Friday, November 19, 2010

Belize. A Doozie of a Long Post

Did you know we went to Belize last May?  We did.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even know where Belize was until May.  I was especially too embarrassed to admit it to Ray.  When he started suggesting it as the destination for our vacation, I'd nod and say that was a great idea, then think, "I need to find a map.  I have no idea what continent Belize is on."  At first I was thinking it was in Africa or South America.

So off to Belize we went.

It was an incredible experience for many reasons, but funniest and most enlightening of all, it let both Ray and I find out who we had really married.  It dashed many of the myths we'd both encouraged the other to believe (about ourselves) while dating.
I had led him to believe that I was the PERFECT travel partner, didn't mind getting dirty, liked adventure, came from hardy stock... I was misleading.
He lead me to believe that he was the PERFECT travel partner, a great planner, very in-control, perceptive of my needs... he was misleading.

I chuckled to myself many times during this trip, usually as I was riding on a crowded old school bus, sitting behind a man with chickens in his lap, looking out the window as Belize crawled by.  I chuckled because I would find myself thinking, "ha ha, we sure tricked each other into marrying us.  I know Ray's wondering when the 'hardy stock' in me will come forth."

It was a great trip.
I learned:
  • To not need an itinerary for a trip... that some trips are best when they're not planned.
  • That even though things might get sketchy for a while... Ray can usually get us out of a pickle.
  • To always pick the local bus over the tour bus.
I hope he learned:
  • That I do best when I know I'll have a safe, clean place to sleep at nights
  • That a day of vacation isn't wasted just because you "relax" for the day... rather than "explore."
  • That the hardy stock is still in me... I just need to re-find and cultivate it.
Here are some of our highlights.

Travel Day:

Ray figuring out where we will spend our first night sleeping.  My first clue that he's not made any solid plans for our trip.

Get into Dallas Airport (from Seattle) LATE at night.  Spent the first half of the night alternating turns on the cot we found.  Second half of the night had two cots because the man a few gates down decided to abandon his cot.

I buy a Big Hunk and stash it in my bag.  At this point, I'm still not sure what Belize is all about, but know that if I have a Big Hunk, I can handle whatever food situation Belize throws.  If we spend all day looking for food and find nothing better offered than a boiled chicken head.  I'll be able to contemplate eating that chicken head by telling myself, "It's okay.  You have a Big Hunk in your pocket.  You can eat anything."

Arrive in Belize

Day 1-2:

Explore Caye Caulker.  We spent a full day snorkeling, ate conch shell ceviche, walked most of the perimeter of the island, and did 3 amazing scuba dives.  One of them was the Great Blue Hole.  We took a 3 hour boat ride, dove down 120 feet, shared the stalactite shelf with 2 large reef sharks that were circling us, and I held that regulator in my mouth like it was my first born.  There was no way in Hell I was going to let that thing accidentally slip out of my mouth.  The pressure of the water on your body at that depth makes it hard to breath.  It felt like I was trying to breath through one of those red coffee stir straws.  There was a very definite rush as we started ascending from the dive.  An incredible feeling.

Our boat crew and dive masters that took us out to the Great Blue Hole.  They had gotten off course and were lost in a coral maze (the water was only an inch deep in places).  They were all watching out for coral so the captain could navigate the boat around it.  All except the captain had been drinking homemade Watermelon Rum in styrofoam cups with all the other divers.

Day 3-5:

Explore Ambergris Caye.  Talked Ray into staying at a resort on Ambergris Caye.  I had been sick with a fever, chills, cough the past few days and begged for some place to just relax and recuperate... so that I wouldn't be sick the whole trip.  It killed him.  He didn't say anything, but I could see the horror on his face as he realized where we'd be staying.  I hardly noticed though, because I was SOOOO excited.  The whole two days we were there, he stuck to his moral base of, "one should never go on vacation and stay in nicer accommodations than their own home."  But, I didn't see him complaining as he lied on the man-made beach by the pool reading Hunger Games either.

Reading Hunger Games by the side of the pool

The Resort

We enjoyed taking the water taxi into town, eating more great food, 3 more incredible scuba dives, and going to church on Sunday at the local branch.

