Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not here for a long time!

Just a quick getaway. Sometimes that’s what we need isn’t it? As a person who loves to travel, a four day weekend screams to me "plan a trip!"  Some people look at a long weekend as a time to catch up on things around the house, or maybe a time to just hang out at home and relax. Not me. The first thing I do is start checking airfares and bouncing from one website to the next to see where we can go and how many days more than those four days Keith can take off from work.

Fourth of July, 2008 we did just that. A spontaneous trip to Jamaica. We’d been there once before and it was ok. We really didn’t do much or see much and our hotel at that time was just ok. But this time I’d become a travel junkie. And the internet had become available to obsessively plan trips! I could check out every hotel on the island if I wanted to!

Jamaica became our choice because of the short, no connection flight as well as great prices for the holiday weekend. We wanted to stay at an all inclusive resort, but not a big one this trip. After some extensive research we chose Sunset at the Palms in Negril. It was charming! So different from most of the larger resorts we’d seen on the island. This resort had treetop rooms all made of wood. Like our own little treehouse. It was a very lush jungle property. The resort was across the street from the beach, which was no big deal because it was a small property so the walk was short. They had a nice beach bar and restaurant right on the beach.

We spent our long Fourth of July weekend doing absolutely nothing. The biggest decision we had to make was how long to stay at the pool before walking to the beach and then how long before moving back to the pool again. This was a do nothing but relax vacation and it was perfect.

We looked at several brochures for excursions, we thought about renting wave runners but we just relaxed instead. We recharged and felt great about doing nothing.

I came home with a t shirt that says on it “Not here for a long time, just here for a good time” and nothing could have been more true for our short getaway to Jamaica over our long weekend.

I was glad we went there.  After our first trip, many years prior I'd had no real interest in going back.  But after this mini-vacation I saw a different side of Jamaica.  Even though we didn't really leave our resort, I felt the island vibe.  The people we met there were lovely and the drive from the airport to Negril was long enough to get to see the beauty of the island.  We'll definitely be back!  Another trip in the works!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Belize...

The end of a vacation is always bittersweet. The end of this vacation to Belize was particularly hard for me. I’d really enjoyed Belize. Even more than I’d thought I would. I enjoy travelling, I love vacations, but this one was perfect! From beginning to end.  I knew in the planning stage that Belize had everything we were looking for in a great vacation – it had the ruins, it had the beach, it had the snorkeling. We could relax or we could go on great excursions. We did it all, and yet we were totally relaxed. It was perfect to start our vacation in San Ignacaio and end in Ambergris Caye.   But for the actual vacation to meet our expectations - now how often does that happen?  This one did!

Not only did we get to do some spectacular things, like going to Tikal and the ATM cave. We got to see amazing reefs while snorkeling and I got to scuba for the first time. We met wonderful people and stayed at chaming lodges. We ate great food and had perfect weather. There was more...

For me, waking up every morning and walking out from our cottage right on the beach and feeling the warm sand in my toes was like therapy. All the stress from my real world life just vanished while we were away. And isn’t that really what travelling is all about. Being transported to a place that is just magical and feeling the beauty of that place. Experiencing wherever you choose to go one hundred percent and not wanting to let it go.

We could leave Belize with wonderful memories, fantastic experiences to tell our children about and hopefully return with them in the future. I leave you with some parting shots….

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sailing into the night

Our last night…part of our package at Portofino in Belize included a Sunset Cruise, but it had been cancelled twice now. Once because there was no sign of a sunset happening. It had rained and when it cleared up it was cloudy. And the second time there weren’t enough people to schedule the trip. Tonight they’d take us one way or another. So, it was cloudy and apparently only one other couple was booked for the cruise. Excellent! Every excursion we went on was either just Keith and I, or with only one other couple. This was one of the benefits of travelling during low season!

We went back into town on the water taxi and found out our sunset cruise would be on a beautiful catamaran! Nice! There was no sunset to speak of, it was a cloudy night, but it was still a great evening out on the sea.

