La Lancha, Guatemala

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I tend to max out my vacations, with a lot less of the “hang out and relax” and a lot more of the “hike this mountain! explore this national park! spend the day in these 12 museums!” While we were planning our five-year anniversary trip (and the first proper vacation we’ve taken since our honeymoon) I tried REALLY hard to maximize the relaxing part and minimize the 12 museums part. But, I was hoping we could visit Guatemala for a few days after spending most of the week in Belize. After some research on transportation and talking to Erica about a similar itinerary she took a few years ago, we decided to spend a few days in northeast Guatemala and I immediately booked our room at La Lancha Hideaway on Lake Petén Itzá, per Erica’s recommendation. This was, hands down, the best recommendation I have ever received in my entire live-long life. The two days we spent here are what swoony travel dreams are made of; the meals were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, the rooms were large and perfectly appointed, and the staff was friendly, kind, and went out of their way to ensure we had a lovely time.

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This is our little hacienda, the photos I took of the inside were somehow corrupted (I’m blaming the humidity…and maybe also the bugs?), but you can check out the interior spaces on their website. It’s a mix of modern furniture and antiques from Central America and Bali, with the most glorious textiles, an enormous luxury bathroom, and amenities up the wazoo. Seriously, the wazoo.

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You better believe that I spent some seriously quality time in this hammock with a book and a cold drink. I need more hammocks in my life. It was way hot while we were there, over 100 F plus 80-90% humidity, and we managed to be right in the middle of the burning season, the fires left a low white smoke over everything, not quite enough to sting your eyes, but enough to irritate your throat after a few hours. Visibility was really low, we could hardly see the lake, let alone the jungle on the other side. So, that was pretty disappointing, but truly the only real downside of our stay at La Lancha.

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La Lancha’s open-air dining room, which, if there wasn’t so much haze from the fires, would give you a beautiful view of Lake Petén Itzá. This space is built like the traditional Maya huts, soaring ceiling of branches and thatch supported by columns in the corners. We ate our breakfasts and dinners here, and I have never been happier with patio dining.

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Blue Eyes and I wandered all around the property, I’m glad we chose the room we did, it was a little more out-of-the-way and the chances of lost, nosey tourists clomping across our front porch was highly unlikely. (We didn’t clomp, we very carefully tiptoed and honestly didn’t see anyone in our wanderings. Aside from the packed dining room in the evenings, it honestly felt like no one else was staying here.)

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After a VERY hot and sweaty day at Tikal National Park, a dip in this cool, clear pool was so glorious! Blue Eyes and I “swam” laps for almost an hour. Ok, we slowly floated, moving just enough not to sink and not enough to exert any real effort.

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La Lancha has canoes you can borrow to go paddling on the lake, but the wind was pretty strong and after sweating all day in the heat, the last thing we wanted to do was sweat some more. The air was so hazey and the smoke smell was so strong (plus, it was still 100-ish degrees and humid), we opted for the cool water of the swimming pool instead of the lake.

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I dream of La Lancha, I would go back there in a half-minute. The two days we spent there were, easily, the most relaxing vacation days of my entire life. If we’d had more time I would have liked to check out the little town of Flores and Santa Elena, and visited some additional ruins. I can see myself going back to La Lancha, so perhaps some more exploring in Guatemala is in my future!

Scuba Diving in Belize

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Years ago I got SCUBA certified, both my Open Water and Advanced Open Water, but due to a really boring combination of circumstances, I had never actually gone diving in the ocean. Now, I don’t particularly like the beach, I don’t like sand in all my bits and I don’t like salt water in my eyes. After only diving in fresh water (and geothermal hot springs, no less), I was worried about my first foray into the actual ocean. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would I freak out in all that WIDE OPEN water? Would I be eaten by sharks?

Mr. Blue Eyes and I talked about the possibility of diving while we were in the Caribbean, I mean, Belize is home to the second longest barrier reef in the world (Great Barrier in Australia is the biggest) and apparently has some amazing diving opportunities. Blue Eyes decided to get certified before we got there, just in case, and we decided we’d play it by ear a bit once we got to Caye Caulker.

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Blue Eyes finished up his certificate right before we left and I had done a little research on a few of the dive shops on the island, there were maybe a half-dozen options, but I was most impressed by Frenchie’s and we decided to pay them a visit once we arrived.

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One our first day on Caye Caulker we actually rode our bikes around the entire island checking out the other diving outfits, everything from a hand-painted sign tacked to someone’s carport, to a super fancy technical dive shop with a couple of their own yacht-sized boats. But after spending a few minutes talking with the staff at Frenchie’s we knew we’d come to the right place. The staff were helpful and okay with us newbie divers and promised to get us down with the turtles and tropical fish in short order. They fit us for wet suits and fins and got us tricked out with the rest of our gear. Blue Eyes and I signed up for a quick refresher course (refresher for me, old hat for him) and a couple of dives the next day. Blue Eyes INSTANTLY fell in love with diving and we ended up diving three days in a row with Frenchie’s! Totally. Worth it!

