Retro Trip Recap! Sister Soiree 2009: Belize and Guatemala

20363_233657834132_2818604_nRecently, I was organizing my blog by destination and lamented the lack of posts from my  pre-blog trips. THEN, I recalled that Jessie and I did a blog for our Sister Soiree trip!  I did some sleuthing and found it!  Here it is, in eight ‘enhanced’ blog posts with more photos and details than we originally posted (due to slow/expensive internet connection.) Jessie wrote half of these posts but took more than half of the naps on this trip.


Blue Hole, Belize

Jessie and I are going on a SISTER TRIP!  In seven days we are embarking on a 3 week journey in Central America. We have only made basic plans in order to leave time for adventure to find us along the way. (Jessie is sure that I am going to want to ‘do stuff’ all the time so she made me promise that we could have lots of naps.)

Waterfalls, Belize
Waterfalls, Belize

Belize is first. Beach, snorkel, swim, sand and maybe some rum. Belize is known for it’s caves and jaguars, both of which are on our “to do” list.

Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala


Next, we’ll head north to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

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We are still working out an itinerary. We are starting in Belize and working our way to Antigua, Guatemala where we fly home from. We plan to do the budget-tourist trail of things : ruins, snorkel, volcano, cave tubing, jaguar reserve….

If anyone has any suggestions please share.

Adrienne and I will update the blog as we go when we get the chance.

Sister Soiree 2009: Viva Belize!



Jessie and I arrived at the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) @ 4pm yesterday, got our luggage, cleared customs and then encountered our first travel challenge. We knew we needed to get to the bus station but where was the cue of cabs outside the airport? As we stood on the sidewalk, assessing the situation a fellow American walked out of the airport, friendly chatting with a local in Spanish. During our Houston lay-over, she had stuck out of the crowd with her salon-dreadlocks & North Face gear and I had made a sarcastic comment about her to Jessie. Now I needed her help! (Travel karma is a real thing, folks! Don’t be a jerk!) I ran after her into the parking lot and thankfully her friend agreed to take us to the bus station.


We took the 5:15pm bus to Dangriga on an old American school bus for 2 hours. The heat made our thighs stick to the pleather, just like in middle school. Upon arrival in Dangriga we found Val’s and signed up for bunk beds for 2 nights ($44us).

IMG_5964Val is friendly and let us know that we were getting the last of the bunk bed because they were all reserved for the Settlement Day Festivities! We set up our beds and head out to explore Dangriga!

1913571_372972605787_7039708_nThere is a big river that runs right through town and out to sea. There are fisherman everywhere. And the red snapper looks delicious!


Sister Soiree 2009: Pre-Settlement Day Festivities


Wednesday night the drumming started at dusk. Since the 19th was a national holiday and no one had to work, they got started partying early. Everyone says hello and smiles and we end up sitting on the curb watching people dance in the street before we wander on.


Dangriga had a great vibe – since even the locals were on holiday- not just us!  IMG_0053 (1)
It gets dark at 5:30pm here too! It seems unfair to have so little light in the tropics, but it is keeping me from burning into a crisp. (Jessie has year-round Chaco tan-lines and a Vitamin D deficiency, so she’s loving the sun.)


The locals kept insisting that we wouldn’t be needing our beds that night because the party goes on until sunrise. Jessie, Abby, Janelle (our new friends from Bend, Or) and I took a taxi out to Malibu beach and waited for the band to get started…at 11:30pm- no wonder the party goes until dawn. We played cards on the beach (We called it ‘Abby Always Wins!’ but it was basically UNO with a 52-card deck.) Janelle was really into arm wrestling every we met. She was good!

1913571_372972705787_660055_nAfter a few attempts at dancing to ‘Diamond’s drumming, we headed back into town, a bit disappointed that the night was so low-key. The streets were still busy with drunken festivities as Jessie and I headed back to Val’s. We’d had enough Punta Rock (rap/reggae mix music and or lifestyle) for the night and the drumming outside our hostel would signal the beginning of Settlement day at sunrise.

Sister Soiree 2009: Settlement Day Parade

HAPPY 19!!!
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We woke up at 8am and realized that the first great thing about Settlement day was that they don’t start the boat-landing ceremony right outside our hostel! Nice. We got some yummy scrambled eggs and Journey/Johnny Cakes for breakfast.1913571_372994990787_1782082_n

Then we stumbled across our new friend CJ who works at a stock photo/ web design company. He was the only float in line for the 10:00 parade… it was 10:30. We wandered down to the closed and possibly abandoned Garifuna museum then back to the parade. On the way we discovered a bike race. Those guys looked serious.IMG_0067

At around 11:30 the 10 o’clock parade was under way. We made our way to the beginning of the parade so we did not miss anything.IMG_6057

Jessie’s favorite part was the Chinese float. They had firecrackers, gongs and these fancy dancing dragons. (Random Factoid: Nearly all of the shops in Belize are owned by the Chinese because they don’t pay import taxes and can get goods cheaply. Somebody worked out a nice trade deal…)IMG_0087

The parade concluded with a Punta Rock float sponsored by Western Union. It was just a flatbed semi-truck with a band and an insane number of speakers. All the spectator rolled off the curbs and into the street to follow this last float through the city, dancing all the way. IMG_6101We did our best to keep up but eventually the heat and the constant dancing wore us out and we had to go for smoothies and naps.

