Better Belize It Part 2, 2019 Travels

*In advance I ask that you forgive any spelling or grammar errors. I’m normally a stickler for those, but this got super lengthy & no matter how many times I re-read, I find errors. It’s meant to be a general discussion, not a college essay 🙂

If truly interested in traveling to Belize and/or you missed my adventure from 2018, please read part 1, my 2018 travels. It’s good background & I don’t want to repeat things I wrote there again: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/2018/01/26/you-better-belize-it/

One of the 1st things I hear from most who learn of my travels to Belize is: I have no idea where that is! And it makes me kinda’ sad. I’m not a geography buff, but it really is in our “back yard”, bordering Mexico. Most know where Cancun is, Belize is a bus ride from there. Mexico forms the border to the north, Guatemala to the West, Honduras to the South. Okay, geography lesson over 🙂

 

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Some things that make traveling to Belize very easy & convenient: It’s on Central time, same as me, so no jet lag traveling across many time zones! English is the official language, something I don’t necessarily love as I want to use my Spanish, but it makes it so easy to get around as road signs, etc are all in English. There are more & more direct flights, but even with a connection, we were at our final destination 12 hrs after leaving Milwaukee, WI.

Leaving I always choose a super early flight so we can arrive during daylight, you don’t want to be driving after dark your 1st day in country. Our flight left Mlke at 5:30 am, you’re supposed to be there 2 hrs in advance for international flights so we got up at 3am to get there by 3:30. I booked us a park, sleep, fly, which I feel is a great deal, $200 for the night we leave & return, but also we get to park our van there for the 28 days we’re gone at no extra charge, and they have 24/7 shuttle to & from the airport. We got there nice & early the afternoon before so the kids could swim in the pool, we could try to relax, and get to bed early for our big day. It was a bit frustrating that we got to the airport at 3:30am but Delta didn’t open their window until 4am so we could check in our 1 checked bag. So we could’ve slept an extra 1/2 hr, but I always like to be early & not running late, so it was fine. We were on time leaving which is always a blessing no matter what, but especially leaving WI in the winter, any delays & we would miss our connection in Atlanta.  I’m a fan of tight connections, knowing if there are delays, they will get us on the next possible flight outta there. We touched down in Atlanta, used the bathrooms, made our way across the airport on the tram & they were boarding the group before us when we got to our gate, and that’s how I like it. We were on the ground in Belize City a little after noon, then the long, hot line to get through immigration. Got through that, walked across the lot to get our rental car, got loaded up & we were finally on our way an hour north to our 1st destination! Such a great feeling to have that freedom of hitting the road on our own.

Another thing that is super awesome about Belize is their dollar is locked in at 2:1 vs ours. It still takes some time to get used to, but if it says $20, that means it’s $10USD. Everywhere you go accepts USD, you’ll just get your change in Belize dollars which is fine. This is much simpler than when we went to Mexico a couple years ago, the Peso was something like 22:1, and it fluctuated depending on where you went. I really like the simplicity of the exchange in Belize!

A few other interesting facts about Belize (out of many, my Hubby has read 2-3 books on the country). It was a British colony known as British Honduras until it gained full independence in 1981. So it respects English commonlaw (property ownership among other things). There is a very interesting referendum coming up this April, I’m super curious how it will turn out. Guatemala still contests that Belize should belong to it. The referendum is to decide if the matter should go before the international courts & have it decided once & for all (which would take several years), or to keep on going as they are, and just ignore Guatemala’s claim (in a nutshell, you can read more online if you want). We asked many locals about it, and all were pretty unsure how to vote, and confused. It’s a BIG deal for them either way.

People: Like most of the world, it is a total hodge podge of skin colors & ethnicities. There is a mix of Mayan, Garifuna (African descendents, former slaves from Haiti, etc,), Mexicans, Mestizos (mixed Spanish from Spain w/ Mayan, etc), and then there are a lot of the whitest white people you will ever see: Amish & Mennonite from Canada, PA, and Mexico. It is such a stark contrast. On one of our tours we were told that the Mennonite make up 3% of the population of the country, but produce ~60% of the food eaten in country on a daily basis. There are sects that are super strict & adhere to their traditional values (no electricity, organic farming), and progressive sects that pack a cell phone on each hip & have their own air strip. A local told us they’ve dubbed them moneynites, they just don’t call them that to their faces though. You see them all over the country, and it’s quite intriguing. Some have started intermarrying with Mayans & other locals, it totally fascinates me! There are also plenty of American ex-pats, we met them all over the country.

You hear so many languages spoken here, amongst the locals, but also people from all over the world travel here. Hearing German, French & Italian on a daily basis is the norm (and so welcomed), as is hearing Spanish, Mayan, and the other languages of the locals. It was easy to assume that when you saw another Caucasian family that they were American, but in fact, I can’t remember a single American family we met while traveling. We met many Canadians, and people from all over Europe. For them, a month of travel is routine. For us, it’s a huge deal.

Packing: We check 1 bag, it has to be under 50# so it doesn’t get you a bunch of additional charges. We learned last year to have it weigh in at home a few# under that as their scales differ, so we left it at 48# this year, and phew, it came in at 49# (it was $30 to check it via Delta). In addition, we each carry one backpack, mine serves as my purse while en route, my kids have snacks, activities & stuffies in theirs. I always make sure we have plenty of snacks & water. As I mentioned above I like tight connections, so that does not allow for time to eat while waiting for our next flight. Also, after getting stuck on a plane for a couple of hours in the past, and reading those horror stories of many hours on a tarmac, I do my best to make sure we have plenty of variety to get through a day. My Son especially gets hangry, and that’s no fun. Also a couple of empty water bottles that we fill once we get through airport security. Things that make good travel food: granola, nuts, snack mix, different chips. Also my kids insist on having a nice selection of gum to help with their ears popping while ascending & descending. I do bring some fruit too, but it gets bruised so easily so I make sure to eat it early on. We did great about eating everything we brought eventually, if not on the plane, early on in our travels.

We wear a bunch of layers on our way down, and strip them as we get to warmer zones, then reverse the process on the way back. My Hubby travels so light, seriously, he packed 2 pairs of shorts & 4 shirts! He wears these super light-weight, long-sleeve, shirts from Cabela’s that keep the sun off him but also have vents so he’s not hot. We pretty much went swimming daily, so literally spent most of the month in our swim suits. My hubby would swim in his shorts, then rinse them with fresh water once we got back to our place & within an hour they were always dry. For me sundresses, I packed 5 & I  felt that was about right, I could get by with fewer if I had to, again, we spent most of the time in our swim suits! For the kids, clothes with patterns, and dark colors, these hide stains, I packed 5 mix & match for each. We also packed 3# of coffee,  we were not at all impressed with the offerings last year so brought our own Peruvian dark already ground. Although I did buy some organic Guatemalan on our trip to Tikal. We also packed 3# of organic Love Crunch granola, that is a favorite of my picky daughter. She packed it in her carry on & it was the 1 thing that got us flagged going through TSA! There’s her little back pack pulled to the side for further inspection (they have new restrictions on powders). The lady opened the backpack & a bunch of dolls spilled out, then the bag of granola. She ran her handheld scanner over it & said: I’m glad you’re making healthy choices. That lasted my daughter quite awhile in country!

Carseat: I packed our spare high back booster for our 17 days on the mainland with our rental car, for my daughter. It’s a cheap, extremely lightweight model from Wal-Mart, and we actually left it there with a taxi driver who said he would find a good home for it. Last year I took Bubble Bum’s for both kids, and was not at all impressed with them, and the kids said they were terribly uncomfortable. My Son is about to turn 8, and is super tall, up to my chin, he went without a seat this year.  You can gate check car seats, meaning you don’t have to pay to check them like the 50# luggage piece, but you do have to lug it around until you board your plane, then you get it when you get off. Again, it was super lightweight & we piled a backpack or 2 on it & kinda’ drug it through the airport.

Below: 1st aid remedies I packed: waterproof band aids & tape leftover from my toe injury last year (kicked a doorstop & scalped my toenail off), dried elderberries to make a batch of syrup once we get there, vitamin c tabs, arnica salve, everything salve, germ fighting & immune boost EO roll-on’s, Chestal cough syrup, Poofy’s PM cream transferred out of the glass into a smaller plastic container, powder, anti-lotion stick, sunscreen in a few forms, salonsolids which is SO handy for travel, that little tube will take care of all our soap needs for the month, oscillococcinum, then my remedy kit with a few extra strength ones,  benadryl and drammamine.

 

 

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A FB update I did after 2 weeks in country: I have to say, while natural remedies are ALWAYS my 1st choice, Western remedies have their place too. I itched a bug bite on the top of my foot completely raw about 10 days ago & just have not been able to get it to heal up with Poofy’s Everything Salve & an arnica/ st. john’s wort ointment I was alternating between. The 2 pairs of shoes I alternate between rub it rawer than it is, so I have to cover it when we’re out & about which is most of the day. It was looking funkier & funkier & hurt night & day. Yesterday I broke down & went to a pharmacy for some triple antibiotic ointment & within the 1st application it started looking better. 24 hrs later & it has made amazing progress towards healing. Phewwwww, was starting to get a bit concerned about it! Just like with antibiotics, I feel they should be a last resort & only used when other remedies have been tried, but they DO have a place here & there! Speaking of… Super, super thankful that my entire family has stayed healthy during our travels. No colds, stomach bugs, nothing but sunshine & good times. Such a relief!

What I forgot to bring:  Poofy’s After Sun Spray (thankfully not needed, once I realized I forgot it I was extra hypervigilent about not getting burned) , and next year I will take at least a small travel size of peroxide (but it can be found there too). We stayed super, super healthy the entire time. I didn’t use the elderberries, or my homeopathic kit even once. Benadryl are always on me just in case of some reaction, not needed but always carried. Never used the dramamine either. But, those are all things I want just in case!

Okay, we’re there now…. 1st things 1st. You get to your destination, then what? Grocery shopping is one of the 1st errands & it’s always fun & interesting! But it’s also a bit daunting to start from scratch. Some places will have basic herbs & spices, some you’re lucky if they even have salt & pepper.  Here’s what our 1st run basics list looks like: bread, butter, eggs, mayo, cheese, milk, granola, bacon, lunch meat, S & P, garlic, onions,  spaghetti/alfredo are usually among our 1st meals,  juice. We’ll usually grab some produce there just to get us started then look for a produce stand the next day, that’s where you want to stock up on fruits/veggies.

Challenges: One major challenge is not having the choice for organic, usually the selection is pretty limited for everything & you just go into survival mode, needing to feed the family. It’s a reminder how lucky we are to have choices here in the US! Remember that things you can peel are best: bananas, watermelon, pineapple, etc. vs grapes that are sprayed directly on. I know some would not be able to cope with not eating organic for a month. I’m okay with it. I don’t let it ruin my enjoyment of the meals I’m making or what my kids are eating. But yes, a month is a whole lot longer than a week when it comes to this.

Some other challenges while traveling, for us, are: using non-stick cookware, oh how I missed my cast iron! Using a ton of paper towels. Most places don’t want to do extra laundry, so they supply paper towels. I use 0 paper towels here at home, and it’s not easy for me to use them! I think next year I’ll pack some hand towels from home at least. You just have to be careful, you start packing this & that from home & pretty soon you have an insane amount of luggage. The cast iron definitely had to stay home…

It takes a bit to get used to the heat. It takes a few days for sure. It wasn’t extremely cold when we left WI, but still, a good 50-60 degrees difference. We arrived at our 1st destination & looked at the weather forecast & it showed the following day to be clear skies, then the next several days to have very large chances of rain. So we decided we better go to Lamanai the next day, our 1st full day in country. While we didn’t have jet lag, we were definitely tired from being up since 3am the day before, and the sun was out and HOT. So it was definitely challenging. I was super happy I packed a battery-powered necklace fan for each kid, they came in handy!

Pesticide fogging: We saw it in the super fancy, all-inclusive resort we stayed in in Mexico 2 years ago, saw it in Belize last year, and again this year. Either back pack sprayers, or trucks fogging hedge rows in broad daylight, they wear no protective gear. With people standing RIGHT THERE as they spray. And most of them don’t seem to notice or think anything of it. We could hear the sound of the fogging truck blocks away & would duck deep into a grocery store if we were out on the streets. If we were in our home we would quick run around & shut all the windows, but you could still smell it. Even the kids said ewwwwwwwww. If you’ve ever smelled Round-Up, you don’t forget it. Same with this stuff, whatever it is, it’s AWFUL! In addition to concerns for human health, what about the bees, and other important insects?  So yeah, as awesome as paradise is, it has drawbacks too! I remind myself I’m just a visitor here, but to many, this is their daily life. And it makes me grateful for my home with no neighbors along the river bank back here in Wisco….

Keeping  with the theme of challenges, then the rest is all the blissful parts of our trip, I promise!  I want to make sure to not gloss over the trials & challenges either, especially with kids, challenges are real…. We were given a recommendation to go visit a fishing village an hour north of here (by someone on our Lamanai tour). So  we made the drive, he said it was 1 hour, it was 2 hours, on terrrrrible roads full of potholes, like seriously 15mph was the norm. We get there, and it’s super windy, so the ocean was super mucky, the beaches were total mud. It was Sunday, so the 2 restaurants in town were closed, the kids had eaten the snacks I packed on our drive there. We explore a bit & realize it’s just not happening, we need to make the 2 hr trek back. The kids were both in tears because they wanted to swim soooo badly. But on the way back we had a great discussion about how things don’t always turn out to meet our expectations & hopes. We explored, we saw beautiful countryside, the ocean breeze & view were great, just not the swimming…

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One of the 1st questions I get when someone learns that we are in Belize for a month is: what about school for your kids? Homeschool I say… No one seems to know how to respond to that. My Son is actually getting public school credit for our homeschooling, but it is extremely flexible. I did bring one workbook with us here, but we’ve hardly cracked it, and that’s okay. I have the flexibility to catch up later, even if we have to work through the summer. And there is so much more to learning to be a well-rounded human than abc’s & 123’s. We’re worldschooling currently, and that means a LOT to my family.

