Belizean sunrise

Thursday, 7 March 2013

From Belize's island beaches to Peru's Andes Mountains.

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I left Belize City around 5pm Sunday Feb 24th.  The one hour flight to San Salvador (SS) went well.    Off to the Taca lounge in SS for about a 90 minute layover.   I don’t mind the wait when you can relax in comfortable sofas, have a few drinks and snacks, and a good Internet connection.  I know the lounge well as SS is the stopover from LAX to Belize.

Next leg – the flight from SS to Lima was only about 4+ hours+, a bit shorter than I expected – just can’t keep track of my schedule well.  Also, right after take-off we got served dinner.  Nice caprese salad, filet mignon with mashed potatoes, red wine, and some type of luscious chocolate desert.  The flight attendants speak English but sometimes their accents make it hard for me to understand fully so not sure what it was.

Then for a nap - which ended up being only about 90 minutes before they start announcing to prepare for landing in Lima.  Not a bad flight but now the ‘troubles’ begin.   Customs and immigration go fine.  Then I went looking for the Taca lounge (which they didn't have).  I followed the Spanish signs to domestic flights (not much here is in English) but a lady guard stopped me and kept saying something and indicating I couldn't go in there.  Finally got a guy who was bi-lingual who informed me the gate area was closed from 130-230am for cleaning.  Sigghhh.

I wander around trying to find the Taca lounge (which didn't exist) and for some reason looked at my tickets.  Seems my boarding pass to Cuzco showed departure about 3 hours later than I originally thought.  I went looking for a Taca counter.  I saw it 20 feet away from the railing in the arrival area but the guard wouldn’t let me go in – I had to go outside, down the walk and then back inside to the departure counter area.   Over to Taca which was the afore-mentioned 20 feet from the guard.   Sighhh.

Talked to the agent and yes my original flight had been delayed for 3 hours - something about no equipment (plane?).  Hmmm.   However, she could get me on an earlier flight.  OK…but what about my luggage?  She made a quick call and located my bag.  She sent me past the not-so-friendly guard who refused me entry earlier.  Over to the luggage area and got my bag, no problem.  Back to the Taca counter, this time Mr. Friendly Guard let me pass without walking clear around.  Abundance is finally mine.

The agent had it all figured out for me and changed my boarding pass.  Ironically, this flight arrived in Cusco only about 30 minutes before my original flight.  Oh well.  She also advised me they had no lounge.  Sigghhh.

Off to my gate – which was now available after the cleaning was done.  I’m like 2 hours early so found an area where the seats had no arms making for a nice couch-like place to try to sleep.   Dozed off for maybe an hour and then the people started arriving for the flight.   I heard an announcement in Spanish but had no idea what was said – even when it is made in English the speakers are so bad and the accent so strong I still had idea what was happening.   The people started standing up and going to the gate so I got up too.  They then all lined up in the Executive Class line which was odd since I know they didn't have that many Business Class seats.  I went around them to the agent and she let me go by and board first (which I pay for) and then she asked the rest to move to the peasants, err…..coach line.

The flight was short – less than an hour and one drink.   Cusco is a small airport in the mountains.  As we came in low over the city I could see us pass the airstrip.  Hey, you missed it.  Nope.  A hard bank to the left, around a tall mountain and down to the strip.  Wow.  Yep, welcome to Cusco, like maybe 12,000 feet elevation?  Got my luggage quickly and out past all the tour desks hawking their packages.  Outside to the cold air.  Brrrrr. We’re not in Belize anymore.

My new friend and tour guide Lynda was to meet me around 8am as she had no idea my flight had been changed.  But, I was only a half hour early.  I found a seat outside in the chilly air and waited.  Fortunately I put a sweatshirt in the outside section of my luggage.  She arrived on time and had a taxi waiting.  All was well.   I didn't have to fend for myself in a non-English speaking country.  Yayy.



Off to Urubamba where she lived and had me booked at the Amaru Valle Hotel (B&B).    About a 45 minute ride through beautiful mountains, and then down about 2000 feet.  Great views all the way and helpful narration by Lynda of this new (to me) land.  The hotel was up the street about 6 blocks from the cute town square.  Very interesting buildings and locals everywhere.  Remnants of  hundreds of years past with upgrades keeping mostly in the old traditional styles.  Up the hill and onto a (very) rough narrow street for about 2 blocks.  The taxi shook and rattled all over.   But we made it fine.



Amaru is very cute and exudes a feeling of peace and relaxation with its beautiful A-frame yellowish cottages and gorgeous gardens in between.    Quiet too, since I was one of only a few guests who came and went.  It was, of course, off season. 



