Monday, March 30, 2009

You are Loved

Yesterday I had the precious opportunity to hold a 3 day old baby boy. It wasn't just a beautiful experience because he was so soft and warm and smelled the sweet way only a newborn baby can, it was also beautiful because I found it touched my soul. Here is this pint sized human being who is the most innocent and pure person out of anyone I've been in contact with for a long time and I couldn't help but love him. Not only did I feel overwhelmed with love for him, but I felt very loved myself. Not necessarily by my little friend, but by someone who saw me and my worth in the way that I saw the baby in that moment. I couldn't help but get teary, and I tried to stifle my sniffles as best I could in fear that his mother would think I had a cold or something and retrieve her darling son from my euphoric moment. Luckily, I was able to disguise it and I had the most wonderful few minutes sitting with him.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dangriga and Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve

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This is part 2 of a 4 part blog about Julie and Bradford’s trip to Belize. Posts 1 and 3 will be written by Julie, while posts 2 and 4 will be written by Bradford.

CIMG0862Day 2: On our first day in Dangriga we decided to take it easy. We slept in our cabana until about 10am. The sound of the surf and the cool breeze made it easy to sleep late. We woke up to Ruthie, our hostess, shouting to us through our window whether we wanted breakfast. We were served a simple breakfast of homemade bread, jam and juice.

After breakfast we got our gear together and took a walk around Dangriga. We headed in the direction of the market hoping to pick up some souvenirs. Walking about town was a fun experience; the streets were full of friendly Garufina, Creole, and Mayan people. We browsed the market and found ripe, inexpensive pineapple and papaya for sale. We continued exploring, walking the quieter roads off of the bustling main street. We walked past a few schools, an LDS church house, and were even offered some “green stuff” which we politely declined. On our way home we waxed hungry so we stopped at a random roadside eatery and ordered the usual: beans, rice, chicken (or fish or beef) with some delicious sauce over all of it. We also drank some saril, a tasty Jamaican tea made from the saril flower and ginger.

CIMG0827Ruthie helped us prepare the pineapple and papaya and we sat in the shade on the beach, reading our books and eating our fruits. It was very relaxing. Ruthie had her son get down some coconuts from the tree and we drank the juice, after which Ruthie then told me how much to tip her son. That was kind of annoying – we ended up avoiding the helpful Belizeans because for the most part when they were helpful they expected a tip. I blame tourists for creating that false economy.

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In the evening we ate dinner at Ruthie’s with an Irish couple staying in the next cabana, then went to bed.

Day 3: We woke up early and walked out to the bus terminal to catch a bus heading south. After a short ride (maybe 25 minutes) we arrived at the Mayan Village outside the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve.

The reserve is located about 7 miles from the main road and there are taxis that take people up to the reserve, however they are $20 USD ONE WAY. We were on a tight budget so we stubbornly decided to walk. It was a beautiful day, not more than 85 degrees (F) and the road was lined with bushes of big beautiful flowers. We found some “12 o’clock”, the local name for a plant that will fold itself up when touched. And just before reaching the park, we saw a sign that cryptically said “Plane Wreck 500m” so we investigated.

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Soon, however, the walk started losing its charm: we were wearing our new Tevas without socks (read: blisters). About halfway up we realized we were doomed, and when we finally made it to the reserve I could barely walk.

We looked at a map with a helpful park guide and decided a tubing trip down the river would do our feet some good. The tubes were only $5 USD for two. We walked the short trip to the entry point, and it was at this moment that I remembered my fear of rivers and lakes. The park guide’s affirmation of snakes in the river didn’t help. I grabbed a big stick and gingerly started floating.

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The jungle was beautiful. The birds were singing and the sun was shining and I was on the lookout for snakes. Julie thought it was hilarious that her big strong bad boy was petrified by an unseen terror slithering toward him in the clear, cool water. At one point we made a wrong turn and found ourselves in a smaller river running parallel to the main river, full of branches and scary spiders. Fortunately our little terror tunnel met back up with the main stream.

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In order to get out of the river we were supposed to look out for a rope running across the river, grab it, and pull ourselves to shore. After that, we were warned, there are dangerous rapids. When we finally saw the rope we did manage to grab it and start pulling ourselves to shore, however it was at that moment that I saw a spider on my leg. It wasn’t particularly big or scary, but it did take all of my attention to fling it off. When I finally rid myself of the spider, I looked up and saw that I had drifted beyond the rope’s safety! I jumped off my tube, threw my pack to Julie (who barely caught it), and forged my way back up river. I nearly died.

