Category Archives: Adventure Trips

Sweet Escape

This past Friday, the 12th, I took a trip to San Ignacio after a successful work meeting in Belmopan (the capital city) with my new placement partner. I arrived into town by 4pm and took some time to wander around and collect information for my desired trip to the Mayan archeological site of Xunantunich (the name means Stone Woman). The hostel, Bella’s backpackers,  I stayed at was a groovy spot which  was recommended by a friend because of its unconventional atmosphere. The design of the place is very artistic with a mix of nature and a vintage look along with a vibrant patio for guests to chill.

I tossed down my bag down, grabbed my wallet and head back out for a lovely dinner to Fuego, sort of my pre-birthday dinner! Across in the town center, families were out for the local Christmas celebration that had musicians performing and the mayor staging the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Afterwards, I dashed back to the hostel and thought I would get in on an early sleep, but that totally did not happen. Instead, my night consisted of retreating with strangers sitting around and talking about their travels and epiphanies.

I must say, some guests went into deep philosophies on what makes a person sane or insane (I can admit that alcohol and hemp was being passed around). There were  a pair of musicians playing the guitar and harmonica, singing soulful music, that brought a cool and hip camping ambience. I met two fellow female Canadian travelers and one of them was a previous Cuso volunteer. Even more surprising, she now lives in Belize City – what are the odds right? Definitely a SMALL world. The night ended with somebody buying the entire group a few pounds of garnaches (round tortilla chip topped with beans, cheese and salsa) which I couldn’t resist.

I was too anxious to sleep so I was up by 5am packing and getting ready to start the day – may have woken someone up on my way out (oooopppss). I walked over to the farmer’s market, grabbed breakfast and a sizeable cup of coffee and caught my bus ride out to Xunantanich. I thought it would have been difficult to get there, but the bus dropped me off at a big fat sign with the words “Xunantunich 1 mile” by the river ferry. After crossing the river, I continued my hike and reached the entrance around 8am.  Basically, my day consisted of picnicking at a beautiful Mayan city site – built between the years of 600-670 AD – and enjoying my snacks I bought from the market (my garbage properly disposed, duh). I frequently listened in on tours as the guides shared historical, cultural and political facts on Mayan civilization.

Standing on top of  El Castillo pyramid, I had a 360 degree view of the surrounding jungle and villages. It was a spectacular panorama! On the East side was the landscape of Belize while on the West, just a kilometer away was the border of Guatemala with its’ villages stretching out into the horizon.  Gazing from the top of El Castillo, there was a sense of wonder and astonishment that could make anyone feel like “the king or queen of the world”.

100_5615

You can see how massive the grounds of Xunantunich really are. I asked a few random tourists to take photos of me to compare human size versus structure size.

After 3 hours just hanging around, I was enjoying my solo getaway it was hard to leave. Truly a peaceful experience  to wander around the remains of an ancient civilization.

Facts and history of Xunantunich:

  • The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid-1890s.
  • “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892.
  • The core of the city Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces.
  • A time period when most of Mayan civilizations were crumbling, Xunantunich was managing to expand its city and its power over other areas within the valley.
  • It lasted a century longer than most of the sites within the region.
  • El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. El Castillo is the “axis mundi” of the site, or the intersection of the two cardinal lines.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xunantunich

Advertisements

Off to the Zoo

This past weekend I went to the zoo with a fellow Cuso volunteer. I understand that many opinions come up around the subject of animal captivity. Is it ethical? Shouldn’t the animals roam free in the wild? I would say absolutely! If many humans didn’t carry the mindset of destroying a species to define their own existence or add more zeros to the end of their bank balance. But what if the idea of zoo stepped away from captivity to rehabilitate? Instead of the idea that they are caged, we change the idea to orphanage. That is what the Zoo of Belize has done, and pretty well.

All the animals are native to the country and are taken to the zoo for rehabilitation or adoption due to an injury and unable to survive in the wild. It’s a beautiful and well established place with a lot of lush and shade – felt like going through a botanical garden at the same time.