One of the guides told us all about the history of Ambergris Caye and Belize on the way out. We had some rum punch, listened to music and just hung out and relaxed. We sailed out to Hol Chan. As we got out there we saw a spotted eagle ray jump way out of the water. So cool! Some of the night diver boats were starting to come out. Even without the sunset, it was great.

 On the way back we had some chips and salsa and just laid back and listened to the crashing surf around the boat…our last night could not have been more perfect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Scuba Time!

Snorkeling had been great…but all it was doing was making me want more! Ecologic Divers offers a course called Discover Scuba Diving or DSD for short. Today would be the day. We were going to go all in. Of all the trips we’d taken to the Caribbean and to Mexico we’d never tried to scuba, but something about Belize and the reefs here was just screaming to me! It was time to SCUBA!

DSD is a mini course in Scuba diving. It’s not a certification course, but it would count towards certification. And you can use that course for up to two weeks of diving I believe. So, back to the dive shop and I was relieved that Charlie was once again our instructor. By this, our third trip with him, I was quite comfortable with him and felt we knew each other fairly well. We filled out a bunch of paperwork and watched a training video. We got our equipment and spent a good amount of time learning all about it, how to use the equipment, how to put it on, what the gauges meant - it was a thorough lesson.

We went out on the boat, back to Hol Chan. We were in somewhat shallow water, but still over my head. We got comfortable with the regulators, the feeling of breathing through them. The thing that surprised me most was the feel and noise of the bubbles going up past my ears. I never expected that. Keith didn’t like it. I don’t know if his regulator wasn’t working or if it’s the fact that he doesn’t float at all. Sinks like a rock.  As a matter of fact, when we snorkel he has to hold onto a floating ring so he doesn't sink! So for him to have all this gear on and then have to breathe through this odd gauge, it just didn’t work for him. He decided to wait at the boat. He was going to snorkel for a bit, practice with the regulator and get some sun while we did our dive. I could understand the feeling. It was strange and I kept floating back to the surface. Charlie had to add a lot more weights to my vest. It was all very exciting and awkward at the same time.

Once we were in the water for a bit, we had to complete some test items. There were two others on the dive. There was one woman who was certified and her boyfriend who had been diving before but couldn’t find his certification paperwork. So, I was now the only beginner. It was nice to have Charlie’s full attention! The tests I had to do were to get the regulator back into my mouth while underwater and also to clear water out of my mask while underwater. I did both and didn’t like either. I hoped I didn’t have to do either one while diving for real!

Now the good stuff! We went down twenty-eight feet or so. They told me it was a very strong current dive and if you can dive there, it’s impressive – so yea for me!! I did keep floating to the top and I know I breathed too fast, but for my first time I think I did great!

Just a note, most of these pictures were taken by Charlie from Ecologic Divers since my underwater camera can’t dive these depths. Thanks Charlie!

It was amazing. To be right down in the reef with the fish and the coral eye to eye! It was awesome! We spent about an hour underwater. The sound was peaceful, just the bubbles and breathing. Watching the fish come and go, dart in and out of the coral. The colors were vibrant.

It was something that I know for sure I will do again. When we got back to the boat, Keith said he’d practiced a bit with the breathing and he’d be willing to try again, but maybe a slower starting course. One that you start in a pool. I’m glad….I’d love to have him as my diving buddy!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

San Pedro, hustle and bustle!

Ambergris Caye…it’s an interesting place to be! As I mentioned in some previous posts, we chose a resort to the north of the town of San Pedro. Portofino is only accessible by water taxi and it’s about a fifteen minute boat ride to get there. But when you get into the heart of the island the pace of life picks up. It’s still a sleepy island town by all means. But there’s much more hustle and bustle!

The first thing we noticed was the primary means of transportation are golf carts. There’s a few taxi vans, but most people are driving golf carts. This is certainly unique! There’s a certain charm about this for sure.