Sister Soiree 2009: The very best change of plans… Glover’s Atoll

11.25.2009IMG_0208When you last left us, we were in Dangriga enjoying the Settlement Day festivities and making plans for our next move. Val recommended that we spend time on Glover’s Atoll but they only run the boat once a week so we would have to forgo any other destinations in Belize. A week on a private island? We’re IN! That is how we ended up on a Caribbean island with 6 other people…gotta love serendipity.


Glover’s Atoll is a tiny island about 2.5 hours ride from the mainland and was purchased in 1967 by a French and American couple named Lomont. Now their kids and grandkids run Glover’s. It is not a resort. We brought all our own food for the week and will be staying in a two-story beachside cabana. We can sign up for snorkeling, scuba, fishing, kayaking, meals….the works.


This is Jessie loving the boat ride- I was ok on the way out, but the choppy seas on the way back made me feel like I was having a panic attack every time the boat lifted off the waves. Jessie said it was because I’m not a ‘water sign’.  She thought it was fantastic but her zodiac sign is a crab.


The island is tiny (you can walk the perimeter in less than half an hour) and the cabanas are very rustic. Gorgeous, but rustic.

IMG_0224Our cabin was a less expensive beach cabana with a kitchen underneath. It has a propane stove and a bunch of hermit crabs that get into any unsealed food. This was definitely CAMPING not a luxury resort (only the mess hall has electricity). There are terrible TripAdvisor reviews but they are written by people who did not realize they would be roughing it. You should absolutely go.


There are composting toilets, outdoor showers and a conch shell faucet on the painted outdoor sink.

IMG_0318We have been snorkeling 3 times a day, everyday and have been hanging out with Carol and Eric Bacon (our surrogate parents from Alaska). Warren, the 17-year-old grandson took Carol, Eric and Jessie deep sea fishing and they caught red snapper for dinner. It took both Carol and I to reel up 700ft of line with a few fish on it.

IMG_0248While fishing they saw a water spout (very far away) which is a tornado on the water…very neat.


The Bacons are well-traveled and brought curry powder with them! They cooked up an insanely delicious coconut curry with red snapper and rice.  Jessie attempted to climb a tree and snag us a fresh coconut for the curry but she didn’t get too far! (“Mowgli made this look so easy!”)


We found some young coconuts on the ground and made coconut milk for the curry. It was intensely flavorful – I had never eaten fish so fresh! (Until the next day when Warren caught a tuna and they rolled fresh sushi in the kitchen!) Below is the view of the catamaran from the mess hall.1913571_373104320787_1032305_nWe had such a great week!  The last two days were rainy so we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves with walks and books and hermit crab races. Life was not intense. We loved it.

Sister Soiree 2009: Thanksgiving Lobster @ Glover’s Atoll


The frigate birds put on an impressive show as they hunt for their Thanksgiving Day meal.


Our little band of travelers gather together for Thanksgiving festivities. Here we are, enamored with whatever Eric Bacon is telling as we drink our Kool-aid.


We are joined by the inhabitants of the neighboring island, the Marine Park Rangers. And they bring  with them, Spiney Lobsters! They are clawless and full of tasty meat to dip in butter… I wouldn’t mind replacing T-day turkey with these more often!


Not to be outdone, Beatrice whips up some yummy coconut meringue pies for dessert! That’s Becky behind her- she runs the resort that her parents own.


Another night we had a ‘potluck’ and a ‘bonfire’ which had to be constantly tended to because all we had to burn was dried palm leaves and coconut husks. Jessie is enjoying her coconut full of rum, wishing we had a nice chunk of oak for our fire.

1913571_373104140787_6037515_nAfter all the food and rum, we’d head back to our 2-story, beach-front cabana and wish we had electricity and a fan. (J- do you still have that a Rainbow Bright sheet?)1913571_373104120787_2740218_n

Most nights we’d take quick showers right before bed in the futile hope that evaporation would make us cool enough to fall asleep. It was hot. And rainy. And there were 1 million hermit crabs.

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If you left the bread out in the kitchen, the tiny hermit crabs would nip their way through the plastic and nibble on your toast! They were tiny and left tracks in the sand every night.