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One of my biggest fails early on was leaving our carbon monoxide detector in the place we checked out of after the 1st few days. It was the one thing on my list from home to NOT FORGET. The story of the Iowa family of 4 who died in their Air BNB room in Cancun last year raised awareness on this issue, and I will never travel without one again, domestic or international. Yet I left it 4 hrs away. I contacted the host of the Air BNB we left it in,  and gave him our itinerary for the next 10 days, thinking they would send it via horseback (lol) within a week. It came on a plane, delivered to the front desk of the hotel we’re staying at, just a few hours after I let him know we left it! Amazed. And oh so happy. And will not be forgetting it again (the kids covered it in bright stickers to help it stand out a little more). Biggest surprise, it only cost $3USD to get to me, I was prepared to pay a pretty penny for it! And the host actually paid for it himself, by accident, but said to not worry about it!!!

 

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Safety:  I touch on this in last years post, so if you haven’t already read that, please do (it’s linked to in the opener). But I will share this comment I wrote recently as well:

It is a developing country like all of central & south America & most of the world. Yes, Belize City is pretty crime-riddled, you fly in & get outta there immediately. My Hubby read the Belize news daily since our trip last January, and yes, there are murders, I want to say there were something like 140 all year last year. The murders are at bar time 99% of the time, and local against local. The Mayan culture is ammmmmmazingly kind, and it’s not a fake kindness because we’re tourists, they’re are genuinely kind. I would be way more nervous ending up in the wrong part of Chicago or Milwaukee, or many other US cities. But I DID cancel 10 days in Mexico that we were going to visit prior to coming to Belize. I do not feel it is safe to take blonde-haired, blue-eyed children to Mexico right now, there are just way too many kidnappings & I can’t fathom that happening to my kids. I’m specifically talking about the greater Cancun area, which draws our desire because of all the Mayan ruins sites. Other parts of the country I would not be so nervous to visit. It hurts my heart because I have such a love for the Mexican culture & want to use my Spanish which I’m not able to in Belize since everyone speaks English.

From Cheryl: My husband is a federal police officer and prior anti-terrorism officer. We travel to Belize every couple of years. He gets information directly from the State Dept and local police agencies. We do not linger in Belize City and use common sense international traveling precautions. We have never felt threatened or unsafe. You just have to be aware of your surroundings like anywhere.

On the safety topic, my best advice is: follow your gut. One of the golden rules while traveling is that you don’t invite locals back to your place. Most of the crime (theft, assaults) that happen in the country occur in the wee hours of the morning, usually bar time or later (my Hubby has read the Belize news daily for ~2 years), and involve intoxicated individuals. It’s one thing to party with your new friends in a neutral setting, but to take them back to your place is a huge risk. Here’s what happened to us that made us very uncomfortable & resulted in us bailing on our week long stay at a very remote nature preserve outside of Hopkins.

We had an awesome 1st night there. I share a story below of befriending the Mayan family that were caretakers of the property, sharing a meal with them, and our kids having a grand time running around squealing together. There were 6 or so cabins for rent on this property, all connected by a boardwalk. The caretaker mentioned the 1st night that the only other visitor was in the cabin next to us. A lady from the US traveling by herself. I was looking forward to meeting her & hearing her story (traveling alone isn’t too common). We didn’t see her that 1st night, we saw her for the 1st time when she was leaving at 8am the next morning, as she was pulling away. Within 1/2 hr she returned, and it was like a clown car scene, people just kept pouring out of her vehicle. She brought back 8 young men from town. We were enjoying our morning coffee with the caretakers of the property while we got ready to head to the beach & explore the area for the 1st time. The Mayan Mama actually brought it to my attention 1st, saying: look how many men she brough back, this is not good, this has never happened before. By the time we left at 9am, they were drinking beers, thumping music, partying, it was Saturday morning so apparently they all had the day off. Several of them were standing outside on the boardwalk when we exited our cabin for the 1st time to go load up the car. They saw us & the kids & fell silent immediately. It was super awkward. We’re super friendly, super chatting people & love getting to know locals. But there was a really weird vibe with this group.

Our cabin wasn’t all that secure, it had glass front doors, slatted wooden windows, some had bars on the outside, some did not. We knew if anyone wanted to they could get in one way or another. There was a safe, but it easily could’ve been ripped off the closet wall & cracked open later. So we took all our valuables with us for the day (cash, passports, computers). As soon as we got in the car & off the property my Hubby admitted he was totally sketched out by the situation. We spent several hours at the beach & talked it over & decided we would go back, pack up & get outta’ there. We weren’t sure what kind of scene we would find when we returned, but we were both super nervous pulling back in. We decided that our safety was worth way more than the $400 we may forfeit for our week there. I would write the owner of the property later & try to get a refund, but knew he could absolutely say no. On our way back to the property there was a car hastily parked about 30′ off the road, straight into the tall savannah grass. It seemed like a stolen car scene, like driven off the road & abandoned. Seriously, the grass is a good 15′ tall around it. Where were the people? Nowhere to be seen. This was about 1/2 mile from the cabins. We were super nervous approaching the property, it made me even more uneasy to see how uncomfortable my Hubby was about it, we were both really sweating the situation. But we were also trying to not freak our kids out too much. We told them we had decided it wasn’t the safest of spots for us & our safety was worth more than anything, so we were going to pack up & find a new spot. They were super bummed to leave their new friend Stephanie, we had thought we’d have a week together & it turned out to just be one night, which is why I’m so grateful we had that dinner together! Thank goodness, we got back & the neighbors were not there, phewww. Still, we packed up in minutes flat, went & said bye to our Mayan friends, they were visibly sad that we were leaving but the Mama admitted she was very uneasy about the situation too, and that the lady was scheduled to be there for the entire week as we were. She also said this was a 1st in her 2 years on the property, nothing like this had happened before. On our way out, maybe 15 min later, that car was gone, which made it even weirder than ever!

There were plenty of hotels available in Hopkins, we stayed at the nice B & B with a pool & slide pictured below. I wrote the owner of the property via VRBO & he immediately agreed to a refund minus the booking fees ($350 out of $400, but we had also spent 1 night there). He agreed it was a bad situation & he was not happy, he knew he would have to change the locks after she left as it was a self check-in deal, he gave us a code to get the key to help ourselves in. There is no Amazon delivery to Belize, parts can be difficult to come by, so changing the locks was going to be a big deal to him. He had his local property manager come meet me at the B & B we were at & gave the refund to me in Belize cash (the owner lived in FL). We all agreed that we hoped we were over-reacting to the situation & that no harm would come of it, especially to the gal partying with 8 men, but they totally got why we were uneasy. They felt bad, we felt bad, the locals who lived on the property felt bad. But I slept much better that night, in the safety of a hotel in town vs out at the end of that dead end road.

It was a good reminder to me when I’m booking properties: dead end, secluded properties in Belize really aren’t the best idea. It was super cheap ($400 for 7 nights), on the banks of a river that boasted great fishing, and jumped out at me as a nice, quiet fishing spot. It was about a 10min drive from town, I thought it sounded lovely. But the reality also was that we could be murdered & thrown in the river, eaten by crocodiles & never seen again. Over-reacting, yes, likely. But again, you just listen to your Mama gut always, especially when traveling.

Okay, let’s look at some of the places we stayed:

Below is our place in Orange Walk (the north), it came in at $112/night. It had a full kitchen (very sparsely stocked with utensils & absolutely nothing in terms of herbs/spices, etc, we had to start from scratch), a decent queen size bed downstairs that the kids & I claimed, and my Hubby slept upstairs. I’m not a fan of ladders & this one was definitely treacherous. But there was also a nice upstairs balcony. This place was ~50′ from the New River, where my guys spent a lot of time fishing, and where we hopped on a boat to go to Lamanai.

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Next we we were to spend a week at a rustic cabin on a nature preserve outside of Hopkins. We spent 1 night there, and you read above about why we bailed from there. We spent 2 nights at this Bed & Breakfast (in Hopkins) instead, and loved our stay there. The room just had a mini-fridge in it but there was an upstairs common area for all to use, and it was totally stocked with all utensils, oils, spices, etc that we needed to cook any meal we wanted. There was also an ice machine so we could make our own smoothies and fill our cooler before we left, which was a pretty big deal, ice isn’t easy to come by. We were able to put a bag of food in the fridge & not have anyone touch it. They served breakfast daily which was quite good, waffles or pancakes, eggs a few different ways, sausage or bacon, lots of fruit, juice, coffee. I normally am not much of a breakfast eater, but when it’s included in the price of our room I will eat & then am set until much later in the day. Then for lunch the mother-in-law of the place offered a different home-cooked meal daily for just $5USD, and it was super, super good. We only had it once (we only stayed there 2 nights) but it was stewed chicken (basically slow cooked, with a bunch of great seasonings), mashed potatoes, coleslaw, a homemade roll, and a piece of chocolate cake. For $5! This place had a fun pool with waterslide too, and the beach here was fabulous also.

That was our room, as close to the pool as we could possibly be. And the weather was absolutely perfect the couple days we were there. This was $150/night, but again, breakfast for free for the 4 of us which adds up. It had a king size bed (yes, finally!) and a couch for my Hubby 🙂

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It had a fun little side pool that my daughter spent hours in, while the guys fished & I soaked up some sun next to her or played in the pool with her.

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Free to use kitchen, put everything back where you found it, loved it!

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From there we drove another 45ish minutes south to Placencia, where we spent 7 nights. This was not cheap, $150/night. But it was right on the beach, and Placencia has the nicest beaches in the country. There was a dock for my guys to fish from, and they provided several meals of fresh caught Jack (maybe my favorite fish I’ve tried). Pools are pretty rare in Belize, especially something of this scale. Usually if there is a pool on location, it is pretty tiny. The kids had soooooooo much fun in this pool. The left side was 2′ deep for the length of it, great for young kids. The middle with the chairs was 7″, then it dipped to 4″, with a swim-up bar, the 1st I’ve seen in Belize. We had lobster ceviche & delicious drinks at that bar more than once.

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I loved how vibrant our room was. They use flowers from on the property to decorate the room:

And the artwork on the walls gave the place such a gorgeous, vibrant feel. This is one thing I simply adore about Caribbean cultures, the colors. You’ll see homes painted fuchsia pink, bright blue, turquoise. Back home, I see entire communities all looking exactly the same, every, single house is the same shade of grey, brown, BLAHHHH!

From Placencia we traveled up to San Ignacio in the very west of the country, about 6 miles from the Guatemalan border. We returned to the place we spent a week last year, for the sole purpose of going to Tikal which we didn’t make it to last year. We did have a kitchen when we stayed last year, but those rooms were all sold out when I booked for this year so we had nothing more than a mini-fridge. But I was happy we were able to push the 2 queen beds together to make for a nice, comfy spot for the 4 of us to sleep. We were here for 3 nights, it does have a nice pool & we love the restaurant next door which has cheap, good, local food & an awesome play ground, the kids played nightly with a whole bunch of different kids. $405/3 nights.

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From San Ignacio we went back to Belize City, to the airport, to drop off the rental car. Then we took a taxi to the water taxi site where we hopped on the boat to Caye Caulker. It’s an hour by boat.

Caye Caulker: our home for our final 11 nights, so happy to have a full kitchen again. We spent 4 nights here last year (on Caulker, not this place), and just knew it was a gem, we couldn’t wait to return. This was $150/night.20190121_183327.jpg

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One challenge while traveling is the fact that I bed share with my kiddos still. We have a super awesome, king size bed that we share at home. But we always have to get creative while traveling. Most of the time we’re able to push 2 beds together. This place had 3 bedrooms, so we moved the double bed from 1 room into the largest room next to the other bed, and viola, plenty of space! Messy bed photo below 🙂

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My guys spent mornings & evenings fishing from the piers. The caught us several meals of barracuda & snapper mainly,  it was excellent eating! The kids loved playing “scientists” by examining ocean life. My Son saw so much from the docks while he was fishing that he was scared to swim in the ocean: jelly fish, sting rays, eels… We always wore swim shoes to try to minimize the danger of stepping on something.

 

Main  Street, Caye Caulker. I miss the sounds, smells, and sights already. There was a man who bellowed out: Hotttttttt tammmmmmales all day, every day. I even heard him while sitting on the hammock of our place many, many blocks removed from the main street. All roads are dirt, so if it can be dusty. When it does rain, it’s very slippery walking, almost like ice.

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My daughter & I were happy to collect shells, play in the sand, walk along the beaches, it never got old! Sea shells galore, nothing huge, lots of tiny ones. But I just love looking through piles of them!

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You can rent paddle boards by the hour for $10. It served mainly as a diving board, but they had fun with it!

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We spent quite a bit of time in hammock village.DSCN0357

Sunsets never, ever get old! Caye Caulker had a nightly gathering to watch the sunset at the Split. A few nights/week they had live music, and a bonfire even! Nothing like standing next to a bonfire on a tropical island!

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It was really important to me to let the locals know that not all tourists, especially Americans, are loud, rowdy & obnoxious. That some of us are genuine & compassionate. 4 days a week, 3 catamarans from the mainland with cruise ship passengers would come dock on Caye Caulker. They had exactly 2 hrs to spend on the island. 90% of the people getting off the boats at noon were wasted drunk. Like seriously, stumbling, loud, obnoxious. We befriended a vendor who had 1 backpack of goods to his name, and a bike. When he 1st approached us to try to sell his goods we kindly said no thank you, we had bought our trinkets already & really didn’t need any more. He thanked us for acknowledging him. He said so often, people either look the other way, look through him, and just completely ignore him. Like he’s not even there.

