Archive for 2013

Last day in Belize

We savored every minute of our last day: every meal, a relaxing soak in the sea and a bike ride across the length of the island.

Taking the bikes off the main strip gave us a chance to see all the local homes, school and people.

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All the kids in uniform getting out for lunch…

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Xander and Simon started learning to swim!

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Isaac sitting among the fish…

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At the airport…

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Snorkeling in Belize

We took an all day snorkeling tour with a great guide, Omar, from Anwar Tours on Caye Caulker. It included three stops along the barrier reef: Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens.

The first stop was Hol Chan.

We all wanted life jackets tied around our waist.

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The kids had zero experience with snorkeling and 3/4 kids have zero experience with swimming. Isaac took to the water like a fish, per usual and Lotus wanted nothing to do with it. Xander and Simon were excited but when I lowered them into the water you would have thought I lowered them into lava by the way they reacted: panic and screaming to get back in the boat.

Omar, being an excellent and patient guide offered to take Jason and Isaac through Hol Chan and then come back for me, for a second run.
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While we waited on the boat, Xander and Simon calmed down and regained their composure. They both decided they didn’t want to have come all this way and not snorkel. You can do this, guys!

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They made it back and were in awe of their amazing experience.

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Xander and Simon got in the water and took several minutes to get over their fears and figure out how the mask and snorkel tube work. I knew once they could see the amazing world underwater they would have fun. Xander finally looked and popped his head up screaming, “That was AWESOME!!” Simon took a little tough love and I ended up pushing his head under gently. The funny thing was he left his head under for several seconds, came up to squeal with excitement and there wasn’t a single fish in sight at that moment. He had just missed the largest manta-ray and school of giant fish I had ever seen.

After that, Omar took Simon’s hand and I took Xander’s and we saw plenty of marine life as we circled around Hol Chan. It was wonderful!

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Next stop was Shark Ray Alley. Omar threw some bait to attract the sharks. He explained we had to hurry and get in the water to see the sharks because they don’t stick around long after the food disappears. It seems crazy to think I threw my kids overboard while there was a swarm of sharks in the water, but that’s exactly what I did and it didn’t feel scary at all. It was scarier when we watched Youtube videos before our trip than when we were actually there.

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Omar grabbed a shark and then a manta-ray for everyone to pet.

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The last stop was Coral Gardens and the water was way too choppy. The current was so strong I couldn’t get myself and two kids from the boat to the reef. We got back on the boat and called it a day. Simon and I both got sea sick at this point and I lost all my lunch. Ewwww! Luckily it was the end of the tour and we were able to cruise on back to the dock.

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Here’s some video for a live action view…

Walking back to our hotel: Lotus is happy with the day, even though she never got off the boat.

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Life on Caye Caulker

The roads are sandy, shoes are optional…

The only vehicles on Caye Caulker are bikes and golf carts. Our hotel provided bicycles for us to use and safety is not much of a concern when living life in the slow lane. We saw many babies tucked into front baskets and kids piled onto the frame or handlebars. We did the same until the hotel staff grabbed us the owner’s bike with a baby seat.

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They loaned us a kids bike but Xander did not like riding it. Simon gave it a try and loved it! He navigated potholes and pedestrians like a pro.

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Every restaurant has delicious food and sandy floors. Conch ceviche and chips, anyone? I need to start making fresh salsa with lime and cilantro. It was so good!

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Just about every meal would end up with Lotus and Simon under the table, playing in the sand.

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This vendor got a kick out of Simon. He wanted a necklace and picked out the largest crab claw on the table.

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Goodbye, San Ignacio. Hello, Caye Caulker!

After spending four nights in San Ignacio, the remainder of our trip was to be spent on the island of Caye Caulker. We ate our last breakfast at Parrot Nest, got a ride into town and caught the bus for a three-hour ride back to Belize City.

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We meant to take the express bus that would have cost about $90 US, but due to the Saturday street market going on, the express bus was being re-routed to the regular bus stop. There was some miscommunication and we got ushered onto the regular bus. It cost us $16 total for all six of us to make the trip and it wasn’t too bad. Quite an interesting experience, in fact.

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Some of the scenes through Belize City as we took a taxi to the Water Taxi terminal.

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Waiting for the water taxi to take us to the tiny island of Caye Caulker. You can see all of our luggage there…

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Getting onto the boat…

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We are here!

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Our room was a two-bedroom apartment at the Sea Dreams Hotel. It was right at “The Split” where all the swimming happens and had AC. It was a treat after our jungle accommodations.

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The courtyard of the hotel…

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Breakfast on the rooftop was included. These were not icky continental breakfasts. There was no menu and each morning was a surprise. The staff would tell us what it was going to be and then bring us each a plate. The coffee was delicious and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Yum!

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“The Split” where we swam in the Caribbean Sea. The water was teeming with small fish and crabs. The sun is intense! I missed a small area on my back and it burned the first day. Luckily it was the only burn all week.

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San Ignacio, Belize Iguana Conservation Project

San Ignacio Resort Hotel (not where we stayed) has an Iguana Conservation Project open for tours. We spent an afternoon there visiting the iguanas and then stayed for lunch.

