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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Reprinted with permission from
krainey from Seattle on belizeforums

Still catching my breath from a beautiful, educational and (often) humorous journey. We made it, we loved almost every minute and it was- hands down- the best experience of my life. Before I elaborate into the individual days and OUR take on what saw we and did, I am compelled to bring forward a disclaimer.

I have lived in Northwest Washington State my whole life. Any traveling I have done was to neighboring Western and Southwestern states in the US. I had never been out of the country, except to venture into Canada. No one else in our group had been any farther than resort towns in Mexico. I think Mark Twain can best sum up our trip with this:

"It's not what you don't know that gets you in trouble...
It's what you know for sure, that just ain't so"

It's going to take a while to tell everything but here is an overview of our entire itinerary as it actually happened.

Day 1, Free Zone, princess Hotel
Day 2, Corozal, Tony's Inn
Day 3, Sartenja, Fernando's Guest House
Day 4, Belize city, Best Western
Day 5, Sartenja, Fernando's Guest House
Day 6 Sartenja, Fernando's Guest House
Day 7, San Ignacio, The Aguada
Day 8, Tikal, GT- Jungle Lodge
Day 9, Benque Viejo, Martz Hideaway Camp
Day 10, Benque Viejo, Martz Hideaway Camp
Day 11, Hopkins, Jungle Jeannie's by the Sea
Day 12, Placentia, Sea Spray Hotel
Day 13, Placentia, Sea Spray Hotel
Day 14, Placentia, Sea Spray Hotel
Day 15, Placentia, Sea Spray Hotel
Day 16, Big Falls, Lodge at Big Falls
Day 17, Toledo District, Aguacate Village- Mayan Homestay
Day 18, Belize city, Best Western
Day 19, Belize city, Best Western
Day 20, Corozal, Corozal Bay Inn
Day 21, Corozal, Corozal Bay Inn

All this was done from a rented van that was 'rode hard and put away wet'. The only scheduled stop was at Martz farm and we never had a reservation or solid plans for anything else. That was an AWESOME way to do it, for us.

In the next few days, I will try and get everyone's journals (from our group) online here in this thread. When we are finished editing our 800+ photos, I will post a link to the highlights.

Since I used this forum for planning my trip, I am going to include a few things that helped me, or would have helped me if I had known about them. I am going to mark some of these suprises with a ** because the unexpected things that we didn't hink about NEEDING to know, tended to be the ones that threw us off. A lot of this will be REALLY boring to those of you who already know your way around, but I know someone as green as me would have been great to talk to before I left, so I hope I can help another family with these logs.

Day 1. Getting there.

We left home on Monday evening. Due to a sudden snowstorm, our shuttle driver cancelled, forcing us to (foolishly) brave the Seattle streets ourselves. En route to the airport, our van did a 360 on the freeway- eliciting a "yeee-haw!" from the teenage boys and enough of an adreneline boost for the adults that the red-eye flight no longer seemed hard to stay awake for. As a side note, we found out later that thousands of people were stranded on the roads and many slept in (or abandoned) their cars.

There were 9 of us leaving that night, 3 adults, and 6 teens or pre-teens. With a large group, the shuttle was going to be affordable ($105 each way) Parking at the airport- considering the circumstances- wasn't much more ($343 including tax, no tip necessary :-) We pulled all the shiny new luggage out of the van, and in less than 30 minutes we were through security and wondering how to spend the next 4 hours. The recommendation for a family is to arrive three hours early, and getting to airport was quicker (and a heck of a lot scarier) than we had thought.

We flew into Cancun, connecting in Houston. We left Seattle at 2:00 am, arrived in Houston at 8:30, and then arived in Cancun at 11:30.

**Customs and immigration in Mexico required a somewhat comprehensive form for each traveler. You keep a piece that you must turn in when you leave Mexico, which we were doing later that day. Not easy with 6 kids to fill out quickly. See day 22 for further details on this. **

We had our fresh new passports stamped and we all "oohed and ahhed" as we looked at each others.

We were taking bus to Chetumal, but first you have to catch a bus at the airport to the downtown Cancun. We were approached by a porter who just took our bags and loaded them onto a cart. We didn't fight him but we certainly didn't ask him to do that. He quickly hustled us over to a woman with a walkie talkie who wanted us to pay her then for our bus tickets to Chetumal. She wanted $22 each for the tickets, plus $2 for the ride to the other bus station. Although I knew that that was about the cost of the tickets, I wanted to use my credit card at the bus station, because the exchange rate was more in our favor that way. She was a bit abrupt with us when we wouldn't buy both sets. The porter loaded our bags on the bus and came over and held out his hand. I gave him $5, and he shook his head and held his hand out closer to me. I gave him another $5, but he still wasn't happy. The the woman (she was an ADO employee) held out her hand and we gave her ten bucks and she said "more" and we just said "no" they had spent less than 5 minutes with us!

A quick bus ride later (15 minutes?) we were at the Cancun bus station.

**I VERY wrongly assumed that in Cancun I would be able to speak English to SOMEONE at just about anyplace I went. This was not the case, and had it not been for my son's one year of high school spanish, I don't know what we would have done. I knew that Belize would be English speaking, but in retrospect it was foolish at best (and arrogant at worst) to not have learned some Spanish.***

They did not take Credit cards at the bus station, but the cost was still considerable less than than what I had been quoted by cranky airport lady. Instead of $22 each, it was about $18.50 and two of the kids were half price. So we saved almost $50 over what we would have paid at the airport for the same ticket. Our timing was good and the bus arrived almost immediately and we piled on.

**We had not eaten, except for a peanuts on the plane. I was told by a friend who visited Mexico that "the busses in Mexico stop and people get on and sell you fruit and tacos". We could have waited an hour, eaten and caught the next bus, but I was relying on that piece of information. We ended up going 6 1/2 hours more without food. At one stop, my husband and son got off to get food, but all that they had was water, so we bought some of that. The bus driver signaled to me what I THOUGHT was a question as to whether or not they were still gone, but (thanks to my lack of Spanish) he was actually asking if they were back and he started to leave. Also (this does not deserve it's own **, because it's petty) I had read that bussed played American movies, but did not realize that they were dubbed over in Spanish. Thankfully, the kids slept through ost of the ride. **

We arrived In Chetumal at 7:00, and the bus station was pretty dark. It was so much different than what we were used to. The first thing on everyones mind was food. There were some bags of chips at one stand, but all the hot food cases were empty. One vendor had some sandwichs, and we bought all four of them. Moments later biting into the warm bologna and sweatly cheese on stale bread we realized they had been out on the counter all day. Yummy.

Busses don't run at that time of evening, but there were taxi's outside. We needed three to take all of us to the free zone. They quoted us 105 pesos per taxi (around $10). We put one adult in each car and off they sped. And I mean SPED. Whipping and winding around cars and pedestrians like I had never seen. In just a few minutes we were at the Mexican Border where we turned in the little remittance slip, got all the passports stamped and then hopped back the taxi's for two blocks.

They dropped us in front of the Casino, not the hotel. A helpful man named Carlos came over and translated for us, because the drivers were refusing to take the 105 pesos (plus a 50 peso tip each, around $15 total) beacsue they were saying it was 200 pesos per taxi. We argued for a minute and then gave then what they asked for. They sped away even faster. Carlos was kind enough to let us know it should have only been 50 to 75 pesos per taxi for the trip.

**In retrospect, we should have just stayed in Chetumal or gone on to Corozal town that night, because OUR free zone experience as an untraveled was not that great**

The hotel was smoky, and we paid $76 each for three rooms. There was a restaurant there, and we all had dinner and toasted our arrival.

The next morning, we walked out of the hotel and right into the shopping area for the free zone. I am sure you can get a lot of great stuff there, but all we got were a couple of great pictures. I had arrangements (I thought) with the rental company to meet me on the Belize side of the Santa Elena border at 1:00 pm, but after a phone call it turned out that they could not make it until 6:00 pm, so we decided to have them meet us in Corozal town instead.

