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Entries in canon 5dmk2 (61)


A Zoo unlike any other 

The previous post in this series of the Belize trip is here..
When we were waiting in line for the Ziplining on day 3, I overheard another family talk excitedly about the Belize Zoo. They had come to the cavetubing / ziplining place from a cruise ship and were complaining about how they didn't get a chance to pet a Jaguar.
Had I heard it right? Did that kid actually say "pet a jaguar?" . On our way back I asked our guide and he said "yes, we have a Belize zoo. In fact we will be crossing it on our way back to the resort. This is not your typical zoo. It has only Belize animals in it which were mostly rescued or abandoned by the parents. I also believe for an extra fee you can pet a Jaguar but you have to book it ahead of time. You can ask the guide who takes folks to the zoo when we get back"
The first thing we did after going back to the resort was to find out if we could squeeze in the Zoo, the next afternoon. Altun Ha was a half day affair so we could technically do both the Zoo and Altun Ha in one day if we left early. Lucky for us, the only other family there with kids who happened to also be from California heard this and said "count us also in" . There was still some juggling to do for the resort manager. 
A couple from Rhode Island who were with us for the Altun Ha visit had to be dropped back before we left for the Zoo. As luck would have it, they also changed their plans and said "we would like to go to the Zoo as well with this group!". So we had a 10 people group going one shot and that meant more time at the Zoo.
The resort packed us lunches as well. We went straight from Altun Ha to the Zoo on day 4. 
On the way we saw prisoners to the Hattieville prison being transported in open lorries. Belize was weird. They call the prison the Ramada Inn. The prison had a gift shop! 
The Zoo had a simple entrance. 
The place was started quite accidentally by this lady who suddenly ended up having to take care of 20 animals! We met the lady and she was walking slowly through the zoo. Her story is truly inspiring! 
The thing that caught my eye near the Zoo entrance was this mural..
We paid the 50$ extra to meet the Jaguar and were told that there is a time window for it. Our guide went with us to the Zoo and he knew the place very well. He knew what we wanted. See every animal in the zoo within the 3 hour window. We also had to wait for the Jaguar encounter. He said "No problem". He also gave us details about the animals that was not there in the exhibit notice and that was interesting.
The highlight of course was the Jaugar. 
Indians : Cows :: Belizians : Jaguars
If there is a term "holy cow!", there is a "holier Jaguar!". They revere this cat! It is a god there. 
This one was a cub raised in the zoo. It was abandoned by its mother. The villagers caught a Jaguar hunting their dogs and brought it to the Zoo and they did not know she was pregnant. The cub was raised in the zoo and kids could hold it, but that was 11 years ago. Now the cub is a fully grown Jaguar and the term "petting" is not fair.. or so we learned. What happens now is that you go into a cage within the Jaguar enclosure and while the rest of the zoo visitors watch, the Jaguar jumps on top of the cage after doing somersaults and you get to touch its feet and tail. 
You also get your forehead licked by the Jaguar through the gap in the cages, should you choose to do it and can also feed it Chicken pieces. Jr and me did get our foreheads licked by the Jaguar. It was like a sandpaper scratch! Did not expect a cat's toungue to be so rough.
When the Jaguar was called back, we got up and I promptly hit my head on the cage. It is still recovering.. 
The video of the Zoo below starts with the Jaguar enounter..
This Zoo also had a baby Tapir which was incredibly cute..
and a few other Tapirs. It is interesting to see that Tapirs are found in Malaysia and Belize.. they look different.. kind of like the Indian vs. African elephants. 
There was a sad story behind every animal. This one's mom was shot.
They had Toucans, which is a bird local to Belize. They were beautiful.
The other thing that was unique to the zoo was an albino Coatimundi.. which was very rare. Coatimundi's are a very local animal.. 
There were many other unique local Belizian animals and birds (vulture, Jabiru stork etc.) and a lot of them were too far away or were sleeping in the afternoon. 
These were not my best animal photographs given they were taking with a zoom on an iPhone X and edited in Photoshop (which did not work at all) or were taking with the 24-105 lens on the Canon at 105mm. Those actually turned out much better! 
Next time, I will haul my 70-200mm and the extender on long trips. My family said "what is the point of having a 2000$ lens and leaving it at home?!".  
The rest of the pictures are in the picture galleries..
We had an amazing time at the Belize zoo and would strongly recommend it as one of the "not to miss" activities in Belize. Go and get the Jaguar encounter booked ahead. They allow a max of  4 people at a time into that enclosure and the wait can be long, but it is worth it!

A pyramid.. finally!

The previous post about this series on the Belize trip is here..

It has always been a dream to see the Pyramids.. Given that might happen sometime, was going to see "a" pyramid.. Chichen Itza, Altun Ha or Lamanai.. 

The first one that came our way is Altun Ha!

We were staying 20 minutes from Altun Ha and were not going to miss the chance. Day 4 of the Belize trip started with Altun Ha in the morning.

Our guide took us to the modest Museum of sorts that explained the place and had a replica of the Jade head that was found in the tomb, that made the place famous!

On the way to the structure we saw a large beetle, a very large but hopefully dead tarantula (it was larger than my hand) and some nice flowers.. all of which amused the kids in the group.

we also saw a "love you to death tree".. which is a parasitic tree that grows around palm trees and engulfs the palm inside! (this is a vertical Pano) 

The pyramids are layered and sealed with remains. There are more questions than answers per our guide on why they built it the way they did. The carbon dating for this is all over the place as it was used by multiple generations and trying to restore the pyramids actually damaged it. 

The place is not fully excavated and they decided to stop. you can clearly see that the original stone work was way better than the current stone work or more recent stone work used to try and repair! 

We climbed up to the top of both the large structures and had a great view of the surrounding area. At one point this place must have had a 10000 people trading in the market below.. it is easily possible to visualize this from the top. (our guide was nice enough to say "give me your camera and I will take pictures when you are at the top". Really liked this guy as he made sure I was in a few pictures!)

Here is a slide show of the landscape..

and a slide show of the Pano's .. this place was perfect for Panos. 

Altun Ha is a must see if you visit Belize. 

After hanging out there for an hour or so we moved on directly to our second stop of the day..Turned out to be the second best highlight of our trip and was totally unexpected!  That post over the weekend. Was fortunate to have an extra day after the vacation to edit photos and videos in the middle of dealing with a broken washing machine. Work has begun and that means the posts slow down. 

Starting to like Wifi free vacations. It is a good reset.


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...