Tikal and Yaxha

We finished up our time for now in Belize and headed to Guatemala for 3 weeks in the jungle.  We got rid of our rental car the day before and took a taxi to the border.  We were very familiar with border crossing with a vehicle from our time in South America and decided against taking a rental car to Guatemala.  Once we crossed the border we met our hired car, who had a sign with our name on it,the driver was very patient while we purchased our tickets for Tikal (you must buy them at a bank) food and got money out of an ATM.  The money is called the Quetzales and is worth 7.7 Quetzales to 1 dollar at the current rates.  We also convinced our driver to take us to a nearby Mayan ruin called Yaxha.

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Yaxha was only 30 minutes out of the way and was a spectacular ruin, situated by two lakes, Yaxha is translated as Agua Verde or green water.  The ruins are laid out on a sprawling site, laid out in a linear cross pattern dotted with temples some that reached above the tree line.  Only the biggest temples were excavated leaving many structures covered by dirt and trees.  We climbed some towers in the blazing heat, after summiting the northern temple I left feeling impressed by the Mayans.

As we were getting ready to leave the site we heard some noise in the tree above us, and after some posturing were able to see some spider monkeys.  They were so graceful in the trees and used their tails so well, it was our first monkey sighting so we were very excited.  After getting eaten by bugs and melting in the hot sun we met up with our ride, had lunch and then were on our way to Tikal.

We arrived in Tikal and checked into our hotel the Jaguar Inn Hotel which was situated just outside the park for easy access and will allow us to get into the park early and beat the heat.  After the long ride and walking around in the hot sun the kids were in what we call slap happy hour.  This period of time usually ends with them saying mean things and yelling.  This time the kids were yelled at by a French woman which after the fact is pretty funny…

We woke up at 7:00am the next morning and set out on our Tikal adventure; we had purchased the tickets the day before.  After much cajoling to get the kids up we were off to the Jaguar Temple.  We had to hike a kilometer or so before we emerged into the grand plaza…  As we emerged from the jungle the base of the Jaguar temple emerged into our view and was somewhat recognizable like it had always held a place in our consciousness.

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There were lots of stelae or large sculpted stone shafts around the park with interesting carving, many of the Mayan kings were depicted on them.

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We visited lots of temples and ruins including climbing the temple that showed the famous view from STAR WARS.

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We hiked about 5 miles around the park in the hot sun, I was frankly amazed that the kids lasted as long as they did.  Once we all got hot and crabby we headed back to our hotel and had lunch at a neighboring hotel that had a pool.  We had lunch and paid $15 for two kids to play in the pool (Mimi didn’t want to) it was lovely to cool off in the heat of the afternoon.  l think I ate the biggest burger know to man and loved it.

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Later Mimi and I took advantage of our tickets for the park that didn’t end until 6pm, apparently you had to pay more to stay for sunrise or sunset.  We re-visted the grand plaza and the main temples and enjoyed being awe struck.  We all went to bed early that night being exhausted.  We were off to Flores the next morning.

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Acton Tunichul Makual Cave Tour

By Mimi

Our family went to visit a cave in Belize. It is called the ATM Cave, short for Acton Tunichul Makual. To get there, we took a van on a bumpy road. Then we had to hike for 45 minutes to get to the cave. On the hike, we crossed rivers and heard screaming ants.

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In the ATM cave when we were done swimming, we climbed up a boulder and saw some artifacts. Later I learned about them and guess what? The Mayan’s ceremonial rituals included offerings in handmade vases or pots. These included blood, handmade chocolate, vapor from food and human sacrifices. At the end, part of the ceremony was to throw the pots or vases onto the ground so they would smash. The Mayans just left them there. I also saw human bones and pots like the smashed vases, they were growing crystals on them. I think they crystals were formed by either drips from stalactites dripping down or tiny waterfalls from holes up above washing down on those items. Or a mix. When we were swimming, I saw some cool rocks, from big boulders, big rocks in the water to tiny pebbles tossing and turning in the current. It was really fun, plus I like swimming and the hike was nice. This place is great!

