Monday, February 1:
So today we traveled: Up at 6, taxi at 7, bus at 8, Chetumal by noon. That’s really where the adventure started. A rep for the Belize water ferry met the bus and within minutes we had tickets in hand and directions for taxi-ing to the marine terminal. From there we sauntered into town for lunch, not overly impressed with that particular area of Chetumal although all in all it seemed less affected by tourism and so with less apparent poverty. I’d guess it is much more of a real working city, a population of 300,000+ we were told. As with touring Spain and Mexico we continued to be confounded by the number of shoe stores. Is that all that people in spanish speaking countries buy?
The ferry to San Petro was a gorgeous ride. We sat on the top beside the boat captain with a lovely warm wind in our faces.
The water was crystal clear and shallow all the way across, giving it that beautiful Caribbean blue color. We pulled into San Pedro close to 5:30 pm, right to where my brother Bob waited. In the wee short time that we were in this little island town, Hannah fell immediately in love with the colorful buildings, and the entire Caribbean beach scene, the glimpse of it we got as we rushed off to pick up a few groceries before jumping into the Tranquility Bay Resort boat to head up island. But even with the rush, we were traveling up in the dark. I reassured myself several times on that ride up as we sped along the shallow water inside the crashing waves on the reef that is just off shore, that we were in good hands, that Oscar, the boat captain knew what he was doing, that several boats made this trip every day, that the route was clearly marked. I talked non-stop at Bob, jabbering on and on, all to hide my terror. I even managed to point out the dancing phosphorescence in the water as we flew along. Finally Bob pointed out the lights from the resort and I breathed as sigh of relief as Oscar turned the boat closer to shore and then suddenly stopped. We had indeed hit a sand bar but not hard, not high and after the initial jolt once the boat leveled out, we cruised slowly across into the dock where Carlos, Isabelle, Win, Marg, Mary and her husband Bob were waiting to greet us all. It felt like coming home!
Tuesday, February 2: What a gorgeous spot to wake up to! The water is calm and clear. Great scuba diving right out the door. It is truly beautiful here. This morning I learned that our trip up the island in the dark was Oscar’s first night sojourn! Thank heavens no one told me that before the ride or I would never have made it.
Wednesday, February 3:
I braved huge waves to go DIVING with Bob, Win, and Carlos. My first dive ever off of a boat and a good refresher course for me as we had Peter, a dive instructor, along to oversee the four required dives in the certification course that Bob and Win are doing. I almost backed out because of the rather large waves breaking on the reef that we had to get passed to get out to the dive site but in the end I was really glad I stuck with it and went. Two lovely “starter dives” which gave me a chance to practice and play around with buoyancy control. It felt great though I didn’t “see” much. Definitely the highlight of the day.
Thursday, February 4:
The wind is strong here today and I can’t believe how tiring it is. Bob, Win, Carlos, Marg, Mary and the other Bob have gone off to the mainland to tour ruins and “cave tubing” but the tour was long and too expensive for our budget so Hannah, Robert and I elected to stay at the resort for a quiet beach day. We tried snorkeling and kayaking but the wind drove us back inside. Not that it was cold or painful in any way but just such a persistent and relentless wind. It’s been more relaxing to stay hidden inside. In the afternoon Isabelle joined us, happy to have a couch to sit on. I loved having her all to ourselves, the chance to talk with her and really start to get to know her in ways that we haven’t been able to do with there always being a group of people around.
Friday, February 5: Today we had an adventure that Sarah, James, Adam and Ana would have loved and so we all wish they could have been with us. We left around 10 am in a really fast boat with a guide and driver. First stop was in the Hol Chan marine reserve, almost at the reef. To start, our guide, Oscar, coaxed a very big moray eel out of its rock hideout with some shrimp in a conch shell. As it came out to eat the treat, two giant fish were instantly in there trying to get the morsel away from the eel. All this with our little trio plus both Bobs, Win, Mary, Marg and Oscar only a few feet away in crystal clear warm water.
