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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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Butts up!!

The previous post in the series on the Belize trip is here..

On day 3, our schedule was supposed to be a visit to ATM. However, the Spa manager told us that due to some conflicts we were only confirmed for ATM two days later. My heart sank and I told her that our main reason for coming to Belize was ATM and she has to make sure that we visit on that day. 

They have to get drivers out of the Spa to various locations.. given we were the only family going to ATM from the Spa and there are a limited number of people who go through ATM a day, our Day 5 became the new confirmed date. On Day 3, we were going to do Cave Tubing and Zip lining instead.

We had the same guide who went with us to snorkel and that was a good thing. We started at 8AM and were at the tubing place,  Nohoch Che'en reserve, by 9:30 AM. We had to rent Crocs to wear as the tubing involved carrying a large tube and wading through water on slippery surfaces. We also got a helmet with a light on it and life vests. For the most part the tubing was in shallow water that was 3-4 feet deep. Only in a few places it was 5-6 feet deep. 

There was a 45 minute hike from the parking lot to the starting point on the river where we entered the caves. During this hike our guide gave us a lot of information about the local forests, the type of plants etc. etc. It was interesting and was like listening to a talk on Ayurveda. We saw some smaller caves on the way to the starting point.

One thing that was common to all caves was the bats on the cave roof.. there were lots of bats.. and the caves smelled of the bats!

Walked past a lot of ant hills.. red ants, leaf cutter ants, fire ants.. the entire biting family was there. As long as we kept walking, we were fine.. or so our guide assured us. We learned about the various poisonous plants, snakes and antidotes available from other plants.

After 40 minutes or so we reached the river.

Then our guide tied up all the tubes (there were 8 of us in the group) and tied that to his tube and pretty much pulled us or navigated the group with the flow of the river. 

We got to see a lot of rock formations created by the flowing river and a waterfalls inside the caves. It was a two and a half hour deal and we got our butts kicked by the rocks at places.. 

Every now and then our guide would shout "butts up!" and we would have to pull our butts up within the tube. San and me had front tube seats (or the absence of it) and the kids deliberately went to the last row to avoid the camera. Was not happy with that. Someday they will look at these pictures and appreciate them.. or so I hope!

A video highlights of our tubing experience.


Here are two slideshows from the Cave tubing..


We had lunch at the parking lot picnic tables after a quick shower and change of clothes. Then the four of us went to Zipline while the rest of the group was asked to shop around or go for a walk in the trails near the parking. 

The Zipline was only 45 minutes with two steep hikes and 4 zip lines, but two of those went across the entire river we had just tubed across. It was my first Zip line experience. 

There were no phones, go pros, nothing allowed on the Ziiplines as you needed your hands free and your undivided attention on the Zipline. Fortunately our guide took my phone and said "I will walk to the end of the first line and take photos of you guys. So we got some photos! 

On the longest line, San got her glove stuck on the line and that automatically made her brake and she never made it to the other side. She was still a good 10 feet away. I was behind her but the guy who was clearing us could not see the other side of the river. He said I was good to go. I see a bunch of people waving on the other side and the employee asking me to brake. Had to break a good 20 feet from the other end while they threw San a line for her to be pulled up. That line was not going to reach me. 

Was basically hanging out there and the attendant shouted "Sir, can you go flat along the rope and use both hands and pull yourself towards us?".. It was not like I had a choice.. Did everyone proud by pulling myself one hand at a time all the way to the end. That was an interesting experience. Was 200 feet above a river and was doing Tom Cruise style stuff. Was not expecting that. 

After we came back, it was a quiet drive back to the Spa. There was just enough time to get a shower, get ready to join the rest of the groups for dinner. Dinners at the Spa were becoming almost like a family feast. It was the same bunch of folks we were meeting every night. We shared stories of the day from the different groups and showed pictures and videos. Got to make a lot of new friends. It was fun..

The next days plans were still being made.. but we knew what we wanted to do!  The Spa manager had to juggle some logistics to make it happen.. 

Would strongly recommend the Cave tubing even for smaller kids 6+ as long as they can stretch themselves across the tube. We thoroughly enjoyed it. The Zipline, you have to be above 40 inches tall and the last two legs were scary. So it may not be for smaller kids. 

