30 January 2014

Travel bug

Hello all!  I'm just checking in.  I found this great quote and wanted to share it.  This pretty much explains my life.  The travel but bit me at a young age and over the years I have mastered it.  Now it is my pleasure to teach travel and inspire travel. 

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to  share with all of you.  Please take a look at our YouTube Channel (EchosJourneys) and follow us in InstaGram @EchosJourney. 

21 January 2014

Truly un-Belize-able

This weekend was a great family get away.  We are already planning out what we will do when we return.  Being here gave me a better sense in how to plan things next time.  

On our next visit we will head to the beach first, and spend about 2 nights in Hopkins or Placencia, (maybe a night in each place!) then we will head back to Belize City a to catch the same cheap bus to San Ignacio so we can see Xanantunich pyramids and go caving.  If we really have time and money perhaps crossing over into Guatemala for a day trip to Tikal.  I would also hope to fit the zoo in there somewhere. 

Today things went much smoother it just require an immense amount of Patience.  We all slept well and comfortable at the Global Village Hotel, they even gave us a free egg sandwich breakfast with OJ or coffee. It was sooo perfect and totally hit the spot!  We headed out early to the airport, many other of the standby passenger who missed the previous days flight where also there. Including our travel angel, Ms Swan.  The plane was delayed coming out of Atlanta by and hour and a half so we made more friends, colored with our new coloring books and crayons, snacked, and played games.  

Habanero sauce that AlhaPoppa requested

Belizean speak standard English and kriol (a Caribbean-like dialect that is classified as it's own language).  Kriol is also a written language that is gaining popularity as written text.  Ms Swan shared an example of such with the kriol bible they use at her church.  Take a look to see if you can read these verse from the hebrooz  Chapter.  I suggest you read out loud with a Caribbean accent in mind. 

We have so many great pictures and videos that we look forward to sharing with you.  I'm still editing the "show" we filmed in South Africa, so I will begin editing our UnBelizeable adventure episode once I'm done with that.  

Thank you all for allowing us to share our adventures with you.  If you are not already a traveler I hope we inspire you to  see the world, met its citizens, and broaden your horizons.  If you are a traveler we hope to cross paths with you on our journeys. You never know, maybe we with be each other's travel angels. 


20 January 2014

Still a Belizer. Stuck in paradise.

Oh what a day!  We woke up at 2:30 am to catch the 3 am express bus to Belize City's airport for our 12:50 pm flight.  According the the bus terminal people there were only 2 express buses running today the on at 3 that arrives and 5:30 and the bus at 8 that arrives at 10:30.  Since arriving at  the bus terminal at 10:30 would be cutting our check in time too close we just took the early bus.  
At 2:45 am we marched up to the bus terminal, in the still drizzling rain (BTW it's dry season, WTH!) only to be told that the bus would be there at 4 not 3...  Thank goodness there was a very comfortable covered waiting area for us to spend our hour wait. 
That hour wait was far more entertaining than we bargained for.  It started with the great personality of what appeared to be a talkative chinese man waking up from his drunken stupor.  He talked nonstop occasionally getting up to chat with the bus terminal employee.   The employee later explained to us that the talkative drunk man is a much loved retired teacher who started drinking heavily in his senior years.  In the back of my head I thought "yea, I can see how decades of teaching could drive one to alcoholism.  Who am I to judge?!" He told us stories in English and Spanish and was quite pleasant also teaching us basic Mayan phrases.  (I guess he was Mayan and not Asian) Our early morning entertainment also included a sleeping lady who was snoring and sliding off the bench in her deep sleep, a weird country music album that started blasting through the plaza out of nowhere, and the looks on our faces while all this went down.  
Finally our express bus came. It was packed but we found seats together right behind the driver.  This 4 am night drive was like none other.  Imagine riding in the same exact school bus you rode in elementary school circa 1985 hurling through slippery jungle darkness at the speed of rickety rackety sound!  It was horrifying.  There were barely any street lights, deep deep pot holes, and far too many muddy slip and slide patches.  It got to the point where I couldn't take the "cliff hanger" feeling anymore (no pun Intended) and just decided to sleep instead. I woke up here and there but I pretty much slept until we got 5 minutes away from the Belize city bus terminal at about 6:30 am
We quickly hopped off the bus and found a taxi.  The taxi smelled like it had a gas leak and felt like its back right wheel would break off at the next pot hole and send us flipping into a dilapidated building.  We made it though, that's all that counts!  Yes our bar is set THAT low.  For all of you who think I do this under glamorous circumstances have no idea the craziness that ensues during our journeys.  