Waiting for the tour. Check out the leaf bug near the ceiling…

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Zoomed in…

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The guide taking us out to the iguanas…

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We spotted a Golden silk orb-weaver spider along the path. A golden web!

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They call them banana spiders.

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The iguanas scrambled up Jason’s leg to get to the food on his lap and his leg got scratched up. Pants would have been a good idea.

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They kept leaping onto the kids from the handrail. Luckily I was tall enough they didn’t jump on me but the kids handled it well. They had so much fun!

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Then we moved over to the baby iguana cage…

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Waiting for lunch…

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Tikal National Park, Guatemala

We took a tour to Tikal in Guatemala, “one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya,” according to Wikipedia.

One of the best experiences was just driving through parts of Guatemala and getting a chance to see yet another country. Large portions of the roads were unpaved, livestock and pets roam alongside the road and run across, families lounging in hammocks outside their homes and women were seen lined up along the rivers and lakes hand washing their laundry.

Driving into the park, we stopped to see Spider Monkeys…

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Ceiba, the national tree of Guatemala. It’s huge!

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Practicing their Tarzan moves…

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Tarantula…

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We hiked along a path about 5K to get around the site and see everything. Approximately 30% of the ruins are unearthed, they estimate.

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Temple 2…

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Temple 4, the tallest pyramid built by the Maya, is 70 meters high. Even though there are technically steps going up from the bottom, they are so steep they are not seen from the top. These pictures don’t convey how freaky it was to be looking over the tree tops.

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Simon was making me panic seeing him tripping around close to the edge….

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What is Jason looking at? About a half inch from the top center of the pic is where a Spider monkey is lounging.

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(zoomed in) The monkeys were so high up…

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Whew! Lunch before the long ride back to Belize.

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Cahal Pech Mayan Ruin in San Ignacio, Belize

Our first Mayan Ruin experience was just a quick taxi ride up a hill in San Ignacio to Cahal Pech. It was an expansive park setting with a museum.

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Can you see the Bergemans up there?

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There was a little boy, about 6, following us around-his family works the gift shop there. I asked him if he gets to play here every day and he nodded yes. The only minor hiccup was getting a bunch a fire ants in our shoes and feeling the stings. The kids screamed as we yanked shoes off and brushed the ants out. We learned to watch out for them. The’re tiny!

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We were all impressed with the size of the various leaves…

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One of the ruin tour guides explained how small the Mayans were and temples were built steep with big steps. Climbing to the top is a spiritual act that requires some effort. This is me starting the spiritual ascent. I make it look so easy, eh?

(need to locate the awesome gif that goes here)

Parrot Nest Lodge in San Ignacio, Belize

We had such a wonderful time in Belize! Now that we are home I can work on the many photos taken and start sharing them here.

This was our first international travel with our four children and it could not have gone better. We traveled extremely light, “the Rick Steves-one bag” method and it made things easy.

We used two eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible bags for all of our clothes/packing and a smaller backpack for waters, snacks, camera and other day pack items. The eBags are exact carry-on luggage measurements and carry easily with backpack straps. We were able to travel light and avoid checking any luggage. We only packed four days worth of clothing and did laundry once during the trip. From the airport security to customs; taxi to hotel staff, we got so many comments about how light we packed. People kept asking where our bags were. “We have them right here on our backs!”

The path from the main dining and hang-out area to our cabin at Parrot Nest Lodge in San Ignacio…

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Our cabin…

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No AC or TV, screens without windows, tin roof, geckos all over and the deafening sounds of crickets and tropical birds. It was fabulous!

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The lodge is family run and feels like home. Breakfast and dinner were served fresh and unprocessed every day. The only unhealthy food we saw the entire trip was the fake maple syrup (too far from maple trees :D) and the ketchup. Maybe I’ll need to add 3oz of maple syrup to my carry-on liquid ration next time. ha!

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The Mopan River right in front of the lodge.

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I asked the kids what their favorite part of each day was and on this day Lotus said it was when she found this flower…

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The main hang-out area where we chilled on hammocks and used the free wi-fi. The owner hooked the kids up with some paper and markers. A book shelf full of children’s books kept Lotie busy.

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This is the “toy box” I packed in the day-pack. It kept both Lotus and Simon happy on many occasions. We also brought two iPads loaded with things to watch…

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Many family pets hanging out with us…

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We ventured into town for lunch and sight seeing…

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Seeing all the school kids in uniform was fun. Every school is affiliated with a church and every school has their own uniform. They all bust out for lunch and return later for the second half of their school day.

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more of the same

We stopped by my parents house on the way to the store. I think we’ve had to go to the grocery store for single items every day this week…but that’s okay, more biking!

My brother Chris’ new bike. The handle bars are awesome. His dog, Honey rides up front.
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Chris tries out Jason’s new bike…
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Jason tries out Chris’ new bike (with Honey)…
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I pedaled the cargo bike with both of the big guys. I guess they wanted to relax while I huffed and puffed but I did it! I had to tell them several times to quit the shenanigans back there, they were jerking the bike all over the place. We rolled up next to a blind and nearly blind couple that ride a tandem for the second time so finally introduced ourselves. Cool folks!
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bribes for biking

It takes the promise of ice cream to get these big guys to go on a bike ride apparently.

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