Thursday, February 14, 2013

Belize-Mexico-Home!

First off, we are home! 18 countries, 92 cities, and 10 months later. A whirlwind that now seems like a dream.

Our final days of travel...

We crossed a small corner of the Caribbean leaving Livingston, Guatemala and arriving in Punta Gorda, Belize where we arranged our next leg of travel to Placencia.


Livingston, Guatemala


The Punta Gorda, Belize border. A very laid back crossing...easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

From there we did the taxi/bus/boat thing on to Placencia which we found surprisingly nice
. We found a cheap, ocean front cabin on a white sandy beach and couldn't have been happier.

 

 

 

It was a stark contrast from the mangrove lodges along the Rio Dulce in Guatemala that didn't get much of the sun's attention so it was impossible to truly feel dry, clean and wash clothes. We landed in Placencia with almost all our clothes dirty and commenced to washing them immediately.

 

Placencia was loaded with American vacationers (not that there is anything wrong with that) so it didn't feel much like adventurous backpacking any more. This turned out to be the beginning of the end of experiencing new and different locations with the exception of Glover's Atoll.

From Placencia we bused it 2 hours north to the Sittee River junction where we sat by the side of the road waiting to hitch a ride to our jungle lodge on the river. It was from the lodge the following morning we caught a catamaran to Glover's Atoll Resort.

The Sittee River Lodge was nothing to write home about. Most of the travelers were eaten up by mosquitos and sand flies and we had thousands of black biting ants in our cottage but there was no other room available for us so we chased them out and sucked it up....to get to paradise the next day.

 
Glover's Atoll Resort

 

Glover's Atoll. Where to start??? First, have you ever heard of this little slice of raw paradise? If so, mucho kudos to you, we hadn't. We only learned of this little island from a random guy on a bus just 3 weeks earlier and decided to check it out for ourselves.

This little natural island made from accumulated sea coral is a 2 1/2 hours boat ride, approximately 45 miles off the coast. It is a crazy little island that a "Frenchy" bought 40 years ago. Today the Frenchy's daughter owns it and runs a successful, remote and back to basics resort. We're talking; no electricity, no fresh water and compost outhouses. What do you get in return for roughing it? The most amazing caribbean island experience.

 
The outhouse
 
The coconut station
 
Making coffee out of our homemade filter, a water bottle top

 

It is beautiful!

 

The huts are basic with 2 beds, 2 hammocks, table/chairs and a cooktop burner fueled by a scuba tank filled with propane. It is kind of perfect. Did we mention they are over the water!

 
 
 
 
A family of ospreys nested on top of our hut and greeted us with alarming cries everytime we approached. It was really cute...the first two days.

 

We stayed for 1 week along with 30 other travelers. We had great weather until the second to last night. That was when the northern winds picked up and the rain poured down. The waves smashed against our little hut on the water. Around 11pm we made a water-logged run for one of the island shacks to get some sleep!

 
But before the rain arrived it was extremely peaceful!

 

We had to bring our own food and drinks for the week but we treated ourselves to the expensive dinners in the restaurant. If we did it all over again (which we hope to) we would cook our own dinners too. Paying $18 per person for packaged spaghetti, canned sauce with fresh fish thrown in was an insult to our frugal backpacking ways. We did however, pay an additional $4 more for fresh lobster one night and that was terrific.

 
Although Stratton caught lots of fish, it was "catch and release" within a mile of the resort.
 
Nice one!
 
Fat bonefish

 

Leaving the island was quite brutal. Our scheduled boat departure was 7:30 AM but our boat was nowhere to be found. After waiting all day (packed and ready to go), the boat finally arrived at 3:00 PM which put us on the mainland too late to get to our booked and paid-for house in Caye Caulker to meet our close friends from Atlanta, Chris and Claire Carson.

When we finally arrived in Caye Caulker the next morning, we were greeted on Front Street by Chris and Claire shouting "It's about time, losers!"

 
Well, we may be losers but at least we aren't stupid - haha!
 

 

We had a blast catching up while visiting numerous restaurants and bars over the next four days!

 
Our cute house
 
Cocktails on the roof!

 
Watching the sun go down
 
On a short island hike
 
Caye Caulker has this Crazy Chicken Drop that you bet on which square the chicken will poop. The bad surprise when you win is that you have to clean it up before you receive the prize money.
 
Chris and Stratton back from their rainy bike excursion to get more wine.

 

A local's funky rasta houseboat.
 
