Saturday, 24 May 2008
A relatively normal start to the say with waking up at 7:45 so that breakfast could be fitted in before we need to be at the dock for a 9am start for the snorkeling. We got on the boat and were taken out to Silk Key a proper desert island, well it had palm trees, and some picnic tables. Us snorkelers were dropped off and the divers went off to a different site, (me jealous - er ya) So the group of snorkelers followed our guide round the island looking at the coral, and the fish that swam around it.
I took a load of photos but to be honest i was rather disappointed in them, i need to learn the best angle to shoot the camera as well as getting as close as possible. The fish i did manage to see were a Sargent major fish, yellow goatfish & bluehead wrasse. Hopefully i can get some photos on here soon.
It is looking like we may not get to see the Whale sharks, as they were only in the area over the new moon which was a couple of days ago, and whilst reports are that they were seen easily for two days before the full moon, only one was seen on the day of it and they are not even sending about to the normal place anymore as they have moved on. It is possible we will see then further north as they pass that way, but we may be a little late.
The divers came back to join us for lunch on the island, and then everyone wasted an hour while the food digested and we could all go back out. I had a chat to a guy from San Fran who was doing a medical degree in NY, who knew the owner of Facebook, in his 20's, still living in the same apartment he always did and last seen throwing up on the side of the road, (i guess the Microsoft millions have not changed him)
We went for a second dive in the afternoon, not seeing many new fish but we did manage to see a large Eagle ray, which looked magnificent. I was not quite close enough to it to get great photos but he is clearly visible but the particles in the water have made the photo very white as they reflect the light. The sun was HOT very HOT, fortunately i listened to the guide when he said wear a t shirt which was a great result as my back did not get burned however the back of my lower legs and back of my arms did.
Which leads ud onto Hypochondria update. So the big bite on my leg when yellow as a big bruise then went away, the bite on my arm vanished. The sharp stabbing pain in my shoulder took 2 days to go but was agony when i moved in the wrong way. So i just need to lose the sunburn and then see what else i can pick up. [/moan]
Tomorrow we fly up to Belize city for our 6th hotel in 11 days but will stay there for 7 nights and go diving.
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Yey another 6:30 am start, as we had to get to breakfast for 7am so that we could be at the dock for 8am so that we could join a trip to Monkey river. Breakfast took ages so we wandered onto the dock at 8:01 just about perfect. The boat was a 12 seat fibreglass hull with a massive engine. This was great as we set off taking the 14 miles to the mouth of the river. We went very quickly, which was great. On reaching the general area the pilot /guide of the boat took us though some islands (v small) so that he could fling the boat round tight turns at high speed.
As we slowed down to get up the river we saw, hawks, herons, vultures, although we never saw any crocodiles. After an hour so so of heading up the river we got off the boat to look for howler monkey's, (appropriate given the name of the river), we found some in the top of the canopy although it has to be said that by now we were distinctly unimpressed. We had the usual trees shown to us, but nothing new. We got back in the boat to search for the crocs or other birds. Eventually we gave up on that and went flat out back to the village for lunch, this was superb as we got the boat thrown round the corners very quickly with the boat practically overstearing into each corner.
We made lunch in the village, having rice and beans with Cajun chicken. Then we took off in the boat towards the sea in a hope of finding Manatees, Eventually we saw the top of the head of a manatee which was distinctly unimpressive given they are huge animals and known as the cows of the sea. However to make it worthwhile we saw 3 dolphins who were performing as normal zipping in and out of the water. Then we raced back into to the hotel.
Tomorrow we are going to go snorkeling, in anticipation of our week diving.
Well the day started with he option of going to see the park at sunrise, obv I declined this chance and took the lie in (ignoring the black Howler monkeys that woke me up t just after 4 am). Breakfast was in the restaurant at the hotel and was interesting as we were in Guatemala everything was in Spanish and that for me was a problem but i managed to order something and avoid refried beans as they are possibly the most disgusting in the world (well maybe apart from anchovies). Our driver picked us up at just after 9 - he was a little late as the rain and wind had brought down some trees on the road leading up to the site and he had been delayed. I have found to Belizian's to be very organised and as I put it a cross between Caribbean Creole, jobsworthly bureaucratically efficient(English), Latin relaxed and Mayan history.