Another day well spent in Belize!


Snorkeling at Caye Caulker - Belize

The previous post on the Belize trip is here..

On our second day, we got a wake up knock on our door (there is no phone in the rooms). The kids also realized that the Wifi works on and off with one bar in the room and gave up on it.  The cell coverage was also on and off. 

They asked the Spa manager for the Wifi and she said "The wifi works only near the pool area. This is supposed to be detox kids. Enjoy the nature!".. you should have seen the look on their faces! It was priceless. It also gave me a chance to launch into a monologue of "in those days we were born without wifi and we used to blah blah blah..". It was my version of my dads speech "in those days I had to carry 5 kg of wheat on my head for 10 kms to get it ground into flour when I was only 5 years old!" 

After gobbling up the breakfast and having more fresh coconut water, we were ready to go Snorkeling. We drove for about 20 minutes to a small village called Bomba, where apparently close to 80 people live. The Belieze Boutique resort spa is near a village called Maskall where close to a 1000 people live. 

The driver was nodding acknowledgements to everyone on the drive there. Everyone knew everyone on this road and that was something interesting. 

We took a boat from Bomba through the mangrove forests, which are protected by the Belize government. There were lot of birds which we normally don't see on the forests. There were crocodiles in the water that reminded me of Goa and Florida.. the two other places where we have seen similar flora and fauna.

After a long ride, we finally got to the island of Caye Caulker where Hurricane Hattie had split the island into two. Literally you can see the split. Then we stopped for a restroom/changing break and were off to the reef and channel to snorkel. 

This is my second snorkeling attempt. I did not do very well many years ago in Hawaii. This time, it was much better, but I stayed close to the boat. The kids went into open water a good distance with the other folks on our party and our guide. They got to see Baracuda and many different types of ray in the deep water..

Everytime I drifted more than 10 feet from the boat, would head closer, grab the ladder, wait for a few minutes and get out again. The reef was amazing in the channel! 

The sharks came to us! Probably because other tourists were feeding them..

Got to see large ray's, sharks, fishes of different colors.. it was a great experience. Then the boat moved to the shallow water in the reef and we actually got to swim with the sharks! 

Once we were done with the reef, the boat went back to the island and we had close to three hours on the island. We ate a really good vegetarian lunch at the Rainbow restaurant and walked the island's one main road, while drinking more coconut water.

Then we found a spot on the beach to put our towels and rest.

We took turns walking, first the kids, then us and before we realized it was time to head back to the boat. 

The return boat ride was breathtaking as the sun went down.

The birds were going back to their nests and we saw some Roseatte spoonbills and green herons as well as a lot of eagles, turkey vultures and falcons.

Missed my big lens for a few minutes. After the Europe trip, I started leaving the 70-200mm lens at home, as it is heavy and lugging it around makes my shoulder hurt. Just enjoyed taking in the sights instead for the first time and was okay with it.

Here are two slideshows of pictures..


We made it back through Bomba to the Resort by 6PM. At Bomba the families make wood carvings out of Teak and Mahogany and sell it to tourists.. we were more distracted by the puppy that was playing with everyone at the shops.. his name was fluffy. He made me forget the mosquitos that were going for us at the dock.

It was a day well spent.. 

The next day we were going to get another early wake up knock for another adventure!


A bucket list item to check - Belize

This is the first of a series of posts on our trip to Belize to round up 2018. . . 

It all started with me getting a mail from some guided tours and such, addressed to the previous owners of our house "or current resident". Most of the time San throws those out in the garbage on her way into the house. This time by some miracle it made it to the table. There were many places on that list and one of those was Belize. I did not know much about Belize. There were two places that were touted as must see. 

1. The Sacred cave or Cave of the Stone Sepulcher also called ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal)

2. The Great blue hole which is a UNESCO world heritage site

Belize has been a bucket list item for at least three years now. This year we had a shutdown between Christmas and New Years and San made the plans. The Great Blue hole was a helicopter ride off Belize City and it was ~1000$ per person. So the original plan was for me to see the hole while the family relaxed. That would have still been too hectic, so I cancelled that. Would rather go with the family. 

