Days 39 to 41: Hopkins, BZ

After an interesting, unexpected journey from San Ignacio, we arrived in Hopkins around 2:00 pm and checked into our cabana at Windschief. The cabana was the perfect size for three people and situated right on the beach

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I’d only booked two nights in Hopkins based on my research. Posters on forums mentioned a dirty beach, sand fleas and general lack of things to do. Meanwhile others extolled the friendly locals and serenity of a beach undiscovered by throngs of tourists. All of these assertions turned out to be true, except for the sand fleas.

Hopkins is a small sleepy village. It reminded me of a less touristy, more rustic Caye Caulker. The beach isn’t as well maintained as popular beach destinations but there were only a few stretches that I would have described as dirty. The stretch in front of our cabana was lovely. There were other hotels and guesthouses that shared the coast but we basically had the whole beach to ourselves.

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The water was warm and deep blue. After a hot land locked month in San Ignacio, my heart overflowed with joy to be reunited with the sea. We practically cart wheeled into the water and remained there for a very long time.

“I can’t believe we’re really here!”
“I love our lives!”
“This is amazing!”
We exclaimed repeatedly.

And it was amazing. Hopkins isn’t the most gorgeous beach I’ve been to but that day it was exactly what I needed.

After an extended dip we trudged up the grainy sand to the beach bar for some lunch and refreshments. A few locals were perched at the bar who had clearly been there for many hours. We settled into some adirondacks and laughed at their drunken banter. Jill made friends with some sweet flea ridden pups from next door.

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We also met “Twatrick”, an older British man with a half shaved beard and half shaved head (“my good side”) who purportedly had been traveling for over 20 years, and was currently living in the woods subsisting solely on coconuts.

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Later we collapsed into our beds exhausted from the days journey. When we awoke around 9 we discovered that the town was dark and mostly shut down. We managed to find an open eatery , fumbled our way through a buttery but boney snapper and were in bed by 10:30.

The next day we spent an enthralling two hours zip lining through the jungle.
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That night we walked along the beach and noshed on some surprisingly delicious pizza at Driftwood Beach Bar.

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The morning that we departed from Hopkins I was awoken at exactly 5:00 by the loud crashing of the tide against the shoreline, the crowing of several roosters and a resounding chorus of insects and tropical birds in the trees surrounding our beach front cabana. It was a white noise machine come alive. As I lay in bed, the sounds crashing over me, my mind swelled with awe and gratitude. This was my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Hopkins, 5 AM

2 days in Hopkins Belize (1)

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Day 39: San Ignacio to Hopkins

We woke up early on our last day in San Ignacio, wrote goodbye notes to Miss Martha, and headed to the bus station.
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The plan was to head to Belize city, meet my friend Dorothy at the bus station (she was flying in for a week) then take a series of buses to Hopkins in Southern Belize.

This was to be our first time taking a public bus in Belize and I was not all that excited about it. Public buses in Belize are old American school buses, and from what I’d heard, there is no such thing as “full”.

50 feet from the bus stop we watched a packed bus pull over, let off a few people, then continue on. The people who were denied from the bus slumped back to the waiting area. I struck up a conversation with a handsome young American named Aaron who was trying to get to Belize city to make an 11 AM flight. At this point it was almost 8 AM and Belize city is 2-3 hours by bus plus a cab ride to the airport. His timing was a bit off. I could see he was starting to get (rightfully) concerned and I wanted to ensure we made it to the bus station before Dorothy so we discussed alternatives. A cab to the airport is usually around 120 US which was out of my price range. But, I suggested he ask the cab driver across the street how much it would be. He returned with a smile and reported that the driver would only charge 75 US dollars to get us to the airport.

25 bucks for a private car to the airport? 25 bucks to not have to squeeze onto a rickety bus and hold on for dear life as it hurtles down windy roads? Sold.

We hopped into the cab and after a stop at the drivers’ house to give his granddaughter money for school, we were on our way. Our driver Austin was about 70 years old and such a sweet, endearing man. He talked on and on about his granddaughter and his life growing up in Belize. Many times he seemed a bit confused and we weren’t sure if he even knew how to get to the airport. Aaron remarked that he was “the Belizean Magoo”.