I know it can get annoying when people are trying to sell you things, and you’re not interested. But I made damn sure that every, single time someone approached us or we walked by their stand, we kindly acknowledged them. Stopped to chat. Politely observed what they had to offer & nicely declined. We are all humans, and we all deserve that much respect. My Hubby ended up leaving a spare fishing rod & reel with the vendor on the bike I mentioned above. We saw him day after day. He stopped to fish with my guys, giving them tips for catching more fish. They all handline down there, seeing anyone with an actual rod is very rare. So while we didn’t buy anything from him, we left him a valuable gift & he was grinning ear to ear when he was given it. We cannot wait to go back to Caye Caulker again next year, and know we will be welcomed!

 

Adventures: I’ll re-share this FB post: Today was one of those days we’ll remember years from now. The unplanned, unknown adventure that just happens. We drove down to Placencia proper this morning, had gelato at Tutti Frutti’s, a must-stop according to many. It definitely was good! But we didn’t love Placencia, super crowded & touristy.

What to do? We remembered seeing some waterfall signs on our way down here from the north, and they weren’t too far. It was super cloudy & cool for the 1st time today, we knew rain was imminent & there was talk of just going back to the hotel to nap & be lazy. But we thought hiking sounded like a great idea on a day like today vs a super hot sunny day like most are. So we went for it! We got there & drove out the dirt road to the waterfall spot & there were no other cars there. It started sprinkling, but it felt good. We made the 20 min hike through the jungle, admiring the flora along the way. We got out there & it was just gorgeous, and just us. Then it started pouring, and it felt so, so good. There we were, just my family, swimming in a mountain stream, in the pouring rain, in the jungle, near a very small Mayan ruins site. It was so precious.

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There was a restaurant on site on our way out from the waterfalls so we decided to have a late lunch. A couple things: just when you count on all prices being advertised in Belize dollars, they threw us a curve ball & prices were in USD. This was the one & only time this happened to us, and I wasn’t too happy about it. Normally you’d see something listed at $20 & know that was Belize dollars, so it was only $10USD. That makes a pretty big difference! I was really craving some greenery so decided to go with a ceaser salad for my lunch, and this was the one & only time during our month stay that I had belly issues later that night, I had to stick close to the toilet for several hours. But it wasn’t terrible, and the next morning I was fine, but it gave me a scare. I had joked about our recalled romaine lettuce being sent down there, and later regretted joking about it! Other than those few hours of upset tummy for me, no one had the slightest issue all month!

Blue Hole (not the one in the ocean that divers flock to off Ambergris Caye),  this is just down the road from St. Herman’s Cave. We stopped here last year but were driving by on our way from Placencia back up to San Ignacio so decided to stop in for a dip! My kids have totally turned into little minnows!

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Rio Frio Cave: This is south of San Ignacio, where we stayed for 3 nights to visit Tikal. We visited some waterfalls in the area last year, this spot was just a little further down the road from there. This basically was a huge cavern, you could see daylight on both ends so it didn’t make me nervous like the ones you truly go down into & count on your flashlight to keep you safe. The kids loved exploring here!

 

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Rio on Pools, up the road from Rio Frio cave. We visited last year but were happy to spend a few hours there again this year. It reminds us of Northern WI: granite rocks, pine trees, yet there are also palm trees & mountains, quite the mix!

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Driving through the Mayan Mountains was by far our favorite drive! This is the drive south from Belmopan to Hopkins/Placencia on the Southern Highway. Reminded me a lot of Costa Rica!

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A tiny little mountain town:

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Several one lane bridges still. You just pull over & wait your turn. Yes, I will wait until the bus passes!

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Orange groves for many, many acres. Again, the clouds + the mountains= paradise. My Hubby & I both loved our time in the Mayan moutains very much!20190118_114411

Coca Cola is  a national treasure pretty much anywhere south of the US border. I feel this pic sums it up nicely. Middle of nowhere, in the mountains, yet there is a Coca Cola delivery truck!20190118_114434

Some of the best road in country for sure. You get off it, you’re on dirt.20190118_114948

Hopkins area: savannah with the Mayan Mountains in the background= gorgeous! The clouds seemed surreal almost, not just this day, but most days!20190114_110200

Snorkeling, off Caye Caulker. I really enjoyed this day. the water was a bit choppy, so I stayed on the boat with my daughter while my Hubby & Son hopped in the water. We still gawked at the unbelievable color of the water, and were able to see the nurse sharks & rays from the boat. We made several stops: at coral gardens, shark ray alley (nurse sharks, harmless), and then a huge rock outcropping that was full of ocean life. We also went to a spot that we were able to observe sea horses and feed tarpons out of our hands. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the captain while the others swam. He was a true local, born on the island when it was just 2 blocks deep, and the rest was mangrove. He had great stories to tell, and I loved hearing them. And we saw him multiple times throughout the rest of the our stay & always stopped to chat. He also gave us his phone number in case we wanted to get hooked up with seafood at local prices instead of tourist prices. We could’ve purchased whole lobster for $7US vs $20 that the restaurant would charge. I just didn’t have the right tools in the kitchen to properly cook them so declined. The restaurant steams them 1st, then grills them, this helps the meat release from the shell. I had neither of those tools to use at our place.

Below: rays on the left, nurse sharks on the right.

 

 

 

FOOD: *note that there is a 12.5% sales tax, some places add it in to the listed price, some add it at the end. This is an area where your budget can vary widely. You can eat super cheap, or spend a lot on food. We tried to split the difference. We’d eat out & have a pretty big bill, then try to eat in & cheaply for a few days. As a family of 4, it adds up. My 8 year old Son is nicknamed PacMan, he can pack it in for sure. He also has developed a love for lobster, so he’s not a cheap date. My daughter lives on chicken strips (when eating out). I decided to not worry about what we were spending on food, and to just order whatever we wanted & enjoy the heck out of it. And yes, our grocery & dining out bill ended up being so much more than what we would spend if we were home for a month. But we ate a LOT of lobster. Reminder that we live in WI, so seafood is a rare treat, especially lobster. I hated seafood until my 20’s, really came to love it in my 30’s. And now, I looooove it. I ate lobster so many different ways. Lobster tacos multiple times, multiple ways, always amazingly delish,. Lobster flatbread, which really was like a pizza, whole lobster with twice baked potato, lobster ceviche, lobster curry (one of my absolute favorites), lobster mac-n-cheese. MMMMMMmmmmm, I’m getting hungry while typing this & looking at the pics!

 

Below, more lobster tacos, they were just so dang good! The thought occurred to me to take a photo when I was almost done with my last taco. Homemade on location corn tortillas, amazing homemade mole sauce, pico de gallo, hot sauce, onions, $8 USD for the platter of 5 of them. YUMMMM!

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Local favorites:

Garnaches are an absolute favorite of mine, not just because they’re super cheap, but because they’re super delish & I will absolutely be making them back home! I remembered them from last year at a place we returned to this year, below is my platter that cost me $3USD! A crispy corn tortilla, refried beans, chicken, a coleslaw kinda’ mixture, cheese, hot sauce to dump on to your liking. So, sooooo good! $3!!!!!

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Below is the house specialty in a local restaurant we went to: pork pibil. That means super slow roasted, in banana leaves, underground according to legend. I’m not sure how much of that is accurate these days. But it was good for sure.  A bit greasy, and could’ve used some cilantro, in my opinion. Also, empanadas which are basically little hot pockets stuffed with either chicken, fish, beans. They’re quite yummy too!

 

 

Left= shrimp curry. I rekindled my love of curry on this trip. I don’t have a pic of the lobster curry I ate out at the end of a dock one night, but it was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Sooooo tummy. Bottom right, a Coco Loco, during happy hour it was $10USD for this drink (the coconut full & the cupful). The bartender took such pride in making & presenting his beverages. All flowers were snipped from the property, as were the coconuts used in the drinks!

 

 

Below= some dang good pizzas we made at the B & B we stayed at. They provided a really good breakfast for free, gave you the option for a super cheap, local meal at lunch time, and you had free reign of the kitchen at any point during the day. Flat bread pizza, with cheese from WI!!!!

 

Below are fish tacos with pineapple (Red Snapper is the fish you’ll get 98% of the time). Fish+ pineapple+ cilantro= SO DELISH! 20190114_134400

Below is a favorite meal, because my Son & Hubby caught the fish. I only had a 2 burner to work with, but it turned out so, so good. The harder you work for something, the more enjoyable it seems to be!

Delicious drinks at every turn too. From flavored water, to pina coladas made with, and served in, the whole pineapple!

Below was one of my (and the kids) favorite meals. We befriended the Mayan caretakers of the property immediately. It was a very secluded, remote location & they only had a bike so the Mama admitted they very rarely made it to town, and most who stayed at this location, known as a nature preserve didn’t have kids. They hadn’t seen kids in many months actually. The little girl, Stephanie (same name as my Mom), was 4. She got so, so excited as soon as she saw my kiddos & they immediately took to playing, 1st chasing around the dog of the property, then kicking around a ball, playing tag, eventually they asked if she could come in & play. It was a gradual process of allowing her & her Mom to come in onto our screened-in porch to color, then inside our cabin, and before long the kids were jumping on the bed & building forts while we sat at the table & had coffee with her Mom.

We had several fish to cook that night, that we had brought with us from Placencia. My daughter had not been able to get enough of the fish, she just loved it, and tonight was going to be the night that we feasted & she was going to be able to eat as much as her little belly desired. But they begged me to invite Stephanie & her Mom. We had just met them a couple hours prior, and I felt awkward inviting them in. It seemed a bit soon for a dinner date. Her Mom asked if I had found tortillas in town, I hadn’t, the Chinese store owner acted like she had never heard of them. Stephanie’s Mom left for a bit & the kids played while I cooked dinner. No words had been spoken about sharing dinner, but it just came together. I had put together a tossed salad, boiled some sweet corn, and fried the fish. Stephanie’s Mom showed up with freshly made flour tortillas, just as her husband Juan returned from work & we all sat down at the table together & enjoyed fish tacos.

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Afterwards the guys went & did some night fishing on the dock outside. Stephanie’s Mom (Lucinda) and I did the dishes & cleaned up, and my daughter & Stephanie ran around & played like crazy girls. There was so much laughing, squealing, jumping on beds (a lamp was kicked over & the bulb broke, a true sign of a good time). We said good night & as I was laying down with my kids at the end of the night my daughter said: Mom, I didn’t understand a word she said (she spoke Mayan, very little English). And I said: it doesn’t matter, you can still have fun without speaking the same language. And it’s true, this is our 3rd year of traveling outside of the U.S, and each year it has proven true. My kids have been able to play with other kids that they do not share the same language with. There is a common language among kids, and it’s so beautiful.

RUINS: Last year we went to 2 Mayan sites, this year we went to five more! The kids honestly were burned out on them. But I never could be! There are no words to describe what it feels like to visit these sacred, ancient Mayan sites. We visited 2 much smaller sites that were previously unheard of to me, but just being there & putting my hands on the stones that still exist today, that were laid there by the hands of a human long, long gone, it’s just such an amazing feeling! It is $5/person to get in when you show up on your own, show up as part of a tour & it’ll surely cost you much more.

Our 2nd day in country we went to Lamanai. It previously was only accessible by boat (2 hr ride), there is now a 28 mile, pothole-laden road if you want to go that route. We chose the boat which we boarded 50′ from our cabana in Orange Walk. The boat ride was so much fun itself, our guide stopped numerous times to point out wildlife. Here’s my Son jotting down notes on what we saw in his travel journal:

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The thing that most blew my mind about Lamanai is we got to walk by/on 6 out of 800, yes 8 HUNDRED structures there, many still being unearthed. This is what is so intriguing to me, the unearthing of the Mayan ruins in Belize is still in its infancy!

 

Below: About an hour south of Lamanai is Altun Ha, we hopped in our car & drove to check it out the day after Lamanai. These ruins are on the label on Belikin Beer.

 

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Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun, an hour south of Placencia. One fascinating fact about Nim Li Punit is that the largest stela in the country were found there, and very well preserved. Stela are like pages from books. They recorded important events. They found numerous stela at this site, something other sites did not produce (maybe lost to weather & time). They are AMAZING to look at. They were not replicas, they were the real deal:

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Below we are standing on the central spot for their ball court. Almost every Mayan ruin site features a ball court, some way larger than others. But they all differ slightly! They made a ball from the sap of the rubber tree, this thing was like 8# or so, and it was kinda’ like soccer. You could use your elbows & hips only, to try to get this suuuper heavy ball through some hoops many feet up in the air. Legend differs, some say the captain of the winning team was sacrificed, some say it was the losing team, no one knows for sure. What is for sure is they took this game pretty seriously. (as you can see, my family members like Crocs)…

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There were huge differences in construction from site to site. These 2 sites in the south did not use mortar, they just stacked the rocks. And due to that, many of the buildings are in complete ruin, just a pile of bricks. But they are still super cool.

 

 

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Tikal, the grand finale, and rightfully so: mind. blown.

Below, crossing the Guatemalan border.

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We were picked up in a small van at our hotel ~6 miles from the border. It was my family & a couple who turned out to be from Chicago. We drove to the border, parked on the Belize side. Got out, walked through the immigration & customs windows, boarded a different van on the Guatemalan side, with our original guide still, but a new driver. Then we reversed the process on the return. It was definitely interesting. The $4oo we paid to go to Tikal included border crossing fees, admittance to the park, and lunch.

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Guatemala is a VERY heavily armed country. Not easy to get used to…

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2 hr drive into Guatemala to get to Tikal, but gorgeous scenery. I can’t remember the name of this lake, but it’s huge, and gorgeous.20190119_092254

Tikalt is a UNESCO World Heritage site. They’re allowed to restore no more than 25% of each structure, to keep them from completely crumbling, but also to keep them as authentic as possible. So the brighter white mortar you see is that.

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There are no words to describe the feeling of coming around a corner on your walk & seeing this sticking out of the canopy. It TRULY is breathtaking!

