Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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15 January 2010
Photo Friday: dem bones, dem bones
spelunking in ATM cave

dem bones, dem bones, deep inside the cave
dem bones, dem bones, deep inside the cave

Sometimes my best adventures have the fewest photos, because I'm so busy *doing* that I forget to play travel photog. This was definitely the case during a daylong trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, outside San Ignacio, Belize. (At the tail end of my 10-week Central American junket in 2007.) The tour consisted of a hike through the jungle, a swim upriver to the mouth of the cave, and then spelunking -- I love that word! -- through the cave itself. The highlight of the cave tour is the pottery and human remains found deep inside, evidence of Mayan spiritual ceremonies from days of yore. Creepy goodness!

entrance to ATM cave
entrance to ATM cave

Mayan pottery inside the cave
Mayan pottery inside the cave

calcite-encrusted skeleton of The Crystal Maiden
calcite-encrusted skeleton of The Crystal Maiden

Don't forget to visit DeliciousBaby's Photo Friday for more fabulous travel pics!

* original ATM blog post: Spelunk, Part 2!
* all Belize stories
* all Belize pics
* DeliciousBaby's Photo Friday

If you enjoyed this post, please help us spread the word!

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

18 September 2007
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig
So long, Central America, and thanks for all the fish... and sharks... and turtles... and lobsters...

I knew I was officially back in the States when I paid nearly two whole dollars for a pack of gum. Yikes!

My day started out with an early departure from Tina's Backpacker Hostel, where I was only too happy to leave behind my butthead bunkmates who insisted on drinking till all hours (which I have no problem with) and then noisily coming back to the room and flipping on all the lights and having a loud drunken conversation (which I especially have a problem with when I am scheduled to depart early the next morning). I was grumpy and groggy when I slung my pack on for the last time and trudged out to the dock. So it was a pleasant surprise when I ran into Russell, my divemaster buddy from the Blue Hole trip, who was at the end of the dock with a full dive boat awaiting a spare BCD. He offered me a lovely cup of coffee and we had a quick chat before he sailed off to face the Blue Hole and I hopped into the ferry to Belize City.

The rest of my journey was straightforward enough: nice breezy ferry trip to the BC dock, few blocks' walk to the bus station through beautiful (not!) downtown Belize City, hop a bus heading north and ask to stop near the airport, quick taxi ride the remaining 2.5 miles into the actual airport, and wait around for the American Airlines counter to open. I cashed my last traveler's check to pay the gringo fee -- ehm, excuse me, departure tax -- and my flight to Miami left on time and with no drama whatsoever.

It was a nice feeling to return to American soil... until I had to face the horror of the Miami airport. Ten weeks of turbo-chill were handily undone in less than an hour as I was fed through the ugly meat grinder of Passport Control, Baggage Claim, Customs, re-entry through Security, and a mad dash to my gate on the complete opposite side of the airport. Sweaty and exhausted, I somehow managed to make it to my final flight and crammed into a plane full of inside-the-Beltway types with their cell phones glued to their ears and Blackberries clicking away madly. I have to admit that I fit right in, as I was so excited to have my cellie working again that I promptly texted and called a whole bunch of people in the spare five minutes before the flight took off. Which actually turned into a spare hour because -- get this, I couldn't make this s**t up if I tried -- the plane had a SCREW LOOSE. How apropos.

So, I'm back, glad to be home and reconnected with my sweetie, and am looking forward to seeing friends and family in the coming weeks. This week will be a maelstrom of family shenanigans in preparation for Dave and Meghan's wedding in DC on Saturday, followed closely by Drew and Carlisle's wedding in San Francisco on Oct 6, and then a trip out to see Edward & Heidi's B&B in Oregon. No rest for the wicked! I have loads and loads of site updates to do, so watch for more juicy tidbits coming as soon as I can carve out some time. And feel free to queue up for some time on my social schedule, as I would love to catch up with everyone in person!

In the meantime, I'm enjoying some of the simple pleasures of being back in civilization, including:

* internet that doesn't cost $7 an hour!
* a clean kitchen I don't have to share with a dozen other grubby backpackers!
* fluffy towels!
* water that can be drunk right from the tap (and it's hot on demand, too!)
* school buses that actually have school children on board as passengers! and no mounds of luggage perched precariously on top, either!

