Belize 2012 Trip, Part 2

In years past when we stayed at a different resort on the island, we would head straight over to Wet Willy’s for a beer before embarking on the island’s main water taxi to our resort. Wet Willy’s and Fido’s are two popular restaurant/bars that are also local drop-off/pickup points for the resorts on Ambergris Caye. We love Wet Willy’s because it sits on a dock (you can see the fish below through the floor boards) and the ambience is nice and mellow. But they do have some novelty drinks — rum with scorpions (for women) and rum with vipers (for men). On a past trip, we tried the scorpion concotion — we didn’t die, obviously, but I wouldn’t recommend it. We chatted with the new owners of the place — really nice folks from the East Coast somewhere (I think Maryland) — and they are sprucing up the place nicely. Check out their facebook page, or better yet, check out Wet Willy’s if you’re down this way. Fido’s is a big place and they have a very well stocked bar, including the two Belizean beers: Belikin and Light House. There’s a nice annex inside, featuring arts and crafts from local artists.

From the airport to Wet Willy’s (or Fido’s) is either a long (but very doable) walk, or a very quick ride in a land taxi ($5 bucks). The main operator on the island is the Ambergris WaterTaxi Service, which operates hourly from sunrise to sunset. In addition, most resorts on the island have their own boats, and can shuttle you (but generally only to/from airport). This can add up pretty quickly if you are traveling back/forth to San Pedro (see prices) a lot. Weekly passes are available for a discount, however a well-thought out plan should keep this down to a minimum.

Our old resort (Costa Maya Reef) was situated 6 miles north of San Pedro. While the location is ideal for many of our other leisurely pursuits, it did pose a challenge when it came to food/drink. But after our first trip, we got smarter, and would do as much grocery shopping as we could fit into our backpacks. Since then, the old resort had fallen into a state of general neglect, due to the mismanagement of several managers. So on this trip we decided to stay at one of the island’s best-rated resort — Xanadu — which would prompt Julie to break into spontaneous song at the mere mention of the name.

It’s too bad we didn’t bring the rollerskates.

Xanadu Island Resort is located about a mile south of the airport. We had the oceanfront suite, which was beautiful and included all the amenities — TVs in all the rooms, a fairly well-stocked kitchenette, panoramic views, air conditioning. Not the most spectacular place I’ve ever been in on this island, but pretty darn nice. The staff at Xanadu were wonderful as well. A nice family from South Africa is now managing the resort. (Here’s a terrific story as well. The family travelled and lived on a boat for 5 years. It’s a nice size boat, but still…) Then there is Ingrid, who can make all your travel arrangements and book local tours/dives for you. Orlando also looked after us, making sure we don’t get into trouble. The resort grounds is nice and well maintained — coconut trees, a nice pool, a bird sanctuary (but don’t go unless you are covered in mosquito repellent.) There are a couple of resident cats; Coco guarded our door day and night and is very vocal about being fed on time. Kayaks and bicycles are free for resort guests. We took the bikes out a few times for our grocery runs. On my first attempt, the chain choked because it’s so rusty from the salty humid air.

We kayaked out to the reef once on this trip. Here’s where you really noticed the difference in the location between the two resorts. When we were up at Costa Maya Reef Resort, kayaking out to the reef was a nice, pleasant experience. The water was calm (hardly any wakes) and it didn’t involve a herculean effort to paddle the mile out to the reef. Once there, you can tie the kayak to a buoy and spend all day snorkeling. The water is crystal clear and abound with colorful fish and coral. I saw a stingray that was at least 8 feet long. Off the pier of the old resort was an old barracuda, apparently the stuff of local legend, because of how he had managed to outwit all the fishermen. That barracuda was humongous, and I swear he was stalking me.

Kayaking out to the reef from Xanadu was an entirely different matter. We were wary of all the water taxis because the resort is located so close to town. The water was choppy, so it made the paddling a lot harder. Once we got to the reef there was no buoy to tie to. Bonnie had to dive around to find some dead coral to tie our boats to. But because of the water movement from boats/wind/current, it wasn’t as crystal clear as we remembered it. A couple of boats came by as well, and at one point I thought Michelle was going to get run over. She had her head in the water the whole time and was completely oblivious to the surface traffic. It was still an enjoyable snorkeling experience, but it was nowhere near the wonder of the place up north.

One cannot get lost in San Pedro. There are only three main roads running the length of San Pedro: Front Street (fronting the ocean), Middle Street, and you guess it, Back Street. (These are not the official names, but how the locals refer to them.) You will find the majority of restaurants and bars on Front Street. Grocery stores, pharmacies, fabric stores, banks, etc., line Middle Street. I don’t think I have ever been on Back Street — except maybe for the SAGA Humane Society (another story for tomorrow). The airport and the fancy new Super Market are on the south end of Middle Street. I could go on about San Pedro, but probably the best information online can be found here.

