Part 1…Harrowing experience…

Due to a poor internet signal aboard the ship, there are spacing issues in today’s post.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

We counted seven single lane bridges along the ride to Belize City.

 

When the driver of the shuttle, Mark Lanza, arrived at our door at LaruBeya fifteen minutes early, immediately I began to feel more at ease.  He didn’t hesitate to shake hands, introducing himself, jumping in to load our zillion pieces of luggage. 
It’s rare for anyone to receive a moving violation in Belize.  Police do not monitor the roads resulting in many fatal accidents.

Chatting with me momentarily, he apologized for the lack of air conditioning during our arrival in Belize on January 29, 2013, explaining that the system wasn’t working at that time and has seen been repaired. He sensed my apprehension about the long drive assuring me that he was a safe driver. By 8:00 am we were on the road.

 

The drive was uneventful.  Surprisingly, the time flew by in the cool vehicle and with his cautious driving.  By noon, we reached immigration at the pier. 

Two of a group of four women cruising together. It was a pleasure meeting them as we bounced around on the half-hour noisy ride on the tender from the pier to the ship.

With our two luggage carts, two grocery bags, my handbag, one bag with hangers, seven large suitcases, two carry-on bags, two laptop bags, and one bag with our laptop trays, we had a total of eighteen pieces. Yes, we know. Outrageous.  Soon, this will be cut in half.

A port agent was on standby awaiting us at the immigration office and check-in area, for cruise passengers.  Everyone seems to know our cabin number and that we were arriving mid-cruise since the port of Belize was an excursion port, not an embarking port.
 
Amazingly, we were moved through the check-in process with relative ease.  Our bags were whisked away to the awaiting tender, placed in the bow of the 100 person boat while we boarded inside. The bumpy, hot, crowed half hour ride to the awaiting Carnival Liberty was eased as we engaged is lively loud chatter (over
the earsplitting sound of the engine and the pounding waves) with our seatmates, a pair of lovely widows enjoying traveling together.

Reaching the ship, buzzers went off announcing our mid-cruise arrival, as our bags were hauled aboard, most of which were sopping wet from the outdoor boat ride. Security directed us to the guest services desk to check in to receive our “Sail and Sign Cards” which are used as both a credit card and cabin key throughout the cruise.

Entering the narrow, busy road as we approached the port of Belize City.  Notice the load the woman on the right is hauling on her bicycle.

Standing at the desk awaiting our turn, we looked at each other smiling at the relative ease in getting aboard. NOT SO FAST!!! Hold on to your seat folks! The stern security officer we’d met upon boarding approached us with a wary look on his face.  “Sir, madam, we have an issue with your luggage.”

My heart started racing. We’d had no illegal anything in our bags but we’d heard stories of passengers being detained for days for naught.  We had no booze, no medications other than those for which we had copies of the prescriptions. We had no contraband. Nada! Nothing!
 
Tom and I looked at each other while I whipped into my sharp defensive mode briskly stating, “What’s the problem, sir?”
 
“It’s your medications, madam,” he shot back as he opened our duffel bag, revealing our bottles of vitamins.
“Do you have prescriptions for these?”
“Sir,” I snapped, feeling the hair on my neck standing up, while my claws came out as I said, “In the US, prescriptions for over the counter vitamin supplements are not required. We have so many of these since we are traveling the world for no less than five years and we can’t receive mail in most places we are traveling.  We’ve brought along all that we’ll need for the next few years.  That’s why we have so many!”
With rubber-gloved hands, they kept examining our vitamins, opening unopened bottles, checking against the open bottles from which we were currently using to ensure we hadn’t hidden illegal substances.
Tom gave me a look that meant, “Settle down.”  I know that look.
 
The security officer, sensing my ire, spoke in a calm voice, “You both have to go to the medical clinic, and see the doctor.”
 
“Why????  We’re not sick!”  I spewed, irritated beyond my own belief.
 
“We have to determine that these drugs are not illegal.”  He sternly states.
 
Off we were trotted, under guard to the medical clinic.  We were seated in “chairs” while a sick person awaited treatment. My thoughts flipped between the germs in the clinic, while I contemplated what jail in Belize would be like. 
 
I could tell Tom was irritated with me, thinking diplomacy would be more effective. Bless his heart, he means
well. Not an ounce of diplomacy was fluttering through my mind.
 
We sat in those chairs for not less than an hour waiting for the doctor. Finally, the doctor came out, an older
gentleman of kindly demeanor, looking more curious about our bag of vitamins than wanting to detain us further. He called us into his office
.
 
Taking a deep breath, as he questioned me as to why we had so many bottles of vitamins, I explained our restrictive diet, Tom’s eight years of use of Vitamin B6 as recommended by his urologist after three kidney stone surgery which has left him free of further incidences, our use of various supplements for bone health, heart health and a Valerian/Melatonin supplements used on occasion to help us sleep.
 
After a series of going back and forth to the opened bag of supplements which were still sitting in the chairs of the sick passengers, the security officer, and a male nurse were not only rummaging through the bag of vitamins but also one of our carry-on bags. There were alarmed by my blood pressure cuff, my ample supply of contact lenses, and my bag of miscellaneous fingernail supplies. 
 
