Saturday, January 26, 2013

Placencia, Belize

Placid Placencia
   Inching our way up the coast amid a maze of shallows and treacherous coral reefs, we ducked in to the beautiful village of Placencia, Belize. It's a lazy beach town, filled with brightly coloured shacks and people, and hums with life as tourists amble down the wooden boardwalks and the local Creole's, Mayans and American expats mingle in the bars. The sound of steel drums and rasta music wafts through the air. We are told the first cruise ship ever is sitting in the harbour nearby, and this sleepy village is already showing signs of 'progress'.           

Banana Palms

    We met up with Suzanne and her daughter Deanne from Victoria, who have been holidaying here for several weeks. They were kind enough to lend us their bikes so we cycled inland several miles to the tiny settlement of Siene Bight. In the cool evening we joined them, with our good cruiser friends Norm and Linda on Ariel, for a spicy bowl of Creole Snook Gumbo and curry rice at Omar's Place and tunes at Barefoot Bar. Ya Mon' ! Getting into the Caribbean groove. 
Yolie's Place
Creative marketing

    Now we sit hunkered down behind a small mangrove cay waiting for the winds to drop in hopes of reaching Cay Calker in northern Belize. I spy the lobster man paddling this way in his rustic dug out canoe!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Casa Guatemala Project, Tikal, and Rio Dulce

Who knew a bunch of rocks could be so exciting? 

Our expedition to Tikal began from the Isla de Flores, a tiny village situated on placid Lago Peten, Guatemala. We were dropped off at the surprisingly charming Casa Amelia, with picture windows facing the lakefront and a rooftop deck for kicking back at the end of the day. After wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets we dined at a lakeside cafe and prepared for an early start to the Tikal ruins next morning.
      Our gregarious guide, Ruben introduced himself on the Collectivo (mini-bus) next morning. With the chiselled features of a Mayan chief and a proud passion for his people's history, he inspired us with stories of the Mayan civilization and their accomplishments, 2000 years past, in the great city of Tikal. As we trod the forest floor, Howler Monkeys and Toucans hung noisily in the branches and Coatimundi (furry, ant-eater-like creatures with long snouts), shuffled through the bushes burrowing for insects.
Sensible footwear is essential for Tikal trekking.
     Somewhere around 900 AD Tikal's greatness waned and there was a mysterious collapse of the general Mayan civilization in the region. There are many theories why but no one really knows for sure what brought on their eventual demise. At the close of our amazing day at Tikal we had gained a new sense of pride in these small but strong-willed people and their remarkable heritage.
     The very intricate and highly accurate Mayan calendar concluded its' 5125 year cycle on December 21, 2012. Although we don't consider ourselves superstitious, I'm sure much of the planet drew a secret sigh of relief when December 21st passed quietly into the New Year without incident, and we were all still here next morning. Whew!   

Rio Dulce Jungle Tour

       Back in the Rio Dulce we spent a few days enjoying "the craic", as they say in Ireland, with our good Irish friend Turlough, who now hails from Antigua, which has been his second home for several years now.  We visited Tijax Hacienda and trekked through the jungle to a suspension bridge and shaman tower, in search of Johnny Weissmuller and the swooning Jane. We also checked out a fully functioning rubber tree plantation!

Machette in hand.....pirates beware!
Back on board we had some good times reminiscing about an earlier Caribbean adventure with Daragh , Turlough and Irish friends many years ago while Cathy prepared a great meal in the galley.  

The following day we were off once again, this time on a cross country (swamp) search of Tortugal Marina from the land side, a palapa bar and cruiser hangout nearby. It was a great relief to find evidence the trail existed and not have to backtrack two miles!  It seems that rainy season is still with us, as we have had three days of torrential downpours in a row! Turlough felt right at home.

Casa Guatemala 
Ileana at home at Xalaja Hotel & Marina
Our time on the Rio Dulce has now come to an end. As we prepare to hoist anchor and head for Belize, we reflect on the many special people we have met on the river. Ileana, owner of the Xalaja Hotel & Marina is one such person. We were fortunate enough to meet Ileana when we heard that she teaches Spanish and signed on for a series of lessons. Ileana is one of those rare multi-talented individuals who has a real gift for teaching languages. She is actually a pediatrician by vocation and is always helping someone in the neighbourhood with health concerns. But her true passion is helping the staff and children at Casa Guatemala orphanage. 

     Casa Guatemala is a local project set up for the children in need in the area. Our guide and NGO Director, the lovely Heather, originally a Maritimer from Canada, took us on a tour of the school and facilities, which included a large farm and nursery on the Rio. Many little smiling faces greeted us as we stepped off the launcha. After the students graduate many go on to work at the Backpackers Inn, another aspect of this ambitious project. Here they run a restaurant, kitchen, bakery and youth hostel where the young people learn skills for life and gain employment. Heather and her enthusiasm and dedication were a real inspiration to us, and one we won't soon forget when we return home to the land of abundance.

Heather and ninos

Home is Where The Heart Is