Belizean sunrise

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Goodbye Rio

Well, I'm back home in California. Got home Sunday the 16th. Not too bad on the 2 flights back. Two 7-hours flights with a 5 hour layover in Panama. Nice to be able to hang out in the club room. Lots of free drinks and snacks. And, I gained the 6 hours I lost going so that's good. I rested up at home a couple days, letting my back relax from all the sitting and walking. Went to my back Dr Tuesday the 18th. She said I should have gotten an injection just before any trip, duhhhhh, lesson learned. :) She upped the dosage of Gabapentin, my med that calms the nerves. It helps for my neck injury so she thinks upping the dosage may work on the lower back. I've been trying it the past 2 days but the med makes me a bit tired and sluggish, not what a slug like me needs. Good thing I don't have anything I have to do so I have been chilling (literally and figuratively). I feel much better but I'm not all that active which irritates the back. I'm slowly walking more, doing my exercises, and getting out with some friends. My Dr. is super busy with many people trying to get treatments in before EOY for insurance purposes. I said I'm in no hurry and not going anywhere so she scheduled me for an injection the first week of January. She wants to do localized injections on the problem facet joints. It's more involved since it is 4 injections on each side. I had it done once last year and I recall it wasn't all that fun but I can take one of her happy pills to make it more tolerable. Just need someone to drive me home.
So, back to Rio and some thoughts on my trip. Rio is an interesting place. Way more people and cars than I expected. Busy all the time. Taxis, buses and the Metro are used by most people. Streets are narrow and a bit rough. Many buildings are quite old and a couple of the hotels I stayed in showed it. But they all were clean and complete. Many of the old historic buildings are quite beautiful and are being rebuilt all around the city. Here is one in the Lapa district where I spent the last few days.
This is the famous Arcos de Lapa, an impressive aqueduct constructed in the mid-18th century by colonial authorities. I think there are plans to totally renovate this historic landmark.
The whole city will be undergoing a major facelift with the soccer World Cup coming in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
The language was very hard for me to get used to. As I've said before, I think it's a mix of French, German, Spanish, and Dutch. I can understand some Spanish but there's not a lot of similarities with Portuguese. When they talk fast it's almost impossible to follow any conversation. It was easy when my friend was with me to translate but when I was on my own it was a bit difficult. I enjoy talking at length to people when I travel and that's rarely possible in Rio. I struggled at times just trying to order food. With some pointing and other hand gestures I got by. Maybe others enjoy and can handle the language difference but I feel like I'm missing out on talking to and learning from the local people there. That's probably why I enjoy Belize so much. English is the official language and I can fit in with all the locals and talk at length with them. Overall I enjoyed most of my time. No regrets. Yes, having back problems didn't make all the walking and bus and boat rides much fun. Poor planning, again duhhh.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Catching up - Ilha Grande

