Thursday, January 31, 2008

Belize - December 28th, 2007

Friday I awoke early to Will throwing up on and by the side of his bed. He had gotten some form of food poisoning. I did some initial clean-up and awoke Lisa so she could come over to check on Will.

We were able to get back to bed and sleep for the rest of the night.

Friday was a travel day to the central western part of Belize. Since I had a car rental I was able to pack the whole family in the Suzuki SUV.

We had breakfast at Machaca Hill and finally left - albeit late - around 11 AM. We settled our bills, packed up and said goodbye to some friends we made at the lodge.

Our total distance for the day was about 175 miles from Punta Gorda (P.G) to San Ignacio in the Cayo district. There were three roads to take: The Southern Highway, The Hummingbird Highway, and then finally the Western Highway.

Along the way we were able to stop at a nice Mayan craft shop and then also explore the Blue Hole National Park just south of Belmopan on the Hummingbird Highway.

The biggest draw for me to Blue Hole was the cave adventure that Lisa and I took on the northwestern part of the park. We were able to pay a small park usage fee, rent a flash light and hike about 10 minutes down a trail to enter the cave. The steps down were quite slippery and dangerous so caution was needed. Without a guide we were told to go no more than 300 meters into the cave.

It got dark quite fast as we descended and traveled further. Eventually we got to the point where a sign advised visitors to turn back if they didn't have a guide - the cave was pitch black but the light helped illumate some cool features to the cave and the light on my Canon HV20 camcorder also provided a means for me to move around without the use of the flashlight my sister rented.

I enjoyed the spurlunking and it was good to go underground and see some underground scenery including stalagmites and stalagtites.

We finally got to Maya Mountain Lodge around 5 PM.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Belize - December 27th, 2007

Thursday was a more open-ended day since we hadn't formally planned a group trip through Machaca Hill.

Richard decided to a full day of fishing with a local guide named Sully.

I wanted to get a day of scuba in so I had Machaca Hill arrange a day of scuba with a local scuba master named Dennis; Sully's brother.

Wake up time for both our trips was around 6 AM. Richard left before me and then I got a ride down to P.G. (Punta Gorda) about twenty minutes later.

Once I arrived I was sized up for my scuba BCD and Dennis had to go to another location in town over and get the air tanks filled. Since I wanted to do three to four dives for the day he filled out about six to eight air tanks.

We finally made our way out of P.G. toward the Sapodilla Cayes closer to 8:30 AM. Since the Sapodilla Cayes are about 36 miles off-shore the boat ride can take up to 1 1/2 hours. Since the water was a little calmer the trip time was closer to an hour.

On the ride out I got to talk to Dennis, review scuba technique in my PADI book and also show Dennis my open water certification - to make sure I was up to snuff; at least in training.

Once we got into the cayes we were able to register at the main ranger island where a park usage fee was paid (20.00 Belizean). Dennis then took me to our first dive.

Our first dive was quite exciting since I'd never dived in actual open water before. Total time was about 25 minutes and our deepest dive for the day: we dove to 72 feet below water.

I had a problem with my mask filling with water and didn't want to try and blow out the water through my mask since that had been the most difficult technique to master during my training. Fortunately, I was able to finish the dive but I certainly wanted to have better confidence with releasing water from my mask for the remaining dives in the day.

Belize - December 26th, 2007

The day after Christmas we did another Machaca Hill organized day trip.

Instead of exploring some Caribbean waters we went inland to an organic cacao farm and then spent part of the afternoon, closer to the border with Guatemala, visiting a swimming hole and waterfall on the Rio Blanco near San Antonio.

We left Machaca Hill in the morning after 8 AM and drove by van to a farm near the village of San Felipe. Machaca provided a driver, guide and a tour by the proprietor of the farm for the morning visit.

Our first stop was a small building near the farm where they sold some cacao products and where we could meet up with the farm's owner. The night before had seen a large Christmas celebration on the premises so there were plenty of styrofoam plates and cups there were strewn across the front lawn that still needed to be cleaned up.

Once we had picked up the guide for the farm we drove another 15 minutes to the take a short tour of the plantation. The morning sun was coming up and it was getting a little hot but getting underneath the cover of some cacao trees helped cool off our tour participants.

Interesting sights were the close to maturity cacao pods that were hanging from the trees. We got to crack open a couple of the pods to see creamy white seeds that enclosed the cacao beans. The cream on the outside of the beans was quite sweet and the cacao beans were still green and needed to be roasted for true flavor. Also on the farm were Passion Fruit trees and Allspice.

After the tour we made it back to the building where we stopped by earlier to pick up our plantation guide. We did get stuck in some mud about a 1/2 mile from the farm. Orlando, our driver, wasn't going fast enough and actually stopped the vehicle right in the middle of a muddy section. We couldn't get out simply by gunning the motor so our group had to get out and push. We were finally able to free the vehicle and continue on our way about 15 minutes later.

When our group returned to roadside shop we were able witness the manual process of roasting cacao beans, grinding them with sugar and allspice and finally taste the resultant ground powder.
They did have some processed cacao products available for sale so I bought some ground cacao for chocolate milk and also a few chocalate bars to bring back to the United States.


For the second half of our full-day Toledo-district interior tour we got back into our tour van to make our way west to Rio Blanco Park.

The drive out was a tougher than the one to the organic cacao farm but we finally made it after what seemed about 45 minutes of driving through more mountainous terrain.

