Current Date: Thursday, July 17, 2008 9:30 a.m. (Boquete, Panama)
Current Itinerary: Still sticking around in Boquete for another couple weeks...then we’ll head through Panama and visit friends in Panama City before heading to Colombia.
Note #1: We’ve been having a great time here in Boquete! We’ve met some great folks and love working with the animals up at Paradise Gardens. Here are a bunch of videos of us playing with some of the monkeys. It will be sad for us to leave but we’ll be out of here at the end of the month and we’ll make our way to Panama City. For now, we are house sitting for some friends we’ve met and enjoying the good life in a phat house up on the mountains.
Note #2: Since I’m so unbelievably far behind with these journals, and we keep meeting people that want to see pictures, I will start posting the pictures ahead of the journals. If you go here you’ll see I’ve posted the rest of the Belize pictures, and some of the Guatemala pictures (Tikal and Semuc Champey are pretty amazing). I’ve also added all the videos from Guatemala. I’ll still send out those journals as fast as possible...many are already written and may get posted without being sent. I will keep posting more pictures and videos this week so keep checking for new stuff.
Wednesday March 26, 2008
We didn’t leave our luxurious accommodation in Orange Walk with any kind of hurry. We packed everything up and checked out at the last possible second. We walked a few blocks to catch the bus to Belize City. It actually was a normal bus and not a school bus which surprised us. It was a pretty comfortable ride and a definite change to what we had become accustomed.
The thought at the moment was to try and get to the Bermudian Landing Baboon Sanctuary that is just a bit over an hour outside Belize City. We were hoping to be able to do a day trip there but it turned out that the bus schedules would make that too complicated. We decided to stay in Belize City for a night and see how it was and then head off to Bermudian Landing the next day.
After a short search, we found a hotel suggested in the lonely planet called the Belcove hotel. It ended up being pretty pricey at BZ $61 but we did not see any other options in the area. We checked in and got the idea to try to hit the Belize zoo, which we had heard was pretty cool from the Canadian couple back in Dangriga.
The ride out to the zoo ended up being a whole hour, which was way longer than we thought. Part of the problem was that we knew the zoo closed at 5, and it was about 3:50 when the bus dropped us off. That’s okay, we thought, we can do the whirlwind tour. Well, after we walked down the path to the entrance, the girl at the booth did not want to let us in. She said they stopped at admitting people at 4:00. I pointed out to her that the clock RIGHT BEHIND her head said it was only 3:55. And besides...the place is open until 5 anyway. We don’t need a guide or anything so what was the difference to her? I argued with her but she still did not want to let us in...it made no sense at all! We had just spent a bunch of time getting there and there was no way I was gonna come all that way and not go in. We stood arguing for 5 minutes with another family that had just showed up...it was about as frustrating as dealing with Sprint’s customer service...why is it that people in these positions want to bust balls just for the sake of doing it! They get absolutely nothing out of it! Why would you go out of your way to try to ruin somebody’s day??? It drives me nuts. Luckily, another worker who had half a brain in his head came by when he heard the commotion and told her to let us in. You can imagine how pissed I was to learn that the entrance was a whooping $12. I had come waaaay to far to turn back at the point, but if I would have known that, I wouldn’t have gone there in the first place.
Anyway, it took a few minutes for me to cool down, but once we got inside and walked around a bit, we did see a lot of cool stuff. The nice thing about this zoo was that it was out in the middle of nowhere so basically the animals were in their natural habitat...they just built large enclosures around the already existing forest and then made paths for people to walk on. One thing that was funny was that they had all these ridiculous signs up. Here’s one of my favorites:
Pretty funny and there were many others as well. I guess since it was a zoo I should post pictures of the animals and not the signs, so here is one of the Jabiru stork, which I mentioned in my last journal.
We took a bunch more of pictures which you can find here, and also, here is a (kind of lame) video of the spider monkeys which were my favorite. We also saw a few Scarlet Mccaws and a Harpy Eagle that was neat. There was one pretty weird moment when we saw this deer flopping all around on the ground and almost choking on a piece of fruit. It was a little scary actually, but he ended up being okay.