IMG_0323

The zoo has included a creative touch to the place with animal descriptions written in first person and rhyming (sort of like Dr. Seuss) which is great for the children. But I have to admit, I enjoyed reading them too.

IMG_0185

One aspect of the zoo I did not expect were animals and reptiles that roamed around the zoo boundaries (nothing dangerous). Saw a few iguanas (again), snakes (not venomous), birds, too many red fire ants, and an Agouti. Other animals that are brought into the sanctuary are of the following: Black jaguar, Harpy Eagle, crocodiles, toucans, macaw parrots, ocelot, spider and howler monkeys, tapir, mountain lion, coatimundi,  king vulture, and jabiru (huge stork) – just to name a few.

The Belize zoo is also partnered with the tropical education center and together work to bring the people of Belize closer to the animals which are their natural heritage and feel proud of these special resources (source: http://www.belizezoo.org/index.php )

Somewhere Under the Sea

Another adventure, another fascinating world discovered and this time it was below sea level. As long as I can remember, swimming came to me easily. I had never been timid to jump from different heights into the lake or try to swim to the bottom.

So I set a goal for myself – to get a PADI Open Water certification during my time living here in Belize. By Sunday Aug 31st in the afternoon I had passed my test and became a certified diver! I was so exhausted after 2 and ½ days in San Pedro, studying and learning how to dive that my celebration consisted of just smiling for the rest of the day.

PIC_0578
My equipment I stayed true to

Now, I was thinking of how to explain my experience to my readers and I think I will keep it short of the scuba diving technicality and more of what happened under water.

I’m not the one to brag much, but I must say that I did catch on the techniques of scuba diving fairly quickly (which made my instructor’s job a little easier). After my pool training, the instructor offered to take me out soon after to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve as one of the options to do 2 of my 4 dives. And I accepted ;).

How do I explain what happened next? Basically on my first real dive I saw so many aquatic creatures and the life of the barrier reef, I was in paradise. Except when I saw two moray eels sent a chill down my spine. The first one was a small little bugger and then my instructor pulled my attention to another one just left of it stretched out to about 5ft with its mouth opened! It was slightly startling, especially that they look like a mix between a serpent and a goblin. Swimming by the wall of  the reef and watching it drop meters below makes you feel so tiny in the ocean. In fact, I felt like the alien who has come down to see the aquatic community.  Returning to the boat, there was a strong current that was pushing out to the sea. In order to pass it, we had to descend to the very bottom (about 7m/20ft) and cross it because swimming head on would exert too much energy and waste our air. Afterwards, I saw beautiful sea turtles chopping on sea grass, a zebra fish, nurse sharks, sting rays and manta rays, trumpet fish and more!

PIC_0602a
Gliding in the sea grass

The following day was beautiful! My next dive was early Saturday morning pass the barrier reef and further out to the open water. Taking the boat out was rough since the wind had really picked up and the waves were large. Sort of a free roller coaster ride – same drop and turn in the stomach. Yet, I didn’t get sea sick!

About to dive!
About to dive!

The bottom depth this time was almost at 18m/ 60ft. Equalizing was a little tricky, but I got a hang of it as well as clearing my mask underwater. Again, not that I like to brag, but I think it’s pretty cool that I am able to take off my mask underwater and not panic (anymore). On this dive, the fish were bigger. I saw much larger nurse sharks, rays, groupers and a remora fish. Now a remora fish (can grow to up to 30-90cm long) attach to sharks or rays and feed off their scraps, but when a remora is detached from their host, they like to try and cling onto a scuba diver, and one had an interest in me.  It was about 50cm long and at first I thought it was cute that it got close to me, then I realized how annoying they can get. These fish maneuver very quickly and will not give up to get close and cling to a part of you. Luckily I scared it off with my waving fin.

