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CENTRAL AMERICA April 14-30, 2007

CENTRAL AMERICA April 14-30, 2007

CENTRAL AMERICA APRIL 14-30, 2007

4/14 (Sat):  NYC/San Salvador (El Salvador)

We arrive at the hot, steamy San Salvador airport in El Salvador. There are 4 flights arriving pretty much the same time as ours from the U.S. (NY, DC, Atlanta, & LA). Hundreds of people rush to the immigration lines but there are only a few people on the “Foreign Passport Holder’s” line. Because of a decade long civil war & devastating earthquake, tourism here is far behind that of other Central American countries like Guatemala, Costa Rica & Belize.

In addition, this country has a pretty bad rap among international tourists. All of the travel guide books that I have read about El Salvador, say basically, not to go there. Travel guide books should encourage people to travel because that is how they get their books sold so for them to write as negatively as they did about this country, there is only one reason that I can think of…they don’t want their subscribers to die…can’t sell books to dead people!  

After meeting a jovial local guide named Raphael, we took off for city sightseeing.  Because of our safety concerns, we insisted on checking into the hotel first to drop off our luggage.  Raphael says it’s “no problem” and he also quickly offers his service as an independent tour guide while we stay in Salvador (without his company interfering and raising the price.)   We say, “Why not?”

Sightseeing of San Salvador, as I expected, was whole lot of nothing.  He kept pointing out various hospitals, schools & shopping malls & more shopping malls because there is nothing else here. We also drive around different neighborhoods in the city.  We see that there are very rich people who live on hilltops inside tall barbed wired walls and middle class people who live outside of these walls and then the poor who live in shacks without proper plumbing. 

In spite of the high gasoline prices, the street is filled with cars, trucks & jam packed buses blasting out massive puffs of black smoke. All the buses here are at least 20 years old. Raphael tells us that there is a government ordinance to prohibit driving vehicles older than 15 years but in the state of Arizona, there is an ordinance which prohibits hunting camels at the state borders. Is anyone paying attention to this ordinance? I think probably not! I recently learned from Oprah that if every U.S. citizens conserved one paper napkin per day, we would save a billion pounds of paper waste.  I say that if we somehow could get rid of all the buses in El Salvador, we would solve the environment problem for good. 

After a quick tour of an empty Mayan museum, we have a driving tour of downtown. Raphael tells us that downtown has been taken over by street vendors and it is absolutely true.  On every street and in every single space between houses it is packed with little tables set up by vendors who sell just about anything.  It is a total chaotic mess downtown and there are people everywhere.  Raphael tells us that “people” (I think he meant respectable people such as himself) don’t come downtown and that most of people here are trying to catch buses to leave this area to the outskirts of the city.  As we drive around, I notice that there are no tourists around...not one. Usually the downtown market area is where you find many curious tourists taking pictures of the local daily lives of the people of that country but not here!  I didn’t even see one single tourist on the street.  I guess it is partly due to the fact that after 12 years of a bloody civil war, people learned that they must arm themselves to survive and most of them have some kind of firearm.  A little disturbing!

Aside from serious poverty, this is one of the reasons why this country is considered one of the most dangerous places to visit on this earth.  Raphael explains that recently, most of the crimes are committed between 2 rival youth gangs which both originated in LA. Their specialty is drugs & extortion. One of the gangs is called the “18th Street Gang” because it was their “turf” in LA. Miraculously, we finish our tour alive at sunset and have dinner in the hotel. 

4/15 (Sun): San Salvador/Joya de Ceren/Juayua/Ataco/Tazumal/San Salvador

Raphael arranged a car for us with a gas station owner for $80 for 2 days.  We drive to the garage in Raphael’s beat up coupe with a permanently shut driver seat door and literally no dashboard. The car we will be riding around in for next two days, however, is a small red BMW. As we check the inside of the car, we find a BIG 38 revolver under the driver’s floor pad.  I guess they were not joking about everybody here being armed here!

Our first destination today is “Joya De Ceren”, an archaeological site. This site is different from other sites because it shows the Mayan’s actual residences instead of just the pyramids & shrines of the tribal leaders. The whole area is still being excavated and only a very small portion of the vast ruin is actually unearthed and being exhibited. There were cashew nut trees around the area and the local guide picked a red fruit from the tree for us which, if you have never seen a cashew tree, had the actual nuts (seed) on the outside of the fruit almost like a pumpkin vine stub. So picture a cashew as the “handle” to a nice red pepper looking fruit on top. It was mango colored inside and surprisingly sweet & good. VERY juicy. It did not taste like anything I have tasted before.

Afterward, on Raphael’s suggestion, we go to the town of Juayua (who-ah-you-ah) which has an open food fair on the weekends. The town’s center is a little park facing a little church. There are street vendors selling various items while horse carriages and donkeys are lazily walking around. There are all kinds of food vendors around the park cooking colorful local foods.  I looked for the popular Salvadorian dish called “Pupusa”, but I was not able to find it so Ken settled for BBQ meat while I munched on a Latin favorite, a Lomito sandwich.  This is a sandwich the size of your head basically.

After lunch, we stopped by the little arts & crafts town of Ataco where a dozen small gift shops stand on a quiet main street.  While Raphael and I sipped strong Salvadorian coffee in a beautiful backyard atria of the gift shop, Kenro quickly finished his walking tour of Ataco.  My man likes to walk!

The final stop today was the pyramid of Tazumal. This tiny pyramid is quite unimpressive.  But a young female local guide’s sincere explanation about the history of this site held our attention and certainly held Raphael’s attention as well!  The girl, not the pyramid! Although she looked like she was only 17 years old, we find out that she has an 8 years old daughter. Scary!

We go back to the hotel quite exhausted but take up Raphael’s offer to drive us to a nearby shopping mall this evening where there are good restaurants and where it is safe to walk around at night. Ironically, we end up having a dinner in a Benihana restaurant where, even in El Salvador, they still do the shrimp tail into the chef hat trick…does one EVER get tired of that? I would say, YES!

4/16 (Mon): San Salvador/Cerro Verde/Coatepeque Lake/Santa Ana/San Salvador

About 1 hour drive from San Salvador brings us to the National Park of Cerro Verde.  This was an ancient volcano but now it has a trail within the woods to show us the peaceful nature of El Salvador. The place is also right next to the very active volcano of Santa Ana (aka Ilamatepec) which caused 5 deaths and the destruction of the surrounding coffee plants in 2005. There is also another volcano, Mount Izalco (i-saruko), on the other side.  If you are athletic, there is about a 4 hour trek which will take you to the top of this very bold sandy dead volcano.  This trail starts at the bottom and leads straight up to the top.  Everyday at 11am, participants gather at a vista point and start climbing with a park ranger.  Later in the day, we see a few people climbing slowly from the distance.  They looked like little fleas perched on a huge sand mountain at the beach. 

