Monday, June 28, 2010

Where to hike next?

Besides the soreness in my feet, glutes and thighs I have amnesia about my 14er hike yesterday, that is to say I want to conquer my next and as soon as possible at that.

So I've been doing some research online about the various 14ers and I came across some interesting information about what exactly constitutes as a 14er, besides the obvious that they must be at least 14,000+ feet high.

There is a standard in Colorado for what constitutes a separate mountain. This "accepted standard" states that a peak must rise 300 feet above the connecting saddle of a higher "recognized" mountain. Such standards are necessary because otherwise every point on a ridge or even every boulder could be called a "peak". This settles any argument that climbing Torrey's and Gray's in the same day shouldn't be counted for two 14ers because obviously both rise 300 feet above the connecting saddle. Of course they are both nationally recognized as being 14ers it's just that if you climb two in one day you avoid having to do the base climb more than once.

There is also a rule of sorts that states that in order to climb a mountain you must gain 3,000 feet of elevation on foot with no mechanical advantage (car, bicycle, etc.). There are many "relaxed" variations to this rule as well. Quite often it is considered acceptable to say you climbed two mountains if you gained 3,000 feet on foot for one of them and then traversed a connecting ridge to the second peak. Many people consider riding a bicycle up Mt. Evans from Idaho Springs as having climbed the mountain. I say whether it's a bike or your legs that carry you up, you are still putting forth enormous effort and should feel accomplished reaching the peak either way.

Upon contemplating which 14er we should hike next, I found this list which should aid in my decision:
Very Difficult
Mount Wilson 14,246 Capitol Peak 14,130 Pyramid Peak 14,018
Crestone Needle 14,197 Little Bear Peak 14,037 North Maroon Peak 14,014
Crestone Peak 14,294 Maroon Peak 14,156 Windom Peak 14,082
Longs Peak 14,255 Mount Sneffels 14,150 Sunlight Peak 14,059
Kit Carson Mountain 14,165 Snowmass Mountain 14,092 Wilson Peak 14,017
El Diente Peak 14,159 Mount Eolus 14,083 Wetterhorn Peak 14,015
Mount Harvard 14,420 Mount Yale 14,196 Mount Lindsey 14,042
Blanca Peak 14,345 Mount Tabeguache 14,155 Redcloud Peak 14,034
Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 Mount Oxford 14,153 Mount of the Holy Cross 14,005
Castle Peak 14,265 Missouri Mountain 14,067 Sunshine Peak 14,001
Mount Shavano 14,229 Humboldt Peak 14,064
Mount Belford 14,197 Ellingwood Point 14,042
Mount Elbert 14,433 Quandary Peak 14,265 Mount Bierstadt 14,060
Mount Massive 14,421 Mount Evans 14,264 Handies Peak 14,048
La Plata Peak 14,336 Mount Princeton 14,197 Culebra Peak 14,047
Mount Lincoln 14,286 Mount Bross 14,172 Mount Sherman 14,036
Grays Peak 14,270 Mount Democrat 14,148 San Luis Peak 14,014
Mount Antero 14,269 Pikes Peak 14,110 Huron Peak 14,005
Torreys Peak 14,267 Mount Columbia 14,073

I think it's funny they even have categories for these mountains because they are all a challenge to me but I guess the terrain of some is worse than the others. From what I can tell the ones which are closer to Telluride and Aspen are typically considered more extreme than the others. That's ok because I wasn't really looking to drive 5 hours for a day hike anyway.

My next pick is either Quandary or Mt. Bierstadt. Both are close to the Front Range making them easily accessible for us. I have a few friends who are interested in a camping trip and/or hiking a 14er as well for which I think Quandary would be the best pick. It's near Breck so we could camp there the night before if we wanted and it's 6.75miles with a 3,450 foot gain in elevation. It's a popular 14er to hike and billed itself as a great one for those who have never experienced one. Mt. Bierstadt is closer to us being near Idaho Falls and it's 6 miles making it a good choice to knock our in one weekend day as well. Of course, I've never hiked either of these so what sounds easy could very well not be. Gray's was 8.5 miles so these two are shorter by comparison but once that air starts to thin out and the climb gets steeper and steeper the hike might as well be 50 miles long because that's what it feels like to your legs. I would definitely like to have a group hike with some of our friends, it's just that I'm not sure which ones would truly be able to handle this. Not to sound like a snob but I would be on a mission to reach the top and I wouldn't want any dead weight slowing us down! While there's no real way, I think, to train for one of these hikes, at the very least you should be physically in shape and have done a few weekend hikes before to understand what you are getting yourself into.

