Posted by Gatley On September 27th, 2016
Posted by Gatley On August 24th, 2016
Posted by Gatley On July 25th, 2016
Our stay in the jungle has come to an end. Our time on the small barrier reef island of Caye Caulker is about to begin. However, before we can kick back and enjoy our time in the sun with a frozen beverage in hand, we need to drive the 2 hours from the jungle to Belize City, and then hop on a ferry for another hour sprint out to the islands.
By the time we reached the ferry terminal, I had pretty much hit my threshold for time allowed in a car on a vacation. I basically burst out of the van and ran as fast as I could to the ferry ticket office. We had arrived with about 25 minutes to spare until the next ferry left. We ditched our bags with the checkin counter, got our tickets, and hopped on the boat.
Just one problem, right as the ferry had undocked and was pulling away, I saw the dude from the checkin counter lazily strolling down the gangway with our two bags in tow. I had a brief bout of panic, and then realized we were heading to island and such emotions would be fruitless. 45 minutes later we were pulling up to the ferry dock on the island and strolling to our new cabana with a lot less luggage in tow. (More on that later)
Our cabana for the next 4 days is a mere ten minute walk from the ferry station. Our instructions to find the place were simple, exit ferry, turn left, walk for ten minutes, stop. 10 minutes is a bold claim considering that walk is a white sand path that weaves in and out of coconut palm trees and runs feet from the waters edge. One would understand if the walk took you 4 hours. Anyhow, 10 minutes later and Jessica and I found ourselves speaking with Juan, the manager of our new cabana on the beach.
Jessica and I are now the proud residents of a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom (with a kitchen and a living room) and a front door that is 16 feet from the waters edge. Not too shabby.
Jessica and I were a little perturbed that we didn’t have our bags, less for the obvious issue, more for the fact that we didn’t have any bathing suits and thus had to weather the 80% humidity and 80° weather in cotton. So, we opted for a stroll to a bar nearby the ferry terminal where we could eagerly await a reunion with our bags, hopefully aboard the next boat. Our cabana also comes with two beach cruisers to navigate the island. There a no cars here, just golf carts and beach cruisers. So we hopped aboard our sweet new whips and pedaled back down our white sandy road to the nearest bar.
Life here runs a little (read: infinitely) slower than normal. The 90 minute wait took about 2 beers and 1 coconut rum mixed with coconut water beverage to pass by. Moments later, I triumphantly returned to Jessica, who was keeping our epic seats at the bar occupied, with our long lost bags.
We swapped our jungle threads for some proper beach attire, ditched our bags in our cabana, and headed down to the other end of the island, fondly referred to as “the split”. Home to a proper island party bar, tables and chairs built into the water, and decent snorkeling and deck space nearby to spread out and enjoy yourself.
We ordered some lobster tacos and piña coladas and began to find our rhythms with the island. To this point, we had been eating like kings, and paying a kings ransom for the pleasure. Now that we have our own kitchen, I wanted to try my hand at some fresh island cooking. Today also happens to be one of two days of the week where fresh produce is hauled into the docks. Jessica and I biked on over to a local market, picked up some peppers, onions, garlic, beer and rum. From there, I needed to find some fresh fish. Like a total rookie, I went into every store we passed looking for fish, the quizzical looks I kept getting clued me into an error in my thinking. Next I stopped at a couple of restaurants and asked them if they would sell me a fish. Seemingly offended, no one wanted to help me. Finally, I figured it out and started chatting up a younger guy working to grill behind a restaurant. I asked him what he was cooking, how he was going to pair it, what type of coal he was using, what kind of beer he liked, who his favorite reggae band was….and finally…where the hell he bought his freaking fish. He laughed, pointed me around the corner and said to just ask anyone next to a boat. It was almost 5pm, I figured the best fish would be long gone by now, but sure enough, as we were rolling on up to the fishermen and fisherwomen, several boats were doing the same thing and were unloading their catch from the afternoon. We were on the opposite side of the island, away from all the niceties and behind the island power plant (3 semis with generators) and evidently, our only reason to be there was to buy fish from the fisherpeoples. Before I was off my bike, a sweet man with his kids in tow was walking up to us with a bag of freshly cleaned red snapper and lobster tails. He wanted to sell his entire stash, I just wanted a couple fillets, and thus the great snapper bartering of 2016 was upon us. In the end, I bought all the fish and got some free lobsters for roughly $12.
