BELIZE / MEXICO BLOG (February 2015) Travel Day 1 Drove down

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BELIZE / MEXICO BLOG (February 2015)
Travel Day 1
Drove down from Maine to Boston in a raging blizzard. Whiteout conditions. Maybe the worst
conditions I ever driven in. Then flying out of an east coast city the morning after a major
blizzard is also quite an experience. Logan was crawling with people at 4:30AM. Eeeh - what a
job those airline agents have.
Even though I had a confirmed ticket and was there
plenty early (slept at terminal), US Air gave my
ticket to someone who has been waiting since
yesterday and booked me on a different flight with a
different airline! I guess that's legal.
The snow in Boston was so deep that it completely covered up my VW while I was away. Thanks to Ty for shoveling it out before I got back
Problem is, they didn’t have me scheduled to depart
Boston until 1:30 so I would have missed by
overnight bus from Cancun to Belize. So I just got
on the wait list for anything with a connection that
would get me to Cancun in time (ended up
connecting in Dallas).
There were over 10 people on standby. I was # 7. And they took 7 people. Very fortunate. Sat
in middle seat of last row, but at least I'm still on schedule.
Travel Day 2
The overnight bus from Cancun to Belize City went very well. It was a very interesting blend of
locals, gringos and ex-pats (most my age). My kind of crowd. Everyone is social and has a
story. There were even 2 young couples travelling with a kid - one 8 months and the other 2.
They traveled well. Several disruptive stops though, one exiting Mexico and one entering
Belize, where we all had to get out, open up luggage, etc. They take security seriously here.
I got into Cancun around 6PM yesterday and the bus left at 10:30,
so I killed a few hours at a local Mexican restaurant near the
downtown bus station. It was awesome. Open-air with great
chips/salsa and tacos (and Sol cervaza). In 24 hours I went from
waiting out a blizzard in a NH restaurant to waiting for the bus in a
mexican cantina. Crazy world we live in.
What's killing me now is lack of sleep and the flu bug. My sleep
totals for the last 3 nights are: Had lots of packing to do after the
Super Bowl, so only slept a couple hours on Sunday night. Zero
sleep Monday night at Logan Airport. And maybe a couple of
restless hours on the bus last night. Got a great $20 motel room on the beach in San Pedro now
though, so hopefully I'll get some zzzs tonight before going to El Pescador tomorrow. Plan for
today is to just chill out and take photos, etc.
The restaurant had a great Mariachi band that traveled among the tables, playing for tips.
First Day in San Pedro
San Pedro was great. In general, Belize seems to be much more of a
blended culture than Mexico - which in my experience is mostly just
Mexicans, which is cool in itself, but limited. People from lots of
central American countries seem to be in Belize. So in addition to
Rasta English being spoken, there are also lots of Spanish dialects as
well. Everyone has been super nice. Bob Marley is still a national
hero here. I ate at some cool, off the beaten path back street
places. Just by coincidence, there was a candle-light cancer walk down
the main street in town last night. Quite moving to see how people
from all over the world are affected. I definitely felt a bond.
El Pescador Day 1
Took the water taxi to El Pescador (fly fishing
lodge) in the morning. Real nice place, so I
broke down and wore a collared shirt – but at
least it was Hawaiian ☺. Dinner was lobster
(Yikes). Ate with a young couple from Denmark
travelling with two kids - 4 and 6 years old, who
were doing very well. They just got back from
Chaa Creek (the jungle lodge I’m going next),
and loved it. So that's
encouraging. My room
at El Pescador has 2
very large, very
comfortable beds with a
View of pool and Caribbean Sea from my balcony.
total of 10 pillows. I
plan to sleep soundly tonight. Wore my new 'buff' all day, which
worked great, so no sunburn yet. In general though, my packing has
left something to be desired.
A plate full of lobster tails. All you can eat. Wow!
You know that I'm usually pretty self-confident, but not
typically when fishing on my own on the flats. Fishing on
my own today, however, I caught a bonefish within 5 casts,
so that was a good confidence booster. Got 3 total and
several misses (in 4 hours), which was comparable to some
of the folks going with guides. I was just lucky, but at least
it made me look good when swapping fishing stories back
at the lodge ☺.