We got to the airport with 5 hours to spare.  We were there with the morning cleaning crew!  When you travel that is much better then missing a flight.  During that 5 hours we took turns dozing off, using the airports strong free wifi, ate breakfast at the airport restaurant, and paced back and forth.  Once we cleared immigration we still had a 2 hour wait.   The airport was jam packed.  Flights for United, Delta, American Airlines, Avianca, and a few more where all busy boarding and prepping flights.  Just by the look of the large crowd I knew we wouldn't all be  making this flight, especially since we were all flying on standby.
As always my gut was right, we didn't all make it.  Initially they told us all 4 would stay behind. Then within 5 minutes they told us that only 1 of the 4 would go.  We'd already discussed these types of possibilities and AlphaPoppa would be the one to leave.  He did not look happy about leaving us at all, in fact he looked down right nauseous.  Zane had a nervous breakdown upset about missing a day of school, and Dude was like," ok so can we go the the beach? A pool at least?!"  The airline employees put us on the standby list for tomorrow and let us know that it was very probable that all standby passengers would clear for that flight.
I pushed AlphaPoppa along and immediately started working on a place to stay for the night.  That is when my travel angel appeared, Ms Swan.  Ms. Swan was also flying standby and missed her flight.  She a retired American living in Belize who flies to the states monthly (on standby) to see her family.  She says the she has missed plenty of flights over the years and has a sustem set up that she would share with me!  An angel, I tell you! 
-"Ok baby girl, there is a hotel right outside the airport for $55 a night, it's called the global village hotel.  they have free transportation, free wifi, and they are extremely clean, chinese owned with a good chinese restaurant across the street.  Are you interested?"
-"Ms Swan you had me at free transportation!" You know in always looking to cut cost.  
She tried to sell her spot to the other stranded passengers but most looked reluctant and said they preferred the raddison in the city (that cost triple the price).
Ms Swan called the global village hotel and within 5 minutes they had a van pick us up and take us to the hotel.  Ms swan joined us to make sure we were ok and to personally introduce us to her "friends". We were greeted with open arms.  Literally. The boys were even greeted with kisses.  The place was so clean in fact that it smelled like a chlorine pool was on the premises.  I had to clarify for the kids that there was no pool. Our room is huge and well kept.  I'm totally fine with the inconvenience, but the only thing that is bothering me is that Im itching to get out and see this part of Belize!!  When I think about it I know that it's better to lay low under the circumstances, buuuut explorers don't do well sitting down for long, even with free wifi!

19 January 2014

At the perfect time

I received this very pleasant message the morning of our flight.

If you are not already, please follow me @EchosJourney on InstaGram

Easy Belizey!

Yesterday during the Iguana Farm tour the guide gently said under his breath," oh boy it's gonna rain." 
-"what's that?" I asked
-"it's going to rain", he repeated
-"well my app says even though it's over cast today there's no rain in the forecast and tomorrow will be sunny and 85°"
-with a chuckle he pionted at a plant with huge ants marching up and down the stem. "You see these? These are leaf cutters ants," he pointed down the stem and his finger followed 2 meter long line of ants marching along the ground into a nearby hole. ,"They are cutting leaves.  They gather the leaves and put them in a big pile.  When the rain hits the pile it turns to a fungus that the ants will eat during the bad weather." He then added with a nod," it will rain".

Now which would you believe?  The app or the ants?  After we left the Iguana Farm there was no rain. After we ate dinner there was no rain. When I finally went to bed at midnight... Still no rain.  But let me tell you, when I woke up at 8:30 am there was plenty of rain.  The ants were right!! And as I checked my app it still showed no rain in Belize!  