They continued to refer to the supplements as “medications” stating we needed a prescription for each of these.  Then I said once again for the umpteenth time, “These are not prescription items. These are over-the-counter non-prescription supplements.
 
Well-planned in advance, we produced multiple documents from our doctor and travel clinic in Minnesota, specifically stating that these particular supplements were a part of our regular dietary needs, none of which required a prescription. The security officer and the male nurse looked over the documents.
 
Immediately, the security office changed his demands, fumbling over his words, stating that now, their new conditions, that we produce receipts for each and every supplement in the bag.
 
“Who saves receipts for vitamins?  Who needs a receipt for Vitamin C?  I could drink a glass of orange juice for the same dose.” Tom’s foot tapped my calf.  I was enraged.
 
As the doctor finished with his sick patient, the male nurse goes into the doctors’ office and in hushed tones, speaks to him. We can’t hear what he’s saying. A moment later the doctor comes out while scolding the male nurse for the preposterous of this situation. The nurse dashes off, not to be seen again.
 
At that point, the doctor asked us to come into his office. Tom recommended I go in alone, since one of
us had to watch the computer bags and other luggage. 
 
In a calmer manner, I explained our situation to the doctor, who promptly informed me that he’s 82 and doesn’t take any vitamins. Good for him. We do. As I was speaking to the doctor, the security officer was watching me, watching Tom, watching our vitamins, and talking on the phone about our vitamins to some unknown party.  His head was flopping back and forth as if he were watching ping pong game.
 
The doctor walked out of his office, looked into the bag of vitamins asking the security officer, Tom, and I back into his office.  Tom and I followed suit, but the security officer was rambling on the phone about our vitamins.  I was ready to scream. I didn’t.
 
Finally, we’re all back in the doctor’s office while the doctor explains to the security officer that these vitamins are legal, non-prescription items that anyone can purchase over the counter.
 
The security officer was unrelenting, refusing to give us back the supplements. The doctor proposed that
they are to be treated in the same manner as bottles of alcohol, held in security, providing a receipt, and returned to the passenger upon disembarking.
 
The security officer refused the doctor’s recommendation stating that he is going to turn our vitamins over to the police.  I freaked! “No, way! We are not getting a criminal record that follows us around the world, affecting our ability to travel, over vitamins!”  This could put a fast end to our travels!   
 
I freaked out!  At this point, Tom stopped kicking me “under the table.” This was serious.
 
“OK,” I offered, in a feeble attempt to sound under control, “What if we produce all of the receipts for these?”  My mind was spinning thinking I could get them online where I’d made the various purchases in the past year. 
 
He agreed to insist that we’d have to sign a statement certifying that we have no intention of reselling the vitamins and that is for our personal use.
 
The doctor had thrown his hands in the air. It was obvious he was as stymied by this awful experience as we were.
 
The security officer states, “Yes, get me the receipts and we’ll see what we can do.” 
 
At this point, the doctor produced his camera and took a picture of our supplements. Observing this peculiarity,
I immediately pulled out my camera and also took a picture as you can see here.
 
Two hours had passed from the time we boarded the ship until we warily went to the Internet cafe to sign up for service. 
 
A half-hour later we left to attend our scheduled emergency procedure session arranged exclusively for us since we were the only passengers boarding mid-cruise in Belize City. There were four various officers in attendance in the Tapestry Room as we watched a 10-minute video and was shown how to put on our life jackets, along with a description of the location of our “muster station,” a designated meeting point for passengers in an emergency. Fine. Done.
 
By the time we got back to our cabin, yet to receive as much as open a single bag, we showered, and change for dinner. We needed to eat. We hadn’t had a morsel all day. Exhausted, frustrated, and hungry, we fumbled around the cabin looking for clothes to wear to dinner, showering, and getting ready.
 
Our lovely cabin steward’s soft, caring, voice help defray some of my angst, hoping somehow we could get past this and enjoy the rest of the cruise’s remaining 11 days.
 
By 7:30 PM, we were seated at a round table in the Golden Olympian dining room joining a charming couple from Maine. As the conversation escalated, we found ourselves slipping into a more relaxed state, optimistic that we could let this all go, get the receipts in the morning, and be done with the negative experience with the vitamins.
 
The Carnival Liberty is unlike either the of the two Celebrity cruises we’d experienced a few months ago. The service is great, the food quite acceptable, especially as they accommodated my restrictive diet at dinner, the decor, loud and gaudy, but the amenities and activities are many, appealing to a much younger crowd, not necessarily us.  Lots of smoking throughout the ship.
 
Within a few days, we anticipate that we’ll get into a groove enjoying ourselves in whatever we do, as long as we’re together, have running water, a good Internet connection, decent food, and a clean safe environment.  Not much to expect, right?
 
NOT SO FAST!!!
 
By 10:30, we decided to call it a night as masses of passengers were literally jumping up and down, dancing and screaming to the rockin’ music in the various bars. As we entered the glass elevator overlooking one of the bars, people were carrying on to the song, “Celebration” in a mad frenzy. Gosh, we’re old.
We welcomed the sight of the turned-down bed arriving in our cabin after dinner, exhausted and stressed, desperately needing a good night’s sleep.
By 11:00 we were reading our books on the Kindle apps on our phones, finally drifting off. Within minutes of
wandering off into much-needed repose, we both were awakened to a loud thumping and thumping and thumping. 
 
