Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Financial Updates: Central (and some of South) America

Time to share our last batch of country expenditure averages! Mostly, Central America was very cheap, and the last few countries in South America were pretty easy on the wallet as well. We left off last time with Peru, so here goes with…

Ecuador: $78.50/day. Not bad at all, though our average was definitely lowered by Andy spending 24 hours in bed with food poisoning in Quito, which meant we had to skip a possibly expensive birding excursion…and, of course, we didn’t go to the Galapagos, which would have blown our budget sky-high. Bus quality was not the highest in Ecuador, but hotel rooms (in the $15-$25 range with private bath) were very decent, and both street food and restaurant food was cheap.

Colombia: $56/day without flight to Panama; $83/day with. Our flight from Colombia to Panama was more expensive than we anticipated—about $250 each with taxes, etc., and we weren’t sure which country to count it against, so in the end we just split it between Colombia and Panama. But even with the flight, Colombia ended up cheaper on paper than we’d anticipated. It doesn’t feel so cheap when you’re there! But Andy and I have noticed that sometimes in countries that seem expensive to us, we compensate by eating out less and doing fewer packaged tours, so it ends up being cheap.

Anyway, accommodation ranged from $10 a night in Santa Marta to $40 a night in Cartagena; and we recommend that you visit Bogota on a Tuesday (half-price movie night) and Wednesday (half-price day at the Salt Cathedral) and stay at the Hostal Platypus (where we got a whole apartment with kitchen for $25 a night) in the old city.

Panama: $98/day without flight from Colombia; $144/day with flight. Yeah, Panama, not so cheap, mainly because excursions are really expensive. And that’s because you usually end up hiring a private guide to take you around. But our trip would not have been the same without birding at Pipeline Road, the train trip along the Panama Canal, and our tour of the Gatun Locks—all worth the money. Hotel room with bath was $20 a night, and restaurants were affordable enough.

Costa Rica: $50/day. This is really skewed, because we only spent two days in CR, and did no excursions except for one trip to the beach (which cost us $13 because it was a national park—we didn’t know about the free beach up the road). We avoided restaurants and stayed in the very cheapest rooms we could find ($20 a night). So that average is really just for rooms, bus, and groceries…if you take a real trip to Costa Rica, expect to pay a lot more (as we did in 2007!).

Nicaragua: $60/day. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America, and definitely one of the cheapest to be a tourist in. We never paid more than $12 a night for a room (but don’t expect high quality at those prices), and tours and Internet were very affordable. We found food to be a little expensive compared to everything else, but, clearly, we got by.

El Salvador: $60/day. El Salvador is definitely wealthier than Nicaragua, but somehow we ended up spending the same amount of money there. Probably because, once again, we did no packaged tours, but just figured out the bus system and went places on our own. Also managed to hit the capital on half-price movie night (it’s Wednesdays in ES). Food is pretty cheap (and tasty!), and our $20/night room in San Salvador was decent. El Salvador is high value.

Honduras: $64/day. We only spent one night in Honduras, so this is pretty skewed, but we hear it’s a pretty cheap country to travel in overall. We stayed in Copan, near the big Mayan ruins ($10 a night for hotel room with bath—cheap; $15 each to visit the ruins—kind of expensive, but very nice ruins). I wouldn’t mind going back sometime and exploring when it’s more stable politically.

Guatemala: $57/day. I think that this makes Guatemala officially the cheapest country we spent any real length of time in. Lodging was around $10 a night (and nicer than the rooms in Nicaragua), and some excursions were quite cheap ($3 each to climb Pacaya Volcano). We thought restaurants were overpriced in some places (like touristy Antigua), so we just ate street food or made sandwiches or cooked. Annoyingly, Guatemala practices “tourist pricing” on some boat and bus routes, meaning that foreigners officially have to pay three times the rate that the locals pay for the same transportation.

Belize: $124/day, strongly skewed by SCUBA diving. (It would have been $78/day without the dives.) Basically, diving is expensive, but the rest of Belize—even touristy Caye Caulker Island—doesn’t have to be. Our rooms ranged from $12.50 to $25 a night, bus transport wasn’t too bad, and with a little sleuthing, we managed to find cheap places to eat out in most towns. The ATM caving tour was a little expensive ($75 per person) but totally worth it. And diving off the Cayes was quite expensive, but also worth it. (There is apparently much cheaper diving off the Bay Islands in Honduras—maybe next time!)

