Saturday, April 25, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Since nothing is really happening today, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk a little bit more about the Belizean culture, specifically something that is unique in my opinion. As I have explained, the school is tightly knit to religion, specifically Catholicism. As a result, students have to take a scripture class at school, there are crucifixes scattered throughout the school, and before school starts, the teachers often take part in a staff prayer. While they are also very religious, students also have a course called life skills, that is more like our health and wellness class that teaches students how to make good life decisions.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
On Saturday it was time to leave the mainland to head back to San Pedro. After packing our bags, it was time to say a sad goodbye to Herman and Paradise. I should mention that this was not a day any of us were looking forward to. Not necessarily because we didn’t want to go back to San Pedro, because I think all of us were ready to get back on the island, but because all of our stomachs had had enough of the traveling and this was just going to be one mode of transportation to the next.
Personally, the day went by rather smoothly. We took an express bus from Corozal to Belize City, which was surprisingly nice. It was more like an old charter bus than a retired school bus. It had pleather seats that reclined and the bus wasn’t packed. After our two-hour journey from Corozal to Belize City, we took a cab to our water taxi. We hopped aboard our express water taxi and after an hour an fifteen minute trip on the water, we were happy to be back on Ambergris Caye. Dr. K was also excited because his wife, Megan, was in town for the next week, so this only added to the excitement of being back.
When we got on the island, we had a boat take us to our new “home” for our final two weeks here: “Ak’bol Yoga Resort.” When I first heard about this place, I thought it was pretty hippy dippy, my feelings were totally accurate.
When we reached Ak’bol, I was happy because I realized that we would be staying on the beach. We had to walk five minutes to the beach when we lived at Pedro’s- it was horrible. Now I just walk out and I can see the beach. However, my joy quickly turned to apprehension after we were taken to our rooms. When we got to the first room, we looked in and all we saw was a wooden platform, with two beds, and a ceiling fan. We don’t have TV, wireless internet, and we have a communal bathroom down the hall. I could see the faces of my compadres fall when the realized what we’d be dealing with for the next few weeks. Remember when I said I wanted to see what it was like to live with less technology- be careful what you wish for.
To be honest with you, I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay thus far at Ak’bol. Yesterday, all I did was sit on the beach and read my book. They serve breakfast here all day and everything is healthy. Yesterday I had multigrain banana pancakes and I usually detest anything lowfat or health-food conscious, but this was really good. I’m even considering doing some yoga tomorrow. It gets a little warm at night without air conditioning, but I’m coping with it well. I slept like a log last night and I’ve gotten more sleep here than I have this entire trip. I think what we all needed was a relaxing time to finish off what has been a fast-paced and somewhat stressful experience. I think Ak-bol will be good for all of us.
This was a very sad day, because Allison had to go home. I think she had a really good time on her Spring Break. We were very busy the entire time, so I don’t know how much relaxation she got on her vacation, but if nothing else, it was education and she got to see me, sounds like a great break to me.
After she got her cab to begin her journey home, we got a van to take us to Orange Walk so that we could go on a riverboat tour of Lamanai, another Mayan ruin. At this point I was a little “ruined-out” from all of the Mayan touring we had done, but I felt like I needed to go just to check it out- I’m glad I did.
When we got to the place that would take us on the river tour, we ate some breakfast and chatted with the owners of the place. There was a really funny guy who made it his job to scare Margo. At one point we were sitting and talking and he took a live baby crocodile and placed it on Margo’s hand. They’re lucky she didn’t fling that guy across the room the way she screamed. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have done the same myself, but it was pretty funny. I’m not a big fan of reptiles, but even I thought this guy was pretty cute and I even held it.
After a nice meal and some practical jokes, we were ready for our riverboat tour. This was great, we would be traveling at 60 mph and all of sudden the tour guide would yell out to the driver he would stop the boat. He would then point out a crocodile, or bird, or iguana that was nearly impossible to see. I don’t know how this guy spotted them so well, but it was really cool to see these animals in their habitats. My sister would have loved to see all of the iguanas in their habitat, as she has one of her own.
This was all really cool, but quite possibly the best part of my day was when we came close to the trees and we saw two spider monkey’s swinging from tree to tree. The tour guide, Carlos, then started making a kissing noise and got some bananas. Sure enough, within a minute those monkeys were on our boat! Margo got to feed one of the monkeys and I was really jealous (I was also a little bit nervous after hearing about the monkey that beat
up thatwoman a few weeks ago…luckily nobody was beaten up by these monkeys). To the right is a picture of one of the friendly monkeys that jumped on our boat.