“Do you hear that?” I asked Tom, who is hard of hearing and may not have heard it. 
 
“Yes,” he said, “I can also feel it!” The bed was vibrating with each thump.  The late-night bar one floor below us opened at 11:00 PM to outrageously loud disco music until 2:30 am.
 
Tom, thanks to his hearing loss, was able to dose in and out.  I, on the other hand, a light sleeper, never
slept a wink until finally at 3:00 am, I finally wandered off, exhausted, frustrated, head pounding. I needed an
aspirin. Bad. They were in the bag of vitamins.
We checked today. That music goes on seven nights a week. Oh.
Not much sleep was to be had in this bed last night with the constant thumping of the disco bar one floor below us.
At 7:35 am an announcement came over the loudspeaker, telling us that the ship was in rough waters and may not be able to go into port in Roatan, Honduras. Jolted out of deep sleep, neither of us was able to go back to sleep.

 

Need I say, we had little motivation or energy to do much of anything today, other than continue to work on the vitamin situation. Exhausted, there was no one hour of pool time, no wandering around the ship exploring every nook and cranny, and only a few photos to share with you today.

 Do we get our vitamins back?  As we write this now, we still don’t know.  Tomorrow, we’ll write again describing “the rest of the story.”

 

 

Visa extension day…sheer wonder!

 
We rode on one of two identical boat across the lagoon to Mango Creek on the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi.

Initially perceived as a necessary responsibility laden experience, getting one of our two required visa extensions proved to be a fun filled day.  Having decided many months ago that creating an adventure out of what may appear to be mundane would greatly improve the possibility of a positive outcome.  Indeed., that’s true!

The hut where we waited to board the Hokey Pokey boat.

Only two and a half months ago while living in Scottsdale Arizona, preparing for our upcoming travels, Tom had to have his final dreaded colonoscopy and endoscopy.

As it turned out we ended up having a wonderful time, meeting the gastroenterologist in his office for not only great news on Tom’s results but a bird’s eye view of his wide array of photos he’d taken while on safari in Africa.  While admiring the quality of his photos, a lively conversation ensued that we’ll both remember for a long time to come….an otherwise unpleasant experience resulting in a memorable day.


While driving through the channel to the lagoon, we saw several of these houses on stilts, a common style in Belize with potential hurricanes and high tides.

His work inspired us to learn to take good photos along the way, a gift to ourselves and others who share in our passion of the treasures Mother Nature has bestowed upon us all, not only in exotic locales but in our everyday lives.

Today, was a venture out into our new everyday life…taking care of business.
Little camera in hand, our cab driver Estevan appeared at our door, promptly at 9:30 as planned to drive us the five miles to Placencia Village to the dock on the lagoon to the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi.

Estevan, what a guy!  Concerned that we might not get a knowledgeable cab driver, he started making phone calls, first to his wife to get the phone number for a cabbie he knows. “Vic” who works the Mango Creek pier was more than willing to  take us on the 10 minutes drive to Big Creek where the Immigration Department is located. 

Minutes later, he was talking to Vic, not only negotiating an equitable fare for us in advance, a mere $10 (US) round trip, but also asking that Vic would wait for us while we were in the Immigration office obtaining our 30 day extensions.  Wow!  Need I say that we were appreciative and impressed? 

Dropping us off at the tiny waiting area for the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi, Estevan suggested we met up in front of the local grocery store, The Ming at 1:30 so we could shop and perhaps find more available items.  A perfect plan.


The dock in Mango Creek where Vic picked up the five of us for the drive to the Immigration Department in Big Creek,

With Estevan’s phone number neatly tucked into my shorts pocket, we bought two one way tickets  US $6 for the boat ride to Mango Creek.  Scheduled to depart at 10:00 am, we waited patiently sitting on the wood benches in the shaded hut while more passengers purchased tickets. 

It was hot and humid.  We’d frozen two water bottles for the journey, later grateful for having done so.  As required we had our passports, ID, money and potentially required documents that we listed in yesterday’s post directly from the Belize Immigration office.  Based on comments from both locals and travelers, the likelihood of being asked for additional documentation was low. 

In our usual “be prepared just in case” way, brought along everything they asked for in their forms.  It’d be a shame to go all that way and expense to be asked for a document we didn’t have in our possession.  (When in line at Immigration, we observed that some others also had the myriad documents on hand). 

No, we weren’t asked for the additional documents.  In a month, when we return for the second extension, we’ll bring along the same package we prepared for today, just in case that we’re the one out of a hundred that is asked, we’ll be prepared.

Seventeen passengers were seated in the small boat with us which zoomed across the water with ease with its huge newer looking outboard motor humming along.  With such a load, the boat was low in the water.  We weren’t concerned as we enjoyed the cool breeze thumping across the massive lagoon to Mango Creek.

Sitting next to us, both in the hut and on the boat, was a delightful couple , Margaret and Fred from Switzerland with smooth as silk accents, whose daughter and grandchild lived in Placencia, visiting them every year.  They were not only familiar with the country of Belize but were experienced world travelers who’d spent considerable time living in Africa.  

Claus, Margaret, Jess and Fred, our newly met Visa Day companions.