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See that? That’s me NOT freaking out under the big, vast ocean with all sorts of fishies and plants and the potential to come face to face with a SHARK and still, not freaking out. (Ok, the truth? My first several dives I was carrying WAY too much weight and I kept feeling like I was sinking…because I was literally sinking. I was having to essentially tread water to stay in one place, but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and assumed it was just stupid anxiety. After 4 or 5 dives I finally realized I was probably just too heavy and I dropped half of the weights I was carrying (dropped into the boat, not, like, into the ocean, I’m not a monster). All of a sudden, I could float, effortlessly, and my experience was changed. I wasn’t tiring myself out by treading water for 45 minutes, and I wasn’t sucking oxygen because I was treading water…it was glorious. Note to Harriet: you need 8 pounds of weights, not 14.)

Scuba Belize 14_feistyharriet_April 2017Some areas had a lot more wildlife than others, but overall the floor (and walls!) were FULL of plants and corals and fish. Our Frenchie’s Dive Masters were really great at pointing things out, knowing where certain fish would hide or hunt, and navigating us along the reef.Scuba Belize 18_feistyharriet_April 2017

Our first two days of diving were pretty relaxed, lots of coral reefs and some amazing formations and animals. We saw green moray eels hiding in the coral, an octopus, angel fish and trumpet fish and camo fish and a zillion other brightly colored swarms that I can’t remember or name. There were crabs and lobster and conch and corals in turquoise and purple and lime green. I swam with sting rays and nurse sharks and barracuda, there were several massive spotted eagle rays (above), their wingspan is something like 8 feet. They are bigger than a dining room table and the most glorious creature I’ve ever seen. Whoever called them Majestic Flap-Flaps was on to something; these creatures are so amazing!

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The biggest dive we did was the Blue Hole, a massive submerged cave 1000 feet across with stalagtites at about 130 feet below the surface. We slowly made our way down to the hanging rock fingers and swam between them. It was dark, and murky, and there was LEGIT a freaking shark. Not a little shark (barracuda) or a harmless shark (nurse shark), but a 12 foot long Belizean Reef Shark. Ok, so maybe it’s not, like, Great White dangerous, but it is a SHARK. In 25 minutes I managed to face my three biggest fears: open water, the dark, and sharks. And I couldn’t scream and knew I couldn’t run…I just had to keep breathing. In the dark. In the ocean. With a shark. I am a freaking badass. (The Blue Hole is so deep and even though we were the first boat in for the day it was still pretty murky from kicked-up sediment, none of the photos turned out very clear, so, just believe me when I say that I came literal face-to-face with a SHARK and my heart didn’t stop or anything.

Between the Blue Hole dive and the rest of our day, Frenchie’s took us to Half Moon Caye, a tiny little island dedicated to the Belize Audubon Society. Our Dive Masters made us a traditional Belizean lunch  (rice and beans, pasta salad, fruit, spicy wings) and let us wander around for a while, stretching our legs and getting our nitrogen levels back to normal.

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I’m still dreaming of these white sand beaches and this tiny little island in the middle of miles of turquoise water.

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On our way back to Caye Caulker we had one more dive, The Aquarium. Honestly, it is just what it sounds like, a peep show at a zillion fish in their super gorgeous natural habitat.

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I think that big gaping hole is a coral tube? They were everywhere, some tiny ones, some that were several feet across and a hiding place for little creatures and home to colorful sea anemones.

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This last dive was amazing, another spotted eagle ray and a big ole turtle, just hanging out with us divers (that’s me on the right of Ms. Turtle). This wasn’t the biggest turtle we saw, but she was the most stationary. One of our earlier dives brought me face to face with a massive loggerhead, over 5 feet long and covered in barnacles and wrinkles, just like the Old Man of the Sea, poking his wizened head over the reef wall, seeing a bunch of us in his pool, and slowly swimming away towards less touristy waters, I assume.


 

 

PS. All these photos were taken with a GoPro, it’s tricky to take a photo underwater with low light and you floating around not staying still. Also, without a red underwater filter, most of the colors are far more chartreuse than they should be and my editing skills are not quite up to the challenge of combatting chartreuse. Some of these are from Mr. Blue Eyes’ GoPro, others from Jen from Australia. Thanks Jen!

Unzipped

Boone Hall Butterfly Pavilion, South Carolina

Hi.

Hi, hi.

Last time we spoke I was in this strange, but not-entirely-unusual-for-me place of feeling totally and completely paralyzed. Not, like, technically (but, I certainly wasn’t getting my steps in every day), but this overwhelming feeling of being…stuck. I know perfectly well how to run, it just feels like my feet are stuck in cement.