**My cell phone did not work in the Free Zone. I have CIngular, and they said it would work, but it didn't. I have a Treo 650- so its a GSM phone, but no luck, no coverage. The hotel phones were "down", so I had to find a pay phone, but youcan't use a credit card at a pay phone there, you have to buy a BTL card to call anywhwere. There are kiosks and stores everywhere that sell them. **** DO NOT PEEL the sticker on the back, you will remove the pin number. Scratch it with a coin until you see the numbers. Some are easy, some are not but peeling never works. I learned this the hard way-twice!**

Everyone had one small carry on bag, and one small suitcase (small enough, barely, to carry on although we checked them) that you can pull on it's little inadequate wheels. Getting into taxi's and busses was hard for the smaller kids. We flagged down a volkwagon van taxi that we all squeezed into asnd it took us the short distance to the border. That cost $10.

When we arrived at Belize Immigration, we were surrounded by taxi drivers and money changers. After our experience the night before, we wanted a bus not a taxi. They told us that there were no busses to corozal town, and that we'd have to take taxis. We thought we put them off by telling them we were going to wait and see if we could get a bus, but after we came out of the building they were right there. Their price went from $25 US per taxi down to $20, and not really knowing how far it was, we finally said ok.

**There are busses, pretty constantly and on the way back, the $130 we had spend on taxis was reduced to $18 total -for all of us- by taking the busses straight from Corozal to Chetumal bus station. However, had we not the experience of three weeks in BElize and all that came with it, I don' tknwo that we would have braved the bus and made though on our way there.

Althought the original plan was thrift, suddenly a little "pampering" didn't sound bad, so instead of the budget guest houses we were going to try, we directed the taxi's to Tony's Inn.

Day 1 IN Belize.

It was very cool to pull into Corozal and actually recognize the waterfront from the photos we had seen. No one was expecting beaches, but the kids were still dying to swim. When the taxis pulled up to Tony's my 10 year old daughter was squealing with joy. Cheyenne is a worrier anyway, and I hadn't helped by instructing her on watching for spiders and scorpions. The first few days there were no bare feet, no unshaken shoes or unlit walks to the bathroom. The marble steps and "resort" feel were a refreshing change from the somewhat dismal casino setting. She informed us that each day in her journal she would rate aplace as "LH" or NLH" (live here or not live here- since we were scoping for a one to two year hideaway) and that Tony's was a capital LH!

It was $79 per room and they had free wireless internet. This was one of the few places that DID have free internet. Little did I know, it would be the last time I would need internet as my laptop was in the throes of death. All my plans for keeping in touich every few days with my employees went south, but I digress..

I shot off a few quick e-mails and my phone WORKED here, so I returned a few calls.

After that I walked down to the dock and after 40 hours of straight travel entered the closest thing to heaven...the Y Not grill at Tony's. It's a two story, open air bar right on the water with a thatched roof. VERY family friendly. Carol, our server was great and very accomodating with the kids. We basically parked upstairs for 24 hours. They let us play cards with the kids, drink, eat, drink and did I mention...just kidding. The menu is great, they serve seafood, burgers, fries, lots of appetizers, great ceviche...

If you are used to US hotel rooms, every room we stayed in (except the Best Western, go figure) was small. Not enough room for a group to gather so we had to learn quickly that we needed a place with a common area or restaurant otherwise once the sun went down we were isolated or packed like sardines. The rooms at Tony's were on the larger side.

I don't say this to IN ANY WAY insinuate that Tony's was not a hotel, but if you are used to American hotels you need to remove expectations. Cracked cottage-cheese ceilings, musty bathrooms, cloudly windows and nothing fitting together quite like you expect. However- it was one of the nicest places we stayed.

Day 2-3

Our van was delivered, so we planned to have dinner somewhere besides the Y-not, and we drove into the center of town. Our bible for the trip ended up being the Moon guide, as the Fodors one did not arrive in time. It's funny how many of the snapshots have the little guidebook in one corner or another. Since it got dark fairly early (and fast), we didn't do much scouting. We basically went North for a few blocks, turned left, left again and headed back to Tony's.

Living in the middle of suburbia at home, we had not yet learned how to spot places that would have worked. Our heads were still wired to look for neon signs and large parking lots. Already, the Y-not was familiar and secure.

The next morning, we loaded up and asked the staff if we could get a group discount when we came back with the other two adults who would be joining us in a few days. For four rooms, they were willing to knock almost $20 a night off each room, so I wished I had asked that the day before.

We had read a few paragraphs about the village of Sartenja, slightly south and east of Corozal town, and it sounded like something we wanted to see. Although we had to go to Orange walk, and then back track north, the allure of the little fishing village was calling us. Heading south on the Northern highway, we stopped at the first roadside fruit stand we saw. We piled out and surrounded the poor kid who was holding down the fort. We bought a papaya, a watermelon, a green tangerine and some limes. We weren't a mile up the road when Sky, the 17 yo, opened the green tangerine and a strong, sweet scent filled the van and our mouths started to water. There was enough for everyone to have a section of it, and we planned to get some more as soon as we arrived at the farmers market in Orange walk.

The sugar cane trucks that were all loaded to the point that they looked cartoonish were of great interest to the kids. Jesse, who is a tiny 11 year old, took to saying "sugar cane" in his little voice every time we passed one. Pretty soon it became a game to see who could spot one far off in the distance and before we knew it Orange walk appeared on the horizon.

As a quick note about our road trip experience, we do quite a bit of it here at home, even with the kids. However, at home we allow them to bring electronics (Ipod, Nintendo DS, Laptops etc) for this trip, we only allowed the electronics on the plane and the Cancun-Chetumal run. After that we banned them so the kids didn't spend the their Belize time dialed into home. Travel games got creative real quick, and we were all able to see more because all those eyes were on the lookout for new things.

I was kind of suprised how many homes are RIGHT on the Highway. They have acres and acres of land behind them, and the homes sit 10 feet from the road. this did, however, give us a great glimpse of a lot of beautiful people, and cute children with unbelievable smiles.

So many of the signs and advertisments are hand written, as you pull into Orange Walk. Then there is the monstrous Social Security building that does anyting but blend.

It was a Thursday, around 1:00 pm. The farmers market is pretty easy to spot, and we parked there and perused the fruit stands. The kids went scouting for green tangerines, but their attention was diverted by the shaved ice stands. Levi, 16, went up to one and asked how much. The vender said $1.50 and he asked if that was US, and she nodded.

**This was a cheap lesson to learn. Giving the vendor the benefit of the doubt, she may have thought he was asking if she would take US money. We did find several places that, if asked, would say the prices were in US, but if we didn't ask, and just paid the BZ money there was no issue. Seems like a no-brainer, but it took the teens a while to learn it.**

At the same time Dakota, 13, found an adjacent vendo selling them for 75 cents (BZ), so he ordered one of those. Then the show started....

Levi's vendor hand cranked the huge ice block and filled a bowl with three HUGE scoops of it. Then she squirted three different flavors of syrup into the ice; orange, cherry and raspberry- I think. Then she opened a cooler and piled several kinds of fruit in different sections of the bowl. There was pineapple, banana, peaches, cherries. The she ladled honey on one side and condensed milk on the other and topped the whole thing off with sprinkles. It was ENORMOUS!! It was about the size of a large grapefruit when she was finished. Price was no longer an issue and all the kids ordered theirs as poor Dakota returned with his tiny dixie cup of blue ice and looked mournfully at me.

No one considered the fact that it was impossible to eat one of those by themselves, so shortly we are all standing around sticky and smiling with rapidly melting bowls of shaved ice.

Our eyes were frequently bigger than our stomachs, especially at the farmers market places. We'd get a couple bags of fruit for a few dollars, but then traveling it would get destroyed as it rolled around the van floor after escaping it's bag.

