February 2011
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A Typical Day in San Pedro, Belize

A perfect day: Relax. Decompress. Forget about the real world. Take a lazy walk through town. Relax some more by the pool (or in a vacant shaded hammock), slathered in sunscreen, topped off with my breezy colourful hat and a fantastically entertaining book. Seeing the skydivers with huge grins across their faces disembark from the water taxi, I would hop in to the powerful ocean boat (i.e. the skydiver’s water taxi is a 5 minute carefree ride of pure undiluted bliss with the sun beating down, the ocean air flapping through my hair and a smile as big as the all the waters gracing my face) for a quick excursion to the landing area just north of the bridge. There I would check out the wind to see if it had died down at all. Still too windy for my liking. Time for a fresh squeezed fruit rum punch followed by another quick dip in the freshwater pool.

A trip to DandE’s for frozen custard ice cream and sorbet (divine perfection) as a refreshing treat BEFORE dinner. Devouring a shrimp and scallop burrito (best burrito EVER) at Waraguma chased with a succulent Seafood Ceviche = heavenly. A slow full-moon saunter with my husband down the beach returning to our hotel, the warm Caribbean air caressing our bodies, preparing us for the best nights rest in ages. Gloriously sublime.

Note: Waraguma is a hole in the wall middle street restaurant that MUST NOT be missed. The burritos are HUGE and simply divine — it came highly recommended to us by Rich and Christine, and is a very special dinner spot. In the evening there is always a woman making papusas (a cross between a pancake and quesadilla, filled with fish, beef, chicken, spinach, cheese, beans, shrimp, conch or lobster – when in season) on the street. However, buyer beware. The menu prices are not posted — best to check the price before ordering; it made me curious as to whether there were two sets of prices: one that varies for tourists and one for locals. The food across the road at the Papuseria is almost as good and seems to be 1/3rd cheaper.

The Jewel of Belize

Without actually visiting the country and Island of Ambergris Caye, it might be difficult to imagine the amazing qualities of our time here on the Island. So maybe by providing a little bit of history about Belize (thanks to the Tropic Air brochure), you can dream and imagine alongside me in our adventures. Belize covers 8867 square miles (about the size of the state of Massachusetts) with a population of about 350,000. Bordered by Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the West and South, and the Caribbean Sea to the East, the topography ranges from sea level mangrove forests to mountains and jungle forests. Three atolls and the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere are dotted with hundreds of islands (otherwise known as cayes).

For entry into Belize, a valid passport is mandatory for all. As a Canadian citizen, we didn’t need to have a visa. However, a 30 day entrance stamp is the standard for all foreigners. Upon leaving Belize, I believe we need to pay a $37US per person departure tax.

The Belize dollar is ‘fixed’ at BZ$2 to US$1, and US$ are widely accepted (often given in return as change from the local vendours — in small denominations only). We discovered pretty quickly that our credit card charged a 1% transaction fee per usage (probably because we are outside of North America). Because the exchange rate for cash on hand is 2-4% better than the bank (not including the usage fee), it seems that cash truly will be king whilst we’re here on the island. Good to know for anyone considering to come to the Island. Bring lots of paper money :).

English is the official language. However, Spanish is widely spoken, as is the the Creole dialect. Creole is an interesting language, in that at times, I catch glimpses of words and/or phrases that almost seem closely linked to English slang expressions.

