HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! I hope everyone's was great! Things have been busy with the Holidays and all but I promised myself I would finish this no matter how long it takes me, so here goes...
At about 3am, the Howler Monkeys started up almost like a natural alarm clock. I laid there listening to their eerie call for about 30 minutes before I fell back to sleep. It was amazing but I enjoyed listening to them more as I walked through the jungle. We were up at 4:30am and ready to go. We were all smiles as we thought about getting to Ambergris Caye. The lights were on and our guy from last night was behind the desk. There were two other ladies in the reception area waiting for the sunrise tour guide. After the sunrise guide arrived and the other two ladies left on their adventure, our guy from last night smiled and said he had something for us and produced a bag of all kinds of different fruits for our trip to Belize City. We were very appreciative as we knew we had a very long ride ahead of us. Once again we felt that he went above and beyond by not only finding us an express bus into Belize City but also by helping us contact Anastasio (at no charge) and keeping the lights on an hour past time for us last night, so we thought he deserved a good tip. At first he was really quiet after we tipped him then he quietly asked if we were sure this was for him. We assured him it was as we really appreciated all of his help. 5:00am and our van wasn’t there. I started to worry. We had made our reservations really late last night. What if they had forgotten about us? Our guy told us not to worry. We had made the reservations and they would be there. Sometimes they ran a little late but everything would be OK. We settled in to wait. Around 5:30am our guy said he was going to walk down the road a bit to see if he saw the van. About 5 minutes later he returned with the van. Our things were quickly loaded. Our guy shook Darren’s hand and gave me a kiss on the cheek and we were off. Our driver barely spoke and drove like Death himself were after us. Finally after about 20 minutes of “white-knuckling” it, Darren and I relaxed enough to take a nap. We didn’t sleep well last night and were still really tired. Along the way we kept stopping to pick up other passengers. These were local people and appeared to be paying him as though we were on a bus. I started to wonder if this wasn’t slowing us down and if we would still be able to meet the bus at the cutoff. Our driver continued to pick up people until the van was full. At the cutoff I could see a bus turning onto the main road and I just knew we had missed our bus. Then the bus pulled to the side of the road and our driver skidded in right behind it. He hurriedly grabbed our stuff and we rushed off the van and onto the bus. The bus was full and there were only two seats left in the very back (how lucky were we to get reservations for the last two seats the night before!). The bus was old and dusty (not dirty) probably due to the dirt roads and it didn’t have A/C but the ride was pretty comfortable. We quickly took our seats and fell asleep. We slept for quite awhile before being jarred awake by the bus hitting a pothole. We had left the paved road and were now on the horrendous dirt road leading back to the border. People were hastily closing their windows as the dust flew into the bus. As we neared the border the bus stopped to pick someone up. This person appeared to be a friend of the bus driver as he stood at the front of the bus talking to the driver for some time. After awhile he started walking down the aisle saying that he could change our US dollars and Quetzals to Belize dollars. He told us that he could offer us 2 Belize dollars for every US dollar, once in Belize the best we could do would probably be 1.90 or 1.95 Belize dollars for every US dollar. Of course everyone starts pulling out their money. Darren and I exchange glances. The money changer even told one couple that the Water Taxi would only accept Belize dollars so they needed to change money before they got there. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! One poor couple was completely distraught by this because they only had traveler’s cheques. The money changer was quick to point out that he could take their traveler’s cheques as well :rolleyes: . When he reached the back of the bus he took one look at Darren, who raised his eyebrow at him, and started back to the front of the bus. The couple in front of us turned to ask us why we hadn’t changed any money. Was it not a good deal? Darren told them that the rate in Belize was fixed 2 to 1. There were places where you could probably get more than 2 but you shouldn’t be getting less and that from our understanding the Water Taxi most definitely took US dollars. They asked us a few more questions about Belize but we told them we couldn’t answer much because this was our first time as well. We did share what we had learned from you guys here on the boards though