Normally I love rain.  But not today. Rain meant that my tour for today was ruined. Since I'm forever hopeful I decided not to get ahead of myself, just take one step at a time.  The first step was getting dressed and getting breakfast.  After laying around and playing around for a while we left for Pop's restaurant and about 10:30, while the rain continued to gently fall.
Once again Pop's was packed but we were lucky enough to walk in just as a family was getting up.  Right behind us entered a 20 something year old backpacker.  Once we settled into our booth I waved over for her to join us... After all that's the Belizean Way, right?  She sat next to me and dude and we chatted about everything.  Her name was Christina from Colorado. She was backpacking solo from Belize to Cartagena, Colombia.  She was planning to take a combo of boats and buses to get to Cartagena.  She had the same happy fearless attitude that many backpackers have.  I love that she was going on an adventure making up things as she went along, I think I loved her just a little more when I noticed she was wearing a hearing aide.  I have nothing but respect for people who are unstoppable in following their dreams. 

Once we finished breakfast we headed back to the hotel.  While the guys were fiddling around in the room, I sat out on the hotel balcon just to enjoy the air.  While out there I met more backpackers. This time it was Bunny and Bob Davis a retired coupled from Dallas, TX.  They were using their retirement years to see the world and return home just long enough to spoil their grand kids. They told me of their great adventures country hopping in Europe last summer and about all the fabulous things they'd done so far in Belize.  Despite their all white hair and additional years of life experience they were out backpacking like "young kids".  They are proof that youth is ageless.  I hope to be like them when I grow up, something tells me I will be.  Belize is really backpackers heaven, wether you are 4 or 70!

As I was talking to Bunny and Bob the rain stopped and the sun came out, parting the clouds.  I saw this as an immediate call to action I announced the sun to AlphaPoppa and the boys and we decided to see if we could still do our tour to Xanantunich Ruins.  We walked to the main square and found a taxi driver to take is there.  Unsure if it was open today the driver agreed that he's only charge is for one way ($10) if it was closed.  It was about a 10 minute drive to the river crossing and once we got there the guard/ river crossing guy told us the path was closed for cars, boats, and walkers!  There was no chance of us going there.  From what I'd read it was the most spectacular of them all.  This is just another excuse for us to return to Belize.  

Once we got back to town we did our best to find other tours. The only appealing one was cave kayaking but for $195 that was a no go!  We have been basically forced into taking it easy today. Which might be best since I just found out our bus leaves at 3am tomorrow morning!!  So as I sit here in my hammock I raise my banana smoothly to taking my day to be easy Belizey!

Dude on the other hand is snuggled up with then hotel manager and her puppy. He always finds a grandma wherever we go!  

18 January 2014

Ya betta Belize it! Mayan ruins and a dinosaur on my head!

We slept soooooo good last night.  After I put up yesterday's blog post I laid down and then it occurred to me that my body was exhausted.  Even though my mind was super excited my body didn't get that memo.  It got the "Girl, you betta lay yo' self down" message instead.  We all had a good night's rest. 

While buying dinner last night I asked for the best breakfast spot for the next morning, as always I'm planning ahead.  The cashier told me that Pop's has the best breakfast in town, hands down.  After we all got up and ready we got out all of our family sillies, and headed 3 blocks up the road to pop's.  Family sillies include tickle attacks, relentless teasing about who stinks, asking if anyone peed in the bed, etc.  anything silly we start off the morning doing it.  Upon entering Pop's right away I knew the food would be good.  I had two hints: #1. It had a leaky air conditioning unit.  As soon as you walk in if you are under one of the 5 leaky spots under the A/C unit a drop of water will hit you in the head every 3 seconds or so!  That ladies and gentleman means the food is so damn good "ain't nobody got time  to even think about that A/C unit!"  Hint #2. Every booth with filled with locals and tourist alike.  There was no place for us  to sit.  Until the waitress suggested that we sit with a local guy and his son.  Obviously this is a "close culture" where squeezing 6 in a booth is not a big deal.  Even if you don't know them.  They welcomed us into their booth and we chatted until their food came.  The dad is a local barber and we had a great convo about local culture and things to do in the area.  He suggested a nearby Mayan ruin that was in walking distance...  "Right up the road". After they ate, they left just as our food came, by then there was a crowd waiting outside that included a few American Mormon missionaries.  Our breakfast was delish!  The kids had bacon, egg, and bean breakfast burritos.  I had scrambled eggs, sausage, and a waffle.  AlphaPoppa had Johnny Cake (they call it Jack here) with egg, ham, and refried beans.  With our juices it came to $20 total, approximately $5 a person.  Well worth it.  Belize is extremely affordable for a family and I imagine even more so for a solo traveler.  