The majority of our time in Belize will be spent on Ambergris Caye of which San Pedro is the main town on the peninsula. Originally a fishing village, it was named after Saint Peter, the patron saint of fisherman. Ambergris Caye is the most northerly and largest of the 200 cayes off the coast of Belize and is situated 10 miles from the mainland. It hosts world class diving and snorkelling with a plethora of fixed dive sites on the barrier reef. There truly is so much to do on the island …. windsurfing, kayaking, birding, sailing (Hobie Cat rentals cost around $80US for a 2 hour hire) and kiteboarding ($80US for approximately a 3 hour lesson) are just a few of the available outdoor pursuits. slaDE will get certified as an Open Water scuba diver through PADI whilst here and I will go through a refresher course and dive to bring me back up to par (Hugh Parkey is our dive school of choice — $350US for his certification and $125US for my review + dive — all inclusive of equipment). What’s enticing about the diving here is that Ambergris Caye is closest to the World Heritage Site and 2nd largest Barrier Reef in the World (with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being the largest). This amazingcoral reef system lies a mere ½ mile / 20 minute boat ride east of the shoreline and runs the complete 25 mile length of the island (Ambergris Caye is only 4 miles wide at its widest point). As you can imagine, this super easy access to the reef distinguishes San Pedro as the diving and water sports playground for Belize and Central America. These are the most popular sites within a short boat ride: the Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley, Mexico Rocks plus many other spectacular local diving and snorkelling excursions.

San Pedro town has a unique feel and charm to it, spotted with both international cuisine restaurants alongside local traditional cafes serving Belizean food and flair. The cobblestone streets are vibrant with golf cart and bicycle traffic, mingled with bustling local artists, craftsmen and vendors displaying their wares. Front, Middle and Back Street are the three main streets of town, making for easy navigation within San Pedro’s grid-system. In early 2006, a new bridge opened over the river. Until then, pedestrians crossed the channel on a hand-pulled ferry.

This new bridge provided a permanent overpass, connecting northern Ambergris with the rest of the island. With this new expansion came much more tourist development (private residences, resorts and a few restaurants + bars).

Of note: the bridge is only for golf carts, bikes and pedestrians. Golf carts are  charged BZ$5 each way, bicycles BZ$1 and pedestrians no charge.

Skydiving Pleasures Over Belize

Belize is ‘unBelizeable’. It’s so beautiful and full of brilliant seaside character.  A perfect tropical island getaway, and that’s before getting in to the air and skydiving. I did 3 jumps today from the Pac (supplied by Ray Farrel) and had the most heavenly experience and views. I was transfixed by the beauty of the island but quite anxious and a tad bit frightened on my first jump, to be honest. The landing area is extremely tight, and I didn’t really want to do anything on the skydive itself but enjoy the view and think about how I would get down safely. But the northerly winds were optimal and light. After I had my first successful landing under my belt, I was content and could enjoy the other 2 ethereal jumps more fully. 🙂

I hurt my arm about 2 weeks ago on a not so pretty landing. And it’s still an angst in my butt ;). Painful mostly at night, but a dull sense of weakness and ache during the day. As a precaution, I wrapped it for my skydives in an attempt to waylay my nervousness. I fervently prayed that my elbow wouldn’t ‘lock’ up on me (the right arm pulls my main parachute and jettisons — aka a cutaway — the canopy if something were to go wrong). My upper limbs also function as my steering controls, and with this being such a tight landing area, maneuverability is an ultra important and highly desirable feature 🙂 … more-so than any other skydive I’ve ever made! But as always, I am opting to take it easy and be conservative when if I feel the need to be (same goes for the wind).

This is the 7th year for the Boogie in Belize as birthed, nurtured and flourished by Richard Grimm. The homebase and hotel of choice for the Boogie’s entire history has been the Sunbreeze Hotel. They have a large courtyard, pool, restaurant and bar right beside the ocean vista, with the Hugh Parkey dive shop located at the foot of their private pier. The courtyard is surrounded by two levels of beautiful rooms and provides a perfect sheltered meeting and packing place for the skydivers. This year is the first where two Boogies will take place … 10 days for the North American contingency with a 4 day break before the European group comes to play for another 10 days. We chose to spend 3 weeks total here in Belize, giving us the opportunity to attend both events and perhaps tour the mainland whilst enjoying the luxuries of scuba diving the reef. How magnificent and well-planned is that??!!