We’ll do another financial update soon, in which we calculate our average daily expenditure for the whole South and Central American trip, working in extra costs like flights, insurance, and camera repair and replacement that we didn’t count against any one country. Until then, adios!

Obsessed: Central America (and the rest of South America)!

If you check out the labels, or tags, on this blog, you will see that Andy has written 52 entries so far and I have only done 45. Maybe that’s because he writes all the obsessions and finance posts. Well, no more—it’s my turn to tell you with what things the countries we visited on the last leg of our trip were obsessed!

South America:

Peru – Coca leaves. Old men chewing them, breakfaster-eaters brewing them…the dried leaves of the coca plant (which, after a whole lot of processing, can become cocaine) are everywhere in Peru (and Bolivia) and illegal to grow or possess in most other South American countries. In their “natural” state, they’re supposed to be stimulating and help fight altitude sickness. I did try a cup of coca tea one morning—not bad, it tasted like green tea, but it had no noticeable effects on me.

Ecuador – The Galapagos. Based on the number of posters you see at travel agencies for Galapagos trips, you’d think that Ecuador has nothing else cool to visit. That is definitely not true—we didn’t make it to the Galapagos, and Ecuador was still one of my favorite countries!

Colombia – Cheese bread! Or maybe that’s just my obsession when in Colombia. Still, there were many different varieties, and you could find it just about anywhere. There were even people baking it in a hut in the middle of Tayrona National Park!

Central America:

Panama – The United States. With US dollars, English-speakers, and Dairy Queens galore, Panama felt more like America than anywhere else we went on the trip. The canal may be in their hands now, but let’s just say that our cultural presence is still felt.

Costa Rica – Not being like the rest of Central America. The government? Stable. The volcanoes? Quiet. The hotels? Expensive. The public buses? Not school buses, and definitely not blasting salsa music, either. Does this place even still qualify as part of Central America?

Nicaragua – The Virgin Mary. Nicaraguans actually invented a whole new holiday that consists of carrying a giant doll of Maria around town and lining up to sing songs to her. Need we say more?

El Salvador – Malls. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, has more fancy shopping malls than we have ever seen before in one place. We have no idea how they all stay in business, because the last time we checked, El Salvador wasn’t such a big country, it’s populace wasn’t exactly the richest in the world, and it didn’t have a whole lot of tourists! Still trying to figure this one out…

Guatemala – Volcanoes. They’re everywhere, and they’re erupting RIGHT NOW.

Honduras – Throwing trash out the window of a moving bus (arrrgh!). OK, that’s kind of unfair—I think that every country in Central America is obsessed with doing this. It gave me and Andy little strokes each time we saw it happen (and, even worse, when we saw people encouraging their young children to treat the road like it was a garbage can). But I feel like people did it even more than usual on the buses we took across southern Honduras, and I can’t really think of anything else that country seemed obsessed with (no one was talking about the whole election/coup thing in the more rural areas where we were), so Honduras gets the rap for this one.

Belize – Cruise ships. Apparently, cruise ships have started docking in Belize, and no one can decide whether this is good or bad for the country. Belize City seems pro, as it has set up a whole tourist village in which to sell expensive souvenirs to cruisers, while the people who run the awesome ATM caving tour in the west of the country are con, since they think that cruise excursions there would ruin the delicate artifacts in the cave. The folks at the jaguar reserve seemed conflicted—they’d like the extra revenues, but will more people disturb the jaguars? No, because there aren’t actually any jaguars in the part of the park where people can go!

That’s it for obsessions! If you’ve been to any of these countries, what do you think of our choices?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Belizean Chow

The food of our final Central American country was a good way to get back into an American mindset. Because Belize was a British colony, it has some typically western foods as well as Indian food. However, it also has lots of Mexican and Central American influence. Identifying a uniquely Belizean cuisine would be difficult, but overall the food was good.