Diving in shallow marine is a joyful experience; passing by sea creatures living naturally in their habitat, coral beds, snorkelers and other divers – in other words, the popular spot. In the deep open water, it’s isolating. You look around and its just blue that goes on forever. At the bottom, there is coral and your marine life, but because  sunlight doesn’t reach the bottom as much, the colours start to fade.

At the bottom of the deep water dive I looked up and the surface was so far away, in that moment I felt microscopic in the sea, never mind feeling tiny by the coral wall. The feeling I got at 18m/60ft underwater was a similar feeling seeing the earths horizon bending from your commercial flight window. For me, I suddenly become conscious of my significance in this vast world.

My instructor Pedro at the Belize Pro Dive Center  was very skillful as well as knowledgeable and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher! I am pleased that I had this experience with them and I will definitely be going back to do more dives.

I will definitely share them on my “Aadventure Trips” section!

PIC_0627

La Isla Bonita

Familiar with the song? Well, thanks to Madonna, the town of San Pedro, the heartbeat of Ambergris Caye, got its fame from.

This past weekend (August  9th & 10th), I did more than just dream of San Pedro, I travelled out! Here, no one rushes. People smile constantly. The taxi and mobility around the town you’d discover is a golf cart.

San Pedro is simplicity. It’s a hammock under a palm on the beach, or sitting and dangling your feet in the water at the end of some pier.

The town is in the south of the Caye, and there are complaints among Belizians that San Pedro is overbuild and the population of the island grows annually.

From the boat on the way to San Pedro, you cannot miss the  resorts neighboring  one another with their individual piers selling that picturesque  romantic getaway. Looking down, just over a meter below you see crystal green and blue waters, so clear you can see the fish and sharks below the surface.

A few miles out from the island is nestled a magnificent  barrier reef, second in length only to Austrialia’s.  Another trip I will have to make to experience the sea world – once I get my divers certification.

I ran into a few foreigners who have situated themselves on the island. One Canadian who was actually from Toronto and owns a Licks burger joint at the beach front. The other, a flavorful pirate and musician who was very free spirited! I enjoyed my little conversation with him – I believe he was from the States.

100_3074

He even  gave me a message in a bottle…

100_3075

The children are a joy to watch while they play on the beach. I do wish the sea shore and palm trees were my playground when I was a child.

Escaping to these islands over the weekend is a mini vacation you can say. But I do wish to meet more locals the next time I visit – to know more about the island’s history and the communities.

The Sea and Me

This past Saturday morning, I hopped on the boat and took my second trip to Caye Caulker. I don’t have much to do in the city over the weekends, so I tend to venture out – and I take comfort in it. My personality isn’t an addictive type, but travelling or going to foreign places is my heart’s desire. Half of the thrill is meeting the locals and travelers. The other half is just to be with yourself where you’re able to make your own decisions (also known as F-R-E-E-D-O-M).

On the little island of Caye Caulker I ran into a group of Polish woman -3 of the ladies (Marta, Agnieszka & Iga) were around my age traveling through Central America. Their stay on Caye Caulker was short, but I could not believe the odds that I would meet Poles and become acquainted. Seriously, on that little piece of land out in the sea. The three of us spent the evening walking around, getting a lobster dinner and going out dancing. Being around with them for that one evening made me realize how much I miss my family in Poland and the country – in a good way. Hope their travels continue on with many wonderful experiences!

This quote by Ken Hundert “Uncertainty and anticipation are the joys of travel” is spot on and it is another reason I love to travel. I ran into two students (Ben and Mica) from Manchester, UK  and a travel from Mexico City by the name of Mareike.  They were all traveling through parts of Central America.  Ben, Mica and I split the lodging price and got a nice deal on snorkeling for Sunday– which was a magnificent!

All three backpackers were genuine and kind which was wonderful to come across!

Finally, I was excited to meet up with the couple I met the last weekend in San Ignacio! Well the boyfriend (Vlad), had left to visit Czech Rep, but Shakira, his girlfriend (has always a warm smile), was pleased to see me! Ended up seeing her on the dance floor that evening too. The world is definitely shrinking!