The conversation with Margaret and Fred was enhanced by the four of us meeting yet another passenger, Claus from Germany, who recently moved to Placencia with his wife and young child.  They all asked if they could ride in our prearranged cab, Vic’s large van, for the ensuing trip through Mango Creek and onward to Big Creek, the location of the Immigration Department.

Arriving at the dock in Mango Creek around 10:15 am, Vic was looking for us.  Estevan, thank you!!!  Quickly agreeing to take the five of us, we were on the road for the 10 minute drive to Big Creek.  The conversation among the five of us made the time fly by not only along the ride to and fro but the 25 minutes total it took for the five of us to get our passports stamped.

We made it back to the pier in Mango Creek at 11:05 and thank goodness, the return boat had yet to depart.  Waving goodbye to our newly found “friends”, Tom and I took off on foot from the pier to walk along the busy main road of the village to for a stop at a local vegetable stand, to a bank to exchange US $100  money to Belizian money (Belize $1.98 for US $1.00) to eventually end up at The Ming grocery to hook up with Estevan for the ride back to Laru Beya, our temporary home.

The stop at the vegetable stand was more fulfilling than I could imagine.  With no marked prices on any of the fresh organic produce we loaded up all we could carry and use over the next 9 days until Estevan returns to take us grocery shopping again.  Imagine, we purchased all of these items for a total of $12!  Fresh, organic, Roundup free, vegetables in the natural colors intended by nature, not chemically induced to be darker and brighter.

  • 2 pounds of carrots
  • 2 large heads of cabbage
  • 3 pounds of green beans
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 medium size eggplants
  • 2 pounds of pea pods
  • 1 large zucchini

Tom in the vegetable stand bagging up our produce.  We couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about our loot, all for only $12

Fresh produce!!  We couldn’t have been more thrilled.  As we’ve discovered, with only occasional carrots, cabbage, onions and peppers in most grocery stores, our selection has been limited.  Without wheels and the cost of a cab into Placencia at $20 plus tip, we’d decided it greatly added to our otherwise ample grocery store budget of $800 a month (dining out adds another $700 a month). 

Thus, we’ve limited ourselves to canned vegetables and homemade home chopped coleslaw which we now have made as a staple in our diet.  With lettuce at the vegetable stand, we looked at each other wondering if we wanted lettuce salad, shaking our heads “no”. We decided to stick with our standby coleslaw using our homemade dressing.  I make it early in the day, to ensure its ice cold by dinner.

In the future, we’ll go shopping in the village which has a much wider selection than the few stores we’ve frequented in the past.  On the return trip, Estevan offered to take us to the village going forward for $15 round trip enabling us to select from a wider range of foods. We purchased enough food today at a cost of $190 to get us through until a week from Wednesday when Estevan returns.  Of course, we gave him an ample tip, appreciative for all that he did for us.

Back in our villa, we put the food away, content with our purchases and locked up our documents in our built-in safe.  I began preparing dinner for tonight, a fresh batch of coleslaw, a giant bowl of chicken salad using the leftover chicken from last night along with big plate of buttery steamed green beans.

We’ll go back on the Hokey Pokey by March 20th to extend our visa for the remaining 20 days until we sail away on April 9th.  Now, for our much anticipated vegetable laden dinner, a sense of satisfaction for another great day and an evening with a full moon. 

Humm…maybe we’ll get a few good shots tonight! Check back tomorrow to see!

Visa day tomorrow…on the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi…

Contact Mr. Burgies and Get your ticket at the Placencia Terminal is locate at the water Taxi Gas Station

                                                 Hokey Pokey Captain (we think).

While still in Minnesota, we researched the possibility of getting our visas for Belize based on our extended stay of two and a half months. 

As indicated in the post regarding disembarking in Belize City on January 29, 2013, the immigration officer that boarded our ship would only provide us with a 30 day visa, ending on February 28, 2013. 

In Belize, it’s only possible to get one 30 day extension per personal visit to an immigration office, resulting in the necessity of our going twice to immigration, once good until March 30th and another good until April 9th, the date we depart on our upcoming cruise out of Belize City. 

From what we’ve heard from expats, they will not make an exception for the extra 10 days and give us a visa from February 28th to April 9th.  We understand the necessity of such rules applying to everyone and surely, we have no right to an exception.

Tomorrow morning at 9:30 am, our trusty cab driver, Estevan will arrive to take us the five mile drive to the village of Placencia to the pier to hop a ride at 10:00 am on the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi to take us the relatively short distance across the lagoon from Placencia to Mango Creek/Independence, located on the mainland.  The cost per person is US $3 per person each way.

Once we arrive in Mango Creek, it will be necessary to take another taxi for a ride to the immigration office at an unknown address which apparently is too far to walk.  Both Tom and I looked online for an hour for an address finally giving up looking.  From comments we’ve read online, most taxi drivers know where it is. 