Haven't posted anything lately. Been kinda busy and Internet sucks most places, especially out on the island. I checked out of my timeshare at Copacabana Beach on Thur so we could go to Ilha Grande (Big Island) on Frid for 5 nights. It's an island about 2 hours south of Rio. Frid a.m took taxi to downtown Rio bus station to get the bus to IG. Great beaches and relaxing natural setting down there. Well, the trip down not so good. The 2-hour+ bus ride and then the 40min+ boat ride took a toll on my back. The beaches are not very close so you have to hike to them. Saturday wasn't too bad but my back really started acting up and I couldn't walk very far or very fast without stopping to rest.
Then Sunday morning we woke up to rain. Luci wanted me to go to the small town on the mainland to a free clinic to see about my back. I really didn't think they could do anything for me especially on a Sunday. I guess Luci didn't like that I didn't follow her suggestion about the clinic and with the rain she wanted to go back to Rio. I checked with the owner and he said we had paid for 5 nights and no refunds. She said too bad and left. Wow. I stayed since I had the room for 3 more nights. Crazy to just let it go.
I enjoyed just hanging out in the small island town of Abrao. It was a small bed and breakfast called a pousada. Cute place...simple accommodations and nice for the price of $60/night including decent breakfast. I met a couple from London and had some nice chats about their trips around South America on their way to Australia. And then another couple from Germany who spoke English. A pleasant change from most people only speaking Portuguese. Most of the people coming to the island are Brazil tourists. Again, they really don't seem to cater to English-speaking people but you get by. Weather wasn't all that great so I just used the time to walk around the town, relax my back and do nothing.
I checked out on Wed morning and took the boat to the mainland to a van. It was called the "Speed Connection" to Rio but it wasn't what they advertised. Not much is down here. The boat ride was fine but the van was a junky 15-passenger van which we crammed in 14 people plus luggage. And, no a/c as they said. I tolerated it and was first off for some reason at the airport since it was close to Luci's place. I took a taxi to her house to get the rest of my luggage and went to a small hotel in central Rio.
Rio's Nice Hotel. Kinda a nice place in an area that is being redeveloped. Lots of people, small streets and numerous cars and buses. I got used to it. A girl at the front desk spoke good English (rare) and helped me call Copa to change my flight home. I got the only seat left over the weekend - leaving late Frid night. Today, Thur, I wandered slowly around the area toward a small marina, seeing all the interesting buildings old and new. My back and feet hurt but I stopped and rested enough so I made it OK. Back to the hotel early and up to the roof to splash in the 8x10 pool – woohooo. Then I found the sauna room and used it with turns in the cool pool. A big storm front was coming across the city and it was pretty neat to see it come over us on the roof.
At one point I just sat up there and let the rain wash me off. Really was an amazing experience. Back to the room to dry off and decide what to eat. Still raining out so I just walked next door to Bob’s Burgers. Haaa. Had like a big mac for dinner in my room with beer. Woo hooo. Tomorrow I'll rest up for the trip home. Leave 230am Sat and get into LAX around 330pm. Gain the 6 hours back. Great, I need it.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Where'd my Karma go?