ATM was on the plan for sure. I did not give the family details and they did not go to the Wiki pages or read other peoples account of their trips or they would have never agreed to come. Good thing they just took my word for it that it is "just a short hike to see a crystallized skeleton". 

There were other things to see in Belize as well and we had to balance out the fact that the kids wanted a "relaxing vacation". Their idea of a vacation is to sit in bed and read books, or sleep, and they definitely don't want to wake up "early". Early is relative... so we stuck some kind of compromise.

We got to stay in the Belize Boutique resort and Spa. How San found this place I have no idea, but it was worth what we paid for it. It was amazing! In the middle of forest land, a small group of accomodations, maybe 30-40 people at any time staying there, food that is freshly made for every meal from stuff grown right there, a guy who puts ladders up coconut trees and cuts up cocunuts for you to drink, it was pampering.. 

My friend has a Wellness place close to Chennai that we visited last year. This was very similar.

It was close to most of the sites or activities we wanted to do. They had guides for everything except ATM (those guides are locals at the ATM site but the Resort made the arrangements for us ahead of time). 

We had a great experience where we did things for four days, then had a day "off" to make the kids happy and flew back. There were massages on the day "off" at the Spa, which was an interesting exprience in itself.

Just watching the reefs and the shallow green waters as we landed, set the expectation high for Belize!

One thing that hit us after we got to the resort was that everything had a hibiscus on it..

The welcome drinks had it, the table in the room, the pillows, the slippers, even the restoom and toilet were decorated with a single hibiscus leaf and a flower. It was the Spa's theme or something.. 

We were all encouraged to eat hibiscus and were told that it improves memory. Given we have lots of hibiscus in our house but we never ate one, San was the only one brave enough to eat the flower petals. She declared them tasty and started eating one a day. Not sure if her memory has improved yet.. The kids and me were content to admire the flowers and watching her like young experimenters in a biology lab looking at a petri dish.

The place was amazing. An air conditioned stucco hut with a tatched roof (covered by a corrugated tin sheets). We did not use the air conditioning, except as air circulation. It was pleasant outside. There was non stop noise from animals, birds, frogs and lizards, but we slept peacefully. 

Every little thing was well decorated, with things you would not think of as decorations.. door latches, thumb tacks etc.. 

The dining area was also very nicely set!

Then there was the stone and wood artwork that were all around the place..

did I mention coconut trees already? 

There was this spiritual meditation chalet made of colored bottles and it did make some amazing light effects during sunrise and sunset, but I did not use that room. Just sitting outside our little Villa was calming enough with the gentle breeze!

We stayed at the Opium Villa.. there was no Opium involved.. They have interesting names for the various huts. Fertility suite, Honeymoon hotel, Viper, Mayan Loft etc.. Most of them were isolated single storied structures with the exception of two double level buildings.. It was mostly couples staying there.. there were three families at most times and we met some fun folks over the week which was an added plus! It was like an extended family!

It was just beautiful. Have stayed in lots of places over the years, but the Opium Villa is one to remember! There was a giant Chess set in a cute setting right outside our hut. The kids did not offer to play chess with me.. I sat there for a few seconds to admire the setting.. 

There were pretty birds outside our hut working on their own honeymoons.

Sometimes a video does justice to things pictures don't.. so here is one!

It did rain on and off the day we landed. So we just relaxed, walked around the place, got adjusted to the time difference a little.. and went to bed early.. They were going to knock on our door at 6:30 in the morning. We pre-ordered breakfast (they make everything fresh starting at 6.. so we had to preorder) and we were going to leave at 8AM sharp for our first activity on Day 2...

We did realize one thing on day 1. There were plenty of things that bit us. The Spa gave a special spray made of natural stuff that was to repel the insects, but the smell of it shut down my nose and lungs instantly. So I did not spray that on.. it was going to prove a costly mistake over the coming days.. The kids used DEET.. which also suprisingly shuts me down.. Maybe I am an insect myself?!  was what I was thinking..

In any case, use the Deet if you go there, or the organic herbal spray. Don't be like me! 

Will continue the blog posts over the next few days...