I bought some noni fruit from one vendor after she gave me careful instruction (in superb English) on how to prepare it as a remedy for diabetes. Unfortunately they have STRONG smell and by the next day, we had to ditch them.

We left Orange Walk turned toward San Estevan. The road got bumpier and narrow and pretty soon we realized that trying to stick to the right side of the road was just plain silly. We started following the path of the other drivers who basically treat it as a winding one lane road and only revert to the "proper" side when there is oncoming traffic (sometimes). In this way we avoided a lot of the potholes on what we decided was one of the "bad" roads we had been warned about.

I can almost hear those of you familiar with the roads laughing out loud at how much we still had to learn.

We entered San Estevan, and according to the map in the Moon book, the main road would naturally lead out of town and on to Little Belize, Chunox and Sarteneja. The main road dead-ended at a house. We went back and saw a little direction to a development, Orchard Bay I think, and we started on that road. It quickly narrowed and turned to dirt and gravel. Just to be safe went back into San Estevan and asked at the store if that was the way to Sartenja.

We got the nod that we were starting to get more comfortable with. The one that says "I think I understood you, and if I did- then you are correct".

It was about time for me to eat some proverbial crow regarding our lack of Spanish. I had teased my husband when we were in Corozal for sprinkling some of the few spanish phrases we knew into his vocabulary. Every time he said "gracias" instead of "thank you" I was like; "babe, it's an English speaking country. We are SUPPOSED to speak English and we are making them laugh with our stupid accents!"

The uncertain nod in the store was followed the second we were out of earshot by Hugh's mildly sarcastic "I am so glad we didn't have to bother learing any Spanish before we came here."

more to come.....

Joined: Feb 2003
Posts: 4,001
Wow ..great trip report ,keep it comning nice read thanks marty.

Living The Dream Every Day!
Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 162
Thanks krainey and Marty, learned a lot. We plan to take that route one day to AC although I am thinking twice about it.

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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I was gripping my Moon guide for all it was worth as the van bumped over the road. Tracing the line that represented that road with my finger and wondering how 30 miles could take so long to travel. I am not sure how the roads are actually constructed. A lot of places tend have a high center and then you have to choose which side to try and navigate. The are a few HUGE chasms on this road. On the way in, the first one we hit that was more than a big pothole was just after the turn off where we could have headed to Progresso(?). It's not marked with "this way to Sarteneja" or anything close. There is a large faded board about 150 feet before you reach this fork. We hung a right and not 1/4 from there we hit what I can only describe as a ditch about a foot deep and maybe two or three feet across. It ran alll the way across the road. It snuck up on us, and when the ground fell away we all flew up towards the top of the van.

Hugh slowed down for a bit, and the rest of the road we crept through anything that looked questionable. It's funny, because some of the dips in the road were filled with water, and they were almost big enough to be small ponds. As you drive into it you don't know if it was going to be shallow or deep- and we tended to guess wrong almost every time.

Levi starting joking with the kids that he saw a manatee in one, and that led to all kinds of "wildlife spotting" that occupied them the rest of the road.

On the maps you can't tell if a named village is going to have a gas station, or a store or anything. Here at home, before every freeway exit, the signs have little symbols as to what's available there. Cheyenne asked what the next town was, and told her it was Little Belize. She asked if she could use the bathroom there, and I (naively)answered that she could.

It turns out Little Belize is a Mennonite community, and there was no place to stop. It was interesting to see the different architecture of the homes we passed there. I believe (and I could be wrong, because we never were able to stay in the Mennonite hotel we had on our list) that the Mennonite homes were pretty easy to spot. It didn't look like they stuck with the traditional building styles of the rest of the country. "Mennonite" was added at that point to the "sugar cane" spotting game.

Just before Chunox we saw a small, skinny dog in the road and half the kids called out "Dingo!" while the other half called out "Hyena!".

We reached Chunox, and there was a large monument sign announcing we had indeed arrived there. I hopped out a took a picture of the sign. There was a house not far behind the sign that had a lot of laundry drying on lines, but it was all large red and white striped items. Teh kids called it "Waldo's House" from the Where's Waldo books. In Chunox, there were lots of dogs, and they were just lying in the street. They didn't move and we drove from one side of the road to the other to avoid them.

We never stopped in Chunox, but two weeks later our guide at Jaguar Paw told us he was from Chunox and that his mom and brother still lived there "ever since they had to drag his bothers sorry a** back from California because he D*** near killed himself." He pronounced it Choo-nix, so I guess we had been saying it wrong for a bit!

The last stretch of the road from Chunox to Sarteneja was actually in better shape, or had been graded more recently- I am not sure. We drove over a column of army ants, and had to back up to take a photo of that, which disrupted the column. Hugh got out to take the picture, and I was worried that he was going to get bit, so I didn't let the kids out of the van. Of course by the time we left Belize, we'd seen (and been bit) by so many ants that I know I was being silly.

The last exciting thing we saw was a flock (if thats the right term) of vultures at the dump just before the town. They were the first ones we saw, so we took photos. The vultures as as common as crows are here in Seattle, but they are much more impressive.

As we entered Sarteneja, there was a home that was completed on the bottom floor, but the top floor only had block walls with rebar sticking out the top. There was a concrete stairway that SEEMED like it wouldn't possible last very long. There were 10 steps, a landing and then 10 more steps. There were no support columns under the landing or anything. The bottom of the stairway was the only support for this thing until it reached the top. We ended up seeing 100's of this exact same stairway, so it must be a design that works well.

Sorry to spend so long on just the one road, but it felt like there was so much to see and learn. Everything was very new and different.

We followed what seemed like the main road and then turned toward the water when we saw that. The book said there was a place called Fernando's SeaSide Guest house and we had actually printed up the Toucan Trail pages about it too. We hadn't made any prior arrangements, and it struck me then that if Fernando didn't have room for us, we might have to go BACK over that road and it was already 4:00 pm. We drove up and down the main roadand did not find it. Teh kids were dying to get in the water again, but we wanted to find out if we were staying. We asked a couple young men if they knew where Fernando's was, but we asked it in a complete, English sentence and got a blank look.

"Try just saying 'Fernando's'" , I suggested. They immediately registered recognition and gestured down from the direction we had just come. We turned around, and using the small photos on the printout identified the building. We pulled up in front and confirmed with the man out front that it was Fernando's.

"Do you have three double rooms?" I asked the man who turned out to be Fernando Junior.

"Yes, my friend." he answered with a smile. "Would you like to see them?"

We followed him up to a large porch and entered a wide hallway. There were five doors in there and a doorway out the other side. He opened the doors to the rooms and each one was different, and had it's own bathroom. The rooms varied in size, with the smallest one barely having room for the two double beds and the largest being about twice that size. We put the four oldest boys in the biggest room, Gina (our other adult) and Jesse in one and Hugh, Cheyenne and I took the tiny one.

Although they weren't expecting us, the family quickly made up the beds and we talked to them about dinner. They asked what we wanted and offered us everything from Shrimp to chicken. We ended up ordering 6 shrimp dinners and 3 fish dinners. They asked what time we wanted to eat and left us to explore.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
We wandered the street where Sartenja meets the bay for a bit. The younger boys made friends with the yougest member of our hosts family; Arnando. He introduced them to some other local kids and showed them the stores where they could buy candy and coke.

**small, but worth noting...We drink a lot of soda here at home, and there are a couple dozen kinds to choose from in any given store- including diet. In Belize, we were only able to buy coke and sometimes fanta. They have "coke lite" but it costs a little more and has saccharin in it. Interestingly, Hugh is diabetic, and the coke did not affect his sugars very much. We think it is because it is made with sugar cane instead of the corn syrup used here in the states. Anyway, there were only a few place we could find any other soft drink. Once you cross the border to Guatamela howevever, it's only pepsi and no coke anywhere!**

When the kids showed us their cokes, we walked up to the store, and the concept of "store" had to be adjusted. This was a tiny block house with no glass in the windows and no door on the doorway. We entered what was basicaly the living room of their home, where the mom sat nursing one baby and bouncing another one on here knee. The family sat at a small round table, with a small (15"?) TV perched on top of it. They were like a foot away from the TV. There were a couple refrigerators in the back of the room. The whole room was probably 12' x 10' and took up a big chunk of their house. There was a glass case, almost like a jewelry or cosmetic display case from a department store and inside it there were many different kinds of candy, some mosquito coils and cigarettes. The chest freezer doubled as a counter for the shop owner. I asked for two belikins, and was handed two frozen ones from the freezer.