OK, I was being positive and so far everything has been working fine. This afternoon I decided to see if I could get my Galaxy S3 smart phone to work down here. My friend Luci loaned me an old phone of hers and I bought a cheap chip at a news stand and we finally got it to work. Buy time as you go. It's good to be able to call her but I wanted to see if I could get my new phone to work here. In the US I couldn't get ATT to unlock my phone before I left. I tried online to do it unsuccessfully and the local stores won't do it. Sigghhhhhh. So I thought I'd try down here since I did figure out the unlock code. Just needed a sim card from another carrier. The S3 uses a smaller chip than other do. Sigghh.. Went to one of their carrier stores here and finally got a guy who spoke English. Of course when you walk in and don't have any idea where to go then everyone looks at you like you're crazy. Kinda am and getting over my fear of looking stupid. Well, the guy says they cant do it. I guess just like ATT in US. But he says there is a place "just down the street" that can do it. He said 2 blocks down the same street. Well I walked like 4 blocks and couldn't find it. Asked someone on street and of course got the whole "stupid American" look. Went back and asked guy again. Now he says it at Santa Clara St which is like 5 blocks. So, off again and finally found it. My back was killing me and my feet were partially numb but I tried to stay positive. In the store the guy spoke English but said he had no sim cards to fit my phone and didn't know who did. sighhhhh. I said screw it and stopped at a small grocery store to buy something for dinner. Nope. Rush hour time and like 10-12 people in every line. So, came back to hotel for a beer and let my back relax. 6pm now - think I'll go down to the bar for happy hour. TGFB. Thank goodness for beer. Trying to get my positiveness back. Ciao.
Rio - day 3 or 4 or 5 or ????. It is so easy to lose track of time and days. Not complaining, it's pretty nice to be able to do it. I am so fortunate to have the universe's abundance that is mine for the asking. I know it sounds crazy to some but the meditation series on abundance by Depak Copra that I took before I left really seems to work. I don't fret over what will happen, I just imagine the best possible outcome and almost always things work out great. For example - just before I left home, my friend Luci in Rio, had asked me to find a backpack for her 10yo neighbor girl. She showed me one online with an owl on it. Or something about Justin Bieber. I went to a Ross store and on the way in I suddenly thought, wouldn't it be nice to find a combination - a backpack with Justin's face on it. I went to where they had kids' backpacks and right on the top corner peg facing me was a backpack with his face on it. It seemed to jump out at me. It was freaky, I swear. I asked an employee if they had any more Bieber stuff and she said no, that went as fast as they got it. She was surprised to see me holding the backpack as they sell even faster. Coincidence? Or karma and my abundance meditations? Who knows? :-) Anyhow - After 2 nights in the Hotel Debret I am now in my timeshare-traded hotel, the Rio Othon Palace. It's one of the nicer hotels and the tallest on Copacabana Beach (30 floors). My room is the 21st floor with a great side view of the beach from a 2-foot wide balcony with a 3-foot tall glass wall. Freaky for me but I adjust.
The room seems to be one of their older ones that hasn't been remodeled - probably why I got it through RCI, where my timeshare weeks are banked. It's quite nice though - roomy, clean, big king bed, quality linens, etc. Carpet has some fraying and TV is older but who cares. Saturday noon-ish I checked in with Luci's help dragging my stuff from the other hotel 2 blocks away. I had 2 suitcases since one was full of old clothes I was bringing for her to take to those less fortunate. I got quickly checked in around 1pm which was surprising since they said RCI check-in was 4pm. He said he had an open room he could give me but was on a high floor. I said sure. So, I settled in and we took a quick tour of the hotel. Amazing view from the 30th floor bar/pool. She had to go home before rush hour traffic via the bus so I just walked around the area exploring. It is a bit hard trying to figure things out since rarely is there anything in English. And Portuguese is a whole other language than the few things I know in Spanish. But I am slowly adapting. I just say what I want in English and point to it. Somehow we get there. Still, it'd be nice to converse with people better. I doubt I can learn Portuguese. Sunday Luci calls and do I want to go to Ipanema Beach for the day to meet her son's girlfriend. Sure. She brings the bus in, about 2 hours trip. Ughhh. But she's used to it and doesn't need a car. We get our beach bags filled and walk to Ipanema. About 1-1/2 miles but I make it OK. My back has been acting up so walking aggravates it. But I survive. The beach is literally packed with people.
There are little stands along the beach that rent umbrellas and chairs for the day. Almost everyone does it since it's easier than lugging your own. It's on the honor system which blew me away. They have numbers on the items and a guy takes them down to a vacant spot - about 3 feet away from someone else in every direction. Crazy. I rarely enjoy just "going to the beach" but quickly acclimated. It was fun actually You sit around and talk awhile. When you get hot you weave through the people to the water and jump around in the surf like everyone else. Then back to the umbrella and vendors bring beverages and food around. Almost whatever you want. Ice-cold Heineken beer was only $2, some meat pie thingy $1.50, etc. - delivered to your umbrella. It looked like rain around sunset 7pm so we walked back to hotel to shower and go out to eat. Little place down the street - had great dinner - fresh fish w/shrimp sauce, mashed potatoes, and rice. With drinks it was around $40. Not bad. Back to the room and collapsed from busy day at beach. She had to go home to attend to some business this morning (Monday?) so I walked around some shops, then back for a nap to recover from the beach day. Now I am trying to figure out how to register for the bike rental system here. It only costs $5US for whole month. You sign up with credit card, go get a bike from the closest rack where they are locked up, ride for an hour, and take it to whatever station you want. You can only use it for an hour at a time with 15-minute breaks or they charge extra. Kinda weird system but it make sense. Can't get the online system to work so off to find some help. Ciao.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rio

1st day in Rio. Actually I'm writing on the second day. Wow. What a shock. Way different culture, etc. here. Not a lot of 'rules' here but it works. Life is "like, whatever". No worry, be happy. Oh, there are traffic rules but at times some lane lines and traffic lights are merely suggestions. The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel in morning rush hour traffic was crazy. It's a mad house. My friend Luci met me at the airport and interpreted for me. I'd never made it very well without her. Most cars are small 4-door sedans so they will squeeze in between lanes when the chance comes. You stick the nose of the car in front of someone and they let you in that lane. They miss each other by inches but there rarely is any accidents or much horn honking. It's the way they drive. And the small motorcycles and scooters swerving in and out are everywhere. Again, never saw an accident and they miss cars by inches. I know how to ride cycles but it'd take a lot of courage and quick decision-making skills to ride here. And the people. OMG what a lot of people. It's a BIG city. And they walk like they drive...left, right, down the middle of the sidewalk, slow, fast - it doesn't matter. You look ahead and find your place to avoid walking into someone. Pedestrians have no rights until the light changes. Even then you have to watch. And their language - Portuguese. Wow. Not like anything I've heard. Not close to Spanish. Sounds at times like German, Spanish, and French mixed. I was a total loss at first but after a day I just spoke English and pointed to what I wanted. They don't care and we seem to work it out. Very few signs, menus, etc. are in English. They just don't seem to cater to Americans. I suppose as I get more confident it will get better. My hotel for the first 2 nights was fine. Great location - 6th floor, corner room, super view of Copacabana Beach. Very old hotel needing some cosmetics but they have everything a person needs. Moving to my timeshare-trade tomorrow at Rio Othon Palace, just a couple blocks up the beach. Looks like a very nice place. I guess this is day two also, but, more later. Walked probably 7-8 miles today. Tired.....more later.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hello Rio