Before we arrived, Rich and his crew surveyed the landing area only to find it strewn with an unfortunate amount of garbage, some of it from local sources and much of it from boats or sea current deposits from other areas. I’ve noticed that in general on the Island, most hotel operators and property owners keep their beachfront areas raked clean each and every day, apart from the seagrass and falling coconuts which exist despite the fervent beach grooming. Beside the landing area sits ‘Coco Locos’, a lovely Belizean bar which serve the many spectators, cruise ships and jumpers (after the skydiving day is complete, of course). Rich is intentional and consistent with his ideals of safety, and there is always a person at the landing area monitoring the activity to make sure we keep ourselves safe whilst skydiving in to nirvana.

The landing area for our Boogie happens to be just north of the bridge. The inner reef that lines the entire island is shallow in depth, which makes for water landings a possible and desirable out if unable to safely land in the tight landing area surrounded by condos, hydro lines and poles, a lagoon to the west (American Saltwater and

Morelet Crocodiles lurk in the lagoons although they are rarely known to attack people), an often-present barge, towering palm trees and the ominous pungee sticks. The ocean stands on the eastern seawall edge. It’s a rather hairy landing experience when the eastern winds blow strong. I’m thinking that I will be somewhat picky and choosy about my days of jumping whilst here … 3 weeks is a long time to spread them out if I so choose. We’re very lucky to have that option, not feeling the need to jump my butt off as I sense the other participants want to.

A common form of transport on the island is by water taxi (stretched out speed boats), and Rich has built in to the boogie fee water taxi transport back to the Sunbreeze Hotel after each and every skydive landing. However, the water taxi is available to all interested in checking out the landing area. Awesome for the times I don’t feel like jumping. Part of the complete thrill and experience of this vacation has revolved around the freedom and flight across the water via taxi, with the sun shining brightly, the salty air vibrant on my skin and the water sparkling with diamond reflections on this tropical island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Hard to describe, but a memory that brings a smile to my face each and every time I dream of Belize.

After checking out the landing area, slaDE and myself made our way up to the Ak’bol Yoga Retreat, where we’d be staying during our stay here. Ak’bol is a step away from the town and a haven from the crowds. Just a gorgeous place, and one that we looked forward to exploring, deciding on whether this could be a future venue for a yogaFLIGHT camp / yoga getaway.

I am so completely and utterly grateful to my husband for coming up with the idea and beginning workings of a plan for our Belizean adventure. Initially, when slaDE~ mentioned the possibility of travelling to Belize (last summer), I underwent a to-go-or-not-to-go dilemma. I easily found reasons on why we should stay ‘home’: money should be saved in order to extend our current travel lifestyle; a Caribbean vacation seemed to be a frivolous notion, and an expensive one at that; wouldn’t we already be on vacation? Why go to such lengths of travel beyond our current winter plans? What would we do with our Airstream? Etcetera, etcetera. But after evaluating those concerns and realizing that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, spontaneously and fully in the moment, I forged onwards and connected with the adventure of skydiving in Belize (for 3 weeks no less). Leading us to where we are now. This should be an amazing 3 weeks!

I Heart Belize

An early morning beginning for slaDE and myself. But considering we never went to sleep, it was somewhat of a blur arriving at the airport at 2am. We are forever grateful to our hosts and friends Don and Stacey who were amazing at keeping us transported back and forth to both the weekend wedding + to the airport for our Belize flight. We would have been challenged to accomplish so much in the short span of our Texan visit without their help. We knew that this was going to be a long day …. very little sleep over the last few days + a 4:30am flight with a 6 hour layover in El Salvador. When I am physically challenged by lack of sleep, I will attempt to sleep wherever and whenever I can. With cumbersome armrests lining the San Salvador airport chairs, I was hard-pressed to lie comfortably on the seats, but for 4 hours, I curved and egged my body, serpentine around the metal and vinyl fittings of the ‘lounge’ benches.  SO happy I grabbed a pillow off the airplane. This cushioning helped the comfort zone somewhat, that along with an eye-mask to block the blaring light. Wish slaDE had taken a photo of my turtle-like stasis:).