Caye Caulker has only one beach but it's such a small island that it seems to accomodate everyone.
 
And the dogs make themselves at home on your beach towel.
 

 

Chris and Claire left us to continue their vacation in Guatemala and we journeyed north to Corozal.

Our stop in Corozal was more business oriented. We were there to pay property taxes on the beach-front property we bought 5 years ago. This is an ordeal that is impossible to accomplish electronically and extremely painful to arrange from the U.S. Our annual fee is only... 5 Belizean dollars ($2.50 US). But while we were there, we discovered the best food that we had on our entire trip, an authentic Indian restaurant of all things! If you ever go to Belize, make sure to stop at the little hole in the wall called Venke's and tell them we sent you. It was so good, Angie went through the extra steps on Trip Advisor to add them and gave them a glowing review!

In keeping with the "vacation" mode we slipped into, we hired a driver to take us over the border and deliver us to the Chetumal, Mexico bus station, skipping all the public transportation and saving time and inconvenience. We still have the contact information of our friendly driver if you ever need it, highly recommended!

From there on up to the airport in Cancun, MX (for our flight home) we stayed in several beach towns: Tulum, Puerto Morales and Playa del Carmen. They are all fun but a bit boring to us after months of traveling to new and exotic destinations. We have vacationed in the Yucatan Peninsula for years.

Yes, we have become travel snobs. I guess it had to happen.

With that said these towns served us well to meet a few more fun and adventurous friends, both new and old.

 
New friends Kris, Morna and Ray, whom we had the pleasure of spending a couple evenings with in Puerto Morales.
 
We enjoyed a Reggae beach party one evening...
 
...over a few beers (of course)
 
Biking in Tulum
 
Tulum's beautiful white sandy beaches
 
Anyone up for a secure "inverstment" in Tulum?

We stayed in an old Mayan hut in Puerto Morales that Frodo would have felt at home in.

Arriving in Playa del Carmen, our last town on the trip.

Running into friends in Playa that we met at Glover's Atoll. A somewhat common occurance when backpacking.
 
Seriously good food in Playa at Xulam the Mayan Fisher.
 
When it rains in Mexico, drink a margarita!


One of the "old" friends we met along the Mayan coast was Jan Kuttnauer. She is another great friend from Atlanta who happened to be in the area for business. We were able to hang together for a couple of nights in Playa del Carmen.

In typical "Jan" fashion, she stayed at the Banyon Tree. If only we would could have departed from our frugal backpacking ways.

 
 
Our place wasn't bad though...(The Kinbe Hotel)

 

Our final day on the road was February 3rd. On Super Bowl Sunday we caught our flight home. A bitter-sweet moment for sure, it marked the end of a tremendous adventure. It was the end of continuous travel to incredible sights and meeting fascinating people. It was the end of lugging our "stuff" around in a backpack, planning each step of our travels along the way, seeing exotic animals, playing on beautiful beaches, hiking scenic mountain trails, learning new cultures, tasting incredible foods and generally having a blast.

But with an end comes a beginning; re-entry into the real world, visiting family and friends, sorting out our next chapter in life, getting back to work but dreaming of the next adventure. Oh, and the next adventure?... pulling an Airstream through North America!!!

Special thanks to all of you for following our blog and staying in touch. At the time of this writing we had over 13,000 hits from 24 countries to include China, Ukraine and Russia of all places. The #1 post was "Thank you Gentleman Spoofers".

With great internet connectivity, an iPad and Skype we were able to communicate almost everywhere around the world. An amazing feat that really seems to make the world a much smaller place.

XOXO, Strangie

 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Great Guatemala!

Guatemala was an unbelievably nice surprise to us! It is very different from the rest of Central America and has so much to offer in the interior that it doesn't need to rely on beach destinations as a draw.

 

Our first stop was Antigua.

 

We arrived on December 23 and spent Christmas at a quaint B&B called Taanah Guest House which we highly recommend. Our wonderful hosts Evelyn and Fernando made us a traditional Christmas dinner of tamales on Noches Bueno (Good Night), our Christmas Eve. Noches Bueno is a more important event than Christmas Day to Guatemalans. At midnight, the entire town celebrates with fireworks which lasts for hours. It's all very exciting but makes for a sleepless night.

 
Yummy Christmas Dinner

We enjoyed the daily sparing matches between their pets, Whiskeylito (cat) and Maltese at the guest house. At times they would be wrapped around each other, rolling around on the floor. It was hilarious! We have never seen a dog and cat play like that.