In order to be granted a visa extension, a number of documents must accompany our passports.  Here’s the list copied directly from their form:

The application form  MUST  be FULLY completed, signed and dated, then submitted with the  following:  1. Your passport
2. One recent passport ­sized photograph
3. Proof of Travel Arrangements:  Copies of Tickets or a Confirmed Travel Itinerary
4. Proof of Accommodation: Copies of Confirmed Hotel Reservations or Full contact details of family/friends in Belize
5. Proof of Financial Means: Copies of most recent bank statement or Letter from Financial Officer (for Business travel  only)
6. Purpose for Trip: Educational – Letter of Introduction from University or Educational Institution Business – Letter of Introduction from Company or Organisation and supporting documents Tourism – see number 3 above.
7. Payment of Fees: Single Entry $50 per person, per extension

Our equally trusty Planon PrintStik, printed all of the above and we’re ready to go.  Providing a bank statement is a bit unnerving but, if asked (and we may not be) we’ll be prepared.  It would be a shame to go through this process and not have the necessary documents in one’s possession.

We could have applied to the immigration department in the UK.  However, we are unable to send or receive mail here in Placencia in a timely fashion to ensure we’d get our passports back in time for departure.  We have two US passports but, feared it would be returned long after we’ve left.

Another option was to rent a car and drive the two hour winding Hummingbird Highway to get to Belmopan, the capital city and apply in person.  This surely would be a full day’s outing. 

We opted for the trip to Mango Creek/Independence, hoping we can get done in time to return to Placencia Village on the 12:00 PM Hokey Pokey.  This would give us time to have lunch in Placencia at one of the highly recommended diners, grocery shop in the larger grocery store, the fresh fish market and the vegetable stands, having Estevan pick us up when we’re done around 2:30.

This choice gives us an opportunity for a fun outing as opposed to a long drive up and back.  It all made more sense to us.  If the time at the immigration moves quickly, all could go as planned.  We shall see how it goes, reporting back here tomorrow with photos and a rundown of our day.

Have an enjoyable evening watching the Academy Awards!  Much to our delight (mine more than Tom’s) we’ll be able to watch it in HD on the flat screen TV in our little villa.  Oh, we’re getting spoiled.  Expectations will be reduced considerably after we leave this fabulous spot! 

Part 1…Our day trip adventure to the Monkey River and rainforest…

 

Looking like tourists, off we went on our adventure this morning.

Covered in bug spray, looking like tourists loaded down with a camera, binoculars, water shoes and swimsuits under our clothes, at 7:45 this morning we walked across the street to the pier at the lagoon to meet up with our well versed guide, Jason, born in the tiny community of Monkey River, an area rich in Belizean history and culture.
Along the way, we met a lovely couple, Ruth and Howard from Brooklyn, New York staying here in Laru Beya over the next several days, also participants in our planned outing which was arranged through the resort.  The cost per couple for the six hour expedition was $150.

After a high speed bumpy boat ride from the Placencia peninsula across the rolling Caribbean Sea to the mainland of Belize, we made our way to the Monkey River, a well known 10 mile long winding river literally amass with wildlife and overgrown vegetation. 

Vultures hovering in the trees along channel as we left Placencia.

By 9:30 am, we were docked at the pier in Monkey River to stop at “Alice’s Restaurant” to place our lunch orders, with a plan to return around noon for the included meal of stewed chicken, rice, beans and pan fried vegetables.  Moment later, we were off on our excursion of the river.

Tom in front of Alice’s Restaurant in Monkey River where we had lunch.

 

Inside Alice’s Restaurant in Monkey River.

 

Monkey River locals enjoying the day.

 

The gift shop outside Alice’s Restaurant.  Notice the conch shell border around the entrance.

Speaking mostly a combination of English and Creole, Jason was an articulate wealth of information possessing the eye of an eagle, quickly spotting every morsel for our excited attention to behold.  We saw all we could have hoped to see! 

Jason, our tour guide and Jess, outside Alice’s Restaurant.

Luckily, the day was overcast, less humid than normal, around 80 degrees making it a perfect day for our adventure.  With low expectations and a little apprehensive about the abundance of horseflies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums hovering around us in the boat, we slathered on the bug spray while bracing ourselves for what was yet to come.

Pair of dolphins we saw on the way to Monkey River.
Moments later, we saw another dolphin.

Jason slowed the boat as we entered the winding river, stopping frequently to point out crocodiles, many species of birds, unusual fish, families of the Black Howler Monkey known for their loud screeching.  Halfway through the four mile river journey, Jason pulled the old fiberglass boat up to a shore as we climbed out to explore a rough trail in the rain forest.

Dense vegetation along the Monkey River’s edge.

 

We lost track of the names of the endless variety of birds.

 

Immature Blue Heron are white prior to turning blue as adults.

 

Believe it or not, there were three Black Howler Monkeys hiding in this canopy in the rain forest.   We saw them move, heard them screech but so high above our heads, we couldn’t focus for good shots.

As soon as our feet hit dry land, Jason began banging his machete against a tree.  Curiosity brought out dozens of the black monkeys high in the trees to begin of earsplitting chorus of a sound unfamiliar to our ears, both annoying and entertaining at the same time.

Dozens of Black Howler Monkeys hovered in these trees.

It was difficult to take photos of the monkeys as it was of much of the wildlife, rapidly flitting around, shy of uninvited visitors.  They moved so quickly, staying buried in the leaves and branches of the enormous trees. 

After a time with our necks straining from looking up, Jason steered us deep into the rain forest along a narrow, head ducking, ankle turning, rock and vine covered path into a world neither of us imagined.

