Sunday, November 10, 2013

Belize 2007 - Part 1

My co-worker, Lizzie recently got married, but hasn't gone on her honeymoon yet. She shared that she and her husband were still trying to decide where to go (shameless plug: Lizzie and her husband have a band called Meme you should all check out). I mentioned Belize as one of my favorite vacation spots as Jesse and I went there in 2007 - I think we were dating about a year and a half at that time and I have to admit I thought "this would be the perfect place for him to propose", but I wasn't really expecting it. I had to wait another year for a proposal (a year worth waiting for), but this trip stands out as one of the best we've had. At any rate, my co-worker and her husband have been researching Belize and asked for suggestions if they go. It seemed like a good idea to collect it all here so I can share with others and reminisce about a fantastic vacation.

When Jesse and I vacation we like to plan out our own agenda. I know a lot of people like packages or all inclusive deals, but that just doesn't fit us. We knew we didn't want to sit on a beach and shop all week. We wanted some adventure. We put some feelers out with family and friends and one of the suggestions was to check out Belize. Belize has a lot to offer so if you are the type that loves to sit on a beach all week you can do that here. If you love adventure you can find it here. You like history? Yup, that's here too. I even had a friend go to a week long yoga retreat in Belize and she loved it.

We did our research and decided we would spend part of our trip inland and part on one of the many islands, or 'cayes' (pronounced 'keys'). Belize has the second largest coral reef so we knew that would be part of our itinerary, plus there are a lot of ruins and other adventures to explore.

We flew into the main airport in Belize City and could have taken the bus out to San Ignacio, but I heard it could take hours and that the bus could be a little unpredictable. Keeping that in mind I worked with the hotel in San Ignacio as they offered a service to pick us up from the airport. It was well worth the extra money for a shorter no nonsense ride. Plus, our driver acted as a great tour guide.

After an hour and a half ride we showed up in San Ignacio at our hotel, Martha's Guest house. Martha's was a cozy hotel in the midst of town. We were lucky to have a room that was off away from many others. Plus, we had air conditioning which I found was not common in all the local hotels. This turned out to be extremely important later.

Extra benefits: there was a restaurant in the hotel (and it was good) and a market right across the street. Plus it was only a block to the main street where most of the other restaurants were.

Our room was through the door on the right. No one ever came down this hallway since we were the only room down here. We could have totally used this area as a living room and dining room if we wanted and would have never seen anyone.

Since this vacation was all they way back in 2007 I won't go in to all the day to day details (because I can't remember them), but I will talk about the highlights in this area. Our first night we explored town and noticed that the river was a big hang out place. While most of the town was in the water, we were more than content relaxing on land nearby. To be honest I was a little grossed out about the water. You can't see it here, but people pulled there cars in to wash them and on another day we saw some people doing laundry.

The next morning we headed out to Xunantunich - one of the many ruins in the area. We thought about going to the Tikal ruins in Guatemala since we were close to the border, but at the time there were a lot of bandits in the area (especially in Guatemala) so we decided to play it safe. We hopped on a local bus bright and early and hoped we were headed the right direction. At one point the bus was stopped by law enforcement and all the locals had to show their ID, but we were totally ignored. It was a little unnerving since we had heard so much about bandits, but also a little comforting once we knew that it was law enforcement.

We arrived at the village of San Jose Succotz and waited for the ferry to open to take us across the river to the park. Here we were able to take in a beautiful morning and see some of the local creatures.

It's hot in Belize as to be expected and I remember it being hot early this day. I wanted to get over that river to explore the ruins before it got too hot. Finally, the ferry took us across and we largely had the ruins to ourselves while we were there.

That speck of red? That's Jesse.

After we were done exploring this amazing area we headed back over the river to find that a lot of road side stands had opened up. A lot of local artisans sell their goods in this area, and while we bought a few things, I wish we bought more. We both figured it was the first full day so we'd have plenty of opportunities to buy in the future, but I liked a lot of what they had here. I think we bought a bracelet and two wall carvings - one we gave as a gift and the other we kept. Jesse picked it out - it was a carving of the Mayan calendar with the God of good luck for matrimony and love (seriously, he totally could have proposed to me here!). Anyhoo, I love it and wish we had more.

