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Toilets: Belize Edition

We traveled to Belize just after the Winter Olympics in Russia. Do you remember the furor that erupted as journalists arrived in Sochi and found nothing but problems, like hotels that weren’t finished, water that wasn’t drinkable, and manholes that weren’t covered?

Many of those articles said something along the lines of, “But it gets even worse than that,” and then showed this tweet:

Wyshynski Toilet Tweet

That was a real head-scratcher for me. Have any of these people ever traveled to Central America, South America, or Asia? Don’t they watch our toilet videos?!

I mean, really, stray dogs are reportedly being killed off, and you’re shocked to be asked to do something… very simple… that billions of people do every day?

OK, stepping off my soapbox now. Next Stop: World is pleased to present the toilets of Belize.

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/fnQovT8tbdQ”]

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Snorkeling with Stingrays

When I’m not diving with hawksbills, I’m snorkeling with Karen. We knew there would be plenty to see from the surface, but we weren’t expecting stingray-on-stingray action. Is it getting hot in here?

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/j7Lkrf8_-4E”]

 

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Carnaval de Belize

Painted people

Our trip to Belize happened to coincide with Carnaval. All right, actually, we specifically booked it so we’d be in San Pedro on Fat Tuesday.

Carnaval in a Latin America? You’re probably thinking of music, dancing, and drag queens. Right you are. Tiny San Pedro can’t compete with the legendary debauchery of Rio, but what it lacks in scale, it makes up for… in volume of flying paint.

Girl paints boy Painted kids

At first, it’s a cute activity for the kids. Then it gets serious, as you can see in this video:

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/EeWimQpT9QY”]

Townspeople knows what’s coming, and anyone who values their paint job invests in plastic wrap.

Wrapped shop Wrapped clock

Painted Karen & Ken

 

 

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Belizians Beaneath the Sea

Beach cleaner

With its mucky beaches and mangy stray dogs, San Pedro wasn’t put on this earth for tourists seeking pristine white sands. This place is all about diving.

Dive shop

Along the beach, just about every third building houses a dive operation- some of them looking rather questionable. I asked around and did my research, choosing Chuck & Robbie’s while we were staying north of town, and Belize Pro Dive after we moved south.

Chuck & Robbie's  Belize Pro Dive

Both places had their act together, which is something you sort of want when they’re supplying the gear that will keep you alive 100 feet underwater.

If you know anything about diving in Belize, you probably know about the Great Blue Hole.

Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole, as seen on Wikipedia

It’s an amazing (I’m told), giant (as I understand it) impression in the earth, with dazzling (from what I hear) stalactites lurking in deep (apparently) undersea caverns. No, I didn’t dive there. Would have loved to, but it takes hours to get there and back, and the dive is so deep that you’re only down there for around eight minutes. I’m on vacation.

Instead, I visited sites just minutes from the mainland. My initial feeling on my first Belizian dive was… disappointment. That’s my curse: since I got certified in one of the most spectacular dive sites on earth, anything less than WOW! in every direction can be a disappointment. Expectation recalibration didn’t take long, though, and I soon found myself enjoying the natural canyons that run through Belize’s reef.

Ken OK

And the sharks. We spotted a nurse shark… then another… then… well, I almost got bored of seeing sharks. Except that I had a new underwater camera housing to try out, and they made excellent subjects.

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/5rMBsPPIOUE”]

Yet all those photogenic sharks couldn’t compare to my most magical diving moment in Belize, which happened on my very last dive of the trip. I spotted a hawksbill turtle and decided to try and get some good photos. Little did I know that he would be just as interested in us divers.

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/wRwLn5e-5f0″]

Many thanks to divemaster Bernie, boat driver Tony, and fellow diver Geoff for making that last dive possible.

Tony and Bernie
Bernie gives the scuba sign for turtle, while Tony wishes the tourist would take the photo already, so he could finish cleaning the boat

Oh yeah, thanks to that turtle, too, for stopping by to say hello.

Hawksbill turtle

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La Isla Bonita

San Pedro sandy road

“I had a dream of San Pedro…”

Yup, this is that San Pedro, the one Madonna dreamed about in 1987. We split our Belize trip down the middle, opting to spend half our time on the mainland (Mayan ruins!) and half on the island of Ambergris Caye (scuba diving!).

On the mainland, we got the Mayan ruins out of our system and started heading east, toward the ocean. Couchsurfer Jeffery was headed south to Placencia, so we dropped him off on our way- only after comparing footgear.

Jeff,Ken shoes

Karen navigated us to the Coastal Highway, imagining, well, a highway along a coast. Instead, it was miles and miles of bone-jarring bumps.

Coastal Highway

The rental agent didn’t bat an eye when we returned our SUV- they must be used to vehicles coming back covered in an inch of dirt.

Belize City from taxi

All we saw of Belize City was the route to the boat dock, and two bumpy hours later we were approaching a waterfront with a whole lot of scuba flags on display.

San Pedro from boat

The sun, the sand, the laid back vibe- that’s the Isla Bonita that enchanted Madonna. Local businesses have latched onto the name of the song, as in La Isla Bonita Real Estate and La Isla Bonita Internet Cafe.

At first, it was kind of hard to find the bonita in scruffy San Pedro. I could show you these photos and gush about the Hotel Del Rio being an amazing beach paradise…

Hotel Del Rio Beach from hotel

… but it wasn’t. Our (fairly cheap) hotel room featured bad lighting and uncomfortable beds in a room reminiscent of a concrete bunker.

Hotel Del Rio room

After a couple restless days, we decided to invest in our happiness; we packed up and moved to the Mata Rocks hotel, where we (willingly, happily) paid twice as much for a comfy room mere steps from the beachside bar. That’s more like it.

Beach sunrise Mata Rocks pool

Beachside bar Mata Rocks room

San Pedro is all about the diving, and we got wet every day. Next stop: underwater.

Sunset selfie