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Eventually, despite our doubts, we rolled up to the airport and dropped off Aaron. During the drive, Austin had very kindly offered to wait at the airport to pick up Dorothy then drop us off at the bus station. After some discussion about our destination, he then offered to just take us directly to Hopkins for 60 extra bucks. I immediately agreed.

Earlier in the month I had priced shuttles to Hopkins and it was 60 dollars per person. This guy was offering to wait an hour at the airport then take us straight to our hotel for 1/3rd of the price. And the best part is we wouldn’t have to spend 5-6 hours on a series of public buses.

The universe was looking on us extremely favorably that day.

So we picked up/surprised Dorothy, squealed with excitement for a few minutes, searched for Jill who is inexplicably always disappearing then headed to Hopkins.

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Austin informed us that the quickest route would be an unpaved road that he hadn’t driven on in 7 years. Oh. Okay. As we turned into the road in his sedan, large rocks immediately began pelting the bottom of the car. Thwack! Thud!

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We actually felt them ricocheting beneath our feet. This road wasnt fit for a humvee let alone a Hyundai Elantra. Dorothy and I looked at each other with a mixture of amusement and concern then casually began asking him about his tire maintenance routine.

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We were on that road for 38 miles during which time we saw exactly one other vehicle- a Mack truck.

38 miles, going 30 miles per hour, just waiting for a tire to blow out on one of the countless mini-boulders and for us to be stranded on the side of a dusty empty road in the sweltering Belizean sun with the Belizean Mr Magoo.

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Thankfully that never happened. Austin navigated that road like a boss and 2.5 hours later we arrived at our hotel in Hopkins, hours before we would have arrived by bus.

Traveling isn’t always glamorous, or easy. But on days like that when everything comes together like it was written in the stars – those are the days that make it all worthwhile.

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28 days in San Ignacio: Highs & Lows

Belize is the longest leg of our Central America travels and San Ignacio is the western town where we have been living and volunteering for the past 28 days.

San Ignacio is a very popular tourist destination in Belize and when I talked to fellow travelers and locals in the Cayes about it, it got mixed reviews.

From:
“Oh you’re going to San Ignacio? You’ll LOVE it”

To:
“You’re going there for a MONTH? You’re gonna be bored out of your mind”

After almost a month here I can say with assurance that my opinion is somewhere in the middle, skewing closer to either side depending on the day. Here are the highs and lows of my month in San Ignacio.

LOW: Weather
After 8 leisurely days on the breezy Cayes, stepping out of the shuttle in he dusty mainland town of San Ignacio was like walking into a wall of heat. I almost fell over.
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Some days are over 100 degrees late into the afternoon. The fans are on constantly in the house and one is always pointed toward me. But to be fair, it hasn’t been a constant heat wave. There have been a few blissfully mild, overcast, breezy days which I have cherished. I never thought I would refer to a 90 degrees day as “mild” but here we are. I knew to expect this, still, I’m ready for some ocean breezes.
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Caveat: I wrote this three days ago and, of course, the weather has been perfect ever since. Of course.

HIGH: Location.

There is a reason why San Ignacio is so popular. It’s the perfect location in Belize. It’s 15 minutes from the Guatemala border so it’s a great place to stop over before heading there or to take a day trip to Tikal. There are also ruins in the area that are reachable in less than 2 hours, many less than an hour. There’s ATM, Caracol, Xunantunich, Mountain Pine Ridge and others. There’s cave tubing, iguana petting, river canoeing and horseback riding. For an adventurous type, it’s fantastic.
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Caveat: some of these tours are a bit pricey (Tikal was $125, ATM was $85) so while there are a ton of things to do, it’s also a matter of being able to afford them.

LOW: Night life
Unlike the touristy island towns, especially San Pedro, San Ignacio nightlife is a bit lacking. Downtown is basically 3 blocks of scattered bars/restaurants. There isn’t much variety (especially if you’re coming from a city) and most close by 10. There is also a night club called Blue Angel but it’s the type of place I’d go on a triple dog dare. (In general it’s a good traveling practice to avoid nightclubs, especially as a woman).

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Although I was curious about their “Mother’s Day Dance”. Oh, Belize.

There is also the casino which is a cab ride or steep uphill walk from downtown. I went twice, won 5 dollars then lost 17. Those slot machines are addictive and I’m simply too cheap to go back again. There is a night club attached to the casino but there was a cover charge and I refuse to pay cover charges after the age of 22. There are also bars outside of downtown but i find the prospect of paying for cabs to and from home very demotivational. Most days, I am home by 10. For my wallet and liver, that’s probably a good thing.