From there for the next hour we followed Oscar around, while a school of Yellow Jack fish followed all of us. Unfortunately, instead of enjoying the swim, Hannah was silently but deperately trying to get through a bit of motion sickness that had started as we had sat in the boat listening to Oscar describe what we were about to experience when we first arrived at the site. Finally she called me over, I dragged her over to Oscar, who swam her back to the boat where she definitely didn’t want to be. So we ended that snorkel with milling about and revisiting the eel before climbing back in the boat. Next we headed off across the water, side tracked a bit when Winfield, our driver spotted a dolphin. We then motored past Caye Caulker on the way to Sting Ray Alley where we were again far out on the reef, this time in water only three or four feet deep with so many Southern Stingrays rushing over to the boat that it was hard not to bump into them getting into the water. They are lovely, lovely creatures with wise gentle eyes. They swam around us so close and calm that we could reach out and stroke them as they swam past. Robert has decided that these are his new favourite wildlife. We couldn’t help but think that James would have been floored.
I was thrilled too to have finally caught a good picture of barracuda with the camera. We keep seeing barracuda off to the side, but they’re shy and hard to snap.
Next stop, lunch on Caye Caulker, a wonderful, very Caribbean feeling island town with sand streets, incomprehensible creole sing song banter and beautiful, rich colors everywhere. Hannah and Robert tried the lobster burritos. The best part for me though was the Sunshine smoothies with banana, coconut and vanilla.
The three of us have decided that we’re definitely heading back to Caye Caulker for a few days when we leave the resort on Monday, if only to give the banana pancakes a try at Femi’s cafe. When lunch was over we strolled down the main or perhaps only street to meet up with the boat. In the meantime Oscar had found some seahorses to show us. We all climbed back into the boat to head home, with a short stop back in San Pedro. We were surprised at how positively urban San Pedro felt, and in fact, we found the golf cart traffic jams all a little overwhelming. It was a fabulous day!
Saturday, February 6: It was so still, calm, beautiful and hot today. Just an absolutely perfect day except that with no wind the no-see-em flies were out feasting away, especially on me. I was working on trying to write an article for the Sac-Be online newsletter that I was asked to write about my visit to the Montessori kinder last month so I spent a good chunk of the day in the cabana until the biting flies finally drove me out for a snorkel. Hannah came with me and after swimming almost to the edge of the reef where the waves break, we snorkeled for a good hour around the coral. It was spectacular. I found a large lobster hiding in the rocks but the highlight was coming across a lion fish. At first I thought it was just a wavey, lovely colored plant but as I watched it I realized it wasn’t attached at all and gradually the fish form under all of the long leaf like fans became more clear. I hadn’t taken the camera with me and so instead today I’ve found a better one than I could have taken on Flickr. The fish I saw was equally as beautiful although apparently these fish are not indigineous to Belize and are eating everything in sight. The locals kill them when they can.
Sunday, Feb 7: Another DIVE day! Bob and Win needed to finish up their certification dives and so the dive instructor from Belize, Peter Jones, came up again to dive with us. For me this was dives #11 & #12 and the best yet. I still wouldn’t say I feel super confident but tagging along on the dive course dives for #9 & #10 the other day really made a difference. I’m still sorting out buoyancy issues and trying to look streamlined, calm and graceful in the water. Clearly I need much more practice. At any rate dive #12 was fabulous. We dove at Robles Point down to canyons of coral in the water. I saw what I think was a beautiful squirrel fish, as well as a world full of brilliant, pristine coral. It is really indescribably beautiful and of course too deep for my camera so no good pictures of my own to post so I’m resorting once again to a Flickr photo that looks similar to what I remember seeing, this one by Petruha.
If you stumble onto this blog and want to know more about where I’m diving, you can get details from Carlos at Tranquility Bay Resort on Ambergris Caye, Belize.
This morning Mary, Marg and Bob left to head back to Canada. We’re supposed to be heading out tomorrow but have decided that maybe we’ll delay leaving until later in the week.
Monday, February 8:
Today was supposed to have been our departure date but we love it here so much that we’ve decided to stay on. We’re all glad we stayed. Carlos, Isabelle, Bob and Win all seem ok with it so we’ve moved cabins for the second time and are becoming somewhat of a permanent fixture here. On the down side, our new little camera has decided to stop working. I’ll have to rely on Hannah to provide the picture until we get back to Akumal.