Jet lag Yoga

We made it back from Belize on New Years eve'ning. One adventure always leads to another .. so came home to four loads of laundry. At the end of the day we are a fiscally conservative family. We take in fresh clothes to a resort and come back with all the clothes in a large garbage bag. 

Started doing laundry right away after coming back. In fact I had quarantined all the clothes and shoes in the entryway and put deet into the suitcases, in the event any Belizian mosquitos or biting flies and assorted insects made it accidentally into the suitcase. I think every insect in that rain forest had some part of the Narayanan family for some meal. 

The washer broke down after the first load! Spent a good hour and a half trying to remove the soaking wet clothes out and drain out the water. Fortunately we have good friends and neighbors. After letting the wet clothes drain overnight, got them done this morning. With help from my neighbor we started troubleshooting the washer. We have now narrowed it down to a faulty drain pump. Given there is no way to go buy one today and most service guys are off today being New Years, the thing is now opened up and waiting for life tomorrow. 

Given this washer lasted almost 15 years, we were thinking of buying a new one. Sometimes old is gold. This one has no fancy electronics. Possibly a simple microcontroller at the most.. it doesn't even have a belt. It is one of those old direct drive motors. No digital displays of any kind.. no fancy algo's to figure out the size of the load etc. etc.. thinking of getting it fixed tomorrow..

In all this hoopla, got no chance to do Yoga this morning. Jet lag is jet lag. It doesn't care if you got it after a week in Asia for a biz trip, or a week in Belize with family. Last night I could not stay up till midnight. Just hit the bed at 10. Especially after being one of few participants in the blood drive to support the insects in Belieze, was feeling a little tired.  

There was one last chance to catch Yoga at 4:30 PM and yet again, New Years is a popular day for folks to try something new. We had a full house at BYSJ and a great class. I got a deja vu because almost the same people were in the front row on New Years class and this is the fourth time for this experience.. 

Finally feeling back to normal. Think we can reasonably conclude that Yoga has had an addictive influence on me...


Happy New Year 2019

The 2000's turned 18. That was a big deal.. When it turns 21, we might subconsciously associate it with another "big year".. Turning 16 was a good thing.. in an American context.. 

19.. seems to be something we skip through! Don't exactly remember going through my 19th year. Hopefully 2019 goes by like that!

2018 was a monotonous year for us with the exception of four things..

1. A visit to India for my nephews Poonal ceremony and being with my parents, brother and sister under one roof even if for two days

2. A two week magical trip to Europe in Summer

3. Jr.'s dance Arangetram

4. A wrap up of the year in Belize for a week

The rest was a routine. Did manage to do yoga 224 times in 2018. As most of you know, the goal is at least 200. So checking that one off. 

The time outside of yoga was mostly spent in picking up and dropping off kids from classes. 

Did 10 trips to Asia this year instead of 12 but had three international personal trips to make up for that.

There was no major sickness this year and that was a big plus. The only negative or scary thing that happened was my father slipping and falling down in October and my mother insisting that I not visit till he is walking again.  He is improving slowly but steadily and that is a good thing.

One regret we did have was not being able to attend my sisters kids Poonal as it crossed with the pre planned Europe trip. We have moved on from that given both the Europe trip and the Poonal went very well. 

The job continues to be interesting and challenging and we are quietly ploughing through challenges one at a time. The hard part of working in a startup is to get a group of folks who don't waste time questioning the problems but just go tackle it. From that stand point, glad to have a bunch of folks who are all in that mindset. Feel the the time at work is being well spent. 

2018 was good on retrospect. 2019 is being welcomed with hopes of the kids doing well in school and work reaching significant milestones.. but what matters is to keep San smiling next to me and have good health throughout the year and cherish friendships old and new! One has to be really fortunate to have good friends and we are blessed in that department!

and yes.. resolutions.. now that yoga 200 times a year is not a resolution anymore (it is a habit), the wish and hope for 2019 is to learn to swim properly. Went for 10 classes in 2005 when Jr. was 3 years old as part of a parents and tots swim class. Could float and swim the length of the pool with two three stops. We went snorkeling in Belize and I stayed 5 feet from the boat at all times because of fear. The ATM trip was also scary going against the river in darkness. 

2019, overcome fear of deep water and waves.. Let's see if I can get that done..