Saturday, May 10, 2008

The "short" version: my holiday in Belize

This is the first in a series of posts about my trip to Belize, April 26 - May 5.

Follow the links below to see more detailed descriptions of each day's events...

I got home from Belize in the wee hours of May 6, and it seems to have taken me a couple of days to get back on track. Or more, I feel like I'm still working on it.

Anyway, the trip was wonderful, I enjoyed just about every minute of it. Except possibly some of the weird dreams. None I can remember but it sure seemed like there were a lot of them, mostly very weird.

Great little country, wonderful scenery, great trip, learned a lot, met lots of nice people, travelled with a nice bunch, just can't say enough good things. You can Belize it! As they say...

I took a lot of pictures. Several hundred on my digital camera and a couple dozen or so on film cameras that only got sent off for development today. Not holding my breath on those ones: one camera was a disposable underwater camera which I'm sure was fine but my underwater picture-taking skills are pretty sketchy, and the other was an ancient instamatic with almost-as-ancient ASA 400 film in it. I think the camera functioned OK, but the film, well, who knows.

Summary of trip:

(follow the links to more detailed descriptions)

April 26 - arrival and after-dark visit to Belize zoo (they have a lot of nocturnal animals, best seen after dark)

April 27 - bus trip to Dangriga and boat trip to Cocoa Plum Caye, practice our kayak exit and re-entry skills (I've done OK on this before but this time I totally panicked and flailed around; luckily my skirt was loose and all that flailing was successful), then set out on 4 km paddle to Tobacco Caye.

April 28 - kayak and snorkel around Tobacco Caye, funky little island, very fun place

April 29 - kayak and sail (our kayaks were equipped with removable sails; we could sail when the wind was up in the right direction - no keel so no sailing close to or into the wind) to Water Caye and snorkel there

April 30 - kayak to Carrie Bow Caye and visit the Smithsonian Institute Research Station there, snorkel, return to Water Caye for after-dark snorkelling

May 1 - kayak and sail first to a mangrove swamp for mangrove snorkelling, then to a sand flat in the middle of the ocean for lunch (the water was less than a foot deep) and more snorkelling, then kayak back to Cocoa Plum Caye, to stay at the luxurious Thatch Lodge

May 2 - boat back to Dangriga, bus to San Ignacio, near western border with Guatemala

May 3 - cave adventure at Mayan sacred cave: Actun Tunichil Maktun (I may have that name wrong), dinner with some Swedish women I met there

May 4 - bus to Belize City, water taxi to Caye Caulker to spend last day doing nothing at all in a very tourist-y kind of place with son Sam (well, he was in a bit of a funk so we went for a long walk in a very untourist-y swamp to hash it out; swamps are good for something ;-)

May 5 - flew to Belize City to catch flight home. Missed my Houston connection and got a late flight back to Toronto, arriving in the wee hours of May 6.

The first bus trips (April 26, 27) were in tour buses, but the rest were in public buses, an adventure in itself. Very cheap but very crowded, I was often the only white person. Nice thing about Belize though is that just about everyone speaks English, and since I don't speak Spanish, I really appreciated that. Just about the only other whites I ever saw were either tourists or Mennonites, and the ones I saw were the more traditional ones, they looked rather like Amish. The public buses are all old school buses, no doubt retired from North American school systems.

Initially had a bit of trouble with the snorkelling, my mask leaked, the first replacement our guide gave me fogged up but the second replacement worked fine. Thanks Omar! But snorkelling is so wonderful, I absolutely love it. I hear good things about scuba diving too, but for now I'll stick to the snorkelling. You get to float around in these amazing plant and animal communities and they hardly take much notice of you. They see you and they watch you, but they don't get too worried about you being there. It's kind of funny to watch the fish tip themselves sideways so they can look up at you, but they don't swim away. Imagine walking through a forest where all the animals are out wandering about paying no attention to you --- deer, foxes, rabbits, wolves, mice --- such a sense of being part of nature!

Saw the most amazing octopus on our night snorkel, he/she glided over the bottom, enveloping rocks as he went over them, changing from cream to turquoise and back to cream colour again. He was so graceful! So beautiful! So mesmerizing!

Grew new biceps with all the paddling!

Got a tiny bit of a tan, although I am pretty relentless with the sunscreen.

It was really hot, or for me it was really hot. Mostly around 30C every day, maybe 27C at night. My son pointed out that the official motto of the country is "Sub umbra floreo" (under the shade I flourish), which he translated loosely as "we do better in the shade". He said, you have to wonder about a country that takes that as their motto! It did seem very laid back. Jamaican reggae music and rasta culture is very popular there, the phrase you hear the most is "No problem!"

Culturally and ethnically Belize is quite a mix: Mayan, Mestizo (Mayan-Spanish mix), Kriole (African-European mix), Garifuna (African-Arawak-Carib mix), Chinese, Mennonite, and a few others. Our guide Omar for the kayak trip was Kriole, our guide Ben in the Mayan cave was Mestizo. Most folks speak more than one language, English is the official language (and the language of school instruction), Kriole the most common.

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