Monday, August 29, 2011

Ten Reasons to Visit Belize

Belizeans are among the nicest people in the world. From the moment we stepped off the plane everyone was welcoming and full of smiles. Anyone is willing to offer you advice, give you directions, or chat about life. It really does make for a relaxing vacation when you feel safe and welcomed.

I know a lot of people who had never even heard of Belize before we decided to honeymoon there. I hope now they will realize how easy it is to navigate this little Central American nation and maybe come visit themselves!

Here are some reasons why this country is so easy to travel in and worth using those precious vacation days on.

1. Everyone speaks English. Belize was once a colony of Great Britain and therefore the national language is English. It's very easy to travel around when you can communicate with everyone and are able to read all the signs. (I especially appreciate this now after moving to South Korea where I am not able to do either of those things!)

2. There are Caribbean waters -- light blue, warm, and beautiful! The most beautiful beaches, the second longest barrier reef in the world, brightly colored fish, delicious lobster....what more could you ask for in an island paradise? Oh yeah, and plenty of rum!

3. There are historical Mayan sites. There are some great Mayan ruins in Belize and you could even visit some as day trips from the islands. We did a day trip to Tikal, which is just over the boarder and into Guatemala. It's the largest site in the area.

4. The exchange rate is simple (for the US): $2 Belize = $1 US Most places will accept US dollars with this simple exchange rate and not even think twice. It's very helpful for when you first arrive or if you run low on Belizean dollars.

5. There are lots of Eco-friendly options.
Belizeans are really trying to promote sustainability and eco-friendly travel. There are many eco-lodges in the jungle as well as along the beaches. We stayed at an off the grid place called Black Rock Lodge in the Cayo district. You can read about their conservation efforts here.

6. The second largest barrier reef in the world. Need I say more? The diving and snorkeling here are amazing and there is the blue hole to consider as well. We explored the reef with help from Raggamuffin Tours and had an amazing time!

7. It's Central Standard Time so no jet lag from anywhere in the continental US/Canada. This is just awesome. I love arriving to an exotic location ready to go and not even thinking about trying to stay awake/go to sleep when my body is protesting.

8. The people are so nice and willing to help you out all the time. Like I said in the beginning of this post, Belizeans are some of the kindest most welcoming people I have ever encountered.

9. The food is delicious! There is all kinds of yummy seafood, stewed chicken, beans and rice, fresh fruit(!), and some of the best hot sauce in the world, made with love by Marie Sharp. The fruit juices were my absolute favorite! I drank so much lime juice!

10. You can have the beach experience AND jungle adventures all in one trip! I love this about Belize. You spend time out on the islands listening to reggae music and enjoying the warm water and fresh food from the sea. Then, in just a few hours, you can be looking for howler monkeys, hiking up mountains, and exploring ancient Mayan ruins! It's the best!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Discovering the Mayan Underworld in Actun Tunichil Muknal

After an hours drive in a van with our guide, a driver, and one other couple we pulled up to a small cleared out area of jungle with only one other van parked in it. It was the low season in Belize and not many people were visiting the cave that day. There were a couple of outdoorsy buildings which turned out to be to outhouses and changing rooms. We quickly used the bathrooms and set off into the heat of the jungle with our guide leading the way.

The trail was narrow and we walked single file through the undergrowth. After about two minutes we were at our first river crossing.

On the hike to the cave, you must cross the river three times and you have to keep your shoes on. Closed toed shoes are a necessity when visiting the ATM cave and you must wear socks to avoid damaging the site with the oils from your skin.

So, we were wearing socks and sneakers and sauntered through the river three times and then proceeded to walk on a dusty trail. All in all the hike takes about 45 minutes and your lower half will be pretty dirty by the time you get there. No worries through, because you have to swim into the cave and it all washes off anyway!

Right before you arrive at the cave, there is a campsite where you leave whatever you have with you that you don't want to get wet. Here we also had the option of eating our lunch before or after the tour.

I had half before and half after since I knew the tour would be long and I was already a little hungry. I would recommend this so you aren't completely starving on the way out.

Then we put on our helmets and walked to the cave entrance.

The entrance of the cave is like an hourglass carved out of the limestone rock. Water pools at the entrance and you can see little fish swimming about in the milky blue water.

You have to swim in for about 10 to 15 feet before you climb up onto and over a rock. It's an easy swim but the water is a little chilly since it's been rushing through the cave for about 7 miles and hasn't been warmed by the sun. However, the water is very refreshing after the hike through the sticky jungle.

Once inside, we followed our guide over, around, and even through rocks. We walked in the water the whole way (for about an hour) and the guide told us all about the cave, what lives and grows in it, and about Mayan beliefs regarding it.

I was constantly turning my head to shine my head lamp on all the stalagmites and stalactites. There are some VERY impressive formations inside the cave. They are living things and we were instructed not to touch them since our touch can kill them. There are sparking white blobs and cone shaped blobs that look like wax from a melted candle melted both right side up and upside down trying to reach each other in the middle.

When I told our guide the sparkling white ones looked like snow he replied with, "Oh really? Hmm...I've never seen snow."

After about an hour of walking, we got to a big boulder and were told to climb up and onto the landing above. Here we would be out of the water and were allowed to take pictures. We took off our shoes to protect the artifacts and listened to more history and legend on the cave before setting off to see the goods.

We walked in a single file line on a path marked by reflective tape. There are many pottery pieces scattered on the ground and the tape helps to prevent accidental damage. The pottery was impressive and very, very old. It was so amazing to see learn about the traditions of the Maya and see where they actually performed rituals to the gods.