HIGH: Food
As volunteers, we get free lunches every week day. All of the food is cooked by Miss Martha from scratch. The microwave doesn’t even work. Thus, even after 2 straight days of rice and beans (I’m off meat again) I heap enormous portions on my plate and scarf it down like a competitive eater.

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The food at the restaurants is also pretty good. I preferred the sea food entrees at the beach for obvious reasons. But there have been a few restaurants with stand out dishes and good service: Let’s go Eat, Erva’s and Serendib all get high marks. Jill has also raved about the grilled steaks at Maya Walk. If you can finagle an invitation to Miss Martha’s house, you will eat like a king.

LOW: Shopping

By shopping I don’t mean grocery shopping: those stores are everywhere. I mean clothes and accessories. I packed pretty light because I imagined I would be purchasing some cheap dresses like I did in Thailand. Travel tip: nope. There are a few clothing stores but the selections scream “19 year old at a European night club, circa 2002”. I was able to purchase new sunglasses but they were so flimsy they broke within 3 days. I learned my lesson after the second pair fell apart when I just looked at them. Last night, desperate for some variety, I fashioned a tube top out of the fabric I’d cut off my long dress. I will absolutely never wear this in public but it made my inner fashionista feel a little better.

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Do these shorts look familiar? They should. I’ve been wearing them for a month.

HIGH: Locals. Before I came here I was told by multiple people how “friendly” San Ignacio was. “Even friendlier than Caye Caulker” they said. While I wouldn’t characterize it as the friendliest place in the world (and certainly not friendlier than Caye Caulker where half the island knew my name by week’s end) most of the people I’ve met have been polite, warm and welcoming. I could do without the ubiquitous creepy cat calling men but that’s a worldwide issue.
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My favorite people in San Ignacio

HIGH: Volunteer experience (will discuss details in another post) which included free lunches, free laundry, free wi-fi and most importantly, free access to this God send of a pool.

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Gotta earn my keep

HIGH/LOW: Crime
Crime is an unfortunate reality of inhabiting this planet. And while I have never been the victim of anything beyond petty crime, I am always aware of the potential for it. It would be easy for me to think of San Ignacio as a dangerous place. I read all the warnings about Central America. And seemingly every couple days Miss Martha has a new story about a family member or friend of a friend who was the victim of a violent crime. At first, listening to these stories, I was very nervous to be out after dark. I imagined an attacker lurking behind every night post. Then I remembered that I have lived in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. I didn’t sit home at night because of the possibility of being a victim in these cities. I took precautions. Central America is no different. I take a cab after 10, I keep money hidden, I never walk alone at night.
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Almost a month in and I’ve had no issues (high) but I continue to hear stories about crimes against locals (low). Let’s call this one a draw.

Overall rating: HIGH.

Over the past 4 weeks, through the highs and lows, San Ignacio has really come to feel like home. And while I’m ready to move on to the next adventure, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here, won’t soon be forgotten.
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Tomorrow we take a bus to Belize city to pick up a good friend of mine from Baltimore then head onward via 3 more buses to Southern Belize for a week. A la playa!

Happy Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

On Mother’s Day I just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me.

For always being there to guide me
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And encouraging me to be an individual
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Even when it meant bringing a chicken to prom
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For teaching me when to speak up
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And when to just listen
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For teaching me to be independent
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And that sometimes in life, you gotta be tough
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For making sure I always appreciated a good plate of food
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Because many people don’t have that luxury
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For encouraging me to always look my best
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Because when you look good, you feel good.

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For showing me that all women should be treated like queens
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And to settle for nothing less

For always pointing me in the right direction
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Even though sometimes I go the other way

For teaching me that life can be painful sometimes, but you can always find a reason to smile
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And dance
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For just being you: the woman I strive to be more like each day. I owe it all to you.

Love always,
Your daughter
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Incredible Belize: Snorkeling Hol Chan

Copy of Dublin to Galway by train (3)

Snorkeling is one of my favorite water activities. I love being able to swim without coming up for air, and witnessing the stunning aquarium residing beneath the surface.