Just around the corner from our hotel in San Ignacio, we found a corner store that had slush for 50 cents a glass (the sign says $1.00, but that is Belizean dollars, which are only worth $0.50 each). Root beer is one of my favorite flavors, so I was sad when they were out of "Root Bear", but I did try most of the other flavors in the two days that we were there.
We also found a very good Sri Lankan restaurant in San Ignacio. A bit pricey, but the tastiest food from that part of the world that we had eaten since leaving New York.
For dessert, we had what I would describe as a cinnamon flan. They said it was a traditional Sri Lankan dessert, though. Not bad, though things of this texture are always a bit weird.On our trip to the supermarket, we discovered a Laughing Cow cheese knock-off: Happy Cow. It is in almost every supermarket and comes from Austria. Tara says it is even better than Laughing Cow cheese. I just like the blatancy of the identity theft.
Tara was very excited to find a place in the market selling El Salvadorian pupusas. These weren't nearly as good as we had in El Salvador, but were certainly edible.
We also rediscovered cookies that we had first tried in Trinidad (where they are made). This was one of our favorite brands, though not as good as Wibisco coconut cookies. If you go to Trinidad, try them. If you go to Belize, settle for those pictured below.
In Belize, they have cohune nuts. Sort of like a small, super strong coconut, they taste like a low fat coconut (drier and harder). The locals make jewelry out of the super hard shells. I gnawed as much as I could out of this one before tossing it to the fish in the stream, which also seemed to enjoy it.
After our day tour to the cave, we had dinner with some of the people from our trip by going around to street vendors and seeing what was for sale. An Indian woman was selling homemade samosas (beef or veggie, so I guess she probably wasn't Hindu...). They were tasty enough that I ate about 5 of them and could have eaten about another 10 had she not sold out of them.
After the samosas, it was on to the hotdog vendor. He got our attention by shouting, "Try Johnny's Lime Juice: the best lime juice in Belize that has a name!" We started talking to him (he was clearly American) and he grew up in Philly, but has been living in Belize for a few years. The funniest part is that there is a second hot dog cart right next to him in a corner, which was nearly hidden from view. He tells us that this guy used to work for him and his brother at the hot dog cart, and that they would let him sleep on their couch. The guy then decides to open his own hot dog cart in the tiny, invisible corner behind the cart where he used to work. The vendor then loudly points out that he's sold about 20 hot dogs while we were standing there talking to him and this other guy hasn't sold any.
Following the hot dogs, we headed to the taco stand. The tacos were good, but not as good as the ones we had in Guatemala. Unlike some other people in Belize, the vendors did not laugh at me when I instinctively said "gracias" instead of "thank you".
Food in Belize was expensive. So, while I was eating all the great stuff in the posts above, I made Tara eat peanut butter and banana on a tortilla. Though if you are a regular reader of our blog, you realize that I wouldn't willingly give peanut butter to anyone else...
The British influence leads to an abundance of meat pies. They were tasty, though we thought a couple times about Sweeney Todd since we had absolutely no idea what kind of meat was in the pies. I can confirm that there was no kidney because I've had kidney pie and it tastes like pee.
While in the rainforest, we found these tiny wild guavas. They had about one bite each, which is about as much guava as I want to eat without sugar.
In Belize City, we bought this corn drink on the street. I would describe it as sweetened cream of corn soup in a cup. Not bad, but as much as I love corn, the concept of corn flavored drinks still seems strange to me.
During our stay on Caye Caulker, we quickly located the cheapest restaurants on the island. Our favorite was a Mexican place called El Something. No, that isn't the actual name, but I can't remember the name. If you are on Caye Caulker, it is a shack across from the bakery near the bank. These are salbutes, which are basically puffy fried tacos. Tasty. (*Note from Tara: The restaurant is called El Paso.)
While on the beach, a kid came up and tried to sell us something with coconut and brown sugar. After some price negotiations, we ended up buying this very tasty empanada-like item. We would later have something similar in Belize City which they called a coconut crust. Highly recommended if you can find them. I tracked the kid down the next day, but they had run out of coconut.
We became regulars at the bakery on Caye Caulker because they had these amazing cinnamon rolls. By regulars, I mean that we visited no less than seven times during the three days we were on the island. Based on my amazing hairstyle in this one, I think it is either right after scuba diving or right after we got up.
After walking around looking for restaurants with our new friends, Mandi and Tommy, we decided that this guy with a grill and this sign beside the road was the way to go for dinner. Why? 1.) The chef's special is garlic butter. 2.) As though we needed a second reason, it was the cheapest place around and all three picnic tables they had set up were packed. 3.) The guy who was in charge weighed at least 450 pounds, so clearly he liked the food.
Tara (and basically every customer except for me, who doesn't eat lobster) got the grilled lobster tails. Tara really liked them. So much so that I feared for the life of the lobsters we saw scuba diving the next day.
We had some squeezable jelly left that we needed to finish. Here is Tara doing her best to accomplish that.
If Belize has any traditional food, this would be it. Stew meat with rice that has some beans mixed in and a side of potato salad. It's not bad, and is certainly filling, but I'd rather have ice cream.
Look, my wish came true. If you are in Belize City, go to Blue Bird Cafe, where they have delicious ice cream that seems far cheaper than anywhere else in Belize. We tried the coconut, peanut, and cinnamon. So good that we had another pint for breakfast the next morning.
Belize also has something called fry jacks that seem popular no matter the time of day. Here are a couple of them. Essentially fried dough. I can understand why that is popular, but it seems like they should be served with a mound of sugar on them.
Here is Tara with her last yogurt of the Americas portion of the trip. This one is actually a Mexican yogurt. She liked it, but proclaimed it somewhat unhealthy. She also enjoyed the Western Dairies local yogurt made by Mennonites, but it cost about the same amount as a hotel room, so her consumption was limited.
That's it. Foods of Belize is over. You can go back to your regularly scheduled job now. But don't fret--we'll have foods of Indiana coming soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Special Post: Belize Going to Tara's Head

