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!

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Utah, Part 1

Part 1, because I’m not sure I can finish this tonight. Michelle just made me a hot toddy, well, two, actually, because I have caught a cold and don’t know how far I will get before they kick in. I am all congested, and it feels more like a head cold than anything else. And a little bit of an achy back which makes me a little suspicious of it being the flu. Anyways…

At 8,000 feet, breathing is difficult if you’re not used to the elevation. The air is so thin that it’s difficult to even do “normal” activities, like walking. When we first got to the resort, we traipsed a short distance uphill — maybe a hundred yards or so — and we were completely winded and had to stop to breathe. Of course, it was also after my one shot of tequila and Michelle’s two (but it was also her birthday, so she was entitled — Grand Centenario Plata, FYI.) Afterwards, we read the resort’s welcoming guide, which mentioned abstaining from alcohol for a couple of days. Oh well. It took us a couple of days to get adjusted to this climate. Added to this lack of oxygen was also the lack of humidity. Everything was bone-dry. We probably used twice the usual amount of lotion, and our skin still felt “itchy”. I had a bloody nose pretty much everyday we were there. I also developed this weird pin-prick sensation to anything cold. It felt like somebody was sticking ice splinters in my skin. Michelle had a weird skin rash that looked like tiny water bubbles (which is finally subsiding after several days back in California). Fortunately, the resort also provided a humidifier in every room. It might have helped a little — we had it on every night on full blast.

BTW, cooking also takes twice as long at this altitude. Water took a ridiculously long time to boil.

We had arrived at Snowbird late on a Friday afternoon, and stayed at the Cliff Lodge resort. The resort is a beautiful place — well thought out, well constructed. Engineeringly speaking, it was a work of art. Because it is known mostly as a ski resort, there was NOBODY there except for a small handful of folks. Saturday was our “recovery” day, that is, getting acclimated. We didn’t do much of anything except for shopping. But, it was also Oktoberfest, and suddenly the place was crawling with people. There were zip rides and alpine slides and trampolines — all were targeted towards families with kids. We had a lot of fun people-watching, but after a couple mugs and a few bratwursts, it was time to retire to our room. Yay, hot tub on the balcony!

We finally ventured out on Sunday (when we were finally able to breathe normally) and took the chair lift up to the mountain peak. It’s difficult to explain what vertigo feels like unless you are susceptible to it. It’s not a “fear of heights” as much as it is a chemical or biological response. It is a visceral feeling, and the only way to deal with it is to fight it  with a lot of intellectual reasoning and a lot of breathing to calm the nerves. Michelle finally felt that same sensation when she looked over the 9th floor banister down at the lobby — her palms immediately got sweaty. Anyway, after an 18-minute ride on the chairlift to the peak at Mount Baldy (11,000+ feet), we hiked all the way back down to the resort. It took us a little more than two hours, and I have blisters to prove it. Our calves were aching by the end of the hike. Thank goodness for the hot tub! (And thank goodness we decided to hike down instead of up.)

Whatever possessed us to do the hike again on Monday, I cannot say…but we did. This time a little longer (we took a different route), and by then my blisters were bleeding and I had to put on bandaids. I’ll need new hiking boots. I also have one mysteriously bruised toenail. Our calves were now screaming. But, we saw a couple of moose (mooses? meese? moosen?) and a bunch of other interesting wildlife. There were marmots, for example, which I think might be a relative of the prairie dog? Anyway, there were signs on the resort grounds not to feed the “potguts”.

If you are an avid hiker, or climber, Snowbird is a good place to be in the summertime. It’s only a half-hour’s drive from Salt Lake City. The mountains are spectacular, much more grand than anything I have seen in a long time. But aside from that, and maybe just spending some alone time, there’s not much else to do here. If your calves are screaming from the hikes, and you get twitchy because you don’t have other things to do…well, this is probably just a long weekend kind of place. Even the concierge person that Michelle spoke to, said that we would be ready to leave by Tuesday….and how right she was.

But I will save that for Part 2. Maybe tomorrow. The hot toddies have kicked in and  I need to go put my head down on a pillow now….