Sunday, April 15, 2012

Good bye Luna

I've made a decision.  Although I have fallen in love with Luna in the past six months, I will not be able to take her with me when I leave Belize.  My apartment in DC will only allow for one pet.  I had hoped that I could get my parents or my sister to foster Luna for a year while I am in training, but that is just not feasible.  My parents are moving to Prescott and Katie is planning a wedding.  So, this past week I sent out a notice at the Embassy to see if anyone was interested in adopting her.  One of the locally employed staff in procurement has agreed to adopt her.  I am not exactly sure when she will move with them, but it should be in the next two weeks before I go back to the states for a fraternity reunion.

I'll miss you Luna.
The day I found Luna - bloodied after she was hit by the van

Creepy eyes and a camo cast

Whenever she sleeps, she tucks herself into the smallest balls

Luna exploring the Mayan ruins

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vamos a la Playa (del Carmen)

I have absolutely fantastic friends in Belmopan.  Kevin and Beth, Margarita and Emile, Nigel and Jackie, Bryan and Janet - the list goes on and on.  But the truth of the matter is that ever since Sam and Sharanya left last summer, I haven't really had any single friends.  In all honesty, I had even resigned myself to this fact - with such a short time left, it didn't seem likely I would put in the effort to make new friends.

So, it came as something of a surprise when I went to Playa del Carmen with a group of single friends - none of whom I knew in 2011.  I had forgotten how much fun it is to go out and eat in new restaurants, drink in real bars, and even go to packed clubs (which is not usually my thing).

We left Belize on Thursday night and drove to Chetumal.  We got in time to get some dinner and watch a movie (Hunger Games - I enjoyed it) before going to bed.  For some reason, the hotel we stayed at parked cars inside the lobby.  We got to Playa on Friday afternoon and after some tacos for lunch hit the beach.  The beach is a beautiful clear blue, with small to medium sized waves.  (The island of Cozumel is across from Playa, presumably knocking the waves down).  The beach stretched on for at least 1.5 miles.  Playa doesn't really have the mega resorts that Cancun does, but was filled with "beach clubs" where you could rent beds or beach chairs for the day.  An absolutely gorgeous beach.

Someone once said that Playa was less touristy than Cancun and I would have to strongly disagree.  It was very touristy, but there were more Mexican tourists than American and European tourists.  Instead of every American chain store and restaurant imaginable, there were local restaurants, stores, and hotels.  But they were every bit as "touristy."  For the record, touristy doesn't really bother me the way it does some people.  Many times a place is "touristy" because it is awesome.  I don't go to Cancun (or even Playa del Carmen) expecting an "authentic Mexican experience."  I go there for the awesome beaches, the great nightlife, and the fantastic food.  Sometimes that food is fantastic Mexican tacos, and sometimes it is Outback Steakhouse (which can be equally awesome).

After the beach, we hit up a Happy Hour at the restuarant/bar next to our hotel.  We stayed there about 2 hours and 1 tequila shot longer than I expected.  After a relatively quick shower and change, we headed out for the night.  We hit up a couple of bars and then went to this bar in the club area which had a live band.  I had a fantastic time there dancing with a group of Mexicans.  As we left that bar around 1, I lost the rest of the group and headed back to the hotel.  At around 230, Ethan and Kristin came back to the hotel.  They knocked on the door for me to let them in, but I was sleeping to heavily to hear them.  The front desk wouldn't give them a key because their names weren't on the room.  Ethan left Kristin sleeping on a couch in the lobby and ran back to try to find Antonio (whose name was on the room).  Somehow in the middle of several thousand people, he found Antonio and managed to get into the room.

Saturday was beach day.  Our hotel had a deal with one of the beach clubs to let us get beach beds and umbrellas as long as we spent 200 pesos (US$17) on food and drinks.  Best deal ever.  We spent probably around 8 hours on the beach that day.  I even managed to not get sub burnt.  We took it pretty easy on Saturday night as several of us were SCUBA diving on Sunday and most of us were still feeling the effects from Friday night.

Sunday I went diving in the Mexican cenotes (Sey-no-tays).  Cenotes are limestone caves just a few miles from the beach.  Many of them have collapsed and are filled with freshwater.  It is a really amazing dive - exploring a cave while underwater.  The light in these caves is amazing.  Visibility is over 300 feet and whenever you are near an entrance the light just filters in beautifully.  Unfortunately, there is almost no animal life in these cenotes, so the dive is both amazing and boring.  I am glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again.