After Cerro Verde we drive down to the quiet resort lake of Coatepeque (ko-ah-te-peh-ku-eh) which means “lake of snake”.  This is a Lake Tahoe of El Salvador.  Big beautiful houses of the rich stand along the shores facing the crystal clear water of this Crater Lake. We have lunch on at empty houseboat restaurant on the water while a local fisherman swims around looking for fish to spear.   They have a boat tour of the lake for $20 ~ $90 depending on how long you want to stay out.  It is getting so hot I wished I brought my swim trunk with me. 

After lunch we visit the town of Santa Ana.  There is a cathedral facing the square but the main attraction of this town is the old National Theater where operas from Europe played in its heyday.  It is in the middle of renovations but tourists are welcomed to roam around freely.  Since there is no security, we walk all over the place from the top of the theater to the basement under the stage, seeing everything.  Sue seemed interested in it because she could compare the various points of theater set-up with those of the Metropolitan Opera House in NY where she worked as a Diva Double for 5 years. After the tour, we go back to the car and try to work get the AC to work but it stopped working this afternoon and it stayed that way.  I checked the temperature meter in the car and it said 100ºF.  We stop at a small souvenir market before we return to the hotel.  At night we went to a nice Italian restaurant by taxi but I drank a bit too much and can’t remember anything. Sue said it was good although, being from NY; we are spoiled by some of the best restaurants in the world so it takes a lot to impress us.

4/17 (Tue): San Salvador/Managua (Niacaragua)

We say goodbye to Raphael at the airport.  Thanks to him, we finished the tour of his country safely and leave without scratch.  When we met him, he offered his 2 days extra services for $60. When I give him $110 with our thanks, his smile widened & we noticed that we just made his day. He was well worth it too. San Salvador’s local guide Raphael: 7799 – 0090 (Home telephone number.)  

Right before we catch our flight, I finally find a restaurant that serves Pupusa at the airport!  Like other local foods we had here, we are glad that we don’t have to eat it everyday. It’s sort of a pancake stuffed with cheese/meat and some sour slaw on top.

Travel tidbits about El Salvador:

  • Currency is USD.
  • Many shops carry very little change. I frequently faced a situation where the shop owner did not have change for the larger bills I that I had.
  • Public toilets sometimes have attendants & you must pay $0.25.
  • In the restroom, unless you are in hotel or in a good restaurant, you cannot throw the toilet paper in the toilet because it will clog up the plumbing.  You must put it in a trash bag you’ll find on the floor. (Just don’t look into the bag!)

We arrive at Managua International Airport in Nicaragua & meet a local guide named Marlon & take off for city SS.  First stop is “Museo Huellas de Acahualinca”. This is a museum of 6000 year old ancient foot prints preserved under volcanic ashes.  We stand in 100ºF heat listening to a crossed-eyed, very hairy female museum guide giving us an endless speech about the importance of studying these foot prints.  After it was over, I told Sue I just couldn’t concentrate on the tour because every time when my eyes met (or kind of met) the guide’s, I felt like my eye balls were being pulled together. Sue tells me she kept feeling sorry about the thick hairs on her arms, legs and upper lip in that heat.  I guess both of us didn’t pay much attention to the historical importance of these foot prints but we sure did giggle a lot.

Afterward, we drove by an old grand cathedral which was mostly destroyed by an earthquake and then drive up to the hilltop to see the huge silhouette statue of Nicaraguan hero, Sandino. When we look over the city of Managua, we see a strange power plant-like structure. Marlon tells us that it is their new cathedral.  So we decide to go take a look. It is a very strange building & Sue thinks it’s ugly but I thought it was pretty cool.

We finish a very short tour & after making reservations for additional tours during our stay in Managua with Marlon, we check into our hotel at noon.  There was a big modern supermarket in front of our hotel.  Marlon told us that there is a good local food restaurant there. It turns out the restaurant is a fast-food joint in the basement of the mall.  We order the food that he specifically recommended and it was like deep fried old beach sandals.   

After lunch, Sue decided to rest while I walked around the neighborhood.  At night we ask the front desk girl if there is a good local restaurant.  She recommends the same restaurant we had lunch in…we think, “good heavens people…we said a GOOD restaurant!”  We decide to venture out by ourselves and ended up in nearby seafood restaurant eating another plate of, you guessed it, deep fried old beach sandals.  It must be a specialty there!

4/18 (Wed): Managua/Masaya/Lake Nicaragua/Granada/Managua

A 25 minute drive from Managua takes us to Masaya National Park which is formed by 3 volcanoes & a lake. We go up to the very active Santiago volcano which last erupted in April 2001, killing several village people & destroying large section of the surrounding nature.  The amazing thing about this volcano is that you can stand right at the top of the crater and look into the smoking hollow underneath AND you can hear the rumbling sounds of the underground motion. It was fascinating & scary.  Marlon tells us that there was a group of people lead by a tour guide on the day of this last eruption. The tour guide jokingly told tourists that he prepared the volcanic eruption especially for them.  As the tourists laughed, they heard a thunderous sound & enormous white smoke mixed with ashes blasted out from the crater.  Fortunately, they were somewhere at a safe distance from the crater & the strong wind was blowing in opposite direction.  I believe it must have impressed the hell out of tourists.

There is the San Fernando crater a short hiking distance up the hill.  I go up to take a picture of the panoramic view of surrounding volcanoes and valleys. After the park, we drive to the town of Catalina which is nicknamed “flower city” because of their floral fame & for having 90% of its population being gay.  At the vista point of the Apollo Crater Lake, we get a new instant camera (battery of our digital camera has been dead & I couldn’t find the special battery anywhere)

Trivia note about the names of these Nicaragua sites:

  • Masaya means “surrounded by water”.
  • Managua means “where water drains”.
  • Nicaragua means “near water”.
  • JDauga means “Jack Daniels & water”. (Ha, Ha)     

We stop at an arts & crafts market in downtown Masaya for souvenir shopping & then drive another 20 minutes to the old town of Granada where we have a very good local meal for the first time on this trip (steak with a white garlic sauce on it). After lunch we arrive at Lake Nicaragua (aka Lake Granada or Lake Cosiporca) for a boat ride.  Lake Nicaragua is the 2nd largest non-salt water lake in Latin America next to the Lake Titicaca of Peru. (It is 8th largest in the world.)  It also is known as the only non-salt water lake that has a large population of bull sharks.  A 40 minute boat ride shows us beautiful houses built on the islands.  Some of them are available for weekend rental and one of them, which accommodates 15 guests for only $250 per weekend, gets Sue’s attention. We take pictures of local guys fishing with nets and showing us their afternoon catch. After the boat ride we visit the quaint town of Granada to walk around the square and then head back to the hotel. We think this was a very colorful interesting full day tour.

4/19 (Thu): Managua/Leon/Hot Springs/Managua

Today we are escorted by 3 guides.  Our main guide is a big jovial fellow named Juan Pablo.  We also have a trainee named Santiago & Marlon came along to supervise the tour. I didn’t know how much they were getting paid but for 2 of us, they had 4 people (including our driver Sergio) working on this tour.  