I forget the first day in Peru since I was sooooo tired and the high altitude was starting to affect me, even though I didn't realize it.  Sea level to over 10k in 14 hours with little sleep is no fun.   I do recall I slept around 11 hours straight that first night.  Then a slight headache, minor stomach discomfort, and hard shallow breathing.   Weird feeling.   Was this a sign of the way it would be for 2 weeks?   Nahhhhh…..

I’ll update this later with Lynda’s help to refresh my memory.  Then next comes the Inca ruins...wowww.







Slickrock Island Adventure, Long Caye, Glover's Reef, Belize

I'm doing this blog post while in Peru since we had no Internet out on the island. I've been busy in Peru and the Internet here at this hotel is very slow but it is raining and cool today so it's a rest day.  It will be a short post and hopefully will be edited when I get a better connection.  I will post a few pictures here but you can see all the pictures of Slickrock and Peru on the link to Shutterfly via my web site: http://www.skiver.us   There was a professional photographer in our group on the island so when I get home to Calif I will borrow some of his pics which he sent to the whole group.




Slickrock was a super great time.  I flew into Belize City from San Salvador on Friday Feb 15th.  Our group met that evening at the Biltmore Hotel for a briefing and then we stayed there overnight.  The Biltmore is on the NE edge of the Belize City on the Northern Highway not far from the airport.  It was a very nice hotel....nice pool, very comfortable beds, etc.  I got lucky and had my own room.  They usually try to pair up same sex single people but I guess I was the odd number.  There were 3 families of 4, 2 married couples, and 3 single guys.   Never a single woman...drat.

The next day Saturday we loaded up a van with our luggage (I left my big bag at the hotel since we were coming back in a week) and we walked across the road where the boat was waiting for us at a house on a canal that went to the sea.

A northerly front was moving in so the sea was rough.  The first couple hours we were inside the reef so the ride wasn't too bad.  Then we made the cut through the reef and into the open sea.  What should have taken 30 minutes probably took 3x that time.  The seas were following so it wasn't a lot of spray but the roiling waves made for an unpleasant slow ride.  Most people were feeling a bit queasy but only one boy actually got sick.  Fortunately his mother was a dr who was prepared.  A bag of fresh cut up ginger helped the rest of us.



Finally, inside the atoll - what a relief.  Long Caye was in sight so everyone was excited.  The trip was usually 2-1/2 hours but we took probably close to 4.. ugghh.



Long Caye is a small private island in the Glover's reef atol - actually owned in 3 parts.  The largest area is Slickrock, then a small dive operation area, and at the end is bare land not developed yet.  Here is what Slicrock says about the island: "Our place is an adventure eco-resort. We have our own island, we never have more than 34 guests at a time. We don't use generators, therefore we don't have standard electricity. We are powered by the sun and wind with a little bit of propane to chill the beer. We don't have flush toilets or heated showers. 

Our cabanas sit right on the beach, very very private, very exclusive, but not fancy at all. You have to walk to your shared bathroom. No maid stops by your room, ever. At the end of the week when you leave, the boss cleans it for the next person. 

We have the best collection, without any competition at all, of sports gear in the country. We have expert, enthusiastic guides and we teach and guide sea kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, kayak surfing, kayak fishing, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and board surfing."

All that is true.  It takes awhile to get used to the system out there but it works well.  The most important thing was all the cold Belikin (local Belizean) beer and Fanta drinks.  Lucky for me my cabana was right at the edge of the water so I could pee off the deck.  

The week was great.  After a short intro to each sport we could pretty much use them with buddy system.  I did some windsurfing on the first day but the storm created too many waves so I gave up.  A few days later when the wind shifted to SE I could do much better.    The kayaking was great.  After a short lesson we headed out to the small surf break.  It was a bit rough timing the waves and getting back into the kayak while being pummeled by surf but was lots of fun.  I had bruises all over my legs and sides.

At 430 every evening it was happy hour and sand volleyball.  Some of the staff joined in and made it fun and competitive   My mind played like I was 20-30 years old again but my body suffered dearly.  I had abrasions all over my feet and legs.  But the fun made it all worthwhile.

The week ended too fast and on Saturday Feb 23d we headed back to the Belizean mainland and to hot showers and soft beds again at the Biltmore. 

After a great night's sleep I had a few hours Sunday to hang out by the pool and review the week's events with my fellow islanders.  I even met 2 young ladies from Chicago who were going on a 10-day Nat Geo tour of Belize.  They loved hearing my stories about Belize and I think my enthusiasm generated even more anticipation for them.   One of the many fun things about travel is meeting new people and sharing our life stories.

About 3pm Sunday Feb 24th I was off to the airport and my flights to Peru.  More posts later on that whole ordeal.  Stay thirsty my friends.