The entrance to Monkey River.

Magical sounds filled the air of creatures big and small, hidden out of sight protecting their young.  Over and again Jason warned us to look out for dangerous plants that were either poisonous or possessing needle like thorns difficult to remove once merely touched. 

We learned about medicinal plants for almost every imaginable ailment as we carefully lifted our feet over potential pitfall from burrowed holes from hidden creatures such as the blue land crab to termite nests to the dreaded red ants meandering across the forest floor.

Jason, his machete and Tom as he explained the medicinal uses of this tree that the locals call “The Tourist Tree” since it relieves the sting of a sunburn.

Bug spray in hand, we continually soaked ourselves, as flies, bugs and spiders presented themselves at almost every turn.  As Jason described some of the dangers in the rain forest I looked down at my water shoes and screamed a scream that must have echoes through the jungle.  I thought I saw an enormous black bug on my shoe.  It was a part of the laces.  We laughed after we all calmed down from my senseless scream.  See the photo below.

I can tell that Tom’s chomping at the bit as I write this!  Its time for me to shower and get ready to go to our now usual Tuesday night Mexican buffet at Habanero’s Restaurant across and down the road.  I’m hungry too looking forward to their wide array of meats, veggies and cheeses that I can enjoy along with the best guacamole in the world.

In the dark of the rain forest, as Jason is explaining the dangers, I looked down at my “worn for the first time” water shoes thinking that this black clasp was a huge black bug.I screamed scaring the daylight out of the five of us in our group.

Tomorrow is my 65th birthday. After grocery shopping for which Estevan will pick us up promptly at 9:00 am come celebrate with us, my first birthday on our worldwide journey, as we tell the “rest of this story” with lots more photos and stories about our day trip to Monkey River. 

Preparing for tomorrow’s expedition, weather permitting…

Our water shoes, Swarovski binoculars, sunglasses, shorts, bathing suits, tee shirts, sunscreen and of course, bug spray and the camera.

Tomorrow morning at 7:45 we’ll be taking off for an expedition, subject to good weather.  Upon returning later in the day, we’ll describe our experience and hopefully post many photos.  Above is a photo of the “stuff” we plan  to wear and bring along.
 
We’ll take photos of us, before, after, and during our greatly anticipated exploration.  No, we won’t be bungee jumping or, much to my dismay, zip lining.  My hope, at the time we booked our travels was to experience the zip line.

As we’ve treasured the opportunity to travel the world, we ‘ve recently made a decision to avoid potentially injurious situations.  Let’s face it, on Wednesday this week, I’ll turn 65. Tom, who doesn’t exercise, other than walking vigorously (as of late) is 60. 

Yeah, we know, travelers older than us take monumental risks.  That’s not us. Although, throughout the world, we’re definitely exposed to many risks traveling in certain lands.

View from beach outside our veranda of Robert’s Grove pier bar.

Not athletic but generally fit and now in good health, no experience is worth risking damage to my delicate spine.  After being totally pain free for over 18 months based on the benefits of my strict anti-inflammation diet, we’ve decided that no adventure is worth ruining the remainder of the world travels awaiting us. 

Without a doubt, now that we’re settled, relaxed and… our 2012 prep spreadsheet is in the hands of our accountant (as of this morning), we’re anxious to venture out to further explore the amazing country of Belize, learning about it’s people, wildlife, geography, vegetation and history, all of which we’ll share here.

The past few days the weather’s been unpredictable with a combination of high winds, fast moving clouds and some drizzles resulting in rough seas.  Yesterday, we avoided our usual lengthy walk along the beach.  It was cold!  Tom laughed at me shivering in 70 degrees but, after days of 86 degrees with 80% or more humidity, it felt chilly. 

Windy and cloudy on the beach today.

This afternoon, the clouds moved out.  Minutes later we were ensconced in our favorite lawn chairs, our phones loaded with multiple books on Kindle apps,  in order to lazily lounge for our usual one-hour of sun worshipping ending with a dunk in the pristine unheated infinity pool. 

I hadn’t read a novel in years, never taking the time to “get out of my head” in a novel.  Instead, I read volumes of informational, educational non-fiction books.  Having completed an entire  mindless novel in the past few days, I felt refreshed and content to have allowed myself to relax to this degree.

Tonight, we’ll dine in.  With a whole leftover roasted chicken, onions and carrots and homemade coleslaw (made with a tiny head of cabbage and a few giant carrots that I shredded with a knife) we’ll partake in a pleasure from our past, watching  the TV show, The Bachelor.  Much to our surprise, in Belize, we have full access to US television shows broadcasting all major networks and cable channels from New York. 

Seldom watching TV since leaving the US, tonight’s the night.  Freshly showered, in comfy clothes, we’ll soon park ourselves in front of the flat screen TV, trays on our laps, great food on our plates, doing what we love the most, simply being together.  Gee…it’s fun to be retired!

Check back tomorrow for details of our outing. 

It wasn’t easy getting off the ship…Currently in Boca Raton, Florida now…

When we arrive in Belize on January 29th and get situated in our little beach house,  we’ll be very relieved.  Tom is having angst about the “tender” coming to pick us up in Belize and the maneuvering of our luggage.