A typical Ambergris Caye bonefish.
El Pescador Day 2
Explored some mangrove passages into a big, new lagoon with
several different flats today. Used a kayak yesterday and a canoe
today. Tough paddling in a very stiff wind today. Think I'm gonna
go snorkeling tomorrow. El Pescador has a mooring ball out by the
reef that you can paddle out to. That sounds like fun. And several
people told me the salt water will help clear out my sinuses . So that
would be a plus.
We had prime rib tonight. The food here really is amazing. And
stone crab is on the menu for tomorrow night. I'm gonna go back for
Paddling my canoe through a 100‐yard mangrove channel to the lagoons.
seconds tomorrow for sure.
El Pescador Day 3
Took a sit-upon kayak out to the mooring ball at the reef this morning to snorkel. It was a fairly
long way out there solo (I'm not the greatest kayaker). And, the mooring ball was in 4 feet of
water, so getting back up on the kayak at the end was a bit sketchy as well. I really dig
snorkeling though, so just had to check it out. I
stepped on a sea urchin and still have part of a spine in
my foot, so hopefully it won't get infected. The salt
water in the nose seemed to do my sinuses good
though.
After lunch walked the ocean-side beach looking for
bonefish tails. Saw and cast to 4 or 5 groups of
bonefish, which was surprisingly good I thought - for
just walking the beach. Kept getting distracted by the
beach bars though ☺.
This place, called the Palapa, was built out over the water. Awesome!
Tomorrow is my day to fish with a guide. Guides are the highest paid
people on the island. And certain guides are legendary. I met a guy at
dinner tonight from Philly who is also fishing single tomorrow as well,
so we decided to go together. He was scheduled to go with the # 3 guide
at El Pescador (Kachu), so that’s an opportunity I can’t pass up. Even
though I'll only get to actually fish half as much. Wish me luck.
Poling all day is no easy task. Kinda like rowing a driftboat :) El Pescador Day 4
The fishing day with the guide went great. Both
Nick (my partner) and Kachu (the guide) tried to
scare me (in a friendly way), saying that flats fishing
is the major leagues of fishing vs. what I'm used to.
And the guides here can be very exacting about what
they want their clients to do (casting-wise). So I was
a bit puckered up for my first turn up on the bow.
They calmed down when I laid out a 70 foot cast
and caught a bonefish on my second cast thoughand I felt better too.
Saw incredible numbers of tarpon in (what I’d
estimate to be) the 40 pound range. I cast to at least
20. No takers though. It was a flat calm day, not a
cloud in the sky, so the fish were spooky. But I was very happy just to have legit shots at lots of
tarpon and permit. Nick caught one 20# Jack Crevalle, which is a great fish in itself.
The tarpon were easy to see (because they are enormous).
Back in San Pedro
Yesterday was my last night at El Pescador. Finally met Chris (the owner). She had been in the
US until last night, so it was great to catch up with her. She was awesome and El Pescador
couldn’t have treated me better.
Back to the 'real world' in San Pedro town now. Waiting for the room
at my $25 / night hotel to get cleaned. Gonna try some shore-bound
fishing tomorrow with a local guy I met at the boat dock. This will fit
well into my 'Margaritiaville on a Budget' themed powerpoint.
Snorkeling also on menu before I head on the jungle leg.
When I’m not at a fancy resort dining on
Stone Crab and lobster, I’m eating very
Nick and Kachu with a 20 pound Jack Crevalle.
local. All the tourist spots are on the
beach. But if you move a street or two inland, you can find
storefronts where local folks cook local food. My favorite place
served an El Salvadoran dish called a papusa, which was kinda like
a small calzone, stuffed with different things like beans, rice,
cheese, pork or shrimp, then fried on a grill. I ate there twice.
These two folks made papusas from 11am to 11pm 7 days a week. The girl in the front was one of my favorite people that I met on the trip. She spoke English and had a very interesting life story.
