Oh the Places You Will Go: Belize

Last year was a big travel year for me and my blog became mostly a picture album for those wonderful trips, so I can hardly Belize that I got back from the biggest, best trip of my year over a month ago and haven’t even posted anything about it!

Over the summer, my amazing, adventurous friend, Emily, said, “I’m going to Belize for Thanksgiving, want to come?” It wasn’t, “I want to go” or “I’m thinking of going.” It was just, hey, here’s where I’ll be, will you be there too? See? Amazing.

In college, I had a chemistry professor from Belize and it seemed like a cool place to visit, so it’s been on my list ever since, so when the opportunity to go with two of my best friends came up, it was a no-brainer. (Except for the brain power it took to figure out how to get more vacation days that I really didn’t have.)

Lists of locations and activities flew between us as we planned the trip and we ended up with a great itinerary for our eight days there. I flew into Belize City to meet Emily and Robin, who had been there for one day already and we took a van inland to San Ignacio for the first part of our trip. It was about a two-hour drive, but it was filled with anything and everything the driver could tell us about the country. All of our tour guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. One point for being a fantastic travel location…English is the official language of Belize.

In San Ignacio we stayed at Maya Mountain, which was a highlight of the trip for me. The staff was so welcoming and accommodating, the food was awesome and they helped us coordinate our fantastic tours.

Day 1: Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM
This is the “must-do” tour in San Ignacio and we were told to save the best for last because nothing would top it, but with the threat of rain that could close the tour down (as it had the previous week), we wanted to make sure we got it in while it was sunny.

We were going spelunking, so we wore helmets:

photo (7)It’s a cave tour and you start by hiking about two miles to the cave entrance, then it’s go time. You swim, wade, walk and climb almost a mile into the cave, which was a Mayan ceremony site, so it’s full of ceramics and skeletons from human sacrifices (yeah, for real, like right next to you). Because you get up close and personal with the artifacts, you can’t take cameras in (someone dropped one on a skull once) and at the end, you climb in socks. Seriously, such a great experience.

Day 2: Cave canoeing + picnic + swimming
On this day, I understood why we were told to save ATM for the last day. This cave canoe trip was fun, but just very tame compared to ATM.

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I really enjoyed, well, the picnic, because Maya Mountain packed our lunches on these tours and they were maybe the best sandwiches I’d ever had. But, I also really enjoyed the swimming afternoon. We hiked down to the pool of a waterfall and swam around there. It was a hot day and the water felt great.

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Day 3: Tikal (Guatemala)

DSC01234Tikal was a massive Mayan city in Guatemala. We were told that, but seriously, it’s huge and one of the most fascinating things is that it was abandoned at the end of the 10th century and, since it’s in the middle of a rainforest, these massive temples just got buried under all the new growth and it was undiscovered until the 1800s. Not much money was put into the excavation until the 1950s and even now there are buildings that are currently being excavated and some that haven’t even been started. And there are thousands of buildings in the city, including temples, which were a lot of the buildings we did get to see and even climb. The temples sticking out above the tree canopy was so cool, it was used in one of the Star Wars movies, which maybe made it less cool, but still beautiful:

Oh, and I also made a new friend:

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Since the basis of the trip was that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a lot of the things I did were based on the same idea, as well as the theme of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, which I had just finished reading: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. 

Day 4: Travel to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
We had to say goodbye to Maya Mountain and make our way back to the coast to stay on the cayes, pronounced keys and cayes are like islands, but different in that they are actually formed on top of coral. The reef that stretches from Mexico to Belize is one of the biggest in the world, BUT it protects Belize, making it unsurfable. I only mention it because when I put Belize on my bucket list it included surfing in Belize, so I was kind bummed when I found that out. And because I’m a huge nerd who was so excited to learn everything on vacation.

But, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is beautiful (La Isla Bonita according to Madonna) and a really fun, lively place to stay. Unfortunately, our luck with the weather wore off by the time we got there and it was cold and rainy for much of the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Fishing + snorkeling
We still wanted to see all the things and do all the things, so we chartered a boat tour, aka, asked the bartender to help us set something up and when a man in a boat appeared at the end of the dock the next morning, we jumped in his boat. Fortunately, it was actually our guy.

He took us out a ways and we went fishing, which was kind of unexpected, but a lot of fun. Our fishies we caught were kinda small, but pretty. We had to catch a lot because we were going to eat them for lunch! Our guide BBQed them and some potatoes and it was delicious.