Belize may not have the best beaches but the underwater attractions are among the best in the world. The barrier reef is 185 miles long, second in size to the Great Barrier Reef (according the Professor Google). The areas where we snorkeled especially have an abundance of underwater creatures and are thus very popular with tours groups.
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Photo credit: Ambergriscaye.com

On our third day in Caye Caulker I reserved a snorkeling trip.
Jill had planned to join me but decided to sit it out due to a nasty sun burn. (I am extraordinarily grateful that I’ve never experienced one – it sounds/looks awful)

So off I went alone. I’m actually glad that I did- I find I’m much more likely to strike up a conversation and make connections when I’m flying solo. It forces me to leave my comfort zone.

On the boat were two American couples, a mid-30s (and soon to be engaged**) couple from San Francisco and an older married couple from Virginia. It was such a small group and we instantly had rapport. The older couple were especially hilarious. They kept talking about how their son had forced them to book the trip. They later had be tied to the guide by their life vests because they struggled so much.

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En route to our first stop we small talked amiably until the sudden lurching and pounding of the boat made us grip our seats in silent terror. There were several times I almost went airborne. Thankfully we made it to the first stop without any casualties.

A fellow passenger named Denise and I had been discussing whether or not we wanted to wear life vests.
[I’d tried to snorkel without one in Thailand and found it overwhelming trying to stay afloat (as European toddlers, sans life jackets, were swimming around and beneath me like flounder). I soon opted for the life jacket which slowed me down significantly.]

Our tour guide/captain Rocky (“like the boat ride?” I asked. He didn’t laugh. With a name like mine I should know better) suggested we use the vests if we were having concerns. He showed us how to tie them around our waists so they didn’t slow us down much but kept us afloat. Win-win.

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Note: I had grand plans of photographing my last snorkeling adventure during my snorkeling trip(s) in Thailand. Unfortunately my underwater camera broke beforehand and I could not find a disposable underwater camera in any of the 17,000 shops I visited. It was still an amazing day but as you may have noticed I’m obsessed with capturing everything on film. I mean, Instagram or it didn’t happen amirite? This time around I was prepared with a Dicacam underwater camera case. At the last minute I decided to use my iphone instead of my digital camera for reasons I no longer recall.

So we anchored at the first stop: Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and hopped in. The wind was heavy that day and the sun was overcast so the water was a bit chilly. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings/stop choking on salt water (is it just me or do you always forget that ocean water is salty? And you just keep getting awful gulps of it then recoiling like this is new information? Nope just me? K).

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We began our tour around the area, spotting more and more colorful fish as we swam along. I would now like to present the Only Semi-clear Picture I Took of Fish

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Sigh. Should’ve stuck with the digital camera. Regardless, there were gorgeous fish of all colors and sizes surrounding us. They’re so used to people that they will get inches from you before flitting away. Aside from
fish we also saw a few sting rays and a large sea turtle. Being inches from a sea turtle who has probably been alive for many of my lifetimes, is an experience I’ll never forget. There was decades of wisdom behind those weary eyes.

The next stop on the the tour was Shark Ray Alley. It’s called this, I would guess, because there are a ton of sharks and rays there. The sharks are nurse sharks. They come because the guides feed them.

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The thing about fear is when you face it, it loses strength. So when nurse sharks are swarming your boat and your guide says jump in and you do it…by the time he is cradling one in his arms and encouraging you to pet it, it’s not all that scary.

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Nurse sharks are harmless anyway. There were also a bunch of sting rays gliding on the ocean floor. They actually made me more nervous than the sharks. Sting rays always make me think of Steve Irwin. More specifically, his death. I don’t know the gory details but I do know that the rays we encountered that day were peaceful and mostly kept their distance. They were also massive, with wing spans of 2-4 feet.

Our final stop was Coral Gardens to witness coral in a wide ranging spectrum of colors. We watched as schools of fish darted through the vibrant coral. We were the only group there which made the location feel even more magical.

I stayed in for about twenty minutes before I doggy paddled back to the boat and collapsed in my seat. After a long day of aqua aerobics I was thoroughly exhausted.

On our way back to dry land our guide steered us toward a family of dolphins and we marveled as they gracefully swam along, occasionally leaping into the air. Nothing excites a bunch of tourists like a dolphin sighting, I tell you.