Photos, lots of them, can be found here. Tomorrow I’ll write about our adventures, mishaps, and some terrific discoveries!

Belize 2012 Trip, Part 1

I am an island girl at heart. Nothing makes me happier than being on an island. It has little to do with sand sun and surf, although those are all bonus. There is just something magical about an island. It can be quiet and reflective, calm and peaceful — or it can be wild and crazy; that’s up to you. Life takes on a different pace here. You can be on island just a mile away from the mainland, and it’s a whole different world. I have visited some beautiful islands — Penang, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Bali, Phuket (arguably a peninsula and not a “true” island), Gran Canaria, the Phillipines and Guam. There are so many more to visit, including the one on my bucket list: Cuba. I could be wrong on this, but I have a feeling that our favorite standby will always remain Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Ambergris Caye (pronounced “Key”) is the largest Belizean island (there are approximately 450), and is located 17 minutes northeast of Belize City (by plane). It is named after the clumps of ambergris that wash ashore, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. (Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of, and regurgitated or secreted by, sperm whales — you can look up the rest.) The main and only town is San Pedro, although there are villages inland and scores of resorts line up along the coastline.

The biggest draw to this island is the world’s second-longest barrier reef, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. What makes it unique is that the reef is only about a mile offshore, easily kayak-able, and very likely swimmable if it weren’t for all the water taxis. All water-related activities are present here — snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, windsurfing, fishing.

This was our fourth trip to the island, and our first trip with friends. You never know how well you get along with people, no matter how much you may like them, until you actually travel with them.  The other “first” was that we stayed at a resort that was not our usual home resort — more on that later. Our friends Bonnie and Julie were about to celebrate their 20th Anniversary, so I know this was a big deal for them to travel with us as well, and to a foreign country, no less.

<This next part is for Airport Made Simple>

From San Francisco, California, we took the 6:00 a.m. flight to Houston. Julie’s thoughts were that we should spend the night in Millbrae (just south of the airport) since we could just leave the car at the hotel and they would provide us free shuttle service to the airport. It sounded brilliant at the time, and we all applauded Julie on her strategic advance planning skills. But when they knocked on our door at 3:00 a.m., we all started cursing. I am very crabby when I don’t get enough sleep. Michelle started harassing the waitress at the airport coffeeshop for some vegetables to go with her eggs. “Spinach?” “Something green?” “Any vegetables?” The waitress muttered something about potatoes and left.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is fairly straightforward to navigate, but it is a big airport. (Keep this in mind for later.) We had plenty of time to grab some coffee and food, and Michelle and Julie managed to get in some Duty Free shopping.

Belize City Airport (BZE) is quite small in comparison. It took us no time for the plane to land and taxi up. The passengers unload on the runway and trekked in. Here we filed our entrance papers and waited for our luggage. We cleared Customs pretty quickly, despite a bit of scrutiny with Bonnie and Julie’s scuba diving apparatus.

There are two small plane operators in Belize, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air, and they cover most domestic flights (and some to Cancun, Mexico.) We have always flown Tropic Air and have never had any problems. Round trip tickets (advance purchase recommended by our resort concierge) from Belize City to San Pedro (SPR) was around $120 per person.

If you have never been on a small (I mean, tiny) plane before, the flight can be a little unnerving. These puddle jumpers can bounce all over the place if there’s any air turbulence at all. But what fun when you are flying low enough to see everything, including that beautiful great turquoise blue ocean!

If Belize City Airport was small, San Pedro is miniscule. As we arrived, we saw paving equipment on the runway. Yup, they are putting in a second runway so they can handle all the air traffic. Even the one-room airport ticket counter/waiting area got upgraded! And there’s air-conditioning now!

Tomorrow I will fill you in with details on Ambergris Caye. Unconfirmed, but word has it that Madonna sang about this island in her song…

 

Photos

Thank you Bassa!

It’s been exactly two months to the day since my last post. Since that day, we spent a wonderful week in Belize with two of our closest friends, visited Redding for three days with Joompur, crammed in a month’s worth of work into two weeks, took down last season’s crop and started a whole new batch, organized my home office, applied for DBE certification, cooked a lot, threw a couple of parties, chauffered Mom around on various errands, and took the dogs to the beach for their very first time!

I have been too busy or too exhausted to write much. After spending hours writing technical stuff for a Specific Plan, the last thing I wanted to do was write some more. The truth is, as much as I enjoy posting for fun, it was good to take a little break. I feel like I can get back into the groove of things now. Tomorrow…I’ll share Belize with you all.