I suppose I should change this blog's name since I'm not going to Belize this time. But Google has taken over and I'm not sure how to edit Blogger. Besides, I'm at the Panama airport, tired, and using their slow-ass wifi. This entry is "heading to Rio". Counting 4hr+ layover, 2 flights and 6 time zones, I will get into Rio at 745am Thur - about 24 hours after leaving LAX. Actually, the trip has been rather smooth, so far. My friend Roger dropped me off at LAX around 530am and check-in with Copa was a breeze. (Not bragging, but it does help to be part of their Premier Club for preferential treatment and clubs along the way.) No lines through TSA security but did have to take everything out of pockets to go through their new machine. Just feels weird undressing and dressing, so to speak, in public. Oh well. It's what we have to do. I'm at the Panama airport Copa lounge and starting to feel zombied. Didn't sleep well last night anticipating trip and up at 345am. Slept some on plane but still not nearly the same. Eating and drinking too much in the lounges and on the plane doesn't help but it's free so why not. This lounge was crazy busy when I got here around 6 their time (3hrs ahead of LA) but now has settled down. One more rum drink and try to nap. Johnny Walker doesn't seem to be as popular here as in San Salvador but they like their rums, which are pretty darn good.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Day-sail on Moorings 46ft cat


Had a super day on this sailboat. It was a day-trip out to 3 of the local cayes (islands) for snorkeling, swimming, walking on beach, and attempts at fishing. A good friend (Cindy)'s mother (Vickie) was visiting and had won this trip for 8 (with a case of beer) last year while she was here for lobster fest. Along was Vickie's husband and his friend; Cindy's good friend Wanda; Cindy's boyfriend Dwayne and his brother Garrel; and Cindy's daughter Layla and her friend Amy.



There wasn't much wind but we still had a great day. Dwayne made some great shrimp ceviche which tasted super - I saved some shrimp out for bait but didn't have much luck. I had brought the 2 girls Barbie fishing rods but they ended up to be more problems than good.

Barbie doesn't make the best fishing equipment but we all gave it a good try.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Catching up - Mar 3d.

The past week or so has been a whirlwind. After being in Calif only a few weeks I returned to Placencia on Feb 22d. My friend John from Indianapolis came down the next day. We each had a room at One World, the cute resort in town where I had stayed 3 weeks in Jan. I picked him up at the Placencia airstrip. There was a cool ultralight plane there so we talked with the pilot some. It is something I'd like to pursue down here some time.

I showed him various resorts and properties I have been looking at. It helps to have a second opinion, especially his since they have lake property in southern Ind and a condo in Florida.
I showed him around Placencia more on Thur the 23d.

On Frid the 24th we went on the Monkey River boat tour. I had done it before but it is such fun I didn't mind doing it again. Each guide makes it a bit different. Ours gave us much more info on the trees and vegetation. We didn't see any crocs along the river but when we got on shore we immediately saw several monkeys about half way up the trees.

They are so interesting and make such loud noises - especially with the guides knocking on the tree they are in and imitating their howls.
(Pics courtesy of my Canadian friend who took them the last trip I went on)

On this trip we swam in the river some. It was so refreshing...clear cool rain water from up in the jungle. Of course the guide has to run up the bank and say he saw a croc. Didn't bother me but freaked out some of the others.