After an hour and a half ride on the boat, we reached Lamanai. This was really neat. It was much bigger than Xunantenich and it had a few different things we hadn’t seen before. For instance, the artwork was different. We saw shrines, and stelas that were illustrations of kings. We also saw a ball court, which is where Mayans would play games with a ball and a hoop and the captain of the winning team would be sacrificed to the gods. The rationale behind this is that, who would you rather sacrifice to your gods, the best or the worst? I’m thinking I might have thrown a game or two just so I could live.After climbing another big ruin, seeing some haller monkeys in the trees, and looking at all of the natural flora, it was time to leave.
It was a really relaxing boat ride back, with exception to this one lady. I should preface what I’m about to say by telling you I’m very proud of my northern roots. I love New Jersey with all my heart, but once in awhile you come across someone who just gives all northerners a bad name. On our trip, there was one lady who was so loud and obnoxious and she had to have a comment for everything the tour guide said. Carlos would be explaining how eleven percent of the Belizean community was made up of Mennonites and this lady would say, “Oh, I live outside of Lancaster County and we have so many Mennonites. They are a lot like the Amish and we also have Quakers too…” or one time Carlos pointed out the blue herons in the trees and this lady had to add, “Ohhh, those are the little buggers that eat all of the gold fish out of my pond back home. I’d like to have a word or two with them.” It’s not even like this lady was being discreet about it, she felt like she was the center of attention. On top of this, whenever something was pointed out, she felt compelled to stand up and block everyone’s view of what we were looking at. As a result I have some great pictures of the wildlife of
Belize with this woman’s head in it. To the left is one such picture where I tried to get a shot of a Belizean rum distillery and instead a got a close up of this lady's head. At times I had visions of a crocodile snatching this woman from our boat, but then I realized that it was Good Friday and that it wasn’t very Christian of me to think such things. Alright, I need to calm down. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I reflect on this lady. Whatever, I’m over it. Not even this lady could ruin my beautiful day on the river.
For the last leg of our trip to the mainland, we decided to go to Corozal Town, which is a small town on the mainland where most of the teachers at San Pedro High School grew up. I don’t know the specific reason why most people at the high school travel to San Pedro, other than they need the jobs. Work on the mainland is highly sought after, mostly
because it is much cheaper to live on the mainland than it does on San Pedro, mostly because San Pedro is a tourist destination. I was stunned at how cheap everything was on the mainland; everything was almost half the price. Subsequently, most teachers have a small house at San Pedro, and often come to Corozal on the weekends. I know that Americans do some crazy things for their jobs, but to live in two places seems crazy to me. It seems to be the way the culture is organized here.
Of course the downside of this is that it separates families. There is one young teacher at San Pedro High who has to teach on the island while his family lives in Corozal. He has a one-year-old son who lives with his grandfather and goes to work with him. When his father comes home to Corozal for the weekends, his son doesn’t even know him; he calls his grandfather “dad.” I suppose these are the sacrifices
some people have to do for their livelihood, especially with an economy that is currently floundering.
Anyway, we got to Corozal in the afternoon. When we left San Ignacio, we were told
that we were staying at a place called “Tony’s Luxury Beach Resort.” Based on the website, it had beautifully decorated rooms, which a beachside view. It looked fantastic. When we got to Corozal, we realized we were staying at the place across the street from Tony’s, Paradise Villas and Apartments. When we got out of our van, we were greeted by this little white man with an accent who
called himself “Herman the German.” This was an interesting character. He was very accommodating and friendly, but he started making some inappropriate sexual comments and I started to feel increasingly skeeved out about this place. In any other experience in Belize I would accept these off-color comments and consider this part of the culture we are experiencing, but with this guy, it became clear that he was just a weirdo. You’ll understand why in a second...
Herman took us into our “luxury villas” and everyone was excited to see that it had more amenities than we had been used to this entire trip. We had a living room with a TV, a full kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. It would be nice if it wasn’t decorated as if we were living in the seventies. Now, I never got to know my grandparents, but I imagine if I had, this is what their house might have looked like. It was honestly like traveling in a time machine to see what interior decorating used to look like. Of
course, the icing on the cake was that the master bedrooms had two mirrors: one on the wall and another on the
ceiling. According to Herman, each apartment had a romantic honeymoon suite. I was one of the lucky ones to
get this bed with the mirrors, lucky me. To the left is a picture of John, Anna (Herman's much younger wife), Herman, and myself.