They wer also entertaining. One night we found the biggest ones and had a race to see whose crab would be the first to make it out of a circle we drew in the sand. Did I mention we didn’t have any electricity?1913571_373103975787_1858883_n

This silly hermit made his new home in a marker cap!


If we had managed to keep the crabs out of our bread, in the morning I could make french toast!


Check out the Conch-shell wind-guard we set up for  our propane stove. We also made eggs!


The french toast turned out great! We brought NZ butter in a can but we didn’t have syrup… but we had the next best thing- Marie Sharp’s Mango jam! YUMMO!


After breakfast the non-cook was on dish duty! The baked-on eggs had to be scrubbed out of the pan with sand. Luckily, Eric was there to keep things humorous.


Let’s GO BAAACK for some more rustic-island camping! Who is in?!?1913571_373104105787_2200398_n


Sister Soiree 2009: ATM or the Cave of the Crystal Maiden

It’s time to leave the island and head back to mainland Belize. Jessie, Carol, Eric, Whitney, Leslie and I shared a taxi from Dangriga where the boat dropped us off to the cramped, hilly town of San Ignacio near the border of Guatemala($35pp).
It is low tourist season so we got hassled quite a bit but we found a get place to sign up for a cave tour. Mayawalk was so great. Owned by locals that have been doing tours for a long time. Many of the other places are owned my foreigners who constantly harassed us as we explored the city. Our guide, Martin was incredible. He was so knowledgable and passionate about the ATM.
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 The tour starts with a 45min walk through the jungle with a few river crossings. Martin tells us about the ATM or Actun Tunichil Muknal which has only been open to the public since 1998. It is significant because it was used by the Mayans for ritual sacrifices.
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We entered the cave through this hourglass-shaped opening and immediately had to swim 45ft through a cool cave pool. As soon as we got away from the light Martin had us hold on to the person in front of us walk in complete darkness. At one point, Martin plays us a song by smacking his palms on a series of stalagtites.
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There were all sorts of stalactites/mites and crystals in the rocks that made them sparkle in the light of your headlamp.
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We eventually came to the end of the cave tour (the actual cave kept going).
We had walked a half mile into a mountain and were under 600ft of earth.
We hadn’t seen daylight for hours but Martin had a spotlight and would shine it on things so we could take photos. He also had to keep us from errantly stepping on a stray skull since they were only separated from us by lines of tape.
 There were entire pots and shards everywhere. When the Mayans made sacrifices they would leave them in 3 different pots, all facing different directions.
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Nothing was roped off so you had to be careful in the dark of where you stepped. We were required to wear only socks to help preserve this gently sloping area created by mineral deposits.
At the highest point in the cave we found the Crystal Maiden. Martin told us that he had lead tours for many anthropologists who have studied this cave and its well-preserved artifacts. This is a depiction of one of the Hero Twins who fought the Gods of the underworld and won! 
The anthropologists taught Martin that the maiden was a young teen female who had most likely been sacrificed to Chaac the Mayan god of rain. But, the rain didn’t come and the Mayans moved on.  Over the centuries as water ran over the bones it left sparkly calcite crystal deposits.
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 Time to hike back out. What an epic day!

Berlin: Poor but Sexy. (Day 1 & 2)

Thursday: 9/11

My EasyJet flight out of Amsterdam (AMS) left @ 9am, so Natasja was up @ 6am and rode the tram with me all the way to my train, which connected me to AMS. Thank goodness! I'm sure I would have sleepily missed a transfer & ended up in a huge security check line and had a mild panic attack. Thanks, Natasja! Now off to Berlin!

I made my way via train to Berlin's metro system; the U-Bahn goes under the ground, the S-Bahn above. I passed epic amounts of graffiti & plenty of derelict buildings. This wasn't like the neat, orderly streets of Amsterdam. Walking to Elly's flat, every inch of wall along the street was haphazardly spray painted – and trash & leaves had accumulated in the doorways. Elly is renting the 4th floor apartment of her father's former exchange student, who has moved in with his girlfriend. The apt is full of books on art & African artifacts. it was like living in a museum/library. Elly's dad is German & Elly has duel citizenship and speaks German.

I made it to Elly's by lunch time and we ate a giant meraigne & a nutty cookie from the Turkish pastry place by the S-Bahn station and I started to warm up to the neighborhood. We wandered thru the neighborhood to the Berlinische Gallery which was mostly closed for Art Week renovations. Disappointing, but we did learn how to make Nazi Meth. Totally random.

We walked the East Side Gallery- which is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall with art painted all along it.

Next, Elly had a meeting @ YAAM- a city block set up like a small beach town in Africa. They trucked in a huge amount of sand & hammocks and set up an outdoor bar, some shops and an activity area for kids. It functions as a free community center and the programs are well attended, but its proximity to a booming new development means that it probably won't be around in a few years. (The encroaching building is in the top, center of the photo.)