Our 1st stop is an archeological site called, Leon Vijeo which is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  It is a site where indigenous people lived in 1500s.   They were captured & sold as slaves to Peru & to other South American countries.  Although the history was interesting, the site itself wasn’t.  There were foundations of buildings laid out in a large plane area and that was it.  The good thing about this was a grand view of the Motombo volcano with a lake and these sweet little fruits called Jocote (hoh-ko-teh) which we picked & ate as we did the tour.  

Afterward we headed over to the town of Leon.  There was road construction everywhere, and at this hill, we see a girl in a construction vest controlling traffic. As we sit and wait for her instruction, another young girl walks down toward us looking very unhappy.  When these two girls meet, they instantly start arguing, and then 1 girl pushes the other, and it leads to a kick & punch brawl.  Juan Pablo shakes his head & mutters “Leon women are so pretty, but they are so strong…”  Well, okay then.

We arrive at Leon’s oldest cathedral in Central America. We climb the stairs all the way to the roof top.  This magnificent cathedral unfortunately is falling apart.  We can see cracks all over the walls & on the standing statues but nothing seems to be done about it.

At the chapel, one local man complains about something to Juan Pablo.  Later I find out that he was complaining about me not bowing in front of a statue of Christ.  Although I share the views of Mao who said, “Religion is the opium of mind”, I still feel I should have shown my respect at their place of worship.  I’d better make a note of this for my next visit to a church in a religious country. Sue kept reminding me not to “take the Lord’s name in vain” every time I cursed! Jeee…whiz!

In the afternoon, we visit the local art gallery which exhibits donated works from the rich.

Among the works, Rembrandt & Van Gogh’s prints are their main items.  I see couple of small Rubens & Fragonart paintings, but I am not sure if they are real or imitation made by disciples of the famous masters.   After the gallery, we visit a house where poet Ruben Dario was raised.  Since I didn’t have any idea who Ruben Dario was, I just can’t wait to get out of this dark hot house. 

On the way to our last stop, I ask Juan if I can exchange some U.S. dollars to the local currency. Although you can use dollars anywhere, I needed to breakdown my $20 bills because no one seems to have small change in this country.  He says we can do it with “Coyote” which is a nickname of local exchange guy who stands at the busy street corner with a large wad of local currency.  The exchange takes place through our car window and it takes 10 seconds for the whole transaction.  No passport checks, no receipts, no problem.  I decide not to question the legality of this exchange.  

Our last stop is a “hot spring”.  When we Japanese hear the word “hot springs” we think bathing in a spa.  Actually, when we visited the hot springs in Guatemala several years ago, I dipped myself in the wonderfully relaxing natural hot water pond surrounded by the woods but this, this was far from that.  What they mean by hot spring is this small barren land where a river of lava flows deep underground heating up the waters running above which in turn, steams up the surface creating smelly (sulfuric), dangerous bubbling mud ponds. We actually walk around this area followed by group of enterprising village kids who try to sell us their mud creations of some kind.  Sue makes sure that she walks exactly behind Juan Pablo because he’s bigger than she is and if he falls through the cracking earth to his scalding death, she can know not to walk there.

On the way back to Managua, Juan Pablo insists that we stop by at a local food stand outside of Leon.  He says that there is old Nicaraguan saying which goes, “If you visit a town you must eat their food otherwise it is like you have never visited there”. Sue thinks that he is just hungry and judging from his waistline, I think she is right. We agree and stop at a small stand which specializes in a local food called: Quesillo (ke-she-yo). It is tortillas wrap with chopped onion & milky sour cream and I am surprised that it’s not as bad as it sound but what a mess to eat.

On the way back to hotel, Juan Pablo told us a little story of a flea that saved Nicaragua from Hitler.  It goes like this:  In the year 1941, then the president of Nicaragua (Somosa), worried about Nazi influence in his country through Nicaragua’s wealthy German community, declares war against Germany.  Hearing about it enraged Hitler so he goes to the world map on the wall to find Nicaragua so that he can send his troops to crash it but there is a flea sitting on the map covering Nicaragua, and he cannot find it.  Exhausted, he finally gives up. Thus the story of flea that saved Nicaragua from Hitler. Note: The historical accuracy of this story is of course questionable, but it seems that Nicaraguans love to tell this story to foreign tourists. 

After returning to our hotel, I suggest to Sue that we go to a restaurant that Marlon recommended. He said it has live music & very good local food.  She wasn’t sure because of the previous recommendations that Marlon gave us were so wonderful (no so much) but I talk her into going there anyway. It turns out that food was so atrocious, that we finish a quick dinner and leave the restaurant without waiting for the music to start.  We decide that next time Marlon recommends a restaurant to us; we go there and set it on fire.

Travel tidbits about Nicaragua:

  • U.S. Dollar can be used anywhere but, if the bill has a tiny cut or smear, they will not take it so you must bring fairly new un-damaged bills.
  • Like El Salvador, most of stores carry very little changes (including local currency of Cordova) in their registers so, again, bring lots of small bills.
  • A 1 hour massage at the hotel costs about $40.

April 20 (Fri): Managua/San Pedro Sula (Honduras)

We wanted to see the Central Market but Marlon insisted that we shouldn’t go there by ourselves and he offered his services to take us there although it is his day-off.  The market is a huge maze, the biggest I’ve ever been.  It is cluttered, claustrophobic and the heat and the smell are unbearable.  There are small alleys between shops where two people can barely pass each other. As we run through them, carts come rolling down from every direction making you jump into the shop to avoid your toes being cut-off by their wheels.  Some shops hang their displays overhead making shoppers over 5 feet tall, walk bending forward to avoid bumping their heads. As in any other Mercado Central, it is divided to different sections by the products they sell.  Two unusual items we saw in the food section were mounds of cow eyeballs & live, kind of dazed, Iguanas.  5 minutes after going into this place, we totally lose our sense of direction.  I was sooo glad we didn’t come here by ourselves.  We wouldn’t have found the way out of here.  After about 40 minutes of walking around, I notice Sue’s face getting very red and she finally gives up so we put her into a taxi to send her back to the hotel. Marlon & I finish the tour of rest of Central Market and we take taxi to another, more tourist friendly market, the “Mercado Roberto Huembes”.  Since this is a market where I can roam around without Marlon’s protection, I thank/tip/say, “adios” to him & send him back home in a taxi.  After taking some pictures of the market, I return to the hotel to re-unite with Sue. 

As we were checking out, Juan Pablo surprises us by showing up saying that he just wanted to say, “Good-bye”. He then gives us a photo he that took of us yesterday in the art gallery.  Sue gives him her CD because in the car on the way back he was talking about music and he seemed to have pretty eclectic tastes. We say good-bye & take off for our next adventure...

We arrive at San Pedro Sula airport in Honduras at 8:30 pm.  It is a small empty airport, it’s dark and there are no taxis.  Luckily, thanks to the help of a nice airport staff person, we find a car and head to the hotel.  At the hotel, we find a message from a local tour operator confirming our Ruin of Copan tour for tomorrow.