Besides, it’s probably a good thing that I’ve been away. I think I get more awards that way! I am a SHINING STAR!!! At least I know Bassa misses me! Thank you Bassa!! You are the bestest most awesome ever! And congratulations on being a year old, blogwise — it has been a very good year for you!

If you live in the Bay Area, please support this CARDA event…

Hi everyone, I am reposting this for a friend of mine, who is a volunteer with CARDA, a non-profit organization that provides trained search and rescue dog teams to help locate missing people. Her teams have been involved in many searches you have read about (the Sierra LaMar search, the San Bruno fire, etc., etc.) and many more that never made the news. CARDA members own, train, and deploy with their dogs, and absorb nearly all the expenses.

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On Saturday, May 5th, 2012 all Pet Food Express stores in the Bay Area and beyond will be hospting the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) for a fundraiser.  All funds raised will go directly to the costs associated with the training and deployment of CARDA Search and Rescue dogs in the search for missing people.  Pet Food Express is donating 100% of any pet wash token sold on May 5th, 2012 to CARDA.  Additionally, Pet Food Express stores will be accepting donations to CARDA at their registers that entire weekend.  Tokens for the self-serve pet washes can be used at any Pet Food Express store with a pet wash (all but two of their 43 stores) and do not have to be used on the day of the event.  The event runs from 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.  Search and Rescue dogs will be at Pet Food Express stores to meet the public.  Additionally, veterinarian Ian Dunbar will be at the Rockridge store from 11:00-3:00.  Author Kaye Hall will be at the Napa store.  Author Leah Waarvik will be at the El Cerrito store in the morning and the Alameda store in the afternoon.

More information about the event can be found on the CARDA website (www.carda.org) and on CARDA’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/CARDA-California-Rescue-Dog-Association/102324023137880  (Please “like” us and share!).

See a clip of our dogs in action!

HO-scale models

Dear Bassa,

Per your request. I made these from scratch. They are made from balsa wood — light and sturdy — and in HO scale (1:87). Some people prefer basswood but it’s a much thicker wood (and therefore a little harder to do.) I just used a fine X-Acto blade and some Elmer’s Glue. My dad loved everything old and classic, including the railroads. He converted his 8-car garage (yup, 8 cars) into a giant model railroad set. He was the “engineer” and I was the “architect”. We built small towns here and there, nestled in the hills and valleys of his twelve train tracks.

I started making model buildings from scratch from a very young age. In the beginning, they were made from cardboard boxes. My window curtains were hand drawn with color pencils. Several years ago when I came home to pack up the house after my dad passed away, I found them in an old box. They had been lugged around several countries and were bent and misshapened, but he still kept them.

Anyway, here are the newer better balsa wood version. I took these photos for you while I wait for the boiling water that I just poured down my drain to unclog the clog that I created….

Which one do you like best?

Boraxo is not Borax

Or, what NOT to do at 12 a.m.

After I nominated wonderful bloggers last night for the Versatile Blogger Award, I decided to unclog my slow-draining drain. I could have waited until this morning, but I thought, “hmmmm, if I pour this stuff down the drain now, it will work its magic by the morning.”

It sure did!

I had read in the “Old Time Cleaners” (short little pamphlet I got with an organic gardening book), that if you pour 1/2 C. of Borax into the drain followed by slowly pouring in 2 C. of boiling water, it would be a sure-fire way of unclogging your drain.

I had gone to Ace Hardware yesterday to purchase some Borax. The nice ladies there said they don’t make Borax anymore, but they do have several big boxes of Boraxo around. So, although there is a picture of a hand (“powdered handsoap”), we both immediately focused on the phrase “safe for all pipes”.

I read the ingredients. Borax, soap, water, sodium chloride, glycerin…seem like all natural ingredients. And I didn’t want something caustic like lye down the drain. So after deliberation, I decided to get Boraxo. Never mind that it’s a gigantic box; I am sure I can use this for other applications.

(As I type this, “get rid of pests without pesticide”, and “DIY cleaning supplies”, and “13 natural rememdies for ant invasion”, pop up on my “Related Articles” panel.)

Anyway, I woke up this morning and my sink is completely clogged up. The Boraxo had turned into a fine gelatinous layer overnight. By gelatinous, I mean it feels like a thick flat jellyfish. I scooped up the whole thing with my bare hands (it did not break apart) and tossed it in the garbage.

Then I spent the next half hour (unsuccessfully) snaking out the drain pipe. It’s still clogged up and I am not sure what to do next. I am convinced that I am not the only person who has done this…please tell me I’m not. But I sure need help. Does anybody know? All suggestions, no matter how silly, are welcomed at this point.

My hands are soft, smooth, and above all, clean — just like the box promised.

 

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