Tom and I spent last week being tourists as we enjoyed a visit from our friend Margaret, who lives in Virginia. She flew in on Saturday, and we picked her up at the airport and headed to Cheers for lunch. We had thought about doing something on the way between the airport and home, but we were dealing with some vehicle issues so we decided to come home and get that worked out so we could enjoy the rest of the week and act alike real tourists…We saw some wildlife, including an orange breasted falcon, some coatis, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, a couple of trogans, and a few different hawks. It was a beautiful morning and it would have been a nice walk even if we weren’t in a park full of Maya ruins and amazing wildlife!
…which we did, starting on Sunday morning with a trip to Ka’ax Tun. Julio served as our guide, and we walked, crawled, scrambled, and climbed through the rocks.
On Monday morning, we left for Guatemala. Tom and I had originally thought about trying to do it like our guests on a budget like to do, but we decided that since we live here, it wouldn’t cost us any more to drive ourselves in our personal vehicle, and it would be much cooler, quicker, and more convenient than taking the buses. The three of us crossed the border together, then Margaret and I strolled into Melchor to do a little pre-vacation shopping while Tom got the car across the border. I’d left home with only the shoes on my feet, so of course I had to buy a couple more pairs of shoes. I also wanted to pick up a couple of more bras in a style I’d found there that I liked, so I went back to the store where I’d purchased the first couple and started looking through the pile. The store attendant approached and asked if he could help, and I told him I’d purchased a couple of bras a few weeks ago, and was looking to see if they had any more. He immediately reached into the pile, said “This is what you bought, what size?” and handed completely flabbergasted me a few more in the correct size when I answered. Margaret was still tuning in her Spanish ears and hadn’t followed the whole exchange, but when I completed the purchase and explained what had just happened, we were both laughing. I guess they don’t get too many gringas buying underwear off the street, so they remember what we buy!
Tom got the car across the border and came to pick us up, and we headed into La Maquina for lunch at the restaurant owned by the mother of the guide we usually send with our guests to Tikal. We’d warned Margaret that we didn’t really expect fine dining in Guatemala, but we ordered three different things and all were delicious, exceeding our expectations. We were then back on the road and heading for Tikal, and we made the rest of the trip without incident. We checked in to the Tikal Jungle Lodge, and then spent a couple of very pleasant hours at the pool, swimming, reading, and being thoroughly entertained by a young man who was doing an exceedingly good job of amusing himself in the pool. The Jungle Lodge serves dinner from 7 to 9, and because we had to be up at 3:30AM (yes, 3:30 like in the middle of the night) in order to meet the ranger who would take us to Temple IV to see the sunrise, we were there at 7PM sharp and had another good meal, which really surprised us since the food there hadn’t been much more than mediocre the last time we were there.
We set the alarm for 3:30AM, and when it went off we managed to dress ourselves and get out the door to meet the ranger. We were with another family of the parents and their teenaged son, and the six of us followed the ranger through the very dark park, listening to the howler monkeys and other nighttime jungle noises. The ranger got us to the top of Temple IV, and left just as other groups were arriving.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Moonracer Farm, Guatemala, and Caye Caulker with Margaret
We got back to the room, got packed, and got on the road to Flores. We stopped in El Remate at a roadside stand for another good meal, although after skipping breakfast we probably would have been happy even if it was barely edible. We then stopped at the new Mundo Maya mall outside of Flores, which all of our friends and neighbors here who have been said we had to do. Unfortunately, coming from the US, it wasn’t quite as impressive to us as it was to them, although I did manage to find a pair of trainers, which I hadn’t been able to do in Belize – which brought me up to four pairs of shoes for the trip!
We pulled into the island town of Flores in the midafternoon, just as thunder was starting to rumble in the distance. Tom and I had put together a list of potential places to stay, but we had no idea how to find any of them in Flores.
Having started the day at 3:30AM, we were in bed early, so we were up early the next day. After a quick breakfast in Flores – also good, but lacking a few things like tea and cream or milk for coffee – we hit the road and started back to Belize for the second leg of our trip. We got checked out of Guatemala and back into Belize without any problems, and stopped in Benque to give our friend Ian the Kindle that Margaret had kindly transported down for him. We found that he was just about to head into Guatemala to meet his son Alex, so we were glad to have caught him. We then headed to Cheers for lunch (yes, that seems to be turning into our place to eat on the Western Highway!) and on to Bravo, where we were leaving the car for its well child checkup while we vacationed on Caye Caulker. Bravo transported us to the water taxi, and we were on our way to the surf side of our vacation.
We bought our cocktail supplies on the way back, and had our own happy hour before heading off to the Sports Bar for dinner and Wednesday night trivia – which we won! We were QUITE pleased with ourselves about that! After the trivia, the guy who runs the contest sat down with us to see where we were from, and we started talking. We asked where he was from, and he said Quebec. We asked if he was from Montreal, and he said no, a small town outside of Montreal. We said the only small town we knew of outside of Montreal was Sutton, where we would go with our friends Del and Vicky to ski and to visit Del’s mother, since he grew up in Sutton. The guy’s eyes got really big, and he asked if we were serious. We said we were, and he started giving us a little quiz to see if we’d really been there. When we passed, he asked us who our friend was and where she lived, and it turns out that he grew up in Sutton and knows Del’s family. They weren’t best buddies or anything, but still…it’s a small, small world.