Arrival at Belize City International was a welcome relief. Although our experience with TACA airlines was truly superb, I was ready to move on to our final leg to Ambergris Caye. Interestingly enough, the quick hop to our Belizean Island was in a Cessna Grand Caravan. We’ve both quite a few skydives from this type of single engine aircraft (which normally carries about 14 jumpers). How could I not smile huge from ear to ear, thinking about the skydiving vacation ahead of us?!

Pedro’s Hotel and Inn would be our home away from home for the next while. It is owned and operated by the hospitable and inveterate Englishman Peter Lawrence alongside Pedro’s Backpackers Inn. Both places are undoubtedly some of the cheapest places on the Island to stay. The bar claims to serve the best pizza in Belize (I concur!). For how long, we weren’t certain, as we had booked a few nights at Ak’bol Yoga Retreat and wanted to tour the mainland sometime during our vacation. Upon arrival, further inspection led us to believe that this inexpensive accommodation would serve us wonderfully over the next few weeks (fridge, air conditioning, cable tv, a hot shower with plentiful water pressure, microwave and filtered water in the office for our usage whenever needed, a king-sized comfy bed, and awesome friendly staff). How could we go wrong?

Once settled, we walked the beach towards the Sunbreeze Hotel, home base operations for the Boogie in Belize, and the residence for most of the skydivers on this trip. The warm ocean Caribbean air was seducing, salty and succulent in the most inviting of ways. The sand begged to be walked barefoot, a simple luxury that would become a part of our daily routine here on the Island. And upon arrival at the Sunbreeze, who should we run in to but Mad John and his followers (MJ is an old-time skydiver and friend). Neither of us knew of the others presence here at the Boogie. A wonderful surprise! Inexpensive rum punches flowed easily between the group as we sampled the luxuries of San Pedro seafood. Ceviche is a favourite of mine, and here on the Island, truly impeccable in taste and quality. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, seems like this holiday is going to be a fresh taste of paradise. A time to kick back and just be, enjoying the whims of fancy wherever that may exist in the moment (skydiving, scuba, suntanning, swimming, snorkelling, sleeping, sailing, travelling, friendship-making, yoga-ing, dancing naked under the palm trees, eating, etc).


A Texan Wedding

With the Boogie in Belize officially starting today, we had to have a very special reason for not actually attending the opening ceremonies. The venue? A Texan wedding: our friends Ashley Leyva and Cody Holsey would be tying the knot.

San Antonio was the city, and that meant catching a ride with our friend Stacey (who happened to also be the wedding photographer for this afternoon). It was a truly beautiful wedding set and made for some fantastic memories Texan style/ They sure know how to throw a party! 🙂


The Twilight Wernig Zone

Welcome to the Wernig zone. Once you enter, you’ll never want to leave. This earth isn’t real, all this is a mirage. Or so it seemed.
We were invited to join Nate, his wife Amy, their daughter Zan, Dayna and a gathering of other friends for a pasta dinner unsurpassed in its deliciousness. Nate LOVES to cook, and skilled he has. Mad chef skillz. We rode our with Brandi and Lee, thinking that the 75 minute commute was better shared, especially when coming and going together from the same residence. We brought along our wash kit, just in case we had the chance to grab a quick shower before returning home. When we left, the dz was sultry warm with sunshine abundant. And, when it was time to return with Brandi and Lee, we opted to stay overnight, catching a ride with Nate to the dropzone in the morning. Comfy warm and inviting defined their beautiful home. Laughter consistently bounced off the walls. Nate’s high energy and Zan’s excited peals of laughter made our stay unbelievably inviting. When the morning arrived, we were savouring the freedom of no boundaries or pressing tasks. Nate decided to take the day off and we played inside as the temperatures outside rapidly dropped.
As so was our week. With each passing day, we decided to stay yet another. Intense cooking sessions made for a delightful feast each and every evening. 4 days and 4 nights of relaxation, shopping extravaganzas at the HEB plus, excellent ‘lasagna’ conversations, beard dyeing, twirling, dancing, napping, marathon computer / writing / blogging, meeting Aidan (Nate’s son), mad acrobatics with slaDE and Zan plus movie sessions plus wicked late night meals, which made for a reluctant departure from the Wernig household.  The fact that temperatures dipped down well-below freezing (raining at times but profusely always cold) each and every night made for an easy decision to stay ‘just one more night’.