Tuesday, February 9: Today we took a “dinner boat” in to San Pedro with Carlos, Isabelle, Bob and Win to have Indian Food at the Blue Lotus restaurant. We got into town early and so had time to walk around while Isabelle did a few errands. It was nice to see San Pedro again, this time starting from some quieter streets and then meandering into the busier parts. It seemed more welcoming and fun than our last short visit. Nice too to be able to spend some fun time with Carlos and Isabelle. They are often so busy and so to have them to ourselves for the five or so hours was a treat.
Wednesday, Feb 10: Absolutely nothing new to report. We relaxed, swam, did yoga and just had a great day. Unfortunately I saw two more lion fish when I was snorkeling. Hannah spent a good hour or two on the beach talking to a young fellow from down the way who speaks only spanish. We are so impressed at her proficiency with the language. It was wonderful to watch.
Thursday, February 11: Happy Birthday to Baby C! Wow 24 years old. We hope you had a really fun day with not toooo much celebrating.
For our part we celebrated by more relaxing here at Tranquility Bay. Bob and Win went for a dive in the morning and then Win and I did yoga. All in all it was a quiet, relaxing day.
Friday, February 12:
Today has been a really great day other than that we had to say goodbye to everyone at Tranquility Bay. We started the morning off at 8 am with our goodbyes to Bob and Win as they headed off for their flight off the island. Then we ventured out for a wonderful snorkel: three moray eels, a giant stingray, another huge black fish, a good sized barracuda and a whole array of little fish. Just beautiful snorkeling despite the less than perfect visibility. Sadly we then said goodbye to Carlos and Isabelle and the crew at the resort. Winfield ferried us into San Pedro right to the water ferry dock where we caught a boat to Caye Caulker. Once here we found a cute little cabin, a first for us in terms of just landing somewhere and then sorting out accommodation, and so now we’re settled in at least until the morning. So far we’ve had a swim, revisited Femi’s cafe for delicious Sunshine smoothies, eaten an excellent fresh seafood dinner at Rose’s cafe and had banana chocolate icecream on the main street. It’s been an amazing day.
Saturday, February 13:
We spent a lovely day meandering around Caye Caulker. This is such a lovely little piece of paradise…. and our “resort” or small collection of odd little cabanas is aptly named, Tropcial Paradise. Today we moved from cabin #12 to #16 and I’m noting that here because #16 is clearly the one to be in. It is the only upstairs room, is on the water where it catches the breeze, and offers some privacy. As well it is slightly larger and brighter than the downstairs units.
It is gorgeous here, though very different from Tranquility Bay. Bigger, busier, noisier but fun. Still smaller than San Pedro, which is the town on Ambergris Caye near Tranquility Bay resort. This “town” where we are now is another smaller island about 25 minutes away and it truly is a bit of a time warp, like something out of the sixties with a weird little mix of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s all thrown in with lots of color, lots of diversity in the mix of characters, and beautiful, happy children playing on the street or along the waterfront. As we walk down the street it feels like the friendliest place on earth. Everyone says hi, or at least all the guys do. Of course I have to keep on reminding myself that it is only because we’re walking down the street with Hannah and they’re actually just gawking at our gorgeous 15 year old. That’s why they’re saying hi. I was a little slow to pick up on that. She, of course, is intentionally oblivious, just soaking it in. She delights in how friendly everyone is because that suits her nature. So we have great conversations with all the old guys as they are busy trying to pick her up. One guy, I’d guess he’s about 45 or so, actually turned to Robert and asked if he could take Hannah out to karaoke tonight. He was serious. Hannah couldn’t get over actually hearing him say to Robert “Damn boy, you old!” when he and Robert got into some banter over how things have changed in Brooklyn, NY.