The Iguanas

Hi. It’s me, Julie, and I’m going to talk about the amazing iguana. If you don’t know what an iguana is, it is a scaly lizard. And guess what? It can grow to 7 feet long! Wow! That is a pretty big lizard.

I’m going to start at the beginning. We get in the car. I was so excited. I tried to go to sleep but I just couldn’t. I twisted and turned. By the time I was about to go to sleep, we were there. I was confused at first because we were at a hotel. I saw our guide a little while later. Our guide led us through a passage way and we hiked about 10 minutes and we were there. I saw a humongous spider. I was terrified, but then I saw a big iguana. It was super cool. Then we sat down and the guide told us some facts and rules.

Big Spider

One male with 2 females

Another male came to see the females but couldn’t get in the cage

This is an iguana sanctuary. The green iguana is endangered so they try to breed more of them and rescue injured ones. They also go and collect eggs from the riverside so that they can incubate them and more will survive, then they release them to the wild.

Petting the iguanas

We went into a room with iguanas. It was so cool. I asked the guide if it was a boy or a girl. He said if it is a male it is orange. He said the males cannot be together because they fight. So there were lots of females but only one male. We looked at the beautiful iguanas for a minute. My sisters saw one pooping. It was grosssss! Then the guide asked if we wanted to feed them. We all said YES! (Except for my mom and dad.) The guide brought out some big leaves and then he brought out a ladder. I got up the ladder and fed some iguanas up high. It was so cool. The iguanas were munching down the leaves.

Feeding the iguanas

One leaf, two mouthsBefore we came, mom told us we could hold baby iguanas. But the guide said they don’t do that anymore because the iguanas would lick people and ingest bug spray or sunscreen, and some of them died, so they decided it wasn’t a good idea. It was too bad because the little ones are SO cute and bright green! But we did get to see some of them, who they keep separate from the adults.

A leaf full of baby iguanas. You can see why we wanted to hold them. They are so cute!

They do let you hold the big iguanas! The guide went to get one big one. We got on our knees to hold it. I was the first one to hold it. And then me and my sisters held it together. It scratched me a little bit but it was worth holding. It was cool touching them because it felt like a scaly creature.

Holding the iguana

Putting her down gentlyThen we went down the trail and then I noticed iguana poop was on my knee. It was disgusting. I just washed it off. But it was still disgusting.

If you go to Belize you should go see the iguanas!

San Ignacio

We arrived at our eco-resort the Maya Mountain Lodge and checked into our bungalow a slightly musty hut with two rooms and settled in for several days of exploring the Maya interior and ramping up school.  I went exploring the downtown area to get my bearings of the area and got scolded by several traffic officers apparently I tried to cross the one way bridges the wrong way.  In my defense they have zero traffic signs so how am I supposed to know???

We completed school the next day and took a swim in the very cold pool, burrrrr.  We explored the local Maya site in the afternoon called Xunantunich (pronounced shunantunch).   It was our first big Maya site at it was very impressive.  It was built on a hill adjacent to the Mopan River, there is one major temple that dominates the site and some huge plazas that allows you to gaze at the temples and feel very insignificant.  The Mayan constructed their temples so the tops of the temples would appear just above the top of the jungle canopy likely to allow them to worship the sun, one of their many gods.  We climbed the largest temple which was a bit scary running after the kids climbing up steep inclines.  There was also a nicely preserved ball court, shaped in map view like an “I” with parallel sloping sides.  This is the only ball court that has been discovered in Belize with vertical hoop goals perched at the top of the walls.

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Garifuna and other adventures

After spending a few days in Siene Bight we discovered we were living in a Garifuna community.  The Garinagu are a people who are a mixed African/Indigenous people defined by their Garifuna language a dialect of the Arawakan Language.  They were a population that originated on Yurumein, now called the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the in Windward islands of the British West Indies in the Lesser Antilles.  They are a mixture of Red Carib, Arawak Indians and African slaves who were ship wrecked near the island.  After an uprising on St Vincent island they were forced into exile taking 5 years to reach several locations in Belize, Hondouras and Guatamala including Siene Bight.