It rained the rest of the day- we walked home and decided to stop for a beer at Edelweiss, a cute bar in an old train station. We look pretty good for having walked home in a downpour. Do you like my candelabra?

We dried off then head out to the jazz club for dinner. I had a very German meatloaf paddy, it was yummy. We got charged 6€ just to listen to the live jazz- which we discovered when our check came. 😦

Friday: 9/12

My 2nd favorite Australian, Troy, heard that I was in Berlin & INSISTED that we go on a full-day Brewer's tour. Neither Elly or I are big drinkers so I kept putting him off. When I finally went to the website & discovered that 'Brewer's' is the name of the walking tour company, we booked right away. It cost 15€ and was 7+ hours with our tour guide, Jonathan (a French/ Israeli Jew) with a good sense of humor and great English.

A tour of Berlin is most often focused on the division of East & West and on Hitler & the Jews. I know it is important to walk the streets where history took place and Jonathan did a great job of keeping a potentially depressing tour upbeat. In the top photo, the brass squares are an art installation, placed in front of a home or job site of a person taken by the Gestapo. The plaque says,

“In this place lived/worked
Born 1911
Deported 1942
Died in Auschwitz”

Jonathan pointed out that in order to read the plaques you must bow your head. Also, the more you try to rub away the words, the shinier the brass becomes. Earlier, I had spotted one of these when Elly and I walked to the East Gallery and we had paused, with our heads lowered to read it. Then, raising our heads, we search for the building where Alice had lived until the Nazis took her to Auschwitz. I would not have expected a 3″ square of brass to be such a potent reminder.

This Jewish memorial, near the Brandenberg gate was the most moving place we visited. It is a series of concrete columns, the size of a table top, arranged in rows. As you can see in the photo, they start out short and as you walk down the rows, the ground dips down and the columns grow taller. Like the brass squares, it seems like a simple design- but it makes you feel something and share in the experience.

Right about now, Jonathan would lighten the mood by making fun of Germans for being too literal or by telling a corny joke. Here it goes:

A man walks into a bar and notices a sound coming from the basket of peanuts. He leans in and the peanuts say- “You, Sir, have a very nice tie on today! Wow, what sparkly eyes you have! We wish we could be as handsome are you are!” The man looks up in amazement at the bartender and says, “What kind of peanuts are these?!?” To which the bartender replies,
“Oh… The peanuts are complimentary.”

This is the 'Ampleman' from the crosswalks, who tells the East Germans when it's ok to cross the street. The 'stop' Ampleman is red & wears the same hat but has his arms by his sides. They're meant to look cute because they were designed to entertain the children of East Berlin.

Jonathan liked to point out ironic things- like this souvenir stand near the biggest US checkpoint in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. These are imitation Soviet military hats, which were made in China & are being sold by the Turkish Mafia. I just like the way this photo turned out.

Snack Break @ the Turkish Market!

Folded bread with spinach, tomato and lots of sesame seeds, Elly buying curry spice, honey marzipan and Elly in a hanging wicker chair, just like the one G'ma used to have in her basement! Now, back to the tour!

Elly, pretending to be a bored German teenager. A musical cherub riding a lion. Those blue pipes are the sewer lines, moved above ground during road construction. A quote from 1820, “When a government starts burning books, later they will burn people.” On a plaque in front of the library where the Nazis burned 20,000 books. Next to the plaque, there is a window looking underground at empty bookshelves.

Our tour also included a 100 year old dance club & Hitler's bunker location (no bunker now) and concluded at the Brandenburg Gate. It is quite a grand structure but it became a world-famous landmark during the televising of the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. In the same square as the gate is the Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony with a napkin on its head.

Interesting tidbits: Now you can tour Berlin in a cheap/loud/safari-print Communist-built car (nick-named 'Trobi') that East Berliners would have been wait-listed 15 YEARS to purchase. The lower picture is of the 'Mohrenstrasse' or the subway station for the Mohrs (A dark-skinned ethnic group). Jonathan brought us here especially to tell us that at the same time they were tearing apart Hitler's office this station needed renovation, so to save money (& increase irony) the city decided to use the marble floor tiles from Hitler's office to line the walls of the station. Therefore, the floor that was trod upon by one of the most racist men in the 20th century was used to improve an U-Bahn station named after people Hitler despised. Ha! Take that, Hitler!

On the way home we passed by the Ritter Sport store! Yay! German chocolate! There were so many new flavors to try and I was amazed that I only spent 10€ on chocolate! Elly and I had been walking the city for over 7 hours so we headed home to plan our final day together in Berlin. Let's just say, it will involve a pit with a bear in it!