If you get sick when you see a tick on you or when someone shows you a surgical scar, this probably is not the post for you. On the other hand, if you think tapeworms are "cool" or secretly hope that you are one day in a position to have to do an emergency tracheotomy on someone with a ballpoint pen, you will enjoy this post.

In the jaguar reserve in Belize, the forest was filled with bottle flies (also known as bot flies or botflies). The bites itched like crazy for days. As it turns out, that is not the whole story. Around the time we got back to the US, Tara began complaining of two sores on her head that burned and caused a lot of pain. We believed them to be bug bites and she thought maybe her winter hat was to blame for the irritation since she had not previously worn it. But when the "bites" did not go away, we started searching on the Internet for possible causes.

Yesterday, we finally hit the jackpot with these websites: One and Two. These sites describe the botfly, a Central American fly known for laying larvae in humans that cause a lot of pain. Tara's symptoms perfectly fit those described. I was nearly giddy that Tara had some worms living in her head and couldn't wait to see them. Tara was, well, the opposite of giddy. So, we set out to try to get the two little guys to show themselves to confirm the diagnosis.

Because they breathe air through a little hole, we were able to cover to hole with Vaseline. Bingo. Out came the tips of the worms through the Vaseline to breathe. As soon as I went near them, they went back into her head at lightning speed. So, to try to kill them, she tried taking an Epsom salt bath and keeping her head under the water for almost an hour. Some people reported that this works well, and it seemed like an easy solution. As soon as she dried her hair, I could see the little fellows gasping for air. Apparently, they had been getting breath-holding lessons from David Blaine.

Next, we covered them with New-Skin for the night to cut off their air supply. New-Skin is basically fingernail polish that is meant to go on small cuts and scrapes for protection. This morning when we got up, we peeled the New-Skin off one of them and the dead worm was visible. I just had to pull him out slowly with some tweezers. He was way longer than I expected and just kept coming. However, the other one was not to be seen. I hoped that he was dead, but when I repeated the Vaseline trick, out he came. We covered him with New-Skin again, but he ate right through it. We're trying again and will use super glue if that doesn't work. The good news is that he has apparently stopped eating Tara's flesh while fighting for his life so he isn't as painful.

Now for the pictures! The first is the hole in her head. In the middle of the hole, you will see a small white dot. That is the head of the larva sticking out. The second is the worm (we will call him George) after extraction sitting on my first-aid kit. You can see the lettering on a Band-aid for a size comparison. The little black things you can see are barbs that it used to stay stuck inside her.