Our main reasons for going into town were to get to the dive shops, but that only brought us to the docks…to eat lunch and dinner once or twice and the obligatory souvenir shopping.

We didn’t get a chance to really see any of the other hotels in the area. In my obsessive research before the trip, there were quite a few that looked nice, but now that I was there I knew we made the right choice. I loved taking the water taxi to get to San Pedro. It wasn’t a hassle to me at all.

We had lunch one afternoon at Fidos. This restaurant is right on the beach, right by the water taxi dock. Perfect location for them I’m sure! It’s a nice little place that I’m sure is hopping at night! The food was good, the waiter was great – came one day to Belize to visit some friends and never went home. The longer I stayed there the more I was connecting with that feeling. Oh….but I have children, a business to run…reality hits hard sometimes!

Again, the view was spectacular for lunch. My husband enjoyed his Belikin, the beer of Belize, I enjoyed some tropical drink with rum and coconut. We shopped for the kids – it’s getting difficult to shop for a ten year old boy though. Found him some pirate type things! My daughter, she’s easy. A pretty sun dress and a hand crafted bracelet. Oh, but then I found a beautiful hand painted tea cup. At eight years old her favorite thing to drink is herbal tea….had to get her a tea cup from Belize as well. Painted with the sunset on it. We'd wait at the water taxi dock for a few minutes with our goodies and of course, I was thinking - I didn't get anything for myself!  I hope the airport has some shops in it!

Then back to our slice of heaven, back to the pool and beach at Portifino. We had just a day or two left before it would be time to leave.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mexico Rocks!

Mexico Rocks! We had an afternoon snorkel trip out to the reef area called Mexico Rocks. This site is close to Portofino. We actually could have taken the kayaks at the resort and gone out on our own. Several people staying there did this. However our package included the guided snorkel trip, so that’s what we decided to do. Charlie from Ecologic Divers picked us up on the Portofino dock and off we went! He was the guide we had for our Hol Chan, Shark Ray Alley tour so he was familiar with us and we were comfortable with him. Again, we were the only two on the trip so once again, personalized tour!

Mexico Rocks is different from the previous snorkel site in that it’s filled with smaller fish. The reef is more colorful and the fish are much more colorful. Here you don’t see the rays, eels, barracudas and sharks but you see hundreds of varieties of the small, beautiful tropical reef fish.  I don't have too many pictures of the fish though...those little guys move fast!  I can't tell you how long I spent chasing after those little fish snapping away and getting shots of nothing!  I'm sure K was getting a good laugh watching me snorkel after those fish and waiting for them to come out of their little cave holes, only to have them dart's all part of the joy of snorkelling for me!

Once again, Charlie led the way around the reef pointing out all kinds of fish and the different types of coral. After about forty-five minutes around the back of the reef, K and I went on our own just exploring for about another half an hour.

If you can ever get to Ambergris Caye, snorkeling at both Mexico Rocks and at Hol Chan are two totally different experiences. My recommendation would be to try to do both to see the all of the beauty the reef has to offer!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Beautiful Morning

Imagine opening your eyes and seeing this....

Imagine that! I woke up early one morning and pulled back the cotton curtains to see if the sun had risen up above the sea yet, and this was what greeted me. I just had to grab my camera! I went out on our porch and sat there just in awe of the beauty of the place we were. How lucky we were to be here! How lucky to experience such beauty! I snapped a picture with my cell phone to send home to the kids. I wished they were here to share this moment with me. There were so many parts of this adventure that they would love, and yet so many parts that would be enjoyed so much more in a few more years. The timing just wasn’t quite right yet. I enjoyed this amazing sunrise alone…I didn’t wake up K yet. He wouldn’t quite appreciate the beauty of it the way I did. He was sound asleep still. He’d enjoy it in a picture. For me, my day was already perfect.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Swimming with the sharks!