I'm sure these small fascinations will wear off soon, so I'm reveling in them while I can. Life is good!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

16 September 2007
Totally chillaxed
A week of louging and diving in Caulker
Hard to believe this trip is coming to a close in two days! It's been an amazing ten weeks, and you can expect more musings from me in the coming weeks as I grapple with returning to civilization, two family weddings, and trying to get the house sold so we can do more travel next year.

divemaster Mike en route to Blue HoleIn the meantime, though, I've spent my last week chilling and doing a few dives on Caye Caulker, which has been a nice way to end the trip. Unfortunately the diving has been super-expensive here, and honestly not quite as good as the diving on Utila. But I did splurge and do a daytrip out to the Blue Hole, which was absolutely amazing and the deepest dive I've done yet. It also included two more dives around Half Moon Caye and Long Caye, and some lovely rum punch on the boat ride back. Nice!

another day in the hammock at Tina'sBesides diving I've been spending my days lounging in the hammocks by the dock at Tina's Backpacker Hostel. The hostel is, well, a grungy hostel, but the folks here are friendly and we've had some fun exploring the handful of bars on the island. The most popular one, Oceanview, is a karaoke bar, to my great and undying chagrin. But with enough rum almost anything is tolerable, even large groups of caterwauling Dutch tourists belting out "Piano Man."

Catch up withya when I return to civilization!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

10 September 2007
A week of celebrations, home and abroad

Woo-hoo, I made it to Caye Caulker and so far there appear to be no major storms in sight! Knock on driftwood! I'm going to be chilling here for the rest of my trip, as I try to mentally prepare for re-entry into life inside the Beltway.

Internet access is atrociously expensive here -- worst yet, I think! -- so don't expect to hear much from me in the next week. However, it is a week full of festive occasions so I wanted to give some shout-outs all at once..

Happy Birthday to

* Bruce (Monday)

* David (Tuesday)

* Paulie-paul (Wednesday)

* Clara (Thursday)

* Edward (Friday)

Happy Happy Joy Joy to all, and I shall be raising a rum-based beverage in your honor each eve this week! I hope you appreciate how I suffer for you people! ;)

Today is also Belize's National Day, which is really a warm-up for their big Independence Day celebrations later this month. Have no idea what kinds of festivities will abound, but I'll be sure to keep my eyes open for anything interesting.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
09 September 2007
Back to the Islands, mon
Enough Mayan ruins, I need some dive time!

Greetings from Orange Walk, in northern Belize! There's not a whole lot to do here but go on a tour of the Lamanai ruins, which is exactly what I did today. It was a fun trip, despite our oddly-surly tourguide: two hours upriver by speedboat, lunch, traipse around the ruins for a bit, then back to Orange Walk by boat. I think I'm starting to suffer Mayan ruins fatigue, though. It's all starting to blur together.

I promise to backfill my last few days of adventures (today's tour, a great trip to Caracol, and an even more amazing spelunking trip through the ATM cave) as soon as I can find some cheaper internet access. In the meantime, tomorrow I'll head back to Belize City to catch the ferry to Caye Caulker. Fingers crossed for no more Cat 5 hurricane evacuations, m'kay? I'm going to spend the last week (!!!) of this trip chilling and getting in a few more dives before heading home.

Any last minute requests for souvenirs, speak now or forever hold your peace! :)

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
07 September 2007
Spelunk, Part 2!
Dem bones and more in the ATM cave
I'd heard lots of good things about the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour, so I was pretty psyched for this one. And I was not disappointed! This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It combined the cool spelunking activities of the Costa Rican cave expedition with an excellent hike through the jungle, and inside the cave itself is a section of pottery and other archaeological remains, including several human skeletons from human sacrifice rituals. Kickass!

