Sunday, March 24, 2024

Belize 2024

We just returned from a great Spring break trip to Belize - our first trip to Central America. It was a lot like the Caribbean but we felt like the culture and the activities and that we'd feel overall safe allowed us to explore the country more than just stay at a hotel on the beach. Our first stop was to San Ignacio and we stayed at the San Ignacio hotel. What was amazing was that we stayed in the room that Queen Elizabeth did in 1994. The Prince and Princess of Wales came here too so we felt close to royalty!

At the hotel there was also the Green iguana conservation project - as their eggs and meat are a delicacy and tradition is to kill them - so they need to re-populate the species, specifically the females. Now you can’t have as pets either. After that activity where we actually got to hold them and even put them on our head (Cecilia was not a fan of that!) then we went into town for lunch. It felt like 105! Kids were hot with just a quick walk to town and eating at Ko ox Han nah - so the kids didn't eat much but it was very good. I even had Iced coffee that was delicious and made with Ice Cream. Eric enjoyed a Guinness since it was St. Patrick's Day.  We bought some local artwork and walked a little around town but most of the stores were closed because it was Sunday afternoon. The kids were excited to get back to the hotel for pizza night and more swimming. Kyle (and the front desk also has a son named Kyle) is well known by the kitchen for his food allergies (unfortunately - but they were very accommodating).

The next day was our Journey to Tikal in Guatemala. We had to get out of one van and into another to cross the border by walking through immigration. Unfortunately Cecilia wasn't feeling well and was throwing up because we thought she got car sick on the unpaved windy road (it wasn't until another bout of throwing up and not eating much for the trip that we figured out she had strep throat as we took her to the doctor right after we got home) So she had to pay to go to the bathroom of which our tour guide had to give us the coin that we didn’t have! Then we stopped at a gas station to pick up some mints and ginger ale. While we were driving through Guatemala for 2 hours, we saw the school kids on busses to go to Belize schools to learn English then rush hour with cows on the road. Tikal was beautiful and the kids did great trekking through there in the heat. Eric had to carry Kyle back but overall they walked, climbed and didn’t whine. We had the cool pack towels that really helped that Eric got right before we left. The guide was good and told us about his large family and how his Aunt and Uncle adopted him because they couldn't have kids so he grew up as an only child even though he had many siblings. He also told us about his friend another tour guide that was bitten by a snake the week before at Tikal and will likely have to amputate 3 fingers. The kids didn't enjoy that story but Maeve asked a lot of great questions about then asked about snakes and he responded that it's all about luck - which I thought was an interesting way to think about it. Luckily, we didn't see any snakes - just coati and spider monkeys. We didn’t see it all but we saw the highlights and then stopped at a restaurant outside of town for fajitas and pineapple juice that was refreshing. That was a very good meal. The ride back was uneventful so that was good seeing how it started. Then a much needed dip in the pool. 

The next day was an hour and half venture into the central part of Belize to go Cave tubing at Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve. The original driver and guide were unavailable but some more were able to take us. We picked up the guide on the side of the road with other guides waiting for work - it's such an interesting way to learn about their livelihood and sad at times too. The guide swam the river and guides the tubes along that are tied together. We saw fruit bats in the dry cave and had to walk 45 minutes in the forest holding the tubes. Kids were pretty good with that but Kyle needed to be held. Then we took the river down and Kyle and Cecilia got out and swam a bit. This was one of Cecilia's favorite activities - although I'm not sure she enjoyed the fruit bats in the caves. At lunch, Kyle would read the signs and sing the days of the week in Spanish - he would look around and see all the signs and ask great questions. It was fun to see it through their eyes too (when they weren't whining about carrying tubes or the heat or the food!). Then after swimming we went to a restaurant in town with a play set. The kids didn’t eat much food but enjoyed the park. That was probably our least favorite meal but the restaurant was big and we got to see more of the town when people were walking around. We also learned that the national dish of Belize is either beans and rice or rice and beans - one served separate and one served together.

The next morning we had to leave but Maeve saw that they were offering bird watching so she and Eric did that while we packed up. They saw two types of toucans- keel-billed toucan and collared aracari, howler monkeys, a blue bird- lesson’s motmot, a pretty orange bird- summer tanager, and the white crown parrot. We also saw some of the toucans fly away when we were at breakfast but couldn't see it up close like they could with the guides telescope. Maeve said her favorite activities involved all animals - so she liked the bird watching and iguana.