All of the pottery was damaged in some way during the ritual. It is custom to make the pot especially for the ritual and then, to signify it's purpose is over, it is smashed or broken in some way. The piece above was just chipped but many are totally smashed and only shards remain.

There are also human bones in the cave, thought to be the remnants of human sacrifices. We saw the bones of three people but there are many more. The grand finale was a full skeleton of a teenage girl, known as the Crystal Maiden. It was amazingly wretched.

The remains of humans killed as sacrifices to the gods was a little disturbing. It was strange to walk among the bones of those once living. Even with, and possibly because of the strangeness, it was one of the best, most adventurous things I have done in my life.

The ATM cave is a MUST see while visiting Belize. Get your adventure hat on and book a tour. You will not regret it!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Poolside Interview with Waegook Tom!!

Well...I lied about the pool. But we did get interviewed!

Tom Stockwell (aka "Waegook Tom") is a fellow English teacher living in Daegu, South Korea. He blogs about all things Korea and all things fantastic, and he recently spent a little bit of time getting to know us. We are absolutely stoked to get to be in the spotlight for this week's "Sat Chat"!

You can catch the interview here. Make sure to follow Tom and his journey through Korea and beyond. His website is right over here and his Twitter is right over there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Star Ferry

The Star Ferry in Hong Kong is one of the cheapest ways to enjoy the skylines of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. 

The company was established in 1880 with a single steamboat dubbed "the Morning Star" and has grown to a fleet of nine ferries. The ferry goes to and from either Central or Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island to Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui. They also provide the only licensed harbour tour in Hong Kong aboard the "Shining Star," a replica of the steamboats used in the 1920's. The tour is an hour long and even has an air-conditioned cafe for those hot and humid summer days.

The ferry costs HK$2.50 (about US$0.32) Monday through Friday and HK$3.00 (about US$0.38) on Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays. It's such a great deal!  

The ferry ride is an iconic part of Hong Kong that should not be missed by anyone visiting the city. It's inexpensive and beautiful both day and night

Have you ever ridden the Star Ferry in Hong Kong or another famous ferry somewhere else? What did you think? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Travel Photo: Skyscrapers in Hong Kong

The skyscrapers in Hong Kong were magnificent! It was so cool to be standing on the street waiting for the light to change to cross and looking up and realizing there was so much more to look at up there.

The first picture was taken on our way back from Victoria's Peak. We met a retired Polish man who spent most of his life in France as an engineer but is now living in Bangkok as a base to travel around Asia. He was talking to us about all kinds of cool things: travel, life, how cheap it is to live in Bangkok, etc. and then all the sudden he says, "STOP! Look up!" and we see the first picture. It was amazing. He said, "I was here this morning and this is a wonderful sight!" Of course, I busted out the camera. He was right; it was a wonderful sight.

We told him we were headed for the Star Ferry and he said, "Oh, I know the way. I'm headed that way too. I will take you." So we walked and talked with him for about fifteen minutes. The passion and love he had for life, travel, exploring, culture, and beautiful sights/things just made my heart smile. This one little walk was such a great experience.

"This is why I love to travel" I told Spencer as we walked away from him, "these unexpected, little single-serving friendships that inspire me and make me feel so alive and passionate." I was smiling from ear to ear. I didn't get his name but the Polish/French/Thai old man totally made my week. I will never forget him.

Friday, August 5, 2011

One Week in Belize: A Travel Itinerary

Sometimes, all you have is a week to see an entire country. I know work schedules can be tight and vacation time hard to come by, especially if you're an American. Luckily, Belize is small and totally doable in a week!

Day One: Arrive in Belize City and take a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Check in to your hotel/hostel. If you're looking to stay at a hostel, we recommend Yuma's Backpacker's Hostel. It's clean, convenient, and there's art in the rooms! 

Day Two: Rent bikes to explore Caye Caulker and sign up for a tour for the next day. Choose from snorkeling the reef, seeing the sea cows, kayaking, diving the blue hole, deep sea fishing, or sunset sailing. Go to the split to play in the warm blue ocean and eat/drink at the Lazy Lizard.

Day Three: Activity of your choice and relaxation. 

Day Four: Travel Day. Take the water taxi back to Belize City in the morning and get on a bus to San Ignacio--the jungle! Explore San Ignacio and decide on which Mayan Ruins to see. 

Day Five: See Mayan Ruins with or without a guide. I really enjoyed having a guide (we used Pacz Tours) at the ruins because he taught us a lot about Mayan culture and what the different structures were used for. It was very informative! Of course, you can also visit the ruins on your own if you want to.

We are at Tikal in the photo above. Tikal is a massive site with many temples and buildings. It's actually in Guatemala but you can do it as a day trip from San Ignacio. There are a some smaller (but still impressive!) Mayan sites in Belize too.

Day Six: Explore the ATM cave. A very unique exploration into the Mayan Underworld (aka a cave!). This trip is one of the greatest adventures you can have in Belize. If you are in Belize, I would NOT miss it! For this trip, it is required to have a guide. We used Pacz Tours for this as well. 

Day Seven: Take a bus back to Belize City and fly home!

Note: All opinions are solely our own. We were not compensated for any recommendations or reviews. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Travel Photo: Le Tour Eiffel

Spencer took this photo of the Eiffel Tower during our first international trip together in the summer of 2008. I was really nervous to travel together for the first time. I felt like it would make or break us. Thankfully, we had a blast! :)