Thursday, April 26, 2012

Belize Day 4

I've really got to get the rest of this trip documented, because other parts of my life are happening, but I feel like I can't write about them until I get this trip finished.

This day we checked out of the Lodge and planned to head to the beach. Suzy suggested that we stop by one of the local hotels where they raised iguanas. So on our way out of town we stopped, and I'm so glad that we did. The tour guide explained to us that often iguanas in the area are hunted and eaten, and their numbers in the wild were declining so at the hotel they had started a conservation project where they raise iguanas and then release them into the wild.

He took us into the first enclosure that housed several adult iguanas. He explained that these iguanas would never be released because they were too tame. This was very evident as they lumbered right over to us and ate out of our hands. The kids thought they were so great, and really enjoyed feeding, petting, and chatting with the big reptiles. 

Next we were taken to another enclosure that housed the baby iguanas. Before we even knew what was happening the guide started pulling these smaller iguanas off of branches and putting them all over us.

The kids really thought this was great, I couldn't believe that at least one of them didn't freak out when they had lizards crawling all over them. Shane later told me that visiting with the iguanas was one of this favorite parts of the trip.

After we were done with the iguanas we headed out of town. On our way out I snapped this picture of the one way bridge that we almost crossed going the wrong way the day before.

On our way to the beach we stopped at the zoo. We had heard a lot of good things about the zoo, but I have to say it was probably one of our least favorite attractions. Most of the enclosures were so full of plants and trees that the animals were impossible to see. We did see a few though and especially enjoyed the tapir that wanted to give the kids kisses through the fence.

After the zoo we continued on our journey. I decided we would take the coastal highway, which I had read was a dirt road, but a good dirt road. Calling it good was being fairly generous. While we were driving along we were talking about our vacation so far and in response to something Shane had said, I said, "We're not that adventurous." It was quiet for a minute and then Shane laughed and said, "If I kept a journal that is something I would write down, we're driving down this crazy, rough dirt road in Belize, no signs of civilization, have maybe passed four other cars in the last hour, and Nicole says, 'we're not that adventurous." Then I laughed too, because he was right, we really were on an adventure.

When we finally arrived at the resort we were relieved. The kids immediately wanted to get in the water. I don't have a ton of pictures from the pool and the beach, because most of the time I was in the water with them, but rest assured in the next few days we would log plenty of time in the pool and nearby beach, it was the kids favorite thing. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Belize Day 3

This was by far my favorite day. When preparing for this trip one of the things that I decided I wanted to do was visit Tikal. Tikal is actually in Guatemala about a two hour drive from where we were staying in San Ignacio. Our lodge offered to arrange a tour of Tikal for us, but I felt like their prices were kind of expensive. Since we had decided to rent a car, before we left I looked into if taking ourselves would be manageable. After some research online I felt like we could make the trip so on this morning we got up early and headed out for Tikal. Before we left we ran into lodge owner Bart, who seemed a little put out that we had opted out of his tour. He was not at all afraid to tell us that he thought we were stupid for taking ourselves. I however felt like we were well prepared and only felt more determined to prove that we were no stupid Americans and could find our way.

I will admit that the border crossing WAS a little intimidating, but I had earlier found these instruction online which were immensely helpful. Once we got over to the Guatemalan side things were instantly different. Besides not being able to speak the language, the other noticeable change was the armed guards standing all around. Soon we were on our way though and enjoying the beautiful countryside in Guatemala. After awhile we arrived at Tikal. At the gate to the park a man approached our car and offered to be our guide for the day. Now normally I wouldn't recommend inviting random strangers to hop into your car, but as with many things on this trip, I had a good feeling about taking this guy on as a guide and so we invited him to join us. This was probably the best decision we made all day. *Elmer was one of our favorite parts of our trip to Tikal. He was such a friendly, helpful man. His knowledge of the park was really an asset too. We had no concept of how big Tikal actually was, navigating it on our own would have been challenging to say the least. We told Elmer how long we wanted to stay in Tikal and he mapped out a tour for us. The first thing he took us to was this pond literally steps away from the gift shop to see if the crocodile was in there... yep you heard that right crocodile, I admit I was a little skeptical but this sign supported what Elmer had told us, there WAS a crocodile and apparently its not a good idea to feed it, although at the time we didn't see it.

We ran into this guy next... This is a picture of Elmer asking Shane if he wanted to hold it. Shane told me that later he wished he actually HAD held it... but at the time he didn't go for it. Mason stayed about twenty feet away.

Along the path toward the first ruin stood this beautiful tree. The Mayan believed these trees represented the tree of life. It was pretty amazing.

This was the first ruin that we came upon, it was small in comparison to the other structures we would see, but it was the only one that we were able to climb. The steps were so steep.

There was lots more wildlife to see...
Leaf cutter ants

And the spider monkeys that were hanging out in the trees.

When we got close enough to one of the monkeys it started throwing these little seed things down at us.

Our guide was very knowledgeable when it came to monkeys. He told me as a child that he had one for a pet. I responded lamely with, "Um, we have a dog."

It was very hot in at Tikal and there was a great deal of walking involved. When we came to the tallest structure and this staircase leading up to it, I thought our kids were going to lose it. They were tired and suddenly suffering from all manner of maladies, including sore toes and empty tummies.