Our small group consisted of Patrick, our spirited guide of Mayan and African heritage who is also a shaman; and Bill & Katie, a friendly couple from Arizona with a real zest for life. It was great fun hanging out with these folks for the day. We started off with a 45-minute hike through the thick jungle, during which Patrick pointed out tidbits of local history, and various uses for the local flora and fauna. And he taught us how to use materials on the jungle floor to make a blowpipe and nail someone from 50 yards. Nice. Occasionally he'd swipe his huge machete at the overhanging vines in order to clear the trail a bit. The jungle seemed much denser than anything I'd been through in Costa Rica or Guatemala, and we had to cross a small river three times to get to the cave site. Patrick, ever the flirt, took the opportunity to hold my hand because the rocks were slippery. Have to give him a few points for creativity, I guess!

We reached the cave entrance and went for a brief swim and had lunch while we waited for another group to pass. The water was really chilly, and there were small fish nibbling at our skin, but it felt great after the sweaty walk through the jungle. We tossed our cameras and clothing into a dry bag, strapped on our helmets and lights (dead sexy!), and swam into the cave entrance. Patrick prompted us to dive to the sandy bottom and pick up a handful of gravel in a particular area that was supposed to contain special energy. Not sure if it was the frigid water or the power of suggestion, but I certainly did feel more awake when I emerged! Just inside the cave entrance was a rock formation that, when viewed with a bit of a squint, looked like the profile of a man. That was Chac, the river god, standing guard over the cave. Cooooool.

We swam and climbed and waded our way through the cave, turning off our lights at various points to appreciate the symphony of sounds the water was making. It was truly fabulous. At one spot we climbed up to a terrace where ceremonial remains stood, marking the bloodletting rituals the rich and powerful would perform on an annual basis. It was important to give something back, Patrick explained. Creepy-cool! A bit later we reached the dry area where the majority of the archaeological remains were found: huge cavernous rooms with pottery shards as far as the eye could see... some left in place and some washed around by water over time... lots of tripod stones, and examples of various styles of pottery, including one very sacred pot with a funny little character carved into it, the only one of its kind found at this site. And, the coup-de-grace, human bones! One skull in particular showed the various types of body modification fashionable at the time: flattened skull and ridged teeth, to give the appearance of youth. Makes about as much sense as breast implants. Further along was the female skeleton for whom the cave was named, almost completely covered in calcite deposits to give her a furry appearance. The whole thing was totally kickass.

We made our way back to the cave entrance, sometimes swimming and sometimes climbing. Patrick was careful to point out all protruding or dangerous rocks, but I missed one and gouged my knee. It is important to give something back, after all. Ouch! Back in the picnic area, we observed a long leaf-cutter ant highway and Patrick bashed open a nut he'd asked us to collect earlier in the day. It turned out to be a relative of the coconut, and the white fibrous meat inside was similar to coconut. Yum! Along the path back to the van Patrick spotted the tiniest little turtle I have ever seen, and collected it to place it in a safer spot later. The entire day was incredibly fun, tiring, but excellent.

When we got back to San Ignacio the four of us had drinks at Faya Wata, the bar next door to the tour office, and reminisced about the day. Patrick, it turns out, also makes jewelry, and I wound up getting a small carved ring made out of the same nut we'd snacked on earlier. It was a delightful end to a fabulous day.
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
06 September 2007
Lots and lots of Mayan ruins
OK, back in business after a few days of waiting for Hurricane Felix, which turned out to be something of a non-event. It did dump several inches of rain out here in western Belize, which had an impact on some of the cave tubing trips but was otherwise no big deal.

Today I did a tour to Caracol, largest Mayan ruin site in Belize. Led by guide Jorge and driven by a funny little guy named Everald, both of whom work for Mayawalk Tours, we were a fairly small group of two British couples and myself. The drive out to Caracol started off along some nice paved roads that took us past several Mennonite farms. (Can I just say how bizarre it is to see Amish-looking people in middle-of-nowhere Belize??? Yet another piece of Pennsylvania here in Central America.) But then we veered off the main road onto one of the bumpiest paths I've encountered since the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Part of it was due to the recent rains, but I got the sense that these dirt roads are never in particularly good shape. We did pass through two distinct ecosystems -- pine forests on one side of the river, and rain forests on the other -- which was pretty cool. Unfortunately some nasty beetles brought in by Hurricane Mitch had destroyed most of the pine trees several years back, but it looked like they were starting to make a comeback.