We were lucky enough to meet Joshua who arranged for a drumming and dancing demonstration.  We were treated to about an hour of history, drumming and dancing.  They got us involved in dancing and it was apparent that this community was very passionate about keeping their cultural identity intact.

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I tried some of the food at a local restaurant it was a mixture of Carribean food with African influence including cassava and spices as well as seafood.  I had fish with beans and rice, it was one of the best meals I had while in Siene Bight.

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The Garifuna have their own celebration day to commemorate their landing in Belize around the early 1800’s.  The celebration occurs in mid-November and includes lots of dancing and donning of costumes.  In 2008, UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”

We finished up our time in Placencia with packing up our stuff on Sunday, always an onerous chore.  We headed out toward San Ignacio a three hour drive west toward Guatamala.  On our way we stopped at the Marie Sharps hot sauce factory, this was the ubiquitous condiment on the table at every meal in Belize and we have developed a love for it; yes I’m including the kids.  We tried more than 20 different hot sauces but the habanero is still the best.

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Further along toward San Ignacio we stopped at the Blue Hole National Park (not the diving one) but a flowing spring that fills up a sink hole until it overflows and drains to a cave system.

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We explored for about an hour and enjoyed our time but knew we had to get to San Ignacio so we went on our way.  We stopped for lunch at an Indian restaurant at Maddy’s request and had a wonderful experience, got face paint and apparently ordered about 5 times too much food and then felt a bet ripped off when the bill came.  Oh well.

Placencia and the beach

We drove from Belize City south about 3 1/2 hours toward Placencia a long sandy peninsula that parallels the coast.  The kids did well to endure the car ride with ipad time and snacks.  We picked up some fresh fruit from a road side stand; lots of Mandarin Oranges, limes and Pinapples.  When ended up staying at the Nautical Inn in Siene Bight the town next door to Placencia.  We were right on the beach and it was a great start to our trip perfect for relaxing on the beach.  The Caribbean in this part of Belize is very shallow with very small waves perfect for the kids.  The coast is protected by a barrier reef off the coast.

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After we vegged for a day or so we visited a preserved area call the Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, known to have one of the densest Jaguar populations in all of Central America.  The area was a preserved tropical jungle with beautiful huge trees and dense forest.  We were going to do a hike to a waterfall but got a hearty “no” from the kids instead we settled for a tiny hike to a wrecked airplane

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and an inner tube float down the river.  It was quite fun and refreshing in the hot weather.

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No sightings of Jaguars, I think it is pretty much impossible to see them during the day,  but we learned that they get lots of pictures of them from camera traps.  There are estimated to be 60 adult Jaguars and various other large cats including Puma, Ocelot, Margay and the Jaguarundi in the 128,000 square acre tropical jungle.  Although we didn’t see any wild cat sightings we did find this life sized statue that was perfect for a ride.

img_3060  I think actually seeing a Jaguar in the wild would scare the hell out of all of us. 

 

Belize City

The frantic days of packing and tying up loose ends are over and we are off on travel!!!  We started our journey to Belize on New year’s eve leaving out of the Milwaukee airport.  We had one of the kids babysitters drive us to Milwaukee on that morning to avoid a large seven week parking bill.  Even though there was four inches of snow the night before we had little trouble navigating the roads to the airport.  Our flight with Southwest was on time and we were off to Houston and then onto Belize City.

Although not the capitol, Belize City is one of the larger cities in the country and where most tourists fly into.  We walked off our plane into the warm moist air and truly knew we were out of the Midwest, winter fading quickly away.  We rented a car for this first portion of the trip to see some of the far flung locations.  After a quick drive into town we checked into our hotel.  Unbeknownst to us the hotel we are staying at is throwing a huge New Years Eve party, with music until 4am in the morning, Ugghhhh our first major fail.  We ate dinner and took a quick walk around town; we took a picture with the big Belize sign then went to sleep.  We endured the music and the loud party using ear plugs and most everyone slept reasonably well.