I can't recall exactly what we did that afternoon, but it likely included eating at one of the local restaurants. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of the restaurant names (except for Martha's), but know that the food we ate was good.

What I do remember about this day is having one of the worst migraines ever that evening. I remember giving myself a Imitrex shot which only gave me a huge bruise on my leg, but no relief to my head. It was a very sad night as I sat on a stool with only a towel around me with my head leaning against the air conditioner unit crying. Jesse did what he could to comfort me, but there wasn't really anything to do, but ride it out. We had some really cool plans for the next day and I thought for sure that I would have to sit them out. Eventually, the pain lessened enough that I could lay down in bed and somehow I eventually fell asleep. I seriously think this migraine was in the top two worse that I've ever had.

But the next day was a new day. I felt drastically better, if not completely recovered. Migraines like that make you feel beat up, but since I had some relief I was ready to go on our next adventure. This day we had planned the highlight of our inland trip - a visit to a local cave. Actually, this was Jesse's 'must do' item for this vacation. I have to admit I was hesitant, but in the end I agree that it is something not to miss. First, we had to take about an hour drive into the forest, then hike another 45 minutes or so to the cave. Once at the cave we had to swim in about 30 feet or so and then start our cave adventure. I was a little freaked about this since I don't swim. I was also worried that the heat would do me in and I'd be stuck in the forest with the migraine from hell, but the cave was just what I needed that day. It was a cool 70 degrees - totally just what I needed.

We traveled with a number of other tourists and our two tour guides. One tour guide was from the area originally, and hiked through the forest in bare feet. I sort of wanted him as a guide because, seriously bare feet, local guy... but we got Ted from England as our guy. Turns out Ted from England has been in Belize for a long time and really cares for the environment there and was a great guide. The ride to the forest seemed way longer than anticipated, but the walk far shorter. Once at the cave we stopped to eat lunch, and learn some of the rules. And, there were life jackets there for poor swimmers like me.

Tree we saw on our drive there.

The ranger station. Almost to the forest.

See? He's barefoot and that ground is rocky. He was a total stud. Also, we needed helmets for the cave, I should have worn shorts (that's me in the blue hat), Merrell water shoes rock, and if you go here do not forget to bring socks.

Don't let the English accent fool you, Ted knows his stuff and really respects the earth. 

So the cave didn't just have cool formations and running water. It was actually an ancient ceremonial site where some rare bloodletting alters were used in sacrifices by Mayan royalty. Yes, it was a little creepy. Ok, a lot creepy, and Jesse had to do some convincing to get me to go to this, but it really was an amazing insight into a past world. We saw a ton of pottery and even some skeletal remains. 


One of the things to know about this tour was that you had to walk through a lot of water in this cave - it was usually around my ankles, but sometimes up to my waist. At some point we had to crawl up into a higher area and that's where we had to pull out our socks. It was important to wear socks so we didn't damage the area... with our foot oils, I guess. Ted was carrying our socks and our cameras in his fancy waterproof backpack so this is how we ended up with pictures in the cave. Ted mentioned that they might be cutting off the ability to bring cameras in so if you go now you might not be able to bring your camera in. Just saying cause I don't want you to be disappointed if that is the case. Anyhoo, this was possibly our favorite adventure while in Belize and I would highly recommend it to others... even with the disturbing history and all the skeletal remains.

While in the San Ignacio area we also checked out another ruin: Cahal Pech. I can't remember what afternoon it was, but I'm thinking this might have been 'Migraine from hell' day. We took a cab there as it involved going up quite a a hill (which we walked back down later). I remember reading up that you should only get in cabs with green, or yellow, or some specific colored license plate. This cab did not have the appropriate color, but Jesse was already in the car and I didn't want to create a stink. As you can tell we made it through the ride and have been able to tell about it so all was well in the end, but just to be safe pick a car with the correct color license plate.

Cahal Pech is a smaller ruin, but still worth the visit. It seems we also visited this one at a low time because I don't remember a lot of people there. Better picture taking for us.

So yeah, the first part of our vacation involved a lot of adventure, exploring of ruins, a killer migraine, eating, and some chilling out.

Next up? We are off to Caye Caulker (post coming soon) for snorkeling, even better food, and some relaxation.

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