About that time the kids came running from around another block with handfuls of candy from a different store. They pointed out a similiar looking building.

**sometimes the only way you can tell a home is also a store or restaurant is by one of three signs out front; Belikin, Coke or Crystal(water). IF you poke your head in and say what you need, they will either produce it or point you in the direction of somewhere you can get it.**

We headed back to Fernandos for dinner and entered the lower portion of his home, which faced the water and had louvered windows. Half the room was lit up, and the other was pretty dark. Three table had been pushed together to form a long one that would seat 12 or so. We were joined by two other guests and we were delighted to learn that they are also members of this board! They had just spend a few days at crooked tree, and we swapped a few stories with them.

The dinner was DELICIOUS. Large portions, fresh lime juice and a slice of cake. I almost forgot- before we went to the store, one of the sons- Ronnie- asked if we wanted a "snack" after dinner. With a little back and forth, we ascertained that he was talking about dessert.

After dinner, we moved two tables and some chairs up onto the big porch so we could play cards. Aranado joined us and was watching Gina and Jesse play 'speed'. We asked hi if he knew any card games.

"I know two." He said, searching for the correct translation "One is 'go fish'"

We all nodded in recognition.

"The other" he held up a single finger. We were puzzled for a minute until we figured it out.

"Do you know UNO?" we pulled out a deck and HIS face registered recognition. He was so suprised to find out we also called it 'UNO'.

**When it gets dark, it gets dark in a 10-15 minute time period. The bugs descend and you have to be ready because you can get a dozen bites in just a few minutes. None of the DEET I had brought was much of a deterrent. The very best of all the procduct I had brought along was a mixture of eucalyptus oil and lemon oil. Vicks works great too, but you leave a slug-like trail everywhere you go**

When we went to bed that night, the mattress wasn't the most cushy one we had, and it was our first night without A/C. We had a fan, but it was preyy slow (didn't find the adjustment until the next morning) so we tossed and turned in our room for a bit. We talked with Cheyenne, and she was not very comfortable here. It was just new and she didn't have anything familiar (except us). She said this was an NLH.

At one point, the phone next door rang, and it was SO CLOSE it was like we were in the same room. When the woman answered, we realized they had been able to hear everything we talked about. I was regretting my jokes about the individual springs in the bed being left out of the travel guide.

**that was the ONLY room there with old beds, the other three were nice**

It rained HARD that night, the water came in the room, but it felt really good because it was so hot. There were a hundred different bird sounds, including two rooters who spent their night with a "deuling banjos" theme.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast including soft, warm flour tortilla's we asked for the bill. This was the first of many times that we had to wait for some time for this to get completed.

**If you are in any kind of hurry, make sure and ask for your bill a half hour or so before you need to leave- especially with a group. We never asked anyone to split up our bill, but it still always took a LONG time. Also, many places add in a 15% tip. We didn't dee that until about halfway through our trip. Double check the math- intentional or not, there were mistakes abotu 70% of the time**

The rooms were $30 US each, the fish meals were $11US, and the shrimp meals were $15US. We wished we had asked the price before agreeing to the seafood. That was a pricey meal for us- one of the highest. I think the breakfast was only $6 US each, which was more along the line of what wre wanted to spend.

It had rained hard, so we were a little worried about the road, but it actually seemed better- or maybe we just remembered it as worse than it was. In less than an hour, we were back to Orange Walk. We did hit that horrible ditch again, too.

We had friends to pick up at the airport around three, so the plan was to find a place closer to the airport for a night and then head back to Sartenja the next day for a couple days.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
We headed to Crooked Tree first. we had no reservations and pretty crude map, but there's not a lot of wrong turns that could be made. Crooked Tree is surrounded by water on all sides, so it's an inland island. The road in is a causway- basically a dirt bridge. It's a long straight road. On the south side, about 50 yards off the road, we spotted HUGE monkey up in a tree. We all got out and made noise and tried to get it to move or acknowedge us in some way, but it never did. Levi said it was a "monkey cam" and that we were being pranked. Eventually we gave up.

It started raining HARD, as we entered the island. We were looking for a place for all of us to stay, and planned on getting the kids settled before we heaed to the airport. Maybe we took a worng turn, or maybe we just weren't adjusted yet to Belize, because we couldn't find anything resembling a hotel, gueshouse or even a restaurant (kids were getting hungry). There were several homes up on stilts and they were tiny little homes. The road got muddier and muddier. We saw some small kids and asked them if they knew where there was a hotel, but they did not respond and did not look like they understood us.

By that time we had read about the baboon Sanctuary and decided we could try and stay there. An hour later, we pulled in to find out that the resort there is under construction, and the other local hotel is *not* recommended in the moon book.

We didn't even have time to tour the sanctuary, because it was now 1:00 pm, we had no hotel and we had two hours before our friends were due in. The plan was to go back to Burrell Boom and stay in the hotel there taht had a restaurant in it and was supposed to be good for groups. As we pulled out, a taxi driver waved us down and asked if we could take 6 people to Belize city. He had the misfortune of TWO flat tires and he had cruise ship customers that needed to get back. The problem was WE had to get a hotel still, and then to the airport by 3:00. We offered to take the driver and the tire back to Burrell boom and he hopped in the car. The cruise ship folks were distraught (understandably) but we had zero room in our car, and at that pint no clear idea of how far it would be to Belize city.

We stopped at the first store we saw, the cabbie hopped out and got directions to a guy who could repair them in Burrell Boom. He told us to go to the second 'bump' and that there was a guy on the left who could fix it.

**entering and leaving towns you will go over speed bumps ranging in size and location. It markes the entrance or exit and is a good reminder to slow down. However, they are not all we marked. There are two signs; one says BUMP (meaning you are at the bump when you reach the sign) and the other says BUMP 100 YARDS (which means somewhere between 10 feet and 1/4 mile you are going to have a bump. Some are so well camoflaged that you are over them before you see them.***

Sure enough, at the second bump, there was aman who said he could fix it fast and drive hom back. Off we sped.

Turning South to the hotel, we pulled in and Jesse and Cheyenne squaeled when they saw the sign that said "pool" out front.

We rushed in and asked for four rooms for one night.

"I need you out tomorrow" the inn keep said.

"When is check-out?" we asked.

"noon, but that is too late"

"We can leave at 11:00" we offerred.

"That is still to late" She said gruffly.

"What time do you need us out?" lets try and find some common ground, I was thinking...desperate to get it settled so that we could get to the airport.

"early...are you sleeping in all the beds?"

"um, yes....if that's ok." Going for the meek vote.

"I will need to charge you extra."

"OK, can we eat here in your restaurant tonight? We have children, and we like to sit together in the evening." I was pulling out my credxit card.

"Children?" she said the word one usually says 'leeches' or something equally horrifying. "I will really have to charge you extra, then"

Realizing that she really did not want us there (and probably would not make a very pleasant hostess that evening) we left (passing the dry swimming pool) and climbed back in the van. We had been willing to pay $79 US per room

We had intended to cut a wide swath around Belize City and never stay there, but with time NOT on our side, and the evening approaching that was the next destination. We figured one quick night in the city and then back to Sartenja. The first hotel we came to was the Belize Biltmore (best western) and since we had nothing to lose, I went in and asked what the price was per room. $176US, she told me- smiling.

