Saturday, January 31, 2015

Belize Part 3: Guatemala #Huh?

As is customary of my blogs, by the time I write my last entry of a certain vacation, fatigue sets in (surely for the reader, as well!). Therefore, what has now also become customary, my recollection of exploring Mayan ruins in Tikal National Park in Guatemala, and cave tubing in Belize - will be reviewed via photos! Yay!

That's a boarding pass at the San Pedro airport. For a 7am flight, we got to the airport at 6:40-ish. Costs around $35US to fly one-way to Belize City. 
Not that a 7a flight was easy. #ReasonsUndisclosed
This plane did not have any issues with 5-oz liquids.
Or cameras being right up in the cockpit.
Hasta, San Pedro.  
Part of the Belize-Guatemala border. Yeah. Not too exciting.
Guatemalan cow welcoming us.

So according to Fodors, seeing Tikal is along the same must-see human structures like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat.  With that type of hype, I figured I had to go see it, as the likelihood of being down in this area again seemed slim. There are several tours out of San Pedro, either day tours or overnight tours. We did an overnight with, who I'd highly recommend. The owner, Jovan, is very accommodating and tries to tailor each trip to the customer's needs.
There are around 4000 total structures at Tikal, according to our guide. The Mayans originally settled there around 900 BC, but most of the huge temples seen were built between the 600-900 AD.
From a bird's eye view, you can't really see to much. This was for protective purposes. I'd liken it to how the Merry Men lived in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." Wait - they lived in trees. Maybe that doesn't work. This is the view from the tallest temple in Tikal.
Temple IV. 
A sign leading to Jeff Goldblum's house.
Grassy noll? Not quite, there's actually a huge temple underneath all this foliage. Only 10% of Tikal has been fully excavated. So when you see what appear to be grassy hills, you're actually looking at temples that haven't been dug out. As our guide mentioned, the archaeologists down there like to go nice and slow for job protection! Why do something today if you can do it tomorrow? Hmmm….
The previous picture could look like this under all the grass!
The city plaza area. This is where they had bonfires and listened to Mumford and Sons records.
That temple has a Gisele-effect on photos - just makes them look better.
Tikal. The Ruins.

This is a rough model of what's been excavated at Tikal thus far. It helps you realize what you're looking at, because otherwise you can't see the ruins for the trees.
The view from our hotel in San Ignacio. Great view. Awful hotel. Don't stay at the Cahal Pech Village Resort. The pics look rad, the website's solid. Mosquitos flying around, towels and bed sheets were debatably clean, shower curtain broken, no soap holder in shower, and the most annoying of all - the bathroom faucet spout doesn't extend far enough into the sink, so your hands have to touch the sink. Ugh. The lodging was included in our tour deal. 
As were some bomb breakfast burritos from this hole-in-the-wall. Eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, and beans for $1.50US. What a deal! Oddly, Mickey's Snack Shop doesn't have a website. #ActuallyIDidntCheckAndAmOnlyAssuming
They're big "Wire" fans here. Only saw one "Marlo" sign.
So cave rafting in Belize is a fun, seemingly unique Belizean attraction. We went to Nohoch Che'en, about an hour outside of San Ignacio, which features a series of large, dark caves that you can float through.
Our cave entrance point.
There's a slight difference between cave tubing and cave rafting. Rafting is currently only available thru my man, Jovan, at Belize Jungle Trek. Instead of a small inner tube, which is attached to other tubes so people don't get separated from their groups, rafting gives you more of an inflatable raft and paddle, offering far more independence on the tour.
Most of the cave pics are too dark to see anything. It's a relaxing float. It's very much like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, without the large drunk lady chasing random pirates. If you could bring an inner tube with a cooler, it might be even that much better. Just saying…
From the outside looking in. Altogether you float about 3/4-mile.
Selfie because I wanted to show off that amazing playoff beard. #HairyBeast
After a relaxing float, this guy was cutting up fresh coconuts. The coconut water was delicious, then he offered to add free local rum, so of course I said sure. That was a mistake. Dude poured like 5 shots into this thing. It's 10:30am!!! I'm not looking to turn up right now!!
Crunk juice.
And just like that, poof, I was gone.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Slow Ride: Belize Part Two: Caye Caulker

Gone, girl.