I read an article about a guy a few weeks ago who had made it his life's mission to visit every country in the world. He said he had an amazing time at first checking places off his list, but once it got down to the last few countries (like Cuba and dangerous spots in Africa) he wasn't too excited anymore. Of course he felt like he had to go to accomplish his goal but he wasn't looking forward to it. I am sure it's the same way with hiking 14ers. If you want to complete all 54 there are going to be a few you aren't going to like in there, and some you will positively dread and probably save for last. Still I think it's a lofty goal and one worth trying to obtain. If I hike 8 a year every year that means it will only 7 years for me...which is sad to say probably faster than I can pay off my credit cards!

In the meantime for inspiration I'm reading this book called, "Halfway to Heaven" by Mark Obmascik. It's about a middle aged father who, after his son discovers how much he loved climbing a 14er at camp, decides to try and climb all 54 in a year in an effort of bonding. I'm curious to see how this out-of-shape 44 year old accomplishes his goal. As he says in his book, 500,000 people attempt to climb a 14er every year but only 1,300 have ever made it to the top of them all.

Perhaps I can be one of them....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Conquering my first 14ers

(picture: at the top of Gray's. Elevation: 14,270 feet)
A few blogs back I posted that one of my goals for the summer was to hike 8 of Colorado's fifty-four 14er peaks. The season for hiking these peaks is very short because you have to wait until the snow melts to begin hiking them which usually isn't until June and come September the conditions start to decline again. So you are really looking at about 4 months of which you can actually feasibly hike without running into any crappy conditions. I figured if we hiked 2 a month I could reach my goal of 8 by the end of September. Well today Chad and I crossed two off that list.

After much research I decided that Gray's and Torrey's Peaks were the best for my beginner's 14ers. Chad has climbed one before so he knew what we were in for. Gray's and Torrey's are easily accessible from Denver, you just take I-70 west to the Bakerville exit 221 and take a left. You see a dirt road and just drive until you hit a parking lot (trust me you'll know when you get there). Fortunately I have a jeep which we were able to drive up. We didn't need my 4 wheel drive but the road is dirt, rutted, and pretty harsh on the vehicle so I would highly recommend an SUV unless you want to ruin your sedan. We got to the trail about 7:30am because it's an 8.5 mile hike and you want to be down by afternoon. There are quite a few people camping up there too so the earlier you arrive the better chance you have of getting a parking spot and the less* crowded the trail will be. (*this is a very popular hike, about 20,000 people climb these peaks each summer so unless you are going on a weekday you're going to have company)

As you can see from this photo the beginning of the hike is very nice. Not too rocky, lots of little wildflowers and some nice streams flowing through. You start out at about 11,000 feet in elevation so by the time all is said and done you are looking at a gain of about 3,000. Of course the higher we got up the trail the rockier it gets and the less oxygen you have making small breaks necessary. You definitely want to be in good physical condition to do these hikes and it's important to pace yourself. We brought along peanut butter sandwiches which we ate along the way plus a camelback which I carried as well as three containers of water. We only ended up using one extra water bottle for our dog and the camelback was more than enough. Since you are at such a high elevation you never really get hot or sweat. I wore yoga pants, a sports bra, tank top, thin long sleeved shirt and a light down jacket which I ended up alternating between taking it on and off.

On the way up the rocks were not too much of a problem but on the way down was when they became very slippery and hiking boots would have definitely been nice. We however, hiked in our tennis shoes which worked just fine all the same (as a side note my arches of my feet are now killing me so it's def helpful if you have shoes that are more supportive in the soles of your feet). I also noticed a lot of hikers had either leki poles or ski poles to gain better traction (and a bonus use for your ski poles in the off season!). We did not use any walking sticks of any sorts and fared just fine although we did have to traverse through some snow where they would have come in handy. Also gloves would have been a good idea to pack as it gets well into the 30s as you ascend and the wind picks up a bit. You should NEVER EVER hike with your hands in your pockets because if you slip and fall you won't be able to take your hands out in time to catch yourself from falling.