It has been years since we’ve snorkeled. Well, really snorkeled anyway. From the beginning of my research on Belize, the fact that the second largest barrier reef is right off the coast has grabbed my attention! I was so looking forward to snorkeling there! One site that also kept popping up in my research was Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. To snorkel where there were sharks and sting rays! This vacation was becoming quite the adventure!

Portofino uses Ecologic Divers and they were a wonderful dive outfit. They seemed to be highly conscious of the environment and they absolutely were not ones who chased after the rays to pick them up and pet them for that “picture moment”. Our guide was very respectful that we were in the marine world sharing it with them and not the other way around.

Our first stop on our first snorkel trip was at Hol Chan, and our guide was Charlie. Little did we know how well we’d get to know him during the next few days! It was just my husband and I on this trip, so it was wonderful. A private snorkel tour. Charlie took pictures with his camera and I had my underwater camera. He stopped to point out everything for us. The reef was nice, but not as colorful as I’m sure it was in past years. The color has faded, as he told us is the effects mainly of global warming. But the fish we saw!

To name a few…baracudda, morey eel, huge groupers, stingray, a spotted eagle ray, green sea turtles and a few nurse sharks! Not to mention all of the beautiful colorful reef fish. We snorkeled around for about an hour and then got back on the boat and headed to our next destination.

Shark Ray Alley….here we’d get right into the water with the nurse sharks swarming! First Charlie put out some chum. Right like in the National Geographic specials!! Actually, mostly small fish came to eat the chum, they attacked it! But you could see some sharks around the bottom swimming around. And several sting rays. We were told they nurse sharks are safe to swim with. Ok – in we went! We swam around, the sharks hung around the boat for the most part. I got some pictures. It was all so peaceful and so beautiful!

We were out for about thirty minutes or so. After having not been snorkeling in a few years, I was re-hooked. I could do this all day! We got back to the dive shop and met up with a group from our hotel. They just finished up what is called DSD – “Discover Scuba Diving”. It’s an intro course that doesn’t certify you, but you get to go on a dive. Now I was thinking…..hmmm…..just maybe!!!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Toes in the sand

This was it.  This was the place for me!  I thought I would miss the jungle.  The zillion stars in the sky at night.  The music of the cicadas as soon as the sun set.  The giant bamboo trees.  Sure, I missed it until I woke up and stepped out of our little thatched roof cottage and my toes hit the sand.  This would be a relax and do nothing day.  Could this vacation get any better?  It seems we planned the perfect combination of busy days, travel days and activity days.  Today was a relaxation day.  Although to me, even the activity days were more relaxing than any day not on vacation!

We walked, barefooted as everyone seemed to be most of the time, up the steps to our outdoor dining for breakfast.  Portofino is a small resort so there were never too many people around at one time.  Also, people leaving for the day or for the morning on their excursions would eat earlier - not that we slept in.  It was a bit hot in the room, even with the air conditioner.  The rooms here are air conditioned, and we have a ceiling fan.  But with a thatched roof, it's hard to keep cool!

So, our view every morning at breakfast couldn't be beat....

My breakfast of choice quickly became toast with peanut butter and fruit jelly, and a fresh fruit plate - no papaya.  For some reason, I just can't get into papaya! 

After breakfast, we went out to the beach.  We spent the day back and forth between the beach and the beautiful pool at Portofino.  As with many of the beaches in Ambergris Caye, the beaches aren't really ones you can just wade into and swim.  This is beacuse there is an abundance of turtle grass right off the beach.  We were told they do not clear it out for swimming because it's an important part of the ecosystem.  It's a nesting area for fish and other marine life.

I spend a good part of the day just walking around snapping pictures which I'll share here.  When my camera wasn't in hand, we were in the pool, relaxing in the sun or reading. 

Our first full day at Portofino was a day without shoes, a day with our toes in the sand and day with not a care in the world.  That's vacation as it's meant to be.