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The dive location we wanted to go to was difficult with the wind and rain, so we ended up detouring, but still seeing coral and fish. I hadn’t been snorkeling in a long time, so I was a little unsure. And then right when I put my face in, I saw a shark! It was a nurse shark and at the floor, which was maybe six feet down, so I wasn’t too concerned. It was actually really cool! I was swimming right on top of big schools of fish and saw a big old stingray too.

Day 6: Boat taxi to Caye Caulker + drinking weather
We decided to split our beach days between two of the cayes and I’m so glad we did. San Pedro was fun, but Caye Caulker was so wonderful. I read that if you want to see what San Pedro was like before it got totally popular and commercialized, go to Caye Caulker. They have three main dirt roads that have real names, but everyone calls them Front, Middle and Back. There are no cars, just bikes and golf carts, but everything’s walkable anyway. We stayed at a little condo place at one end that had a patio with an exit right to Front Street and the ocean.

Unfortunately right when we got there it started raining. Optimistically, we headed to a snorkeling tour company to sign up for a tour the next day assuming it cleared up, which (spoiler alert) it did. However, for the rest of that day, it was just a downpour, so we just sat at a restaurant drinking two very Belizean drinks – Belikin beer (you say, “I’ll have a beer,” and that’s what they give you, it’s awesome) and a Panty Ripper, which is pineapple juice and rum and delicious. Aaaand, I don’t remember what we did after that, probably read and went to bed early.

Day 7: Snorkeling sailboat trip
Another highlight of the trip was waking up on our last full day to SUNSHINE! We had a great breakfast and boarded a Rastafarian sailboat for a snorkel tour of the reef.

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We stopped at a place called Shark and Ray Alley, which you can guess meant it’s where the sharks (again, nurse sharks) and rays hang out. Even more so when the tour guides throw fish at you while you’re in the water and they come up and get it! It took me a while to get in, but it was amazing.

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At the next stop, we swam out to the reef and saw everything! More rays, a few turtles, eels and lots of fascinating fish. Then we sailed back with ceviche, rum punch, reggae music and the sunset. It was incredible.

After some warm up showers and shower beers, we went to a restaurant the crew suggested where you pick your dinner from a table of fresh seafood on the street – I got a lobster – and they take it in and cook it up for you! Then we went to a reggae bar (one of two bars on Caye Caulker that came highly recommended – and the other one was closed). It was dead, but we met a few Americans and then it began to fill up, including with a few of the guys from the boat. We danced and drank and stayed out probably not very late at all, but the latest we were out all week.

Day 8: Home 😦

Just like that, it was over.

So, obviously, I had a great time. I’ve been telling anyone and everyone to go to Belize! It’s accessible and easy-going with so much to do and such great people, but not yet overly touristy. I would go back in a heartbeat to see the places we didn’t get to and even return to some of my favorites that we did.

I got the travel bug big time and can’t wait for my next trip!

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Oh the Places You Will Go: San Diego

I will never get tired of going to San Diego. It’s a quick trip from Phoenix regardless if you fly or drive and then you’re at the beach! I spent last weekend in San Diego and could think of nowhere better to celebrate the first day of summer.

My good friend, Robin, wanted to go to San Diego to celebrate the last birthday of her 20s and who was I to say no? Last year, she celebrated 28 in Tahoe. Besides just being awesome in general, hanging out with her has some serious perks, girl knows how to party. And by party I mean pick cool places to go hang out and do the same things we would do at home – but with a beach!

I was so dedicated to this trip, I went in an hour early to work all last week to leave at noon on Friday and catch our flight. Robin found an awesome house in Mission Beach that slept enough people to accommodate everyone who trickled in and out all weekend and it was only a block to the beach and a block to Mission Bay. Everything was walkable – or as I experienced for the first time there, cheaply Uberable.

We ate Mexican food, had delicious breakfasts and hung out at the beach, played Cards Against Humanity, drank a beer (or two or three) and saw some of the nightlife.

On Saturday morning, I went running up the boardwalk and then back down on the beach itself.

June gloom morning run.

June gloom morning run.

For running, San Diego beaches > New England beaches. For beach beauty, New England beaches > San Diego beaches. But for the tie breaker, for swimming, at least during the times I was there, San Diego for the win. We stayed on the beach doing nothing and intermittently going in to dive the waves for hours.