April 21 (Sat): San Pedro Sula/Copan/San Pedro Sula

We meet with a local guide named Luis & start a full day tour of Mayan Ruin of Copan. This time Luis and the guide and driver of the van and, for the first time, we are sharing a tour with an elderly gentleman named Phil from Greensboro So Carolina.  He is in the textile chemical business & he has a plant there in San Pedro Sula.  He visits once every 2 weeks to check on his operations.  He usually spends his off time playing golf but he just decided to take a tour for a change today.  As we drive through the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, he gives us a quick lecture of how foreign companies are investing in this area.  We see factories from the U.S., Korea, China, Japan, Pakistan, Germany etc., etc.   As I noticed in Salvador & Nicaragua, lots of foreign investments are pouring into this part of the world & taking great advantage of the cheap local labor.  I’m thinking though, if Chinese & Koreans think labor is cheap here, they must be getting paid with bowl of tortillas down here.

After making a short stop at a small coffee plantation, we arrive at Copan after a 3 hour drive.  For the first time in this trip we see foreign tourists all around us. (Even in the hotels that we stayed so far, almost all of the guests were business people.  At night, we’d see bunch of white single men sitting in the restaurant having dinner alone.) Our guide Luis was rather quiet on the way to Copan largely because Phil, Sue and I were chatting throughout the trip.  But once he started to talk, we found him a very pleasant, very talkative, very happy and easy going fellow. It also seemed like all the other guides knew him and treated him with great respect.

The Ruin of Copan is often compared to the Ruin of Tikal in Guatemala largely because of its proximity and characteristic contrast.  Tikal is awe-inspiring, mysterious, masculine ruin in the deep jungle whereas Copan is a graceful, artistic & feminine ruin in a well kept plane field.  The Pyramids are not very tall and the whole area is almost like a well maintained natural park.  However, a special feature of Copan is the stone curved statues called “Estella” (su-te-la).  The skill and artistry of these carvings are simply astounding especially considering the fact that they didn’t have metal tools to carve these statues.

The good thing was that I found a battery for my digital camera yesterday, so that I could be a true Japanese tourist & take pictures until I dropped of these structures.  Meanwhile, because of the scorching sun and very limited shades, I noticed Sue running from one tree shade to the other as she tries to follow us.  It was as if I was watching old Warner Brother’s cartoon of the hungry wolf hopping from one tree to other hiding himself from the sheep. Then I saw another tourist carrying an umbrella over her head.  I can’t believe that I didn’t think of it.  I even had a tiny black umbrella in my knapsack so it kept my fair skinned Swedish wife under the shade for the rest of afternoon.   

After the tour we stop by for lunch & headed back to San Pedro Sula.  Luis is a musician so we talked about music on the way back.  He started singing various songs while, surprisingly, Sue kept quiet.  The return drive was Luis’s one man show.  He kept telling us stories and kept singing.  It was quite pleasant until Phil started to sing which made me very worried. There should be a law prohibiting some people from singing in presence of others.  Later when I asked Sue why she didn’t tell Luis that she was a singer and give him a CD like she usually does, she said that this was his moment to shine/perform.

As we neared San Pedro Sula, we saw bunch of kids at the street corner who came to our car to beg for some food or money.  One of them had a dirty blond hair and the face of an angel.  Luis tells us that there is a town called San Misente in the mountains & that their inhabitants have blond hair & clear eyes.  (I suppose that they are descendents of Nazi fugitives after WW2 like the ones in Chile or Argentina.)  We get off out of van at the hotel haunted by the tune: “Fly me to the Moon”, which Luiz repeatedly hummed (along with other songs) all the way back from Copan. Needless-to-say, Sue sang it to me all night long because she couldn’t get it out of her head either!

April 22 (Sun): San Pedro Sula/Punta Gorda (Belize)/Indian Creek Lodge

We wake up at 4:30 am and took a 7 am flight to Belize City in Belize. Changing flights to 12 seater prop plane, we head to Punta Gorda. The flight is packed and it makes 4 stops on the way to our destination. Upon arrival we are greeted by a native Mayan guide named Natanya (nah-tah-nya). During the 40 minute ride to our first lodge, he gives us a brief history of the area and activities that they prepared for us.  Nice thing is that we will be the only guests in all 3 of their lodges for the next 6 days of our stay.  Our first lodge (Indian Creek Lodge) is in a remote area near to the local ruins and among small villages of Mayan people.

Upon arrival at the main reception lobby we are greeted by 2 Mayan girls in traditional costumes with flower scented cold towels & fruit cocktail. (I say this is the way to arrive at your resort hotel.)  Aside from the main lodge where we will have our meals & cocktails, there are about 10 individual cabins.  Each cabin is a 2-storied log house with double balconies, private bathroom and kitchenette.  Ours is facing a pond. Sue just falls in love with this cabin.  After lunch, Sue decides to take a nap while I go out with Natanya to visit nearest ruin of Nimlipunit (nim-lih-poo-nit) which means “Big Hat” in Mayan.

This is a very small site but it was nonetheless interesting.  It made sense when Natanya explained to me that all the “Estella” were carved lying down and were then propped up when it was completed. Also in this site, instead of human sacrifices, it was common to just have a ceremony of “blood letting” where the high priest cut his hands & squeezed blood on the ground.  I find it more civil than cutting out a human heart and kicking the body down the pyramid stairs like they did in Copan.  If I was born in Copan, I would seriously consider applying for a permanent residency in Nimlipunit.    

April 23(Mon): Indian Creek Lodge/Jungle Lodge

We visit another Mayan archeological site of  Lubaantun (luubah-ann-toon) which means “The Place of Fallen Stones”.  The reason for this name is because the fart-for-brains medical doctor who discovered this site wanted to speed up the excavation process so he used dynamite to blow it up. Most of the structures were partially or wholly left in piles of stones on the ground, hence the name.  Nevertheless, there are some interesting features at this site. For example, one thing is the rounded corners of one of the remaining pyramids. I have seen many Mayan, Aztecan, Incan pyramids, but have never seen one with rounded corners. The other thing is their ball game court. It is much smaller than any of the others I have seen and it seems that a different type of game was played here. As we walked around we saw strange trees which looked like a red birch tree but the funny thing about these trees was that they have peeling thin red bark. Natanya tells us the name of tree is: Gambolimo (gun-bo-limo) but they call it the “Tourist Tree” because it turns red in sun & the skin peels off.  Let no one ever say that the Mayan’s do not have a sense of humor! At the entrance of the site there were a few local Indian women selling their handcrafted items on the ground.  Sue goes over to one of them & tries to talk to her in Spanish mixed with her famous Spanish mime dance and the Indian woman looks at Sue totally puzzled.  I remind Sue that this is English speaking country. Now Sue is as red as the Tourist Tree!