Antigua is a beautiful colonial town (our favorite on the trip) with lots of good restaurants and boutique shops.

Guatemala is known for their colorful public buses aka "chicken buses" that cram as many people in as possible. To become infamous, a couple of Australian guys actually packed in over 200 people and a chicken! You can find it on youtube if you are interested.
 
Also popular are their masks...
 

A three hour shuttle from Antigua takes you to one of the loveliest spots in Guatemala - Lake Atitlan. The lake is 5 x 11 miles in size and has very distinct villages dotted along the shore accessible by water taxi. We visited three of the most popular: Panajachel, San Pedro and San Marcos.

 

Panajachel, "Pana" for short, is a bustling little town serving backpackers and tourists from around the globe.

We met a lovely couple from Ft Myers, FL on the shuttle bus to Pana, Reema and Matt. They were a fun couple with whom we explored the surrounding area.

 

We later moved to San Pedro on the other side of the lake for a couple of nights. Unfortunately before leaving Pana, we found out that our ATM cards were comprimised and deactivated by the bank. We had to call the bank and have them reactivate the cards for a window of 15 minutes so we could withdraw enough quetzales (local currency) to last until we get our replacement cards. Luckily no money was taken from our account!

 
Arriving in San Pedro
 
Million dollar view from our $25 pad in San Pedro
 

The unfortunate circumstance in this beautiful area is that you can't walk between lake-side villages because there is a high probability of being robbed by a thug with a machette!

 

Our last stop on the lake was San Marcos; the land of horoscope writers, star gazers, story tellers and tarrot card readers. We went there for New Years Eve. It's a very laid-back village with a maze of paths that meander through the jungle taking you to random businesses. The "businesses" (term used loosely) center around massages, hypnotherapy, groovy restaurants, and other very basic hippy-like or tourist services. Arriving by boat, you have no idea this place exists as it appears to be nothing more than a jungle.

 
One of the paths leading to San Marcos
 
On a dayhike, Angie slipped and nearly fell off the mountain! Luckily Stratton had time to snap a picture before he saved her from assured death or a broken nail, whichever would have come first.
 

We went back to Antigua to stay with Evelyn and Fernando, first because we love it there and second because they graciously agreed to help us with our cash flow problem. They allowed us to send them money through paypal and give us cash back so we could extend our time without our ATM cards (which we arranged to be brought to us by our friends from the states, Chris and Claire when they meet us in Belize).

While back in Antiqua, we visited a local organic farm that has given us inspiration to try something similiar but on a smaller scale.
 
The Choco Museo offers a great 2-hour class on chocolate making. Here, Angie is preparing Mayan hot chocolate.
 
Our last evening in Antigua (that's Evelyn standing in the back).
 
We left our mark in Antigua.
 

Moving from the Guatemalan mountains to the low country jungles we arrived at one of the main ports on the Rio Dulce. It is a very unique waterway that allows yachters to escape the rough seas while travelling between Central and South America. The coast guard calls it the safest place in the Caribbean during hurricane season.

While there, we met a couple from BC who left Canada's 25 degrees below zero weather and bought a beautiful 42 foot sailboat to cruise the warm climates indefintely. What a life. Can you imagine??


 

While on the river, we stayed at a couple of eco lodges. The first was Hacienda Tijax.

 

The old wooden deck paths that connect the cottages wind through the mangroves along a small stream that feeds the river. After a rain, the deck becomes slick like black ice and requires an extremely cautious stride.

 
The beetles are about the size of our nieces' hands (hi, Kate & Ellis)!
 
It was time for another haircut for Stratton. Check out the cut styles hanging on the wall.
 

Further down river towards the Caribbean Sea lies our second stop, Finca Tatin where we spent a few nights. Set back in the jungle on the river's edge, this little oasis blew our minds. It had dozens of little water-front and jungle cabins, a dining hall where they served family-style dinners, a common area laden with hammocks and swinging chairs, a mayan-style sauna, walking paths and kayaks for hire. This eco-friendly community is built with local natural resources, powered on solar, supplied with rain water and radiates a very positive and welcoming vibe.

The private deck of our cabin
After Finca Tatin we cruised to Livingston, a small Garifuna enclave by the sea, where we caught a second boat and crossed the border to Punta Gorda, Belize. From there we caught a bus, a taxi and another boat that took us the remaining distance to Placencia, Belize.

By the way... we booked our flights home! After 10 months of travel we will return to Atlanta on February 3rd. We can't believe the trip is almost over but are excited to see friends and family!