We did our 2 hour trip back to the border, though that and back into Belize. We now had ahead of us a 3 hour trip down to Placencia and our next hotel Roberts Grove. On the way we decided to stop at Xunantunich another Mayan site. This had the usual suspects of Plaza's, Temples high class palaces and Pyramids. This one was build on the top of a hill and from the top of the temple afforded great views of Belize and back into Guatemala. The deforestation was noticeable and a tragedy but the locals need to be able to farm and therefore eat but it does make a mess. The air was still smokey giving bad visibility due to the fires, but even so the views from the temples above the forest canopy is great. I love the health and safety in Latin America - there isn't any - there are some very interesting staircases that you can walk up with no hand rails or anything to stop you falling a long way. It is how the Mayan built it but i expected to see a hundred American lawyers at to bottom offering to sue someone if you fell.
The trip to and from this site involved a very short trip on a boat the was dragged across by a man pulling the boat along a wire, primitive but effective. We then got back into he van and set off for Placencia, it was a 3 hour trip but we broke it with a quick visit to a pool of water called the blue hole - basically a cliff with a pool of water beneath it, there were a bunch of kids jumping into it and if we were not in the middle of a long trip then it would have been worth joining in.
The hotel is on the coast of the Caribbean sea and is rather posh and will be nice for a few days, before i am off to Turneffe atoll for the diving.
Well shockingly the day started without a 6am alarm call. Today was the simple matter of popping over to Tikal for the night.
Our bags were collected from our room at 10 am and rather than suffer the bumpy road on the way out of Caa Creek we arranged for us to be able to Canadian canoe down the Mecal river for about 4 miles and be collected just after the main bridge at San Ignatio. Well the trip went well and it has to be one the best ways to leave a hotel, (my personal favorite was when I left Hotel Arts in Barcelona on F1 GP Sunday as the valet brought the Merc up and Adrian & i in shorts and t shirts swan though the that corporate guests of Ferrari and Williams to get into the car and drop the hood and drive off) Anyway, where was I, Canoe river - it is a wide river with jungle on both sides (often steep cliffs with trees hanging off the sides) With brids flying from the sides it was a very peaceful trip. It took about 1h 45 mins in about 90 odd degrees and some umpteen millions percent humidity. It was great fun although my legs got sunburned, we were collected from the concrete Jetty by our driver and we set off to Guatemala.
The border was as you would picture a chaotic Latin American border crossing, loads of people, vendors selling everything inc Coca Cola ldo, the worst part of the crossing was the fact that we had to get out of our air conditioned mini bus and get into the so so so hot air, it must have passed 100 in the sun, more stamps in my passport with is always good, and after a quick chat with the Belizian immigration official about the prospects of Man U v Chelsea (they are popular here as any where) we finally got though and got back int he van and headed into Guatemala. The roads were as bad as Belize and this particular road was made of Limestone and was very white and so when the truck drove across it, it caused dust everywhere and was hard to see in front of you which given the driving of local road users was a worry.
We had lunch just outside the entrance to the Tikal reserve and a rather good Gallo beer (Guatemalan) much lighter than the Belecan Belizian beer more like Corona. We met our rather excitable but very knowledgeable guide here and he would take us though the Tikal Mayan ruins. The bus dropped us off about 4pm and we had about 2.5 hours touring the site before it went dark. Old buildings are impressive but after a while my brain cell blurs them together and whilst the temples were indeed impressive and the fact that these could have been built while western Europe was in the dark ages - amazing. We ended the tour on top of temple no 4 with the goal of seeing the sun set over the jungle, however there was so much smoke over the forest due to slash and burn farming there was not going to be any sunset worth having, and there was cloud building up as well. The fact that the temple was covered in scaffolding meant that we at least would not fall off it but the west side was not accessible as the rangers were wanting a bribe for us to see that side anyway.
We then wandered back though the jungle with he armed rangers flowing us for our protection and to make sure the park was clear for the night. As we walked back the lighting and thunder we could see in the distance caught up with us and we got very wet as we walked back in darkness. This was the first rain since Feb in that region. Fortunately we were staying in the hotel in the park so there was no travailing to do to get there.