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I think people who live by beaches take it for granted. When I lived close enough to Malibu, I know I did. I’d love to say if I lived in SD, I’d enjoy it all the time, but the truth is, I’d probably try to enjoy the beach, but be thinking about the other things I should be doing. That’s the glory of vacation…there was NOTHING else we had to do. I have the splotchy tan/burned/still pasty skin to show for it. (There was a serious error in judgement involving a travel-size can of spray sunscreen and the wind.)

On Sunday, I met Robin’s older sister who lives in NE San Diego County and she asked me what I did. After two days at the beach house, I couldn’t really remember what my work life was and had to seriously pause to consider the question and answer it. I’d say that’s a good sign that it was a  great vacation!

Oh the Places You Will Go: Los Angeles

Last weekend I took a fun little trip to my old stomping grounds for the wedding of a college roommate! I’m slightly bitter party of one when it comes to weddings…the travel time and expense, the bridesmaid’s dress that they make you order in a size that makes you feel fat only to come in a week before the wedding way too big and of course, there’s the wedded bliss part, but I got to take a handsome date this time and we made a fun weekend trip out of it.

We stopped at the outlets in Indio on the way and I became a brand whore, scooping up a new pair of Joe’s Jeans, a Michael Kors handbag and patent cobalt Kenneth Cole pumps. We got to LA (just) in time for the rehearsal and dinner. Don’t you just love when you see your old friends who live all over the country and you can sweep in and it feels like you just left for five minutes to go to the bathroom? Those are my favorite kind of friends!

LA Weekend2While we were driving (I was passengering) I saw on Facebook that The Spazmatics, an 80s cover band I used to love going to see was playing at a country bar I used to go to when I was in college on the weekend I happened to be nearby. Worlds colliding. After the all-day drive and festivities I did NOT want to go, but fortunately I had mentioned it to Sean so he dragged my butt to Borderline to dance like a fangirl to Jesse’s Girl. It was a lot of fun, even if most of the others there weren’t even alive in the 80s. Then I made him drive me around my old college campus. A lot has changed, but the memories are still so strong!

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Saturday was wedding day and since it was at Amy’s Catholic church, it was early (so they can have their evening mass), so that meant hair and makeup was even earlier! I made like a good little LA girl and seeing the overcast and 65 degree day outside, I put on my sweater boots and got my Starbucks to prepare. I had my hair styled in what I like to call the “morning after,” a loose, low messy and piecey bun.

The ceremony was nice – a surprise for even the bridesmaids, she walked down the aisle with both her parents to Disney’s Someday My Prince Will Come…tearjerker! – and we got to sit through a lot, which was also nice because my shoes were too cute to come off at all, so I had to distribute the pain. Then it was back to the hotel on the London double-decker bus for the party. There was a cocktail hour outside and the weather actually cleared up and was pretty great.

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It ended up being a really fun night. I love weddings where guests actually want to dance and enjoy staying past when the DJ tries to kick them out v. a few I’ve been to where everyone’s checking their watch and wondering when they’ll cut the cake so they can leave! We did get kicked out for the time limit on the banquet room and ended up across the street at a pool hall.

Sunday was for…sleeping in! And more shopping. I scored last year’s Mizuno Wave Riders for $40! I’ve always wanted to try Mizunos and/or Brooks, so I’m excited to check them out – they’re in my bag for the gym later!

Finally, I was NOT leaving California without visiting the beach, so we drove out to Malibu and drove up PCH to Neptune’s Net, a cool little fish shack basically. Or if you’re my boyfriend – that place from the first Fast and Furious. Or if you’re Pink, just a cool place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.

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LA Weekend

We jumped across PCH to the beach and walked up and down for a little bit, popping the little seaweed bubbles and trying to figure out how to transplant our condo to Malibu the kite surfers. That was far more interesting than driving home, so we didn’t make it back until midnight and I’m still playing a little catch up, but I loved the whole trip so it was well worth it!

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Damn, I look good on the beach, might be time to move back!