After putting my things in my room, we decided to take a cruise around Corozal. Herman was nice enough to take us in his old Dodge Caravan. Again, I must explain this hot rod. It had yellow flames streaking down the side of the van, with a huge spiderman decal plastered on the hood of the car. The front windshield had the word “maldito” written in stickers, which translates to “evil” in Spanish and the word “Lucifer” was written on the back windshield. The car was so dusty that I’m pretty sure gang members had used their fingers to write some graffiti on the car. To top it off, when we borrowed the car the next day, there was a gun sitting between two empty beer bottles in the middle console. I wish I could tell you I was lying about any of what I have written, but this is the honest truth. Herman claims he bought the car like that, but I have my doubts. But I digress…
We finally made it into town and as we walked around, we found that this was the quietest town we had been in thus far. This was the farthest place from a tourist destination as there didn’t seem to be much to do. To be honest, it reminded me of the quiet town in which I was raised. It had a small town feel and I could tell, while it was a very poor area, it was probably an okay place to grow up. This was supported by the fact one of the teachers, Mr. Gillharry, showed us around and explained how much he loves coming home. He and his friend, Elson, took us on a tour of their hometown and showed us their high school, which they call community college, and their junior college. After our tour of the town, we went to a grocery store to get food so we could cook for the first time in three weeks. We then went back to the villas so we could relax in Paradise for the night.
This was another pleasant day because we didn’t have any big plans. I slept in late, ate breakfast at my leisure, watched some SportsCenter in my room, and took my time. A few of the people from the group were planning on going to the zoo, and Allison and I were going to go, but
decided against it because we were not feeling good. Instead, we decided to take a taxi and stroll around San Ignacio for the day. This was fun. We ate some food at a place called Eva’s Kitchen, where we had one of my favotire meals to date, stew chicken with rice and beans and cole slaw. After lunch, we just hung around the town and went shopping. I was able to get some gifts for people back home and che
ck out the town. What I realized this day was that San Ignacio is very different from the other cities in which we’ve been staying for the simple fact that it is not really a tourist’s city. By this, I mean that there is a lot of poverty and the town doesn’t seem to cater to the needs of tourists. The shops are for the people of San Ignacio instead of the gift shops we have seen everywhere we go. While at San Pedro, we can go to our r
esort when we feel uncomfortable; here at San Ignacio I felt like I was really mixed in with the culture. I think it was good for our group to see so that we could experience the other side of Belize- the side that doesn’t make it
on the brochures. To the left is a picture of the town of San Ignacio.
After we got back to Cahal Pech, Allison and I relaxed a little and waited for the others to get back from the zoo. Apparently they saw a lot of cool animals and were stunned by the fact that the only thing separating them from the animals was chicken wire. Imagine if a jaguar got angry one day and went on a rampage. Luckily on this day, the animals were calm and everyone made it back safely.
Later that night we were looking for places to eat on our last night at San Ignacio and I suggested that we go back to Hannah’s. I might have been selfish in wanting to eat there again, especially since there were other restaurants we hadn’t tried yet, but nobody disagreed with me so we ate there again. Instead of changing it up, I decided I needed to eat the curry again one last time, so I got the lamb curry. This was another amazing meal and a great way to end the trip in San Ignacio.
On day three of our time in San Ignacio, we decided to do another cave excursion. Instead of waterfalls, this was an educational trip to Actun Tenochil Maknul, or ATM for short. We had to take a van for almost an hour and a half all the way into the jungle. Once in the jungle we had a forty-minute hike to the mouth of the cave. I expected this to be pretty similar to the cave excursion I went on in at Caves Branch, but it was very different.
Once in the cave, we had to swim and hold on to the sides of the cave to get from place to place. We were in the water for a majority of the time until we reached a rocky portion of the cave. Once there, we had to take off our shoes and walk
in our socks. The purpose of this was so that the oils from our shoes didn’t compromise any of the artifacts we were going to see from the Mayan culture. This was extremely cool. We were able to go into rooms where Mayans held different ceremonies. We saw pottery that had been broken
for religious purposes and human remains from people who had been sacrificed to their gods. It was really fascinating to see all of this history live and in person. I have never really been a history buff, but even I was astonished by the culture that believed in so many rituals that seem crazy by today’s standards.
After getting out of the ATM caves, we had some time to relax outside of the jungle. It was really crazy to see all of the people who still lived out in the jungle. It was clear that they rely on the resources that surround them. They wear modern clothing, but other than that, they don’t seemingly use electricity or running water. On our way home, we saw a woman washing her clothes in the river. I’ve always
wondered how people can live like this, but they seem as happy as can be. They don’t know any other way of life and this is how they choose to live. It was refreshing for me to see. Sometimes I wish I could live without a lot of the technology that we utilize today, but I realize that, after
living with cell phones, TVs, cars, and computers it would be difficult to imagine a life without them. Seeing a lifestyle
that didn’t require modern technology was truly eye opening to me. To the left is a picture of the UNCW spelunking team. It actually looks like one of those family portraits you can get at the mall...a little creepy.