Friday, 15 February 2013

Adios El Salvador

Wow...cant believe the week is over already.  I'm at the San Salvador airport now waiting for my one-hour flight to Belize.  I was 3 hours early because Michael's flight was earlier   I sweet talked the desk to let him join me in the Taca Lounge so we had another drink before he left   All in all, a great time.  Too much drink and food - which will continue out on the Belize Island week.  I might turn into a real drunk.  :)

I'm getting tired of posting pics on Facebook, Shutterfly and here - so if you read this and are bored, this is the link to see the 2 pictures albums of El Salv.
http://skiver.shutterfly.com/

OK, short nap now - the Johnny Walker is kicking in.  Ciao.


Monday, 11 February 2013

El Salvador

I arrived in San Salvador Friday morning after a 5-hour non-stop red-eye from LAX. Nice flight but hard for me to sleep. Probably got 2-3 hours is all. All went well at airport, my luggage came out first and through immigration and customs quickly. Over to Budget rental car booth. I pulled out my pre-paid agreement from online rentalcars.com Looked good so far, even though he said my reservation wasn't until noon but they had a car for me. Then to insurance. "That will be $15/day more." No, my agreement said "optional". I showed him on the form. "No senor, it is mandatory here in El Salvador". Ok, but why does my form say Optional? Isn't that what optional means, not mandatory? I felt I was in a Seinfeld episode where they don't have a car for Jerry even though he had a reservation. After confirming this policy with the Avis booth I reluctantly agreed to another $15/day PLUS more tax on the insurance. Sighhhh.....

 Go out with another guy to the car. It's an OK older Corolla - missing one hubcap but not much damage. Stick shift which was fine. Gave me the keys and left. No instructions, directions, etc. Just go.

 RCI had some basic instructions to the hotel on their fact sheet so off I went. No clue what the hell most signs meant. Bottom line - got lost twice because they didn't tell me about one right turn, and it was not 12 miles away, it was 25..!!!!! sigghhhhhh Maybe 50 after being lost. Asked people along the road 3x but all I get was hand signals telling me to go back and turn left - somewhere. Stupid gringos.

 This country was quite a shock. So much poverty. Coconut stands all along the road - selling whatever they can to make a buck. People walking, riding bikes and old rickety 3-wheeled taxis. And many trucks, mostly hauling sugar cane. I saw a couple loads I just knew were going to roll off onto my car and I'd be dead in the middle of nowhere. Found the hotel at the end of the costa del sol (sun coast where several resorts were. Many were deserted - a sign of the times? Showed the guard my reservation forms, signed in, and he lifted up the red cone. The guard with an automatic rifle in fatigues across the narrow road at another resort was a bit un-nerving but all felt safe.

 Got to reception desk and lovely young Sarah greeted me. I started showing her my RCI forms and then she got on the phone. She spoke little English so brought in the guy who did. He showed me my 3-br condo but all BRs were up stairs, one had queen bed and the other two only had singles. Not gonna work for me and Michael. Option was 2 hotels room with adjoining door. I checked in but had to go get Michael at airport so he could have input. We looked at the rooms and both had bigger beds and separate baths so it worked out fine.

 One issue is the resort is only about 50yds wide and 3/4 miles long, from marina to the beach. Michael was ok walking to the beach a couple times but it was not easy for either of us old guys. Haaa.. Has been pretty nice so far. Way too much to eat and drink. It's all-inclusive so one seems to have to get their money worth? Resort was very busy over the weekend (200+) with mostly El Salvadorans. They all left last night (Sunday) so there are only about 10-12 people here in the entire resort. More staff than guests so we talk to the staff a lot. Did meet a few American boaters at the marina bar. This is a customs port for boaters to enter the country. Nice to share stories. Tomorrow we are off to an all-day tour to see part of the country - the flower route. A lone sailor was going so we agreed to share the van and costs. more later....it's happy hour...!!!!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

My next adventure

Leaving today for my next adventure. Plan is 6 weeks. I had a chance to use one of my timeshare weeks at a beach resort in El Salvador. It was 3br so I tried to get some friends to join me. Only one guy from Indiana could go so I am meeting him there. Feb 8-15th. He's a great friend and will be a chance to catch up and just hang out.
Then on Feb 15th I fly on to Belize City and join a group of 15 to spend 8 days with Slickrock Island Adventures on a small atoll resort off the coast along the barrier reef. Basic living but with all beer, food and water sports included. Can't wait.
Then Feb 24th fly from Belize City to Cuzco, Peru. Friend of a friend lives in village of Urubamba and she will act as tour guide. Called the Sacred Valley of the Incas or the Urubamba Valley - it's a valley in the Andes Mts. of Peru, close to the Inca capital of Cusco and below the ancient city of Machu Picchu. On my bucket list.
Then plan is to go back to Belize from Mar 11-21 to see friends in Placencia. Flight back home to LAX is Mar 21st but I will see how things are going then. Who knows? :) Maybe Galapagos? - It's close and it's on my bucket list...hmmmmmmm