More San Pedro
Yesterday was quite a day. Since I just finished 4 pretty hectic days
at El Pescador, I had it penciled is 'down-day' where I would just
catch up on odds n ends. So I went to the Ministry of Education in
the morning and talked to them about setting up some sort of
affiliation or sponsored program with UMaine. The local people
here don't have anything, so it would be great if we could maybe sponsor their best high
school student to come to UMaine. At the minimum, I could give some lectures and stuff when
I'm down here and spread the inquiry-based concept to the islands :) Lots of details to be worked
out, but I feel good about getting the ball rolling on that project.
Elementary school in the heart of San Pedro.
I needed a golf cart for fishing with Roberto, so I just rented
it early (after lunch yesterday) and drove around San Pedro
picking up hitch-hikers and trying to map out a beach bar
tour via golf cart (mission accomplished). Hands down, the
best part of that afternoon was riding around for an hour
with this 8 year old kid who explained the whole history of
the schools on the island to me. All school kids here wear
very traditional uniforms. There are 7 different elementary
schools , each with a different color uniform. Most kids
don't go to high school, so there is only one. The high
school uniforms are all white. The super cool thing though
is that each kid brings their elementary school colors with
them to the high school via the tie that they wear (both boys
and girls wear ties). In the words of this kid... "because you
don't want to forget where you came from." He was the
most mature, and bright, little kid I ever met. Definitely the
highlight of yesterday.
The lowlight was that my golf cart was stolen from out
front of my shady hotel while I was sleeping. So that killed
fishing today and left me in a tight spot. The rental guy
said that it happens occasionally and the police won't do
anything to get it back. So his solution was that I should
'look around and try to find it.' Finding it on foot is a very
long shot. And even if I did, am I supposed to steal it back
from the local drug lord who took it in the first place? I
didn't like my odds, so I did the only thing a somewhat
upstanding Mainer would do.... hopped the first boat off
the island. So, hello Caye Caulker. I wanted to come here
anyway.
Golf carts are the primary form of transportation around San Pedro.
Caye Caulker Day1
Snorkeled the local reef in the afternoon with some guys from Sweden who had never snorkeled
before. They made me look like Jacques Cousteau, which is really a stretch. Saw lots of rays
and nurse sharks, even one of those giant Eagle Rays. I love snorkeling.
Great beach bar last night. Mix of locals, lots of Canadians,
and even a bunch of guys from the British Military who just
finished 6 weeks of jungle training. It was a pretty wild
How could these 3 guys make music that is soooo good??
scene. The place had great live music played by one Rasta guy, one other local, and a bunch of
different ex-pat gringos who sat in for different songs. They were all tremendous. One of the
best bar music scenes ever. I'll never forget their La Bamba jam.
Caye Caulker Day 2
I fished the beaches this morning with a guy from Calif. that I met at
that awesome beach bar yesterday. Caught 3 or 4 bonefish, a 'cuda
and a few other fish - using his fly rod. So that was great.
Afterward I was locking my bike up at a beach bar where I was
going for lunch. I heard someone say, "Hey Kevin (by name), I see
you're downsizing from a golf cart to a bike – ha ha." It was
Roberto, the guy who I hung out with for a while in San Pedro who
knew about my situation. He said that the cart was found and I was
all clear. The cool thing is how 'small' Belize seems to be. It doesn't
take too long to feel kinda local here.
Beach‐caught bonefish.
Had dinner tonight with 3 of the British military guys who were on R + R after jungle training.
Incredibly interesting guys. They are the equivalent of US Navy Seals. Super hard core and
very proud of what they do – which is primarily extricate Brits from ‘kidnap for ransom’
situations around the world. It took many rounds of rum drinks to get them to open up about
what they do, but their stories were amazing, and very sobering. I lead a very sheltered life.
Gotta catch the early boat to the mainland tomorrow, then try to get to my jungle lodging before
nightfall via local bus transportation. Wish me luck. I'm gonna miss the Cayes. But have never
been to the jungle, so really looking forward to it.