Just as I figured, we managed to see everything in the zoo and we still go out of there just before 5. The girl at the entrance was long gone so there was no confrontation. The joke was on us in the end though because we ended up waiting almost an hour for the bus back to Belize which sucked. The zoo was okay overall, and we did enjoy ourselves, but I would say that’s it’s not worth the hassle for anyone who comes this way.
We got back to the hostel around 6:30 and hung out on the deck out back with David/England who had just arrived that day. The deck was small but right on the river (sounds better than it was). We talked about our travels...he had come from Panama and Costa Rica and was raving about them both. We’ll get down there eventually and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it as well. I’m especially looking forward to Panama...we went there for a couple weeks back at the end of ’06 and loved it...but it will be cool to have a chance to explore it a bit more. Eventually we were joined by this Israeli guy, who was nice, but they guy was a loud talker and it was driving us crazy. I’m always talking about all the cool people you meet while traveling...and that’s true, but you also meet some pretty strange folks as well. Let’s just say, I was not surprised this guy was traveling alone.
The four of us went out to dinner at 9...walking around the area we were in was VERY shady. There were very few people on the streets. Since we were in a group it was okay and we also ended up walking to a place that was close to a police station so we felt pretty safe. We found the only thing that was open, a small restaurant that had a variety of choices, like beans and rice and chicken, OR rice and beans and chicken. They also had chicken soup...with beans and rice in it.
Back at the hotel, we sat outside drinking beers for a couple hours and listening to music. I always love hanging out and exchanging travel stories with others...it was especially nice because the loud talker went to bed early. Around 11 the power went out, and suddenly we heard tons of sirens and saw people running around. Somebody then mentioned there was a fire nearby...we went up to the second floor of our hotel and looked over the houses...just a short 2 blocks from us was one of the hugest fires I have ever seen!!! It was pretty scary...this area of the city is basically a bunch of old wood homes and even the stores look like they would go up in flames pretty fast. Luckily, the wind was blowing away from us, but even the next morning there was still a ton of smoke. The fire burned a few stores and a homeless shelter, but we were happy to find out the next day that nobody was hurt.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Most of the morning was uneventful...everybody was talking about the fire which was still smoldering. We had breakfast and then walked over to catch the bus to Bermudian landing around noon. We were in one of those situations where we didn't really know where to go so we got off near the “museum”, where a local lady on the bus told us we would be able to find accommodation. There were cabanas there that were $30/night. It was a little higher than we expected, but the place was nice, as were the young couple who owned it, David and his wife (forgot her name). The only downside was that the water wasn’t working...but oh well...we’re getting used to tackling these small problems. We were only planning on staying for one day anyway so we figured we could shower at the next stop. David agreed to take us out on a short hike to see the howler monkeys, but we didn’t have any drinking water so we had to wait until 3:00 for the small store to open.
While we waited we checked out the “museum”, which was really just a small house with pictures telling the story of how Bermudiann Landing became a “baboon” sanctuary. By the way, there are not actually any baboons here...it is what the locals call the howler monkeys that are in great abundance in this area. It was probably one of those things where somebody said it wrong ages ago and it stuck for whatever reason. Anyway, the story behind the “Baboon” sanctuary was pretty interesting...the short version is that a scientist discovered the area and was studying the animals here. He ended up convincing the locals to band together to preserve the habitat and even commandeered government funding for conservation projects in the area. Eventually this brought tourism to the area to help support the local economy. Besides the story behind that, the museum doubles as a visitors center and had pictures and descriptions of a lot of the other animals that are in this region. It was a nice little place and definitely worth 30 minutes to take a look around, plus it was completely free.
Three finally rolled around so we hit the store and got some water and a few snacks. David then came and picked us up and we walked down to the trail, which ended up being a small patch of woods on the land of this guy named Shane. We ended up getting there just in time...Shane explained that the monkeys cross the trees on his land each day around this time as they head back towards the main part of the forest. They arrived about 15 minutes later and it was pretty amazing.