If you know me at all, you must know how happy this makes me. Local fish, freshly caught, negotiating, and free lobster. My oh my! And now I was off to cook these puppies up.
Jessica and I spent the rest of the evening cooking, swimming, drinking, and sitting on the dock while watching lightning storms roll across the sky miles away from us.
This trip is coming together nicely.
Posted by Gatley On July 24th, 2016
It all starts when a mango fruit drops from the tree canopy above our house and lands with a sharp clack on our wooden deck, waking you from your slumber. Moments later you vaguely make out the long, drawn out chirp of some lonely song bird longing for a mate. Several breaths later the croak of a giant bullfrog resonates from somewhere beneath our house floor. From there the jungle pours in through the windows, and fills our room with high definition melodies that leave us deadly silent in bed, afraid to move and miss a single note.
The sun started to peak its head above the small mountain ridge across the valley and shine in through one of our open windows. With the morning light comes a whole new set of animals ready to let the world know they are awake. In the span of 15 minutes we have probably listened to, literally, thousands of different animals, insects, and plant noises.
It’s now 5:45 am, the kitchen isn’t open for another hour and my stomach is starting to growl alongside the creatures of the night, as though it has reverted to it own carnal state and must announce its presence. Jessica is still in bed, giddy with delight at the spectacle of it all. I walk over to the coffee maker and open the jar of fresh beans to fill the room with an aroma to equal the audible pleasures already invading the place. While the coffee is brewing, curiosity drives me over to one of our windows and I spy outside to try and spot one of the monkeys we had seen the night before. There’s nothing there today but a bunch of butterflies and freshly bloomed flowers.
Today Jessica and I are going bird watching before breakfast, something that had me internally conflicted as, at the last minute before our departure, I made the gut wrenching decision to leave behind my nice DSLR and telephoto lens. Several reasons played into this, not the least of which is the incredible humidity that we have been enjoying. 80% humidity does not play nice with cameras nor lenses. Each morning as we emerge from our airconditioned room and hit the wall of tropical humid air, anything with glass instantly fogs over, it’s actually a magical thing to witness, but a tragic thing to see happen to a nice lens. Additionally, I turn into a helicopter parent whenever I have my camera with me. Going for a nice swim in the ocean? Sure thing, just don’t mind me while I stop every two strokes and look back nervously at my backpack on the beach. Want to go for a nice, romantic, stroll down the beach? Sure thing, don’t mind the third wheel of my 300mm lens (not an innuendo, I promise). All of these things conspire against what this trip is going to be about. So with much guilt and pain, I left behind my best mechanical friend. Now, the iPhone can compensate for a good portion of the photographic demands of a tropical, beach, underwater adventure. However, birdwatching, the iPhone cannot do. To get a good shot of anything in a tree top, you need some serious glass in front of that camera, today I’m really dreading my decision a few days ago.
Our friend, Abel, from adventures such as yesterday’s Mayan ruin extravaganza, met us at 6:15 am with his girlfriend, a field guide book, two pairs of binoculars an epic spotting scope on a tripod. I’m not sure why I had not expected this when we spoke about paying Abel to take us birdwatching. Something about giving someone money to walk with you as you look at birds seems a little peculiar to me. But when Abel showed up with a well used field guide and a legit spotting scope, my suspicions immediately turned to excitement, this dude knew what was up and was ready to get his serious birding game on. We met in the middle of the lodge’s parking lot and Abel set up his tripod right there, in the middle of the road and got started. Something about this was odd to me, I thought that we were going to have to trek deep into the jungle to find the ellusive belly warbler that has only been spotted by medicine men and Mayan tribes. Nope, we can just sit right here, where we’ve been standing 20 times before, and not seen anything, and be shown 20 different birds in about 5 minutes.