A brilliant weekend 😀

 

 

East to West: Sea to Jungle

Friday July 25th – Bring on the weekend!

Just this past weekend I took my first adventure trip to a town called San Ignacio (about 15 miles from the Guatemalan border). I ended up going with an American student named Angela where I met in Caye Caulker the previous weekend. The both of us live and work in Belize so it was thrilling to finally escape the bustling city.

trip to SI

The neighboring two towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are only connected by two bridges. San Ignacio is the largest town in the Cayo district and has a relaxing atmosphere and engaging ambiance that allows travelers to explore and enjoy some of the best street food.

It has a positive local vibe where you will find a mix of Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Mennonites, Europeans and North Americans. It is one of the few towns that have evening actives for young children in the towns center and music playing in the streets from the bars (they  turn up the volume so you can dance on the street – if you wish). On my first evening there, the two of us wandered around the town’s main center and compared to Belize City, I felt very safe.

Me! Downtown San Ignacio
Me! Downtown San Ignacio
Angela - downtown San Ignacio
Angela – downtown San Ignacio

Saturday July 26th

First thing we decided to do was to check out the local market and find some breakfast. We stumbled upon some women frying pupusas (freaking delicious).  The Mennonite community had tents set up too!

The cool morning was changing into another  hot afternoon. We  decided to find a nearby falls/swimming hole to cool off at. Angela knew about one already, but we wanted to try and find something completely new. I was told by one woman at the market that there was something close by in a little village of San Antonio (30 min bus ride from San Ignacio). In time, we caught the bus and when we arrived we went into a local store to ask for direction.  What we found out was that the closest water hole was a 3 mile walk to the national park while the second oasis was a 7 mile path through the bush. Guess which one we chose…  the swimming hole that Angela knew about ( going back towards San Ignacio).

San Antonio
San Antonio

PIC_0062

 We were thinking of hitch hiking back but instead we decided to check out a sign that said San Antonio’s Women’s Co-op (SAWC). Although we weren’t technically “lost”, it was amazing finding SAWC because we got the chance to buy a hand-made Mayan style gift and support the local female artists! Josefa (in picture below) is the lovely woman who presented the art and explained SAWC to us.

San Antonio Woman’s Cooperative: A great place to make a group reservation and learn hands on the way women in that area make pottery, dresses and artistic stitching in traditional Maya. During the 5 hours session visitors also get a chance to make their own tortillas and are served Mayan style lunch. From what I remember the cost was around 50$USD.  (Contact me if you are interested to book a session!)

Afterwards we trailed back to the bus stop and caught the next ride towards town. This time we got off at the side of the road where a dirt road started. I didn’t know what to expect walking towards the green bush. On both sides there were small scale farms and near the end a grand Yoga house (which looked like a big hut).

Right after the Yoga place, there were two routs; right going to a natural pool and left taking us to Monkey Falls. I don’t know why the name “Monkey Falls” (definitely did not see any primates), but there was this carved face that is apparently “the Monkey” of Monkey Falls.

Definitely went swimming!

As I look back on these pictures, they are quite lovely, but the experience you get by being there is enchanting (I’d love for the readers to experience it too). Imagine a place with a constant soft sound of water falling on smooth stone and running down into a collective pool. The rays of sun piercing through the tree canopy forming spot lights on the surface of the teal blue water. It is well shaded so you don’t feel the stinging heat you would at a coastal beach and you breathe this crisp refreshing air. Nothing more therapeutic than laying down on the large stone and allowing streams of water flow against you.

Time went by at a perfect pace. Eventually we went back up the dirt road to catch the bus back to San Ignacio. Waiting for the bus a couple that we met at the falls were also going our way. The four of us chatted until we got back into town – then went our separate ways (but not for long).