Chaa Creek Day 1
Whaaooo. This jungle place (Chaa Creek Lodge) is
killer. I owe a great debt to Kristen’s friend Matty, who
turned me on to this place. El Pescador was an
awesome beach-front resort on a 25 acre lot. Chaa
Creek is a 380 acre jungle compound! It's much fancier
than it looks on the website. There are manicured
cement walkways between all the buildings in the main
compound. Then a legit jungle trail (a tad better than
the Appalachain Trail) leads down to the Macal River
camp, where I am staying.
Manicured grounds of Chaa Creek Resort
This story I'm not making up.... So, I was down at the river
chilling (very long, steep walk down to the river's edge) and
downstream comes a Mayan woman and her son in a red Old
Town Discovery canoe. They paddle right up to where I'm
standing (I helped them land the canoe) and get out. She says that
she and her son will be cooking the dinner I’ll eat tonight. They
Riverside trail connecting Macal River camp to main Chaa Creek lodge and compound
live on the other side of the river and have a path down to the water. Every day they walk down
the steep hill, paddle down and across the river, cook till well after dark, then paddle back
upstream at the end of the night and walk home. That's pretty bad-ass.
The commute from Caye Caulker to San Ignacio went very well. The bus ride was only around
3 hours and I enjoyed seeing some of the spots where the locals (who mainly occupied the bus)
live. Total cost for a 3 hour bus ride - $8 BZ or around $4 US. And the 3 taco special at the café
in town where I had lunch was $7 BZ, $3.50 US. Two more great reasons to love Belize.
Chaa Creek Day 2
The casita on the right is the one I stayed in.
Wow. Last night in the Casita was awesome.
It's basically a screened porch with a roof, so
100% open to the sounds of the jungle. No
power, so lighted with 2 kerosine lamps. I've
never been on a safari, but I imagine that it's
what a safari camp would be like. Except that
it only costs $65 per night, including
breakfast and dinner :)
I've never heard Howler monkeys before. Their calls were super loud and
sounded like the sound the black 'death' goblins made in the movie Ghost
(remember that one?) as they dragged bad people away. I'm more in the
mountains here, so a bit cooler than on the coast. I slept under a light
cover last night. The naturalist on the nature walk this morning said last
night and tonight are forecast to be the coldest nights of the year here.
Wow. A totally different world.
Gonna try to hook up with some other people to do an off-site trip
tomorrow (Cave tubing, Mayan ruins, etc.) All those are priced by the van
load, so if you go alone you pay the whole freight, which can be more than
the cost of my entire stay here, so we'll see. Just doing all the local stuff on
site has been great so far.
This Howler Monkey was so loud that it sounded like he was sitting in a tree directly above my casita.
Chaa Creek Day 3
Climbed a very tall Mayan Temple this morning for a
360 panorama of western Belize and eastern Guatamala.
The view was fantastic. I’m learning a ton about the
Mayans. I love history, so have really been digging it. I
had dinner with a family from Billings Montana last
night. I told them they reminded me of the family in the
movie 'The Blindside'. Two super cute kids, Liam and
Riley, and the little boy was just like the kid in the
movie, super-smart, funny and talkative.
Xunantunich ‐ This temple is called El Castillo, and is still one of the tallest man‐made structures in Belize.
Biggest travel day of the trip is tomorrow. First bus is at 3:30AM, so I have to catch a ride out of
the resort very early. I think a security guy is gonna shuttle me out to the gate, then someone
else is supposed to meet us and drive me to town. That seems kinda iffy to me, since it will be in
the middle of the night. But we’ll see. Then there are 3 more bus transfers before I reach my
last stop, Costa de Cocos fishing lodge in Xcalak Mexico. It's worked well so far, so wish me
luck.
Saturday is market day in San Ignacio. Everyone says
it's a great event to see (biggest market in Belize). I
wish I could go, but transport is a problem, so it will
have to wait till next time. We have a Saturday night
chicken BBQ at the Macal River Camp tonight (where
I'm staying), so I'm sure I'll like that as well. Doceo ran the Macal River Camp and is pictured here cooking the BBQ chicken. He was a great guy and huge help in getting me shuttled out in the early morning Travel Day
I can't even figure where to begin describing this crazy day, so I guess I'll just go chronological.