After about an hour of frog-in-a-blender jouncing and bumping, we finally arrived at the park. Thank god! Jorge led us through a lush forest trail and gave us a history lesson along the way. He used rocks and stumps on the trail to illustrate the complex interdependencies, alliances, and wars between the largest Mayan civilizations of the region: Caracol in Belize, Tikal and Naranjo in Guatemala, and Calakmul in Mexico. Belizeans are quite proud of the fact that Caracol defeated Tikal, twice. After Jorge finished, we were all a bit dizzy with information overload. If you care to know the gory details, you can read more about Caracol here.

We spent the next two hours clambering over various structures: temples, a ballcourt, and some spooky dank tombs. There's a lot to see at this site, but it's still only a fraction of the entire city. As with Tikal and most other sites, the jungle has encroached over time and still covers most of the temples and residences. They have done a pretty good job of reconstructing some of the jaguar masks on the sides of the temples, which illustrate scenes from the various levels of Mayan heaven and underworld (Xibalba). And some of the stelae show representations of the most powerful rulers in great detail, including the dwarves which were considered sacred attendants to the king.

We had some lunch at the visitor center -- standard chicken-with-rice fare, which is pretty frickin tasty when you're ravenous -- and continued on to the Rio Frio cave and Rio On Pools. The cave was OK. No bats or anything, and we saw the entire thing in about ten minutes. We were hoping to get to swim in the pools, but with the recent flooding the river was dangerously high and all we could do was stand at the overlook and look forlornly at the lovely cool water below. Oh well.

All in all, it was a nice day, and felt good to be getting out and about in the world after several days of waiting around.
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
05 September 2007
Chill time in San Ignacio
Back in business tomorrow!
I've been holed up here in the mountains of western Belize, waiting for the rains to pass. Fortunately Felix went further south than expected, so I managed once again to avoid any major weather trauma. Still kinda bummed about cutting my Ambergris junket short, but I'll probably spend the last few days of the trip on Caye Caulker to make up for it.

In the meantime, I've decided to book two trips in the next two days to take advantage of the best the Cayo District has to offer. The first is to Caracol, largest Mayan ruins site in Belize. The second is to Actun Tunichil Muknal (don't worry, nobody knows how to pronounce it and it's generally referred to as ATM) which involves some cool spelunking and checking out human remains and other archaeological goodies. Sweet!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
03 September 2007
And then there was Felix
Time to get the hell outta Dodge
OK, well, I managed to avoid Hurricane Dean, but it looks like Felix might be a direct hit. Dagger!

boarding up White Sands Cove Today was spent hurriedly getting off Ambergris Caye, where I'd been lounging in the lap of luxury with my DC peeps Josh & Kathryn. Nobody's entirely sure how bad this one will be, but it was looking like all international flights might be canceled tomorrow, so J&K came home day early and I split as well.
They've pretty much evacuated the Cayes and are boarding up windows in Belize City. Everyone is glued to the Weather Channel, which in addition to showing mostly-useless updates is also featuring lots of People Who Died In Severe Storms-type shows. Just what we all need, more drama!

I took a bus (a nice one! with air conditioning!) two hours west to the town of San Ignacio, which is close to the Guatemalan border. Unfortunately everyone else in the country seemed to have the same idea and I had a REALLY hard time getting a room. I finally found one, and plan to hunker down here for a few days. I don't think there will be any major issues this far inland, but keep yer fingers crossed and I'll check in when I can!
Posted by soniaz at 5:30 PM | Link | 0 comments
02 September 2007
A festive hurricane party
You Better Belize It!
Today we got the bad news that another hurricane is headed this way. Buzzkill! They can't quite decide whether Hurricane Felix is going to be a category 4 or 5, but it looks like Belize is straight in its path, including the Cayes and Belize City. Nobody's making any moves yet, but we're all watching the Weather Channel to see what develops.

fun with pizza! After our morning dive, and another relaxing afternoon spent poolside, we clustered around the bar for the afternoon deluge and got to know some new friends from LA: Matt, a TV writer; James, an animation artist who's about to be awarded an Emmy; and Veronica, a flight attendant not at all in the industry. We had a great time imbibing Brian's lethal rum punches and even more lethal tequila shooters, waiting out the rain and swatting away mosquitoes galore. Nobody was much in the mood for any complex dinner maneuvers, so we ordered a bunch of pizzas and retired to Matt/James/Veronica's room where we polished off the rest of the wine and some other treats. (And hopefully we didn't get Steven the Pizza Guy fired.)