After dinner we took a quick stroll down the main strip.  I picked up some post cards, a cute bracelet for myself, the boys got bracelets that say Belize and AlphaPoppa got a couple of shot glasses.  On the way back to Hotel Tia Maria I stopped by the pharmacy to get bug repellent (I left ours home) while the guys continued back to our room.  Even though Mosquitos aren't a problem at all,  I wanted to be well prepared, just in case.  The pharmacy was so basic compared to our pharmaceutical empires back home but seemed to have everything the town needs.  

So after a long transportation debate the guys won.  We would take a taxi to the ruins then walk back.  I wanted to walk both there and back.  First of all the kids get tired and sleep better at night, second of all I'm super cheap and didn't want to pay for a $6 taxi for the ride.  We arrived at the Mayan Ruins of Cahal Pech.  It was $15 for us all to get in and we decided to go without the $25 tour guide.  We walked through the museum first reading about the Mayan civilization and that specific site.  We would see a pyramid, temple, and an arena.  The path leading there was well-paved and an amazing jungle walk.  The first thing we came upon was a group of archeologists digging at the site, to the left of the temple.  I don't recall ever being somewhere where real life archeologists were partaking in important work.  It was pretty cool to think of the things that they would find and the mysteries they would solve.  Up next were the pyramids. The kids (and us adults) had so much fun, climbing, running, and jumping.  We climbed to the top, we felt like Mayan rulers looking down on our empire.   We then ran over to the arena.  The steps are wide and easy to climb.  We then doubled around the back through a tunnel to a jungle cliff, then headed around the back to what we believe was a temple.  Since we didn't have a guide we agreed to try to figure it out ourselves then to research it when we got home. We spent hours there. Climbing up and down, Posing like royalty, hiding, climbing in dark tunnels.  It was far more fun than I'd imagined.  On the way out we talked to a group of archeologist from Montana USA.  I asked if they knew what happened to the Mayans, did they really just disappear?  They gave me the 3 theories because no one really knows.  Theory 1- they were attacked by another army. Many were killed others fled.  Theory 2- there was a severe drought that made them all leave. Theory 3- aliens came to earth and took them away..... No seriously they gave me aliens as a theory!!!  They were a great bunch and asked if I could adopt them so they can travel the world with me.  If I could, I would adopt you all!  But since I can't I'll do the next best thing, share my tips, love, and courage with you through my blog, and soon a YouTube channel and book!  

One of the funniest things here in Belize is asking for a receiving directions on how to get somewhere.  AlphaPoppa and I have been getting some good laughs off of this.  As we were leaving Cahal Pech we met a freelance tour guide, he suggested that on our way home we stop at the Iguana Farm.  
-"How do we get there from here?" I ask.  He points down to the valley below the hill we're standing on. 
-"You see the red roof over there?  It's just past it".
- "umm, yea I see about 13 red roofs...." 
-"well it's just past that one right dere" still pointing toward the many red roofs.