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Again: Breath. Taking. This was the view from the top of one of the temples.

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Many of the sites are still being reclaimed from the jungle. It can take years to properly, carefully, unearth these buildings. There are trees growing out of them, their roots penetrating deep into the rocks. It is a slow, steady, continual process. If I could choose an alternative career right now, it would be working on these sites, it fascinates me to no end! I’m hoping maybe this early influence on my kiddos will leave a lasting impression & maybe they’ll make a career out of it 🙂 A Mama can dream, right?!

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Some ruins you’re allowed to climb right on, but when thousands of people/day do that, it contributes to the erosion of the stone. So at Tikal & some others they’ve built staircases to get you up to the top without actually climbing the structure itself. Good exercise!!

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From there:

We traded in our Isuzu turbo diesel for a golf cart on Caye Caulker. One thing to note is gas is ~$5/gal, US prices. Diesel is cheaper than unleaded, but not by much. It was $350 to rent the golf cart for 12 days, the island is small enough that you could walk everywhere if you wanted to eliminate this expense. Other options are renting bicycles, our kids are just a bit young for that but in the coming years that will absolutely be what we choose. Also you can call a taxi golf cart & go anywhere on the island for $5. It really was handy as the guys would go fishing on the other side of the island in the morning & evening. We could cruise back to our place quickly to grab food or beverages. But it’s not 100% essential to life on the island. My Hubby & I both picked others up many times, when we didn’t have anyone in back. You’d see people who had obviously just gotten off the boat, leaded down with their backpacks, walking to a hostel, and they were happy to accept a ride. It was a fun way to meet new people & they were always grateful for a lift.

 

EXPENSES: So, what did this all cost, and how did we afford it?! Right around $10,000, which is a LOT of money. My Hubby & I split all bills in 1/2, so $5,000 each, for a month of memories with our family= PRICELESS!! This includes airfare & checked baggage fees, rental car on the mainland & golf cart on the island (we weren’t without wheels our entire stay), taxi & water taxi from airport to island, food (eating out & groceries), excursions (ruins, snorkeling), souvenirs. How we make this work? Basically, we live simply back here in WI. I bought my house when I was 21, and made my last mortgage payment a couple years ago, at age 37. So we have no mortgage. We don’t buy vehicles unless we can afford them in cash. My hubby is an amazing mechanic so will pick up a Subaru Outback, for example, with high miles & needing some work, for $1500. He’ll fix it up, and we’ll drive it for years. We made our most expensive vehicle purchase in years recently, $3500 for a suuuuuper loaded van (heated seats, sunroof, DVD players in back for the kids, totally loaded, but high miles), with a hitch, so we can pull our pop-up camper to do all of our summer camping this year. For us, that is an expensive vehicle. But this is all thanks to the fact that my Hubby can maintain them. We watch expenses. There have been many times I’ve been close to checking out with an item in a cart & stopped myself. Do I REALLY need this, or do I just want it. Usually it’s a want. I DARE you to go through the last year, or 2, of your Amazon purchases & list wants vs needs, and see how much you might possibly have been able to do without. I also am a huge 2nd hand shopper, it is super rare for me to buy anything new. I go to thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, Ebay, and save a lot of money vs buying new. And I feel good about reusing items vs purchasing new, it’s more eco-friendly. I also focus on reusable items. Sure something might have a higher price tag up front, but if you can reuse it over & over, it saves you in the long run!

My Hubby & I both work MULTIPLE jobs to make ends meet. I help my Dad in his greenhouse business every spring, from mid-April until the beginning of June I work every, single day, usually 3-6 hrs depending what needs to be done, but 7 days/week! We are both committed to raising our children without day care, they’ve never gone a day in their lives, and being creative. We file multiple 1099’s each year. We are a great example of thinking outside of the box to make ends meet, something that not everyone is able to do. Most of the people we grew up with here in rural WI moved away after high school, for “real” jobs in the city. Yes, they might be making big bucks, but likely are not enjoying the quality of life we are. I guarantee there are people earning 2, 4, 10x what we earn annually, who would say they could not afford this vacation. It’s simply a matter of choices. We do a lot of camping throughout the year, which is great, quality family time, and very cheap. We don’t smoke, we don’t go out to bars, our largest expense is our monthly grocery bill.

A major factor in making these expenses possible is chipping  away at them throughout the year.  I book all of our lodging through Air BNB (mostly, 1 was through VRBO). I book my lodging 1st. I started booking places in May, and had finished by July.  I’ve found that I save money by doing it so early. I’ve had several property owners let me know the price I’m seeing in May is actually the low season quote, but since that’s what it’s showing they give it to me. If you wait until Oct-Nov to book, you’re going to pay more, the high season prices. The general rule of thumb for booking airfares (at least the advice I’ve been given) is: 1 month in advance for domestic, 2-3 months in advance for international. And indeed, I booked our airfare in early October.

I had hoped to use my 100,000+ American Airlines miles I had saved up all year for our plane tickets. I was super disappointed that there were plenty of options for flights when I was doing a general search, but when I selected the tab that said I wanted to redeem miles, it narrowed that to ONE FLIGHT! No joke. And that flight had a 12 hr overnight layover in Dallas. I considered taking it, and getting a hotel room in Dallas for the night, but then decided that was ridiculous! It made me very frustrated, but I ended up using those miles to cover most of the 17 days of car rental, so it worked out. I found a much better deal on airfare vs last year: $1400 vs $2600 last year. That was part of my realization that we needed to stay as long as possible. Getting there is a huge chunk of the budget. You can stay a week, or stay a month, airfare is still the same! I have now switched to a way more flexible credit card that you can use the miles on a huge varitey of flights, or cash them out. EVERYTHING goes on there, then gets paid off immediately.

Some spend thousands of dollars on Christmas. Not me! This year more than ever I decided to reign in my spending & most of the gifts they received were related to things they could use on our trip: snorkel/goggles, new swim suits, shell collecting bags, books. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter woke up vomiting in the wee hours of Christmas Eve. My Son followed 24 hrs later, then my Hubby. I, of course, did not get it, but they were all super miserable for 24 hrs. All of our Christmas with family (I was going to host this year) got canceled. I was thankful this all happened a week before our trip, they got it out of the way. But all of us walked away from the experience feeling like Christmas was cursed. Like maybe we should just skip it going forward. Personally, I’m moving more towards celebrating the Solstice, and the New Year. We’re looking to make new traditions next year, and all are on board!

We have $0 in credit card debt. We use our credit card for everything, to get the points & use them for travel, but we pay it off every month. If we can’t afford it, we don’t purchase it.  We have very, very little personal debt (student loans in Income Based Repayment Plans). I also am not sticking a bunch of money into IRA’s, the Stock Market, or other retirement plans. Yes, that $10,000 could’ve went into a retirement account, that’s not my thing. I could write a whole separate essay on this, but I have seen way too many people save, save, save for retirement, only to die of cancer, or a heart attack, before they get to enjoy that money. I recently was chatting with a Mama via my inbox who has stage 4 breast cancer, she’s younger than me, with 4 kids (the youngest is 3). Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, and I sure the heck am not living for tomorrow. I live for the now, and don’t really worry/think about 10-20 years from now so much. Being we own our home, and know how to raise a garden & hunt wild game, I know that no matter what, we will survive, with, or without a huge IRA. So there’s that. I know others reading this would likely have stuck away the money we spent on this trip, saving it for their future. That’s up to you!

I always appreciate perspective, so will share this comparison. My favorite band (Widespread Panic) plays for 4 nights on a beach in Riveria Maya every  year, 8 years running now (a few years were in the Dominican). They were there while I was in Belize, I was soooo close yet so far away! I followed a thread regarding peoples budgets for this 4 night event. Many fly down for just those 4 days, some go a couple days early. On the low end, people reported a $2500 budget for just the 4 days, on the high end people reported $8000/couple for 4 days. And many have not missed one out of the 8 that have been held, and report they would go at any cost.

2 years ago we did our 1st trip south of the border, to Mexico. And I went all out & booked a very nice all-inclusive for 4 nights. It was $400/night, I’m still surprised at myself that I sprung for it, so $1600 for 4 nights, but we didn’t have to spend a dime on anything inside, there were 4 restaurants on the property, it was divine.

At the opposite end, you can also find beach bungalows for $40/night, you might have a hot plate & mini-fridge, if you’re lucky. You can eat rice, beans & stewed chicken for a few bucks. So you really can do this to fit any budget & lifestyle. I feel like we choose the middle ground. Not super fancy or all-inclusive, but I have to have a kitchen, AC (it can get HOT mid-day), and we want to be comfy. Our lodging bill came in at just a little over $4000 for 30 nights (including the hotel stay on each end of the trip).

I booked all our stays through Air BNB, 1 via VRBO. It is good to check both, I’ve found VRBO to have a lot more hidden service charges that don’t pop up until the end. A couple things the kids love about traveling: we don’t have cable at home, nor a microwave. So microwave popcorn while watching TV is a huge, huge hit with them.

Some random tidbits that didn’t fit the above categories:

When you can’t find any beach toys, you get creative. We hit up the kitchen aisle at the local “super” market (a bit of everything), and found these buckets, bowls, and ice cream scoopers. Regular ol’ plastic cups go a long way too!

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I got braids! It’ll be nice & relaxing I thought, you know, it feels good when someone else does your hair. WRONG. It hurt super bad, she wrenched on them harder than I thought possible. On the 1st of 6 I almost said nevermind. Just a PSA if you’re ever thinking of getting yours done.

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They lasted little over 24 hrs, based on the advice I got in my closed group (migraines, hair breaking & falling out) I decided to take them out. They cost $15USD, no reason to leave them in. My kids helped me take them out the following day, insisting I looked so beautiful with them, then with my suuuuper frizzy hair after taking them out. NEVER again! A swim in the ocean & all was back to normal!

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Laundry. I handwashed a few loads in our sink & hung it out in the sun or put it in front of fans in our room, with AC running items would dry out pretty quickly. I located a laundromat on Caulker at the end of our stay, previously I had only seen drop-off spots. I don’t know why, but dropping our dirty laundry off with someone, and seeing our undies hung out on their lines to dry, just makes me uncomfy:

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We live in a small, small world. We have run into the same people in Belize, on opposite sides of this super small country. But NOTHING can prepare you for sitting at a restaurant, on an island an hour out from the mainland, and seeing a familiar face from back home. Not just any familiar face, but your family doc. Indescribable. I adore this woman so much, she has always been an inspiration to me. She homeschooled her 3 kids who are now in college, doing super great. She backpacked to Machu Picchu with them when they were teens. She volunteered to go to Africa during the ebola crisis a few years ago. She is a hero of mine, and there she appeared. I’ve always wanted to see her outside of the clinic where I usually see her, and suddenly I had my chance. I took my Hubby & kids back to our home, and went back to spend a couple of hours with her on a dock outside where she was staying, she was only there 2 nights, and was leaving the next morning. We observed the unbelievable night sky, above an amazing night ocean, and had great conversation that I was sad to have to end. Then we parted ways & said: see you back home. Life. Is. AMAZING!!!

Back home: We missed the polar vortex! But leaving our home for a month, especially in the middle of winter, does have concerns.

Last year we came home to a frozen drainfield. When we’re home we use wood to heat our home, but we do have an LP furnace for backup. My Hubby realized that the condensation that dripped from our furnace was the issue last year, it was such a slow drip that it had time to freeze. So this year we shut all the water off coming into the house, put a bucket under the furnace to catch the condensation there, and left our furnace at 65, higher than last year, to try to keep the house warm. My father-in-law came over a couple times/week to check on everything too, and to monitor our Lp level as we have our own tank & knew the furnace probably was running pretty much non-stop. It had been a pretty mellow winter up until mid-Jan, when temps plummeted below zero & then there was a “polar vortex”, the coldest temps WI had seen in at least 20 years, which is the age of my house. So yes, we were nervous, our house had not been through anything this drastic, and no humans were there to see it through. And indeed, we did need to call & get a tank refill a week before we got back, so I’m so thankful we had someone to monitor it.

What we came home to: all was well! My father-in-law had kindly shoveled a path up our driveway so we could get to our front door, there was 2′ of snow on the ground that wasn’t there when we left. We turned the water back on room by room, for little periods of time, to make sure all drains were working & nothing backed up. Everything worked, yay! That was a huge relief!

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The only thing that had happened was we fattened up some mice. Living out in the country, mice are constantly moving in, and my Hubby always has multiple traps out nightly, we catch a lot of them. Of course we couldn’t leave any set while we were gone, but we tried to make sure we had everything shut up tightly, I store all my bulk goods in glass anyway. We thought we had closed all cupboards tightly so nothing could get inside them but 1 cupboard apparently wasn’t tightly shut, it’s one we keep snacks in & I’m assuming one of us went for a last snack & it just didn’t get shut completely tight. We came home to bags of almonds & pistachio bags gnawed through, and found almonds scattered to all corners of the house. The mice we’ve caught since we have been back are very plump indeed. But, if that’s the worst of leaving our house for a month, I’m happy!

 

Okay, this is already SUPER lengthy. To wrap it up, here are my final thoughts…. Yes, it ended up being a lot of money to spend a month out of country. We had told ourselves that we would likely be satisfied with our time in country after this trip, and never return. There are so many places on this earth we want to explore, why go back to the same ones? As our plane was leaving the country, I could not control my tears. I looked over at my Hubby & expected some look of disbelief at how ridiculous I was at that moment, but instead got a head nod of understanding. He later admitted he felt the same as me, just no tears (you know, being a man & all). My kids never expressed missing home once, none of us wanted to leave. We do not know what 2020 will bring, but we all know we cannot fathom not coming back to this country.

And finally, for those that say how brave I am for traveling outside of the U.S with my kiddos, I’ll just leave you with this. Something I recently stumbled across in my newsfeed.