So Shane and I decided that this was the day for our kids enjoy their first Pepsi...

Now I don't really recommend caffeinating children on a regular basis, but this day it helped us not to miss one of the most amazing views I've ever seen.

The tower was so tall and steep.
Shane and Max were brave enough to climb to the upper portion, of the building, but I was too intimidated by the height.

There were many other buildings and things to see.

In this picture you can see that half of the building has not been excavated. You can really see how an entire Mayan city can go undiscovered for some time. The jungle just seems to swallow everything up if given the chance.

This picture is for my dad, who got really excited when he saw a picture of these turkeys in my guide book, I had to take a picture to show him that we saw one in real life.

This picture is to show what poor Max looks like in the heat, by the end of the day he was turning a nice shade of purple. To the locals his orange hair and fair skin were quite a sight, and he got a lot of attention. I even caught a few people snapping his picture.

The kids got really attached to Elmer, he really was a great guide.

In this picture Max is holding up a tarantula leg that was left behind on one of the sacrificial alters.

It would seem that the Mayans were kind of a short people.

By the end of the day Max and Mason were completely tuckered out. Mason was being particularly whiny towards the end and so he and I struck a deal. I promised to take him swimming in the the lodge pool when we got back if he promised not to complain anymore. This seemed like a great deal to Mason and his mood improved considerably. Max was so hot, and started to break out in a heat rash, so Shane decided to give his little feet a rest.

The kids were more than ready to leave, but we did take the time to check on the crocodile on our way out.

By the time we left Tikal we were exhausted and anxious to get back to the lodge. I really wanted to get there before dark mostly for safety reasons, but also to prove to Bart that we could indeed take ourselves on a tour and make it back in time for dinner. So we thanked Elmer for his services as we dropped him off by the park entrance and then hurried back towards Belize. We were almost home when we came to the border crossing and realized we had misplaced some important paper work that we needed to get the car back across the border. Shane started pulling the car apart, and soon several locals were also helping us. Finally one man who spoke English offered to explain our predicament to the border official (who did not speak English). He was so helpful and worked it out with the official and we were cleared for crossing. We were so grateful for the man's help.  Shane gave him the last of the cash we had on us for the day, a ten dollar bill (US), which we learned later was equivalent to a days worth of wages in Guatemala. We felt good about being able to help someone who was so kind to us strangers in need, we felt later that it was meant to be since the missing paperwork was later easily found stuck between the seats. 

On the drive back through San Ignacio I spied this steeple from the car and said, "that looks like an LDS church steeple..."

And sure enough it was.
It was comforting to see something so familiar in a place so foreign. We pulled into the parking lot and visited with some of the members that were there. They were having a relief society meeting and the ladies were so nice and friendly to us.

Finally we made it back to the lodge, and had time for the promised swim in the pool before dinner.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and then dragged ourselves to bed again.

*Should any readers be interested in a trip to Tikal, please contact Elmer Alvarado to be your guide. We can't say enough good about him he can be contacted at alvaradomar24 (at) hotmail (dot) es

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Belize Day 2

One of the benefits of going to bed quite early is that it you get to enjoy the morning. One morning while we were in San Ignacio, the birds (which were extremely loud there) woke me up quite early. I decided to take a little walk while everyone else was sleeping and snapped this picture. It was a lovely morning.

After everyone else got up and moving we headed out on our first adventure. Our tour guide drove us up into the hills on a very rough road. Where the kids were delighted to discover a grove of fruit trees. Citrus is a major industry in Belize so our tour guide thought it was funny that we were so thrilled by seeing them. He pulled over and the kids picked an orange each.
Then he asked us all about snow, and told us that was something he would like to see.

Not long afterward we arrived at this cave with a river running through it. This was really an adventure the guide rowed Max and I in one canoe and Shane and Mason took another. We wound through this cave with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a few remains of ancient Mayan rituals. Our guide explained that this cave had been used to perform human sacrifices by the Mayans because they believed it was a gateway to the underworld.

It was equal parts awe inspiring and creepy to drift through the cave and listen to our Mayan guide tell the stories of his ancestors. It was an interesting conversation and I got the notion that Adrienne our guide had a sense of respect for a culture that believed in their gods so fully that they would offer up their own children as tribute.

After the cave we took another short drive and then a quick hike to a beautiful waterfall.
By then Max's little legs were getting a bit tired.

The kids were happy to be able to get in the water and cool off.

Shane swam nearer to the waterfall.
There was this big rock near the edge of the water that Shane started jumping off.

Pretty soon Mason decided he wanted to give it a try. He started with one of the lower ledges. And then decided he was brave enough to try jumping from the top of the rock. It doesn't look that high in the picture, but it was. Shane and I were both surprised by his bravery.
Eventually Max wanted to give it a try too, but he needed a little help from Shane.

Finally we headed back to the lodge, but on the way home we stopped at the this lookout point in the hopes of seeing some exotic birds. It was too late in the day to see much wildlife, but the view was pretty amazing.

Finally we got back to the lodge and kids were dying to go swimming, so Shane being the great dad that he is took them down to the pool, I couldn't believe how much they wanted to swim on this trip. They couldn't get enough of it.

After swimming we had a great dinner and then dragged ourselves to bed. Again I think we were all in bed before eight.