We reached the top of Gray's at about 10am; 2.5 hours after we started our journey. We were met with these spectacular panoramic views that not even pictures do justice for. We were really lucky the weather was so nice and clear because it's so unpredictable at that altitude. It could have easily been cloud covered and we couldn't have seen this view. Gray's is the highest peak on the Continental Divide in the United States so you feel like you are literally standing on top of Colorado. At the top they have these tubes which have a piece of paper in them for you to sign your name on (I guess to track how many come up) which we did then quickly started our descent. The wind was starting to pick up and really 14,270 feet in the air is no place to spend too much time.

We decided that since Torrey's was right there we simply had to climb it too. Although I felt doubtful about making it when I was half way up Gray's, we just couldn't pass up the opportunity. If you plan on hiking both I highly recommend doing Gray's first. When you ascend Gray's to the saddleback that connects it to Torrey's, it's very steep and rocky. It seems easier to start Torrey's first because you traverse halfway up Gray's over to Torrey's so you aren't gaining that elevation as quickly. However, I assure you from coming down Gray's, it's not something you want to hike up after doing Torrey's.
Now some people that have never hiked a 14er before might think it's "cheating" if you do both in one day and consider yourself having done two. I assure you, look at this photo, does this look easy?

Or this? This picture to the left is actually the view of the saddleback you have to take to get to Gray's and the one above is of the terrain which is rock straight up. It took us an hour to reach the top of Torrey's and I can assure you it was well worth the extra time. You may not think so as you are doing it, but once you do one you probably won't want to save the other for another day. Unless of course weather forces you to hike down.

The elevation of Torrey's is 14,267, three shorter than Gray's although it doesn't feel like it. Torrey's also had some amazing views and by the time we were up there the cloud cover wasn't as bad and neither was the wind so we were able to stay up about 15 minutes as opposed to 5. It's such a shame because you really do just want to spend all day up there...but you know you have that whole climb down so off you go after a few photos.

Traversing through the snow was the worst part of coming off of the peaks. Of course you aren't going to climb back over Gray's so the only way to get down is to go straight across the ridge. The snow was slushy but there was a steep drop off and with tennis shoes on and no walking sticks, well let's just say I ended up with a frozen hand from putting it in the snow to brace myself. Chad was having a blast slipping and sliding but I just focused on the path ahead and most of all, did not look down.

you can see from this second photo I took of the traverse (while hiking down Torrey's) is pretty steep. You have to be prepared for snowpack though because even in summer it's likely you will encounter some. Usually not enough to make your hike unbearable, just enough to give you a good scare.

We finally reached our car at about 1pm which means it took us a total of about 5 hours to hike both 14ers. Not bad for our first time!? I was very impressed with myself and learned I was a lot more in shape than I thought I was. I channeled a lot of what I learned in yoga about returning to the breathe when the trail got tough and sending my breathe to any areas of tightness which were my hamstrings. A few short breaks here and there and I was able to catch my breathe and recover whenever I felt winded and I basically relied on my strong legs and sheer willpower to carry me all the way to the top. There were so many people hiking this trail, all of which were very nice and would encourage you as they were coming down and you were going up. While these 14ers were a challenge and left me feeling completely wiped out after it was all said and done, I had the best time hiking them and felt an enormous sense of accomplishment afterward.

I actually think I might be addicted, I'm already planning our next trip....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who knew one ounce could get you drunk?

I really consider myself fortunate to have been based in Denver when I got my job as a flight attendant. I could have been placed in a number of different cities all over the country but lucky for me I received my number one choice. It's where I've met some of my best friends and my now husband and I wouldn't trade living here for any of the fabulous places I've explored all over the world. While I have felt at home in many countries and cities my heart belongs to Colorado.

One of the things I love about my state is that you don't have to travel far to find something to do especially when friends or family are in town and you want to entertain for a few hours. My sister and brother-in-law recently spent Memorial Day weekend with us and one of the main things they wanted to do when they were in town was visit the breweries in Fort Collins. The last time they had visited me, about 3 years ago I took them to the Coors brewery on a whim on a random snowy day where it was too cold to do anything but ski outside (which we did as well). So I did a little research and planned out our brewery hopping (pun intended) day.

Ft. Collins is a great little college town that's only about an hour and a half from Denver (so make sure you designate a driver if you plan on really boozing it up during the tour). There's plenty of great shops and bars in the downtown area and there's even a great concert hall called the Aggie theater. I first discovered Ft. Collins, ironically during my stint as a Miller Lite girl. I can tell you with the Budweiser brewery nearby Miller was not popular up there. Everyone has had a budweiser product in their lives so I opted for the smaller local breweries starting with New Belguim.

