Sunday, January 30, 2011

Belize: Altun Ha Ruins and the Snorkeling Spawn

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras,  is missing a pier. Hence the need for a tender.

Travel word for the day:

Tender- Small boat used in supplying a ship, or to ferry people to and from shore.

Ships visiting this country anchor about 6 miles off the coast. My Owner liked it. It was something new and she's big on that. There was something adventurous feeling about stepping off one vessel onto another at sea. 

When the tender arrived MO and her daughter's future mother-in-law and travel companion for the day found the tour group they were joining to travel by bus to the ruins at Altun Ha. MO was excited because she had heard that these were ruins where climbing them would be permitted. The tour began with a brief tour of the city and some interesting facts; English is the official language, all of the schools are church run and where you attend church determines where you go to school, a traditional meal is rice and beans, etc. Then began a fairly long bus ride to the ruin site.
Road side fruit stand

The last few miles to the site were a little rough.

They arrived at the site and had a tour.

The site is most famous for a large jade head discovered by archeologist Dr. David Pendergast.

Now had my owner studied up on these ruins before she arrived? No. There were quite a few ruin choices on this trip and excursions were planned at the last minute. She tends to like to travel without too much of an agenda so as to minimize disappointment should plans be altered.
As I said she was excited about the prospect of getting to climb them. (What is she? Ten?) You'll notice how treacherous it looks. Don't be fooled by that. There are steps and a handrail up the back, okay I'll give her that the steps were very steep, but still.  Later back on the ship when she showed her kids the pictures of the ruins she never mentioned the steps and handrail. She just showed them the picture and said she climbed it. It's a good thing I'm here to keep her honest.

The jungle surroundings were lush and MO couldn't help wishing she hadn't read the book The Ruins. She kept her distance from some of the more aggressive looking plants.

Here are a few more pictures from the day. Then scroll down to see how My Owner's children spent their day.

While My Owner was off to the ruins her spawn and future son in law were snorkeling. When MO saw these pictures she was very jealous.

Mr. Snarky shunned sunscreen which he thinks is full of harmful chemicals and put the sand from this beach (the consistency of clay) on his face. It was the only part of him that got burned.

Personally I think all three of them look like they escaped some reality show.

For more information about travel in Belize click here to visit Lonely Planet's informative site.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Costa Maya

Costa Maya sounds exotic but it is actually a sort of a bubble wrapped sanitized taste of Mexico for the tourists. It all feels new and prepackaged, although some of that can't be helped as the village was destroyed by Category 5 Hurricane Dean in 2007, and has been completely rebuilt.

The area is nearly entirely supported by the cruise ships that have made it a port of call, and the travelers they bring.

It's an obvious tourist trap but who is going to complain? My Owner? What is she going to say?

"Help, I'm trapped at a beach with Mexican food and a swim-up bar!"

Oh you poor thing.

An unusual feature of the shoreline in this area is the lack of a sandy smooth beach most Americans are familiar with. Instead the "beach" consists of a very uneven, sharp, rocky surface.
After carefully working her way over the treacherous surface was MO rewarded with soft sand once she reached the water? Nope. While Mr. Snarky snapped this photo she was desperately trying to avoid slicing a large gash in her foot.

Mr. MO, not all that interested in water related activities, staked out a spot at the cantina called Bandito's. He wasn't complaining.

In any of these establishments in Mexico that cater to tourists such as restaurants and bars at the larger ruins like Tulum, or Chichen Itza as well as those at the end of piers where the cruise ships dock it is safe to eat whatever you want and drink the water (and ice). It is all going to be purified since these economies are tourist dependant. You may want to ask if you still aren't sure.

While MO rested in a beach chair, listening to a French family nearby yell their baby's name 5,000 times...

"Allison! Allison! Cuckoo, Allison!"

(while they tried to get her to look at the camera), her daughter and future-son-in-law were touring a bit and climbing the lighthouse.

One nice bonus to lounging on the beach not too far from port is that the dolphin tank which hosts the dolphin encounter is in the center of this beach and so you can watch the trainers work with them right from your beach chair.

The Mayan ruins, Chacchoben are nearby and would have made a nice day trip but MO and the Mother-of-the-groom had already made plans to visit some others later in the trip. The diving and snorkeling in this area is also supposed to be very good. But from what I heard when they all returned to the cabin, there's a lot to be said for spending an entire day just relaxing and acting silly.