Once we got home to San Ignacio I took a quick nap after a long day of spelunking. That night we had to travel to several places until we landed in a small sports bar that had the NCAA National Championship on TV. We were excited to watch it until UNC starting running away with the game. What a horrible championship this way. Granted, I wanted UNC to win the game, but I was hoping that it would at least be close. We ended up leaving shortly after the second half started and we got some pizza. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a pizza snob and as bad as some of the pizza can be in the south, it doesn’t get much better once you reach Central America. I think I will stick to the traditional food of Belize because I find myself pleasantly surprised every time I try a new type of food, and I’m disappointed whenever I have American cuisine.
When we woke up the next day, nobody had made plans. This was a change. It had seemed like everyday had an itinerary and we couldn’t really deviate from it. I’m by no means a control freak, but I like to have some choice in my schedule and this day was the first in a while where I could do whatever I wanted. Allison and I strolled into town and saw Dr. K and the gang waiting at a bus stop. They were going to Xunantenich,
a Mayan ruin twenty minutes away from San Ignacio. This was Allison’s first chance at building her Mayan unit for her history students, so we jumped at the opportunity.
Before we could get to the ruins, we had to cross a bridge. This was no ordinary bridge. There was a man who would operate a twenty-foot wooden plank that moved from one side of the river to next through a crank that pulled the bridge on a pulley. This was v
ery different. Once we got to the other side, we had to travel up what seemed to be a vertical incline that went forever. I haven’t been to the gym at all since I’ve been here and I was getting my work out on this day.
We finally got to the site and were ready to experience some history. Xunantenich wa
s one of the smaller villages during the Mayan time period. There is a lot of mystery with regard to Mayan life and how they came and went. Xunantenich disappeared before the Spanish Inquisition and, if I recall correctly, failed as a result of social and economic shortcomings. While they were very primitive, we owe a lot to the Mayans. During the classical period that had
developed language with hieroglyphics, political systems, they had religion, and even some credit them with inventing the wheel. They are a fascinating culture. They’re architecture is one of the most impressive artifacts we have, and I was able to climb them! How cool.
We decided to climb the tallest ruin there. Again, I got a good workout from this climb,but it was well worth it once I made it to the top. We had a view of so many cool things; on one side we could see San Ignacio; on the next was a forest of trees; on the next we could see Guatamala. This was incredible. To the right is a picture of Allison and me atop the tallest ruin at Xunantenich.
After our trip to Xunanatunich, we got back on the bus and decided to explore San Ignacio. We were hungry so we stopped at a place called Hannah’s. To this date, this is the best food I have had. First of all, they raise all of the meat they serve on a nearby farm. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love milk and I have been deprived of it for most of my trip here (I know it seems a bit immature, but milk tastes so good and it builds strong teeth and bones, so don’t judge me). I had two glasses of milk and for lunch I had the best pork curry I have ever had. It was simply amazing. Every bite was better than the first. It had a slight kick to it, but only enough to add a little bit of heat to the meal. The pork was perfectly cooked. Ahhhh, I need to stop talking about it as it’s making me hungry.
Once we finished our meals, it was time to head back. Since we hadn’t had a chance to see the village yet, Allison, Dr. K, and I decided to walk home. An hour and a half later, we were exhausted from walking what must have been five miles, uphill, in the Belizean heat. This was when I learned that MILK WAS A BAD CHOICE. It sat in my stomach. I could actually feel it curdling in me from all the heat. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at this point that I decided maybe water would be better for me.
We finally got back to Cahal Pech and I immediately jumped in the pool to cool down. Needless-to-say, I slept well that night.
Our trip from Caves Branch to San Ignacio was an inte
resting one. First, we had to take a short bus from Caves Branch to Belmopan to g
et to get a transfer at the bus stop. I don’t know that I have seen a more disorganized
bus system ever. If you recall my explanation of Belize time, the same principles apply to buses
. I don’t know why they post a bus schedule if they don’t expect to follow it. We waited for about a half-hour for a bus that would go to San Ig
nacio. When we got on the bus some guy started
yelling at the bus driver and tried to force us to get on the bus next to us. As we started to back out, another bus
cut us off from leaving and blocked the exit. Apparently the bus we were on wasn’t supposed to leave for another fifteen minutes and they were making a big stink about
ensuring that the right bus left at the right time (go figure). We had to jump out of the back of the bus. There was a young couple with a baby who didn’t want to jump out of the bus with their
child, so they passed them through a window. That was pretty cool.