If you want a job in a brewery, this is the brewery to get in with. Everyone is so nice and friendly here and you get great benefits (which any tour guide will happily brag about). After one year you receive a cruiser bike, after five a trip to New Belgium and after 10 (or 15 maybe? I can't remember too much beer consumed here) you get a 6 week paid sabbatical. Of course there's the beer discount too on the amazing product. The brewery itself is always crowded so I highly recommend singing up for a tour ahead of time if you want to really see the inner workings of the place. Otherwise you can take a short tour on your own on the main level if you just walk in and the tours are full and you didn't make a reservation. You receive three bottle caps when you walk in which you can use to taste any of their beers. Most of their beers you can buy in stores so I always try the "Lips of Faith" brews which are dreamed up by the people who work there. They aren't sold in stores but you can bring home a growler of beer of some of them if available. I ended up purchasing a large bottle of the La Folle "Lips of Faith" which I didn't realize until I actually paid cost $17. They also have t-shirts, hoodies and bike themed stuff for sale.
New Belgium Brewing Company
500 Linden
Fort Collins, Colorado 80524 USA

After the New Belgium tour I took the group on over to the Odell Brewery which is just down the road from New Belgium. Here you have to pay for your tasters but they have a larger variety from New Belgium. They actually have menus where you pick which taster types you want and you get about 6 for 4 dollars. This is great for a large group of people because we each got a couple and passed them around the table while commenting on the ones we liked. They do brewery tours Monday-Saturday at 1, 2 and 3pm so if you want to do the tour you have to get there in time. The last time I did the Odell tour they actually had a keg of beer called Kissing Fish which was left over from one of the workers daughter's wedding which they specially made for her occasion. There's a good chance you'll get to taste one of their "experimental" beers as well if you take the tour. They also have plenty of merchandise to buy as well as growlers and 6packs although they don't sell their really high alcohol content beers (10% was the highest I noted on the taster menu) which is a shame. This place has been completely remodeled from the last time I was there about 2 years ago so if you haven't been in awhile it's worth checking out. Also if you live in Colorado make sure to bring your growlers back to be refilled when you go (at new belgium as well) because you'll get a discount on the beer you buy.

800 East Lincoln Avenue Fort Collins, CO 80524

Tap Room Hours: 11am - 6pm, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

11am-7pm, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.

Brewery Tours 1, 2, 3pm Mon. - Sat.

Our final stop for the day on the tour de Ft. Collins beer, was appropriately named, "The Fort Collins Brewery." I had never actually been to this one before but when I was looking up places to visit online I found it and decided it'd be worth a try. This brewery was actually the smallest of all three but they had a variety of tasters as well for $4. They have an excellent chocolate stout and their artwork that's on the beer bottles can be bought as well in poster size. I found their merchandise to be the most affordable of all the breweries and even though they didn't have as many beer varieties as Odell, the ones they did have were amazing. It was also the least crowded of all three of the breweries making it easier to actually hear each other talk and be able to sit at a table and relax. They sold growlers as well of which I believe we tried the Rocky Mountain IPA.
Their address: 900 East Lincoln Avenue, Fort Collins, CO

We didn't even make it to Coopersmith's Pub and Brewing but if you are still not sick of beer and looking for a great place to eat lunch (because it's a restaurant with a brewery in it) I recommend eating here. They have a great outdoor patio and you can order pints of their in house brewed beer. Coopersmith's is also located on "the strip" downtown so you can walk around and view the city a little bit afterward before making your way back home.
Their address:

5 Old Town Square
Fort Collins, CO 80524

So there you have it a vacation that will make you feel like you are miles away (and make you wish you lived in Ft. collins so you could bike home) but won't cost a fortune or have you waiting in line at security. I'm a big fan of stay-cations so if you happen to have a weekday off (the best time to visit breweries in my opinion esp if it's a Tuesday) then you will definitely want to check these places out. And if you are planning on visiting Denver and have a friend that will drive you around you will most certainly want them to take you me they won't be mad at you....