I asked if they had group rates, and told her we needed four rooms. I wasn't too hopeful considering the posh interior and the look of the other guests. She looked at her book and told me $136. I said "no, thank you". and went to leave and she called "$110???"

I told her no again, and then she asked me to wait. She got on the phone and then asked me what we were willing to pay. I told her $75 per room and she came back at $79. Thumbs up.

Boy was I the hero that night (accidentally, of course. There is no way we were paying that much per room- so it wasn't a ploy). The hotel surrounds a courtyard with a HUGE pool, the rooms have A/C, there is an indoor and outdoor bar as well as a full restaurant- which we knew we couldn't afford.

So what was supposed to be a quick 2 hour trip to find a place to stay for one night had turned into a 7 hour saga and we were running behind. We went to the airport, met Dan and Paula and headed to Belize City thinking we could find some take out to bring back. We were trying to explain the very "American" hotel we were at, and what we had done to try and avoid that, but they wouldn't realize until later what that meant.

Dan had a phobia of bugs, and he was clothed head to toe. In additon he had vicks on all the parts where his clothes ended and he even had downy dryer sheets sticking out of his socks.

As we entered downtown, the streets got narrower and busier. It was about 5:00 pm and when we finally hit the street the map showed that would take us over the bridge (queen?) it was a one-way in the other direction. We turned around and just headed back to the hotel- thinking we could eat there. This was the first time we filled the tank, and $130 was all it took. We also bought a case of Belikin and a case of Coke, so we wouldn't have to pay hotel prices.

Back at the Biltmore, we found the kids in the pool, Gina with a rum and coke and everyone pretty satisfied with life. We ordered Pizza and fed everyone for about $80.

With 11 of us now, things were in full swing for exploration. This group was who we would be moving to Belize with, if that was the decision we all made. The deal was- no hard feelings, if anyone was a solid "no" after this trip, we would table the plans for a while. There are some *interesting* family dynamics for our group, so it had to be all of us or none of us.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
We stopped in Orange Walk for the amazing shaved ice before heading to Sartenja again. Other than the startling jolt of hitting THE ditch for the 3rd time (eliciting a "holy mother of ***" from Dan) we made it pretty quickly.

We told Fernando that we wanted to go to Ambergris for one day to snorkel (he had told us about the thunderboat) and he set it up for us. He tried to get a charter boat for us so we could be on our own schedule, but the only one was busy. We planned for the next day. We also told Fernando we wanted to know where we could eat dinner for less money and he said "here!" he explained that we could have chicken or pork for around $6.00US.

Then we made the mistake of trying to wade into the water. Stinky, thick, sandal eating mud lived there. It is not swimming water. we had to walk out on the dock and take a dip to clean off.

The bugs were bad that night, and the mosquito coils seemed to do the trick. We sat on the porch and played cards. That night Hugh and I claimed the room that had previously occupied and it had a sea view AND two windows. Much better beds and a pleasant breeze.
Before I continue, I want to explain a little more about our groups plans.

We do know that we were extremely green. The reason we planned this trip was to determine what district or area (if any) we wanted to explore further for a potential home. One of the biggest challenges is that all five adults had different things that they felt would be important if they were going to make a commitment for a year or so. One of the ground rules was that if we could not find a place we all could agree on, then it wouldn't happen. We didn't want anyone to compromise too much and later be resentful.

Some examples of things we felt/talked about/dreamed about BEFORE the trip...

Dan (the bug phobic) wanted to live really rough. He wanted to buy a piece of jungle and clear it ourselves (more about this later) and build with the existing resources on the land. He'd been watching series like Frontier House and Alone in the Wilderness to prepare for the adjustment he hoped we'd make.

His Wife, Paula, wanted to be bicycle distance from a town of reasonable size. She has researched straw bale homes for years and wanted to look into the feasability of that as a building material in Belize. She likes visiting little shops and she is very artistic- so she wanted to be somewhere she could see pottery or weaving or beadwork done regularly.

Gina wanted a safe and secure place for the kids to play, and also did not want to rough it to the extent that Dan did.

Hugh wanted to buy a piece of land that he could build a masonry "compound" on; a common kitchen/living area several small bunk houses for the different families. He wanted to be somewhere he could fish regularly. Hugh wanted to be able t have internet access so he could run our business HERE (to some extent) from there.

I wanted to be able to see the beach from our place. I really just wanted to rent a place(s) and not try and start a HUGE project until we knew we were staying longer than year. I also did not want to go for a year unless I could be SURE we could live for a year or more without having to generate any income down there.

Sky and Levi (18 and 16)wanted to be not too far from the water, and somewhere they could DO something on a regular basis.

Gabe, Dakota and Jess (all boys, 14,13,12) wanted to be in the jungle.

Cheyenne did not want to go at all. She had been worried for months as we talked about going that we would be leaving home. We tried to assure her that whatever adventure we decided to pursue there would be some great times and some tough times.

I know from the outside it might seem that there was no way to find a common ground for all these different needs and wants. We all have known each other for 20+ years (since we were young teens) and we've done a lot of traveling and vacationing together. We figured we would do everything we could to let the right place find US, and that if we didn't all have 90%+ certainty- we'd bail on the idea for now.

A few years ago Dan had us all excited about exploring Patagonia. We did a lot of research and never went as far as actually visiting.

We actually have a pact that after the kids are grown and moved out we will take a few years and each of us gets to select one year of places to visit and stay.

So actually getting on a plane and hitting the streets of a place we were talking about was a huge jump forward from what we've done before. Belize was the first place that created a strong enough pull to all of us that we made it happen.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
Sunday morning, the 3rd, we were woken by Fernando calling up to us that the Thunderboat would be at the dock in 30 minutes. We scrambled around and woke up the kids. Fernando said he had worked out a group rate for us, but from talking to the other folks on board, I think we paid about the same.$40us for a round trip (so $440 for all of us-OUCH),so perhaps the captain just gave Fernando a referral fee or something. I should interject that we don't have any bad feelings towards Fernando and his family. They were very hospitable and friendly-we should have clarified the food price BEFORE we ordered and we could have always said no to the Thunderboat.

When the Thunderboat pulled up it was windy, and there wans't a great place to load up. They basically just pulled the bow barely to the end of the dock and we had to jump on, climb around the side and drop into the passenger area very quickly.

**Footwear Alert. Three days before we left home, a friend recommended Keen brand sandals to us. We had been planning on tennis shoues and flip flops for footwear. I am SO glad we had our keens. They are almost a cross between a tennis shoe and a sandal. They cover your foot pretty well, have great traction, good arch supports and you slip then on and off fairly easily. We bought Keens for everyone except Cheyenne (we bought her a knock-off and the strap broke in the Sartenja mud). Everyone except Levi wore them the whole time. He reverted back to flip flops.

The ride to Ambergris was about 90 minutes. I actually left my travel guide in the rush to get out, but Paula had her Lonely Planet guide, so we had our path picked out before we arrived. Everyone was in good spirits. I loved looking back at Sky and Levi in the back of the boat sunglasses on, wind whipping them. I am so glad we were able to take them someplace like this while they were still at home.

**Dan made the mistake(for him) of sitting all the way up in the front of the boat, where the seats are too low to reach the windows. He wasd pretty green by the time we arrived. Get a seat in the open air area or at lease where you can stand up and see a window**

I have to admit I was humming "La Isla Bonita" (and I am again as I write this) most of the way there. We weren't sure what we were going to be able to afford to do, or what we'de have time for since the Thunderboat was going to leave at 3:30 (I think). There were HUGE Pelicans on the docks, and well headed pretty quick to the other side of the island, a few blocks away.

We had a bit of glitch trying to find a cash machine that would take our card. There was one right on the main drag that kept the card for 5 minutes and the said it was out of service. I was a little worried that it was one of those cloning machines. I think it just didn't take out of country cards. I found a Belize Bank and loaded up.