Well, turns out, perhaps the most efficient way for me to get un-stuck is to have my legs kicked out from under me with a not-at-all graceful face plant. And with that, I unzipped my paralyzed suit, stepped out, and my mind and body quickly remembered how to fly, how to run.

Like anyone who hasn’t been working out regularly, it will take a little while for me to fight back the atrophied muscles and build up my endurance, but soon I’ll be running a 6-minute mile again.

Uh, that’s a big huge lie. I have never once run a 6-minute mile, nor do I intend to. I’m more of a 12-minute mile kind of girl.

Also, I’m not really talking about running here. That’s a life metaphor. But it’s also kind of factual. In the last week I’ve been to the gym 4 times and that is 4 times more than I have shown up in the previous three months. I’m making lists and plans like a madwoman and finally feel like I can breathe a little better.

I know that kind of vaguely talking about feeling stuck, and then bringing up a kind of horrible running metaphor for being un-stuck is not exactly blog du jour, but this is me, the good and the bad and the ugly and the broken, all just trying to make it through.

Paralyzed

Firstly, I’m not actually paralyzed, all fingers and toes work perfectly fine, but thank you for your concern.

Secondly, I am totally paralyzed, but I’m not 100% sure the cause. I’m not sure if it’s a weird case of writer’s block, or just a super normal droll case of writer’s block. I can write in my journal just fine, I can write lengthy emails to friends just fine, but when it comes to this space I am…stuck? Afraid? Both? Something else? All of the above?

You know that quote “A rolling stone gathers no moss” which basically means that an object at motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest (thanks, Einstein), and it takes a significant amount of energy to get that rock rolling, or to stop it completely, but much less energy to keep it going along at whatever level of kinetic energy it is currently assigned…? Yeah, Einstein probably said it much better, but I’m not Einstein, so you get stuck with my paraphrasing.

I had all these goals and plans, and then Things Happened and I lost my mojo; I haven’t been going to the gym, I haven’t been writing here, I haven’t been doing many of the things that I love…and I’m starting to feel a literal strain, or tangible atrophy, that I’m not exercising those physical and mental muscles. I often have said that the hardest part of working out for me is just getting out the door, if I can do that I’m fine, but it is SO HARD for me to lace up my shoes and get my butt out the door. My mental lack of willpower is strong, yo. It’s tragic I can’t always harness it for positive forward movement. The hardest part of writing is that first paragraph on a blank page. As soon as I get my stone rolling I’m off like lightning, but that start? Ooouff. It’s a toughie for me.

Caye Caulker, Belize

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Want to hear my version of paradise? You better belize that it involves a tiny little island in the Caribbean, one so small that there are literally only three named roads: Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street. Those roads aren’t really “streets” at all, but white sand packed hard from years of bare feet and beach cruiser bicycles taking residents and visitors from beach to bar and back to the beach. There are fresh fish tacos and shrimp ceviche and whole white fish with fins and eyes and everything still attached for sale at every restaurant, most food has some kind of Mexican-Central American flavor, or maybe a Chinsee-Arab-Kriole infusion that is both familiar and completely out of this world. The pace of life in this paradise is much, much slower than anywhere you’ve been before; the island motto is, literally, Go Slow. Also, this particular paradise is located in a country with an advertising campaign focused on how many ways you can use Belize as a pun for believe. Frankly, it is unbelizeable how much this word-nerd (points at self with both thumbs) swooned over ridiculous puns in paradise.

Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Caw-ker) is a tiny island off the northern coast of Belize and located just inside the barrier reef that runs along the Yucatan south towards Panama, it’s the second longest barrier reef in the world (and not to be confused with the Australian Great Barrier Reef, capitalized because that is it’s proper name). Caye Caulker is famous for being perfect for backpackers, a little rough around the edges with an unpolished tourism scene, and overall ridiculously low-key. Honestly, it was a perfect place to start our trip and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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This? This is the busiest street on the island, Front Street, at 2:00 in the afternoon. This sleepy island did so much to help me chill out, relax, and just go with the very laid-back flow.

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On the days we weren’t diving along the reef, we spent a lot of time riding bicycles around the island, lounging in the shade, and trying to decide where I’d get my next burrito and pina colada. It was REAL rough, ya’ll.

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The only downside to Caye Caulker was the humidity, I mean, it’s a sub-tropical island in the Caribbean, OF COURSE it will have humidity. I actually didn’t mind it too much until it was time to go to sleep, despite an AC unit in our AirBnB it was always a little muggy and too warm for my taste. But hey, if that’s your only real complaint? Frankly, sounds like a lovely way to spend a week, right? (Answer: you better belize it!) (Sorry/NotSorry)

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I think our two favorite restaurants were the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and Habanero’s, which had the most amazing Caye Lime Pie of my entire life (see? More puns! I love Belize!)

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I’m still sorting through my pictures of our SCUBA diving adventures, which I’ll post soon! Caye Caulker was amazing, you should definitely go visit at the next possible chance!