Most passengers will be disembarking for an excursion, not like us with the intent of staying off the ship, not to return for the remaining two-night journey back to Florida. As a result, we’ll most likely be the only passengers loading luggage onto the tender.

The reason the Celebrity Equinox (or other cruise ships) cannot dock at the pier in Belize is its size, too big. It’s too shallow at the pier for huge ships. 

As much as I try to reassure Tom that the ship’s staff will assist us as well as the tender’s staff, hired by Celebrity to assist passengers on and off, he remains steadfast in his concern. 

Determined to allay his fear, I will prepare for this scenario with guest services aboard ship days in advance to ensure staff is on hand and ready to take over. Yes, it will cost us in tips, as it did yesterday disembarking the Celebrity Century.

Oh.  Disembarking in Fort Lauderdale yesterday was a little challenging. Yes, we know we have too many bags.  Yes, we know as time marches on we’ll end up reducing the amount of our luggage.  But if we’d only had two large bags, two carry on bags, and two computer bags, it still was challenging.  We stayed calm.

A kind older man, a porter of small stature, seeing our abundant orange luggage as we fumbled grabbing it among the piles of black bags, approached asking if we’d use his services. We looked at each other, wildly shaking our heads, “YES!”  This porter was strong as a horse immediately loading our copious bags onto his large cart. The line to go through customs was several hundred deep.

Our friend, with whom we are staying until Monday was standing by for our text with instructions as to where to pick us up.  At this point, there was no way to determine how long it would take.  The kind porter waited in line with us for the 20 or so minutes it took to get through customs.  How much to tip him

Getting through customs was a breeze in itself. When we saw how fast the line was moving I contacted our friend who was 35 minutes away in Boca Raton giving her our exact location. We were asked if we purchased anything, which we had not, asked to show our passports, and scooted on through without opening a single bag.  That took less than two minutes.

Then, the fun began.  We were escorted to the massive parking lots with fast-moving cars and trucks were dropping off and picking up passengers and dropping off supplies for the ships, several of which surrounded us.  Traffic cops in orange vests were directing traffic, annoyed by our need to find a spot to unload our luggage and wait for our friend. 

Actually, standing in a curved lane of traffic with our bags neatly lined up next to us, the porter on his way with our $50 tip  (he’d been with us for over a half-hour), we watched every white SUV whizzing by, hoping it was our friend.  Dressed in short sleeves, I was cold.  Who knew it would be only 60 degrees when weather reports indicated high 70’s?  I should have worn a jacket or sweater.  Tom, as usual, was comfortable. My guy, so sturdy. Me, a wimp.

Twenty-five minutes later our friend arrived to see our smiling faces, anxious to get on the road. The kind porter suddenly reappeared to assist once again. Apparently, the $50 tip had been adequate and we were pleased to let him help Tom.

Forty minutes later, we unloaded the bags, leaving most of the bags in her garage, bringing in only our two duffel bags filled with dirty clothes, our laptop bags, my handbag, and a doctor bag of toiletries.  Surely, this would suffice for the weekend with us leaving to sail away again on Monday, January 21st on the Celebrity Expedition for our trip to Belize.

Walking into our friend’s gorgeous Boca Raton home was comforting, our accommodations ideal.  Unpacking our six loads of dirty clothes from 15 days aboard the Celebrity Century, the washer is still going non-stop today.  Paying special attention to drying cycles, hoping to avoid wrinkles has kept me running back and forth.

It’s raining today. We’d hoped to sit by her inviting pool, soaking up our 45 minutes of sun, swimming in the pool, relaxing. Instead, we’ll busy ourselves indoors today, calling family, completing the laundry, and helping to cook a big meal for more company coming tonight.  We’re good.  We’re content.

We’re living our new life

 

Never been cruising?…What????…

Many have laughed when we say that we have never been on a cruise and now, we’ve booked eight cruises.  How risky, they say.  We ask, “What’s the risk?”

When we’ve dared to ask what they perceive as the risk, here are the answers:

1.  Seasickness:  Unlikely, since both of us are avid boaters.  If we could avoid seasickness bouncing around in a small fishing boat on a very windy day on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota with nary a thought about seasickness, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get sick on a giant ship with built-in stabilizers.  Backup plan: we have several prescribed packets of Transderm Scop.

2.  Boredom:  Nope, not likely.  Tom and I are easily entertained. We will participate in many activities, meet people, play cards, attend classes, and relax in a chaise lounge by the pool reading downloaded books on our phones.  The options to be entertained are endless.

3.  The food will be a problem with our limited diet:  Why would the food be a problem?  We eat.  They have food.  Will we be tempted on occasion to try something we don’t normally eat? Sure.  But we’ll remind ourselves every day that our ability to travel the world is predicated upon our good health. Why jeopardize feeling well for even one day for a French pastry?  To me, it’s not worth it. For Tom, he may occasionally try a few items.  Neither of us will judge the other for their personal decisions, although we’ll continue to offer loving support on staying the course. 

4.  Tiny, cramped cabin: We booked a balcony cabin for each cruise and managed a few upgrades to mini-suites. We’ll spend little time in our cabin. Our world-travel bags currently are all in our bedroom here in Scottsdale, only slightly larger than a cabin (we measured).  We’ll stack them neatly in one area.  We’re tidy.  We’ll be fine.