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Things I wish I'd known about Belize

I could honestly go on about our time and Belize for ever and ever because there were just so many unique aspects to that country and our trip. However, I believe you have to experience a country for yourself to truly appreciate everything about it. You can read all the travel books in the library but nothing can really capture the essence of a place until you see it for yourself. I do advocate being prepared for any travel whether it's an hour or 20 away so I've put together a list of everything I wish I'd known before visiting the Cayes in Belize:

1. pack a light rain jacket especially if you are going anytime between may and september. Something small enough to fit in a purse or backpack because it can downpour anytime and you don't won't to be caught walking about without one

2. don't exchange your money ahead of time. Exchange booths will charge you a percentage for having your money changed over causing you to loose out on some of your hard earned travel dollars. In Belize they will take american dollars wherever you go and often give you back your change in Belizean dollars (BZ) The exchange rate is 2-1 so you get $2 of their dollars for every one of yours

3. pack bug repellent. Because I find aerosols run out fast I buy lotion bug repellent. you can put it on in the morning and be covered all day, plus I find you don't miss spots like you do with the spray. You'll save yourself from spending an unnecessary chunck of change by bringing your own and not having to buy it there. Same goes for sunscreen, shampoo, etc.

4. I'm a definite planner but one thing I don't recommend (unless you are going in the "ON" season) is to book your tours ahead of time. It really is better to walk around, check out the places, talk to the tour guides and book that way. We booked our snorkeling tours the day of no problem. It's also good because then you can snorkel based on the weather. If it's been raining the water will be cloudy and not as good for seeing fish. Also if you are going to snorkel it's usually better to snorkel in the AM, that way the water is more calm and you won't risk getting sunburnt or caught out in a rainstorm. If you don't like crowds, snorkel in the afternoon because chances are you'll get a guide all to yourself.
I recommend on Ambergris Caye and look for Carlos on Caye Caulker.
*The Tanisha Tours does NOT provide fins and snorkel so that will cost an additional $5. Carlos provided them for us. Best to ask when you book your tours if these are included if you plan to snorkel.

5. The hot sauce you see on all the tables down there called Marie's is the best hot sauce ever and I'm not even a big hot sauce fan. Buy some at the end of your trip and bring it's amazing

6. In Ambergris Caye at night there were a variety of street food vendors in the park area. Chad and I got burritos one night and they were amazing...until I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst stomach cramps ever. Chad had an upset stomach too and he has a garbage disposal for a stomach so I think it must have been the street food. I wouldn't recommend. Also all the rum punches and fruity drinks in Belize will have ice in them and when in foreign countries it's best to only drink the bottled water which means staying away from the ice as well. I know their water is potable so it's supposed to be regulated but don't take any chances. Even buy bottled water to use to brush your teeth. In Thailand bottled water was in every hotel room in the fridge of every place we stayed at. In Belize we were on our own. So drink the beer and stock up on the water and drink a lot.

7. Buy a towel down there and throw it away or take it home for a souvenir. But you probably won't want to use your hotel bath towels and chances are slim they will provide beach towels and you def don't want to waste precious suitcase space packing one. Chad and I bought one and shared it but it's so hot out that after you are done swimming you dry off quick.

8. The bakeries are amazing down there and def a good buy for snacks and breakfast as they are open all day. In the bakeries in Ambergris Caye you walk in, grab a metal tray and tongs and put what you want on the tray then take it up to the front and pay. I was very confused the first time I entered one but I watched the locals and learned this. Very different from our bakeries where everything is in glass cases.

9. Most every place you will want to pay cash and save the plastic for hotels, golf cart rentals and tours as all these "bigger" operations take cards. Also if you want to buy any wooden carvings (stingrays, sharks, etc) buy them off the guys from the street. You'll get a much better price than in the gift shops

10. Ladies, buy a good purse like this:

I absolutely love love love my Kavu purse. It has all sorts of great zippers and stowage. I can fit a full size water bottle in here as well as my cell phone in the separate cell holder. It's great to have your hands free (esp if you are back packing because then you sling this over your shoulder and don't have to dig around for your plane tickets etc), it doesn't hurt your shoulder and if you carry a hoodie, towel, etc you can tie it on here. I also keep our passports with us the whole time in a plastic dry bag and leave photo copies in our luggage just in case. Unlike Costa Rica or Thailand none of our hotels in Belize had safes so I carried everything on me at all times. You just never know!

So there you have it, ten things I wish I had known before I had gone. Of course, Chad and I were originally supposed to go to Peru so I was caught totally off guard going to Belize, but being the avid traveler I was eager to explore this new country. Our tennis shoes we had planned on using to hike the mtns. in Peru never were used so unless you were planning on jungle trekking leave them at home.