MO and her family had a great day together here and while upon first glance it looked as if it might be disappointing it was actually a lot of fun.  A lot of family bonding can take place while people are wearing giant sombreros.

"No, seriously Mom, you look ridiculous."

The population of this area triples in one hour when the ships arrive.
     MO and Mr. MO walking the long pier back to the ship.

As the ship set sail, the sun set over the Yucatan.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Wizard of Jackson Square

Sometimes a city is defined by the architecture, the history, or the food. New Orleans is defined by all those things with the addition of some of the most interesting people you are likely to come upon while traveling anywhere. The uniqueness of this American gem is owed in large part to the amazing cooks, artists, and musicians that flock here. As MO and her family have been traveling there for over 2 decades they have come to expect to see particular favorites, people who make the city come alive for them. One such character is the Wizard of Jackson Square, who plays an instrument called the glass harp while doling out sidewalk philosophy accompanied by weak jokes:

"Give me the finger...not THAT finger..."

While he looks like he could be a homeless extra from a Harry Potter movie he speaks like a Shakespearean actor and talks physics like a retired professor. 

MO and her clan saw him often before Katrina but not a single time in the years since though they had looked for him frequently. They had just been discussing on the train that day how much they use to enjoy his little street show and wondered what might have happened to him. Someone had told Mr. MO that he had passed away.

So you can imagine their excitement on New Years Day after dinner at Acme Oyster House and coffee at Cafe DuMonde when they saw him, near the cathedral. A small group surrounded his little table with a variety of glasses strapped to it and lit by tiny twinkly lights. He was, as always taking requests.

Why is it that the moment someone asks you what song you want to hear you can never think of one? MO's husband requested Dixie. He always does.

Next he wipes the oil off the finger...not THAT finger, of a volunteer. He bids them run their finger around the edge of the glass...not much happens. Then he does it. The glass sings and water sprays out of it due to the violent vibration on the surface of the water. He gives a little physics lesson as to why this happens and then gives a little history lesson about the first man to play the glass harp. MO, having heard this many times cannot recall the name of the man (she really has no mind for details of that sort). He takes a few more requests and then as new people gather he starts his schtick over again. 

MO and her family put some cash in his tip glass (what else?) and exchange smiles as they passed between the park and the cathedral, and heard him say
"Give me the finger...not THAT finger."

Sunday, January 2, 2011


MO always says that a tour guide can make or break a trip so she was very happy that the young man in charge of this tour was educated, well informed, amusing, and enthusiastic about the history of his country and its people. The bus ride seemed shorter due to his informative talk.

Upon arriving at Tulum they were given a tour of the ruins, which are incredibly beautiful, as they sit on a beach. Afterward the guide gave them instructions to visit the beach, takes some pictures, and then have a margarita (made with purified ice) at Senor Frosty's.  My Owner wandered around by herself, visited the breathtaking beach, and sat at Senor Frosty's having a margarita when she remembered that the Dramamine needed to be taken about an hour before it was needed. She hadn't been sick on the way over but she thought an afternoon in the sun along with a shot of tequila might make a difference on the return trip.

Washing down motion sickness medication with alcohol isn't a very good idea. MO, who isn't exactly a veteran drinker didn't know this.
She visited a gift shop and picked up a book the tour guide had reverenced several times and a blanket. At the checkout, which was hard to determine due to the absence of a cash register, the girl added up the items on a calculator and oddly enough they came to the EXACT amount of the bill that my genius owner was holding in her hand. She didn't figure it out until later.

Note: When shopping while traveling never get the money out BEFORE you are told how much the cost is, and don't shop AFTER you've been drinking under a hot Mexican sun.

The guide met the weary day trippers back at the bus with a snack, a bottle of water, and face towels soaking in ice water. Refreshing. MO wanted to wipe down her whole body and was rethinking getting in the water on the beach, and now having a long bus ride.

               Here are some of the pictures from her day.

She did eventually make it back to the ship. Her family swears to seeing her in line for boarding and screaming her full name to try to get her attention. She thinks they made it up. She was feeling pretty happy though and upon the return to her cabin she fell asleep and took a 3 hour nap before dinner. So it is possible...

     Traveling alone means being your own photographer.
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