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The next morning both Maddy and I went on separate runs around the town, mostly the downtown area of Belize City which is situated on the two sides of Haulover Creek.  It was interesting to see what appeared to be a mostly run down city, with a bit of investment could be a very charming downtown area although they are missing beaches so will likely miss out on the associated tourism.  We ate breakfast and then began a 3 1/2 hour drive to Placencia.

 

Belize and Guatemala here we come!

With the Christmas holidays over and winter looming in Wisconsin we are pulling our kids from school and heading south for warmer weather.  After negotiations with the kids we have decided to stay in Belize and Guatemala for 7 weeks, hopefully missing the worst of the winter and not missing too much school.  We will be splitting our time between the two countries while world schooling, snorkeling, climbing volcanoes and scaling Mayan ruins all the while immersing in these two Central American cultures.

Hope you will travel along with us on our new adventures.  Here are some pictures from Christmas.

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Asia Trip Summary

We have finish the second of two trips and have been traveling with the kids for 11 out of the last 18 months.  Our kids typically love to travel but by the end they were tired and craved the comforts of home.  Maddy and I unlike last year were happy to be at home as well.   Here is the final map and some statistics of our Asia trip.

Our trip began in Bangkok but we quickly traveled north because we heard that Chiang Mai was smoky later in the spring.  We followed the Mekong River down into Laos before heading onto Cambodia where we explored Siem Reap and then heading to the beach.  Vietnam was next, we spent nearly two weeks in Hoi An during the Tet holiday.  We then traveled onto Hanoi and Ha Long Bay before escaping to the Malay Peninsula as the spring rains arrived in Indochina.  We stopped in Krabi, Penang, Kuala Lampur and Singapore before jetting off to Bali where we spent a month exploring islands and dodging Komodo dragons.  Borneo was next then onto the Philippines and Hong Kong.  We ended with nearly a month in Japan before flying home near the end of June.  It was a lot of adventure packed into a short period.

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Here are some of the final stats for the trip:

10 countries (China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan)

16,963 kilometers (10,540 miles) traveled not including two trans Pacific flights.

40 places, cities or locations

177 days – January 1st through June 26th (for an average of 4.2 days per stop; if you are double checking my calculations I added back in two duplicates locations).  That is some serious fast travel.

19 plane trips (I counted each segment)

30 boat trips with three major cruises: Mekong River, Bali to Komodo Island and Ha Long bay.

13 train trips (all but one was in Japan)

18 UNESCO sites

12 Gondola rides (includes wire lines, funiculars and cable cars)

10+ world schooling families that we became friends with.  In South America I think we met 2.

29 Islands

I am not even going to attempt to count the number of Temples, Shrines, Mosques or Churches.  We are just going to go with lots.

We only had one bad bout of sickness in Bali and essentially zero problems with diarrhea which is quite remarkable.  This is especially remarkable considering I like to try just about any food that comes along.  I chock it up to the extensive travel and the build up of good bacteria in our tummies.

I will be forever entranced by Asia in particular three countries stood out for me; Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.  The variety of sights, smells, activities and people were intoxicating.  The future of the Asia seems to be a very bright one.  Most of the fastest growing economies are located in southeast Asia; we saw construction everywhere.  The big cities were amazing, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.  They all had amazing sights and attractions.  I was not expecting to have such an easy time communicating, so many people speak English, we had no need for translators in nearly all of Southeast Asia, Japan was another story.

Maddy’s favorites included Luang Prabang (Laos), Gili Aire (Indonesia) and Cabilao (Phillipines), I also loved Penag (Malaysia) and Kyoto (Japan).

We felt like we completed all the requisite tourist sites on this trip and maybe when we go back we can dig into certain areas and delve deeper into the culture of a particular place without worrying we are missing other places or attractions.

Our plans going forward are to stay in Middleton for the entire school year in 2018/2019 so this is really the end of our adventures for the time being.  Caroline has pushed hard on us to stay at home for her first year in junior high.  So signing off Travel Trotter for the time being.

Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo on a Monday, with only a week left in our trip and feeling a bit worn down.  Our apartment was a bit smaller than we have had in the past, accommodations are a bit more expensive in Tokyo.  We did have a balcony that overlooked a small canal connected to the ocean.  We loved looking out and counting the number of jelly fish in the water every day.  We also needed to get some medicine for Julie to get her back to normal, so we relaxed almost the entire first day.  Except when the kids and I walked around our Kiba neighborhood and discovered several parks and shrines; always a shrine around every corner.