‘Beccie, Steve and their eleven children left behind life in rural Tasmania to take to the high seas on their 13-metre boat and now full-time home ‘Sumbawa’.
Three-day-old baby girl ‘Squeak’ is the first of the siblings to be born on the boat.
Here, they take a break from their travels, anchoring off Chinaman’s Beach in Sydney, Australia. February 2018.’

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I’d LOVE to know what questions, comments, concerns you have. What did I not address? What experiences do you have to share with us? Connect with me at: ecofriendlymamausa@gmail.com

Meet the proud new owner of Pure Play Kids!

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October was quite the month for me!  For those that missed the couple updates I did in my group pages, here’s the gist of it: I flew down to Nashville (from WI), on a Monday (getting in at 9:30pm instead of 1:30 due to a whole bunch of misfortunes), loaded up the 16′ Penske truck on Tuesday & got a few of the 12 hr drive outta the way. On Wed I drove the rest of the 900 miles & was home by 7pm. Thu we unloaded all the goods into my new office, moved by desk & other supplies from old office to new one (same building, just opposite side), drove the truck back to the drop-off spot an hour away, picked my van up at the airport & was finally home 

I’m so looking forward to updating the Pure Play Kids site which is currently down as I update the available inventory & tweak it to make it mine. I’ll let y’all know when the site is live, I hope I can count on your support by checking it out! Thanks to all who offered kind words of support before & during my journey, all of the thoughts, prayers & knowing y’all were thinking of me helped keep me safe, I have no doubt!

I wrote this while traveling, and wanted to make it an “official” blog post: A common theme I’ve heard when others learn of the journey I’m currently on is: Wow, you’re brave! Wow, you’re doing this by yourself? The elderly lady on the plane next to me: Where’s your Husband? Me: home with the kids. It took her awhile to process that…. In my life I have honestly never felt there was something I couldn’t do. Brave, naw. Independent, yes. I think it’s so, so important that we remind girls, and women, that we can do anything we put our minds to do. We don’t need someone to hold our hands. And as the Mama of 1 boy, and 1 girl, it’s also so important to remind our boys to be the support system us girls need sometimes!


I can attest to the fact that having the support of those close to us is also so very important. When I was having a super rough day yesterday (while traveling back from Nashville after a rough start), a timely message from my Dad telling me how proud of me he is, and how much he loves me meant so, so much. And my Hubby reminding me that being self-employed isn’t always a cake walk, but how proud of me he was that I was following my passion, and that I “got this”, meant so much.

Then, I officially became the owner of Pure Play Kids. I’m planning to slightly re-brand it to Pure Play Kids+, expanding it into more than *just* toys, and offering home & personal care goods as well. I truly am looking to make a one-stop shop for great quality, safe, made in the USA goods! It is an amazing feeling to be the owner of my very own small business dedicated to offering the finest made in USA items I can find. On my way back, I had an awesome dinner of BBQ ribs & brisket w/ fried okra at a place that has won 4 world championships for their BBQ meat. I made it to the IL border, and have 8 hrs left to go tomorrow. I will spend that time reminding myself how blessed I am to be doing what I love, following my passions, and having found y’all who share similar passions. There’s nothing we can’t do if we are determined to do it.

Here’s a ~6 min video I took of my new office space: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.brandt.3990/videos/10156753633319297/

 

Nashville, oh how I loved thee…..

I had a chance to go to Nashville for a weekend, here’s what I loved about it…. Mainly: I love how they honor their long, vibrant history, while making way for their new history. The absolute best way to see the city- a trolley tour. I ended up buying the 2 day pass, it was $34 for one day, $44 for 2 days. You can get on/off at any of the 15 stops & spend as much time as you’d like there. So long as you’re back by the last pick-up of the day around 5pm you’re good to go. I felt like the trolley took the place for any need for a taxi/uber to get around the city as well. I feel like this photo shows the juxtaposition I’m trying to get at: old meets new…. I like it though! They say ~100 people/day  move to the city! Between the need for housing for them, and the need for hotels for the millions of visitors each year, there is a lot of construction!

Below, the iconic Broadway Avenue, you see a crane on the horizon just about any which way you look.

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above, the war memorial

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New hotel or apartments going up directly across from Ryman

 

Below: coffee dripping all day in the lobby of our hotel. They guarantee to deliver to your room within 10 min of your request, and they did!

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Room service coffee below:

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The city is so full of random gorgeousness:

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Above sculptures are in a round-about in the city center. The same artist sculpted Athena at the Parthenon. This display was the center of many protests for many months. Our trolley tour guide said he say church groups here daily for a long time, covering certain parts up with sheets, making large diapers. Finally it died down.

Random fact: Nashville is a MAJOR bachelorette/bachelor party destination. They estimate that income is twice that of all sporting events combined in any given year! You’ll see a lot of this:

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And some of this….

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They need to pedal to keep the alternator in the thing going, trolley dude said they often stall out & annoy all around….

Below: the only 1:1 scale replica of THE Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Nashville is known as Music City, USA. But also as Athens of the South. Why? Their #1 industry is health care. #2: music. #3: education. They shadow the same values Athens, Greece held near & dear centuries ago. The Parthenon was built during their centennial celebration, which you can read about here:

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Larger than life!

 

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40 foot, gold-gilded statue of Athena?! Yes, why not?

 

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Casts of what is left of the original statues in Athens, Greece.

My Hubby: well, I guess you can cross Greece off your bucket list now…. Lol 🙂

Below, trying to take in some authentic cuisine. I had lobster bisque, crayfish tail risotto, and duck empanadas (not sure where those are authentic to, but they sounded good & were). These were off the appetizer menu, I couldn’t eat even 1/2 of it, they don’t skimp on their portions!

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Below is an iconic Nashville spot. It was pointed out to us from a few blocks away on our trolley tour. The next day we went to have breakfast at Biscuit Love, a must-eat destination we were told. Well, the line snaked out the door way too far for my liking so we went to a juice bar instead, I had a green smoothie. But a block away we found this spot, glad we stopped for a quick pic!

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The State Capitol building sits atop a gorgeous, green, rolling hill.

 

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50 bell towers representing the 50 states, with 95 bells inside, representing the 95 counties in TN. On the hour the bells ring out an iconic song, and then the bell outside the Governor’s window up the hill responds with 1 ding.

 

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Again, just love the ‘old meets new’ feel the city has.

 

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Contemplating life atop a rooftop bar, my 1st ever Moonshine drink. My pal Dana volunteered to go fetch us a drink. I told her what i wanted & she came back with this bucket! I almost finished it, not quite 🙂

All in all, I had a great weekend. I’m a huge fan of slow travel, and believe you can’t really experience much in a few short days, but really feel the trolley tour gave us a great overview of the city’s rich history, as well as the opportunity to do some quick exploring. Within days of returning I bought concert tickets for my Hubby & I to go see our favorite band there for 3 nights over Labor Day. So yes, you can say the city made an impression on me, and I will be back!!!!

 

 

 

 

You Better Belize It!

When asking my Son last night, what he missed about Belize, he said… Belize. Indeed, it has a special place in the heart of each member of my family & we are already planning our trip for next year.

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I’m sharing personal stories & even photos of my children & took quite a bit of time to type this all up! Why? Traveling is so, so important to me & I want to share the experiences that made me value it more than ever with you. In hopes maybe I’ll motivate 1 person to get out there & see a new chunk of the world. Raising my kids in rural Wisco, cultural diversity is not something we are strong in. Books can only teach us so much about other humans & cultures, it’s going to visit & making connections & friends with others is priceless & extremely important to me.  I share experiences that aren’t your everyday experience here in Wisco. I’m also happy to provide more specifics for anyone interested in traveling to Belize. I did about a year of research before we went. Little-by-little, reaching out in various groups for advice. While the following is quite lengthy, it is a small fraction of my actual experience. I cherry-picked my most meaningful tidbits. But really, truly, it’s all the details that did not make the cut for this post that are absolutely priceless too.

Pre-trip planning: I started researching Belize almost a full year before we went. I booked our lodging in May, our airfare in early Oct. I’m extremely grateful to not suffer from anxiety except for 1 area: going to the dentist (I have a long list of reasons why). I have always LOVED to travel, and get so, so excited about it. This trip was the 1st ever that I had a few semi-major bouts of anxiety in the day or 2 leading up to us leaving. It didn’t help that we had a completely random, but quite stressful event happen here in Wisco on our own property, a car plunging into the frozen river in our front yard (all ended well, the couple was okay, but we all were quite shook up over it). Then there were the headlines that caught my eye: family of 5 from the US dies in charter plane crash in Costa Rica. Tourist bus plunges off cliff in Mexico, several dead. And I suddenly, and for the 1st time ever, 2nd guessed myself. What the heck was I doing putting my 4 & 6 year olds on a plane to head to Central America?! Was I crazy to think this was a good idea? What if we all died there, my entire family? I really, truly had that feeling for the 1st time ever that I did not want to leave my house. A day before we were to leave for 2.5 weeks. But I got over it. A: I’d been planning this for most of an entire year. B: it was all paid for, no way I was going to forfeit our expenses & stay home out of fear. C: the realist in me shone through: accidents can happen leaving our driveway to go the store to get gallon of milk. We never know when it will be our last day, and I sure the heck want to see as much of this gorgeous planet as I can before my time is up. And I’m so thankful & grateful to be home safe & sound, typing this up from the comforts of my own bed, able to reflect on our amazing trip. The thought of NOT going due to fear makes me want to cry, that is no life to live.

We spent 7 nights on the mainland with a rental car & did quite a bit of exploring. Then we headed to Ambergris Caye for 5 nights, and ended with 4 nights on Caye Caulker.

My 1st Facebook update:

We made it to Belize safely! Super long day, up at 4:30am, left Milwaukee 7am, got off that plane & straight on to the next one in Dallas (40 min from time plane A touched down, and plane B took off, they need to lock plane B 10min before take-off, so we had 30 min, which was plenty of time!). 6 hrs of flight time total, long lines to get through immigration, loaded up into a rental car, an hour & half drive & finally to our home for the next week. Kids have already hit the pool & we just hit happy hour for a tropical drink next to the pool. It’s only 75 here, a bit chilly everyone says 🙂 We’ll take it! It was zero & snowing & so drab & dreary when we left Wisco. I LOVE the vibrancy of the culture & landscape here. The drive from the airport to San Ignacio is wonderful!

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Our trip got off to the most amazing start when we found these ruins just up the hill from where we were staying in San Ignacio. We had arrived near dark the night before, after a suuuuper long day of traveling (up at 4:30am is never fun), but there we were, in Belize by 4:30pm! So 1st order of business day 1 was to find a grocery store. While checking out the options in town, we saw a brown sign that said Archaeological site so thought okay, let’s go check it out. This literally is on the edge of town, and I’m not joking we had the entire place to ourselves for an hour & a half. It was $30 USD to get in, we got approached & asked if we’d like a guided tour for $40 USD & politely declined. Little did we know we’d have the entire place to ourselves & the ability to explore all structures at free will!

My kiddos exploring as they liked. Until my Son SWORE he saw a scorpion scuttle into a crack in the rocks. They both stuck a bit closer after that!

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They are still unearthing many of the sites after they were reclaimed by the jungle when the Mayans suddenly disappeared. What happened to them is still a mystery….

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Plaza A:

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Our 2nd full day in Belize, we drove 6 miles up the road to visit some more well-known ruins, just 1 mile from the Guatemalan border!

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This community was built over the course of TWO THOUSAND years. And is just now being re-discovered. Some areas were blocked off with tin & barbwire, we overheard someone saying that area was waiting for the next digging season to see what was underneath. One of the tallest (likely the 2nd tallest at this time) manmade structure in Belize!

You take a hand-cranked ferry that can hold up to 4 cars across a small river to get to these ruins. This is me driving the rental we had for a week onto the ferry. Everyone but the driver had to exit.  So there I was, telling my Husband & 2 kids to get out of the vehicle, I’d see them on the other side. I honestly was a bit nervous loading up onto it, but it went very smoothly & the man guiding me into place said I was an excellent driver. There are very few people doing self-guided tours as we did, but I feel we had so many more fun experiences than if we’d hired someone to take us everywhere as many tourists do.  I thought the rental price for a week was quite reasonable, $600 included full insurance coverage. We had read that gasoline was expensive, but it wasn’t until we topped off our 1st ½ empty take &  it cost $90 USD that I realized how serious they are. No more belly aching about it being $40-$50 to fill my vehicle in WI if it is on fumes, it would be $100 in Belize. But being a small country, we only went through about a tank& half of gas in a week, and I was happy with how much exploring we did.

Waiting for the ferry!

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 The amazing thing is they’re still finding more Mayan ruins all the time! I developed a sudden desire to be an archaeologist. I think it’s a bit too late for a new career, so I’m hoping 1 of my kids will take it up & I’ll tag along… We can hope, right?!  I didn’t know I had a fear of heights until I was 26. I climbed to the top of ChichenItza in Mexico,  I knew it was a climb, and it was fine going up. But once I got up, and realized how high up it was, and how steep it was going back down, my knees started shaking & my heart started pounding. I couldn’t enjoy the view I had worked so hard for because my body was telling me to get the heck down from there as quickly as possible. So here I was, 12 years & 2 children later, and it was time to put my fear of heights to the test again. It was so, so refreshing & amazing watching my kiddos climb without fear. We saw ZERO other children here. Yet there mine were at the top of the world! It makes me so proud, yet it’s hard not to worry that they’re going to trip & fall & tumble to their death, you know, the brain of a Mom. I’m confident in their climbing because they have been going on pretty serious hikes with us since before they could walk. They are sure-footed, and I’m there to say go slow, go slow, a million times over. But still, there were some ledges a little too narrow for my liking. But, we did it. And it was amazing. I may have sprouted a few new gray hairs on this one though!

Let’s do this Mom, we’re waiting!

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You can pay $100+USD per person, per excursion to go with a guide, or you can pay $10/adult to walk into these places yourself (kids were always ½ price).