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Snorkeling always makes me feel such a deep connection to nature. It’s easy to go about our high tech lives and not think about the environment and the ramifications of climate change, pollution, bottled water etc etc. But as I swam amongst these incredible beings, I felt a profound desire to protect then

Overall, I would recommend the snorkeling trip. Beauty is abundant in Belizean waters and I didn’t find it to be crowded despite there being other groups there. Plus you really just can’t beat coming face to face with a sea turtle.
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Photo credit: naturalwonders.com

*they mentioned that they would be diving the Blue Hole the next day and I detected a gleam in his eye that I couldn’t quite translate. I found out the next night that he proposed while they were diving and it’s all on video. So sweet.

One month in Belize: Reflections

Today marks one month living in the tiny country of Belize. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve changed over the past month: the big ways and the small ways.

I’ve certainly changed physically:

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Check out that tan!

But other things have changed as well. Internal stuff.

Most predictably, my day-to-day behavior has changed:

Only drinking bottled water, never flushing toilet paper (delicate septic system here), slathering myself with sun screen before stepping foot outside, hanging clothes to dry, eating a LOT of rice, being in bed by midnight from heat induced exhaustion, immediately washing dishes to avoid ants, taking only cold showers, ordering rum instead of vodka.

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I’ve also changed in more meaningful ways.

For starters, I don’t care nearly as much about my appearance.

Society has a lot of conflicting messages about female beauty.

Have you gained weight?
Yikes, you’re SO skinny.
Wow…you got so dark
You’re basically translucent

These messages pelt at our self esteem, taking aim from magazines, television, advertisements, and sadly from other women.

After a skin darkening, hair frazzling, liberal eating month in Belize, I accept my soft belly and ebony complexion. I am not actively trying to lose weight or impress anyone. I don’t feel pressured to meet some unobtainable standard of beauty. Sure I still like to look good. But looking good now comes from feeling good. My shining eyes, my relaxed shoulders and my easy smile: those are what make me feel beautiful.
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And, the little things make me happy.

Sure, I was “happy” in the U.S. I had friends, income, a great apartment, healthy pets, a supportive family.

I was surrounded by bars and restaurants, had instant access to a variety of technology and social media, had disposable income and a thriving social life. Yet, I was also so bored.

Working the same job every day, going out in the same city, getting annoyed at the same guys. The monotony of it all was killing me. Now, I’m on this 81 day adventure and yes, some days are pretty mundane. But I appreciate and treasure every single moment. I smile from the bottom of my soul.

Because this trip isn’t going to last forever, I have to head back to an existence that probably won’t be quite as adventurous, at least until I graduate. So for now I’m reveling in the little things: the sun setting over the mountains, roosters running wild in the streets, practicing Spanish with Juan, rocking on a vinyl hammock, watching a pale green gecko crawl along the balcony, coconut rice and beans, laughing with Miss Martha, , submerging in a warm pool, teaching the kids to count to ten in Spanish, and the comforting breeze of the fan as I drift off into a nap in a beautiful foreign land that’s not so far from home.
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And finally, acceptance.

Let’s be honest, we can all be a little judgmental. I’m certainly guilty of it. Often we judge people before we even meet them. The wonderful thing about travel is that I get to meet people from all walks of life. People I might never give a chance in the states become confidants. Class disparities shrink. Age really does become nothing but a number.

One of my favorite people here is Miss Martha.

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She is a cook at the organization, in her 50s, and probably makes less per month than I did in a week. But none of that matters. We bond over penis jokes and talks about being strong, independent women. We laugh constantly. In the U.S, we would never even meet. Here, she is my dear friend.

Whenever I feel a judgmental thought creeping into my head, I try to push it away. I analyze what it is about me that makes me not want to interact with that person. We’re all human after all, just trying to share this shrinking planet. And the next person you shrug off, could’ve been the one bearing your most important life lesson.
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As the journey continues I look forward to whatever mind expansion and important lessons the universe has in store for me.

And a hot shower. One of those would be nice too.

Close encounters

Back home I have a cat named Sasha.

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She is, among other wonderful qualities, an excellent hunter. Some days I would wake up to find a dead spider cricket in the bathroom. Or watch from the sofa as she stalked and killed a house fly. Cats are a great way to avoid dealing with household insects.

I do not like household insects.