Kathryn and I adjourned to the pool, where we were eventually joined by the three boys and then Mark, who foolishly accepted Josh's request for more wine, plus cigars and Grand Marnier. Yikes. Those of us in the pool discussed dam(n) sectors and Hollywood's best terrorist plots and other profound topics. Mark and Josh smoked the cigars and geeked out to their own conversations. Eventually the chilly wind and severe pruning drove us back to the pool deck to dry out a bit, at least as far as our skin was concerned. Just how much booze did we all put away that night?
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
01 September 2007
Sharks, rays, and MOUNs
A memorable trip through the Fire Swamp
This is the kind of day travelers live for. True embodiment of the credo "As long as you have a good story to tell, it was allllllll worth it."

We began the day with a series of lovely dives. First to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, for a nice shallow dive where we saw two huge rays and a handful of other critters. It wasn't nearly as spectacular as the diving in Utila, but we all agreed that a mellow dive would be a good way for Josh & Kathryn to get back in the groove after not diving for over a year. We saw a bunch of nurse sharks approach the boat as well. Then we snorkeled for a bit at "Shark Ray Alley" where we saw neither sharks nor rays. But it was an entertaining way to spend a half hour. Next, we headed over outside the reef for a deeper dive in Paradise Canyons. (I could hear the folks at Alton's screaming "Hey! You're supposed to do your deeper dive first!" but as usual was able to ignore the voices in my head and thoroughly enjoyed the dive.) Not sure if it was due to the recent Hurricane Dean, or because divemaster Tony wasn't really big on pointing stuff out, but we didn't really see a whole lot. I have been totally spoiled by my week on Utila!

Brian's amazing Coco Locos We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool, sipping some potent rum-based beverages from bartender Brian, and enjoying the fact that we seemed to be the only ones at the resort. The place is meticulously run by a family from Connecticut (Fairfield County in the hizzouse!) and we had several pleasant chats with matriarch Marilyn and her husband Mark. Nice people. Very relaxing place. After a hot shower (joy!) it was time for dinner.

We'd spent the previous night at the swank Capricorn restaurant just up the beach, so we decided to rent a golf cart and go into the town of San Pedro. Marilyn had warned us that the road was "a little rough" due to the recent storm, but once we got past the first 500 yards or so, it should get better. Armed with two large flashlights and a can of Deep Woods Off, we set out down the driveway, Josh driving, me navigating, and Kathryn in the back seat hanging onto our stuff.

carnage and destruction The road was fine at first, and we assumed Marilyn had been overly cautious, until it started to get a bit bumpy with a few puddles in the road. We'd also been warned about getting through the water hazards with some degree of speed, so as not to stall the cart, so Josh, a seasoned golf cart driver, was taking the road at a brisk clip. All seemed fine until we approached a series of gigantic puddles that took up the entire width of the road. We made it past the first one, only to get completely stuck in the second. Dagger! With the cart listing at a not-so-jaunty 45-degree angle, there was no choice to get out and push. I stepped off (not a far step, my side was perilously close to the fetid water) and squooshed into sulphurous mud up to my ankles. Ewwww! Nearly lost a flip-flop to the thick muck. It was decided that Josh would get behind and push while I attempted to find the elusive balance of enough gas to get us out, but not so much that the tires would spin futilely. It was stressful, to say the least. Poor Josh was in back, sucked into the most disgusting swampy mixture nearly up to his knees. Kathryn was attempting to swat vast clouds of mosquitoes away and wielded the Off bottle like a champ. I was doing my best to gain enough traction to get us out of this mess, and I'd just started to feel some forward momentum when I heard Josh yell "Let off the gas!!!" I did, but not quickly enough to prevent him from getting coated with a flurry of slurm. Oops! Never mind, we were moving forward, keep your foot on the gas, let's get outta here. Josh hopped into the front seat and we made our way out of there. A bicyclist heading in the opposite direction took one look at us, silently turned around, and hurried in the other direction.

