Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Arriving in Belize (Nov 23-30, 2004)

After I arrived at the Phoenix airport, I learned that my flight to Houston would be delayed for 2 hours. I only had 1.5 hours in Houston to make my connection and fly to Belize. There was another plane boarding for Houston, so I asked if I could get on it. I was allowed on, but warned that my luggage might not make it in time. Great. Luckily, I had packed a change of clothes in my carry-on bag - something I rarely do! I took the earlier flight.

When I got to Houston, I checked the status of my luggage. It was still in Phoenix. By the time my flight to Belize took off, my Phoenix flight was only half way to Houston.

After arriving in Belize City, sans luggage, I hopped a flight to Dangriga. It's not often you get to see the pilot's view as you approach the airport. It's also not often that you see the runway ending so close to the ocean.
Just about to touch down at Dangriga.
The pilot offered to let a passenger sit in the front seat, but nobody took him up on the offer.
Once I was safely on the ground at Dangriga, I needed to figure out where to catch the bus to Maya Center. I decided it would be easiest to just take a cab to the bus station. I had about an hour wait before my bus (an old school bus) so I shopped for some basics like shampoo, deodorant, and bug spray.
My first stop in Belize was at Tutzil Nah Cottages in Maya Center. At $15 a night, this should be interesting!
My room was very basic, but clean. The room contained a bed, a table and chair, and a fan. The fluorescent light required that you play with it a bit in order to turn it on. The bathroom and shower were in separate buildings across the courtyard. The shower was cold water only and the bathroom was basically a concrete block outhouse, but had a flush toilet.

My host and guide was Gregorio Chun. His children, Fiona (age 6), Daniel (age 5, not shown), and Gabriel (age 3) were delightful, and I spent afternoons and evenings playing with them. They really enjoyed the books and flashcards I brought them.

Coconuts ripening
Local children

I played several games with the local children. One was "bat" which was really softball, but they used an orange as the ball (could be blinding if it sprayed juice as you hit it) and a broom handle as the bat. We also played soccer and practiced math and reading.

Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve

My first morning, I woke up (without luggage) and took a stroll around the area. I found this iguana in a hibiscus.
I also spotted this butterfly.

I spent most of my first full day in Belize kayaking through Cockscomb with Gregorio as my guide. Most of the river was flat and peaceful, giving me plenty of time to spot birds, iguanas, howler monkeys, river otters, and other wildlife.
One section of the river contained big rocks and rapids. Before each set of rapids, Gregorio pulled me over and explained how to navigate though. After making it through each rapid, I pulled over to dump the gallons of water from my kayak.

At one point, I heard rustling along the banks, and spotted tails poking through the tall grass. I pulled over to the river bank, and saw the most incredible sight. A group of 50 coatis had decided to cross the river! (see red lines in photo to find the coatis).
They climbed up the trunk of one tree on the bank to my left. The branches of that tree connected above the river to a tree on the opposite side. The crossed the river, then scurried down the trunk of the tree to my right. AMAZING!!!

After another hour on the river, it was time to head back to my cottage. I took a cold shower and washed my clothes, since they were a bit muddy and smelled like the river. (I had my airplane clothese to wear). While I was showering, Gregoria received a call that my luggage was at the Dangriga airport. He went to pick it up for me. After dinner, it finally arrived. Hooray!!!!

The next day was Thanksgiving Day in the US. I was very thankful that I had my luggage and was able to hike through Cockscomb. At the start of the waterfall trail, I watched a crested guan hop to the top of a tree, squawking on its way up. As it reached the top, an ornate hawk-eagle snatched it!
After some initial struggling, the guan went silent. I waited to see how the eagle was going to get it out of the tree, but it didn't look like that would happen soon. I continued the hike, and on the way back, spotted the eagle eating the guan.

The waterfall trail was very beautiful, but a bit strenuous at the very end, with quite a bit of scrambling over rocks. After a hot hike (and accidentally stepping in an ant mound) the cool water under the falls felt incredible.
After hiking, it was time to head back to the cottages for a quick shower and lunch. After lunch, I stood on the highway and waited for my bus to Plancencia.

Between the ant mound, the river kayak, and playing with the children, I received quite a few bug bites (mostly and and no-see-ums).


I arrived in Placencia on Thursday afternoon and checked into Lydia's Guest House.After dropping off my stuff, I took a nice stroll down the sidewalk to check out the town.
On Friday, I took a day trip from Placencia to Laughing Bird Caye. The coral was fairly dead from the hurricane a few years earlier, but the water was nice and warm, and there were some pretty fish, along with lobsters and sea cucumbers.The coolest part was swimming past the sharks that were circling the caye.
I met several fun people on this tour, and over the next couple of days joined a few of them for lunch or dinner.Placencia was a relaxing and laid back town. Other than the snorkel tour, I spent most of my time hanging out at the beach, talking to locals, or swaying in the hammock at Lydia's, reading a book and relaxing. On Saturday, I was hanging out on the beach and a few Mayan boys from the Toledo district were selling bracelets.

Somehow, Noe, Victor, and Doniscio ended up doing math problems with me and hamming for the camera. It was a lot of fun!

The Placencia beach was gorgeous at sunrise. On most days, the water was fairly calm, but not good for snorkeling. On Monday, it was windy and the water was a bit choppy. It made an interesting day. An older local lady (about 70 yrs old) saw me splashing in the water and asked if she could join me. She was afraid to go into the water alone, so I told her sure. Because of the wind and waves, I needed to help her get out too.

