Belize, Central America
December 23rd, 2006 - January 2nd, 2007
The most extravagant trip I have ever taken. Action-packed and visually stunning as well. This will be a trip to always remember.
My mom, Bruce, Hannah, my cousin - Ashley, and I departed the Greater Rochester International Airport at 8am, Saturday, December 23rd. Boy, was I ever stoked. I was looking forward to the warmth, clear waters and sunshine this holiday. We planned 5 days in the mainland on a tiny penninsula that rested on most southern tier, Placencia. From there, we would travel to an island northeast of Belize City, Caye (pronounced "key") Caulker, where we would reside for 4 days.
Boy, did I get it right. When we landed in the Belize City airport, it was HOT. It was SUNNY. Every day was sunny, in the 90's and if it rained, it only rained for a half an hour. As we cleared Belizean customs, we ventured over to Poncho's Rentals. Got ourselves a sturdy SUV and we drove. We drove 5 hours south on the only paved road in Belize. Normally, it would only take about 2 hours, but the road went west, inland and then down south. With the only road already mapped out for us, we were able to get a little glimpse and taste of the Maya Mountains. We arrived in Placencia after dark, so we rested at our destination, Julia's Rooms.
Photos of the Trip to Placencia
In the morning, we awoke to sunshine and the beach right at our feet. What was the first thing we did? Sunbathed. You just can't go back to the States without a tan! How laid back this town was. As we mingled with the crowd as the days went by, we befriended the friends and family of Julia. Every night is a party. We learned the local saying, "Got a problem? Drink rum." Belizean rum is delicious! And extremely potent.
Hibiscus flowers lined the walkway to the beach. Palm trees lined the coast. Coconuts hung from the trees - waiting to be picked and cracked open. Tourists from all over the world populated the waters. Gift shops lined the "main road" of Placencia - a sidewalk. Locals playing a game of basketball on the courts. It was a little piece of culture and environment that really made this little town a whole.
Photos of Placencia
So, we explored the land and people. Now, it was time to explore the waters and marine life. So, we all hopped on a boat with our snorkels and flippers in a mesh bag. It was a 45-minute boat ride east to a tiny, tiny little island called Laughing Bird Caye. On the way, we encountered a baby dolphin. The boat driver stopped the boat to let us take some pictures. I've always wanted to see a dolphin in person, and this was my moment. That moment granted me a childhood dream. As we neared the island, the waters slowly went from a dark to a lighter blue. Eventually, we could see straight to the sandy bottom. We docked the boat and walked around the island. Barely a quarter mile wide, palm trees popped from the sand. Conch shells were neatly arranged into a walkway path. Sunbathers relaxed on towels on the white, sandy beach. The waters, oh the waters. Never have I ever seen such a piece of paradise with my own eyes.
Onward to what we really came here for. Snorkeling! Swimming among the marine life was surreal. The water was refreshing and salty. As the sun beat down on our backs, we floated effortlessly along the coral and marine life.
Photos of Laughing Bird Caye
We returned inland after 2 hours of snorkeling. Totally forgetting that you tan twice as much in water, I paid for it. I turned into a bright, red lobster. Did that ever hurt. We returned back to Julia's to celebrate Christmas. It was surreal to be sitting in the sun on the beach, in a bathing suit, nonetheless, on Christmas Day. We New Yorkers don't get much sun this time of year.
Having celebrated Christmas in Placencia, we hopped back in the SUV to head to Belize City, just to catch a water taxi to our final destination - Caye Caulker. There we will celebrate New Year's.
As we reached the Mayan Mountains, we stopped at the Blue Hole National Park. The first destination was the actual Blue Hole itself. A pool of blue water encompassed this rock formation. Vines draped into the water. We went for a swim. It was the most refreshing water I've ever swam in.
Photos of the Blue Hole
After taking that refreshing dip in the Blue Hole, we walked the National Park trail to St. Herman's Cave. It was well hidden in the jungle, with only a break in the rocks to let you know it was there. Neatest thing I've ever seen. As you walked down the steps, into the cave, a flashlight is no help. It is literally pitch black. All you can sense is the soft ripple of the river that ran through.
Photos of St. Herman's Cave
Coming up to a small Spanish-speaking town, a truck sped past us and wedged himself in between us and the bus. I looked over my mom's shoulder to see in front of us, and not a second later, the blue truck swerved to the right and sent a 13-year old boy flying face-first onto the pavement. Thankfully, he didn't suffer a painful death. When we jumped out of the car to see if he was alive, a government press reporter was on his way to Belize City and took names and called the Police. The man who hit the boy was going fast enough that his entire front hood and bumper was caved in and undriveable. When he stepped out of the truck, his pregnant wife and little boy followed. The boy's grandmother came to and she was hysterical. We offered her water and hugs. Hannah's knowledge and fluency in Spanish allowed us to communicate with the locals in the explanation of the accident. We stayed until the Police arrived and my mom gave her testimony and witness statement. When all was finished, an officer hopped in the SUV with us and we drove 10-minutes to the nearest Police station - Belmopan. There, a waiver had to be signed stating the absence in court. Now, we can finally catch the last water taxi to Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker - piece of paradise. The island where you can go from place to place with no shoes. Bars, gift shops, restaurants and local merhchants line the sandy "road". An abundance of snorkeling and dive tours offer you their services. Locals travel the sandy road on bicycles. Golf carts as the main mode of transport zoom in and out of pedestrians on the road. Every step you take brings you closer to the water. The island is only 3 miles from tip to tip, making everything within walking distance.
Photos of Caye Caulker
At the most northern tip of the island, is the infamous Split. In 1961, Hurricane Hattie ripped the island in two, now making it the most popular place to swim.
Photos of The Split
This is where all the adventures began. We went snorkeling again. This time was a stop at three different zones of the protected Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Just a 5-minute boat ride to the reef, we made our first stop at the main Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Had underwater cameras this time. =) Spent some time there and then we swam to the boat and headed over to the Coral Garden. A plethura of marine life and coral lines the waters. Our last stop was Shark Ray Alley. As you swim to fight the current, Shark Rays float weightlessly around you, occasionally swimming close enough for you to reach out and touch it. What an abundance of life!
Photos of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The very next day, New Year's Eve, we all woke up early and continued on our next adventure. Caught the water taxi to belize City and then headed 3 hours inland to the Mayan Ruin of Xunantunich. Here, ruins still stood their grounds, most importantly, Temple III. We marched up that temple and the view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. Not only could you see for miles, the Guatemalan border lied right in front of you. After the family picture on the top of the temple, we've declared it as our Christmas card picture.
Photos of Xunantunich
As we climbed down, we readied for the next part of our two-part trip excursion - Cave Tubing. This was amazing. Our tour guide told us it was a 15-minute hike to the start point - yeah, okay - it was really more like a half an hour! But, it was worth it. We wore headlights to see in the caves; it was pitch black, no light whatsoever. We floated along the river, admiring the timeless formations and waterfalls for 30-minutes.
Photos of our hike to Cave Tubing
That marked our last day in Belize. New Year's Eve. The end of 2006, and we were in warm and sunny Belize. Time to celebrate. We settled at OceanSide Bar. Got our party hats and drinks. It was insanely packed. Got our drinks and danced. As we stepped outside, we realized that the entire island turns into one huge party. And everyone's drinking. Happy New Year's, and good-bye, Belize. You served us well.
Photos of New Year's Eve
And that marks the most extravagant trip of my 2006 Christmas and New Year's. I don't think anything else could top it.
I'll be back.