Well today we went on a trip called Actun Tunichil Munknal which is basically a visit to a cave the contains the burials of a number of Mayan sacrifices. It appears that the people sacrificed were of high status and prob volunteered as the promise of the reincarnation was worth it.
Anyway the trip started at 8 am - so normal service resumed there then, and a 90 min trip along the Belizian roads, half tarmaced (with huge bumps outside each school to slow you down, the rest on limestone road that are at best bumpy or as our guide said today free massage road. First we had to walk on a track though the jungle which three time crossed the river up to about knee high. On reaching the site we went straight in as we were first of a number of vans that were on the way. The trip starts outside the cave entry when you have to swim 10m to get into the cave entrance where turned on the lights on our safety helmets so we could see as it went pitch black fairly soon.
The trip to the start of the Mayan artifacts took maybe an hour as week walked, paddled, waded or swam along various parts of the cave, all of which was great fun if the water was a little cold. We finally reached the climb up to the section were the archeology was this involved some rock climbing, and then we took our shoes off to walk in socks so that we would be more careful and not tread on the pots all around the floor. Most of the pots that had been left as ritual gifts for the gods had been calcified into position and were not going to be moved for anything. This is rather weird as things that have been there over 1000 years appear to be part of the rock. There were also impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
There were many hundreds of pots and the site had been in use for many years 200-600AD. Finally we neared the end of the cave and saw the again calcified remains of a number of skeletons - manly skulls but there was one full skeleton at the end of the trail. The tour is not going to be available in the following years as they are going to try and stop visitors taking pictures and cut down on the numbers entering the cave and the length of time they stay in there, This will be a shame for the new tourists but given that tourists have a tendency to step on the pots and drop things on skulls then it is prob best access is limited.
Once the whole cave was seen then we had the fun job of going back though the cave to the entrance, I think i enjoyed the caving, climbing and swimming the most (i am too shallow). Anyway it was a great day out and well worth the trip. Tomorrow we leave here and head to Guatemala to see Tikal and their Mayan temples there, we are moving hotel again to stay at a lodge in tikal overnight and then off to Roberts Grove which should be good.
Day 5 (in the big brother house) ok not quite but i can't not start my blogs with day by day and not start like that.
Finally a nice quiet start to the day, breakfast started at 9 am so i nearly missed it, swanning in at 8:50 which given that i had gone to bed at 9pm the previous evening was impressive - i guess the last few days have caught up with me. I had the Mexican breakfast scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and flour tortillas but NO Refried Beans, I hate the tings and they should be banished from the planet.
An easy morning with basically just a quick walk to the river before lunch to to say that i had done it. Then a 1 pm start for a cave trip. Yet again this involves getting into a 4x4 truck and randomly wandering along Belizian roads with the hope that the truck can stand the excursion. This time we were in a Toyota land cruiser (slightly older vintage) which was not blessed with the air conditioning of the newer Hilux, so it was hot. The weather is beginning to cloud over during the day and the rainy season can only be a few days way. However our guide today thinks that as climate change happens the wait for the rainy season is getting later and the dry season is getting longer which is bad for the agriculture and more importantly it is making the Caribbean hotter, therefore making the chance of a really bad hurricane season more likely. Given the lets face it fragile housing stock of the country then this could be disastrous for the country. The last one hit in 2001, but there was one in the 80's i think and then in 61 there was a bad one that brought the country in touch with congregated iron roofs, they may be easier to build than the traditional palm ones and may be more stable but, they are a lot more ugly.
So we were in a truck going to a cave system to sit on a Canadian canoe and be paddled though the water being guided by the bloke doing all the work. This was a good system. On the way we went through an orange grove, with 3800 acres or maybe heactres but there wa a lot of orange trees, they were being harvested at the time and teams of men were cutting the ripe ones off the trees and collecting them in sacks to be taken off for squashing for the European market. each person got 60c per sack with is 15p but should earn upto $100 (Belize) which is £25.