When we arrived at the entrance to Rio Blanco Park lunch was unpacked and we all sat down for a quick bite underneath the ranger station. The falls were a short hike down a 1/4 mile path.

Once there, I was feeling a little adventurous and decided that I should try to jump into the swimming hole. There were a few different heights to choose from and the first jump I took was from the highest ledge; probably about 25 feet above the water. I had trouble building my nerve up so our guide Agapito jumped in first. After some more trouble I finally made a go of it but by no means was it a graceful jump and I was holding my nose the whole way down. Regardless, I got to jump about four more times into the swiming hole - although none of the attempts were at all elegant.

In all the falls was a great place to enjoy a swim after the cocao plantation visit.

We got back to Machaca Hill about 5 PM for a shower a some dinner.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Belize - December 25th, 2007

On Christmas Day we spent a full day out in the Bay of Honduras.

We left Machaca Hill around 8:30 AM to meet our two guides, Joevani (sic) and Dario on the outskirts of Punta Gorda. After some introductions and brief preparation we got into the outboard motor fiberglass boat - called the Permit - a little after 9 AM.

Our destination for the day was the Snakes Cayes about 10 to 15 miles off the coastline.

As we got close to the Snake Cayes our guides gave us two fishing poles to troll for permit and barracuda. Trolling involves running the boat at slow speed and using poles that are a lot stiffer than those used for fly fishing.

We made our way to the center part of the Cayes to a small 1 acre island that housed the ranger station. There we met the head ranger, George and he gave us a thorough introduction to the Cayes using a pointing stick and map hung on the wall.

After paying permit fees for use of the reserve we left the island to go to West Snake Caye where we had lunch and snorkled.

Christmas dinner back at Machaca Hill was buffet style. I brought out the wine that I had packed from the states, Rich got to carve a ham and the dinner was nice for the occasion. A local band was even hired by the lodge to play for about 2 hours. The were a reggae/ska band and even played classic hits like Crazy Bald Head.

Although we really didn't have a formal Christmas celebration it was a very nice day nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Belize - December 24th, 2007

Belize - Day 2

Since the day before was so long my sleep was restful and I was quite refreshed when I did awake.

The bed I slept in was quite nice. I awoke around 8 AM went to the porch of the cabin to check out the view and take a few photos with my camcorder.

Breakfast was down the path towards the main lodge. Lisa, Rich, Talia and Will were already at a table. I ordered a breakfast too. The breakfast menu had a few selections and I choose a scrambled egg breakfast with fry jacks - a Belizian Fry Jacks.

The first half of the day we got to canoe on the Rio Grande river below Machaca Hill. We had a local Maya guide Agapito who would guide us on the river. To get to the canoes we took a small open air tram down to the river. Lunch was provided in a cooler that went in Agapito's canoe.

I've never canoed on a jungle river and the Rio Grande was a good first choice. The canoes we had were a very contempoary fiberglass construction making them light and easy to steer. Each boat came with one paddle so whoever was paddling had a little bit of tough go since you had to either paddle and steer at the end of the stroke or switch off every couple of strokes from right to left if you just wanted to have a power stroke and not steer.

Agapito was good at pointing out some of the flora by the banks of the river and even helped us spy out some of the wildlife too. We did get a chance to see some Menonite farmers who were at the halfway point of our out and back. I did wave to them as we approached but as we stayed in the area and turned back we didn't see them by the side of the river anymore; except for one man who was bathing in the Rio Grande.

For the second half of the day Rich stayed with the kids at Machaca Hill while Lisa and I went to Nim Li Punit to check out a small Maya ruin. It was a fourty minute drive from Machaca and the last 7 miles were unpaved but the small ruins were a nice site to see a from some vantage points the Maya Mountains could be seen in the distance.

Dinner was quite nice and we retired after our meals to our cabins for an early bedtime.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Belize - Sunday, 23rd of December, 2007

Belize Trip - Day 1

I left for Belize at 1:45 AM from Denver International Airport (DIA) . Kary dropped me off around midnight and the flight left on time for Atlanta. Arrival at Atlanta was around 6:15 AM E.S.T. I was pretty bushed from the flight so I tried to get some rest by sleeping on the floor near the gate for the flight to Belize.

Six hours to wait for another flight is a long time and the carpeted floors with the hustle and bustle of an airport didn't allow for a lot of sleep. I wish airports would have some sort of nap rooms where a door can be closed for peace and quiet. Unfortunately, that's a pipe dream since I imagine that there are plenty of reasons not to have nap rooms for temporarily stranded travelers.

The flight to Belize was uneventful and I got into Belize International Airport at 3:20 PM. The heat and humidity were a welcome change from Colorado. I was happy to have my checked bag arrive with me and going through customs was uneventful; although the first line I got into to get my pasport stamped was for locals only.

Crystal Auto Rentals was an easy find at the airport since it's about 200 feet from the exit.

I finally left Ladyville around 4:30 PM on my way to Punta Gorda. I was hoping to arrive at Machaca Hill Lodge about 8:00 to 8:30 PM. The drive was quite nice and I took some rest stops for pictures. The final drive time was about 4 1/2 hours since I didn't arrive until a little after 9 PM.

Total distance using the Western Highway to Humingbird to the Sourthern Highway and finally Punta Gorda was ~203 miles.

Lisa has fortunately saved some dinner for me so I was grateful to sit down and have some food.

I was proabably in bed and sleeping by 10:30 PM. I slept well that night after being 20 hours in transit.