Being out of the river, we decided to leave our tubes on the trail and make the small hike to the waterfall near Ben’s Bluff. The waterfall was cool and dark and made for a great place to relax. We contemplated swimming under the waterfall but eventually we both lost our nerve. It was dark and scary, and I couldn’t help but imagine huge tentacles grabbing me when I got close. Julie was braver than me though, and made a valiant effort.

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We relaxed at the falls for a while and even made a friend with an indigenous crab named Crab Cake. We remembered seeing that Ben’s Bluff appeared to be somewhat close to the falls when we looked at the map earlier, so we decided to once again abuse our feet and go to one last place before heading back for the day.

The trail to Ben’s Bluff looked bad to begin with. I thought “Ben’s Bluff… bluff… aren’t bluffs above everything…?” 45 minutes and nearly as many “lets rest here for a minute”s, we made it to the top. What a beautiful view!


The hike down to the park visitors center seemed longer than it was because our feet and legs had reached their limits. Arriving at the visitor center we realized that we did NOT want to hike down to the road to catch our bus. We found another American couple from Colorado who were going down as well so we split the $20 USD cab.

While waiting for the cab we were attacked by small, biting flies. I looked at my legs and saw tiny pools of blood and realized that they were eating me!! This was when we realized that I shouldn’t have convinced Julie to not bring the bug repellant (“ah there’s no bugs in Belize…”).

Arriving at the road we quickly surmised that we missed our bus. We waited, hoping another bus would come, but it started getting quite dark. I remembered the times in the Philippines where my companion and I would hitchhike our way home when it was too late for public transportation, so I ‘nonchalantly’ started poking my thumb in the air. The problem with trying to hitchhike without letting anyone know is that no one knows you’re doing it. So, at the approach of a big tanker truck I blasted my thumb out with such force that he couldn’t do anything BUT stop.

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Our friend Hugo was trucking gasoline all over Guatemala (where he was born) and Belize (where he lives). We were so grateful, even though Julie had to sit on my lap and he wasn’t passing by Dangriga directly (we would be dropped off a few miles from Dangriga). We even invited him to dinner (somewhat of a ploy on my part to get him to take us all the way to Dangriga, but mostly because we were so grateful) but he looked at us, shrugged sheepishly, and said “I’m late…”. Next time Hugo, next time!

After he dropped us off at the junction, we found a good spot to hitchhike the remaining distance. After just a minute or so, a couple in a pickup truck stopped and gave us a ride to our cabana in Dangriga. As we rode, we spoke through the window and found out that they were Jehovah's Witnesses from Spain on a mission. Hugo and the JW’s were like angels to us.

We were on such a high after that – what a perfect day! And to top it off, while we were walking to the eatery to grab some dinner we met two LDS missionaries who were assigned in Dangriga. It was fun talking with them about the work in Dangriga and the branch they had there.

After dinner we fell asleep almost immediately to the soothing sound of the surf just 20 feet away.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blooming Tuesday

Bradford is the sweetest thing ever. As he was driving me to his house this morning so I could borrow his car for work, the whole way I was groaning about how much I did not want to go into work today, and how great it would be if I could just stay home all day. I even voiced some of the more extravagant excuses I dreamed of calling in to my boss. Bradford, of course, was understanding and empathetic and everything that my ridiculous mood needed. When we got to his house he said to me, "You'll feel better once you get to work. I promise. Just get there and the day won't seem so bad." He seemed so convinced that I couldn't help but believe him. And what do you know? When I walked into the office and noticed that my computer was blocked by a bursting bouquet of beautiful spring flowers, I couldn't help but smile and think that I was the luckiest girl. Today WILL be a good day. Bradford made sure of it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Landing and Getting to Dangriga

Map picture

This is part 1 of a 4 part blog about Julie and Bradford’s trip to Belize. Posts 1 and 3 will be written by Julie, while posts 2 and 4 will be written by Bradford.

First off, I apologize to the blogosphere (and a million times over to Bradford) for those of you who have been gripping the edges of your seats waiting to hear how our Belizean adventure further unfolds. I have been slacking and putting it off and off and off... All Bradford’s gentle motivations to get me on the ball were left for naught until today. Now, that being said, on to Dangriga!