It started at 2:30 AM with me sitting around a camp fire surrounded by the sounds of the jungle
waiting for my ride to the bus station. A random guy showed up, right on time, handed me off a
couple times to other random guys, but ultimately, I got dropped at the plaza / bus station in
downtown San Ignacio around 3:15 AM.
The buses (and bus stations) in Belize are in pretty rough shape. Basically old US school buses with no AC or amenities.
Here's the crazy part.... the streets were crawling
with young (drunk) people and music was booming
from several clubs that opened onto the plaza. I
asked the driver, what the heck is going on? He
said every Saturday the largest market / carnival in
Belize is right here, so people from all over come
here to party - and this is Valentine's night. It
totally reminded me of the Old Port when the bars
let out at 1AM. Except these were mostly drunk
Guatamalans. What made me nervous was that
there were many very pretty young girls in short
skirts, etc. and I was afraid if one of them came up
and talked to me, it might have provoked a
confrontation with one of their latin suitors.
Thankfully, that didn't happen, so I'll just chalk it up
to a wild wee-hours experience.
Then, when the bus finally comes, me and 30 of these folks pile on. They always play music
(loudly) on the local buses in Belize, so I'm tooling down the road in the middle of the
night listening to blaring latin music with 30 crazy Guatamalans. This continued for about an
hour, until we reached the bus station in the capital city, Belmopan. There, 3 or 4 soldierlooking type guys in uniforms and with guns boarded the bus, so things calmed down till we
reached Belize City around dawn.
The music on the next leg (Belize City to Mexican border)
evolved into a blend of old American country songs (think Kenny
Rogers), pop stuff (both latin and US - Michael Jackson) and my
absolute favorite, "Hotel California" sung in Spanish. I'm not
making this stuff up. The last hour of the bus ride, I ended up
holding the cutest little Mayan girl ever (maybe 2 or 3 years old)
on my lap. I wish I had a toy or something to give her, but had
nothing.
Here is my little friend, pictured with her big sister. The people were definitely the highlight of this whole 3‐week adventure for me. Generally the buses and bus stations were much nicer in Mexico than Belize. The Chetumal bus station is pictured here. By mid-afternoon, I
was deep in the
bowels of the small Mexican city of Chetumal,
where I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. It
turned out that the end of the line for the Belize bus
was a public square / market (not the bus station),
so finding my way to the Caribe bus I needed to
catch was quite an adventure. So was getting lunch.
I ate at a small storefront where a guy took out a
whole uncooked chicken from a box of dead
chickens. We used semi sign-language to
communicate how much I wanted (half). He then
used a big knife / machete to chop it in half and
cooked it on a BBQ grill. I'd like to have taken
pictures of all of this (and more), but just didn’t feel
totally comfy doing that, given my solo
circumstances.
Costa de Cocos Day 1
Today kinda epitomizes my travel experience over the
last few weeks. After a long travel day yesterday, woke
up in a cabana at the second fly-fishing lodge (Costa de
Cocos) 20 meters from the Caribbean Sea. Had
absolutely no plan for the day - except to find someplace
good to fish. I was looking at Google maps on my laptop
in the lodge at breakfast, trying to figure what to do. A
couple of the Mexican workers (Rubin and Chay) saw
that I was interested in fishing on my own and offered to
take me to a cenote with lots of tarpon. They siphoned
This truck looks better in this picture than it really was.
(by mouth) 5 gallons of gas from a plastic bucket into the crappiest truck you've ever seen. I told
them stories about Foley's Grease Car, which they probably didn't understand, but seemed to
enjoy.
We loaded a double kayak (with no seats or hatch covers) on top of
the truck and barreled down the road about 20 miles to an unmarked
spot where we dragged the kayak at least 250 yards through the
jungle to this beautiful cenote. I had on Keen sandals and stopped 5
times to clean out the sticks and crud poking into my feet. Rubin
was barefoot. I still don’t know how he could drag a kayak down
that submerged jungle ‘trail’ barefoot.