As the locals say, "Get a piece of the jewel!" (aka enjoy Belize!)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Our celebrity guest flyer for this evening is....

Five years ago when I applied for my job as a flight attendant, I knew there would be certain perks; obviously traveling being the biggest. I would get to fulfill my dream of seeing Paris and the Eiffel Tower as well as any other place my heart desired. With time my schedule got better and my pay went up and now I can work as little or as much as I choose whenever I choose. I have great health benefits and though it gets tiring at times, there are some days I really can say I love my job. An unforseen benefit to flying the friendly skies has been meeting interesting people from all over the world...and some of those people just happen to be celebrities.

My first introduction to the rich and famous came in the form of a rap group that I doubt you've ever heard of because I hadn't either. I was working our 50 seater jet so I was by myself (one flight attendant per 50 passenger plane says the FAA) and this large group of black guys came onboard covered in jewelry and wearing nice (but baggy) clothing. I knew they had to be someone. The manager was last to get on and he started hitting on me, asking if I was single etc so I took it as my opportunity to ask,"who are you?" As it turns out he was the manager of this group that called themselves, "Down for Life" as far as I know the only hit they had was "The laffey taffey song." The manager assured me they were going to be big and had all the members sign one of their posters for me. I never heard of them again and I think I even threw the poster away.
Interestingly, the longer I've worked for the airlines, the bigger the name celebs I've had on my flight. My next brush with fame was with the band Hoobastank, then Felicity Huffman (of desperate housewives fame), Rumor Willis (Bruce and Demi Moore's daughter), Daisey Fuentes (remember when she hosted a show on MTV?), Gerard Butler, R. Lee Ermey and a few others who worked for ESPN or were government big wigs who I didn't recognize (but others on the plane did and would ask, "Is that so and so sitting up there in first?). I remember my sister once said, "You will never have any famous people on your plane, what famous person flies regional jets?" But when celebrities book plane tickets they don't really have a choice what size airplane they fly on...especially when goin to Aspen.

If you have never been to Aspen you should fly in there some time if for nothing else but the views and the terror factor. The runway is situated in the middle of the mountains. Our pilots who do fly in there are specially trained and there's no room for error because you can only land one way and take off the other. That means visibility has to be perfect for landing and once you commit to the land you are landing (moose and all on the runway if that were the case) or else you run into a mountain trying to extract the plane out of there. Several private planes have crashed in Aspen over the years, all with fatalities. In the winter we cancel flights all the time just because of the weather and how difficult the conditions get. But for some reason celebrities love that place and those who don't have their own personal jet like Maria Carey (she has a nice one with butterflies painted on it) have to fly with us. Our Aspen to Los Angeles route is notorious for having celebrites on the plane and the other day was no exception:

Yes, that's right Luke Wilson. You may remember him from such films as Legally Blonde, Old School, Finding Henry Poole and my personal favorite, The Royal Tenenbaums. Now normally I leave our celebrity passengers alone except when asking if they'd like something to drink, can I take their trash, etc. R. Lee Ermie (he was the bad cop in texas chainsaw massacre and was in Full Metal Jacket) did not want to be messed with on my flight so I dared not ask for any special fan favors from him....but Luke, well how can you not want to talk to Luke? My fellow flight attendant and I schemed up a plan to get him to take photos with us. We were so giddy through our service we could hardly think straight. But Luke made it easy on us by getting up several times to use the bathroom and get stuff from the overhead. Whenever we could we would make eye contact until finally after his last trip to the bathroom on his way back to his seat we summoned him to come into the galley and talk to us. He was so easy to chat with and very nice; we probably could have talked to him for the rest of the flight(and would have if some stupid 13 year old girl hadn't come up behind him and asked us for a sprite throwing our whole game off). We managed to get pictures with him (while excusing ourselves for interrupting his flight and for being such dorks) before he retreated to his seat in first class. I told him how much I loved him in Royal Tenenbaums which flattered him. We both agreed, they just don't make movies like that anymore.

The majority of celebs sit in first class but you'd be surprised how many actually do sit in coach. Both Felicity Huffman (with her daughter) and Rumor Willis were in coach on my flights and I'm sure there have been many more. When it comes to air travel you just never know who is going to walk aboard your plane...which really can make for a very interesting and exciting day. How many people can say that about their jobs?