Anyway we made it to the caves and had a great couple of hours going though the caves seeing where there had been found Mayan burials well bones left on ledges of the cave many meters in with pottery offerings. Some of the skulls had become calcified by the action of the water and set in place. We made it past a couple of narrow points to make it to the end were a cave in many 100's of years ago had blocked the passage further although it did go many hours more. The canoe bench was very hard and my bum is not exactly padded so it was at best uncomfortable, as movement was not recommended as if you did then you ran the risk of capsizing in the middle of a very very dark cave drowning your 12v battery and million candle watt tourch leaving you wet and very blinded.
After the paddle back we got to jump off the boat and swim the last few meters in the pool at the entry to the cave. It has to be said that i am still very white and I hope that i get a little browner in the next few days, I have 5 bites on my back which are not too impressive but i have one on my leg that looks to have been done by flying thing the size of a pterodactyl, anyway lets hope it does not cause my instant death. I have just left the bar after an apres ski type thing but without the crowds of people and the singing - wow i need to go skiing again. The dinner menu looks good and then i am off on another adventure at 8am tomorrow - practically a lie in.
Well it was another early start with the alarm this time going off at 5:30 am. This was so that we could get breakfast at 6 am (pancakes and syrup) and then set off before 6:30.
We set off on time and headed toward Lamanai which is one of the larger Mayan cities that were in Belize. In fact it is one of the most uncovered and actually rebuilt in part so it was much easier to see the structures. The debate as to whether archeology is about recording things as they are and then returning them to nature, or to rebuild what is there, to what it was, so that tourists can see it will go on for ever but given that a number of these mayan sites went out of use 1300 years ago. The jungle has taken hold of them and between the tree roots and 80 inches of rain a year there is a fair amount of damage done to the original structure. However i don't mind if some are rebuilt often with the same stone, so that it is possible to see how amazing the buildings were.
We got to climb up the high temple which was a good 20-30m above the canopy of the forest and the views were incredible. Well in the sense that all you could see was the tree tops and the river to the side, but nothing else. Given that this building was nearly 2000 years old the achievement in building it was amazing. There are many temples and residential buildings on site and many are now visible. the fact that these cities were bigger than anything in Belize today is incredible.
Then we moved on again in the truck ( a lot of driving today) over to a community project to look after the black howler monkey. The idea is that visitors are shown round by local volunteer guides who know the area and take you on a walk seeing a number of monkeys who don't hide at the top of the trees but are so used to humans they are able to have their photos taken close up. The villagers promise not to cut down forest to be involved in the project and so the numbers of monkeys can increase. I am not entirely sure the benefits to the villagers is that great but the attempt to keep the deforestation at bay is commendable. So anyway we got to see a "family" of monkeys which played up nicely for the camera.
Eventually we made it to Chaa Creek a resort in the west of Belize and very nice it is. It would be better if you were a honeymooning couple and as i am not it is a bit weird but hey it is a multi star resort and it sure beats slumming it. I have 3 nights here on a slightly less demanding schedule so there is a possibility of relaxing, and given the 5 hours of driving today the chance for my spine to recover.
I have mentioned it but I will again, it is HOT. 100 degrees and humid is not the recipe for relaxation at all.
The days starts early with a 6am alarm to go birding at 6:30 for an hour. The early start allows viewing more birds as they wake up and before it gets to hot during the day. We managed to see a roadside hawk, vultures, a toucan (at long distance) and various other birds that i will never remember the name of. this was followed by breakfast before our 8:15 start to see the Mayan Ruins at La Milpa
The ruins here have not been excavated the same way as at Lameni or Tikal and so they are all under a covering of jungle and trees. The city was once the 3 largest in Belize and this could have been 60k people. Belize was once a country of 1m people back in the heights of the Mayan people whereas now it is only 300k. It appears they discovered 1300 years ago that deforestation, over farming,soil erosion was a problem (although the population was slashed to discover this). There are 3 separate Plaza's which are surrounded by large structures inc 2 temples and a large number of high status living areas. This took around 2.5 hours and was an excellent and private way to see the ruins with our guide. A group of 100 archaeologists are due next week to start on a dig to continue the research.