Our driver, Felicio, that we had to get to our next stop was a wonderful wealth of knowledge. He gave us insight into the history of Belize, the current economy and government, the people that have settled there (like the Amish and the Menonites) who actually bought land from his mom and built a hospital that is still the main hospital in San Ignacio. He was one of 19 children and I believe his mother died in childbirth of the last child and he was adopted by a family friend. He was great - even told us about his travels to the states and that he had a wealthy man and son that he toured around a several years ago that wanted the sons to meet and get to know each other so they did while in Belize and then they flew him and his son up to Martha's Vineyard to spend a week a few years ago - it was so fascinating.

Next mode of transportation was the Water taxi - first one had mechanical problems so had to get off and get on another one. Finally arrived at San Pedro and we were hungry. Got to our hotel a few minutes away via golf cart. Everyone was driving golf carts around - very crazy! Seems like a different Belize for sure. After getting checked in to our cute jungle rooms that are made like Tahiti bungalows, we walked into San Pedro town and ate at Elvi’s kitchen. It was delicious- tried conch, fried plantains and grouper and Kyle got to eat Mac and cheese (he hadn't been able to eat much on the trip and is well versed in listing all his allergies and even adds to my talk track around sometimes bread and noodles have eggs…poor guy) - and this was our favorite meals of the whole trip.

Then we went back to explore the beach and the pool. We were the only ones in the pool and there were plenty of chairs to use at the beach which was amazing. We finished the night eating a small dish at the hotel restaurant and learning about the origin of this place - that the original hotel here completed 1 day before being destroyed by hurricane Hattie in 1961 and then it sat vacant for 20 years until a couple from Mississippi bought it and named it after their tour guide and asked him to manage the hotel. It then was destroyed by a fire about 10 years ago and one of our tour guides was telling us how he and the neighbors pinched in to help put the fire out because it didn't have all of the correct equipment - so it was rebuilt in 4 months and has all of the right things if it were to happen again. Luckily there weren't any injuries in the fire.

Now we were onto marine life instead of the iguanas and monkeys as we went out to explore the Caribbean Sea.

The glass bottom boat that we signed up for wasn’t running so we got a private boat tour to the marine reserve and snorkeling at shark ray alley. At first the guide cut his rope and then lost one of the snorkels in the ocean and had Eric jump in to try to get it. Maeve was really interested in snorkeling but it was her first time so it was hard to learn while also jumping in with the sharks. Everyone got in except Cecilia and saw nurse sharks and sting rays and they all gather there because the tradition was (that they still follow) to clean fish there so the sharks gather there for the scraps. We didn't spend a long time there and  then went to Hol Chan reserve. There the snorkeling was much easier but Kyle's skin hurt from the salt water and Cecilia was unsure so Eric and Maeve went out with the guide first (and then our boat was drifting away - geez - but another guide helped tether us up). Then Cecilia wanted to get in so Maeve and I went back out with her while Eric waited on the boat with Kyle. We snorkeled with barracuda, parrot fish, sting rays, conch, dory - blue tang, and horse eye jack fish.  Then the boat broke down because we were out of gas (new boat driver for this tour too because we had to call in the back up because our tour wasn’t going) and we had to be towed back. The guide was nice enough doing it last minute but wasn't prepared at all. Then we went to dinner at Hidden treasure and Cecilia felt sick again so that wasn't fun.

The last day was a boat charter to secret beach and one of our favorite tour guides, Fish. We went through the river and mangroves and saw a different part of the island. Saw iguanas and pelicans and the island where Madonna stayed and wrote a song about it and then also saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s island. The reason for the name is that the locals used to come here - and then people started to bring their friends here and then a local would bike and bring drinks and beers but they always brought friends and said to keep it secret since it was a local gem. But then the tours grew and then a bar was built and tourism grew here and we could see why - it was just miles of blue green water that was 2-3 ft high so really easy for the kids to swim. They had an amazing wait staff and then not much to go on this big obstacle course floating in the water. Cecilia and Kyle found $2 Belize dollars in the ocean- adding to Cecilia’s collection of coins that she found on the street! All the kids added this as their favorite for the trip. The kids continued to swim for 3 more hours at the hotel and we decided to just get pizza and relax on the beach and at the pool. It was a fun and relaxing way to end the trip.

We enjoyed the trip like the kids did. It was very adventurous for us and some relaxation too. We got to learn a lot about a new culture so that was an important part of the trip.