Don't you just love him?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Un-Belizeable Time in Ambergris Caye

There is, arguably a lot more to do on Ambergris Caye if you are in to exploring. The island is quite a bit bigger and with a golf cart rental it makes it easy to get anywhere you could possibly want to go. It's also nice to have when it's hot and humid out as you get a nice breeze as you are riding along.

One of the first things we did on the island after getting settled in our casita and returning into town was to visit the tourist information stand. It was basically a little room with lots of pamphlets and coupons for places on the island. The information lady gave us some coupons and told us of some great places we should eat. I think she got a kick back from sending us to these places (I saw her initials were on the coupon) but when you've never been somewhere you should pretty much take whatever suggestion comes your way. Especially if a free rum punch is involved.
The first place we ate was called Eliv's ( It started out as a burger take-out stand in 1974 where Eliv would serve her homemade hamburgers. Over time it evolved and with the help of her family, Eliv turned it into a full blown restaurant. A tree, which the stand was under, stands in the middle of the dining room where the restaurant was built around it:
My favorite part was that the whole floor of the place was sand. It's a nice feeling to be inside out of the elements and still have your feet in the sand. There was quite a bit of seafood on the menu and I went with the shrimp burger which was shirmp on a bun covered in bbq sauce and chad had fish tacos. The service was amazing and the staff were all very nice, knowledgeable and attentive. We arrived before the lunch "rush" but by the time we left it was pretty packed. Apparently it's a well known spot to send tourists visiting the island.

It started raining pretty heavily by the time we left the restaurant and despite having panchos we were soaked by the time we got back to our casita. I really recommend bringing a rain jacket or pancho if you are traveling to the country this time of year because when they say it's the rainy season, they really mean rainy. With the humidity it makes it a warm rain but with our golf cart having no windshield we were soaked:
But yet another reason to rent one, it made getting back to our casita that much faster. The downside of San Pedro is that there isn't much sand on the island to absorb the rain and I didn't see any type of drainage system like we have in the states so everything flooded. This caused deep ruts in the sand lined streets which we later saw people (city workers? volunteers?) shoveling sand in to even the "road" out.
I highly recommend bringing some sort of bug spray if traveling to the country this time of year as the mosquitoes became unbearable once the rain subsided. I would go to stand outside and have 10-15 mosquitoes covering any exposed skin instantly. Of course there is bug spray sold in stores but it was pricey, because what can you really do at that point?

After our one moonsoon of an afternoon the rest of the week ranged from overcast to bright and sunny with hardly any clouds in the sky. We came to appreciate the breeze and the clouds a little more after it really started warming up.

Since the swimming conditions were not ideal we began looking for another snorkel tour we could do. Belize is a diver's paradise but there isn't as many options for those looking for a day snorkel especially if you don't feel like the 2 hour boat ride to the Blue Hole. Walking along the beach we came across Tanisha's Ecotours ( which was attached to a bar that we had seen the previous day (it caught our eye because it extended over the water while the bar we were at was on the beach and very hot) which appeared pretty popular. Tanisha is actually the name of the 34 foot boat that Daniel, the owner and guide of the company, takes people on tours inland with. Since we had already snorkeled in Caye Caulker we asked them about a different tour and they told us we could head out to Mexico Rocks. It was about $35 per person plus snorkel rental (which we didn't know about until we showed up, that was an extra $5 fee) but well worth the trip because of our experience with Daniel. Chad and I did the afternoon tour so we were the only ones on the boat besides our guide and his 6 year old daughter (cutest girl ever and quite entertaining) so we really lucked out with a private snorkel trip.
On our way out to Mexico Rocks we were talking with Daniel and quickly realized we had not, in fact, snorkeled the Hol chan marine reserve as we had previously thought. If we had, Daniel said we would have seen not only the stingrays and barracudas, but also sea turtles and nurse sharks. Where we went had a smaller shark ray alley so we had it confused with the Hol Chan. This was disappointing to learn because we really would have liked to have seen the sea turtles, but we were already headed to Mexico Rocks so there was no going back. Well, something to save for next time.