Towns in Belize are quite small, so you are very likely to bump into someone you just met again. This can be a fun/good thing, or an annoying/inconvenient thing. For instance, when I ran into the couple patio bar that  evening, it was great! Chatted with each other more and they offered me a beer (a delightful time). Now when you run into a person whom you are not too eager to interact or your gut feeling says “damn it”, it’s harder to hide in small towns. Belize is a small populous country and more than often you get a mix of both interactions wherever you travel.

FUN-DAY Sunday (July 27th)

The next morning, IT WAS HOT. How can I prove this to you? Oh yah, I almost fainted (thank you, again, Angela and kind Belizean waitress for aiding me). As soon as I got my energy back we were off for one more trip to a place called “Iguana Project” at the San Ignacio Hotel. Our tour guide Jorge was super. He placed us in a cage filled with vegetarian Iguanas  and gave us banana tree leaves to feed them. Holding them was an option, and I took it!

There was also a second part to the habitat where it was filled with baby iguanas! Now these baby lizards are cute. They don’t scratch or try to escape from you, in fact they climb on you – to the highest point, your head. Iguanas search for high places in order to keep safe from predators (hence the frenzy on my hat).

100_2705 100_2713

About Iguana Project: The Iguana Project isn’t a zoo for people just to hold the reptiles. The projects purpose is to repopulate the females and send them out into the wild. Because of global warming, in the wild there is a larger population of males being hatched compared to females. Iguana eggs are sensitive to temperature, if the temperature is high there will be males, when the temperature is low, more females. The Iguana project collects eggs from the wild, hatches them at a low temperature and releases the female Iguanas back to the wild – when it is time. However the Iguana population is a problem isolated in Belize and not other Central American countries…yet.

100_2715 100_2716

Finally we were on our way back to Belize City. And what was going to happen next I could not “Belize” it. Public bus transportation in Belize are school buses and this one  was going to be packed. I felt like a sardine in a can (a heated can). The fare collector managed to fit an entire bus of people and their luggage – at least 2-3 people on each seat and everyone else stands next to one another (closely).

100_2724
going back to Belize City

Angela and I were the last ones on the bus so we were right by the door when we departed. Oh and I failed to mention, the couple we met previously were also traveling back to the city (small world). After 2 hours of basically standing and being shuffled around (people getting on and off while the fare collector goes up and down the isle) we made it back to the city. But I had no reason to complain because that’s how it is in Belize when everyone starts work on Monday.

It was a weekend filled with little adventures and getting back home felt so bizarre – as if the amount of time we had was too short. I am calling for weekends to be longer, please!

 

The First Weekend – Beach Belize

Here comes the sun and I say, “Let’s go to Caye Caulker”. This is a little island an hour north of Belize City and it is a great place to just relax and mellow out of the city life. Caye Caulker (Caye read like “key”) has one main road, lovely little restaurants, diners, shops, hand-made souvenirs, more fresh fruit and a mix of Belizean and tourists. It’s an island of slow pace where the thought of time fades away once you visit.

2014-07-20 11.39.45

Walking along the main road there are no cars or motorbikes, just golf carts and bicycles (yes, that is how small the island is). Getting here would cost around 35$ BLZ (tourist rate) but usually you can get a ticket for 27$ BLZ (about $13.50 US).

There is really only one main swimming area, or at least where most people go called “the split”. Now the split is basically the end of the island and it splits into two parts. The first part has a way to ease into the sea, while the other part has a dock with a bar & grill. You can either stay in the shade or take your beer into the  water where it is shallow. Even though it is not your typical white long sandy beach it has its own characteristics that attracts people to it (so I believe).

looking onto the 1st split
looking onto the beach side
2014-07-20 16.53.37
Shallow section, 2nd part of split

At the first part of the split you have half of a sea wall standing and the other part along the shore is under water. It had collapsed during a hurricane some years ago. To go further out into the sea you need to swim over the remaining wall underwater (a little annoying).

front boardwalk at the split
boardwalk at the split

Socializing around the split is fantastic, especially with Bob Marley (Belize people love B.M.) on shuffle in the background. I will be going back there soon again!