That brings me to today. I’ve been wearing the same pair of shorts for about a week now so I decided it was time to do laundry. Last time I needed some clothes washed, Jill threw them in with hers. The time before, I washed them in the sink despite there being a fully functioning washing machine downstairs.

Why do I seem to be avoiding the laundry room? Something so rare and useful to have when traveling?

Well, every time I go downstairs, which is about 2-3 times per week, there is a new carcass on the ground.

A carcass.

A very large carcass.

The first time I saw one, I laid a pair of keys next to it to show how large it was. It dwarfed the keys.

I knew they were down there. I knew that one day I would encounter a live one. This is Central America. They are all over the place.

Today I swallowed my fear and marched down to the laundry room, pile of dirty clothes squashed in my back pack. I flicked the light on, and waited. No movement.

Relieved, I turned on the machine, threw the clothes in and retreated back upstairs.

By the time I went to retrieve the clothes, it had gotten much darker outside. I hesitantly flicked on the switch and my eyes immediately darted to a creature running behind a bookshelf. I muffled a scream as it stopped and looked at me, sizing me up.

At first glance it was a mouse. A regular sized field mouse. No big deal.

At second, third and fourth glance it was a roach. A giant roach. A mouse sized cockroach. An equally large friend of his flitted across the room and joined him, sneering at me as I frantically clawed at my damp clothes and ran up the stairs.

I briefly considered booking a one way ticket back home and leaving these hybrid mouse-roaches behind forever.

I mean, I once broke a lease because I saw a much smaller roach in my trash can.

Then I remembered that I’m moving to New Orleans.

And in New Orleans, they fly.

Dog days and nights in San Ignacio

Let me just start by saying that I am a dog lover.

I have an aging dog of my own who, while becoming increasingly adept at testing the bounds of my patience and sanity, remains inherently lovable. Most days.
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I loved the beach dogs in Tulum and Caye Caulker.
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Now I am in San Ignacio and there are stray dogs everywhere. Without a beach to frolic on, they make the sidewalks their playground. For the most part they are very sweet and just want what every dog wants; to be fed and to be loved. And maybe a flea bath (at least I want that for them)

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My favorite: Prince

There was at least one animal shelter in both Caye Caulker and San Pedro. In San Ignacio, as far as I can tell, there are none. So, of course, unfixed dogs are everywhere playing and begging for food from tourists.

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And barking.

These dogs are a chatty bunch. At night especially, they bark and bark and bark. They are the roosters of the night. Generally I drown out these vocalistions pretty well. They blend in with the cars and the babies crying and the hum of the fans.

Until last night.
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Farewell Noelle!

After returning home from Noelle’s farewell dinner and drinks, I laid in bed and attempted to doze off.

A dog across the street from my open window had different ideas for my night. He started barking, and barking, and barking. And would not stop barking. Closing the window did nothing. Turning up the fan did nothing.

After what seemed like at least 14 years of silently (and not so silently) cursing this hound, I remembered that I was in possession of one of man’s greatest inventions: ear plugs.

I giddily wedged them in my ears. Then waited. And waited. I couldn’t tell if they were working or if it had just taken a break to rest it’s delicate vocal chords.

It turned out to be the latter.

I read a study that said that women are most sensitive to the sound of crying babies. That sounds about right but I’d be willing to bet that dogs barking are a close second.

Frustrated and irritated, I shoved the ear plugs deeper and deeper into my ear canals until they were likely coated in brain fluid. It made no difference. I became more and more irritated. It got to the point where I irrationally believed that this dog was just trying to keep me awake. Like he’d been planning all day, between naps and crunching on discarded chicken bones, to launch this personal attack against my sleep patterns.

It didn’t help that the dogs bark sounded exactly like my dogs bark. So, in my sleepy brain, I would ever so often think “oh, I just need to let him inside”. Then I would remember that this was a stray dog barking outside my barred window and scowl.

Eventually the dog stopped. Not unlike humans (for example, myself), dog must sleep.

The bottom line is, someone far more humanitarian (er, dogitarian?) than myself needs to come here and build an animal shelter for these dogs. They need yards to play in, dishes to eat from, and humans to love unconditionally.

Their lives (and someone’s good night’s sleep) depend on it.