Mexico Rocks had some great snorkeling as well as there were a lot of juvenile fish there. We saw some really tiny fish I would have never have known about had Daniel not pointed them out as well as a nurse shark hiding under some coral and a very shy puffer fish. My favorite had to have been the puffer fish or the damsel fish:
(note: I did not take this picture but this is one of the many kinds that we saw. It almost looked neon)

We snorkeled about 2 hours then headed back to the restaurant/ecotour site and had some excellent conch for dinner. Daniel said he is starting to focus more on the inland tours which involve the cave tubing, ziplining and mayan ruins tour. He really was a very knowledgeable guide committed to preserving the environment. He even said that when he sees fishermen out if they have caught a sea turtle he will pay them to let the turtle go in order to preserve the marine life in the area. He also has a friend who will be, in the future, organizing sky diving over the Blue Hole. I've never been skydiving before but can you imagine jumping out of a plane over this?:

You can count me in on that tour! I hope that next time when we visit Belize we can plan to do the inland tours because I'd really like to see the jungle (and the jaguars living there!) and cave tube. Of course these all day tours will run about $150 a person so I'll know to bring some extra money, just in case :)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ambergris Caye

After spending a few days on Caye Caulker, my husband and I began to plan our move in where to travel next. While Caye Caulker was very nice, about two days there is all you need because the island is so tiny. Being the off season there weren't many people around either and we were anxious for more "action." We began to research heading inland to stay in the jungle and do the cave tubing, ziplining and seeing the Mayan Ruins. However, a quick browse of some of the hotels in the area (don't you love wifi in foreign countries? It makes things so much easier) led us to the conclusion this wasn't in our budget. So I said, "Why don't we just keep living out life on the islands?" and with that we bought ferry tickets on Wednesday and headed over to Ambergris Caye to visit the little town of San Pedro (pictured above). *As a side note we almost got on the wrong water taxi heading back to Belize City. Actually we WERE sitting on the boat ready to go until someone collecting tickets noticed ours were to San Pedro and got us off. Always double check your destination!*

Ambergris Caye is considerably larger than Caye Caulker so it actually has a city named within the island called San Pedro. The main ways to get around the island are either by renting a golf cart, biking, walking, or taking a taxi van which are the only cars on the island. If you stay farther down the island away from either end of San Pedro you can take a small water taxi boat that will take you to and from your resort. We noticed towards the ends of the island were big resorts with time shares you could buy and private houses. There was a lot for sale and still reasonable prices from what I could see.

The first thing we did when we got on the island was rent a golf cart. We didn't want to walk all over with our back packs and it was raining (fortunately we had brought panchos with us....always a good decision in the rainy season) so we headed for the closest golf cart rental shop. There was one right off the end of the pier and the girl was very nice. All you needed was to be over 18 and have a driver's license and for about $45 a day we were on our way. We rented the cart for three days because our plan was to actually stay right by the water taxi pier Friday night so it would be easier to get up and get on our way home.

Once we decided we were headed to San Pedro I had researched a few places on the internet that looked good to stay. It's a little confusing when you are first driving around because you have to take some of the back streets in order to loop around and drive on the beach front road where there are many more hotels. From the looks of driving around at first it didn't appear to be as many hotels and hostels that you could just walk up too and rent a room but after we got comfortable with our surroundings we found many places that were "hidden." The place I picked to try our luck at was the Hotel del Rio. From the internet I liked the thatched roof huts, how it was farther away from the city center (so we could possibly sleep in peace?) and it had it's own dock which you could swim off of. They ended up having a casita for $50 a night so this is what we ended up with:
There were only 4 of these on the property then a cluster of rooms in a hotel behind us that were part of the same place. The one across from ours had a whole family staying in there (small kids = loudness early in the morning = not happy) so I'm assuming it slept about 4-6 whereas ours slept two. There was a thatch covered picnic area where you could sit and eat and some lawn chairs out front plus a dock that extended into the shallow water where we swam.

Here's a picture of the inside of our casita. It was very nice and cozy which was great because it rained really hard all that afternoon and we spent the majority of our Wednesday there. While the staff was very friendly and would do anything for you (including bust a coconut open that dropped from a tree that chad and I found) there were some problems here. First, don't assume a mosquito net is cute, it became essential after the rain brought the bugs in. Second this room, having a thatch roof and siding attracted A LOT of bugs. I'm talking tiny ants and mosquitoes here. Third it was really loud and not just from the kids. Being ground level you could hear everyone walking by and talking and at night there seemed to be large trucks driving by making lots of noise. We slept horrible here. And once the mosquitoes came in after the rains we couldn't even sit on our porch and enjoy. The upside however, was the staff, it came with a mini fridge and the bathroom was nice and it was right near a bakery where we could go eat in the morning. Have to take the good with the bad I guess.
But we did enjoy the dock....

and fresh coconut....

More to come on Ambergris Caye...