Sunday, February 14: Happy Valentine’s Day to all. This island is an amazing place for lovers. It is warm, beautiful and slow. Today on Valentine’s day several places were all decked out and ready for an evening party. Unfortunately it meant that Femi’s, our favorite afternoon lunch spot was closed at 2 pm when we tried to stop by for smoothies on the last day before we leave. We had an appropriately slow, enjoyable day doing not much of anything except renting bikes just for an hour, just exactly long enough to explore absolutely the whole island. Later we had dinner outside overlooking the water. It was the last night of the lobster season, so forgetting that we love finding these delightfully shy creatures hiding in crevices in the reef, we treated ourselves to a lobster dinner at Fran’s. The lobster was great but next time I’d eat somewhere where there is more choice for less starch and more environmentally friendly dishes.
Monday, February 15: A day of travel: ferry from Caye Caulker at 9:50, plane from San Pedro at 11 am, taxi from Corazal through the border to bus at Chetumal, arriving just in time for the 1:30 express bus to Tulum, piling into the collectivo back to Akumal and then walking at nightfall in the rain from the highway back to our Casita. Oddly the trip was a mix of excitement particularly over the flight in an 8 seater plane and the new ground in Corazal, welcome familiarity at retracing steps back to Akumal, with a little bit of disappointment at not having carried on with more exploring.
Tuesday, February 16: Whatever regret we felt yesterday at returning to Akumal instead of venturing further into Belize or Guatemala was perhaps made up for today by a very warm welcome. Carlitos hugged all three of us so thoroughly that it truly felt like coming home. All day we’ve been meeting “old friends.” Being back at the library felt good.
Wednesday, February 17: Our first english class for the “mamas” at the biblioteca. Only two showed up but with Hannah, Robert and I all pitching in, we managed to give it a go. All in all I think everyone had some fun and maybe even got in a bit of practice as well.
Thursday, February 18:
We had a lot of fun at the biblioteca today. There were not very many children, often the case on Thursdays because of confirmation classes, but the ones who were there came over to the stage by the bakery and listened to three drummers. Robert, Hannah and I got all the kids involved too by giving them jugs to drum on or bottles to shake. After we went back to the biblioteca I really enjoyed just being there reading with a few different kids, drawing with others and even getting into spanish conversations with a couple of the mamas. It was a good “spanish” day for me, perhaps because we started the morning by getting back to our spanish lessons with Carlos.
Friday, February 19: We packed up today ready to move on tomorrow. We’re planning to be homeless for three nights which is all kind of an adventure. All three of us are feeling a tad under the weather, nothing specific. Perhaps we’re even just stressed. Hannah and I went to the biblioteca but I arrived late and wasn’t quite sure why I was there. The weather, I think, was better in Vancouver today than it was here although it didn’t actually get around to raining so that was probably part of feeling a bit down. Funny though to find myself dressing for winter because the temperature drops down to close to 20 degrees.
The day wasn’t all down though as Hannah and I did manage to make some good progress with a book we’re putting together for the biblioteca. It felt good to get it more organized, get a lot of the basic layout finished and work on it together.
Saturday, February 20: After we finished packing and cleaning up we spent the morning at the biblioteca where some folks from Georgia were giving a mask making workshop. We helped for a bit until Robert and I left to do english class numero dos.
In the afternoon we picked up our rental car and tonight we’re in Valladolid, a beautiful little colonial city in the middle of the Yucatan. We’d heard it was beautiful and it hasn’t disappointed us at all.
Sunday, February 21:
We thoroughly enjoyed Valladolid and so spent an hour or so in the morning browsing the shops off of the main street. It was hard not to revisit all the lovely little leather shoe shops that we’d been in last night, but we’re really trying hard to keep our purchasing to a minimum so as to travel lightly and not get to much “stuff” to attach to. Some times and places that is harder than others. In the end Robert did buy a new pair of running shoes but he’s been on the hunt for a good pair for a while. After a good breakfast we left our lovely courtyard hotel and drove on to Mérida.
Mérida is bigger than we expected, a city of almost a million people with a beautiful, historic downtown. We arrived to a special Sunday afternoon party time with blocked-off streets, a market in the main plaza and even dancing in the street. It wasn’t hard at all to fill the afternoon with meandering through the stalls, watching the beautiful Mayan dancers, or sitting in the park gazing at the families strolling by. We found yet another gorgeous old hotel, again with a central courtyard and courteous, friendly staff.
