Magic Day 5: Belize City, Belize

Thursday,  November 7, 2013

"Sorry, what can I do?"

“Sorry, what can I do?”

We’re told to not venture outside of the tourist areas, so Lonnie & I sign up at Belize Caribbean Tours to visit the ruins. We hope that a small group with a guide will be a nice experience. It was a mistake … a BIG mistake. They herd four of us around for almost an hour, to three different “waiting areas” as they try to get more people to fill up the van. There are about a dozen of us who finally leave. But not before the agent gets an earful, even after he offers to add another stop along the route (that would squeeze the schedule’s timeline). If there’s a long wait time, passengers should be told. They probably didn’t want to lose customers, but it’s still a poor policy. We know better now that unless you already have a group going, DON”T sign up for a van!!!

Mayan ruins

Mayan ruins

Imagine their lives ...

Imagine their lives …

To be fair, our guide, Richard, is quite good. With 16 years as a guide under his belt, he’s a constant stream of Belize history. He says to ask him anything, even about his family. (We now know how much it costs for his child to go to school and what color her uniform is.  We also go by the school she attends.) There’s a short tour of the city, then countryside, before taking an hour long trip to the ruins. Okay, it’s fun speeding past the huge, lumbering cruise buses that sway along the horribly pockmarked excuse of a road. Thinking positively, our oft times jarring ride can also be seen as an invigorating seat massage. An advantage of a small group is that we can listen up close to the commentary – we definitely would not be able to hear as well in a large group walking the ruins. 

If you plan to visit for a while, this is some of what Richard shared with the van as we went hurtling along. Belize’s top four industries are agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and oil. There is no local paper, but they have electricity and lots of cable shows to keep them connected with the world. Water is 1/2 a U.S. cent per gallon. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America. Thirteen years ago cruise ships began docking in Belize and Americans came, buying property and building homes here. Every citizen in Belize who turns 18 is gifted property from the government – in the city, a small property, in the country, up to 10 acres. A 2000 sq. ft. home in a decent neighborhood in the city runs about $250 for property tax. If you have someone working for you (maid, gardener), you have to pay income tax, about 7%.

June to November is the rainy season. We come at a good time. Last week everything was flooded and all tours were canceled! The last big hurricane here was in 1961. The crime rate is very low, 89 homicides/murders so far this year for the whole country. Richard talks about concrete homes, delicious fruit, the population, and much more! 

Happy image compliments of the house photography team:

A magical Elegant Night

A magical Elegant Night

Dining room dancing! Add another performance from Marlon, the Singing Waiter:

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Magic Day 4: Roatan Bay Island, Honduras

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oh, happy day – LAND!!! Large tourist parks like Gumbalimba are wonderful, with all their ziplines, lush nature paths and organized outdoor activities. They’re lots of fun and everything is clean and well-maintained.

Wares hanging at a Coxen Hole shop

We’re not going that route. We hope to experience the real island while putting money directly into the local economy so, we head to the queue of taxis. Even though there is access to electricity, running water and (even) cable TV on the island of Roatan, Honduras is considered to be one of the poorest of Central American countries. (If you visit, don’t forget the bug spray as sand fleas are ferocious! One flea bite that got through the spray stayed red many days after.) The manager of the taxi company asks drivers, one-by-one, if they speak enough English to be our guide. Finally, he turns to us and says it’s our lucky day. HE’s going to take us around the island! So, off we go with our new friend, Rubin.

Welcome!

Welcome!

A local sanctuary called Mayan Eden is just off the main road. It’s not pretty, but in a very natural state. It’s small, somewhat rundown, but there’s a lovely dock further down the path.

Iguanas are lazing about – munching on leaves, sunning on the ground, on the roof of a shelter, in the trees. We feed a few, but politely decline an offer to hold one.

Knock, knock. Who's there? Iguana. Iguana who? 'ey, gwanna climb up this tree and feed me?

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Iguana.
Iguana who?
‘ey, gwanna climb up this tree and feed me?

There is a small enclosed butterfly farm on the property, but it rained earlier and we don’t see many. The flowers are fresh and shiny from the recent soaking.