A tough drag into the cenote.
Rubin paddled while I fished, seated on top of the kayak.
The cenote was just the same size as a remote trout pond
in Maine, except there were 5-10 # tarpon rolling all over
the place. They seemed to be interested in dragon flies,
just like trout in Maine. I caught 3 tarpon, none big
(maybe 5 #), but they were some of the most satisfying
fish I've ever caught. It’s unlikely that I will ever go back
that cenote again. I loved the fishing, but I don't think my
nerves could survive another trip in that truck ☺. People
in Mexico and Belize only drive at 2 speeds, stop and full
speed. And you know how I am about car safety.
Tomorrow is my day with a legit guide, Nacho. I’m very
excited. Just had dinner with the retired University of
Michigan soccer coach, his wife, and their friend Polly, who is a huge soccer fan from the UK
and lives in Xcalak.
Our precarious perches atop the double kayak prevented us from getting a decent picture of the tarpon, so Rubin gave me this picture of a different client in the same cenote.
Costa de Cocos Day 2
Tomorrow is my last day in Mexico.... so the reflection begins. After fishing today, I borrowed a
bike and took a ride around town, which is a few miles from the lodge. The standard of living is
shocking, at least to a gringo like me. There are some houses that are four sheets of plywood
wide on each side. My garage on Brunswick St would be one of the nicest houses in Xcalak.
I've met a bunch of warm, wonderful folks here. Is that where THEY live??? It must be,
because there doesn’t seem to be any better places. And Belize is even worse. Four of the 5
toilets that I visited on my recent marathon bus ride didn't even have a seat, and were BYOTP
(which I learned late). Yet most people riding the buses were clean, happy and very friendly.
It’s gonna take me awhile to sort this all out…..
Nacho running us down along the barrier reef to the fishing grounds in Chetumal Bay.
Saw a lot of tarpon today and caught a lot of bonefish. I
really like being with other guides because I can relate to
how they plan their day. We started with tarpon. My
casting wasn't bad, but not awesome either. The fish just
wouldn’t eat my fly. On the sight-fishing bones, the guides
are generally pretty demanding on what they want / expect
you to do. The boat is moving, the fish are moving, and the
wind is blowing. I punching-out 80 foot casts and Nacho
wasn't even close to impressed. I caught 4 or 5 that way,
then during the last 1.5 hours, he took me to a Plan B (easy)
spot, where I could catch as many as I wanted (huge schools
mudding). I do the same thing with my clients. It’s all
about catching fish and having fun.
There are two buses from Xcalak tomorrow - one at 5AM one at 2PM. I should get up early and
catch the 5AM bus. But Rubin is talking me into snorkeling with Manatees in the morning, so
I’ll probably end up taking the 2PM bus. Problem is, if I miss the connection at Limones, I'm
’stuck’ here in Mexico for a few more days. I'll let you know how it goes.
Costa de Cocos Day 3
Sad to leave my cabana at Costa de Cocos.
Took Rubin's advice and snorkeled out front instead of
heading out on the early bus. Never made it out to the reef,
but lots of great coral heads and fish in pretty close range.
Definitely the right choice - except that now I really need to
put together a solid game plan to get back to Cancun and out
tomorrow. Two bus connections, and then I guess I'll just kill
time in some bars in Cancun till closing time, then hope they
let me sleep at the airport. That works great in the US, but just
not sure if they allow squatters in airports in Mexico. We'll
see.
One very sad side note on the Saturday night partying Guatamalans story from San Ignacio. I
had dinner last night with a couple from Oregon who have travelled around Latin America a lot.
I told them my story, and they said that San Ignacio is one of the major human trafficking points
out of Latin America. They said young girls come out of the jungles to go to the market, and to
party, then get lured away with stories of going to the US or somewhere appealing. Or just flat
out get abducted. I can easily see how that could happen. They then end up in Mexican
prostitution houses, etc. Eeeeh. Just awful. That's why, even though it gets cold and snows
sometime, we need to appreciate Maine and the US.
There’s no place like home -- click, click
There’s no place like home -- click, click
There’s no place like home!!
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