Saturday, August 26, 2006

Drunk Flying and Subsequent Central American Adventures

Just want to start this post with a shout-out to all the long time readers that I met for the first time at Katie’s wedding. It was great to meet you. I hope you all had a good time.

I returned safely from East Africa and in time to make the wedding, no coups or other disaster this time… The wedding was great. I had a pastel dress, pink nails and a French twist. Most of you wouldn’t even have recognized me. After the wedding, I stuck around long just long enough to have a couple Bloody Marys and then headed south to meet my roommate in Belize. The goal was to spend a couple days diving and poking around Mayan ruins before heading over to Indiana to don my red dress and drinking shoes for A&E’s wedding…

I arrived in Belize City after an unnecessarily arduous flight with a four-hour layover in Dallas. (Security in JFK is off the hook. In Dubai coming back from Dar es Salaam, I went through with a liter and a half bottle of water and an entire toiletries kit. In New York they call the bomb squad for a tube of toothpaste and half finished Snapple.) And it is a good thing that I had four hours in Dallas. It took me two and a half hours and two terminals to find a salad that didn’t have some kind of deep fried animal product on top of it. (Airports are up there with shady horse farms and India in the rankings of places that I don’t eat meat.) I eventually convinced the guy at the Asian food stand to give me just carrots, broccoli and fried noodle, but not before he tried to add fried pork, chicken, beef, etc…

Upon arrival in Belize City, I immediately bought a ticket to the island of Caye Chaulker, a backpacker hangout and diving mecca off the coast. I had an hour to kill officially, of course I actually had more because the plane was late, so I headed over to the airport bar. There I joined not one, not two, but THREE sets of honeymooning couples at the bar, also waiting for their flights. (You can tell the new couples because the girls all have “wedding nails” and the guys are fiddling with their bright shiny new rings.) The bar was run by this midget, Jet, that had been selling rum punch and beer to honeymooners for forty years. He wanted $5 US for a Dixie cup of rum punch. I asked him if he thought he was in Manhattan. We bantered back and forth for a while before I finally agreed to buy one. He walks over to the bar (which inexplicably had a bottle of Listerine on the top shelf…) and stops. He looks at me and says, “you know what? I like you. You are a pain in the ass.” He drops two ice cubes into the cup, fills it with dark brown rum and throws in a splash of juice. The drink was the same color as the bottle of rum. It was so strong that I could barely drink it, and I can usually do turpentine shots without wincing. So I had two of these while waiting for the plane and was already flying high when the eight-seater finally showed up.

Now Caye Chaulker is only a fifteen minute flight from Belize City. It actually is a “by request” stop, meaning that the plane to San Pedro will drop you off if you ask them too. Like a city bus. I asked the pilot if I could be the co-pilot if I promised not to kick the pedals. He said okay. One of the honeymooners was a nervous flyer and just about dropped dead when he saw (1) the size of the plane, (2) that I was the co-pilot, who he knew had just spent 90 minutes at the bar… But it all ended well and I hopped off with my backpack and went to meet Dennis at our cabana - which was only accessible by walking along the beach. Caye Chaulker was pretty small place. No cars. You walked everywhere or took one of the golf cart taxis.

Next day we did a bit of diving. Nice, warm water, lots of fish… grouper, sea turtles, sharks… The day after that we decided to go out to Blue Hole, a deep collapse crater 60 kilometers out in the ocean. It was a really cool dive. You descended in a free fall where you couldn’t see the bottom, only sharks circling in the murk. You drop through the sharks (they are only Caribbean reef sharks – not really dangerous – but a little unnerving when the swim within inches of you.) When you reach the maximum depth of the dive – 140 feet down – the water gets crystal clear and there is a deep overhang with huge stalactites to swim between. It was one of the best and most eerie dives I have ever done.

After that it was back to the surface for a couple more dives and then back to shore. Next morning we began the long trip across Belize and into northern Guatemala to see the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. First we took the “ferry” to the mainland (some guy with a big open motorboat) and then got on the bus. The trip was long and slow and meals consisted of cheap corn chips bought along the roadside at the border. We arrived on the outskirts of Flores – where we would be spending the night – just in time to get caught in a dead stop traffic jam caused by student protests. We ended up walking, taking a minibus, and then walking again before we finally got to Flores and a place to stay. We ate dinner and crashed. We had signed up for the 3:30 am departure to see the sunrise in Tikal.

Of course neither Dennis nor I had brought an alarm clock. We bought a cheap Chinese plastic piece of crap in Caye Chaulker – which didn’t work. Dennis woke up at 3:20. I will spare you the details of the ensuing dressing packing and leaving debacle. We made the bus. After a 50 kilometer ride to Tikal and a 45 minute hike through the dark – we climbed the temple steps to wait for the dawn. We sat on the top, surrounded by mist and jungle in the dark, listening to the disturbing calls of the howler monkeys out in the bush. As the sun rose and it grew lighter, we saw the tree tops and tops of the other temples fading in and out in the mist. The monkeys and parrots screamed and toucans flew through the sky. Really cool experience.

We spent the rest of the morning hiking around and climbing temples. More toucans and spider monkeys. Just before lunch we set out on what would turn out to be a hot and long and hot journey back into Belize and south to do more diving. Most of the time we road in the back of converted school buses across the bumping roads. Dennis and I gave into our adolescent tendencies and sat in the back – where all the cool kids were – just like middle school…
So now we are in Placencia – a tiny dot of land on the bottom of a peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic that is less than 100 meters wide at points. We had hoped to be underwater by now, but stupid tropical storm Ernesto has kicked up too much chop so we are beached. There is a chance we could get out this afternoon, but it looks like if Ernesto doesn’t want to take a cue from his namesake and visit Fidel and Raul right soon, we are done diving for now.

No comments: