probably won't be a whole lot going on here til then, though, so be sure to check back next week.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What are you going to do in ______?

It was nearly three years ago that I wrote the first "What are you going to do in _____?" post and since the first question I usually get when I tell people where I'm spending my summer is "why?!" I figured I'd give a little bit of an explanation. 

Mostly I just want to take things slow and have a nice summer. As I briefly mentioned in one of my recent posts, spending some time on the beach is definitely on the to-do list - I've been working my butt off for the past year, so down time with some sun and a book is something I'm highly looking forward to.

I can't lay on a beach for three months, but while I'm there I might as well get in some snorkeling and diving, yeah? The last time I went diving it was in the Great Barrier Reef and I got to see this handsome fella:
Belize has its own reef, too, and I believe it's the biggest one in the Americas. Perhaps the most well-known feature is the Blue Hole:
(This actually kind of scares the bejesus outta me. source)
But...I'm not actually all that positive that I'll make it there (see above caption). That, plus it can be pretty expensive. Also, I've read that the best views of the Blue Hole are from the sky and since it's a collapsed volcano, visibility isn't all that great. But now I sound like I'm making excuses and really there's just damn good snorkeling and diving in plenty of places, not just Belize.

Then there are the Mayan ruins. These can be found throughout Mexico and Central and South America, but the area I'm most looking forward to is Tikal in Guatemala. I loved the wats in Cambodia so much I spent three days there taking shots like this one:

Siem Reap 075
But take a look at a Mayan version - also surrounded by jungle - and tell me it doesn't look just a little bit awesome:

Then there's all the cities to explore. I am a city girl, after all. :-) There are a few that are particularly interesting to me. Antigua, Guatemala with its cobblestoned streets and Spanish flair, and Granada, Nicaragua with its colonial architecture (and more Spanish flair).
(by Pedro Szekely)
(Granada. source)

So...there's all of that. The next time you wonder what I'm up to or why I'm spending the summer in Central America, you'll know. :-)

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I'm going to be trying something different on this trip, something that never occurred to me as a possibility during my last trip. A couple of my couchsurfing friends here in San Diego have traveled somewhat extensively through Central and South America. I wanted to read their blog to see if there'd be any tips or pointers that I'd find useful and I found out that they wrote reviews for a bunch of the places they stayed at in exchange for free rooms. I was intrigued and asked about their processes and how I could do the same thing.

So, all of this is my way of introducing La Aventura Project. I will be collaborating with them by posting reviews there and linking to it from here, so you'll have the choice to read it or not. It should be an interesting experiment that will help me to not only hone my writing skills a bit, but also save some cash!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013