5.  Extra charges aboard cruise:  As discussed in a post from earlier in the week, we’ve made decisions in advance, based on our budget as to what extras we will choose:  purchase Internet time, purchase cocktails when desired (not the overpriced beverage package unfitting a lightweight drinker) and experience one or two excursions.  (The exception to that will be the upcoming cruise to Dubai in May to see Giza, the Sphinx, and the Great Pyramids.  We’ll do all of these!)  Neither of us cares for professional massages, spa treatments, gambling, or spending money in the expensive shops. We have no room for trinkets in our bags.  We may incur a laundry charge aboard ship most likely upwards of $100 a load.  We’ve budgeted for the expenses that we anticipate and, leaving a margin for the unknowns.

I guess it all boils down to this: self-control.  We need only to remind ourselves of our next adventure, our next juicy steak topped with mushrooms and onions, our next refreshing glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon, and of course, the person we love sitting beside us who makes us laugh warms our heart and holds our hand through it all. 

Yesterday, while checking in online with Celebrity Cruise Line for our first upcoming cruise on January 3, 2013, we perused information for our later cruise leaving Miami on January 21, 2013 sailing to Belize where we’ll live for two and a half months on each of the peninsulas of Placencia and Ambergris Caye. 

We’ll be disembarking in Belize City, three days prior to the end of the cruise.  (We have written approval from the cruise line to disembark early).  We’ve discovered that the pier in Belize City is too shallow for cruise ships to dock and thus, we’ll be “tendered” to shore via a smaller boat. 

For a moment we both panicked envisioning the process of maneuvering our eight pieces of luggage, our computer and digital equipment bags, my handbag, and ourselves into a small boat.  This morning, after a fitful night we promptly called the cruise line to discover that the boat picking us up will be boarded via a large stable ramp to awaiting boats holding anywhere from 100 to 200 passengers at a time.  We’ll not only have assistance from the ship’s employees but also the staff on the smaller boats since they also assist passengers as they are boarding.  No fear!  Whew!

There’s no doubt that the simplicity of our “old” life avoided such decisions, avoided such challenges, avoided such risks.  In the perpetual search for familiarity, comfort, and ease, we found ourselves, happy but stuck in a groove we could have blissfully stayed as we lived out our lives in retirement. 

We’ve chosen “the road less traveled” to challenge ourselves, to expand our knowledge, to enhance our personal histories, and to celebrate and appreciate the amazing world and the people in it.  We’ll make some bad decisions, we’ll make some wrong turns, and at times we may wonder, “why are we doing this?”  But we’ll do this together, we’ll learn together and we’ll marvel together, always grateful and always in love.

A Belize Solution…

We originally booked the cozy beach house in Belize from February 1 to March 31, 2013.  Based on our cruise from Miami arriving in Belize City on January 29th we felt confident we could easily find a hotel for a few days until the first of February which proved not to be so easy.

At the end of our Belize trip, our cruise departs from Belize City on April 9, 2013 presenting us with another eight nights for which to find housing, as mentioned in previous posts.  

We’d hoped the owner of the cozy beach house could accommodate all eleven nights, prorating the rent accordingly.  At the time, she suggested we wait and see if the beach house would be available.

We’d been waiting to hear from her when I made the request this past weekend.  Fortunately, she was able to accommodate us for the earlier dates for which we are thrilled and appreciative but, the later dates in April were booked.

These eight days put my fingers to work online searching for a hotel.  The options were few.  Apparently, we had waited too long to solve this dilemma. Of all the available hotels in Belize, most were booked or were running about $300 per night plus the requirement of dining out for all meals, adding substantially to the overall cost.  

Although we only needed a hotel for eight nights, this cost would be comparable to the cost of the two months rent for the cozy beach house!  This would not only throw our budget out of whack but result in frustration that we hadn’t planned this leg of our travels more carefully.  Live and learn.

With this reality, I became all the more determined to find an affordable alternative that would fulfill our objectives of the following: a full service kitchen, a location near the ocean, conveniently located to avoid the necessity of full time auto rental, plus…be attractive, clean and if possible, charming.   

Unable to find a hotel befitting our objectives and available for these dates, I wandered back to one of the sources of our worldwide home rentals: HomeAway.com, to execute a search for a short term rental. Success!  

This is the property we locked up for the eight nights, for half the cost of a hotel room and with a well equipped kitchen, allowing us to eat in, located on the island of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, a highly desirable location.  The owner was fabulous to work with as are most of the owners of vacation rentals.

A year ago, if all we were planning was this eight day trip to Ambergris Caye, San Pedro, Belize to stay in this lovely casita we would have been delighted. Who knew that this would be but one small part of the so far 949 days booked to experience the world.

Transportation will be our next challenge. Placencia is a three hour drive from the port in Belize City. The above property is located on the island of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, requiring a water taxi ride from Placencia. We could fly in little airplanes to get around, hauling those bags.  No thank you!

Next, we’ll get to work figuring our modes of transportation for this part of our adventure.  But then again, that’s part of the fun; overcoming challenges, finding solutions and of course, planning well in advance, when possible. Doing so, saves time, effort and money, all of which is done in preparation for those unknown events, that are certain to occur along the way.