After church we caught a water taxi back to the mainland of Belize.  It was DUMPING water that day.  So much so, that one of the water taxi staff just sat and bucketed water out of the taxi for the 90 minute ride.  Ray sat by a girl who kindly shared her kitten with him for the whole ride.  Ray didn't ask for the kind gesture.  She just plopped it on his lap and he just let it sit.  I decided not to let it sit on me, though.  I saw lots of cats when we were on the islands and I didn't see a single one that didn't have ringworm.

Ray.  The girl.  The cat.

Day 5-9:

From there we went inland and started exploring ruins, caves, jungles, and the Belize National Zoo (their only zoo).  We stayed in San Ignacio where there was a smattering of ex-patriots (Chinese, American, European), Amish and Mennonites mixed in with the Belizians.

All the ruins we saw were incredible.  I know these pictures don't capture the majesty, beauty and height, but know that "breathtaking" accurately describes all three... majesty, beauty, height.

Me picking a banana on our hike up to the ruins so that should we see monkeys, we're prepared to lure them towards us

At Xunantunich Ruins.  There were two howler monkeys down below us chasing each other in the trees.  If no one was around, I'd go stand at the edge of the ruins.

If there were other visiters up there though, I'd sit back against the wall.
You never could tell if they were the shove-you-off-the-edge type.

At Xunantunich, we got distracted for a good hour with a colony of leaf-cutter ants. Their trail was 100's of yards long (from tree to hole) and they'd even worn the path down.  There was a rut in their path.  It was absolutely fascinating, obviously.

The excitement climaxed when Ray and I damed up their path with leaves.  Absolute mayhem ensued.  I thought they'd figure it out after a few seconds... nope.  It took them 10 minutes to figure out their friends and the path were just on the other side of that leaf.  The pile up that resulted reminded me of Seattle I-5 traffic.

One of the courtyards at the Tikal ruins in Guatemala

Tikal's tallest pyramid

Most of these ruins have been uncovered in the last 100 years.  Before that, they were just thought to have been clusters of hills situated on the top of a mountain.  There are still a number of the pyramids at each of these ruins that haven't been uncovered.  They look like steep hills covered in trees with rectangular stone instead of odd shaped stone scattered about.

Un-excavated pyramid

Partially excavated pyramid

That's a pyramid coming out of the rain forest canopy in Tikal.
That's also my fanny pack.
I got tired of carrying it over my shoulder, so submitted to the humiliation of wearing a fanny pack

I learned something very interesting about Ray at the top of the scariest/steepest pyramid.  I already knew he wasn't afraid of heights, but I learned that heights don't even affect him.  I found out by asking him if he liked that topsy-turvy thing your stomach does when you're standing on the edge.  I asked him as he was standing at the edge and I was scooting on my butt towards the edge (there were other visitors up there).  He had NO CLUE what I was talking about.  At first I thought he was trying to just pretend he wasn't affected by it.  He wasn't pretending.  He was totally unaware that heights gave people this feeling.  I kept trying to get him to confess that he felt at least something when he stood at the edge.  He said, "not really."  I finally believed him when he told me about how he climbed one of those really tall radio towers that have the blinking red light on top when he was young.  He thought it might be fun to own that big red case that covered the light bulb at the top.  So, he got it and climbed back down.  He now regrets that and not because of  the stolen light bulb cover, but because it was a radio tower and should we someday have two-headed offspring, he's responsible.

Ray standing at the edge

Me sitting at the edge.

I really, REALLY believed him about the no topsy-turvy stomach thing when I watched him climb back down the pyramid facing forward.  They've erected side ladders to climb to the top of the pyramids, because climbing up the pyramid destroys it.  In the picture below he's standing at one of the landings, but in between the landings was ladder.  He walked down the ladder facing forward.  In this picture we're also about 9/10ths of the way down.  He was the only visitor I saw all day that went down that ladder facing forward.  The ONLY one.  All the rest were climbing down backwards like me.  Holding on nice and tight.

Ray wondering why I keep asking him to go slower and wait for me.
At first I thought this quality was a shining star in his genome.  I was enamored by his lack of fear.  However, I'm now sure it's more like a chink in his genome.  He's missing some sort of inhibition gene.  And that is why I will probably live longer than him.

We enjoyed swimming.