After a late lunch and a walk around town, I ended up at a beach bar drinking buckets of Corona with Ethan and Natalie.  Natalie brought a deck of cards, so we started playing various card games - bullshit, shit head, Egyptian Rat Screw, and asshole (these games all have bad names).  As the sun began to set, we made our way back to our hotel to meet the rest of the group.  We had a few more beers and a few shots of tequila in the hotel room before going to dinner at Senor Frogs, which was a lot of fun.  We ended the night drinking a beer on the beach, watching the full moon rise over the sea, and playing 'Truth or Dare.'  (If you told 19 year old Al, that 30 year old Al would be playing Truth or Dare on the beach in Mexico, 19 year old Al would be very impressed).

I really had a great time with all of my new friends.
In the hotel, BEFORE going out for the night 
Kristin: "Can I try on your authentic Mexican head dress?"

Partying in Playa

The entrance to the cenote

Somehow this is practically the only photo I have of the beach

Why, yes I did buy a lucha libre mask

At Senor Frogs

P.S. - Because I am sure you are all curious, I did NOT go to a Mexican strip club on this trip.  The streak is now broken.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Belize Zoo

I love zoos.  My aunt Kathy took us to the zoo in Omaha (a fantastic zoo) probably once a week during the summers when we were young.  When I was in kindergarten or first grade, we went on a field trip to the zoo.  The teacher got turned around and I ended up leading the group to the next animal.  I have visited zoos throughout the world.  Seeing hippos mate and searching for Snowflake, the albino gorilla in Barcelona (he had died a few weeks earlier).  Following a troop of kangaroos around Ireland's Fota Wildlife park, where the (non-lethal) animals roam freely.  Seeing an okapi for the first time in St. Louis.  Exploring the back rooms in the aquarium in Omaha when my Dad did a catering event.  The confused kids questioning their parents after witnessing an elephant masturbate at the National Zoo.

So, you would think I'd have gone to the Belize Zoo before today.  It's not that I haven't tried to go to the zoo, but somehow something always came up.  I was scheduled to do a night tour of the zoo (lots of nocturnal animals) but Hurricane Richard closed the zoo for a few months.  Whenever guests visited me, I would send them to the zoo on their own since it was easily accessible while I was at work.  Another night zoo trip was canceled.  Two trips were rained out.  My mom broke her arm.  We went to the Rio On pools instead.  It got to the point that it felt like I was cursed and would never make it.

For my birthday two weeks ago, Margarita and Emile gave me a coupon for a free trip to the zoo complete with kids and lunch.  I planned to cash it in today.  Unfortunately, as we made our way towards the zoo, the rain started to come down.  It began to pour.  There was thunder and lightning (we never get thunderstorms here).  It looked like the trip would be canceled again.  We decided to try to wait out the storm by getting lunch at a nearby restaurant.  We were rewarded with a sunny, but smoldering hot afternoon so that I finally got to see the zoo.

The Belize Zoo is unique in that all the animals are native to Belize and none are captured in the wild.  They are all either abandoned pets or animals from other zoos or from movie sets.  The zoo was damaged pretty significantly in Hurricane Richard in October 2010, but they have built most of it back up.  Lots of cool cats - Leopards, Pumas, and the famous Jaguars - plus cool birds and other local animals, such as the tapir and coati.  All in all - a great trip.

Finally, I made it.

Apparently, there are deer in Belize.  Who knew?

The tapir is the national animal of Belize

Not a whole lot of security at the zoo - so you can pet some of the animals 
This bird was just flying around, but let me get real close to take a picture

Absolutely gorgeous leopard

We got there for feeding time - you can see the
chicken in her mouth.

Junior Buddy - The Belize Zoo's most famous resident

If you pay extra, you can get in a cage where they will
have him lick your head from outside the cage.

He was huge - look at the size of the paws

Margarita wasn't joking when she said I'd have kids to take to the zoo

Scarlet Macaw

Fancy camera settings

I turned the camera to "ultra vivid colors"  and then
captured the second bird flying off - hence the blue blur.

The crocodile was so close to the path and so still,
we thought it was a statue at first - until we noticed him breathing.

Howler Monkeys
Playing on the swings outside the zoo.