Memories in Belize: Week 1

I just finished a two-week trip in Belize.  My boyfriend, Justin, and I chose to go to Ambergris Caye for the first week of our trip and then decide from there what would happen next.  We found a great little place on Airbnb away from the large tourist resorts in a private home.  Diana welcomed us to our private room and told us about herself and a bit about the island.  She was a generous hostess and great resource by directing us to her favorite shops, restaurants, and activities.  On the day of my arrival, Justin arranged a SCUBA and snorkel discovery trip.  So, I had my first SCUBA experience and then my first snorkel experience swimming with sting rays and nurse sharks.  It was awesome.  So, I decided to get my open water diving certification.  I had no idea that Belize was so known for its diving.  Most of our adventures required only ten to twenty minute boat rides to reach pristine reefs and dive sites. What a truly incredible experience.  On my second dive, I saw reef sharks; on my third dive I saw turtles.  Dive four was a night dive; dive five was a cave dive to 85 feet.  And then we ventured to do the Great Blue Hole.

The Great Blue Hole is a large sinkhole in the middle of the ocean about 45 miles from Belize.  We had a small group on a large boat equipped with tasty snacks and cool drinks for the two hour ride.  As we approached the dive site, I could see the reason for the name – a ring of light-colored, sandy reef and turquoise waters perfectly encircled a vast dark blue disc of inky water.  The boat anchored, we put on our gear, and jumped into the water.  The man floating next to me said he had waited to do the Great Blue Hole his entire life.  He said he knew he was finally ready and that this would be his 50th dive.  Then, he asked me how many dives I had under my belt.  Five, I said.  His eyes grew wide with horror as he asked me if I was concerned about the depth.  I didn’t even know I was supposed to be concerned.  So on my sixth dive, I dropped to 130 feet below the water’s surface, a depth at which narcosis is possible. We dropped so quickly I didn’t realize we had reached 130 feet until my dive master warned me to stop descending.  For the most part, all I could see around me was blue – and my fellow divers.  Then, I turned and saw the amazing rock formations.  We swam through stalagmites and stalactites six feet in diameter that had formed when the cave was empty of water – just a void in the ocean that later filled with water and, apparently was the playground for a group of 5 reef sharks we saw swimming in the distance.  Because of the depth, our time at 130 feet was very short, and soon we swam back to the boat to do two more dives that day.

The next dive took place in the Aquarium – an area swarming with uncountable fish and marine life.  Our dive master led the way carrying a spear this time.  About halfway through the dive, he propelled the spear forward and killed a lion fish.  The lion fish has no natural predators and is slowly overtaking the reefs of Belize; so, anyone can kill them at any time.  With the lion fish on his spear, the dive master began pulling at the fins and making the dead fish bleed.  Then, he waited, and soon a reef shark swam toward him and ate the lion fish right off his spear.

After witnessing this amalgamation animal and man, we surfaced, swam to the boat, and drove to a tiny Island called Half-moon Caye.  The island is the breeding place for the Red-footed Booby Bird, which is protected.  We took our lunch of stewed chicken and rice off the boat and sat on the dock hovering above turquoise water that teamed with fish.  When we dropped rice into the water, the fish would swarm and eat it, a delightful bit of entertainment.  When we finished we walked onto the white sands of the island and followed the trail to the lookout point for the Booby nesting look-out point.  We walked under the tree canopy of palms laden with coconuts while large iguanas stared at us skeptically.

When our time on Half-moon Caye finished, we headed back to Ambergris Caye, where our time was also coming to a close.  We enjoyed the rum, the Belikin beer, the lobster tail burrito (with a side of lobster), the beach, sun, sand, and water.  Then we hopped on a shuttle to enter the jungle at an eco-resort known as Pook’s Hill Lodge.  More on this in Belize #2.

100 Years and 23 Days

My grandmother passed away today – only 23 days after her 100th birthday.  It’s difficult for me to imagine all the changes she saw and experienced in her 100 years while what I experienced with her was so different.  When her life started in 1914, WWI began, Babe Ruth signed his first minor league contract, and Tarzan of the Apes was published.  She saw the Nazi party form, women win the right to vote, and Al Capone move to Chicago when she was a kid.  As a teen, she learned how to cope with The Great Depression while playing steel guitar with her sister.  She married my grandpa in 1938, and in 1942 when WWII started for the United States, she waited to receive post cards from her new husband while he served in the army.  A year after Germany surrendered and the war ended, my mom was born and they lived on the family farm where my grandparents raised crops and a few farm animals.  Five years later, my grandma had my aunt, completing their little family of four, all while Grandma performed different jobs driving a school bus, cleaning the local elementary, and running K’s Cafe.  She saw Model T’s transform into Teslas; stamps soar from two cents to forty-two; and crank phones morph into smart phones.  She and my grandpa celebrated 51 years of marriage while he was in the hospital dying from emphysema in 1990 because earlier in their lifetime smoking was healthy.  I didn’t realize when she told me about the “blue moon” shining outside, she had watched the first man land on the moon.  She lived through the space war, the Cold War, The Korean War, the Gulf War, 9/11, and the War on Terrorism, and still had time to teach me how to embroider french knots and make sweet potatoes with marshmallows.   She was an amazing cook, patient listener, and incredible grandma, and I celebrate the life she had as she now dances in the glory of her Savior.  I asked her on her 100th birthday how she lived a life that long, and she said, “I just roll with whatever comes my way.”  May I learn from her example of life and love.

Miles 1 to 95 on the Colorado Trail

On September 5th, I drove with friends, Anita and Lila, down to Turquoise Lake near Leadville, CO, to join Laneha on the Colorado Trail.  I’ve mountain-biked part of the CO trail, I’ve backpacked, I’ve hiked, but through-hiking for several days is a completely different experience.  The first two days, Anita and Lila joined us for 10 miles of the trail and a Mt. Massive summit.  Then, they returned to work and our little group shrank to two girls and their dogs.

The good: it was BEAUTIFUL!  Just when it seemed like we’d climbed forever and not seen anything new, we would top a ridge that opened into a huge valley of pine trees, changing aspen, streams, and lakes.  The views were breath-taking and unexpected.  Colorado, I learned, has so much more for me to explore.  On the list: Twin Lakes/Leadville, Salida, Hope Pass, Cottonwood Hot Springs.

The bad: we walked for an entire day in rain; we camped on a seemingly sleepy pass (13,140 feet), only to learn in the deep of night that the wind had changed directions and become belligerent.  I woke up at regular intervals to watch the tent roof come within a foot of my face.  After that day, the wind never seemed to give us any rest.  Fall and its chill had officially come.

The ugly: through hiking for more than 5 days is more than a fitness challenge.  Between days 5 and 7, Anita (currently getting her psychology PhD and former adventure trip leader) told me that people usually struggle with their thoughts.  I didn’t really think it would happen to me in such a beautiful setting with so much to admire, but it did.  It’s amazing what miles of hiking will bring to mind and force a person to recognize.  I now understand why so many people use through-hiking as therapy.  Whatever emotion or thought is there, there’s no one to blame, nothing to act as a distraction, no reason or use in complaining.  It is what it is, and the choice was mine to make it what I wanted.

So, I ended on 95 miles (Laneha on 130 miles; click to read her blog on the experience).   After 95 miles, we stayed and soaked at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.  It was an absolutely amazing way to end the trip.  I was happy to have experienced it and would like to do more miles on the trail – maybe during summer months when the passes aren’t quite as cold.