Favorite place for people to go swimming

Ray deciding whether or not he's ready to go down the long rock waterslide.
I think it looks like he praying about whether or not to go down the rock waterslide.

Ray sliding down the long rock waterslide at the swimming hole

We found Houdini a friend.  However, the friend wasn't very friendly and Houdini DEFINITELY isn't very friendly, so we decided to not try and make them be friends.

I never once saw it's head.  It stayed sucked inside that shell the whole time we were looking at it.

 One of the other highlights of the trip was going to the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave that was fairly recently discovered (I think in 1992).  The cave was fascinating and incredible, but I think we both enjoyed the journey of getting to it just as much.  ATM was one of the few things we actually paid a tour guide to take us on... only because you have to have a tour guide to go.  Belize is really protective of the cave, there are only 20 certified guides that take tours in, and only a max of 3 tours can go in per day.  We started by riding a really old and REALLY dirty school bus from San Ignacio to the edge of the Tapir National Forest.  We then hiked 2-3 miles through the forest and crossed a muddy, swollen river 3 times to get to the mouth of the cave.  The river had flash flooding the day before so everything was super sloppy.

We got to the mouth of the cave, put on our mildew smelling coal miner hats and got ready to start wading/swimming the two miles up the cave via the river.  The water was still really murky from all the flooding and raining, so I found the wading/swimming part to be the scariest.  I kept imagining Anaconda or that part in Star Wars: A New Hope where they are in the trash compactor and there's that creature swimming around in the trash with them.  I finally just had to tell my head to, "shut-up!" and make sure I was never first or last in line... herd mentality.  The funnest part about swimming up the cave was all the tight places we had to shimmy through.  It restored some of my bravery because I wasn't claustrophobic.

Ray getting ready to go in

Me going in.  Ray's already in there waiting for me.

When we finally made it up to the portion of the cave where the human sacrifices were done, we spent an hour walking through them looking at the massive cathedral like stalactites and stalagmites, the calcified pottery (used by the Mayans in their sacrifices), and the calcified skeletons of their sacrifices.  There are a number of skeletons in the cave.  It appears that they were sacrificing for rain.  It is believed that in the beginning they only sacrificed middle aged men (which probably volunteered), when the drought continued, they began getting more extreme and started sacrificing children and a virgin girl.  They ended with sacrificing two infants.  One of the children they sacrificed was a boy believed to be about 7 years old.  His skeleton was found crumpled and facing a wall with his hands tied behind his back.

The virgin girl sacrifice.  One of her hands was amputated.

In the cave
Then, we swam/waded back out of the cave.  It was incredible and memorable.  As we were wading out, I asked Ray if he thought the water was deeper.  It seemed deeper to me.  Sure enough, while we'd been in the cave, it had started raining really hard again and the river started swelling.  Since we still had to hike out of the jungle (crossing the river 3 times) the guide started getting nervous that we'd be stuck camping at the mouth of the cave for the night and told everyone they had 2 minutes to eat their lunch then they better be hiking their hiney out of there really fast.

Day 10:

We woke up that morning and caught the early bus (an old school bus from an Illinois school district) back to Belize City for our afternoon flight home.  We planned on getting dropped off at the Belize National Zoo on our way and spending a few hours there.  Half way between San Ignacio and Belize City, our bus broke down.  I started hearing this metal dragging on pavement sound and looked out the window.  Sure enough, our exhaust pipe was dragging along the road.  Eventually our bus driver realized his bus was falling apart and pulled over.  He got off the bus, looked at the exhaust pipe, came back on the bus, got some tools, got under the bus, spent 20 minutes completely removing the exhaust pipe and stuff, climbed back on the bus, stored the removed parts on the shelf above our heads, and started driving again.  And that was that.

Ray at the Belize Zoo watching the spider monkeys

The last highlight of our trip was the Belize zoo.  It was a very small and minimally-funded zoo that only housed animals and plants native to Belize.  Most of the cages seemed easy enough to escape from, and one of the peccaries (wild pig) was out and running around.  Our favorite part was the parrots.  They had a bunch of different kinds of parrots that would whistle at you.  There was one pair of parrots in particular that Ray and I spent 20 minutes trying to get to talk.  Right as we were walking up to their cage, I thought I heard one of them say something in English.  Ray and I tried every common parrot phrase we could think of trying to get them to talk.