We got to drive back and then lunch was at 12pm. Then I rested in a hammock outside, for a couple of hours before we took the mahogany walk which was short at 0.4m but involved walking around the jungle for a hour or so, looking at the various trees, and birds and other wild life. On a couple of occasions we got to see spider monkeys in the distance at the top of the canopy.
Dinner was chicken with beans, tortia and potato salad with beer and then we are off on a night safari in the Hilux. Well the trip was fun as we got to ride on a bench that was not secured in the back of it. However we did not see much in the way of wildlife, we saw a kincacue which is a type of monkey but no birds. They clearly were hiding or asleep.
Then off to bed again early as we have yet another early start tomorrow.
Well with a 5:45 alarm call it was never going to be a great start to the day.
But a decent taxi ride over to LaGuadia and a very quick checkin got us into the terminal in great time. Obviously the plane was delayed by 30 mins by a light not working in the cockpit (they rebooted and it was ok lol) a bit more delay on the tarmac as we were 10th in line for takeoff (20 mins) but somehow we got to Miami only 30 mins late. However deplaning was easy and we were are the desk for Belize with an hour to spare.
The flight to Belize was delayed as the seat the pilot sat on was broke so an engineer was needed to fix it. We set off the flight was fine and we landed to 97 degree heat as expected. We were met at the airport but an entertaining chap who picked us up in a Toyota Hilux (aircondidtioned cabin the pickup on the back) all very civilised. It is difficult to know what to expect when you go away to these places but it was all remarkable normal and the petrol station we stopped in could have been in the UK. (and the radio was playing the Police followed by U2)
The drive up to La Milpa took 2.5 hours, half on tarmaced roads and half on unpaved. but it was quick and efficient. the driver was great and gave us a running commentary of what we were passing and stuff happening in Belize. The rises in prices are hitting them very hard here with petrol up 5 times from 15 years ago, where as it has prob only double with us. The cabana's are great with a large room, ensuite bathroom and 2 large beds with mosquito nets which could be fun tonight.
The rainy season should start in the next few weeks so we should be ok and avoid that (just).
The evening ended with dinner which was rice (with beans) and beef with spicy sauce) and an introduction to Belikin Beer.
Arrived at Heathrow on time and took the Heathrow express to t3 from Sebs lift to T5. The checkin took over an hour but security was not too bad a line. The flight set off on time and went smoothly. We arrived in JFK on schedule and had collected our bags, got through passport control and customs, bagage reclaim and took a taxi to central Manhattan (only $45) in about an hour.
We got into the hotel and then left (hotel Courtyard by Marriott E 40th st (5th Ave)) in about 10 mins to go on a rapid tour of New York. We left about 4pm and set off up 5th ave to go to Times Square. A couple of photos there and then as we wandered back down Broadway we came across the espn br that just happened to be shoeing the Rangers UEFA cup game, and as it was the last 20 mins we decided to pop in for a quick beer and watch the end of the game. Rangers managed to lose 2-0 and from the play we saw they did not deserve much more.
Then we went off in search of the Empire State Building by taking our bearings from a map in a BoA vestibule (the vestibule didn't lock and Jill Goodacre was not there) so down broadway to 34 th street across from 6th ave to 5th ave and we found the building - the observation deck was still open (it is until 1am) so we joined a queue to go up it. This queue led to another queue all with snaking lines, and as soon as you rounded one corner you found another line to join. fortunately it was not busy and we got in a lift up within 30 mins. The views from the 86th floor were great although agreeing to walk the last 6 floors was too much like exercise. There was a little mist in the air so there was not perfectly clear views but the pics should come out ok.
Then we decided to get a subway down to Battery Park, which requested a little backtracking to get to the station on 34th street on 6th av. we got off on something like russel st and came out just below ground zero. a quick look at the building work there and some of the buildings around it, and we continued on to battery park and the view over the river to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis lsland. We then wandered back north to find wall street, the NYSE and the bronze bull near by, with this achieved we walked up Broadway past city hall to some food that by now we were desperate for. The goal was SOHO or little Italy. We did not find and restaurants in SOHO (in our v brief look) so made it over to little Italy and found an Italian restaurant. By this point i was getting tired and was not sure if i was on england time or NY time. Anyways the food was fine and we left there and caught a taxi back to the hotel and were asleep before 11pm.