**Two of us had banks that limit your out-of-country cash withdrawl and daily limit on check cards. We were only allowed $200 per day cash, and $200 per day to charge. I had two accounts, but that still gave me a $800US per-day limit. Normally this was fine, but after spending $400+ on the boat and still having the pay for food and snorkeling, it wasn't promising. We had to get good at taking out cash every day, to make sure were covered. That, of course, made for some serious planning at the end of the trip so we wouldn't leave with too much cash. We had brought a few thousand in travelers checks, but we had a hard time finding anyplace that would take them.**

We had a FANTASTIC and affordable breakfast at Estele's. The owner (we think) was our server and he was great. He tried to find a friend to take us out snorkeling, but admitted that it would be hard, since it was Sunday morning and they had probably been out drinking the night before. The breakfast burritos at Estele's were ENORMOUS, the stuffed fry jacks were scrumptious and I was getting pretty comfortable enjoying Belikin with breakfast. The service was quick and he talked a lot about Belize before it got popular. He's lived there 18 years. When we finished he directed us toward some dive shops.

We split up with our Walkie talkies to see who could get the best deal. Hugh's group won and for $30 each we were headed to Hol Chin and Shark/Ray Alley.

I had never been snorkeling before, and it was kind of a surprise that life vests were optional. I didn't realize how easy it would be to stay afloat in the warm, salty water. We made the youngest kids put them on and off we went. Snorkeling at Hol Chin was amazing. It was like being ina Disney Movie. The colors were SO bright and the schools of fish were huge. Seeing the coral and all the colors was so different than anything I have ever done. I definitely wanted to do more. The time flew, and we had to head to the next spot. We enjoyed the shallow water with the sharks and rays. Our guide hopped in and the rays suoorunded him. I couldn't tell exactly what he was doing, but it LOOKED like he was grabbing them near their mouth and feeding them. One of the larger ones covered him like a blanket. With the Steve Irwin incident fresh in everyone's mind, I was surprised how comfortable we all were, because the rays were everywhere.

We didn't realize how tired we were until we got back in the boat. It was that wonderful exhaustion that you feel after a hard workout. The kids did really well with the whole experience, and the guides, Conrad and Hugo, were very attentive despite Conrad being injured and Hugo fighting a flu (or maybe a hangover). We joked later that hopefully neither one of those guys were ones that the owner of Estele's had been trying to reach..since they would have made a lot more if they had just answered the first call. We tipped them $50US.

**I realize I have no idea what proper amount to tip a guide is. I still don't know if it is based on the amount of time they spend with you, or how much you enjoy them. Sometimes we got reaction that were nothing short of delight, and other times a disdainful sniff. I am a generous tipper at home, and tried to do the same in Belize- but I think I failed a few times**

San Pedro was breath taking. The atmosphere was great, the people were friendly, the water was actually was first bit of worry. You see, watching everybody enjoy everything there was the first time that they had all been absolutely delighted for such a long period of time. I also was keenly aware that we couldn't afford to live there if we came down. Everyone stepped back on the boat saying something like "This is my favorite place" or "I love it right HERE". Cheyenne even said it beat the Biltmore as an 'LH'.

On the Boat, there was a beautiful young woman with two small babies, probably 2 months and 14 months old. The older one was crying pretty hard, so Hugh offered to hold the baby and she accepted. The baby slept on his chest all the way to Sartenja, when he reluctantly gave it back to her.

That night at Fernando's we had another AFFORDABLE dinner of....drum roll...Rice, beans and stew chicken. Fernando had taken Hugh to a few of the stores in town to get a case of Belikin, a couple cases of coke, some rum, some ice (frozen rainwater in plastic bags) and we had a rather enjoyable evening of cards and conversation up on the deck.

We all slept well that night, excited about moving inland for a few days.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
When we left Sartenja, we christened out rental van El Blanco Diablo (Yes, I know that it should have been 'El Diablo Blanco', but it stuck the first time I said it and I could never get anyone to switch to the correct way) It was covered in a sandblasted red mud from the road in. The closer you got to the ground the darker the color. Hugh drew two large eyes on the back windows with his fingers and one of the kids fashioned a smirk on the double doors below by drawing in the encrusted surface. Little did we know we would carry that mud and artwork for the next 3 weeks- no handy car wash stations to eliminate the mess.

Hugh used a bucket and rags to wash the front and necessary windows off.

Before leaving, Fernando showed us a couple pieces of property in Sartenja. One thing that really struck us was how in Belize the wetlands can just be filled and built on. Setting aside the question of building integrity, the environmental impact wasn't even mentioned. Here at home, wetland issues are a constant source of headaches when it comes to real estate. I don't want to get into the issues involved, but it was AMAZING to hear people talk about filling in the swampy areas publicly. We can only joke about that here...."Gee thats a nice peice of propery- especially that 6" trickle of water they call a stream on the northeast would be really too bad if 6 dump trucks of fill dirt crashed and spilled their loads there...then all you could do is build on it". So when Fernando was showing this to us and said that for 6k the trucks would come and fill the wet spots, we (at first) were waiting for the punchline.

Fernando also explained that the reason there are so many unfinished buildings there was that the people are mostly fishermen and they add on as they can afford to. Sometimes it's just a few courses of block and sometimes its a whole wall or room.

The road out was just as we remembered, and on that last SLAM over the ditch we lost both bottles of rum all over our luggage. The Belikin survived just fine, as did most of the remaining cokes. El Blanco Diablo was getting a bit ripe.

The goal for Monday was to make San Ignacio. We made it to Belmopan by 1:30, just on the tail end of lunch. Dakota had an earache and we also wanted to find something to treat that with, so Belmopan seemed like a good place to look. Other than the Sartenja road, it was all nice, paved highways so the traveling went pretty fast.

Everyone was REAL hungry by the time we stopped. We parked at the farmers market, and planned on returning there for some fruit after we made our daily trek to the cash machines.

The Carribean Bank had an armed guard our front, and a cash machine out back, in a tiny air conditioned cubicle. Sometimes there would be a dozen people waiting for one and it could take half an hour to get to the front of the line.

Cash in hand, I followed the guidebook straight to a pharmacy, went in a bought antibiotics and painkiller for Dakota's ear. Dan wondered out loud if he could buy Valium and I asked if he needed it.

"No, but knowing that I might be able to just walk in and buy it is tempting."

I reminded him that he was going to have to get back inthe car with all the kids, and for a oment he looked like he might check it out.

We went to an area near the farmers market where they had a signs up for stewed iguana (I wanted to try it) and also Gibnut. Unfortunately (maybe) they were shut down for the afternoon. Most of the vendors were rolling their windows shut, and although we had just planned on eating fruit, the idea that we couldn't get something different struck a sort of desperation in us and we raced to a few of them asking for lunch. When they would ask us "how many?" and were told "11" they'd shake their head. When I found someone who said she had enough for all of us I ordered after she quoted me $3.50BZ per meal. However, I hadn't confirmed that everyone was ok with Rice, Beans and stew chicken. They weren't.

Two of the adults and two of the kids gave me the evil eye. I was one of the first ones to get served and I got a breast piece. Gina however got a back, and some giblets. I would have traded her, but I had already eaten. The chicken was stewed so well that the bones were soft, and I really enjoyed the flavor. When I went to pay, the vendor shook her head and produced a bill. Apparently, even though the meal was $3.50, the lime juice she had served with it was another $2.50 each. It was about this time that we started asking about everything they brought us., making sure refills were included- even when they were served without being asked.

Jesse bought a little wooden mask at the open air market, and we hopped back in the van for a short jaunt to San Ignacio.

We wanted to find the Aguada for two reasons; the book said it was good for groups and it had a pool. We found the pools tended to be a great thing to occupy the kids in the evenings, and were ready for them to be occupied after spending a day in the car.