Sat. the 25th we headed west in my truck for the Cayo District. You have to drive past Belmopan the capital so we decided to find the zip line place just north of there that I had heard about. What a great stop. We were the only 2 with 2 guides. I think we had 8 or 9 runs on the zip lines. What a rush. Our guides joined in with our craziness and we had an amazing time. Here's John on the platform:


And here's Don:

I have some great videos but can't post them here so will add a link soon. This was the most fun I've had in a long time.

We had to move on since our plan was to get to San Ignacio for the night. I had emailed a jungle resort for availability so we stopped at the Cahal Pech Resort where I had stayed before so I could check my email. It is high on the hill next to a Maya ruins and has an amazing view of the city.



The jungle resort had no availability so we were lucky to get a 2BR balcony suite at the Cahal Pech Resort. Another great bargain for the room we got.



We booked the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave tour through them that eve. Another amazing adventure. After a mile hike through the jungle and across 2 knee deep streams with slippery rocks we made it...then a brief swim in a pool to reach the entrance of the cave.

From there it was complete darkness other than from the lights on our helmets. Hiking through narrow passages, sloshing through water up to your chest at times and soaking in the amazing history there was a truly spiritual experience.



Just inches away we saw 3,000-year-old untouched relics of Mayan ceremonies inside the cave. Pottery that you would only see behind glass in a museum.

Culminating in an actual full skeleton of a person laid out as a offering to the gods.



The ATM is a must-see tour...if you can handle the darkness, squeezing through tight spaces, and hiking in water at times up to your chest. Kinda freaky for some. The one lady in our group of four was a bit apprehensive at times but was a real trooper and made it all. John and I totally loved it.

We stayed another night at Cahal Pech and Tues the 28th we were off to Caye Caulker, an small laid-back island off the coast near Belize City. In that area the barrier reef is just a mile or so away so is a great place for snorkeling and scuba diving.

We parked the truck at the Municipal airport and took a 20-minute hop to Caulker. Beautiful views in the small plane - a tour itself. On landing, a golf cart taxi was awaiting us. We explained what type of hotel we wanted and gave him some recommendations a friend had given me. We drove around the tiny island looking at several places. None met out wants or had availability. The driver saw a real estate person he knew and they showed us a super 2BR, 3d floor, beach-front condo for another great price.

We were on such a streak we should have bought lottery tickets.

We stayed there 2 nights and went on a snorkeling trip on Wed the 29th, to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. My pictures don't do it justice but I borrowed some that does show what we did and saw:

John helped the guide throw the chum into the water and as he was leaning over to wash his hands one of the fast-moving jack nipped him and cut his finger. Bled pretty bad so we stayed away from him while we snorkeled (not really, the cut wasn't all that bad). I'm sure the story he tells back in Indy will be it was an 8-foot great white shark that he had to hit with his hand to scare it away.

Caulker is a small island with only golf carts and bikes so we toured the whole place in no time in our rented bikes. John had to fly out of Caulker Thur morning Mar 1st but I decided to stay another night. They gave me an even better rate since I was only using 1BR. I hung out at the pool and toured the island more, checking out the water sports, e.g., paddle boarding, windsurfing, etc. The next morning the wind had blown up very strong so I wasn't about to fight it. I decided to check out and fly back to Belize City the morning of Frid the 2d.

I drove around the city a bit and decided to head north to the Orange Walk and Corozal districts. Areas I had not been to before. I didn't miss much. Being close to Mexico I stayed in Corozal which is near the Mexico border. I found an intersting place to stay, La Palmas:

It is owned by a chiropractor from Texas who flew planes in Alaska and met his wife of 20 years in Columbia. They had done missionary work in Corozal area years ago and liked it so much they bought the resort and remodeled it. You hear some interesting stories while traveling. Everyone has a story...my new slogan.

Today I drove back 'home' to Placencia. I left at 9am and arrived around 4pm. long day...long drive. I did stop several times and even took some short side trips. That's what a road trip is about. Now I've been to every district in Belize.

John and I had a super time, we got along just great and the last-minute itineraries and accommodations happened better than we could have planned it. Come on down, I'll be your tour guide.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

End of the trip

Jan 25th was the end of this trip and I returned to Calif. I haven't been keeping up with the Blog as well as I should. Mostly because my laptop was acting up while in Belize. The video card is going bad. There are vertical lines that appear for no good reason. But I discovered inadvertently that putting the laptop in it's case while running heats it up and makes the video card work. It's just a matter of time before it will crash so I've been looking at new laptops now I'm back in the states. The tech guy says it'd cost more to put a new video card than it's worth. It has served me well so maybe it's time.