In the evening we went back out and enjoyed more of the party in the street, this time a little less relaxed as Robert and I felt that we had to be constantly vigilant about keeping some distance between Hannah and the rather obviously gawking men, both young and old, who continually tried to engage Hannah be it dancing, chatting or hustling. Finally we climbed stairs in a restaurant to sit in a second story window overlooking the activity in the plaza below, where we could enjoy her somewhat innocent enthusiasm for the friendliness and vitality of it all.
As we toyed with retiring early to our room, much to Hannah’s dismay, we instead found ourselves sitting on a bench in a little square outside of our hotel talking all in Spanish with Yash Kim, a cigar sales man who just wanted to chat. He was refreshingly down to earth, honest and sensible. It was truly one of those moments that will just stick in my mind, yet we have no pictures of him nor any way to contact him again. A lovely close to a good day.
Monday, February 22:
Over our morning coffee in Mérida we struggled with the decision of whether to move on or not. There was still so much to see and do, yet we were a long way from Akumal, where we need to be by 1:30 tomorrow afternoon. Finally we decided to move and, drive towards Prospero to see the gulf coast and then head back east, exploring, making this truly a road trip. The gulf coast turned out to be a disappointment, hard to get to because of the “gringo houses,” polluted when we did finally find a run down town with public beach access, and all in all pretty poor signage so hard to find ones way around to much of interest.
However, we enjoyed the drive and especially the numerous small pueblos on the way back south and east. In Ixmala we stopped for a snack, toured the very old spanish church which was built on top of a Mayan temple back in the 1500’s. Then in the rain we climbed to the top of one of three other remaining Mayan temples, an impressive and as yet, relatively unknown Mayan ruin that this “city of yellow” is only just beginning to market. It would be interesting to return to Ixmala in just a few more years to see what the town will make of itself. From Ixmala we drove on to Chichen Itza where we stopped for the night, noting the already rising prices for everything as we moved back towards tourist central.
Tuesday, February 23: After a marathon drive back to Playa for groceries, then on to Akumal in time to return the rental, we’re back “home.” We’ve had a swim with the turtles and then just relaxed into the Diane and Dave’s condo upstairs where everything is somewhat more comfortable than our usual digs.
Wednesday, February 24: Another trip to the Tulum dentista today to have my rebroken tooth fixed; we have this down to a science I think. Then a return to the biblioteca for english class number 3. Today we had six mamas, up from 4 last Saturday and 2 the Wednesday before, so things are looking up.
Thursday, February 25: Back to the library today where we were happy to see that they are getting the local volunteer program started. Today three different spanish speaking volunteers showed up to be “matched” with specific students. They’ll do a much better job of helping to teach how to read IN SPANISH than I’ve been doing.
Friday, February 26:
Feliz cumpleaños a mi hermano Bob. In honor of his birthday, or maybe not quite, we went to the carnival in Chemuyil. Epy, Gloria and Wendy had told us about it and when we actually showed up, after dinner in the pizza restaurant there, they we so kind to let us follow them around and in fact, seemed genuinely delighted to be able to introduce Hannah (and her parents) to Wendy’s sisters, Cindy, Naty and Gloria, as well as to Wendy’s two children Wendy and Epy. The sisters were great in that they really took Hannah under their wing, including a ride on the party bus, a decked out double decker bus that all of the kids dance on the top of while it speeds up and down the highway. We all played a few games at the small game stands set up on the field, and then moved back to the main plaza to watch the dancers from various communities all around the Yucatan. That, complete with fireworks right over our heads, so close that after every two or three there needed to be a 10 minute interval to let the smoke clear made the evening complete. In fact, Robert and I, being the elderly folks we are, were quite impressed with ourselves that we stayed out til almost midnight.
Saturday, February 27: Our first full Saturday of teaching English went better than expected. We had our friends from three doors over show up in the adult class and there was a good turn out for the kids class. All in all it was really fun but all three of us were exhausted when we were done.
Sunday, February 28: We had a lot of fun having Carlos, Areli, Belam and her husband Carlos over for dinner, along with all their kids Carlitos, Joselim and Zaide. Hannah and I took the collectivo into Playa to shop in the morning, an adventure of sorts.