At the border crossing it was pandemonium, especially with a busload of people coming in. We had to get off the bus, collect our luggage and other belongings, and get in line for immigration on the Guatemalan side. We were to meet our bus on the Belize side after going through customs. It seemed like it took forever but it was probably about 15-20 minutes before we made it to the window on the Guatemalan side. I gave the lady both my and Darren’s passport at the same time. She took one look at mines, stamped it, and gave it back to me. She looked at Darren’s and then told him he would have to pay an exit fee. WHAT?!?!?!? The lady didn’t speak much English so I asked her why Darren had to pay and not me. We came in at the exact same time and are leaving at the exact same time. She looked over at the guy at the next window. I asked him the same question and he just shrugged his shoulders and she stamped Darren’s passport and waved him through. I’m still not sure what that was all about???? After that we hustled on over to try to get through customs. That went smoothly. We went outside and sat and waited for the bus to come through. After about 15 minutes we saw the bus coming through but he kept going. We all just stood there looking at the bus as it passed us by. The bus went to a parking lot across the street from customs and parked. When the driver got out he motioned for us to come over to him?????? We all grabbed our luggage and headed for the bus. Darren and I only had our backpacks and a shoulder bag but one girl had the biggest duffel bag I’ve ever seen so we helped her carry it across the street. There we started loading up again but still had to wait for some other people. It was hot so we all decided to stand outside and talk. We met the most amazing people on this journey. Only a handful were headed to Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. The rest were heading through to Mexico. It was really neat to hear everyone’s stories of what they’d done so far and where they were headed. Some were traveling to each country trying to hit as many Mayan ruins as possible. Others were doing the same but were concentrating on rain forests. All seemed to have a fair amount of time on their hands. We all exchanged notes and Darren and I especially made notes of the places we wanted to visit based on the other’s experiences. Back on the bus and Darren whips out a little sack of something that smells heavenly! He pulls out something wrapped in aluminum foil and when he unwraps the aluminum foil there are the smallest little rolls ever. He says the lady said they were chicken. Boy, were they delicious! He said he got them from one of the little stands in the parking lot where we had just left. He had about 20 of these delicious little things in the aluminum foil and said the lady just kept rolling and rolling them. He only paid US $2 for all 20. We ate and then went back to sleep.
We woke as we were nearing Belize City. This was really our first glimpse of Belize City. What we saw didn’t deter or scare us at all. Yes it was a little dirty but no dirtier than some of the cities here in Georgia. Yes there were homeless people and unsavory looking characters but no more so than here at home. Of course I can’t give a proper assessment of Belize City because we didn’t actually stay in the city but it didn’t look all that bad. I had a picture of some unspeakable city and I’m sure it can be that for some.
The bus dropped us off at a gas station about 2 blocks from the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association. A very easy walk. The van ride and bus ride took us right at 5 ½ hours from Tikal. Once at the Water Taxi station we discovered that we had just missed the 10:30 water taxi. It was 10:40. The next one was at 12:00, so we went ahead and bought our tickets and went back outside to explore some of the shops. We had a great time peeking in the stores and then I realized I had better try to call Portofino to let their water taxi know what time we would be arriving. We went back to the Water Taxi Station and I went to try to get some Belizean change for the pay phone. I tried buying items at several places and asking if I could have change for the pay phone but no one seemed to understand what I wanted. They all gave me blank stares and then shook their heads. I had a few Belizean coins so I decided to try to find a pay phone and see how much it was. When I found a pay phone, I couldn’t find anywhere to put the change. One nice fellow told me that you needed a phone card. OK. Back to the Water Taxi station. I asked the guy at the front desk where I could find phone cards and he says he doesn’t know. OK, by now I’m frustrated. Everyone is acting like they don’t live here and they don’t know anything. As I turn around to head back to my seat I see a sign DIRECTLY in front of the guy at the front desk that says ‘PHONE CARDS SOLD HERE’. What the heck?!?!?!? But of course there’s no one at that stand and no one can tell me when or if the person will be back. I finally give up and just decide we will have to pay for a water taxi from San Pedro to Portofino. No big deal.