We had dinner out at a Japanese restaurant and had a type of hotpot, with a huge mound of bacon and cabbage that melted down.  I ordered vegetables and meat, but we only got cabbage and bacon.  It wasn’t exactly what I thought I was ordering but it was tasty.  A bit lost in translation though.

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In the afternoon with the kids resting and playing their ipads, I ventured out to explore the original Tokyo harbor.  I found some maps of the original shore line but was not very successful in finding any original shoreline or old neighborhoods.  I read later that between an earthquake in 1923 and bombing in WWII that the city has been pretty demolished so not much older construction exists.  This is also why the city is so expensive, but it makes it a very modern city.  I did find some nice views of the river and then got a pint and an Irish pub.

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That night we met up with Erik one of Maddy’s old friends from San Francisco in the Ebisu neighborhood and had dinner.  The kids were extra crazy but it was a fun dinner.  We had ice cream afterward and got some crazy flavors like tomato sorbet and sesame ice cream.

The next day we went to Disneyland Tokyo and then Disney Sea the next day, Caroline will be publishing the blog post for these two days.

After two days of Disney were exhausted, the kids especially didn’t want to do anything and everybody’s feet hurt.  Maddy and I continued to explore by ourselves one by one.  I went out and walked around the Imperial gardens, while talking to my brother John then tried my luck at Pacheco, and had sushi.  Pacheco is a game of chance where if balls go in the right hole you win.  I didn’t win and soon left not seeing a way to use any skill to win at the game.  The sushi on the other hand was amazing, melt in your mouth tuna.

 

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The next day was a bit rainy but we got out and did a boat tour of the city harbor starting at Asakusabashi and floating down the Sumida River into the harbor.  Tokyo is built in a natural harbor so we didn’t encounter any rough waters just strange spaceship looking tour boats.

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We passed the famous Tsukiji fish market and the Hamarikyu Garden where some of the original harbor shore line is still observable (lots of fill in other areas).  We ended at Odaiba and were greeted with the statue of liberty (a small version of it at least).  We ate lunch and then headed home via Uber because the rain was coming down steadily by then.

On Saturday we took a trip out to the Harijuku neighborhood on the west side of Tokyo a very trendy colorful wacky place.  We had lunch of grilled cheese (with rainbow colored cheese), then ate lot of funny colored candy and finished up with petting hedge hogs to our hearts content.  I believe it was about $15 and you could pet your very own cute little hedgehog.  I passed on the experience and ate some ramen noodles at a shop around the corner.  The girls had a blast.  It is quite a thing in Tokyo and Japan in general to pet Hedge hogs.

Our last full day in Tokyo we decided to take a picnic to the local park, and have an al fresco lunch cleaning out our refrigerator and enjoying a beautiful day in Tokyo.  The kids climbed trees and ran around until we headed back to pack for home.  I ventured out on my own in the afternoon to take a walking tour of the Tsukiji fish Market, there were quite a range of sea foods to be had but the thing that I came for was the tuna and it was amazing, some of the best sushi I have eaten.  I walked through the Ginza shopping district but it was mostly very high end merchandise so I didn’t buy anything although I did stop in a very interesting samari sword shop.

The next day we cleaned up our rental and finished packing and boarded the JR rail for the last time on the Narita express to the airport and began our long trek home.  Our flight left at 7pm on Tuesday and got into Newark at 7pm on Tuesday, bit of a mind bender, but we gained back the day we lost heading to Asia.  We were delayed two hours so we were not able to meet up with Priya in New Jersey, such a bummer.  Once we landed in Newark it became very evident that Americans are very pushy, people cut in lines and yelled at TSA agents, it was really in your face, very different from Asia.  It was good to be back home though and Nana picked us up from the airport in Madison.  Thanks Nana!

This is it for our Aisa trip I will be wrapping up with a trip summary in a few days but altogether it was an amazing successful trip.