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Looking from one end to the other, breathtaking: yesn

Having all of that under our belt within 48 hrs in country, I truly felt how special Belize was! We had so many more days, as so much more to do!

Day 3: St. Herman’s Cave! Below is a photo of the entrance to the cave. You hike through the jungle for 10 minutes or so, along a trail, but that was fun in & of itself. Then down into the cave, then in. The sun was out that day & it was HOT! The shade that the jungle canopy provides is priceless, it seriously prevents you from feeling like you’re withering. And the cave, with a stream running through it, cool & refreshing of course! The stream turns to a river eventually, and you can carry a tube in with a guide & tube the cave/river & even see Mayan sacrificial skeletons that are preserved there along the way, if you want to. Many do, it’s a popular tourist attractions. We were able to hike several hundred yards into this cave with no guide. Motto of this trip: conquering our fears. For me= fear of heights, fear of caves. For the kids, they know no fear, and it’s refreshing! I worked hard to not let my fears come to the surface, but every now & then they would notice I was a bit worried or skeptical, and we would all say: be brave, be brave.

St. Herman’s Cave

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We followed our cave/jungle hike with a dip in the Blue Hole up the road, your ticket to Herman’s gets you free entry to swim at the Hole. So cool & refreshing! Had an interesting chat with a couple of expats who had relocated from our neighboring states of MI& MN, as well as a family visiting from Panama. I just love the variety of people we met at each & every stop we made!

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The  Belize Zoo. We’d seen it highly recommended from various sources, so wanted to check it out!

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Above: Not the clearest pic, but I so love this one of my girl. The zoo prides itself on not having concrete walls to keep the animals in, they do their best to provide as natural a habitat as possible, which means lots of chicken wire & various fences. It was definitely a fun visit! I loved their hand painted signs all over the place, many of them comical, it’s always good to laugh. We felt slightly sad after reading the sign that said their jaguar was on loan to the Milwaukee zoo, we were in Belize to escape January in Wisco, and this poor animal had to spend its winter there!

Below is a pic of a Howler monkey at the zoo, we did see some outside of the zoo too, at a preserve which I discuss below, and up the road from there at a place we spent 1 night.

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Getting around in country—Belize is a tiny country, and that is part of the appeal for sure. It is quite easy to navigate. We’re not smart phone users, so my Hubby purchased a Belize map update for our GPS via Amazon. This absolutely came in handy! There are 3 main highways, one going the hour & a half west from Belize City to the Guatemalan border, and another going north & south. Once you get off those main, paved roads, you’ll find yourself on dirt, pothole-ridden roads which are rarely marked, nor are the landmarks you’re trying to find.

Seriously, you’d think there would be a sign for Big Rock Falls off the dirt road, but no. You just have to know where to turn. The map says it’s 10 miles, and you’ve driven an hour & feel you definitely should be there by now. You consider, or do, turn around because you think you must’ve passed it. But 2 miles the other way you finally see a local who says no lady, it’s back the other way, you were close. Turn by the sign to Gaia resort (just a random example), go 2 miles down that dirt road & when it forks at the tree, stay right. You don’t want to drive your car too far after that, look for somewhere to pull over & then walk. And yes, we did find many great spots eventually, and if they were easy to get to, we wouldn’t have had them to ourselves as much as we did! Over & over we surprised people that we were showing up without a guide. Being self-guided has many advantages such as not having to be on someone else’s clock. But at the same time, they are soooo knowledgeable & I loved the couple times we did have a walkabout an area with a local. I learned SO much.

One cool place we randomly stumbled across while out trying to find some waterfalls was a resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola (Blacaneoux), he owns 2 in Belize & they’re regarded as some of the best places the country has to offer in terms of lodging & food. We stopped for lunch not having a clue about any of this, but when I looked at the menu I noticed the difference: salads with organic arugula & veggies grown on the property there. The menu was amazing & the food was excellent. The place is located above the falls we hiked down, and they run the resort off hydroelectricity they produce themselves along the river!

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It was a slightly treacherous hike to get down to the waterfall, slippery granite rocks, a less than maintained trail with crumbling handrails, but my kids didn’t skip a beat. As with so many places, we discovered that getting there early in the day makes a big difference in how many people are there. Having kids who get up no later than 7am & are ready to GO helps with that. So we had this place to ourselves for an hour or so then people started showing up. Once again, ZERO kids, zero families. The looks my kids got were always priceless, the adults did take note of these adventurous 4 & 6 (almost 7) year olds. They made me very proud!

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RIO ON POOLS:

Looked a lot like Northern Wisco. Granite rocks/ledges & even pine trees among the palms!

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The day after the falls (and we visited more falls up the road from here), we had a special day at the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Bermuda Landing, ½ hr north of Belize City & the zoo. I don’t think this is something that is on the radar of most travelers, but it was a special place for us to visit because it was created with the help of a man from my home town here in Wisco, way back in the ‘60’s. It started as an effort between 10 or so landowners, to preserve the habitat of the Howler monkeys. From our Guide we learned they were not baboons, just had been dubbed so by the locals, baboons live in Africa. Presently, ~250 landowners are working together to preseve the territory. The local guy who helped start this sanctuary passed away in 2017, he was in his late 70’s & was a very respected wise elder from my small town, so it meant a lot to me to go visit this place that he went to many January’s of his life! We arrived & were told we had to have a Guide, no self-Guided tours.  We were told our Guide was eating breakfast & would be with us shortly.

A group of 2 families from Denmark arrived off of a cruise ship with a tour guide of their own for the few hours they had free from the ship, and they joined us on our walkabout. There were 3 kids in their group, a bit older than my kids, I’d say between 8-12, and they knew no English so it was fun to hear their Mamas translate what our Rastafarian Guide was saying about the flora & fauna of the area. My Son spotted some iguanas & pointed them out to our Guide, gaining him some major bonus points. Guide explained how it took 7 years for this one troop of monkeys to gain his trust to come down out of the trees (the women & children at least, the males no!) & eat from his hands & those of the people with him. We also learned monkeys don’t usually eat bananas, it’s a stereotype, bananas don’t grow in the depths of the jungle, they’re short & get choked out by the competition. But once turned onto them, they do fall in love! We were done with our walkabout & our Guide presented my Son with a piece of aloe he broke off from a plant in the visitor center ( a small thatched hut), for some ant bites my Son had received. Our Rasta Guide says, what’s your name Son. Orion he says. The look on the Guides face was priceless, I’ll never forget it: MY Son is Orion, he’s 1.5 years old. It was a very special connection. He took my hands into his & said: Bless you Mama, bless you. He told me how he had studied the nebulas & Orion was the farthest unobstructed view into the sky that we are able to see as humans. Something like that anyway. I told him how throughout my pregnancy it was ever-present, no matter where we went & whenever we looked up, Orion’s belt was there. He pulled me in & again: Bless you Mama. It was so powerful for me to connect with this Man in this way!

I could not get over how lush it is everywhere, coming from the frozen tundra back home, where nothing is green, this was exactly what I needed to see:

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From there, we traveled a few miles up the road to the Black Orchid Resort, turns out, this was a special place for us…. My kids made a friend. It was so, so sweet. She gingerly approached my kids with her blonde-haired Barbie dolls.  They shyly tried to ignore until they no longer could…. She is the granddaughter of the owner of the Black Orchid Resort. She came to join us on the boat we had permission to fish from, I asked her: is it okay with your Mommy and/or Daddy that you’re here with us? She said: this is my Daddy’s boat! Okay, okay then I thought. She stuck with us & shortly thereafter, my Hubby handed her a  pole with a fish on it! She caught a catfish!! She jumped for joy at catching this fish. She hugged me over & over, she was sooo excited, said it was her 1st fish ever!

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On the islands, we spent most of our time being beach-bums, and it was wonderful! My Son & Hubby fished from the piers on a daily basis, my daughter can sit & build sand castles for hours on end! The color of the water is unbelievable, impossible to accurately capture!

water

Below is a drone photo of the famous “Split” on Caye Caulker, a hurricane split the island in 1/2 in the early ’60’s!

Caye Caulker Belize Barrier Reef aerial

Below was one of our very favorite days at the beach. We were just lamenting the lack of kids, we saw very few as fellow travelers, and where were the locals? In school of course! Around 3pm the kiddos got out of school, and many local families joined us at the beach. It was so much fun!

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Building sandcastles, or burying an Ariel doll, is a universal language. One of these girls did not speak English, or Spanish, yet we didn’t need a common language to have fun!

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Nothing like laying on a beach & watch sailboats pass by, and knowing that it’s -10 back home in Wisco!

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FOOD: a few of our favorites: 

Garnaches! Photo taken from Google images. Small, round, hard shell corn tortillas topped with beans, shredded meat, a mound of cheese, pico de gallo (salsa), lots of cilantro. Yummmmmmm. These were so delicious, and as always when you eat as the locals do, these were one of the cheapest things on the menu, around $1.50 each. (photo below from Google images)

garnaches

Pupusas- our last night on Ambergris we were talking to a 70 year old man who had recently moved to Belize, from Iowa where my Dad & Step Mom live, so they did it off big time. He asked our dinner plans & we were going to eat up leftovers but he talked us into meeting him at his favorite local spot a few blocks away. He said the chicken soup was amazing & the rest of the food was great too. We got there & they informed us that on Sunday night they only offer Pupusa’s, a local specialty. They had just fired up the outdoor grill & were getting ready to make the 1st ones of the night. He assured us they were good & we should stick around & give them a try & I’m so, so glad we did! They’re basically like a Hot Pocket, but with corn flour dough. A native woman stood there & grabbed a ball of dough out of a huge bowl & patted out tortilla in her hands, then filled them with your choice of ingredients. My kids & I turned our chairs towards the grill & watched her make them,  and I made sure to remind them how cool it was that we could watch our food being made for us right in front of our eyes,  and I could tell it made her proud. We went for the mixed ones which had beans, pork & lots of cheese, I’m not sure what all else was in there, I just know they were so, so good. She patted on another tortilla dough ball to completely cover all ingredients then cooked it on the grill. After a while the cheese started to ooze out & the smell made us all hungry. Each plate had 2 of them on it & that was  the perfect amount, I was pleasantly stuffed. They offer it with a fermented cabbage kinda’ thing & some sort of red sauce, it wasn’t spicy, wasn’t Ketchupy, kinda blah really but that’s what all the locals put on it so we did too.

We were some of the 1st people there for dinner that evening,  but as time went on, the place filled up, and we realized we were the only non-locals there. I can say, this meal meant a lot to me. It’s hard to get a truly authentic experience while traveling, and I felt this was one. When we were ready to leave I wanted to thank the cook who made our meal & as I got close to her she dropped the Pupusa she was making from her hands & came over & pulled me in close for a tight hug & kissed my on each cheek. THESE are the priceless experiences that make traveling so, so important: connecting with other humans who we feel we likely have very little in common with. You realize that we have more in common than not. We’re both women. Mothers (likely, assuming she was, don’t know that for sure but good chance). We want to feed our family & friends good food. We want to have safe drinking water. We connected briefly over this meal, and it made my heart skip a beat. The bill for our meal was $40 USD, for 6 adults & 2 kids, with 2 rounds of beer & ice cream for the kids! So many meals in life are forgettable, and then there are those that are not. I will never forget my Pupusa experience. And I will be trying to make them myself soon!

I did not take photos there, but these taken from Google images look exactly like what I would’ve taken myself. Below, a Pupusa grill:

grill.

Complete with the relish & mystery red sauce:

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Food shopping– I enjoyed shopping via different stops, I’ve found I appreciate it more when I work harder for it. It’s so easy to get used to the convenience of 1-stop shopping, places like Cosco have everything we need!  And I was shocked while staying on Isla Mujeres in Mexico last year that they had a super, super store to rival a Cosco, that surprised me, and yes, it was convenient.  You won’t find those in Belize. Even the largest Supermarkets we found were pretty tiny, housing the very basics. But I came to appreciate making several stops to get what I needed for the day. I walked 3-5 blocks from where we were staying on Ambergris to get 1-2 days worth of supplies, taking 2 empty backpacks with me. In just 2 blocks worth of vendors, I was able to stop at the meat shop for some ground burger or chicken breasts, and was surprised that they were very reasonably prices. Then to the bakery owned by French expats, where I picked up a loaf of bread, some buns one day, sweet treats another day, it was all soooo good. Then on the corner was the produce guy, with a huge selection of fruits & veggies. THEN my last stop was the “supermarket” to get our other meal items. They manage to have a little of everything, and thankfully my kids aren’t too picky, I turn to staples such as spaghetti, tacos, I did an excellent chicken alfredo one night. Comfort food basically, but different than back home based on what I was able to find. On the island #2, Caye Caulker, I asked for tortillas at the corner store. No, the Chinese storeowner answered. You get tortillas 2 blocks down, just past the school, you’ll see a small tortilla sign. And sure enough, I saw the tortilla sign, saw some ladies sitting outside, selling random items at a pop-up tent: I hear you’re the ladies to get tortillas from? Yes, flour or corn? Both. Come back in 20 minutes, we’ll have them. And sure enough, come back 20 min later & they are fresh & hot, they lasted us our 4 nights there: tacos, breakfast burritos, leftover chicken strips made into wraps. You name it, we wrap it! What you appreciate about shopping this way: I talked to a whole lot more people than I would’ve if I was at a huge shopping center, likely the cashier wouldn’t have even made small talk there. I think human connections are very valuable, and gained an even stronger sense of that. And I felt more appreciative of the food after schlepping it back to our home by pack pack. The harder you work for something, the more you appreciate it! I was very adamant about no waste too, even more-so than I am here at home, any leftovers got saved & re-purposed in a future meal.

We ate out every 3-5 days, and made it special!

Below is view while eating lobster ceviche & sipping a precious glass of wine. Wine is VERY expensive in Belize, they only make a cashew wine in country (I did not try it, should have, will next time). You can buy a huge bottle of Belizian Rum for $12, same size bottle of wine is $35.