We hope to get the second one out soon. Now is your chance to suggest a name for the second one! If the name is good enough, maybe Tara will let him grow to be full size (about the size of a caterpillar), but that's a lot of Tara's head that it would have to eat, so the name will have to be really good.

(Note from Tara: FYI, I just wanted to note that these are not in any way contagious or transferable from human to human, or human to pillowcase, or anything like that, so if I have slept at your house recently, you have nothing to fear! They can only live inside the body, and can only reproduce once they have reached the adult fly stage, which is never going to happen here in the US. Still, bleh.)

Addendum: On the morning of January 4, we were able to pull the second, larger, larva out of Tara's head. Based on our experiences, we suggest covering the hole with an thick layer of New-Skin (or fingernail polish if that's all you have), letting it sit overnight, then pulling it off. The head of the suffocated worm is likely to be there ready to pull out. If the larvae are not in your head but elsewhere in your body, it seems that some good old duct tape would be just as effective and easier to apply/remove.

Belize, please!

We've kept you hanging long enough--here is a recap of the eight days we spent in the final country of the first leg of our world journey: Belize!

Over all, we had a terrific time there speaking English, caving, SCUBA diving, making new friends, and speaking more English; it's easy to see why Belize is a popular tourist destination.

Our first stop after crossing over from Guatemala was San Ignacio, a very pleasant town half an hour from the border. We had read and heard that Belize was significantly more expensive than the surrounding countries, so we were pleased to find a hotel room for just $12.50 US a night, complete with adorable bonus pomeranians! The signature excursion from San Ignacio is the "ATM tour"--no, not of the nearby cash machines, but of the Actun Tunichil Muknal caving system. You can see the mouth of the cave to our left below.
You enter the cave by swimming into it, being careful not to get the headlamp on your hard hat wet!

In the first portion of the cave, there's still some natural light, and you can see amazing rock formations. At the top of this picture you can see some incredible sheet stalagtites (silly me, I thought they only came in columns!). Underneath that, toward the right, is sparkly "flowstone," formed from water flowing over the rock over millenia. Very glittery in person. This one looks like a woman in a fancy dress with her back turned.

Further in: These stalagtites, in addition to looking eerily like chicken skin, can be "played" like a xylophone--you tap different ones in different places and get different tones echoing through the cave!
Here we are in front of the xylophone.
Even deeper inside the cave, we climbed up to a dry level to see a whole bunch of Mayan artifacts. Here I am making a scary face halfway up the climb.

There are various remnants of pottery and other objects in the dry area, but the craziest remains are the human ones, likely from ritual sacrifices. This full skeleton of a teenage girl was placed in a dancing pose probably close to 1,000 years ago, and has been naturally preserved by the conditions in the cave.

And here is the skull of another Mayan lucky enough to get sacrificed.
All in all, we spent about three hours in the cave; it was a wet and slightly cold experience, but beautiful and fascinating and one of my favorite excursions of our entire 6-month trip. If you ever go to Belize, I highly recommend you venture west to San Ignacio and do the ATM tour!

The next day, rain marred our canoeing trip a bit...but even rain doesn't keep the intrepid Belizean iguanas from coming out!When the rain did let up, Andy immediately stuck his head in a waterfall. (This may be the warmest shower we got in all of Belize.)
Our next stop in Belize was a tiny village called Maya Center. Three dirt paths, one bodega, one (overpriced) hotel, and that's pretty much the whole place. But it is the closest town to the world's only jaguar reserve, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and we figured that if we had any chance of spotting the elusive jaguar in our travels, this was it.

I feel it's only right to tell you immediately that we did NOT see a jaguar. In fact, we did not even see a mammal, despite spending the whole day and doing a night tour with a very knowledgeable guide. Ah, such is life.

We did see an awesome turkey at our hotel in Maya Center, though.
Andy also found some interesting fungi in the park.
Definitely the coolest wildlife specimen our group saw in the park was this butterfly being eaten by a gekko! Check out the upside-down butterfly on top in the mouth of the long green lizard on bottom...
The closest we came to seeing a jaguar were these prints in the mud. Our guide seemed excited and said that they were "very fresh" and that we'd "just missed one," but after he'd said that about three different specimens, I began to grow sceptical.