On the way back to the hotel we see Menonite people standing by the roadside or in horse drawn carriages. Yep, Mennonites. It was so strange to see white people in straw hat with long beards in Amish clothes in Belize.  Natanya tells us that they are from Germany and that they have lived here for decades.  It seems that Belize has a diversified mixture of ethnic groups.  There is a large black population from Jamaica & the Caribbean islands, several different tribes of Mayans, Latin people from surrounding countries, Asians (mainly Taiwanese) & some mixtures of Europeans.

On the roadside, Sue sees some village women washing some red fruits.  Natanya tells us the name of fruit is Annatto (ah-nah-tow).  It is used as seasoning and it tastes like ginger.  I tasted it in Brazil on BBQ chicken & I loved it. I must bring some to home. During lunch in the lodge we meet a lady from the U.S. named Robin. She is a monkey expert & was invited by the owner of lodge to study habitability of howler monkeys being re-integrated on their property (the last hurricane pretty much whipped them out).  She is coming to our next lodge in the jungle tomorrow.  After the lunch we get a quick tour of the property.  They have a small zoo, a 3 hour trekking course and also they are in the middle of building an additional lodge called the Jaguar Lodge where jaguars roam around on the ground underneath tree cabins so that you can sit up there and just watch them. They had one black Jaguar (very rare) and one spotted one in the zoo there. Beautiful animals.

At 2:15 pm we say goodbye to Natanya, & a cute Mayan waitress named Virginia & say hello to our new guide Pablo who will take us down the river to a remote jungle lodge via a 2.5 hour kayak ride.  At first Sue wanted separate single kayaks due to: (1) the incident when we flipped over our 2 persons kayak in the crocodile infested waters in New Orleans a decade ago and (2) she now knows how to kayak by herself due to additional experience she gained from her friend Ann-Marie. But, as we were getting closer to the actual kayaking portion of our trip, she changes her mind.  We take off in 2 person kayak with Pablo in a single kayak leading us and towing our gear.  After 2 minutes from our departure (and after Pablo specifically pointing out where the shallow spot was), we get stuck in that very spot. We dislodge ourselves and every one of us realizes that it is going to be a looong day. 

As we go along, I realize that the water in this river is about 3 inches deep; I just don’t understand why we just can’t just jog down the river. Further down the river, after about 20 minutes, I see blocks & blocks of ancient Mayan square stones right underneath the water surface.  Pablo tells us that whole area is a treasure land of Mayan civilization. Now here is a tough question…Should we dig up the area to recover ancient monuments & history or should we leave it to decay while we enjoy the wonderful centuries of the natural environment that covers it?

The river was really winding and shallow. It kept giving us many breath taking moments and we only got (almost) stuck one other time in a winding rapid. As we got closer to our destination, the water became deeper and the flow of river slowed down.  I can see the fish through the clearest water as we listen to the sounds of birds chirping all around us.  We’re back in the jungle and I love it! Suddenly, as we approached a very wide section of river, a Tapir jumps into water right in front of us.  As Pablo points his finger at the animal, it sees us (and we almost hear him say “ooops!”), and it turns around like a cartoon character and disappears back into the bush. As Sue gets tired & became more irritable with the sun starting to go down below the tree tops, we arrive at jungle lodge.

The place is simply gorgeous. The main lodge & cabins are built on the river bank on steel pillars 20 ft. above the water. They are connected by walkways with thatched roof.  We are surrounded by thick jungle & there is no civilization at least 40~50 miles around. 

As we go up the stairs & enter the main lobby which is an 8000 sq. ft. grand lounge area with a bar, 2 guys are waiting for us with cold towels & a fruit cocktail again.  They have 10 private cabins with balcony & private bath. They are also building 4 additional cabins.  Although the room is smaller than the one we stayed in yesterday, I dig the set-up (except bathroom which is separated from the bed room with only a partial wall giving only semi-privacy).  Sue decides to wash up before the dinner and as she closes the door, I hear her gasp & cry for help. (She says, “Oh I did not!”) As I enter the bathroom, I see a huge water bug behind the door.  Hello, we are in the jungle after all.  At the dinner, Pablo joins us for coffee and tells us some very interesting stories of his Mayan parents, grand parents & great-grand parents who still live in the jungle as they did for centuries.

Back at our cabin, we hear a toucan squeaking loudly. Sue says it’d better stop soon or we’re going hunting.

4/24 (Tue): Jungle Lodge

We wake up to the sounds of jungle birds chirping & cackling. Last night, some big animal kept jumping in & out of water and kept me awake for a while.  But for the first time since this trip began, I didn’t have a middle of night tummy attack.  I guess taking Pepto-Bismol before going to bed worked.  By the way…no bugs so far (expect for the one you could saddle up and ride in the bathroom). No insect bites or problems with things buzzing our heads like we had in the Amazon on all of our previous trips.

I was going for jungle trekking with Pablo this morning.  At the last Brazilian Amazon trip, Sue declared that she was done with jungle walks.  So I left her in a cabin & took off with Pablo right after the breakfast.  1.5 hours of trekking is nothing different from many others I had experienced before except for this one, spectacular 200 years old tree with about 20 feet of buttress roots. It is the largest tree I have ever seen & I decide to bring Sue back here for a photo.  As we head back to the lodge, I ask Pablo about the big splashing sound in the water last night.  He tells me that it’s crocodiles. He says there are 6 ft. crocodiles around the lodge. I make a note of not swimming this afternoon and decide not to tell Sue because of the New Orleans incident!

After the lunch, I go down to the dock & using tortilla bits from lunch, start fishing with a small retractable pole I brought from NY. And, to my surprise, I catch 2 good sized catfish. Later in the afternoon we take a boat ride down the river. The boat was equipped with an electric motor which operated with 2 regular size car batteries.  It is so quiet & efficient; I must get one of these. Sue was happy not have to paddle & seemed to enjoy the scenery. As we approach a big tree with hanging bird nests, we see family of howler monkeys on a tree branch on the other side.  It’s really amazing that these little animals can make roaring sound so big.  The first time I heard it was in Ecuadorian jungle, I was on canoe, and suddenly, this thundering roar echoed in jungle, I almost jumped into piranha infested water if our guide didn’t stop me in time. They sound like Lions.

At night we meet the young owner of this company, Ken.  He is here to discuss business with Robin who also arrived here this afternoon.  He was a photographer for National Geographic & traveled around the world before he started this operation.  We tell him how much we admired his lodges and thanked him for the wonderful experiences we are having.

The Chef here is a brother of our first guide Natanya, but he was not very good.  Dinner is so bad that I try to see if Ken & Robin, who are sitting in the other side of dining area, are eating the same stuff as we are.  After the dinner, I go out on boat ride with Pablo while Sue went back to her sewing (she cross stitched one of her nephew’s Christmas Stocking this whole trip). The ride was uneventful. There were many fish jumping in the beginning and later we are surrounded by flying bugs & bats chasing after them. Getting tired of ducking big flying insects & bats, we returned to cabin.   Note to self: they DO have bugs down here!

