Wednesday, May 28, 2014

San Ignacio, Belize {Part 1}

After our 4 days in Ambergris Caye, we took another quick hopper plane (30 min) to San Ignacio on the western border of Belize. Yup, Belize is tiny!! This town was to be our jumping off point for many day trips. We stayed at Ka Ana Belize and it was amazing. Seriously, I'm so glad we splurged a little to stay here. More on the hotel in a later post.

Our first adventure was to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (or ATM Caves). Caves are known in Mayan folklore for being the entryway into the underworld. We arrived at the park entrance early, grabbed our gear, and made the 30 minute hike to the cave. After crossing through three rivers, (this tour is not for those who don't want to get wet!), we got to the cave entrance.

A tourist dropped his camera on a human skull that was over 1,000 years old, so no cameras are allowed on this tour any more. The pictures below are from Google to give you an idea just how cool this experience was!

 After we swam through the river (above), we had to wade through knee, waist, who-knows-how-deep water inside the cave and our guide pointed out different cave features along the way.  After about an hour, we reached the upper dry chamber and entered into a room that is called 'The Cathedral'. This room was so immense - it's easy to see why the Mayans thought this place was sacred. We had to change from our wet shoes into socks in order to preserve this holy place. From this point on, we were basically rock-climbing in order to climb between rooms.

I do have to mention that we paid for a private tour. This was definitely worth it as we were the first people in the cave in the morning and had the upper chamber to ourselves. Our guide turned off our headlights and basically creeped us out with talk of human sacrifice. It was pitch black at this point in the cave - you couldn't see your hand in front of your face! Imagine what you would have done if you were a Mayan and your torch went out?!

Our guide told us that sacrifice was an honor and guaranteed souls entrance into the afterlife. Once he turned the lights on, we were standing right in front of multiple skeletons and blood-letting pots that hadn't been moved from their spots in thousands of years. 

Since we were ahead of everyone else, we got to see a few additional chambers. We went into a room called the 'Angel's Cave' that had a body of a little baby in it. We saw many skeletons on our walk (there are 14 in all), but none as epic as the last. We made the final climb into the last dry chamber. It's up here that we saw the iconic 'crystal maiden' of the caves; a perfectly intact full skeleton encrusted into the rock.  

ATM Caves in Belize

ATM caves in Belize

On the way out, Jason jokingly asked to slide down a mini waterfall. Since it was just us, the guide obliged! We shot through this tiny hole and came out in a tunnel that was barely wide enough for us to fit through. Since we couldn't touch the bottom or swim (it was too narrow to kick our legs), we had to shimmy along the walls. It was SO cool. We were obviously completely soaked at the end, but it was absolutely worth it.

Since the government has left ancient bones, pots, and other artifacts in place, instead of hauling them off to labs and museums, it made this trip unique. This was honestly the most authentic tour I've ever had and I would encourage everyone to make it down here quick - before they stop allowing tours! I honestly think this tour is one more "accident" away from closing. I definitely get why they want to protect as much as they can, but I am so grateful we were able to have the experience!

This ended up being the unanimous winner for coolest thing we did on our entire trip - it was so surreal! We both rank it up there right after Ha Long Bay as one of our best life experiences to date.

Next up: Our Day Trip to Tikal, Guatemala!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Life after vacation is always hard, but life after a super relaxing vacation is even worse. We're still readjusting!

Last Saturday, we caught a quick nonstop flight from Houston down to Belize City on United. United is one of our favorites because they are just so dang cheap with the SWA agreement.

Our first 4 days in Belize were spent on Ambergris Caye. We reached the caye (pronounced key) via a quick hopper plane from Belize City. (I really do mean quick - total air time was 15 minutes!) After a ride via water taxi, we arrived at Belizean Shores. There was rum punch waiting for us upon our arrival and we quickly made our way to the pool bar for more!

Our days on the caye looked like this: spend time at the pool, walk along the beach, grab quick bites to eat, relax, repeat. Since Belize doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time, we would wake up with the sun - around 5:45am every morning! 

One day, we made the journey into town by biking on the beach. It started off fun, but pedaling 3.5 miles one way on sand was exhausting! We rewarded ourselves with a lunch at Caramba! for some traditional Belizean food. We had a kitchen in our room, so while we were in town, we stocked up on some essentials (and alcohol of course) before we headed back to our hotel. We definitely like being cheap when we can. I should also mention that Jason was an A+ cook!

The next day, we booked a snokeling excursion. Our first stop was Hol Chan Marine Reserve where we got to snorkel at the Barrier Reef. We saw all kinds of fish, sea turtles, Moray eels, barracudas, and sharks swimming in the sea grass and the coral.

We made our next stop of the tour at Shark Ray Alley where we swam with nurse sharks and sting rays. This was crazy as they were completely surrounding us. They were friendly sharks, but it was still a little scary! Our guide grabbed one and let us pet him - he was so scaly.

Our last day, we had some beach time and caught another water taxi back to town. We had a while to kill before our flight and ended up eating my favorite food of the whole trip - Wild Mango's! Ambergris Caye was a really beautiful island and we loved our relaxation time here!

Next up: Our stay in the jungle - San Ignacio, Belize!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

We're Off To: Belize & Guatemala

It's been quite a while since we've had a long vacation (over a year since SE Asia!) and we are crazy excited! We broke our own rule on this trip and booked hotels ahead of time, so we're really grateful to have confirmed seats now! 

We are flying into Belize City today and taking a quick flight over to Ambergris Caye. We'll be spending 4 days on an island paradise kayaking, snorkeling, stand-up paddling boarding, etc...

Mid-week, we're hopping on another quick flight to San Ignacio. This city is on the west side of Belize in the Cayo District. It has a completely different feel from the caye as it's in the heart of the jungle! We'll be staying here 4 days as well. It's a great jumping off city for day trips to Tikal, Guatemala and cave tours in the area.

Look for our posts when we return and follow along on instagram while we're away. I'll be posting when I can!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tampa, FL

My annual training for work was in sunny Tampa, FL. I had never been and to be honest, I really wasn't sure what there was to do there. Since it was a work trip, my exploration time was limited, but I did manage to get out and see some sights. 

We had an event scheduled at the Florida Aquarium on Monday night. It was a really fun event with dinner tables set up between the exhibits.

Tuesday night, I made a quick trip to Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. I tried the famous 1905 Salad and Black Bean soup. Super delicious!

The rest of my trip was not so fun. I'll suffice it to say that it was one of the worst 36 hours of my life thanks to the conference lunch. *shudder* We left Wednesday afternoon and got home late in the evening. I am super happy to be home and feeling almost normal again.

Tampa was a great city for a conference. Transportation around the area was super easy on the trolleys and I was able to run along the beautiful waterfront in the morning. The conference wasn't half bad either :) I would have loved to have made it to the Dali Museum, but they have kind of horrible hours. Oh well, next time!

We're (hopefully) leaving for Central America on Saturday. Cross your fingers for us!