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ceviche

THE UNEXPECTED:

AN EARTHQUAKE!!!! We were just a few miles north of Belize City, less than ½ mile inland from the coast when this stuck. My Hubby: that was a train. Me: we’ve been here 6 nights, when have you heard or seen a train? Not at all. It was an earthquake!!!

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In all the situations I ran through my mind of possible threats to my family while traveling, this one never crossed my mind & now I realize that it should have! Mainland Belize feels tremors from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico quite a bit. What was unique about this quake was it was offshore between Belize & Jamaica & it triggered tsunami warnings for the islands of Ambergris & Caye Caulker. This was the night before we went to Ambergris, and that was one of my 1st thoughts after the quake rattled our room: what if we’re on an island & don’t have anywhere to go?  What do we do? Is there a warning system? Suddenly, on our last night on the mainland, after my kids were in bed (the tremors were felt around 9pm), just before we headed to spend 9 nights on islands, I had a whole new topic to research, one I’d never considered! I talked to our night watchman & he assured me there was nothing to worry about this night, but he admitted he’d be worried if he were on an island at that moment. I have since learned this general rule of thumb: during an earthquake, get the heck out of the building. After the earthquake, get up as high as you can if there is a tsunami threat.

And sure enough, when we got to Ambergris the next day, it was the talk of the island. Just about everyone had a story about the tsunami alert. Everyone was tsunami “hungover”, tired, yawning, it had been a long night for everyone there. Many locals contended that the coral reef barrier would break up any huge waves into smaller ones, and something like what happened in Indonesia was not possible in Belize. Thankfully, after 2 rounds of tremors, no more were felt,  all tsunami warnings were canceled pretty quickly, and NO injuries were reported to my knowledge! But oh my goodness, I definitely had a lot of new thoughts racing through my mind: were these just small pre-tremors, was “the big one” about to strike? We never, ever know & eventually we just move on & quit thinking about it. But this Wisco girl definitely had a wakeup call & reminder of who is in charge, and it ain’t this Mama, it’s Mama Earth. In hindsight, being there were no injuries or damage, it was an exciting footnote to our vacation! And it’s something I hope to never experience again! https://www.breakingbelizenews.com/2018/01/09/7-8-magnitude-earthquake-shakes-honduras-felt-in-belize/

Scalping my toe. Yes, this is graphic, but let it be a warning to you if you travel, or if you don’t: door stops are dangerous! I had been up less than 5 minutes on Sunday morning, a week+ since we’d been in country, I opened the glass door to our balcony to greet the new day. And bang, did not see that doorstop there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lesson: bring waterproof band-aids/tape!

Near drowning: Woah, for those that remember the incident where those people went into the icy river by our house right before we came to Belize, just before we headed out on this trip. As if my Hubby didn’t have enough water karma, he saved a ~60 year old woman from drowning (possibly, hard to say someone else wouldn’t have saved her). Hubby & Son went fishing here on Caye Caulker around 7am (kiddo cannot sleep in past then, feels he’s missing something). By 8am they were back, both wide-eyed with a story to tell. The woman was getting pulled out by the current towards where they were fishing. She had greased up with sunscreen so was very slippery & not able to cling to the pilings she was occasionally coming across. She managed to make her way over to the wall they were fishing along, right along the split here on Caye Caulker. She was yelling for help. She made it to the wall, and he was able to reach his arms down & barely reach her. Her: I’m all covered in sunscreen, you can’t possibly pull me up… While she did get all scraped up from being drug up along the concrete wall, he pulled her to safety. She was very shaken up….

Weather: Variable, cloudy was slightly chilled. You definitely don’t want to go in the wet season, which is ~March-August, but the dry season is, well, dry! All the dirt roads kick up dust. When we rented golf carts on the islands, we ate dust.  And we did notice the effect on our respiratory systems, blowing our noses every morning, slight dry coughs, nothing serious though. The one day it did rain, our last day which was kinda’ a bummer, those dry clay roads turned super slick, like ice almost, so either way, the roads are treacherous, walking or driving! Highs were in the 70’s-80’s most days, but it was cloudy most of the time, which we appreciated! When the sun did come out full forced, it was SUPER intense, made you feel like you were withering up! Compared to what we were dealing with back home, we knew it was paradise! But I will be bringing some medium/heavy weight long-sleeves next time!

weather back home in Wisco:

weather

 

CHALLENGES

Bedsharing- This is a challenge anytime we travel. At home I share a king size bed with my 2 kids, Hubby has his own king. Kids have dubbed our bed “paradise”, and we all know how kids are about routine. So stepping outside of our bedtime sleep routine is always a challenge. I wasn’t willing to do it when they were still napping, but now that we’re post-naps (we did have 2 out of 16 days traveling),  we make it work. I rearrange the room wherever we sleep, 90% of the time. When there is a choice of bed/rooms, I look for the one that largest bed and/or the one that is pushed up against a wall. If it doesn’t exist, I’ll rearrange myself to make it happen, which is possible most of the time. Then I’ll move some furniture to block off the other side, end tables, etc make excellent barricades from kiddos falling out of bed, I know in the coming years they’ll be transitioning to their own beds/rooms, then we’ll need even larger homes to keep us comfy. I’m okay with us just needing 2 decent beds at this time, it works for us! Especially in a foreign land, they depend on the fact that they can wake up & Mama is right there. If not, I’m in earshot should they awake. Myself, I woke up several times & had that: where am I feeling? I remembered I was in Belize & fell asleep with a smile on my face. NOW, since I’ve been home for a week I can say: every, single night, I have woken up wondering which bed I am in… I know this will fade soon.

CAR SEATS: My kids are 4.5 & almost 7. I decided on the Bubble Bum travel seats— and honestly, I’m not a fan. They just do not seem that secure. And both my kids complained just about daily of their butts being sore from the car seats. We did do quite a bit of sightseeing, but they were never in their car seats more than 2 hrs tops before getting out & doing some hiking or some sort of activity. The top shoulder belts definitely moved around.  While I as the driver was as careful as I possibly could be, it’s the other drivers we need to worry about. And indeed, we had someone pass us, meet oncoming traffic, have to take the ditch, meet oncoming bicyclists. I will be bringing more proper car seats for my kiddos next year, for sure!

FOOD: While I may gripe about the prices of organic food back here in Wisco, I was paying more, for less, in Belize. It pretty much was survival mode, organic was a secondary factor. Several times while out exploring in our rental car with our windows down, we’d get a whiff of that unique RoundUp smell, if you’ve smelled it once even, you won’t forget it, it is nasty! Most of the brush clearing we witnessed was being done the old-fashioned way, with a machete, some were using RoundUp…. So for us organic food loving folks, this is a challenge we face while traveling for sure. I did see an occasional USDA certified organic product, but they were very few & far between.

WATER! We appreciate our well water more than ever when we travel away from it. I LOATHE buying water, and am able to avoid having to go that route most of the time. But in Belize, just like in most countries, you do not drink what comes out of the tap. In Belize, most tap water has been chemically treated with chlorine, so it’s relatively safe to brush & shower with,  but all drinking water & rinsing of all veggies, etc  is with with bottled water. Every place we’ve stayed at least has 1 full 5 gal jug to get you started. Some places will keep you stocked for free, others make you pay for whatever you need after that 1st jug. It was $2.50 USD for a 5gal jug. And being used to our mineral-rich well water, bottled water is so sterile tasting & I’m just not a fan of it. But we have no problem getting by on it. It definitely makes rinsing sandy lettuce & cilantro more of a chore when you can’t just run your tap water over it. But it truly makes you realize how much water you’re using & conserve its use as much as possible.

To further the not taking water for granted topic, we got home & discovered our grey water drainage field leaving the house had frozen up while we were gone. We still had running water, and could still flush our toilets as this was on a different system, but could not take a bath, do dishes or laundry without it baking up into our utility room. It took my Hubby a day to get it thawed out, just a minor inconvenience, but again, put things into perspective for us!

Random tidbits:

Tooth fairy—My Son lost a tooth in Belize! It was so fun. It had been loose for quite some time & we had discussed the scenario several times: Mom, what if I lose my tooth in Belize? Will the tooth fairy find me? What would she bring? Would we hold onto the tooth until we got home for our tooth fairy? Finally, after days of dangling, it came out. Kinda’ crazy story that it happened while he was sleeping. I got up to go pee in the wee hours of the morning & he sat up & said: Mom, my tooth is out, it was in my cheek. He was able to spit it out! We briefly discussed what to do & since it was close to morning I suggested we just hold onto it until the next night, so we could write her a note & present the tooth properly. That gave me a chance to write him a note the next day, in Spanish, stating the following: Of course I will find you wherever you may be when you lose a tooth. Here are a few dollars for you to buy yourself something. Love, the Tooth Fairy. She left ~ $5 Belize/$2.50 US in mostly coins under his pillow. It was sooooo cute to see/feel him wake up in the middle of the night & feel under his pillow! Of course he was up extra bright & early that morning (6:30-7 is his normal hour, it was 6am that day) to see what happened.

Violence in Belize—I got the question many times: is it safe in Belize? My response: Is it safe in Chicago? It all depends on the part of the country you’re in! Petty theft is your greatest concern. If you leave something outside overnight, there’s a good chance it will be gone in the morning. Most of the crime takes place in Belize City, at night, among the locals. All sources of info advise you to make sure you don’t find yourself in Belize City after dark, just as I wouldn’t want to be in certain parts of Chicago after dark. You fly in there, then you get the heck out. The fishing boat captain my Hubby went out with told him his brother had his throat slit by a woman he owed drug money to, and it was a small amount of money. There is definitely a huge drinking culture, and that’s where most of the trouble comes from: bar time, you invite your new friend to your place for a night cap, you pass out eventually, you wake up the next day missing your purse.

One plus to having young kids is we’re generally in bed by 9pm, and that keeps us out of a lot of trouble. Still yes, random acts of violence do occur in Belize, but as we all know they can occur anywhere! There was only 1 time both my Hubby & I felt uncomfortable with the locals. The place we stayed on the mainland for a week (San Ignacio) had a river running through it, just a few blocks from where we were staying. My Hubby & Son were so eager to do some fishing, Hubby hauled a bunch of gear down & wanted to put it to use. We saw locals frequenting the river banks on a daily basis, and one day decided we should stop & let the kids splash a bit & maybe do some fishing.  We had to cross the 1 lane bridge over the river to get to the place we were staying. As we were approaching the bridge& thinking of pulling in, we saw a group of 4 men, appeared to all be 20something’s, and we seemed to lock eyes, and they did not seem friendly, Hubby & I got the same vibe. Hubby said: go to the other side, let’s not go near those guys. So we went to the other side & chose the outer edge, giving the other locals that were there room. We got out & the kids were exploring the river banks, ready to start digging in the sand & building a castle at the very least. When suddenly we noticed those guys pulling in over by us. Immediately my Hubby said: kids, get in the car. I reiterated, YES, get in the car now, don’t even buckle up, just get in. And they knew it was serious. The dudes got out of their car as we were getting into ours, I locked the doors & immediately started driving away. They walked into the tall vegetation of the outskirts of the river.

It lead to an important conversation with our children, one I’ve tried to avoid, but is necessary eventually: not all humans are good, most are, but not all. And that we trust our gut & our heart. Both Mommy & Daddy’s gut said the same thing: get outta here NOW, we don’t 2nd guess that. Other than that, there was not 1 second that I felt uneasy in the presence of those around me. The people of Belize are so, so, so genuinely kind from the bottom of their heart, it restores your faith in humanity.

Mantra of life in Belize: Be brave. Go Slow. Relax. Enjoy your day. Life is good. And it felt so, so good to do just that, take it slow. I don’t wear a watch nor keep a phone on me, and clocks were rare to see. Time was loosely based on where the sun was in the sky, we didn’t have to be anywhere at any time, and it was exactly what I was looking for.  This sign hangs on the fence of the house we spent our 4 nights on Caye Caulker at.

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Conclusion: We fell head over heels in love with the country, the people, the culture, all of it. I could go on & on, but this is already quite lengthy so I’ll leave it with these tidbits. We cannot wait to go back & hopefully spend twice as long. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures! And I hope you’ll share yours with me!

Below is our GPS tracker showing us where we went in country. We hope to go back next winter & do the north/south corridor, and spend even more time on Caye Caulker!

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Heading back into Dallas, so gorgeous!

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You better Belize it… We will be back!

Adventures in traveling south of the border with my family, viva Mexico!

I’m fresh back from almost 2 weeks in Mexico! Some of you travel a lot, so this is no big deal. My Hubby & I traveled quite a bit before having children, and I’ve really, really missed it. I flew with my Son a few times while he was under 2 still, to visit family here in the US, but have not flown since. My daughter who is 3.5 has never been on a plane. So I was more than ready, but quite nervous. There are so many things that could go wrong. All the what if’s kept rattling around in my brain. Traveling from WI in January is always a risk. But, I decided to trust the Universe that everything would work out, and it DID. It went better than I ever could’ve imagined, and I’m so, so glad we went!

My main goal was to get somewhere warm to make ½ of January disappear quickly. It’s a long, cold, boring month here in WI. I was tempted to go to FL as there are plenty of nice beaches & warmth to be had. But I really wanted to get us out of our comfort zone a bit more. I wanted to expand my kiddos world view beyond the horizons of rural WI. We have very little diversity here in terms of different skin colors, languages, etc. and therefore I need to make efforts to expose them to the larger world around us. Some of you know, but many aren’t aware of my background: my degree is in Spanish Education. As I said I enjoy traveling & I really loved learning Spanish in college and knew I would have a chance to study abroad if I majored in it. I was fortunate to be able to spend 10 weeks in Costa Rica living in an apartment & studying advanced Spanish 4 hrs/day as part of my degree. I finished 6m of student teaching in 2 local schools, received my degree to teach K-12 Spanish in public schools, and then immediately learned I was pregnant with my Son. I still planned to get into the workforce, and applied for many jobs, but didn’t land any that coming school year. My Son was born in March & I still thought I’d get into teaching that next Fall. But, once I had my Son I realized I did not want to leave him. I had always felt that if I had kids, I wanted to be the one to stay home & raise them, not have someone else do it while I worked. So I stayed home, turned down several jobs that they were calling & begging me to fill. My Son is about to turn 6 years now & I have not used my degree in a public school setting at least (have done some tutoring), and I do not intend to.