4/25 (Wed): Jungle Lodge/Moho Cay Island

One of my favorite travel pictures we have is the one we took in front of big tree in Peruvian jungle when we visited there for our honeymoon.  It’s been about 20 years and I thought it would be fun to have a picture in front of this bigger tree 20 years later…we’re bigger, the tree is bigger…so, I force Sue to get up early and we walk about 15 minutes into the jungle to the tree I saw yesterday. Sue was SO impressed and we have this great shot in front of it, trying to copy our exact stance from 20 years ago.

At breakfast Robin tells us excitedly that she was hired by Ken to supervise his operation as a member of a new scientific team he is putting together for his new project to re-integrate the animals that were lost in the last hurricane back into the wild and on his property and the game reserve property that he helped to secure through private donations.

So, big congratulations to our monkey lady!

We leave right after breakfast in Ken’s bigger motorboat with Robin.  As Ken drives it, he explains to us about the brief history of the area.  Initially, this area was going to be purchased by a shrimp farming company but, after the last big Hurricane destroying another one of their shrimp farms and needing their funds to fix that, they gave it up & Ken then arranged for this nature protection agency to buy up whole area. He told us that the devastation made by the Hurricane was so bad it took 2 boats & 4 chainsaw for 6 weeks to clean the river so that a boat could travel up to the camp again.  As we come out of this lake into a basin and right into the open blue/green ocean of South Belize. Robin told us that this side is still untainted unlike the more popular North Belize. We arrive at the heavenly island of Moho-Cay.  I have seen the pictures of private resorts on the remote islands of Fiji with little huts lining the beach.  This is very much like that. 

As we arrive, the usual greeting of a cold towel & fruit cocktails is waiting for us.  Ken gives us a quick tour of island. (You can run from one side of island to the other in 30 seconds, it would be hard to give long tour.)  They are in the middle of building wind & solar generators which could generate 90% of the electricity needed to operate this island.  Also, to prevent erosion by the rising water level, he is going to dump rocks all around the island & cover them with sand creating additional 15~20 feet of beach.  After saying good-bye to Ken & Robin, we un-pack & settle in a cabin of my dream island. 

Our cabin is about 6 feet above the crystal clear water and, at the full tide; the water comes up right underneath it.  We sit on the balcony & can see small nurse sharks & a baby stingray swim right underneath us.  After lunch, while Sue relaxes on the balcony of our cabin, I take one of their kayaks to explore surrounding islands.  When I return, one of the help, Vicente appears to see if he could bring something cold for me. I guess they have to watch us from the distance to make sure that we will not be thirsty or inconvenienced.  I can be spoiled here…and I am being spoiled.

While I talk with Sue, a big black man named Breeze appears. He is supervising constructions on this island & at the jungle lodge.  We start to talk about fishing and he invites me to go out fishing on the boat.  We go to his favorite spot & catch about 15 small to medium size snappers.  When I return, Sue tells me that she has been bitten by bugs.  She shows me her swollen feet with a dozen insect bites and two terribly swollen toes that seemed to have been bitten multiply times so that there are two huge blood blisters on each toe.  It looked bad & I felt terrible and helpless. I also sense a premonition of bad things to come in this dreamy paradise. 

At the dinner, Sue is feeling more & more uncomfortable with the itchiness from the bites while I get drunker & drunker with beer, wine & rum. After dinner, I decide to do some more fishing from the dock.  Our waiter Mariano and Breeze come over & while we chat, I catch a small snapper.  When I return to my cabin, I find Sue lying on the bed covered by sheets from head to toe.  Sue is so afraid of being bitten more by bugs and since there are no mosquito nets here, we’re quite vulnerable to bug attacks. But strange thing is that I don’t see any bugs around and usually, when bugs are around, I am the first victim.  But I haven’t gotten one bite…

I lie down & take some notes while Sue tries to sleep next to me.  After awhile I notice that I am being bitten by bugs on my legs. I think about spraying bug repellent but remembering it can give Sue a migraine so I just cover my legs with the sheet & decide to go to sleep.  About 1 hour later, I wake up out of deep sleep with exploding sense of itchiness on my legs.  I gouge my skin frantically & realize it’s not helping; it only makes it feel more on fire.  I dash to the bathroom to wash my legs. Afterward, I quietly check the room & bed sheets to see if I see any bugs flying or crawling.  The rest of night I spend fighting my itchiness & urge to scratch my legs to shreds. I’m not bitten half as bad as Sue so now I totally relate to the kind of paid that she must be in. Not good.

4/26 (Thu): Moho Cay Island

I get out of bed at 5 am exhausted. I come out of cabin & lie down in the shallow water outside of the balcony. When I stand up & marvel at the sunrise on the ocean, a baby shark swims by my legs.   Sue comes out around 7 am ands he doesn’t look good.  Actually, she looks totally disheveled, hovering at the brink of a complete mental breakdown. She shows me her feet.  They are swollen, discolored, bug bitten, and they are a bloody & pussy oozing mess.  I quickly run over to the main lodge and ask for some medicine.  Surprised by my report, 3 staff comes over with bug spray.  They say they never had serious bug problem before.  We strip the bed to see if we find any bugs. We check bathroom & every where, but we don’t find anything. We decide to change our cabin anyway.  We were thinking that maybe we brought them from the jungle but we really didn’t get bitten in the jungle…strange.

While we talk about the possible identity of these invisible bugs at the breakfast table, I see a gnat fly by my face.  A light bulb turns on above my head.  This insect was the reason why I had swollen red legs during our Brazilian Amazon trip the last time.  They are hard to see because they are smaller & faster than mosquitoes but their bites are 10 times itchier.  The worst thing about their bite is that the more you scratch, the itchier it gets and the circumference of the bite becomes bigger…ah ha! This has to be the culprit. It can absolutely drive you nuts…hence my wife teetering on the edge of sanity.

Sue decides to stay in our new cabin & nurse herself today and sew more while I took off with Breeze for the day of snorkeling & fishing. As we approached our snorkeling sight, I see a small black whale swim by our boat but Breeze tells me that it is a dolphin.  He says Dolphins around here are dark in color.  Well, there are pink dolphins in Amazon, so why not black dolphins in Belize?  We arrive at our snorkeling site and see a boatful of rangers diving & surveying the area.  I jump into water following Breeze.  The last time I snorkeled was probably about 20 years ago.  I scuba dive more often (like once every 5 years), but it’s slightly different.  So, I swallow mouthful of very salty water almost drowning from choking & gagging.  It takes several minutes until I get into the groove. 

The water was clear & there are lots of fish around here.  As I moved along, I see a big shark lying down at the bottom.  I knew that it was a nurse shark which does not include humans as part of their diet but and 8 ft. shark makes me nervous no matter what.  So I kind of tip-toe swim over him to the other side of reef. After snorkeling, we start fishing again.  Breeze catches about 20 good sized snappers and I catch 1 small grouper & 1 small snapper.  Breeze is a good fisherman & also an interesting man.  He lived in the East Village of NY for 10 years.  He owns a rental apartment building there and returns during summer off-season for 4 months every year. Although I don’t understand 80% of what he is saying due to his heavy Belize accent, I think he is a very nice guy.    We return to island at 3:30 pm.