Go slow. That's the motto on the island of Caye (pronounced "key") Caulker, about a 30-minute water taxi ride from Ambergris Caye ($15US roundtrip). You'll find those two words plastered all around the island like a Where's Waldo of catch phrases. The pace on Caulker is slower than a Peyton Manning jog, but the island's vibe is all the better for it. There's a sense of relaxation and calm to the island. There are no cars and you can seemingly walk the entire island in 45 minutes. There's a good chance you'll catch a waft of weed as you walk around. Not that I condone that, I'm just saying chill goes to another level here. And it's perfect.
Told you "go slow" is everywhere.
This is my dude Terry's Grill. His name is Terry. He's got a grill. Just outside of his home. His restaurant is called Terry's Grill. Brilliant. The menu is small, but everything's crazy fresh. We stumbled upon this spot which is located on the northern end of the island on the western side (the water taxi drops you off on the eastern side). That may sound fire, but that equates to a 3-minute walk. In our effort to find a spot that wasn't too touristy, we stumbled upon Terry's out of hunger desperation.  As you can see from the park benches in his yard for seating - his set up screams Caye Caulker. His next door neighbor was cooking up some fresh conch fritters for the family, but offered us some for a $1US each. As you can imagine, they were delicious.
That's Terry grilling up a whole lobster for me. $12.50US, freshly cracked, and covered in a butter garlic spread. Dude is crazy nice. I was trying to tan while waiting for the food (which will take awhile - remember: go slow), and was sweating profusely. But all us New England-transplants know - you have to take advantage of sun whenever you can. So I'm sweating buckets - it's gross and Terry noticed, so he told me to sit in the shade with a cool beer. Even set our food under the shade, thinking I was about to have a heat stroke. I told him - nah, bruh, I'm all good. Just got to get dark right now! It was the thought that counts. Terry even disregarded my weird and unhealthy sun habits and invited us to celebrate his birthday with him that night because it was going to be an epic party. We didn't make it, but in the future I'll say we did and make stuff up about how amazing it was.
Don't know if this pic gave the lobster justice. This mother f'er was amazing.
The view didn't hurt. Go to Terry's Grill:

If you don't go diving or on a manatee snorkel tour - which sounds amazing - but only runs certain times of the year - there are still plenty of island tourist activities. Almost anything you can do in the water is available: fishing, sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, jet-skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, wake surfing, you get the idea. We opted for the jet ski/wakeboard combo, which set us back a pricey $120US for about an hour-and-a-half - but it was so worth it. The sky was gorgeous and the water was pristine - warm, calm, and jellyfish-free. Jellyfish are dumb. 
This is what the view looks like riding into the sunset.
Two times on this trip I realized I'm older than I think I am. This would be the first. We took turns wake boarding for about 80 minutes. That was a lot of boarding - your forearms get beat up, as do your lats and shoulders. As per usual when I travel or in general do anything I love, I try to savor the moment, make it last, and do as much of it as I can. I didn't want to stop riding. I paid for the next day in soreness - getting a tight back, shoulders, moving very slowly, my thumb cramped. You know you're lame when your fingers cramp up. Y'all have been there so shut up! And if you haven't, those days are coming! I tried to pull off a sweet jump to end the day in style, but alas, no luck. 
Requisite jet ski selfie. I was focused on getting cool shots here, so who knows if Pete is even on the wakeboard. I mean, I've got priorities. Pete may have been floating alone for a good 20 minutes. Photography takes sacrifice, people.

Dat Caye Caulker life, tho.

I mentioned that Belize isn't much of a beach town, but Caye Caulker is an amazing sea town. When the sun is pounding down on you, and it was when we were there, you'll see a lot of people laying out on the docks. I also saw some people laying out on paddleboards. To me, that would be perfect. Tan on a board, float away, work out if you want, then jump back in. The water is rarely deep, I'd say you could keep your head above water several 100 yards away from shore. 
Bask in Caulker's glory. Also impressive about Caulker, if the weather is stormy over Ambergris Caye just 30 minutes away, the weather can be still gorgeous on Caulker. Caulker can take even that to the next level. If the weather is windy on the eastern part of the island, the western part will feel calm and still. So per usual - west is best!

Far less threatening than the mascot for the New Orleans Pelicans. Go ahead and google for those uninitiated.

So a couple days later, I came back to the island with our new friends, and wanted to eat at Terry's again. But Terry doesn't do any breakfast items and the girls were feeling breakfast. So he suggested we drop by Maggie's Sunset Kitchen. Terry delivers again! This place was amazing. Just like Terry's, the restaurant is wrapped around Maggie's home. According to Trip Advisor, Maggie's is the 2nd-ranked restaurant on the island:
This is a lobster omelette with fry jacks. Spot on. I don't remember the price, but you can be assured it was cheap. We also added a papaya smoothie, which if I have to be nitpicky - was a little too yogurty for me. But the omelette was amazing, as were the beans everywhere around the country. I don't normally care for the musical fruit, but every place I ate had amazing beans!
You can go snorkeling on the northern tip of the island. Not much to see - starfish, barracuda, but visibility isn't great, maybe it's because people weren't adhering to the sign above.

To sum: Caye Caulker is all about that chill life. An amazing spot for 1, 2 days. 3, or 4 - you might get antsy. The benefit would be, of course, that you could that many more lobsters from Terry.

Next: Exploring the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, and cave tubing on the mainland.