We boarded our plane leaving from Salt Lake City to Belize City (switching planes in Dallas/Ft. Worth) at 8:20 AM and arrived at 3:55 PM Central time. The flights weren’t too bad, I was actually able to sleep some, thanks to ear plugs, a sleep mask, and less than 3 hours of sleep the night before. Something about an early morning flight encourages all-nighters… Once we got off the plane (via a rolling staircase like you see in all the movies about tropical places…) we retrieved our checked bag, went through a customs process, and were promptly offered a cab ride into the bus station downtown by a friendly cab driver. His name is John and he was very chatty and readily made conversation. Bradford held up most of our end of the conversation while I marveled at the scenery, warmth, and the curls already forming in my hair from the humidity.

After about a 20 minute cab drive we arrived at the bus terminal. We paid our friendly cab driver who left us with his business card and one last time tried to convince us to have him take us to Dangriga in his cab rather than the bus. We politely declined, saving us about 100 American dollars doing so, and then faced the barrage of men eagerly waiting to assist us in finding the right bus to Dangriga. It wasn’t overly pushy, which I found refreshing. A lot of the places I’ve been have had similar hordes of men and I’ve usually felt overwhelmed, accosted, and sometimes mildly under attack . I was relieved to find it less overbearing here. We did end up following a friendly individual who showed us where our bus would be. I can’t remember his name now (another reason to write about these things soon after they transpire instead of waiting…) but he was really easy going and accommodating. Bradford and I were starving and hadn’t eaten in what felt like eons and our bus wasn’t arriving for a few minutes so our friend took us over to a roadside cafe (though nothing but the sounds of sizzling food from inside indicated it was anything but a shack) and we had our first Belizean meal. It was delicious! It was beef (Bradford had chicken) and rice and beans smothered in some kind of spicy red sauce that I still can’t really describe because nothing I’ve ever had tasted like it. It came with a small pasta salad on the side. It was incredible. Bradford and I could have easily shared one plate satisfactorily too, even in our famished state. It cost us about US$6 for the whole meal.

Before too long our bus arrived so we gulped down the last of our Fantas and hurried back to the terminal. We left our friend with a tip (and the rest of our dinner that we weren’t able to finish) and boarded the painted up old school bus that was our ride. We chose to ride only the James line buses while we were in Belize because its the only private bus line that stuck it out when the government was trying to monopolize the bus lines a few years back. Its the line the locals try to support. They’re easy to tell from the other buses because they are painted in green, red, and yellow horizontal stripes. Ours was an “express” bus to Dangriga and even so it ended up being over a 6 hour ride. By the time we pulled into the terminal at Dangriga it was well past dark. Bradford got in a few snoozings and I was left pretty awake despite my yearnings for some shut-eye. So many times along the ride I thought we were “almost there” but I was only right once… Regardless, it was neat to observe what we could of the beautiful country before it got dark.

Once we got to the terminal at Dangriga we shuffled off the bus and tried to orient ourselves with the quiet, dimly lit town. We were solicited a cab ride or two but Bradford was confident the cabanas (Ruthie’s Cabanas to be exact) we were staying at were only a short walk away. After we walked about 30 ft one of the same cab drivers pulled over and generously gave us a free ride the rest of the way. Which ended up being only about 100 yards further. We thanked him and gave him a tip and then we walked up to the robe-clad Ruthie who had been honked out of her house by our driver. In her Garifuna accented English she told us that she was so worried about us and had been waiting on her porch all day for us to get there and when she didn’t hear from us she became even more worried. She immediately struck us as a very warm, spunky lady who casually addressed us as “baby” whenever she spoke to us. She took us to our cabana that was about 50 ft away from the ocean shore and we settled in.

Even though we were tired we took a few minutes to walk back to town and grab a few snacks from one of the still open shops. For dinner we had a can of pringles, a snickers, some local candy, and a bottle of water. While we ate we watched some cable from Colorado on the little TV in our cabana. We don’t know why or how they get Colorado’s cable down here in Belize but Bradford and I thought that was kind of funny. Not long after that, Bradford fell asleep and I soon turned off the TV and went to bed myself. The soothing sound of the surf breaking on the beach, plus a long day of travel made it too easy.

(This is Bradford and me on the express bus from Belize City to Dangriga. We look a little weary already. This is the only picture of me on the entire trip with straight hair... The humidity took over soon after this was taken. I regret not taking more pictures of the whole experience. Next time we well get more. Because there WILL be a next time!)