There was a small family of about 6 or 7 of them...here is the initial video we shot that wasn’t that great...but we were treated to something VERY special just moments later. The howler monkeys are usually quite shy and stay pretty high up in the trees...it is rare that a wild one would get close to a human, but Shane had been around this family every day for years. He was actually able to get them to come down and take fruit from his hand! I got this great video of it (warning, I sound like a chic in this one...hey, I was fascinated!). Here is a still shot from the video:
If you’re wondering what the fruit is he is feeding them, it’s cashew fruit! Yes, cashews...the tasty nuts were used to eating in the US actually are part of a fruit (here’s a picture of them). We actually tasted it and it was delicious...we still can’t figure out why in the world they don’t sell it in the US.
Anyway, the howlers were really cool...and VERY loud!! The roar was pretty amazing and can be heard from a full mile away...here’s a video where you can hear them and trust me, it gets much louder than that. You would never imagine that such a sound could come out of such a cute little animal...it sounds much more like a lion or something.
After watching the monkeys for about 30 minutes and taking a bunch of pictures that didn’t come out that great (because they were too far away) we ended up going for a short walk through the woods, following the monkeys the entire time. We didn’t see much that was new on the trail but we enjoyed making the monkeys howl for us over and over again. Eventually it started to rain really hard and it was getting muddy so we turned back. Except for getting charged an extra $5 that we weren’t told about, it was a heck of an experience to see the howlers so close up and learn a little about them.
We finally headed back to our cabin around 6:00...on the way back we were raving about the cashew fruit and David told us that, here in Belize, they actually make a wine from the fruit as well!! This I had to see! We ended up getting a bottle of it...it was good, but very sweet. We enjoyed it with our nice homemade dinner (I don’t have to tell you what it was) that David and his wife brought to us (there are no restaurants nearby and we didn’t have any food so they were nice enough to make some food for us).
Right after we finished eating, the electricity went out. We were in the middle of nowhere so it was pitch black...but David brought us a couple candles. Sweet...no water or electricity! Good times. To make things even more fun, we had to chase a huge roach out of our room, which would have been easier if the bastard would not have been able to fly!! Dang it, I haven’t seen any flying roaches since my days back in Houston. I forgot they could do that! I gotta tell you that one great thing about living in Boston was that there are hardly any insects at all...even mosquitos are hardly a problem there during the summer. In fact, I’ve probably had more mosquito bites on the last 1.5 months of this trip than I got the entire 3 years I lived in Boston. In the coming days, the insect problem would get worse than I could have imagined but that night, the only problem was trying to sleep with the howler monkeys howling all night. It’s a good thing I had seen them and knew what the sound was, because I would have really been freaking out otherwise.
All in all, the sanctuary was cool and it was a great experience...but not an absolute must...this is one of those things that you should do if you have the time.
Friday, March 28, 2008
We got up at 5:30 so we could catch one of the few early buses out at 6. We had decided to head to another place of the beaten path called the Monkey Bay Wild Life Sanctuary. We were hoping get in some hiking there as well and see more Belize wild life before heading west towards Guatemala. We changed buses in Belize City and headed southwest towards Belmopan. On our maps, it looked like Monkey Bay was just past the zoo we had gone to a few days before, so we were somewhat familiar with how far we needed to go. Unfortunately, when I asked the bus driver about the place, he had no clue what I was talking about and we ended up getting dropped off a couple miles too early.
Once we realized the mistake, we had no choice but to start walking along the side of the highway, which was a little scary because the cars come flying past you at almost 100mph. Complicating matters was that the roadside is very rocky, we were walking uphill with all our stuff, we were wearing sandals, and it started to rain a little. About a mile up the road, we began to wonder how far we were going to have to walk...we found a small bus stop on the side of the road where we could get out of the rain and change into our hiking shoes. I decided that I would run ahead and find out how far the place was while Jodi waited with our stuff. I found out we were about 1.5 miles away still so we ended up catching a bus the rest of the way...we ended up losing a bit more than an hour but no matter, we had finally made it.