I take Sue for a very late lunch.  Mariano says they have Hamburgers. We liked the idea of eating a beef burger (lunch every day has been an enchilada) so we both order it but it turns out to literally be a Ham sandwich on a burger bun. Sue is awed by the accuracy of their interpretation of the word HAM- Burger.

4/27 (Fri): Moho Cay Island/Belize City

As we expected, the last night in Paradise Island was more like a nightmare on Elm Street.

We left all the lights on in the room and burnt mosquito coils all around us. Sue was reading until way past midnight because she couldn’t fall asleep due to her itchiness.  I had too much to drink because I thought that would help me sleep soundly. Sometime in the middle of night, Sue had breakdown and all could do is console her the best I could in my sleepy drunkenness.  I also remembered waking up in the middle of night thinking that I was lying on the beach due to the bright sun from above.  I opened my eyes & I saw 2 ceiling lights blaring in my face.

Sue was up before me. She is amazingly controlled & calm. After a brief conversation about the night, I pick up fishing gear & head to the dock for a little fishing before breakfast. When I get there, I see hundreds of small fish swimming around. I sit down, hook the bait and hang it in the water while I washed my hands at the side of dock.  When I returned, I’m shocked because I do not seeing the rod which was sitting right there 4 seconds ago. I look into the water & see it dropped under the dock.  It was strange because it dropped into the water straight forward like a fish pulled it in. So I take off my wrist watch & things from my pocket and jump in.  The depth of water is about 8 ft. & gratefully, the water is as clear as it can get. But I can’t find it.  It was sitting at the bottom a few seconds ago and now it is gone. Slow panic starts to settle in.  The rod was Breeze’s #1 rod.  He was kind enough to let me use it while I stayed here. Losing it is like betraying the confidence of a friend who trusted you with his life savings.  I think either a bigger fish than I thought or strong bottom current took the rod. In order to get it back, I needed my snorkeling gear so I quickly climb up from the rear of boat tied there, run across the dock to the main lodge, grab the snorkeling gear and run back.  Vicente & a couple of guys in the main lodge see me & follow me to the dock.  I quickly explain what happened while I put the gear on & jump in. 

I keep swimming straight forward about 40 feet and I finally see it at the bottom still being pulled forward by something.  I take a deep breath & dive straight down.  As soon as I go deeper, my air equalizing problem kicks in.  I feel like I put my head between a vice & someone is drilling a long screw into my ears.  I kick as hard as I can but I just can’t reach to the bottom. I knew that I only have one last chance to get it back so I frantically keep kicking and feel my left fin unsnap from my foot. I am running out of air and the rod still lies so far away.  Then I hear a loud pop in my right ear & feel sea water gush in through my punctured eardrum.  I feel tears welling up in my mask.

 

I keep struggling, feeling more and more desperate & I’m out of breath and seeing rod still moving forward into deeper water. Then, with aid of some magical force, I grab the handle of the rod and pull it and the reel spins wildly.  There’s something big at the end of the line….do I really want to know? I lock the reel with my finger & look up at the surface and I mutter, in silence, “You must be joking…”  I panic for the second time.  The surface looks impossibly far and I literally do not have any air left in my lungs.  Holding the rod in my hand, I give all that I got left to rush to the surface. The next moment I explode out of water sucking air into my empty lungs and I see Breeze & guys on the dock and ask them where my fin is. They point to my left, so I swim toward it & grab it and swim back to the dock.  Breeze seems to be more concerned about the fish at the end of line rather than about me or that he almost lost his rod.  I give him the rod & other guys help me come up on the dock.  Breeze asks me if I’m okay because he sees I’m bleeding from my ear.  He offers me the rod and tells me I should have an honor of reeling in the prize.  The cause of all this drama was a big jack fish.  We spent last 2 days looking for big fish on the boat and catching only small ones but I hook the “big one” in 3 seconds from our own dock.  I give the fish to the staff, thanked them for their help, & return to cabin to tell the story to Sue.  She said she would have killed me if I drowned…huh?

We leave Moho-Cay Island on a motor boat driven by Breeze.  Half dozen of the workers ride with us.  They are not expecting another guest until next Thursday.  I really don’t know how they can make ends meet.  $360.00/person/night is high price, but maintaining all of their facilities with only a few guests per week?  Sue is completely worn out from bug problems & scorching relentless sun and the heat so she is embracing this moment to leave the nature and return to the civilization…4 star hotel and air conditioning and itch medicine!

My evaluation of the Eco-Lodge we spent the last 6 days at:

  • Set up and of all the lodges:                           A++
  • Each cabin:                                                     A Indian Creek
  •                                                                         B+ for others
  • Food:                                                               D
  • Service                                                                        A++
  • Overall:  I loved most of it but it was way

      too expensive for what it is.                            B+

Natanya from Indian Creek Lodge greets us at the dock & takes us to the airport.  We hop on the Tropic Air prop plane back to Belize City International airport but upon arrival we realize that we got off at the wrong airport.  Nobody told us that there are 2 Belize City airports. Anyway, the airline agent called our hotel to sent us a van and he drives us to the Municipal Airport to pick up our luggage (only15 minutes away…) and afterward back to the hotel to check in.   The driver gives us a nice lecture on Belize City and shows us the high points on the way.

We get a nice harbor view room with wall to wall windows.   While the last 6 days of being a part of nature was in very comfortable surroundings and, except for bugs, it was still an excellent experience; I realize how much I missed A/C, TV & a mini-bar in my room.  You see, there was a reason why mankind invented A/C, TV & the mini-bar and why they remain an important part of our civilization.

As soon as I unpack, I try to arrange for scuba dive tomorrow.  Sue is apprehensive because of my popped ear drum but this is the Mecca of the world of scuba diving and I was not going to miss this opportunity.  However, surprisingly, nobody seems to have a scuba tour going the next day which was Saturday.  When I go down to the front desk to get information, the desk clerk tells me that I must go to Caye Caulker. That is where all the diving takes place.  She tells me I can get there by a 1 hour ferryboat ride.

4/28 (Sat): Belize City/Caye Caulker/Belize City

I leave hotel early and I walked over to the ferry station to catch an 8 am ferry. It’s a windy day & the packed boat gets rocked by waves splashing passengers with salt water.  Upon arrival, I jump out & start looking for a dive shop.  On a sandy quiet street, there are small restaurants, laundries and a few gift shops but no dive shop.  At the end of the main street, I see a few men lying around with beers in their hands. (It’s only 8:45 am)  I ask them about dive shops and one of them, who looked exactly like Rob Schneider from the old SNL (if he were from Belize) volunteers to take me there.  I tell him that it’s not necessary for him to come with me but he grabs a bicycle & another beer and starts walking so I follow him to a small dive shop.  The owner tells me that they are not diving this morning.  He makes a few calls & he says nobody else is doing it but then tells me to try at Frenchie’s.  So off we go to Frenchie’s.  I tell Rob Schneider again that he doesn’t have to come with me but he says he had argument with his wife this morning & he beat her up so he doesn’t want to go home.  Well, in that case…. 