Loading and getting on the water taxi was a breeze and a GREAT ride! We really enjoyed it and the chance to talk to the locals. I know the majority of people say to fly but we wanted to experience both sides by boating in and flying back out. We enjoyed ourselves so much on the water taxi though that we decided to take it when we left. It was SO relaxing and it was a gorgeous day. Nikki on the Water Taxi to AC
Everyone was so friendly and we quickly struck up conversations. There was a little girl who was just so adorable! We played games and she giggled and laughed. Did I mention how adorable she was? We were at Caye Caulker before I knew it. We made a note to take a water taxi back over for a day. Then we caught our first glimpse of “La Isla Bonita”! I thought Darren was going to jump out of the boat and swim the rest of the way! We couldn’t wait! We were tired, dirty, hungry, and in need of a drink. Once off the water taxi we looked around for the water taxi stand so we could purchase tickets to Portofino but immediately we saw “Portofino” written on the side of a dock about 3 docks up. We decided to head over there and ask when their next water taxi would be in town. I kid you not, as soon as we were walking down the dock Mo, the water taxi driver from Portofino, drove up in his boat. Darren and I looked at each other. We couldn’t believe our luck! Once Mo jumped out of the boat I walked up to him and said, cautiously, “Mo?”. He looks at us and says, cautiously, “Yes?”. I tell him we’re Darren and Jennifer Terry and we’re staying at Portofino. We tried to call from town but couldn’t. The biggest smile broke across his face as he grabbed both of our hands and shook them vigorously, “Yes! Yes! Darren and Jennifer! We’ve been expecting you! We didn’t know when you were getting in! I was right on time wasn’t I?” He asks if we wouldn’t mind waiting for a minute while he drops some letters off at the Post Office. Of course not! I was actually a little sad to see Mo so quickly as Fido’s was right there and we were going to have a drink if we had had to wait on a water taxi
. I don’t think it took Mo 5 minutes and then we were loaded and off. As we sped past other parts of Ambergris Caye on our way to Portofino, I was all excited because I knew certain places that we were passing. After about 20(?) minutes we pulled up to one of the most beautiful places. Portofino
I’ve been dreading writing the part of my report that deals with Portofino and actually thought about not writing it but I can’t help how we felt. It is the truth from our standpoint and how we felt during our stay there. It wasn’t the whole resort, only one person. Everyone else was extremely nice and typical of everyone we had met so far. Once we docked at Portofino, we were met on the dock by Kathy, one of the managers there. She said the following with no emotion, “Hi. We were expecting you on Tropic Air earlier this morning. What happened?”. I told her that we were never scheduled to take Tropic Air so she must have us confused with another guest. She then says “Well, whatever. Welcome to Portofino.”. It was a little uncomfortable but I dismissed it. We turned to get our backpacks and Mo practically smacked our hands and said “No, no! I’ll take them.” and smiled at us. So we followed Kathy to the reception area. Here we were presented with Welcome Cocktails which were greatly appreciated and Kathy says we need to take care of the second part of our payment. I went over to the desk with Kathy to take care of payment. She takes the card, swipes it, and then says “It’s been declined.” WHAT?!?!?!? This is the only credit card we own and we never use it. OK. Is there a phone I can use? She says I can purchase a phone card for $20 and use the pay phone. Good deal! I get the phone card and call my credit card company. As soon as the person pulls up my account, they say “We’ve been trying to contact you.” “Why? What’s going on?” “You’re account has been locked.” “What? Why? I’m on vacation in Belize!” To make a long story short, we have one credit card and we only use it when we need to make reservations where a credit card is required. This is a personal choice of ours as we both came out of college with HEAVY credit card debt. We worked very hard to pay all of them off and decided that credit cards were the Devil and that we would only have one and only things that required a credit card would be put on it. I was given numerous reasons why the card had been “locked”. (1) We hardly ever use this card and in the past 7 days there has been heavy activity, (2) They had just received a request for an international charge (Portofino’s charge) in Belize and that had thrown up a red flag for fraud, (3) There were also charges coming in from Detroit Michigan (??????). At this time, my phone card ran out and my call was disconnected. I went back to the