Living in rural WI, I have very little opportunity to use my Spanish, and as they say if you don’t use it you lose it. So I really wanted to throw myself into situations where I could use it. I knew traveling to FL would not give me those opportunities. I’m happy to report it came back quickly & I received compliments over & over on my ability to speak which made me very happy. My kids loved hearing me speak & my daughter soon started speaking gibberish & saying: Mom, that was Spanish. Now that they’ve had the tiny bit of exposure I plan to keep with it. I had been regretting not teaching them from day 1, something I had intended to do but completely failed at. My Mom was born in Germany & although she has lived in the US for 40 years now, is still a fluent speaker. She never taught us a word in German & I told myself I would be different, but I had failed. Those of you who speak other languages, please pass it on, it’s a great gift!

I know a lot of people dis Cancun as being way too touristy, but there is a reason people from all over the world flock there. The beaches are AMAZING. The water is gorgeous. It is not far from anywhere in the US: it only took a little over 4 hrs in the air from Milwaukee, WI (on 2 different flights). And there are many very culturally significant Mayan ruins in the area. Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the world, and for very good reason.  There are palm trees, coral, shells, iguanas, it’s another world compared to WI, and that’s what I wanted. I was there ~10 years ago with my Mom & Sis. I was in my 3rd semester of college at the time & it helped cement my love for the Latin world & propelled me to decide on my Spanish major. On this trip, I waited too long to book our day trip to Tulum, and it was all full so we didn’t visit any ruins this time. I know we’ll be back, and that the kids will appreciate them more in a couple years, although I know they would’ve left quite the impression on them, they are remarkable!

We were definitely the minority being from the US. We met a LOT of Canadians, they really like to travel! And they’re very friendly. We were having lunch at a small luncheria one day & the place was pretty full but we had 2 empty chairs at our table. A middle-aged Canadian couple approached & asked if we minded if they sat down for a cup of tea with us. Of course we couldn’t say no & we chatted over lunch. One thing I found out about traveling with kids is we had a lot of empathy from others. I heard over & over: ahhhh, I remember when our kids were that age, now they’re grown, cherish this time, etc….. We had many helping hands along the way, many kind & understanding gestures, it was refreshing. And one of the things that warmed my heart the most was my kids made friends with non-English speakers. At the 1st place we stayed at for 4 nights, my Son befriended a Czech boy. His Dad worked for a major bank so traveled all over the world, but they chose Cancun for vacation. The Dad spoke some English, but the boy & his younger brother spoke very, very little. Yet the kids played for hours each day.  They swam together, built sand castles together, laughed, and I thought they were both going to cry when they gave their goodbye hug the day we left. Yet very few words were spoken. And to me there is something so powerful in that. Same with a Japanese girl they met on the beach. She was there with her parents, I saw her eyeing up my kids who were digging in the sand & building castles. I held out an extra shovel they weren’t using & she shyly accepted it & came & started digging with us. An hour went by and we built a super great creation together & again, very few words exchanged.

As we all know: there is no place like home. And traveling out of country or to less developed areas of our country even, definitely gives a greater appreciation for what we have. My family lives quite simply & modestly. We have a 1400 sq. ft home, only buy things we can pay for, etc. Going to a place in which many people live in extreme poverty, in which you cannot drink the water or even brush your teeth with it gives me such extreme gratitude for my safe well water. Except for the super fancy resorts, you generally never flush your toilet paper in Mexico. There are garbage cans next to the toilets & you’re supposed to put your paper there, their septic systems cannot handle it. My kids easily adapted to this, but again, it gave me a great appreciation for flushing paper again. There are vast, significant differences between the lives of us here and there, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, we have more in common than not!

On packing: I felt I did a really good job. We have 1 huge suitcase that is at the max specs for not being charged for oversize, and it weighed in right at 50# so we didn’t have to pay more than $25 to check it. I felt I was packing really lightly for each of us, and I was, but X4 it adds up quickly. But still, we had plenty of clothes & not any that we didn’t need. My daughter brought 1 doll, my Son 2 of his transformers & his stuffed rooster that he takes everywhere, but other than that we had 1 small backpack with art supplies, maze & other activity books. One small backpack with snacks & water, my purse, my Hubby’s manpurse with his tablet, and that was it! The 1st aid essentials I chose to bring were: Josiah’s Oils Germ Fight Blend which I applied to all of us several times/day, Bach’s Rescue Remedy, Nux Vomica (not sure the brand, I get it at my co-op, but I SWEAR by this for upset bellies), Poofy’s Everything Salve & After Sun Spray, Traditional Medicinals Elderberry/Echinacea tea, and that’s it really. I used everything I brought.  We all stayed remarkably healthy the entire time. In the beginning my Hubby had a bit of a belly ache, nothing major just was feeling bloated & not so great. Me: here, take some of these nux vomica tabs, they’re amazing. Him: no, no, I’m fine (as he rolls around in bed trying to sleep). Finally I hear him take a couple of them & drift into sleep shortly afterwards. The next morning: wow, shortly after I took those I felt much better…. Classic! So the entire time we were in Mexico that was really the worst of any belly aches any of us had, we truly stayed healthy. On the way home we flew from Cancun to Denver, and although we had a 2 hr layover which I thought would give us plenty of time to get through customs, etc, we barely made our connecting flight. We had all of 10 min before our next flight was leaving by the time we got to the gate, and the kids were starving. The only food in sight was McDonald’s right next to the gate. My kids have never, ever eaten McDonald’s in their life, they don’t know what it is. But we went for it, the next flight was 2 hrs long & didn’t get to our destination until 9pm, and we were out of snacks. We got a chicken nuggets meal & a cheeseburger meal for them, cheeseburgers for Hubby & I & ran on the plane, sat down exhausted & chowed down. I’m not joking that within ½ hr of eating that crap food, we all had our 1st upset stomachs of the entire 12 days we’d been traveling. My Son suddenly said: Mom, I have to go to the bathroom reallllly bad, and there was someone in both of them on the plane, and I truly thought he was going to soil his pants. All of us were running to the bathrooms. I’m sharing this because I think it provides great insight as to why so many Americans are so sick, it’s the food, I will never eat there again, nor will my kids as long as I have a say.

My thoughts on all-inclusive vs not:

All inclusive (El Cid for 4 nights)- The things I liked about it: it was at the end of a dead end road about ½ hr south of Cancun. It was very quiet, there was no street noise, no barking dogs. A bit of hooting & hollering here & there but mainly all I heard every night was the sound of the wind through the palms & the waves crashing! I liked that there was a huge, very nice pool with a small water slide & a bigger one for older kids including a cliff jumping area, my kids were still too young for those activities.  At their age the ocean is a bit much for them, and being winter in Cancun means a lot of wind, so the ocean was not calm at all. I liked that I didn’t have to cook a single thing for 4 days! There were 4 restaurants as well as a huge buffet that was constantly changing. What I disliked: We over ate. I saw sooooo much wasted food & I’m very sensitive to that, I absolutely hate it. But we’d go to breakfast, then a few hours later it was like: let’s go see what’s for lunch. Even though we weren’t really hungry we’d try a dab of this & that & have a plate full before long. And I just saw so much wasted food. My hope is that they do something with some of the waste…  And it was quite expensive, but considering we didn’t have to spend any money the entire time we were there other than a tip here & there, it didn’t seem so bad in the end.

View from the balcony of our all-inclusive:

balcony

Non-all-inclusive: We spent 7 nights at a quaint, very traditionally decorated, lovely villa on Isla Mujeres, just north of Cancun. It was 1/3 of the price/night of the all-inclusive, but suddenly I was responsible for all meals again which I hadn’t really missed. My Dad & Step Mom joined us for an overlapping 5 nights, and had their own room near us which was nice. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is always an interesting experience. Our 1st day there we went out for lunch then I asked where the supermercado  was & got pointed in the right direction. We found a corner convenience store & I was a bit worried that was the place. Nope, there was still somewhere bigger a few blocks down, phew. I got the basics there: coffee, fruit & some veggies, 1st night’s dinner & next morning’s breakfast. Then the next day someone pointed me to the SUPERmercado. I took a taxi without the family & spent a good hour+ cruising the aisles for our week worth of groceries. There were familiar names like Johnsonville, Sargento, many organic offerings, and even canned cranberries from WI! The island is only 5 miles long by ½ mile wide, so very small. The natives all use mopeds or bikes to get around, the tourists rent golf carts or take taxis which there are tonnnns of. There is a constant whir of golf carts, long into the night, and this actually was a downfall in my opinion. Back home we live on a very quiet back road that gets hardly any traffic, so the street noise really bothered me while in our room, especially at night, that and barking dogs.  The place we stayed at was a marina as well, and it was fascinating to hear the stories of those docked there. We met people from all over the world. My kids befriended a 7 year old Australian boy who had the most amazing accent, I wanted to listen to him talk all day long! He lived in Australia until he was 5, and they’ve been docked there on Isla Mujeres living on the boat for 2 years now! The kids played so well together and again, I thought they were going to cry when saying goodbye, he asked if we could please stay longer. Other than being too noisy for me,  it was a nice home base for the week, and our days were mainly spent at the gorgeous beaches on the north side of the island, building castles, collecting shells, relaxing.

The beach we spent a lot of time on in Isla Mujeres:

playa

Shopping in Mexico: I’m not a shopper. I prefer online shopping vs malls, get most of our clothing handed down or via garage sales/thrift stores. Shopping in Mexico is overwhelming. At 1st, haggling for deals can be fun, seem rewarding & be a bit of a thrill. But for me, it quickly got very old. Example: I pick up a gorgeous dress for my daughter at the 1st stop, ask how much it is & am told $35. Ok, see ya I say. Wait, Wait, how much you want to pay? I never pay more than $20 for any kids clothes I say, which is true, they outgrow them so fast, and I am used to hand-me-downs as I said. Him: how about $21, a small tip for me on top of your $20. Me: pulling out $14 worth of pesos, this is all I have. Him: Ok, deal. Seriously, you wanted $35 but will take $14 (the dress is SUPER cute by the way, so I was happy). But this gets repeated over & over, for every item, and I got super burnt out on it quickly. Speaking Spanish gets you even better deals for sure, and I loved the practice & compliments I received on my speaking skills. I watched people paying full price for t-shirts, $35 or so, when they likely could’ve gotten it for $10. I didn’t do much shopping, but did get 2 adorable dresses for my daughter, a couple of shirts for my Son, 2 dresses & a couple pairs of cute & comfy pants for me, some vanilla, a sea shell wind chime, a couple magnets & that’s it! My Hubby & Dad went fishing & their catches were made into fresh ceviche as well as grilled up for us for that nights dinner which we ate under the stars, it was a real treat!

Many of you have asked about my experience “unplugging”. It was easy for me! I do not own a smart phone as 99% of you likely do. I do most of my work from my lap top or our home PC. So when I’m out of the house, I’m truly away from technology. We did not activate international functions for our phones, so turned them off in Atlanta & didn’t turn them back on until we got to Denver 12 days later. I didn’t bring my laptop on vacation but my Hubby did bring his tablet as it’s our camera/video camera as well, and he installed a couple super basic kids games on it as well which kept them entertained on the planes when needed. So it came in handy, and we did have internet at the 2nd place we stayed so I did update my personal Fb page a couple times to let friends & family know we were safe & having a great time. But other than that, with all my groups shut down, I spent no time browsing Facebook, and didn’t miss reading daily news updates, etc. It truly felt good to just focus on my family, how we were going to spend our day, and not think about the rest of the world for a bit. I lost an entire week of productivity between Christmas & New Year due to a terrible toothache. I had a lot of projects planned & got very little done… I urge everyone to try to unplug a little more. Give it a shot! I know many people who have a tough time balancing their online time with the rest of their life. I know people who suddenly feel the need to pull the plug completely, deleting their Fb account entirely. Then a month or 2 or 6 later they’ll pop back up. I really do like & value Facebook & with all things in life: balance is key. Ying & Yang. Speaking of Facebook, here’s a fabulous page that has many great posts & inspiring messages, it’s one of my favorites: https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution/

We squeaked home between some wicked ice storms that hit the Midwest. My Dad, who had joined us for a week down there, got stuck in Chicago for an extra day & a half, but luckily his Sis who lives there was able to come & get him & he had a great, extended vacation. Had we gotten stuck in Denver with the kids, it would’ve put a sour note on the end of the trip. But everything, seriously everything, went as it needed to go to make it a happy, successful trip & I know my kiddos will be thinking & talking about it for a long time to come. It gives me the motivation to work hard and continue to live modestly so I can save the money needed to fund an annual adventure. I don’t know that we’ll go back to the spots we visited this time, as I like exploring new spots, but I do know we’ll be heading south of the border again for sure!

So, that’s my vacation in a nut-shell, I enjoyed writing about it, I hope you enjoyed reading about it! It was not cheap, but it was priceless family time that I would not trade for anything in the world ♥

A glimpse at life in the Drifless Region of SW Wisconsin

I’ve heard from many of you who would like to pick up & move somewhere where there are more like-minded people who care about things like organic food, and living a little more simply, away from the hustle & bustle of major metropolitan life. I LOVE this short video put together by Organic Valley, headquartered here in SW Wisconsin. It gives a glimpse into why I’m so thrilled to call this place home… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TntyVqSFQUI