My travel survival guide: Creativity

In this series, I will talk about things that help me to survive and sometimes thrive while traveling. Not everything will be a must-have for you but I don’t leave home without them

For this trip, the longest leg of the journey (45 days) is being spent in Belize. As you may have guessed, despite its close proximity to the US, life in Belize is much different than life in the states.

Remember life before the Internet? When our attention spans were longer and we went outside a lot more? When we had to be creative to keep our minds occupied? At least that’s how I remember the 90s.

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(Presented without comment)

I like to think of Belize as my life pre 2000. Pre smart phone, pre cable tv (my mom didn’t get a box until I was in college), pre Facebook, pre easy distractions. Sure, I have my iPhone here and I can access Facebook. But wifi is not always available and I have intentionally reduced my internet usage.

I’m here for over a month so I’m not snorkeling Hol Chan or exploring ancient caves everyday. There is lots of down time in which I need to find ways to entertain myself. This is why one of the most important things to bring along on any trip is creativity. Here are some of the ways I keep my brain occupied in Belize.

Learn card games: Play games that make you think and strategize. Jill taught me 500 Rummy and we’ve played it A LOT. Because it requires flexing the ol’ noggin, it never gets old. We bring a deck of cards to a local restaurant and sit outside. It’s a great way to pass the time.
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Get wet: go tubing or (if clean) swimming in the local river. Or take a dip in a hotel pool. Some hotels (in Belize at least) offer pool access for a low cost.
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Meet someone: Talk to new people. They have interesting stories and perspectives. Locals are also a great resource. They have tips and advice about local haunts and unadvertised adventures. The longer you’re in one place, the more you recognize people (and vice versa). Say hello, strike up conversations but always be safe about it. Your gut doesn’t lie.
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“Ras Tony” escorting us to the pool

Decorate: One nice thing about home is having a place to call your own. Traveling doesn’t have to mean giving that up entirely. I hung up a colorful sarong next to my bunk bed (Jill calls it my fort) and strung some of my other colorful purchases from the post. I love seeing the splashes of color when I walk in the otherwise bland room. If you’re staying somewhere long term, inject your own creativity into decorating (within the confines/rules of your space).
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Take pictures: I am constantly taking pictures (to Jill’s chagrin). We have been here almost a month and I have over 1,000 on my iphone alone. Taking pictures allows you to be creative with angles, colors, lighting etc. (or just handle all that on Instagram). I love looking back at pictures I took weeks, days, even hours ago. Not every picture would be Annie Liebowitz approved. But each one is representative of that moment in time. It’s like walking through a museum of my travels.

Read a book: Since the advent of the smart phone I always moaned about how much I “used to read”. While that was likely an exaggeration, I do have about a dozen books back home that are half finished. Now I’m back on the book wagon. Luckily where we’re staying has a pretty decent book selection and I haven’t read this much since High school English class. Generally when traveling you can find used book stores with cheap books. Some also offer book swaps.

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Write it down: Blogging is something I enjoy doing, but that I used to procrastinate due to other obligations (and laziness). Here I have no excuse. Regardless of your perceived writing abilities, keeping an account of your life is never a bad thing. It forces you to analyze your life and gives you a record to look back on when those memories are foggy. (You think you’ll remember everything years from now but you won’t). If you have nothing interesting to write, that’s a wake up call. Go do something interesting.

Leave your comfort zone: nothing wakes up the brain like fear. I’m not suggesting walking around Belize city at night. Just do something that is actually safe but make you really uncomfortable. Then fake it till you make it. For me, it’s things like starting up a conversation with a group of people, or, say holding a giant iguana.
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Go outside: Whenever I hear a traveler say “I’m bored” I get confused. You’re in a new country, surrounded by people you’ve never met and things you’ve never seen and you’re bored? Go outside. Go sit at a cafe and people watch, go take pictures by the river, go browse a local market, go offer your services at an animal shelter, just GO. I cringe at all the times I would lay in bed browsing the Internet back home and proclaim that I was “bored”. My mother once said “if you’re bored, you’re boring”. I took offense (because I was probably bored at the time) but now I get it. The world doesn’t just spoon feed you entertainment. You’re not entitled to an interesting, fulfilling life. You have to decide that that’s what you want. That you want it more than anything. That in order to achieve it you’re willing to take risks and make mistakes and sometimes be uncomfortable.

And then, here’s the key: you have to go get it.