front desk to ask Kathy for another card and she says that I can use the phone at the desk so I don’t keep getting cut off but I will have to pay them for the call. Fine, no problem at all! But she STILL makes me use a phone card???? This confuses me. She just told me to use the phone directly so I wouldn’t get cut off but then she makes me use a phone card. Go figure! The only thing I could think of is that she wanted me to use the desk phone so she could hear my conversation. Fine with me. So I call my credit card company back, explain to them that I’m using a phone card and could get cut off again, so they rush to get everything straightened out. “Yes, we are on vacation in Belize so there will be a hotel charge coming through and possibly other charges if there is an emergency or if we need cash. No, we are NOT in Detroit. Darren has never been to Detroit and I haven’t been in 7 years. Yes, I want to report this as fraud.” Once again the phone card runs out before I can finish the conversation but we were wrapping it up anyway. I ask Kathy to try the card again and she says “Are you sure we won’t have any problems?” but it’s said with an undertone I don’t much care for (even though she was standing there and heard the whole conversation) but I dismiss it again. I’m on vacation and maybe I’m overreacting because I’m tired. But little did I know that the “Are you sure we won’t have any problems?” phrase will be repeated during our stay here at Portofino. The card goes through, we finish up the paperwork, and Kathy escorts us to our room, the Sunflower Suite. Portofino’s Sunflower Suite
Wow! What a wonderful room! As others have mentioned, the view is obstructed a little by the palm trees and the roofs of the duplexes out front. This didn’t both us at all but I know some want to be able to see the ocean from their room so just be forewarned. The room was GORGEOUS! Darren was ecstatic after having to stay in the room at the Tikal Inn. The only thing I wanted to do was take a nice hot shower, wash my hair, get a drink, and get pretty much naked. I didn’t even bother to unpack right then. All I needed was a top and my sarong and I was good to go. While I jumped in the shower and washed my hair, Darren went to get us some drinks from the bar. When he returned I was pretty much finished because of course he met some people and started running his mouth. Next it was his turn to hit the shower. I grabbed my drink and headed out to the beach. I had something very important to do before I started my vacation on AC. I went out on the dock and raised my drink to Denny Shane and his health. Now vacation here could officially start
Since it was so late when we arrived we hung around the hotel. We walked out on the dock and spent a few minutes lounging and clowning around. Darren clowning around
This picture didn’t come out that good but I like it because it shows how happy I was. Nikki having fun at Portofino Darren getting attacked by mosquitos already Portofino’s salt water “pool”
After the dock, we headed to the bar where we met AJ and Kelly. They were the most fun EVER! Just genuine down to earth people. We enjoyed the time we spent with them. At this time we also met Abi(sp?) the bartender. Very nice fella and knows how to mix a mean drink. AJ and Kelly told us about their golf cart ride into town and suggested we rent a golf cart instead of taking the water taxi. The golf cart was $45 for a half day but a half day was considered 8 hours, plenty of time! Will do! We looked for Kathy so we could make sure there would be a cart available tomorrow but couldn’t find her so we decided we would just wait until the morning. We all headed up for dinner and got two tables back to back so we could talk to each other. Dinner that night was a ribeye or prime rib steak (can’t remember which) with veggies and fresh bread. It was DELICIOUS! I think the cost was $30 per person. Yeah, a little pricey but this was the anniversary part of our trip. The staff was extremely nice and courteous. Not stuffy at all. We said goodnight to AJ and Kelly and headed to our room. On the way there, we ran into a young lady who was looking for her dog. We found out it was Sonjia(sp?) one of the owners of Portofino. I had had communications with her when making our reservations and was really glad to meet her as I also had a message for her from Wim and Chantal. They’re all from Belgium and she was REALLY glad to hear from them. She hadn’t heard from them in months. Sonjia was also very pregnant with her first child and I hope everything went well for her. She is so sweet! Back in our room we find we have an unexpected visitor outside our window. Unexpected Visitor
We named him “Batman” :p . Time for sleep! We have a whole town to explore tomorrow!
Coming soon: Thursday, November 4th – Day 7: San Pedro Dreamin’…. Link To All Pictures From Day 6