Meanwhile, Andy continued to take pictures of those less-elusive creatures, colorful mushrooms.
While our tour-mates returned to Maya Center for the night, Andy and I decided to rough it in an unelectrified cabin at the park HQ, thereby giving ourselves a little more time to see absolutely no big cats whatsoever.

We did an extra hike that turned out to be way longer than the map indicated, leaving us racing against the sunset to make it back to the cabin before total darkness fell. On the hike, we did see some pretty vistas, like this ferny area...

...and we found a nice white-backed lizard. (Maybe they should rename this place the Cockscomb Lizard and Insect Sanctuary?)

Speaking of insects, the worst thing about the wildlife reserve was the bugs. Repeatedly dousing ourselves in DEET did nothing to keep the mosquitoes and even more voracious botflies at bay, and we were scratching for a week after our visit. (Then, a few weeks later, back in the USA, I got an awesome botfly-related surprise...stay tuned for a blog post coming soon about that adventure!)

The best thing about going there were the new friends we made, Mandi and Tommy. We met them on the bus to Maya Center (we were the only four gringos intrepid enough to go stay there rather than take a package tour to the jaguar reserve from a more touristy beach town), banded together to hire a tour guide and collectively bargain for better prices at the usurious hotel, played hearts and euchre until late in the night, and just generally got on swimmingly together. We were very happy to learn that they were heading to the same sandy island (Caye Caulker) as we were next, so we met up with them again for two great meals and to dominate at trivia night! But I get ahead of myself.

So, after a dark and quiet night in the park, Andy and I walked the seven miles from Coxcomb Basin HQ to the bus stop in Maya Center. We could have paid for a taxi, but we were hoping that if we walked we might see some cool animals along the dirt road. FAIL. Ah well, at least it was exercise.

We then took a bus to Belize City, and from there got on the water taxi ferry boat to Caye Caulker, one of Belize's many islands along its barrier reef out in the Atlantic. History seemed to repeat itself when we found a beach cabin for just $12.50 that also came with its own bonus animal, this time a corner-dwelling lizard.
The cabin was mildly crappy (I know, I know, what do you expect for $12.50?) but the grounds did feature this nifty plant that made Andy look like a peacock when he posed with it.

Andy's and my main reason for going to Caye Caulker was to go SCUBA diving, which we had learned to do almost two years earlier but had not attempted since our qualifying dives. I was a little scared and made Andy do a refresher course and practice dive with me before we went out to the reef, but it was totally worth it because the diving was amazing.

We couldn't take pictures at such depths, but I can report that we saw a whole eel swimming (a rare sight as they're usually tucked into their holes and just poke their heads out), an enormous eagle ray, several nurse sharks, some huge lobsters, plenty of colorful fish and coral...and the highlight of my diving career thus far, a turtle taking a poop as it swam.

We also did some snorkeling right off the beach on Caye Caulker, and Andy got some great shots with the waterproof camera. Here is a lovely blue fish...
a nifty stripey one...

...and an enormous puffer or boxfish that Andy found hiding out under the pier. It took many dives, but he got a pretty good shot of the fish here!

On our last night on Caye Caulker, Andy and I teamed up with Mandi and Tommy to take the local pub quiz by storm. Forming Team "The Bicoastal Badasses"--our new friends are Californians--we won first prize, or 50 Belizean dollars off our bar tab. (Too bad our tab was only $14...Mandi and I just couldn't bring ourselves to order more than one round of "panty rippers," surely the most unappetizing name anyone could ever invent for the otherwise tasty tropical standby of Malibu-and-pineapple!)
The next morning, the weather on the island was perfect as we boarded the water taxi to return to Belize City.

And apparently, in Belize City, on the final day of our trip, we did nothing but eat, since I have no pictures of anything else to share here. You'll have to check back in for Andy's forthcoming food post!

Belize was a nice place to wrap up this leg of our travels. If you're thinking about going there, San Ignacio and Caye Caulker are terrific, and Belize City is worth a visit, not nearly as bad as most people make it out to be. I might skip the jaguar reserve, unless you really like lizards and being eaten alive by insects, but who knows...I guess you could get lucky and see a cat.

Or get even luckier and bring home an exotic, living souvenir or two in your scalp!

Say what?

Yeah, more on that in the next post. =)