He stops a blond girl who passes us by on her bicycle.  She is a diving instructor here and she tells me that waves are too high for scuba this morning but adds, “Try Frenchie’s”.  I guess Frenchie’s is the place to go if you must dive on a day everyone else thinks it’s too dangerous to dive.   Rob Schneider tells me that we must use a taxi so we find one (Taxis around here are actually a golf cart). He leaves his bicycle on someone’s porch and off we go.  We arrive at Frenchie’s in the next few minutes.  There are people loading a boat with equipment.  I guess I just barely caught the last boat taking off for scuba this morning.  I give $10 to Rob Schneider & thank him for his help.  At the counter, I show my diving license & get all the gear.  When I move to the dock, this big guy named Jose puts a tank & vest in front of me & tells me to put it together.  As I fidget with them showing that I have no idea how to put it together, he asks me if I really have a license.  I tell him that I only do this once every 4~5 years, so my memory is rather rusty. He asks me, “If you don’t even know how to put the equipment together, how are you going to scuba?”  I tell him if he could help me with putting it together, I could mange the breathing in and out part.  He laughs & put things together for me. 

On the boat there are a driver & 5 passengers. They are a middle aged couple from Quebec City, a young couple from London (a guy had massive 3 strings of braided hair down to his ankles and I think, “this guy won’t be needing a blanket at night”) & a guy named Peter from Australia. Upon arrival at our diving destination of Spanish Bay, Jose makes us sit in circle & gives us some quick instructions about the diving in this area.

After that, he tells us to announce our names & the last date of diving.  All of them seemed to have extensive & on-going diving experience.  When it came to my turn, I said my name & that the last dive is about 5 years ago. Everyone look at me like I’m a big tuna just hopped onto the deck from the water.  Jose paired everyone & told Peter to take “this 5 year old” with him and everyone laughed at me, including me. The first dive is an anchor dive.  We drop out of the boat inside of a reef where the water is relatively calm.  To my surprise, equalizing my ears is no problem.  I just feel water keep going into my ear & wondered if, with punctured ear drum, how far the seawater would go into my scull. We go down to a depth of 25 ft. and just hang around awhile and then go down along the world’s 2nd largest reef to 110 ft.

This water is not as clear as I expected and there aren’t as many fish as I saw in the Moho-Cay.  I guess Robin (the monkey lady) was right about over-fishing in this area but we see some huge lobsters & a little sea turtle.  Back on the surface where the boat awaited for us outside of the reef, we realize how high the waves are today.  The boat keeps rocking up & down and we keep getting smashed against the hull by waves.  The 2 female divers have trouble getting back on the boat.   After safely bringing everyone up, we move to the 2nd dive position.  This time it is going to be drift dive in shallow waters of 60 ft.  Jose tells us that scenery at the bottom is more interesting because of numerous canyons among the reef.  So we go down.  As I finally get into the groove of it, I start thinking that this is rather boring.  I mean when I started diving about 15 years ago, it was so exciting & different but, after diving in different waters about 10 times, they started to look the same.  There are fish, reefs, sea plants, lobsters, the occasional shark, etc., but it’s not like each one of them is so different.  Well, maybe they are, may be I should be paying closer attention to every one of each creature….

As I was thinking this, I notice Peter who was about 17 feet away from me trying to signal something to me.  I try to signal back that I don’t understand what he is saying.  He is pointing his finger right at me & crossing his hands in some frantic motion.  I thought that maybe he is in trouble, and that I should go closer to him but I feel some hard object touch my leg.  Immediately I think that I hit someone’s tank who was behind me.  As I turn my face, I feel something push me aside & then I see a large eye & head next to my face.  A huge sea turtle was swimming right beside me.   I try to get my balance back & see Peter clicking away his dive camera at me and the next moment, the giant sea turtle disappears into deep bottom.  I was obviously sitting on his course and he just pushed me out of his way.  About 40 minutes after we dropped into water, Jose sends the signal to us to read our oxygen gauge.  I see mine & realize that it’s at 500.  500 mean I must be either on the boat or on the ladder to go up on the boat.  I signal back to Jose & he tells me to go up to the surface immediately.  As I slowly ascend to the surface, I see 2 remoras (aka suckerfish:  a fish that has a flat disk on top of its head so that it can attach itself to a bigger fish, usually whale or shark.) circle around me. They gradually come very close to me and start to touch my body as if they are trying to attach themselves to me.  I get annoyed so I whack one of the bigger fish in the head with my air gauge, which makes them realize that I am not some kind of whale & the swim away. On the surface, the water is still rough but I manage to get on the boat with zero oxygen in my tank.    Peter tells everyone what happened with the sea turtle & me in the water & shows me the picture on his digital camera.   Back at the dock, I change quickly, say goodbye to all & walk back to the ferryboat dock. Caye Caulker is a sleepy small town built on reef.  There are some restaurants, bars and shops along the beach where locals & young blond haired divers stroll around leisurely.  I was expecting touristy Florida Key atmosphere so was pleasantly surprised. 

I return to Belize City on the 3 pm ferry.  The ocean gets too rough for a young local girl & she pukes all over her lap. (Poor girl…poor us having to see poor girl.) Upon returning to hotel, I ask Sue how she spent the day.  She seems to be okay relaxing in the hotel, checking her Emails & cross-stitching her Christmas gifts. I take Sue out for a walk and, not being able to find anything interesting, we return to hotel, have a snack and I fall into blissful sleep as she gives me glorious backrub and foot rub. (Good wifey!)

4/29 (Sun): Belize City/NYC

On the last day of our trip, I wake up before dawn with oozing right ear, take some antibiotics, and wait until 7 am to go out for a walk.  Sunday in Belize City is deader than dead. Everything, including Central Market, all sightseeing spots (that would be the governor’s house & a church) and all gift shops were closed.  Realizing that the only gift shop open on Sunday here is the small shop in our hotel, I finish the last minute shopping for everyone back home and return to our room.  Since our flight is not until 5 pm, I kept going out hoping that something might open, but realizing that it is not happening, we decide to check-out.  A/C in the hotel is not working today so Sue is into the idea of going the airport a bit early where we knew they had air.  We get there, have snack, and buy more souvenirs at the shop and hop on our plane home.  Ahhh, business class GOOD!

Being away for 16 days, this has been one of the longest vacations we have ever had together.  As we sit on the plane and sip on orange juice, we talk about the high & low points in this trip.  Sue says she is ready to go back home & resume her routine in New York. As I scratch my bug bitten legs & wipe the yellow liquid oozing from my ear, I think of kayaking in the jungle with Pablo, fishing on the boat with Breeze and sitting in the small beach bar in Caye Caulker with a cold beer in my hands and then I realize that I am already missing this trip.

    

 

 

 

 

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