Wish Leaf blossoms

Wish Leaf blossoms

IMG_1814

Color coordinated

Color coordinated

We wander down to the dock, where a young man points out an octopus that’s changing color, right before our eyes! Sorry for the watery image. I tried to sharpen it as much as possible.

Can you see the octopus?

Can you see the octopus?

Our guide points out a local favorite, the Monkey Lala lizard. I take a quick shot, as they move fast! Remember the National Geographic commercial, where a lizard skims effortlessly over the water in a standing position? That’s the striped basilisk lizard, also known as the Jesus lizard or Monkey Lala. It has special feet and a crazy running technique that keeps it from sinking as it races across the water. There’s more about it at natgeojesuslizard.

Monkey Lala, Jesus lizard, Striped Basilisk lizard - pick a name, any name!

Monkey Lala, Jesus lizard, Striped Basilisk lizard – pick a name, any name!

Monkeys are more our style. One, a black spider monkey named Hannah, leaves muddy tracks as she runs up my leg and jumps into my arms. The guide says she prefers women. She curls up, snug as a baby. When we leave, they pry her out of my arms. “Bye, Hannah.”

Sweet Hannah

Sweet Hannah

It's food I want, not a picture!

It’s food I want, not a picture!

Wanna hold 'im? No thanks, Mauricio.

Wanna hold ‘im?
No thanks, Mauricio.

Making friends

Making friends

This restroom could have been a painting!

This restroom could have been a painting!

Rubin takes us to his favorite view of the island after stopping by the roadside to get a bag of his son’s favorite snack. It’s a hairy looking ball with yellow tinged spikes. He insists we try some. Mmm … tastes just like a plump Chinese lychee!

Juicy!

Juicy!

Rubin's favorite spot, overlooking the island

Rubin’s favorite spot, overlooking the island

Lunch at one of Rubin’s local hangouts, Bayside Restaurant & Grill. The restaurant is in the grittier part of Coxen Hole, but it gives the restaurant atmosphere.

Blissful breezes

Blissful breezes

Mine, all mine!

Mine, all mine!

A hummingbird is perfectly framed as it perches behind us

A hummingbird is perfectly framed as it perches behind us

Rubin drops us off and we take a short stroll through Mahogany Beach. There are lifts to take tourists over, food and drink, row-on-rows of beach chairs and outdoor games.

Sand & Sun

Sand & Sun

It's getting late, time to go ...

It’s getting late, time to go …

On board, we clean up for a very special show. A Las Vegas magician is brought in to dazzle us with flashy moves and cool illusions. Again, “No pictures, please.”

Preparing to be entertained

Preparing to be entertained

Even crew members dress up for the event!

Even crew members dress up for the event!

We sit next to Jeremy, a crew member who wears many hats, as they often do. The former architect from Australia is an example of the scope of professions from which cruise staff migrate. He followed his passion and now travels the world!

Magic Day 3: 89 Carnival Cruises and Counting …

Tuesday,  November 5, 2013

Sorry Lonnie, Tre's thick beard puts your little Billy Goat Gruff puff to shame!

Sorry Lonnie, Tre’s thick beard puts your little Billy Goat Gruff puff to shame!

We had a three hour brunch. (Cue “Gilligan’s Island” music.) Yes … a thr-e-e-e ho-o-o-ur brunch. We ran into old friends and caught up on our lives, thoroughly! Janie and Lonnie used to work at the same company before Janie left and it took a fast and furious death dive from which there was no recovery. You could say that was the beginning of Sarbanes-Oxley.

This trip is not the first time we’ve unintentionally found each other. About 15 years ago, we ran into Janie & Tre on a busy street in Canada! They are a lovely couple and we have plenty of laughs over old times.

Competitors vie enthusiastically for the middle slot in the marriage contest

Competitors vie enthusiastically for the middle slot in the marriage contest

One of the more entertaining shows we attend is on marriage. A couple married 53 years are so cute! They sit on stage with two other couples, chair backs together, writing separate answers to questions from 6’3.” The husband is a frisky one. The wife will occasionally reach back and try to whack his leg with her cane if she thinks he’s misbehaving!

