Thanks for all the advice - and entertainment!
The combined trip was one of the best vacations I've ever had! It was my first trip south of Tulum (Mexico) and I'm already planning a return trip for November!
Admit this is very detailed, but answers a lot of questions us newbies tend to have...
Continental from Newark to BZE - 4 hours non-stop on Saturday - completely painless! Immigration took about 20 minutes at the most, and bags were waiting by the time we got to the carousel. Was waved through customs. Maya Island Air had no record of me, despite my confirmation #, but it all worked out - and I was put on the Tropic flight to Flores. All the information on the Lonely Planet and State Dept. web sites had me scared about going to Guatemala - and it was completely cool! It was Easter Saturday - and there were police roadblocks, but we were always waved through. Got to the Jungle Lodge about 5pm and it was incredible! My first howler monkey experience - sounded like screaming dinosaurs. The flowers and trees were incredible. Dropped stuff in room and immediately went for a swim. Met the guy of the couple who turned out to be sharing the cabin wall with me. His wife injured herself climbing the ruins of Tikal in wooden high heels (no comment. I spent a week deliberating over hiking boots or treaded sneakers!). Despite reports, dinner at the Jungle Lodge was decent - and I could have had an interlude with the guide for a bunch of ad sales people from National Geographic, but didn't!
Since I wanted to get an early start, I wasn't thrilled when I was told the guide would come at 7:30 am - but it was Easter...(the tour buses from Flores start to roll in before then, so it is key to get there at 6, if you care about crowd avoidance). Other than a 10 year desire to see Tikal, my primary interest was photography - and the fewer people climbing on the ruins the better! Had no idea it would be safe to walk around alone. I would not say he was the best guide I've ever had - and I was glad I did some advance reading - but he did know a lot about every bird and animal. But, when a NYer has to run to keep up with someone, even in 97 degree weather, the guy is moving a little too fast! When I met people traveling without a guide, it was obvious how much better it is to have one, regardless of the quality.
Meanwhile, it was the most incredible ruin I've ever seen. When you come through the jungle to the back of Temple 2 (or is it 1?) it is amazing.
Made it back to the Jungle Lodge in time to spend the heat of the day by the pool, then caught a major howler monkey show. After that, did some shopping, and checked out the ceramic museum, where all the jade figurines, pottery, original stelae and jade/other contents the tomb of the king in Temple 1 (or is it 2?).
I've been to Chichen Itza, Coba, Tulum, and several Khmer ruins in Thailand - but this ranks beyond any of the above! And, going back for sunset, when there were monkeys crawling all over the ruins was the best! Up Temple 4 for the 2nd time that day - months on the eliptical trainer machine paid off! Met a 22 year old backpacker and her boyfriend, who had been in the area for months, and acclimatized - and I ran up the steps almost right behind them... The sunset was incredible. There were armed guards with us on the temple the entire time, and we had to leave as soon as the sun went down.
Dinner at the Jungle Lodge that night was interesting. Pork with peach sauce. It was a little sparce, but good. The people sharing my wall were no longer there (the walls are not thin, but there's about 2" between the wall and the ceiling, and you hear every word)! Luckily for me, they were not an active couple
The next day, the guide rushed me through my tour in 2 hours, but he did point out a cool thing to me. A spider monkey family - the male made a bridge between 2 trees so the mother with baby could climb across his back, and then another baby monkey followed. Wishing I had that 500 lens!
Here comes the fun part. Checked in at Maya Air in Flores, met this great Swiss Italian woman from Caye Caulker in the waiting room... Suddenly, the Maya Air guy is there, asking me to come outside, because the dog found something in my luggage! Although I knew there was nothing to worry about, I broke out into a sweat! Just a bunch of soldiers in black uniforms with guns and a dog. After looking at a few suitcase pockets, I opened the hard bottom shoe/snorkel equip. compartment...and there was my Tylenol PM! One of the men in black held it under the dog's nose - s/he nodded head - and they apologized profusely while I kept telling them I am glad they are vigilant...and the Italian woman and I were on the way to the cayes, via Belize City.
Luckily, we met another great Italian woman, Anna at BZE - and she was staying at the same hotel, Banana Beach.
And so it began...
After Tikal, Banana Beach was the perfect thing! Turned on that AC and I was in heaven. The one thing that drives me crazy about hotels in the tropics, even the best hotels in the world (the Oriental and Shangri-La in Bangkok) the air condition units sound like truck engines! Picky yes, but we all have our issues! I usually end up turning it off, but the obviously brand new one at Banana Beach was perfect. Once I noted this, I was completely happy! Then, there was the ocean front balcony. Anyway, I was a disgusting looking drowned rat after Tikal, so I watched TV and crashed early.