I'm about caught up on things here...doing taxes, etc. A friend has been collecting my mail minus the grocery ads etc. It's amazing how I can be gone for 10 weeks and only a few pieces of mail are meaningful. Almost everything's online...Bank of America's Bill Pay is great.

Last week an old friend from Indiana called. He had recently retired and wanted to go somewhere together (his wife is still working). We had been roommates in Indianapolis after college and have been in touch here and there over the many years. We get along well so I thought it'd be a great idea. I get tired of traveling alone.

I sent him some info about Belize and he got the bug to visit. So, next week we'll be meeting in Belize and I'll show him some of the country...in Placencia and visiting some areas I haven't been to, e.g. Cayo jungles and Caye Caulker maybe. He only has a week but I'll probably stay another 3 weeks. Maybe invite someone else down to show them around too. I enjoy it there more than here most of the time. The weather is colder than I like here...yes, I know it's all relative.

The end for now, more later..........

Saturday, 7 January 2012

I moved into the village Jan. 1st, to see yet another area of Placencia and how it would be to live there. I liked the small One World resort/hotel

in the heart of town and made a deal with the Swiss owner Claudia for the rest of my trip. It's smaller than my apt before but has real hot water and a/c. 10X10' living area with nice bath and kitchenette. Claudia keeps it meticulously cleaned and maintained. It's pretty quiet but you soon get to know the other tenants. That's been a good thing as most fellow travelers have interesting stories.

A single Canadian lady was next door and we soon engaged in nicely flowing conversations about our lives and travels. We had dinner a couple times and took the Monkey River tour together with 4 other people. Had a super time. Then her last day here I drove us up to Cockscomb Nature Preserve. Another great day. Hiking isn't my thing but with her encouragement and drive I made a 5-6 miles hike up a 2000' mountain. Great fun. Stopped and swam in a creek-fed waterfall. Amazing. Made me realize I need to get out and do more. I CAN do it.

New Year 2012

New Year

The main New Year's Eve celebration is outdoors at the basketball court in the south part of the village next to the soccer field. It's a fund raiser for one of the local business organizations. They serve beer, local rum drinks and a few other liquors too, although they are much higher priced due to heavy import duty. Of course it involves a very loud band playing the local reggae-style music on 5-foot tall speakers. I say music because they call it that but it is so heavily loaded with bass I rarely can hear much of the vocals. The locals like it that way so who am I to knock it. I listened to it for a short while but there's no way to converse with anyone so I went to check out the celebration up the street at the Barefoot Bar. They had a live band too but it wasn't quite as loud. It is an open-air bar and was totally packed with an overflow tent. I still couldn't converse with anyone so I came home early. They had a fireworks display at the soccer field at midnight and I heard they were small but still nicely done.

I decided I wanted to see how it would be to live right in the heart of the village so I found a pretty good deal at a cute garden-hotel about a block from the beach and right off the main road. It has 5 small one-bed apartments downstairs in 3 buildings with a center courtyard. The three 2d floor apts are 2 bedroom. It's fairly new, concrete construction and the Swedish owner keeps them meticulously cleaned and maintained. Simple, fully furnished, and a real bargain.

The apt is small at 10x10ft sleeping/dining area with full bath and small kitchenette. Everything one needs. It's fairly quiet and each unit has an a/c for when it gets hot. I've been here 3 days and it's been rainy and cool. The rains have stopped today but it is still a bit cool...uppers 60s at night and 70s days. I've heard a couple locals this morning say it's 'freezin' . I guess it's all relative, but apparently this is rare.

Each of the 3 buildings have tin-roofed patios with a nice chair and hammock hooks for each apt. It's relaxing sitting outside hearing the rain hit the tin. They have free wifi for guests with both cable and DSL connections assuring service from one if the other is down. Best wifi service I've seen. With cable Internet one can use Skype or other audio/video conversations. The DSL has it blocked as they want a monopoly on phone calls.