And, with that, we began our great Belizean jungle birding adventure. Abel would expertly call to the specific bird he wanted to see, and it would fly past us and perch nearby so we could spot it with the spotting scope. Abel then transcended from mortal genius to immortal God in my book as he found a way to position his spotting scope in front of my iPhone lens and allow for some pretty sweet, albeit not quite as nice as the Nikon, telephoto shots of the birds,all for your gatlogging pleasure. We slowly called to, spotted, photographed and noted each of birds that were in the area and then slowly moved on down the road deeper into the jungle. We rounded a corner and found ourselves at the base of two large valleys connected in the middle by a long wall of mountain, making a sort of giant bowl. Here we stood for a brief moment and Abel began to make a grunting noise, one that made me a little uncomfortable but was done with such deliberate focus I couldn’t help but wonder to what he was speaking. And then we saw it, a gigantic yellow bill poking through the leaves, the toucan. These birds are awesome, like a painters palette with wings attached, they sit high atop the jungle feasting on giant fruits and showing off for those lucky enough to spot them from below. Abel lined up a great shot for me and we got something in frame that almost passes for a great photo. Good deal.
Abel’s girlfriend took notes of each of the birds we saw and we headed back to the lodge to grab some breakfast. Along the way we couldn’t help from noticing how our eyes had been retrained to see the ‘jungle through the trees’ and pick out not only the wonderful species of birds everywhere, but also see the flora and fauna of the place. The wild ginger flowers, the orchids and hibiscus everything we had previously looked over or just glanced at popped out and stood remarkably brilliant against its back drop.
Breakfast was over in the blink of any eye and we were off to one of Jessica’s most anticipated parts of our trip, floating down a river in an inner tube. If you ever want to see my lovely wife in the happiest of her happy places, look for her floating on a body of water, with a drink in hand, and without a care in the world. Throw a jungle and some caves into that mix, and well, you get a pretty happy Jessica.
We arrived at the jungle tubing experience and had to haul our tube about a mile into the jungle to the entrance of the cave. We also had to sport a fashionable (not possible) life vest and cave helmet with flash light. Amazon failed to ship me some awesome water shoes I ordered for the trip, so I had to sport a wickedly cool pair of blue and yellow crocs for the trek, not my finest hour. We slowly descended into the cave and found ourselves weaving in and out of stalactites and stalagmites, traversing along next to the river deep in the heart of the cave. There, Jessica, myself and a guide jumped into the water, set ourselves up on our tubes and turned off our flashlights. Absolute darkness enveloped us immediately. You could not see your hand an inch from your face. Pure darkness and nothing but the sound of water on rock to orient you. We lit our flashlights back up and made our way through the cave by tube. Being in a cave is not really my cup of tea, something about the lack of sense of direction and natural light gives me an unsettled sense of impending doom. But hey, when in Rome, am I right? We floated as far as one can float in a cave, then hiked our way back out and found the adventure over all to soon.
On the way back to the lodge we found some spiders the size of my face, and weird caterpillars with hairy spikes dangling from the tree above some 30 feet trying to snag an unsuspecting insect, I almost swallowed three of these bastards.
We made it back to our lodge in one piece and decided to take some stand up paddle boards out for a spin on the river that flows right next to the lodge property. Seriously this place also has a river! We paddled our way up stream and lazily floated back down, me straddling the board like a surfboard, Jessica doing yoga poses. Fish swam underneath us and as soon as the heat got unbearable I’d jump in and cool off in the fresh mountain water.
We finished off the day drinking daquiris by the pool and talking with some of the other guests, two of whom we found out we’re from NorthPark, San Diego, like a half mile from our house…the guy also had red hair and a beard, really weird.
Tomorrow we leave the jungle and head to the coast to catch a ferry from the mainland to one of the barrier reef islands.
Not sure how to top today, but we will try our best to do so.