I've traveled enough to accept these types of directions just as they are.  See to him this makes perfect sense.  To me the most I can get is, just go that way and ask 4 more people for directions along the way.  And that is what we did.  On the way to the Iguana Farm we picked up a bag of peeled oranges and a bag of peanuts from a street stand ($1 total). The people there pointed us in the direction of the iguana farm.  After a 10 minute walk of complaining children we arrived.  The Iguana Farm is located in the San Ignacio Hotel and cost $4.50 a person.  While we waited I thought about how fun it would be to have the guide put iguanas on my children's heads.  The thought of them frightened and in a panic thrilled me, especially after 10 minute of them complaining.  Yes I'm admitting it.  I'd like to think every mom has had that moment where you want the kids to, ya know... Suffer, just a teeny bit.  Ha! Well soon after that thought one of my life philosophies would give me what I deserved.  One of the reasons I use the alias Echo is because I believe life is an echo.  What you give you get.  Well in this case I wanted kids to be frighten instead it was me horrified standing in the iguana house with one climbing up my arm and perching itself in MY head. It serves me right!  I was truly petrified.  There is nothing cute or cuddly about these little dinosaurs. I reluctantly agreed to put one on my arm so the guy put it on my arm and walked away.  As he walked away the iguana decided to take a walk.  Up my arm and up the back of my head.  I was so scared I started to sweat, I'm surprised he didn't slide down my head!  Needless to say alphaPoppa and the boys got the laugh of their lives.  They really enjoyed watching their fearless mother almost have a heart attack.  The British couples on the tour with us also had a great laugh.  The Iguana Farm is rated as San Ignacio's #1 thing to do and I could see why.  After nearly catching my death the adult iguana was removed from my head and I was given a baby iguana instead.  I think I would have done much better if I'd been
Introduced to the baby first.  

After washing up and saying goodbye to our awesome guide and new British friends (I swear we bonded with them, sharing adventures does that quickly!) we headed back to town on foot.  
We stop in to the Belizean food restaurant again and had the fish special for lunch.  

Every plate was clean by the time we left.  If you are thinking about coming here, find good well priced food shouldn't be a concern at all.  It's very Caribbean and flavorful.

The rest of our night consisted of the guys watching TV at home and me wandering around this teeny tiny town.  I window shopped, met an Italian selling gelato, ran into people I met the night before, and just sat around people watching.  By the time I got back the guys were all washed up and playing card games.  Dude and I headed out to the hammock on the balcony to update our travelogue.  We still don't have tomorrow figured out but I'm sure whatever it is, Belize won't let us down.

17 January 2014

Belize the Jungle Gem

I knew today would be busy busy busy.  I woke up at 5am to get a head start on AlphaPoppa and the boys.  I did my daily T-25 workout while I boiled eggs and made toast for our breakfast.  No sense in buying breakfast when I can make it at home.  After I showered and got dressed, everything was ready so I woke up my 3 guys.  They quickly dressed, ate,  and before we knew it we were on the road to the airport.  We decided to park at the airport lot for $12 a day.  It's way more than we want to pay but we didn't have any other logical options.

Before we boarded the plane we chatted with a few other passengers and many were going to Belize for a wedding.  It seemed to be a huge destination wedding extravaganza and everyone was buzzing like bees.  Their excitement made me more excited... Even though I'm more of a backpacker I love seeing people on the move exploring the world.  The flight was 3 1/2 hours, Dude and I slept the first half.  Our seats were in the last two rows and from our window we had a perfect view of the engine!  AlphaPoppa and Zane didn't even have a window so I won't complain.  The ride was smooth and laid back.  After taking so many long flights the 3 plus hours seemed like nothing. 

Once in Belize City it was time to execute my always shaky travel plans.  We exited the airport and I found a taxi driver.  Out of curiosity I asked how much would it cost from Belize City to San Ignacio?  $140USD was his answer. Yikes!  So my next question was how much to take us to the bus terminal?  $25USD... That's more like it!  

The taxi took us to the bus terminal (20 minute drive) and warned us of people who would offer us deals to take us to San Ignacio for free or cheaper than the bus.  He strongly warned not to accept such an offer because they may try to charge , rob, and/ or scam us.  First of all we both know better and how could it be cheaper than the bus? The bus ride came to $8 BZE ($4USD) per adult $4 BZE ($2) for Zane and Dude was free. $10USD total. The bus was one of those pimped out school buses we experienced in Panama.  The employees at the bus terminal were very helpful and made sure we got on the right pimped out school bus.  During our 40 minute wait there I decided we definitely need food and a bathroom.  

Rule #1 When you travel with children. Any pause in travel means it's time to get snacks and napkins.  Napkins are needed for sneezes, spills, toilet paper, a place to spit out gum.  Hoard these if you can! 