Kathryn and Josh are just happy to be alive We managed to make our way into town, Josh yelling out directions to help me avoid further pitfalls, and only got stuck once on a huge chunk of hurricane debris. By the time we reached Elvi's Restaurant in San Pedro, we were exhausted, sweaty, completely covered in mosquito bites, and coated in varying degrees of sulphurous muck and slurm. We, and particularly Josh, looked and smelled fantastic. Somehow they let us into the restaurant, and after a glass or two of wine, we dissolved into hysterical giggles recounting what we'd just been through. Thank god I have friends who are cool enough to laugh at this kind of misadventure! Love you guys!

The meal was over far too quickly as we gathered our courage to go back the way we'd come. We did consider leaving the golf cart in town and taking the ferry back, but decided that if we'd made it through the Fire Swamp once, we could do it again. We'd been clever enough to discover what the lightning mud looks like. And at least there weren't any Rodents of Unusual Size, not that we'd seen, anyway. Nope, no ROUSs, just MOUNs: Mosquitoes of Unusual Number. We can do this! Go team!

We did manage to make it back, and got stuck only once, in pretty much the same swampy place as last time. (There was just no avoiding it!) But knowing that we'd made it out once, we knew we could do it again. There was an instant, when Josh was once again doing his manly duty of pushing from the back of the cart, where I heard him cry out and thought perhaps he'd thrown out his back or something. But he was only reacting with disgust at having his entire leg sink into the foul mud. Grody.

When we got back to White Sands, we made sure to take a few pics of the destruction (both on ourselves and all over the golf cart) and entertained Marilyn and Mark with our tale. Marilyn decided she'd better give a more strenuous warning to the next poor sods to rent a cart. Yes, perhaps. And make sure they take along an extra can of Off. Ours was just about out.

Never a dull moment!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
31 August 2007
Onward and upward to Belize
Several rookie mistakes, en route to a couple days of pampering
Whew, today was a travel day of a different sort. Let us count the ways:

first view of Belize from the air1. Air travel. Oh yeah, I remember that! You don't get on a bus but instead fly through the air in a pressurized metal tube. And get harassed by the petty indignities of airport passage... security screenings, higher border crossing fees, angry airport employees who resent you for your very existence, irritated sunburnt American tourists. Good times!

2. Meeting up with friends, yay! On the other end of all this fun was a rendezvous with my friends from DC, Josh and Kathryn, who ::ahem:: were the only ones brave enough to meet up with me on this junket. I was really looking forward to seeing them.

3. Someone else in charge. For the first time on this trip, I was relinquishing the project manager role and handing over all responsibility to J&K, who'd made nearly all the arrangements for the next few days.
Even though Josh had sent me all the information about the resort we'd be staying at, and various transfer details, I'd decided to just show up. It was a deliciously guilty pleasure to not know exactly what was coming next.

So, I said goodbye to Utila and Alton's, and made my way to the airport. Annie, the marvelous travel agent Alton's works with, had brilliantly booked me a direct flight from Utila to Belize City, allowing me to avoid taking the ferry to La Ceiba *and* saving me some money in the process. I LOVE this place! The taxi was a bit late, and then the guy stopped at his house for "just 20 minutes" to hang out with his wife and kid and have a cup of coffee. Ehm, excuse me? My flight leaves at 7:30! It's 7:15 now! No worries, he assured me. They'd called the airport and the flight wouldn't be leaving until 8am. The airport is "muy pequeño, muy
pequeño. Está bien." Right, I'm sure the airport is quite small, but I'm not sure what that has to do with me making my flight. But if you say so, I'm sure it'll all be fine.

We arrived at the airport -- HAH! more like a short tarmac strip with a forlorn shack at one end -- and in fact the flight didn't arrive until after 8am. I sat in the taxi for a while and got completely eaten alive by mosquitoes. One last fond farewell, thanks so much. When the plane touched down, the taxi drove over onto the tarmac and helped me load my bag in. Nobody even asked for my ticket. We just took off. Beats the hell outta the torturous security line at Dulles, I'll tell ya that!