Mexican + Sweat + Staycay + Sushi + Vodka + Whiskey + Pizza = Birthday

My favorite day of the year has come and gone – it actually fell on a Saturday this year so I had a birthday weekend, a fantastic one in fact! A lot of people may claim their birthday as the best day of the year, but REALLY…there’s nothing else going on in August, so it’s nicely isolated; as a kid, you don’t have to go to school; it’s perfect for parties, although a friend who had a birthday a few weekends ago told me she has anxiety about summer birthdays because too many people are on vacation and can’t come. Anyway, it’s amazing and it’s mine and this weekend, I did everything I wanted to do.

It started with dinner with my family at Juan Jamie’s on Friday. My local family now includes my grandmother who moved from Pittsburgh in June and of course, my newish boyfriend who is getting to be a pro at the FFF.

On Saturday, I fit in a new-to-me workout at Amenzone (more on that in a future post) and did some shopping before checking into the Hotel Valley Ho for the night, an iconic little retro hotel near Old Town Scottsdale, perfect for going out at night, sleeping in in the morning and hanging out at the pool the next day, which is exactly what I had in mind.

Dinner was at Stingray Sushi with Sean, my sis and her husband…they left the babe with my mom and stayed out past 10 – new parent win! Then I met up with old and new friends at Kelly’s at Southbridge and ended the night at Gilligin’s.

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I had been thinking earlier in the day that perhaps I needed to add “Do a Fireball shot” to my 30 before 30 list (yes, next year is the big 3-0) and lo and behold, two shots appeared before me by the end of the night. I pretty much handled them like a champ. There was also a lot of water involved for the night!

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The next day, it was unfortunately a little hazy. Still warm and the sun did peek out a few times, so the pool day was great as well. Stacey got us hooked up with a cabana, which included drinks and some delicious snacks.

Birthday Pool

My final birthday request was Spinato’s pizza and watching Orange is the New Black to combat my Sunday night, end-of-my-birthday-weekend blues before it was back to reality. I’m actually only at work for two days this week before heading to San Diego. It’s FOR work, but working in a different environment and of course, getting away to a cooler climate, is always a nice break!

Splash Mob 5K

Sign up for a race in July, she said. It will be fun, she said.

And it sure as heck was.

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Pre-race…still smiling, still dry!
(Rachel, the toucan to my left, was the one with the brilliant idea – to run and to run with floaties!)

When my alarm went off at 6am for the 7am Splash Mob 5K, I was not a fan. I had stayed up until 3:30 the night before – just drinking water, so at least I was hydrated – and that’s my own stupid mistake. When I was running in humid 90 degree weather, I was not a fan. When I finished (35:45, note to self: you can stay up until 3:30 OR run a 5K in the morning – there is no BOTH option) and was still actively sweating for the next 20 minutes, I was not a fan.

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The post-race sweat that never ends.

The only way to survive a summer race in Arizona is lots of water. Honestly, there could have been a little bit more…more splashing (at splash stations along the course, kids with supersoakers and water balloons attempted to cool off the runners) and more water stations [insert organizer’s excuse about the water delivery truck here] AND they ran out of bottles for the end by the time the last in our group finished.

Ready to jump into that Waikiki Beach wave pool!

Ready to jump right into that Waikiki Beach wave pool!

But, after the race, the water park that played host to the event, Big Surf, opened its wave pool. Those floaties actually came in handy as we waded in – our running clothes already drenched with sweat, so who really cared? – and set up shop.

My friend looked at me and said, “Megan, you look like you’re actually on vacation.” “Um, I AM for the next half hour.”

And then…”Hey, guys? We’re the only people left in here without kids.” My 30-minute, young-at-heart vacation in the wave pool totally made up for all the not-a-fan things about the race and it made my overall impression of the race a favorable one! I keep my race calendar busy throughout the year and 5Ks in particular can get a little monotonous, so I love races that offer something unique!

Other pros: I really liked the course. It can be tricky to create a course when the location was picked based on a landmark, but it was half-loop and half-out-and-back and included a golf course and a (man-made) lake. Also, I knew it was going to be a tough race, so having it on my calendar was great motivation to stay on track through these torture months.

I actually got in a bonus outside run last weekend when the humidity finally gave us some good rain on Sunday and it cooled to 80ish in the middle of the afternoon! You have to be ready to roll on rare days like that!

Berry Winter

Not so much in Phoenix, but it still gives me hope! Do you prefer running outside in hot or cold weather?

I’m kind of a wuss on both ends…my ideal range is probably 60-75! Do you live somewhere where that’s the year round temperature? Need a new best friend?!