The next day, I got to check out Banana Beach in the light, and it was great! The suite was immaculate and well equipped. The landscaping in gorgeous. I headed straight for a padded beach chair under a tree, and didn't move til I finished my book! Then, decided to go into town, but met some local people on the beach, and next thing I new I was in their home, in what they called "the ghetto" across from the runway. When I went back to the hotel a few hours later, ran into the Italian woman, Anna talking to a guy. Turned out he was Axeman! A few hours later, we met Scott aka Rapier! Plus, Anna, in her very special way had managed to pick up 2 dentists... Pete and Jeff. We all ended up at Jambels, then Cannibals, then Shark's Bar for the end of the Punta Boys show. Somehow we lost the dentists (the 2 of them hooked up with 4 women! hmmm) while we went to look for Satan. Rapier has an insider's knowledge for summoning the creatures, but Satan must not have been interested.
I had intentions of snorkeling every other day, trips inland, a visit to my new pal in Caye Caulker, but day 2 found me under my same tree, with book 2 and Tikal legs! Good excuse to spend another day immobile! That was the day of the so called "morning show." Anna apparently asked one of the guys who worked on the beach if it was OK to go topless - and caused quite a stir! I guess they don't do that in Kansas! It was also the day I had the one drink I had in the entire 10 days, lest anyone think I was too busy drinking to do anything! A banana colada, in O Jackie's honor. It was great!
That afternoon, attempted another trip to town, but ran into Axe and Rapier again - and heard the famous Cheri' and Rick had arrived - so went to find them at the Chicken Drop (I did not go in the bar!). Had good BBQ at the place next door, where we met up with KANSAS COWBOY and his son Jake. I think that was the night we hung out for hours...
Thursday was another beach day for me, then late lunch with the guys at Caliente. Anna and I raided the store across the street for chocolate, juice and other stuff for dinner and her upcoming trip with Axe and Rapier to the Blue Hole.
Finally, Friday, I was supposed to go to Hol Chan to snorkel with the highly recommended Alfonse. Of course that day a touch of turista, or the highly nutritious dinner the night before took affect - and when I saw the waves breaking over the seawall at 530am, I knew I was spending another day - on the beach! But, I finally got to go shopping (with the dentists who had rented a golf cart for their last full day), and we had a great dinner at El Divino. As I told Tim, the restaurant was outstanding, and would be highly rated in Zagats if it was in NYC. And, the guy who runs it is pretty hot too!
Saturday, I finally got off my butt and snorkeled, thanks to the wonderful Sandra, of the Banana Beach travel office, Monkey Business. If you guys don't know it, she is the star of the Belikin calendar! But to me, she was just a very smart, really nice, incredibly helpful, service oriented person. She couldn't reach Alphonse to get me on a tour, but when she finally did, she apparently looked for me for a 1/2 hour, and found me 5 minutes before he was supposed to arrive. I ran to my room, got ready, rented fins next door and was back on the dock before he arrived! Hol Chan was great, even though there were 2 little kids on our boat, one of whom ended up kicking everyone on the boat at least once. Alphonse lived up to his reputation. After Hol Chan, we went to Shark Ray Alley, and saw a baby? nurse shark and a huge one. Lots of rays, not so many sharks.
That night was the Ambulance Benefit at the Hideaway. Great food, great company, great cause.
Sunday, my last day, I would have gladly gone snorkeling again, but getting a trip for one seemed to be a hassle. So, back on the beach! Did leave early to go to the Crazy Canucks thing with a nice couple who just bought a golf cart business in AC, but Axe ended up coming to get Anna, so we went to BCs instead. That was the day I knew my vacation was over...when I overheard a really scary political conversation between 3 guys who almost had tears in their eyes cause Bob Dole wasn't elected. Whoa!
The next day I had a few hours at the beach, then it was over! This time, Continental was not so painless, and the 40 minutes in Houston to clear immigration, customs, security again (with time consuming hand inspection after begging not to put my film through the Xray) was just the beginning.
I loved AC, and would definitely go back, and stay at Banana Beach again... but am hoping to check out the atolls and inland next. It was great to meet the famous Axeman and Rapier, and Cheri' and Rick and KANSAS and Jake, plus everyone else not on this board! If this exhaustive detail is not enough, feel free to post questions.