When we got to the campgrounds, we were impressed to say the least. They had nice cabins on a beautiful campground, there was a huge mess hall which served as a common area and they even had free wireless internet! What an upscale joint! The huge downside was they had no communal kitchen that we could use. Normally, they prepare meals for you if you request (although they were way overpriced) but it just so happened that most of the staff was going on a 5 day excursion to Tobacco Caye (the place near Dangriga that we had planned to go to but didn’t b/c of the price) with the large university group that was staying there....that meant there would be no meals being cooked (which is bad) but we would basically have the entire place to ourselves for a few days (which was good). The only food options, unfortunately, would be two nearby restaurants called Amigos and Cheers. Luckily they both ended up having some cheap and good food.
After we checked in and lounged around in the hammocks for a bit, we headed over to Amigos to check it out. It was actually a very cool bar/restaurant that had an American style set up and even a sort of American menu...complete with wings and burgers! We got cheeseburgers that were not that good, but it was probably our first non rice and beans meal since Cockscomb where we had made our own meals. The bar was unusually packed for being in the middle of nowhere and everybody in bar seemed to be with a guide. I struck up a conversation with one of the tourist and it explained it all...he was from a cruise ship that was docked in Belize City (we had actually seen a few docked there when we arrived from Caye Caulker, which we both thought was strange at the time) and there was a park with zip lines and cave diving just down the road from where we were. The restaurant had become a favorite stop amongst the guides so almost everybody stopped there. We learned our lesson that day to avoid the lunch hour rush from then on...the place was way understaffed and we had waited over an hour for our burgers. It was fine though, we enjoyed talking to some of the other people and the beers were ice cold.
Back at the campsite I shot hoops for about an hour (yep, they had a small b-ball court), partly because I it seemed like a lot of fun and partly because I wanted to work up a sweat so I’d be able to handle what I knew was going to be a freezing cold shower. Afterwards, I hung out in the hammock catching up on emails for the first time in weeks. I tried to update the website too but the connection was horrible and painfully slow...I guess I won't get as much done as I hoped. We chilled in the hammocks until about 7 and then finally went to Cheers (the other restaurant) for dinner. It was only about a quarter mile walk along the highway, but it was pretty shady doing it in the pitch dark with the occasional car zipping past you. Luckily we had our trusty headlamps with us. The dinner was really good though and we found out they served breakfast as well, which was good because Amigos didn’t open until 11.
Back at the campsite, we sat in the common area...which fortunately for us was screened in...although there were still quite a few mosquitos. With some serious patience, we were able to catch up with what was happening in the world thanks to the free internet. We headed to our cabin around 12:30...I had left my shorts on my bed and when I went to put them on, I was not happy to find a huge roach had decided to use them as I hiding place. Another night of chasing a roach out of our room (we have gotten surprisingly good at this by the way). That’s the fun of staying out in the woods!
Saturday and Sunday March 29-30, 2008
For some reason I hadn’t made any notes in my journal about these two days...but we spent most of them lounging around the campsite and almost scratching our skin off because of the bug bites! The cabin actually had mosquito nets on the beds, which did help a little, but they would still get you pretty bad wherever you skin touched the net. It was brutal! We did go on a short little hike on a trail that started from the campgrounds and ended up down by the river that flowed nearby. It was pretty nice down there...we met a girl that had a Swedish mom and an American dad...they actually lived in a house just near the campground and she had grown up her entire life there. It would be interesting...it’s a cool place but it’s so isolated that I would imagine it would be brutal for a teenager. This girl was probably about 20 and she talked about being sick of being there. She had spent the previous few months up in San Francisco and was dying to move there and be in an actual city for once. I think I feel the same way...I really like coming to places like Cockscomb and monkey bay, and I love being out in nature, but in the end, I prefer being in a city where there is more action. If you can somehow combine those two things, it would be ideal...which is why I always though Austin, Texas would be a perfect place to live. I could go on for hours about how awesome that city is...but I’ll save you the trouble...just find somebody who has been there. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say anything bad about it.
Anyway, despite all the mosquitos, we had a great time at Monkey Bay and even ended up staying an extra day. We had a few really fun happy hours over at Amigos and really enjoyed the tranquility of being completely alone at the campsite. The days actually went by surprisingly fast even though not much was happening. We spent a lot of time talking and walking, and just enjoying each other and being away in a far off place in Belize.