Walking around town, especially on the paths that lead from the sidewalk to the main road or from the road to the lagoon, there were quite a few iguanas, flowers, and insects.

All that walking caused me to work up quite a large appetite. Today's special looks good!! :-P

Actually, most of the restaurants were quite good - fresh seafood or chicken was the norm.

Bye Bye Belize

On Tuesday, it was time to leave Placencia for home. It was time to climb back on the tiny puddle jumper and head back to Belize City.

I took a few last pictures of Belize on the flight from Placencia to Belize City.
It was time to say goodbye to relaxing Belize and to head back to work.

At least I had my luggage this time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

What goes around, comes around

When I was in elementary school, I used to think it was cool to tie a hair around a fly, remove a wing, and laugh as it flew around and around in circles. Little did I know that renting a car in New Zealand would make me feel like that fly.

After picking up my rental car and nearly getting killed entering a few roundabouts, I finally made my way onto the highway towards the Coromandel peninsula. Since I would be on the freeway for a while, I did what I do back home - get in the far left lane so I don't have to deal with merging traffic. Suddenly, I found myself off the freeway! I found my way back on, and a mile or so later, I was off again! I found my way back on again, but then I realized I got back on the wrong direction, and was heading back to Auckland. By this time, everything started looking familiar, and I couldn't rember if I passed it on the way out or in. So I got off. Then on. Then off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
I was so confused and so lost!
Starting to get dizzy from all that circling, I found a safe place to pull over, get my wits about me, and figure things out. It finally dawned on me that the exit lanes would be on the left, and I needed to get into the far right lane to stay on. I figured out which way I needed to go, and gave it another try.
After an hour of driving in circles just outside of Auckland, I was finally on the road.
Speaking of "adventurous" driving......
When I was in Rotorua, I decided to try off road driving. I followed the main road until I saw a sign directing me to turn on a gravel road. About a mile down the gravel road, I could see the main building in the distance and a little off to the right. The road had a fork in it, and I headed towards the right. After that, the road really deteriorated and became bumpy, filled with muddy potholes, and steep inclines. After navigating my rental car through a few of them, I realized that I must be heading down the off road path. I found a place wide enough to turn around and backtracked to the fork. Once I finally made it to the main building, I was met with hearty laughs and good natured ribbing. The guide that drew the short straw took me out. We both survived.

New Zealand - March 2004 - Coromandel

North Island
March 2004

Land of the Kiwis.....
After I finally navigated my way out of Aukland, I headed over the the Coromandel Peninsula. Before heading up the peninsula, I broke the drive with a stop at Kauaeranga Forest for a few short walks.
Swing bridge over the Kauaeranga River on the Tarawaere Dam trail. At the foot of this bridge, was a warning that the bridge capacity was 1 person. I wasn't sure if that meant one "normal weight" person and if I would plunge to my death if I crossed it. I decided to tempt fate and cross. When I got across, the end of the bridge was bolted into a cliff, and I had about a 2.5 foot drop to the ground. I wasn't sure I would be able to get back on the bridge on the return trip and contemplated turning around, but decided to "cross that bridge" on the return trip. Since I'm able to post this story, it must mean that I made it out ok.
View of stream from the Hoffman's Pool trail at Kauaeranga.

Much of the Coromandel Peninsula consists of narrow, unpaved, curvy, mountain roads where you meet very big, fast, scary logging trucks.

My car rental agreement prohibited me from driving on unpaved roads, because they are so narrow and full of logging trucks. It took me a whopping 3 hours before I decided to break the rental agreement.

And this is the result of all the logging

West coast of the Coromandel Peninsula

Rolling hills on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula
(another example of a "prohibited" road)
Driving Creek Railway near Coromandel Town
This railway is owned by an artist who built the railway to bring clay and firewood for fuel to his pottery workshop. He's turned it into a tourist attraction. His pottery wasn't to my taste, but the railway provided some spectacular views of the bays and harbors along the east coast of the peninsula.
Moving statues at Waiau Waterworks
Giant spider along the 309 Road
Twin Kauri trees at the Waiau Kauri Grove

Waiau Falls
Waiau Falls without me blocking the view

The east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, overlooking Hahei beach and Mercury Bay on the hike to Cathedral Cove. I spent 3 nights at a bed and breakfast at Hahei. I selected this location for the proximity to Cathedral Cove. In fact, I planned the entire New Zealand trip based on seeing a picture of Cathedral Cove. I decided it was someplace that I wanted to see. I wasn't disappointed.
From Hahei Beach, the walk to Cathedral Cove took you over several ridges and down to a couple of different bays. This picture is taken from the first ridge, looking back at Hahei Beach.This picture is at the top of the second ridge, looking towards Sail Rock on walk to Cathedral Cove.
Once I came down from third ridge, I arrived at Mare's Leg Cove. You can only go through the Cathedral during low tide.

This view of Cathedral Cove and Sail Rock was the whole reason I decided to visit New Zealand. This was a perfect day too (considering it rained for the previous 2 days).

I spent a couple of hours on the beach enjoying the view and relaxing. It was very strange to me the number of people who made the walk to the beach, took 2-3 snapshots, then hurried off to the next site to visit.
Mercury Bay Island
Shags on rocks
Not too far from Hahei beach was Hot Water Beach. During low tide, you can dig in the sand to find the hot springs beneath and sit in a sandy hot tub. I thought about trying this, but it was cold and rainy during most of the days (and used the nice low tide day to visit Cathedral Cove). These crazy German tourists didn't seem to mind that it was rainy and only 65 F degrees out.
Sunset at Whaler's Cove