Married to the Wind: Making smart choices

An early morning return to Skydive Houston meant that we were ready to jump lots after a miserably cold housebound week, excited at some big way practice (as promised in SDH’s last newsletter). Unfortunately, the coldish temperatures scared the big way organizer off and we were left to our own devices for planning some fun jumps. Not having enough belly jumpers to make anything significant in number, Jason, Jim Culhane, slaDE and myself made 3 RW skydives together.

After my final jump, I was grounded (self-imposed) due to the high winds which were blowing faster beyond my comfort zone. A rough gusty landing was enough to send me scampering for safer ground, ice in hand nursing my booboo. In addition to that, three super bumpy jumps with weirdly sluggish canopy input had me choose the safer option, for me (everybody has there own comfort level. The drop zone relies on each individual skydiver to make informed smart decisions on when to jump or not).

Wind wus I may be, but past experience has taught me valuable lessons on where my comfort zone exists. As the old saying goes: “It’s better to be safely on the ground wishing you were in the air rather than in the air wishing you were safely on the ground”. Darwin’s law will weed out those who make poor choices. And I don’t want to spend another 4 years grounded, nursing another injury (as I have done before).

Winter hits Houston Texas

Houston was immobilized with an ice storm last night. Freezing rain hammered the city, but not an ounce of snow was to be seen. Seems the weather moved further north overnight and the snow sent Dallas scrambling for cover (hope they manage to clear it all up for Sunday’s Superbowl game!). However, the cold snap remained and a thin coating of ice caked every visible surface. Again, the city was shut down … few know how to drive in icy conditions and the city is not equipped with de-icing resources. I think its a smart idea to stay inside, at our friend Stacey and Don’s home, where its toasty warm, dry and safe (lucky to have had this as an alternative home for Texas’ coldest week of the season). Loving the fact that I could get my morning yoga practice in without freezing! 🙂

A good day to play with the puppies, dye hair and go shopping! Once most of the ice had melted off the roads, we shoppe — after Feisty dyed her hair platinum blond, blonde, blonder. The stores were quiet, and much was achieved in anticipation of our Belize adventure, just over a week away. I bought myself a new pair of hardcore walking shoes (which happens to be my first pair of North Face footwear — aka Gortex hiking day boots). I’m not certain yet as to whether to take them to Belize or not; we may only need beach footwear and suitable shoes for skydiving / jumping into the ocean. Also, we bought a couple of headlamps … most handy for our trip as well, but also for when we’re traveling on the road in our Airstream and are in need a handy LED flashlight that leaves us hands-free. Necessary purchases. Glad to get that out of the way. Next up, packing for the trip!

Snow days in Texas

The threat of snow forecast for tomorrow has many Houstonians scrambling today, including many of the schools. Can you believe that the schools actually released the children either at mid-day or canceled attendance for both today and tomorrow — snow days, in Texas! How crazy is that? Anticipation of bad weather sends the city reeling until warmer temperatures step above the freezing level. For example, the shopping mecca of Market Street in the Woodlands was scheduled to close at 5pm … the Lululemon store is situated there, and for us, that meant our 5:30pm yogaFLIGHT workshop was unfortunately canceled because of the city’s ‘cautiousness’ (can you say paranoia?) over the potential threat of snow for this evening. What?????? Yes, if you’re a Canadian (or someone who lives in a snowy climate), you’re probably thinking the same thing that I am :).

Arctic Blast

The temperatures for the next 4 days are predicted to be beyond comfortable with an Arctic Blast quickly moving south from Canada. Snow and ice had already wreaked havoc in Dallas this morning, and the pipe-bursting weather is predicted to hit Houston by tomorrow night. A good time for slaDE and I to head in to Houston for the week. Who wants to hang out in a trailer when we have a warm cosy space with friends (and 2 border collies + 2 feisty cats) whom we only get to hang out with one time per year?!