One of the best interactive activities we enjoy is karaoke in one of the lounges. The dance moves of two men add a real “Motown Sound” to the song. You can see the older gentleman cue his protege, as if he’s a former Pip!

Carnival dancers and students dip and sway to the music

Carnival dancers and students dip and sway to the music

Carnival dancers lead a class on ballroom dancing before there’s a dance-off. Their graceful moves and high energy when performing rivals any such acts you see in Vegas!

I have to give a “BIG, BIG THANK YOU!!!” to the crew. They play a huge part in our cruise experience. They work long hours, seven days a week, for six to nine months straight, to ensure that passengers are well cared for and safe! I read name tags from Croatia, the Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia, Serbia, etc. Our dinner waiters also work the breakfast shift.  We learn that one of our servers, Marlon, has another talent when he breaks into song during dinner!

Walking around, we bump into Susan Drew Brock, a well-traveled passenger. During one of the activities, 6’3″ pointed out Susan as a very special guest. I sit down with Ms. Brock for a little chat:

Earlier this year, Susan cruised to South America on the Splendor. She remembers its maiden voyage, when she flew into England and boarded it to visit Russia, Finland, Sweden and Germany. Two years ago this week, Brock flew to Spain for the Magic’s maiden voyage, an ocean crossing!

Susan is not just a spectator. She’s judged events such as the Hairiest Chest Contest. Cruise directors call out her name when they need a volunteer to break the ice and start the ball rolling. The former cheerleader was actually quite shy growing up. Since then, she has sung the national anthem many times for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo and the Texas Rangers. “Our nation is very blessed! Thank God we’re here in America, where we can sing the national anthem and say the pledge of allegiance.” Susan still teaches and says a group of students are from the Congo. They lived in a crowded, dangerous camp for several years and saw their father decapitated by a machete. She’s determined to see that they have a better life in America.

The former nurse, singer, Miss Kodak, actress and Miss Pibb still sings. She’s related to the Barrymores. Drew is the family name that started the well-respected acting dynasty.

When asked, “Are you rich?” by a passenger, Susan replied that she was rich in family, good health and friends. The tablemate persisted, pointed out her many travels. Well, here is how Susan does it:

* You have to pay yourself

* Set clear goals

* Live simply. She does her own hair and nails. She mows her own yard.

* When it comes to spending, shop around. Don’t take the first thing you see.

* When traveling, don’t pack the kitchen sink.

* Think ahead.

* Take tours when visiting other countries, as you may never come back; meet locals;     try local foods; learn about their cultures

Susan thinks cruises are the best way to travel – park your car, unpack, make new friends and sample all the varieties of food you want!

With a sparkling smile, she imparts one last piece of advice – “Have fun. Enjoy life!”

Magic Day 2: Meet the Carnival Magic Cruise Director!

Monday,  November 4, 2013

Today, I caught up with the Cruise Director, nicknamed 6’3″. It’s a long ways to look up, even when she’s wearing flats! The former model sat down for a short interview before heading out to host the next activity.

Lots to see and do – food, fun and favors!

The Executive Chef made enough for everyone to taste!

The Executive Chef made enough for everyone to taste!

Romantic sunsets ...

Romantic sunsets …

Fav meal - vegetarian Indian dishes!

Fav meal – vegetarian Indian dishes!

Didn't win Air Guitar Contest, but had fun tryin'!

Didn’t win Air Guitar Contest, but had fun tryin’!

Videos & board games are in the library

Videos & board games are in the library

High tea!

High tea!

Meet the Captain!

Meet the Captain!

Magic Day 1: Bon Voyage!

Sunday,  November 3, 2013

Takin' to the high seas!

Takin’ to the high seas!

 

Three days after booking a cruise, we’re here! (Great last minute deals can often be found.) Galveston is a short drive down the freeway and the Carnival Magic is calling! 

 

Anywhere near water makes me happy! There are about 4,000 other guests, but it doesn’t feel crowded at all. We pull a cold bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple-Pomegranate juice from the bag and toast our voyage.  The whole ship is feeling the magic of Carnival!