Polly want a cracker?
Good morning.
I love you.

You name it, we tried it.  We basically spent 20 minutes talking like parrots and looking like total idiots.  The whole time we were trying to get them to talk, they would just sit on their perch and looking everywhere but at us.  Finally, just as we were giving up, one of them looked straight at us, said "Whatever!" and turned on his perch so his tail was facing us.  We laughed and laughed.  We got him to say "whatever" to us one more time, and that was it. As we were walking away, one of the zoo keepers had been watching and told us that both parrots have a huge vocabulary.  At night they will sit in there and just talk to each other in English.

Ray carrying his half of our baggage.  I'm carrying my half.  Both of us have sun burnt shoulders

We had one last adventure on our ride to the airport.  As we were walking out of the zoo and back to the main highway (hauling our big backpacks and scuba gear) so we could catch the bus the rest of the way to the airport, Ray got an idea.  A cruise ship had just landed in Belize City and some of the cabs had brought the cruise riders to the zoo for a couple of hours and were waiting for their patrons to finish so they could drive them back to the dock.  Ray decided to ask one of the cabs at the zoo if they wanted to make some extra money and take us back to the airport on their way to the dock.  He asked the cab driver with a mini van.  The cab driver said he'd ask his patrons and if they were okay with it, he'd pick us up down the lane at the bus stop.

Well, I can say for sure he DID NOT ask his patrons because when he pulled over at the bus stop and yelled for us to get in, the patrons looked confused and when they figured out what was happening, they looked MAD.  The cab driver gets out, helps us load some of our backpacks and scuba stuff in the back of the van and says the rest will fit on the floor of the van.  He then opens the sliding door of the van and there I see a family of four and they are all VERY big people.  There is NO seat room at all.  He tells them to squish together and has Ray take the seat their squishing relinquished.  I sit on Ray's lap.  He also puts our last backpack on the floor making half of them lift their feet up so it will fit.  He closes the door and we take off.

The awkwardness in the van is absolutely palpable.  These people are mad their cab driver made them share their cab, they're squished, and I think they were just plain not very happy people.  We sit in silence in the van for 5 minutes I finally try to break up the silence by asking them where they're from and other niceties.  They give me one word answers.  I give up.  We drive on with another 5 minutes of silence and the cab driver has to slow down for a speed bump.  The whole length of the van's bottom scrapes along the speed bump, we're so weighed down.  As soon as we finish scraping over the speed bump, Ray decides to end the silence by saying, "it wasn't me."  They all look at him and say nothing.  I decided to make a comment to cover up his comment.  While nervously laughing I say, "it was me."  Five speed bumps later (scraping on each one of them) we make it to the airport and escape.

And with that, we decided our cup was brimming and that Belize had been incredibly wonderful to us.

Quite humorously enough (to me), I lost the paint on one of my toenails each day we were in Belize.  Not two one day and none another.  I mean I lost exactly one a day.  Just in case you wanted to see:

Caye Caulker

Ambergris Caye

Church on Ambergris Caye

San Ignacio Hotel

After hike to Xunantunich Ruins

Hiking through the jungle

In the ATM cave

After that I decided it wasn't that humorous after all and that I'd probably just delete the pictures anyway, so I quit taking them.  The little pinkie was the last one to come off.


Ande Payne said...

I loved reading this post Cali! It was fun to see your trip and to hear all the things you thought were interesting. And I wish you would have kept taking pictures of your feet!

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

OHHHHHHHhh more, more. Who would have guessed I would be begging for more from a vacation six months earlier? I loved all the human-ness of this post. The details. The thinking. The experience. I did not know that Ray felt no topsy-turvy at all. Perhaps it was growing that extra 12 inches taller than the average man that accustomed him to heights.

I wish you'd have finished out your toes, too. What a funny way to keep track of days. How did you keep your toenails clean wading in the rivers and hiking?

I think you should go on another trip . . .

or even just post again.

Cassidy said...

What a fun trip!!!

Julie said...

I love reading your posts as much as your moms! I especially loved that you and Ray learned so much about each other. Even after 20 years you continue to learn things when you are on vacation. It's pretty funny! It looks like a great time.

Em said...

So...where is Belize?