When we drove into Santa Elena, we thought the hotel was pretty much on the main drag. By the time we hit the one-way bridge (going the wrong direction) we decided to ask for help. We found that by asking directions, we at least got a general direction and either "way back there" or "back there". When we got within a few blocks, a girl gave us very careful directions and told us to look for the big bird and then take a right. When we finally spotted the obnoxiously large (and very helpful) sign, we knew why everyone had looks at us like we were crazy to NOT have known where the Aguada was.

Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 6
The room arrangements were a little different here. We had been getting four rooms wherever we went. We needed two doubles and two singles, but most places only had doubles. The Aguada had a triple (with three double beds) and some rooms that were adjoining with a full bed and a twin.

Hugh, me, Sky, Dakota and Cheyenne took the triple and the others split the adjoining rooms. There was large restaurant and bar there, and we decided to stay there for dinner.

The Aguada has a open restaurant with thatched roof and plenty of seating for a crowd in addition to the inside restaurant. There were definitely no space issues for all of us, which was nice. Hugh, Paula and Dan went to find ear plugs for Dakota (so he could swim)and a place to do some laundry.

**I should have mentioned this earlier- but this is probably where it became an issue for us. On a schedule like we had, with only a couple days in each place, getting clothing washed was proving to be challenge. Here at home, we can hit a Laundromat on a road trip and spend a couple hours to wash everything. We found in Belize we had to take our laundry to get washed and wait a day to receive it back. This, of course, changed the matrix of what was "acceptable" to wear. 'Dirty' is a subjective evaluation. Underwear, however, need more attention than other items. Everyone started to get proficient at washing out a pair in the sink. Depending on the humidity of the spot we were staying, they might even be dry before we had to wear them. I HIGHLY recommend lightweight cotton panties for any women visiting. You can put them on immediately after washing them and they are dry in an hour- if there is not a better option**

Their absence gave me a great chance to visit with a nice woman from the US who was slowly transitioning to Belize full time. She had a contract to teach tourism classes at one of the schools, and she also explained a lot about the grade levels compare to the US grade levels. After that, the kids were able to describe their grade levels appropriately to kids they met. Standard3, standard 4 etc.

She also talked about the bugs in the jungle who "do heinous things" to you. I kept good mental notes for Dan. There were some LARGE iguanas in the trees at the Aguada, but that was about as wild a wildlife as we had seen thus far.

Cheyenne met the hotel owners granddaughter and they hit it off right away. They played in the pool and yard for several hours. It was a nice change for her to have a girl to play with. They compared noted on what classes they took and what they were learning. Cheyenne LOVES to write, you'll be hearing her version soon.

When the other three returned they were RAVING about a German bakery in San Ignacio and the coffee they had there. Although we'd read that a good cup of coffee was rare in Belize, we hadn't expected so much Nescafe'. Maybe Folgers or something, but the instant was a surprise. I usually drink my coffee black, but in light of the quality I had taken to dressing it up with cream and sugar while there. It's funny too how quickly I was able to be unconcerned about the number of ants in the sugar. I tried not to get any in my coffee when I scooped my own sugar, but I didn't bother to examine it when someone else prepared it without a careful separation of ant from sugar crystals.

Anyway, when they came back talking about the coffee they were QUITE impressed. We made plans to go back for more.

They were also laughing at how they had been introduced to THE best pharmacy around. They offered a man who was asking for money some cash if he would take them to a pharmacy. He hurried them over to a vendor not far from the German bakery and introduced the to "Mr. Lee, the BEST Chi-nee." Mr. Lee seemed fine with the title, but it sure didn't roll off OUR tongues.

Several times on the trip when we were asked for a description of a person or directions, we had answered including something about an Asian owner/vendor whatever. That usually elicited a puzzled look, and a "You mean Chi-nee?" from the person asking. It felt soooo *not PC* that I was always afraid to answer....If I nodded 'yes', then I was participating in use of that phrase, but if I didn't then they would have no idea who I was talking about. I found that smiling and raising my eyebrows was about the only answer I could feel moderately comfortable with.

Here at home, we have a lot of people who have relocated from all over the Pacific rim. Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian...In our business we have a lot of exposure to the many different cultures- but they are all unique and it's a pretty big insult here to assume that every Asian is from China, let alone a "Chi-nee".

Even 10 year old Cheyenne whipped her head around and said "WHAT did he call HIM?" when she heard it.

Pretty soon we all settled in for dinner. The Aguada has a pretty comprehensive menu, and everyone was ready for something besides chicken. The owners daughter makes GREAT Margarita, so I was feeling pretty darn content before we even ordered. It was just us and a party of 4 that were there a the restaurant. We all ordered at basically the same time, so I am sure the chef was busy.

The party of four got their dinner, and we figured we would be next. We had ordered at about 6:00, and Cheyenne had said good bye to the little girl she had met who had a school function to attend at 7:00. We assumed they would not see each other until the next day, if at all. 7:00 came and went, and Hugh went in to see if there was anything we could do to help (I know this sounds odd, but with such a big family we thought maybe if we peeled potatoes, or stirred a pot or something it might free up the chef to do what we couldn't) He returned and said that they asked if they should bring out the meals that were already completed. We all nodded.

I had ordered something on the recommendation of the US woman staying there, a "fry-fish". Basically it was a whole fish; eyes, fins and all that had been breaded and deep fried quickly. She explained that they were delicious.

I bet that a warm one is...mine...not so delicious. It wasn't just cold, it was STONE cold, like it been in the fridge. Dakota didn't help by asking "Isn't that a little tear in the fish eye? Is your fish CRYING?"

The other meals that had been ready were 5 hamburgers and French fries- which were also unfortunately served cold. However, they were very much enjoyed.

From that point on, the meals were brought out as they were ready. Hot and delicious. Those fortunate enough to get a warm meal tried to comfort the rest of us by saying things like "I wish mine was a little's so warm here already.."

Dan bought dinner for everyone that night and not having to even SEE the bill made the meal that much sweeter.

We decided that if we were going to EXPECT thing to be a certain way, we needed to clarify it. We said we should ask BEFORE we ordered what was available and what would be quick. Unfortunately, when we did that, there was really one answer....Rice, beans and Stew chicken.

The Aguada was an awesome place for us to stay, very family friendly and very affordable.

Hard to believe we were only a week into our 3 1/2 week trip! Tuesday morning everyone was pretty excited because we were headed for Tikal. About a month before we left for vacation, someone had told us that Tikal at sunrise was not to be missed, so we planned to stay in Guatemala one night and hike up to the ruins before the sun came up.

First stop was breakfast in San Ignacio. We went straight to the German Bakery for coffee. One sip and I turned to the owner and told her it was divine.

"Ya, I know." She replied without cracking a smile.

We walked the perimter of the bakery, so some of the kids had gotten pastries for breakfast, but I really wanted something that wasn't sweet. After all, I didn't have much the night before! I read the menu on the German Bakery door and was delighted to find they served breakfast. I pointed it out to the rest of the group and we (smartly, we thought) asked the owner if she had enough breakfast for 11 people.

She turned to a man who I assumed was her husband (and found later he was just a regular patron at the cafe) and asked him.."John, do you love me?"

"I love you dearly" he replied quickly.

"Make Toast"

John hopped up and started helping. We went into the indoor common area and pushed some tables together. She came out and took everyone orders. Three of us; Myself, Hugh and Dan ordered "Bavarian #3". Bavarian #3 was a slice of ham, 2 slices of salami and a slice of cheese with toast and jam. I had been CRAVING cheese for days now, and hadn't seen it anywhere execpt for processed single slice cheese. Surely Bavarian #3 would have a hearty chunk of cheddar or swiss cheese!

We were a little suprised when the plates of meat arrived. The ham was a slice of bologna from a package, and the salami was the same (like the 'cotto salami' you can buy from Oscar Mayer). Somehow we had pictured slabs of fresh meat in the back room that she would be selecting the choicest pieces for us from. It WAS ham and salami though, we got what we ordered. Everyone went through the toast quickly and her pastries were amazing, delicate and melt-in-your-mouth yummy. It seemed she was wrapping up the order and I meekly asked about the cheese.