We finally got settled on another bus that was packed. The buses in Belize are school buses that probably should have been retired ten years
ago. They are painted in bright colors that would put the Partridge family bus to shame. I felt like we should have started a family band as we toured Belize. Anyway, Belize doesn’t really have speed limits and as a result, the bus drives dr
ive like maniacs. They must have removed any governors because I’ve never been on a school bus going 90 mph. It was a little frightening because I don’t think buses are made to this fast. I saw some of my compatriot’s faces
going green while we were traveling because the shocks were obviously shot and ever little bump resonated through your entire body. I think we were all happy to be on solid ground after our hour and a half ride to San Ignacio.
Once in San Ignacio we jumped in a cab and got to our hotel, Cahal Pech. This was
nice place with an amazing view of the city as it sits atop a huge hill. After settling in we had some dinner at the hotel restaurant, where I had spaghetti with marinara. I think I just wanted some good old-fashioned food that reminded me of home. While it didn’t taste anything like my mom’s sauce, it was nice t
o have something that tasted familiar to me. It’s the small things I’ve begun to miss while I have been here. After dinner, most of us had been tired from a long day of traversing caves and traveling on rickety buses, so we called it a day. Below is a picture of the view we had from our room at Cahal Pech.
To ease everybody’s mind, yes I survived my tour to the mainland of Belize. We did a lot of fun and crazy trips and adventures, so I thought I would write a few blogs about my days on the mainland just to catch everyone up and what I did and explain why I’m so very tired and happy to finally be back at San Pedro.
I suppose the best place to start with my trip is from the top. We left Pedro’s Inn on Saturday, April 4 around 9:00 am to catch a water taxi from San Pedro to Belize City. Once we reached Belize City, I split off from
the group with John so we could go to the airport and pick up Allison. I was ecstatic to see her and I could tell she was excited to be in Belize because she’s a much bigger traveler than I, so any chance she has to get out of the country she jumps at.
We then left to meet the rest of the group at Old Belize, which is more or less a tourist destination with a manmade beach and a five-dollar museum that takes two minutes to tour. This was nothing fancy and I was a little sad that this was Allison’s first impression of Belize. However, soon thereafter we got a van to take us to our first tour destination: Caves Branch.
We learned that Caves Branch is a great place because it had a lot of the “out-doorsy” things we wanted to do. When we got there, we realize that we were upgraded to stay in the cabanas instead of the barracks where we originally thought we were staying. This was really cool. These were grass huts with thatched roofs and bunk beds. There was no electricity except for a ceiling fan. We had lanterns for light and we had to take showers in outdoor showers. This was a really cool experience, especially for a guy who loves his TV and fancy amenities. I really enjoyed sleeping there and was upset we only got to spend one night there.
The next morning we all decided on taking different tours. Some people went cave tubing, others we
nt repelling down a cave, and I decided to go on the cave waterfall tour thinking this was my best chance to see a mermaid. While I didn’t see one, I did have an amazing experience. We had to hike about a mile in the jungle to a cave. I learned that you needed to wear long pants for this tour and of course I didn’t bring any. Lucky for me they had some extra pants that I got to borrow. The one catch is that these pants were a shiny blue material that made me look like a competitive speed walker: not a good look. Below is a picture of me in my fancy pants.
I sucked it up and got on the bus to the cave. Once in the cave we had to wear helmets with headlamps on them because, obviously, it is very dark in the caves. We had to crawl, climb, and swim through crevices and stalagmites. This was pretty physically demanding. By far the best of the tour was when we climbed up the waterfalls. We all wondered how we were going to make it back down and figured we would repel down with the climbing rope; boy, were we wrong. They made us jump down from the waterfalls. I’m pretty good with heights, but as soon as I was ready to jump the guide grabbed my shoulder and told me that was about to jump into a pile of rocks under the water. Apparently, that would have been a bad thing. I made a big jump and survived. This was definitely the highlight of the tour for me. I can officially say that I have been spelunking, how cool.
When we got back to the resort we found out that everybody had some really great tours and I think we all were pleased with the excursions we chose. After our excursions we had to pack our stuff because we had to catch a bus to our next destination: San Ignacio.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The title of my blog this evening is actually the motto of Belize, which translates roughly to "under the shade I flourish." I wasn't aware of this until Margo named her blog this and told me about it. I don't think I quite grasped what this motto meant until today.