The bathroom was super gross and cost 50 cent.  But it got the job done and no one asked to go to the bathroom the whole 2 hour bus ride.  Which is a priceless event!

The ride was 2 1/2 hours but I enjoyed it.  We drove through almost the whole country, we really got a chance to see Belize.  The Belize city area is on the Caribbean coast and definitely has a Caribbean feel.  Everyone has a full fledged Caribbean accent, reggae is pumpin' in the streets, you see plenty of rasta and smell the Johnny cake in the air.  As we started moving more toward the interior the Latino/ Spanish influence increased.  By the time we got off just about all the passengers were speaking Spanish.   

During the ride few Americans got on and I struck up a conversation with then... because I'm nosy.  They were just in Belize for the nature and adventure.  They were specifically on the bus to visit the zoo.  I'd read online that the zoo here is fabulous, they were going for a night camp out program there.   As our bus ride continued I was in awe of how jungly the whole country was.  It's was as if the laid back residents lived in a jungle paradise.  The land looked so rich and fertile, as if the jungle could take over at any moment and swallow the small communities that hugged the main highway.  I'd seen the phrase "Jungle Gem" several times on the message boards on trip advisor and other website dedicating to Belize travel.  Seeing it however was much more awesome.  I felt like perhaps it hasn't changed much since the Mayans were running thing in these parts, and that was a marvelous feeling.

Once we got to San Ignacio we were confused as to how get to our hotel.  A couple of people have us confusing directions that lead to nowhere.  Eventually I stopped in a restaurant where the workers there called the hotel and where able to give is perfect directions.  We got there in a 5 minute walk.  Emelda was there to greet us,  we'd emailed each other a couple of times over the last week and she was expecting us.  I filled out the paperwork and we were taken to our room.  Thankfully it looked just like the picture, better even.  We all sighed with relief!  The guys (all 3) were thrilled to see a big well- functioning TV.  They threw themselves in the bed and found something to watch.... Men!  I on the other hand took out toiletries. Set up a little closet etc.  AlphaPoppa came down with cold the night before we left and currently had a massive head/ ear ache.  Boy was he happy to lay down.  Since they were all relaxed I volunteered to get out and get dinner.  I asked Emelda what she recommended she told me Martha's Kitchen was good and just a couple of blocks away.  I went there and found the prices a little too high, but before I'd even entered that restaurant I was being seduced by a sign I saw a couple of buildings down that read "Belizean Food". 

Now that's what I wanted!!!  After seeing Martha's prices I quickly ditched them for the Belizean food joint.  Their food was $7BZE ($3.50 USD) per plate I got us 3 plates a side of fries for dude water and cantelope juice! The grand total was $15.  Feeding 4 people, not bad huh?!  While waiting for the food I met a 20 something Belizean guy who was visiting from Dallas.  He grew up here and comes home whenever he can.  The food server thought I was Belizean but was confused because according to him I talk to him in a Caribbean accent and to the other guy like a "Yankee". Hehehe!  

I headed back to Hotel Tia Maria and set up dinner for us on the outside patio near the hammocks.  It was super pleasant especially having us all together on an adventure.  
After dinner we all took nice warm showers and hit the sack!  

IRS ballin' to Belize

As soon as we got back from South Africa I received the most pleasant surprise by mail.  My well fought over tax return from 2011.  I fought a good fight and won, an unexpected check was my reward.  So what was my first thought.  The only thought that a true travel junkie could have.  Where can this money take us?  With a long weekend coming up for the MLK holiday what better way to celebrate liberty than to be free to roam.  We needed some place close, cheap, and WARM!  We needed Belize.  I immediately booked a flight, then began a search for cheap accommodations using my fave app airbnb.   My surprise check was not THAT big, ha! We'd get there but as always we'd be ballin' on a budget.

So this is the plan... I found a place for $40 a night for the 4 of us, Hotel Tia Maria.  When we get to Belize we need to take a taxi to the bus terminal then we can catch a bus to San Ignacio where the hotel is.  Some time before we leave we will see pyramids, the zoo, and caves.  Solid plan huh? That's the plan but as always we will just go where the wind blows us.