"ya, it's coming." She said gruffly. oops.

I swear the very next thing we saw was her running out the front door! Less than 3 minutes later she slammed a plate of single slice cheese- STILL IN THE PLASTIC WRAPPER- down on the table and announced (in case there was doubt) "Cheese."

Not wanting to insult her fine breakfast, we peeled and ate the cheese and since that day have re-named single slice cheese "fine bavarian cheese". I got one more refill of coffee, and noticed some large baugettes on the shelf behind here. Paula and I consulted and decided wanted some.

"Excuse me." She whipped around with a 'what more could you possibly want' look on her face.

"Could we get a baugette, please?"
"Order" was all she said. I thought thats what I WAS doing.

"Can I order a baugette, please?" Indicating the exact location of the ones tempting me.

"No" Seriously. No explanation. Just no. Was she really not going to sell them to me?

Paula tried. "Can I buy a baugette?"

"Those are ORDER!" She spoke slowly, hoping it would sink into our thick skulls that those baugettes were sold.

We smiled and nodded and noticed a rack of fresh pretzels on the counter.

"Can I get two pretzels?" I reached for the rack, on which hung 15 or so handmade pretzels.

"Only on Saturday!" she pointed at a sign in the corner that CLEARLY said pretzels were made on Saturday. I didn't so much care that they were two days old, I wanted one! The owner disappeared before I could ask her for anything else.

Before we regrouped outside, we compared notes on the bathroom inside. There was a sign up saying it was $.50, but there was no one to collect the money. There was also no TP, so we were taking rations off the roll Gina had when the man appeared with some and started collecting. There seemed no logic to his rationing. He'd size you up and give you either a couple squares of toilet paper or a handful. We joked that he some secret power to be able to tell how serious things were going to be for you while in the restroom.

We all piled in El Blanco Diablo and headed for the border. Leaving Belize was pretty fast and easy. $37.50 BZ, except for the two youngest kids who were exempt.

The money changers descend on you like locust though! They have HUGE wads of cash and I was designated as the one to decide how much we needed of each currency and to double-check the accuracy of any trade. It was about 7 quetzales to one US dollar (which we still had some of) and about 3.5BZ to one quetzales. We ended up getting a couple hundred dollars worth, hoping to be able to use our credit card for most purchases.

Next we had to get everyone through the the Guatamelan border. We had to pay several different times. It was 7 quetzales each to get in, plus a fumigation charge for the van (just a couple dollars) plus a $26US fee for taking the van over the border, and then a $41US fee for licensing the van for two days in Guatemala. Later were told that one of these fees was bogus, but I don't know which one it was. They all done by the goverment officials though. There was one government worker who escorted Hugh and I from one station to the next, and just when it felt like we were never going to quit paying fees, he told us we could go. We tipped him, but I have no idea if we were supposed to do that either.

I have to give Kudos to Hugh for dealing with being a money seive while we were there. I know it was hard for him to see money fly our of our hands so fast. After two days in Belize, when things were about 50% more than we had budgeted for, we had to talk about what to do..whether to tighten the reigns and double up on rooms and cut back on meals. He said we should enjoy it as much as possible and not be uptight about what was being spent. It was a once in a lifetime trip, if not more.

When we finally crossed the bridge there was a police officer on the other side who waived us over and asked for 150 quetzales. We habded it to him and he gave us a scrap of paper with his initials on it ans explained that we needed to show that when we passed again. I have no idea if that was legit or not.

Our map was a little spotty for Guatemala. It LOOKED like you just went straight until you got to the turn off for Tikal and then headed north. The map LOOKS like it's a long straight road, and while it might be as the crow flies, there are a lot of twists and hills.

It was absolutely beautiful. The trees are so different from the evergreens we have here. Huge palms and philodendrons made us feel like we were in a movie. The (dirt) road freqently had pigs and chickens in it as well as the occasional horse. Some places the dirt road was so narrow, we wondered how it managed not be washed away with the hard rains we had seen nearly every day.

It only took us a couple hours to reach Tikal. We planned to stay at the Jungle lodge, and we knew it was going to be pricy. We had heard that we waited and booked there, we would save money. We ended up paying $85 each for four rooms. The rooms there only have power from 7 am to 9am and 5pm to 9pm (or 11pm if there are at least 7 rooms full). There is a restaurant, a pool and the cabanas were very nice.

There were several guides outside, and we found one who spoke good English and asked him about a morning hike to see the sunrise. He said it would be about $10US per person, and we asked if he could give is a group discount. At that point, we were torn as to whether or not to have a guide take us....we thought maybe the guidebook we bought at the gate would be enough. We told Giovanni we were going to discuss it and get back to him. It was about 4:00, and we all were anxious to get a look so we hiked into the first ruins we could get to. Realizing that it would be great to have some more inforation than what was in the book, we went back and found Giovanni waiting for us. He told us to be ready at 4:45 am outside the hotel entrance. We ordered a wake up call for 4:15 (actually it was a wake up knock). We found out later that Giovanni lived over an hour from Tikal, so he had to get up at 3:00 to meet us on time.

Dan and I went into the bar, and he was trying to figure out how to order a drink. Other than the guide, NO ONE spoke more ore than just a few words of English. Skyler's Spanish started to really pay off here...but he wasn't in the bar with us. My Margarita order didn't need translation, and neither did Dan's Gin and Tonic...until he tried to make it a double.

"Double" He said frist to blank looks. He held up two fingers.

"Dos" I suggested, and she turned to me in regognition. I made the gesture of putting two shots in one glass and she nodded.

Moments later she returned with two Gin and Tonics for him. "Does the same trick" he said smiling. It also gave me a chance to try what has since become my favorite drink.

Soon everyone was freshened up for dinner. These showers actually had water pressure and heat. Whoo-hoo. I have long thick hair, and getting enough water pressure to actually soak my hair before the warmth was gone had proved a challenge.

We left the lodge, not wanting to spend hotel prices for food and found two restaurants just outside the park. Unfortunately neither had enough food for 11 and after our experience the night before we were gun shy about taking any chances on service- so we headed back in.

We were spending WAY more on food than we planned to, and part of that was because restaurants were the one place besides the van where we could all sit together and talk. We found in the evenings we liked spending a couple hours going over the days events and talking about what we had seen. Paula and Dan both really liked the area around San Ignacio, and I think Gina liked it to. Paula commented that it was the first place she could see herself living (other than San Pedro). They liked the higher elevation and the things avaiable in the town. Dan liked the fact that the jungle was at his door step.

Our server wore a name tag that said "Joel" and Dan called him "jole" for most of the evening. We had a lot of things to order, and Joel was very helpful. The food was good and Dan, Sky and Dakota LOVED the fries. So much so, in fact, that Dan started trying to get the "secret" of the from Joel.

"Joel, What are these made with?" HE asked pointing to the fries.

"Pappas Fritas" Joel responded.

We all practiced saying it correctly and patted each other on the back for our excellent grasp of a new item we could order.

Dan wasn't done yet. "Joel, What kind of pappas?" he asked Joel.

Joel spoke slowly, enunciating for Dan. "Paaappaaas Freeeeetaaas".

"Show me, Joel" said Dan. Joel disappeared. I suggested to Dan that it might be pronounced "Jo-el" instead of Jole. When Joel returned, carrying a potato, we all laughed. Placing it in Dans hand he said "Pappas"

"IS it Jole or Jo-Ell?" Dan asked before commenting on the Potato.

"It's Ho-el" he said without smiling.

"Darn" said Dan under his breath.

"Well," Hugh chimed in with the positive spin, "it's a good thing you forgot that 'pronounce J as H' rule, otherwise you would have been calling him 'HOLE' all night".

Now, when we talk about Tikal, we always end it by saying "and we'll always have Hole".

Learing that there was no secret Guatemalen potato, the guys finished those off and went to bed early- anxious to see the rest of the ruins.

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