The next day we went snorkeling with Tsunami tours. Margaret had never been snorkeling, so she was a little apprehensive, but Tom and I assured her that once she started looking at the world under the water she’d forget to be nervous, and the Tsunami crew was great and fixed her up with a life jacket so she didn’t even have to worry about swimming.
We snorkeled Hol Chan, which is always amazing, stopped at Shark Ray Alley to see the sharks and the rays, as well as some turtles, stopped and watched a manatee, and then snorkeled in the Coral Gardens.
We’d planned to take the water taxi to San Pedro to show Margaret what Belize is to a lot of people, but after a whole week of lots of physical activity and a day of too much sun on the water, none of us were moving too quickly on Friday morning. Tom and I headed off to the bakery to pick up our traditional Caye Caulker breakfast of ham/cheese/jalapeno pastries and cinnamon rolls, and left Margaret to make the coffee (the other nice thing about the suite was the coffee maker with supplies!).
We waited for a break between showers to scurry back to the cabin, and Margaret, who had already purchased a ticket to fly from Caye Caulker to the International Airport at 10:10 the next morning for her 1PM flight, got packed. I was still being a hopeful nincompoop and thinking that maybe the storm would fizzle and we could dive anyway, so I wouldn’t pack…although I then spent a mostly sleepless night, feeling the cabin tremble on its 10-foot legs every time the thunder rumbled or a gust of wind hit it, wondering if it would take any more than a tropical storm force wind to knock the thing off its legs. By morning I had decided that we probably should pack up and head home, and when we watched the Weather Channel in the restaurant while we ate breakfast and they said that the storm had been named Harvey and was heading for Belize, that was definite. The decision was confirmed as we walked back to the cabin along the beach and saw all of the residents pulling their boats onto the beach – and frequently into the streets – and boarding up their windows. We figured that if the residents thought it was worth expending the energy to prepare for a storm, it was probably a good idea for us to get out of their way.
At around 9:30, there was a break in the rain so we grabbed Margaret’s stuff and headed for the airport, which is just a short walk on a path through the mangroves from Ignacio’s. We got there and found that people were still waiting for the 9:10 flight, which was delayed because Tropic Air was about to shut down and was trying to get people off of Ambergris Caye, and they were getting all of those planes filled before heading to Caye Caulker. We tried to get Margaret onto that flight, but it was full, so we then settled in to wait for the 10:10 flight, which was also about an hour late between diversions to where more people needed to be picked up, and being grounded due to gales sweeping through. It was a somewhat tense hour because the guy at the Tropic Air desk was on the phone talking about how soon they were going to stop the island hopper flights, and we were hearing rumors that the International Airport was about to close. The guy at the desk kindly called USAirways so Margaret could talk to them, and they told her that they were still planning to send out their 1PM flight – which was partly reassuring, but partly more stress inducing because Margaret knew she had to get to International in time to make the flight, and it wasn’t at all clear that Tropic was going to be able to get her there…which would have been okay if the USAirways flight wasn’t going, but if it left without Margaret, the next USAirways flight wasn’t until the next Saturday. So, we sat and watched the Weather Channel talk about Irene, which at that point was just a tropical disturbance west of the Caribbean and didn’t even have a name yet, and looked at the unmentioned blob on the radar screen which was about to hit Belize as Tropical Storm Harvey. Tom had to keep telling me to shut up and quit bitching about the Weather Channel (“they are reporting for the US, not the entire world”), and despite the knots in our stomachs, Tom and I kept telling Margaret not to worry because things ALWAYS work out in Belize…and sure enough they did. Margaret’s plane finally took off just about an hour late, and had her to the airport before 11:30 which, although it wasn’t the recommended 2 hours before flight time, was enough time for her to get checked in and get to her plane, which took off early and was one of the last, if not the last, flight to leave before the International Airport closed for part of the afternoon.
Tom and I walked back to the cabin, called to see if the water taxi was still running – it was – and finished throwing our stuff in bags. We went to say goodbye to Reuben, and he offered us a ride “uptown” in his golfcart, since they were going out for some supplies needed for waiting for the storm. We found that the Caye Caulker Water Taxi had shut down, but the San Pedro Express was still running – which was fine with us, since we try not to use CCWT anyway since they stole our camera last time we used them. So, we got our tickets, and after a short wait we were loaded on the boat, which we were told was probably the last one out. We had a smooth if slightly breezy ride back to Belize City, and didn’t see a drop of rain. By the time we got to Belize City, the sun was actually trying to shine. We called Hiram, the service manager at Bravo, and he picked us up in our truck. We took him back to his house in Belize City, and sat for a few minutes filling out the paperwork and paying for the service – which is basically priceless with the type of customer service Bravo provides.
We then set off for home, wondering what all the big deal was about the storm since we didn’t think it was even going to hit Caye Caulker or Belize City. But, about 10 minutes outside of Belmopan, we ran into it, and even though it was just a tropical storm blowing itself out by that point, the rain was hard enough and the wind was strong enough that we couldn’t see well enough to drive and pulled off the road for a little while. Once we had a little bit of visibility again we headed into Belmopan, which we found completely flooded. We drove through the stream that’s usually Forest Drive to our favorite Chinese Fry Chicken place, and ate fried chicken and French fries until the worst of the storm passed and the water level went down a bit. We then continued home, and found that while it had rained a bit closer to San Ignacio, what we saw was probably the worst of the storm that far inland, and the hard rain and high winds were very localized. Tropical Storm Harvey was basically a non-event, even with a direct hit on Belize, and it did nothing more than give us a little drama for the end of our vacation.