Well, it turns out the concept of "directo" is about the same with planes as it is with buses. You may stop a few times and pick up or drop off people, but you probably won't need to change vehicles. We touched down on Roat
án, in La Ceiba, and also in San Pedro Sula before heading onto Belize. At La Ceiba we actually had to get off the plane and go through customs, immigration, and security. All at an incredibly rushed clip because the flight was about to take off again any minute! No stress there! I'd totally forgotten to save enough Lempiras (Lemmywinks!) for my exit tax and had to hit the ATM. While there I noticed that it also offered an option for dollars. Hmmmm, this might be a good time to replenish my supply of greenbacks. The Atlantic Airlines rep was hovering nervously over my shoulder so I didn't take as much time as I should have, and failed to notice that even though I selected the "dollars" option, the machine asked me for the amount in Lempiras. Rookie Mistake! So I was a bit shocked to see a big pile of Lemps come spilling out of the machine. There was a bank nearby but it wasn't open yet, and I had to get a move on. So I took my wad of Lemmywinks and hoped I'd be able to exchange it later. I still have 'em, if anybody's interested in some cambio action.

Next step was immigration, where I had to fill out the usual inane form and get a new stamp in my passport. I was once again rushed enough not to notice what page the woman had actually placed the stamp (Rookie Mistake #2! you know better by now!) and so got to stand there nervously while the security staff paged through every single sheet of my passport looking for the damn thing. And just as I was going through the security machines, I realized I'd forgotten to take out my Swiss Army Knife and pack it with my checked stuff. Rookie Mistake #3! Of course they confiscated it, which was no big deal because I can easily get another one when I return home. But it was completely unnecessary. Thank god I am sure J&K will be bringing their own corkscrew with them. ;)

Finally, I was able to get back on the plane, and there was no more drama until we reached Belize. I had a few hours to kill before Josh & Kathryn's flight arrived, so I sat up in the "Waving Gallery" and caught up on my journal entries. Or at least tried to. Didn't get very far due to a handful of distractions. First, an entire Belizean extended family gathered to wave goodbye to Auntie Somethingorother. A dozen children screaming and waving in unison. It was most amusing. Next, THE biggest bug I have ever seen (even bigger than the cucarachisima in Tortuguero, people!) flipped over on its back on the ground in front of my picnic table. I don't know what this thing was, some kind of beetle or something. Its flat back looked like a huge brown leaf, at least three inches long and almost as wide. Its creepy hairy legs wiggled furiously in the air, as it attempted futilely to right itself. I couldn't take my eyes off it, and I couldn't believe nobody else noticed it. The Belizean family tromped around it, oblivious. I was sure some small child would accidentally get too close and have his or her foot swallowed whole by this monstrosity. After a few minutes, I was almost rooting for the thing to get upright just so I could see what the hell it was. Alas, a guy noticed it and scooped it up between two pieces of cardboard and took it away. Bummer.

And finally it was time for the flight from Miami to arrive. I waited with all the other anxious family members, hoping to get a glimpse of my friends so I could wave to them as they walked from the plane into the airport. Unfortunately I didn't get to wave like an idiot because they didn't look in my direction, but I did manage to give them each a huge hug and kiss once they made it through immigration and customs. Yaaaaaaay! Friends from home! It was a bit surreal to have these two worlds collide in the middle of the Belize City airport. But I was thrilled to see them.

the pool at White Sands Cove is to DIE for We hopped a quick Mayan Island Air flight to Ambergris Caye and were greeted by a taxi from our resort. Following a quick supermarket stop (gotta stock up on wine, don'cha know) we caught a private boat to White Sands Cove, an absolutely beautiful resort on the northern end of the Caye. Those of you who have been following along with my adventures will understand when I tell you just how exciting it was to have a hot shower with actual hot water! Not to mention two, count 'em, two fluffy towels to use after said shower. And a whole different set of beach towels! Plus, water that could be drunk directly from the tap. Oh, the luxury of it all. Yes, this'll do.
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