Back To The Stomping Grounds: Part 1 Belize

The month of June took me back to the Americas with a birthday celebration in Belize for the seventh time. Travelling over 22,000 air miles round trip, it was not only a physical journey, but an emotional one as well. This is Part 1 of 2, starting off in Placencia, Belize.

I had decided that a night in Houston after my 14 hour flight was in order before heading to Belize the next day. A friend I hadn’t seen in 6 or 7 years picked me up and took me to my hotel where we caught up over a glass of wine. Even though my body time was about 10am, Mexican food was calling my name for dinner at 5pm.

I’d been dreaming of cheese enchiladas, rice and beans with a side of flour tortillas for a few years. Everything hit the mark and set the tone for my trip south where I’d be looking forward to Belizean food.

I showed up a day before my friend Dahnelle, to a lovely house along the canal in Placencia. This was a town I have flown into before, but never stayed, opting instead for accommodation on a caye. The landing strip was short, but at least the ocean was nearby in case the pilot overshot it (which has only happened once according to a local).

The Italian property manager, Stefano, met me there and gave me a run-down on the area. His thick accent and funny stories kept me in stitches and then left me as the sun went down to get acquainted with my home for the next 9 days. My first reptile encounter was this tiny gecko on the steps who willingly let me hold him for a photo then scurried off.

After an uncomfortably warm and humid night and being feasted on by mosquitoes and sand flies, I awoke to a purple sky around 5am.

I took the bicycle out early to see what was in town and naturally went the wrong way on the road, all the way back to the airport! Figures. Once I got back to where I started, the town wasn’t far and went on for longer than I expected. I stopped at a little shack that advertised tamales with a couple of locals standing around. How could I go wrong? They actually weren’t that great after all. I stocked up on groceries and started prepping a pot of pinto beans, fruit infused water and chopped up a pineapple.

One very odd fruit I had never seen before was this giant passion fruit. I’ve only seen the small round ones and had to buy it just to see for myself if it really was one. Sure enough, there is a giant variety and the flesh can be eaten (although it didn’t taste very good to me).

giant passion fruit

giant passion fruit
I know…it looks disgusting, but made fine juice!

Getting acquainted with the house, the ‘crow’s nest’ at the top provided a fantastic view of the lagoon and ocean, while on the bottom floor, the deck invited you into the water for a float or a swim.

Mango all over his body

Mango trees were in the yard (and everyone else’s, too) and small lizards went about their daily routine.

Blue mango tree

Placencia boasts having the narrowest sidewalk in the world. While only a small section of it still remained, it had been expanded for tourism and took you through shops, restaurants and homes until you reached the pier.

Depressing sight of conch shells being worked into jewelry

Lovely smelling flowers on a tree

The end of the pier
View of a storm approaching from the sidewalk

Unfortunately, the weather was awful most of the time, which is very unusual for the first week of June (the locals admitted to this, too). We only got out on the ocean ONCE. Dahnelle did a dive and I did some snorkelling with Sunny Side Tours out at Southwater Caye. I had stayed out there in 2007 or so, not realizing there was more to the island other than Blue Marlin lodge!

Southwater Caye, Belize

Southwater Caye, Belize

Southwater Caye, Belize

Southwater Caye, Belize

Southwater Caye, Belize

Southwater Caye, Belize

A man patiently tried his luck at catching a bonefish which were all swimming in a large group. We told him to just get in the water and catch one by hand…I don’t think he found the humor in that. A small barracuda floated near the dock waiting for something exciting to happen.

bonefish on Southwater Caye, Belize

barracuda Southwater Caye, Belize

pelican on Southwater Caye, Belize

The highlight of my snorkelling was seeing two squid, one of which was quite interested in my goofy appearance and got closer than most ever do.

We went out with Sunny Side for a tour of Monkey River where we saw, you guessed it…monkeys! There were a lot of cool creatures like bats on a tree, a boa curled up on a branch, a few small crocs in the water and a large one sunning himself.

Bats on a tree

We went for a walk in the forest and I took advantage of the offer to eat some termites. For some reason, they just sounded good and it’s one of those things I’d always wanted to try. The guide told us it’s like jungle Listerine…if you’re on a date and need to freshen up, just eat some termites. They were really minty, surprisingly!

Eating termites in Belize
Eating termites
Weird mushroom
Howler monkeys

 

Dahnelle enjoying a typical Belizean lunch of stew chicken, rice, beans and plantain

Since the weather wasn’t cooperating, we went on a spice and chocolate tour one day, heading toward the Maya mountains.

The spice farm was planted on 500 acres by an Indian man from the U.S. and boy, did he do it right! They were putting up archways for a gorgeous backdrop when hosting weddings. The grounds were well taken care of and we were taken on a golf cart through the area to learn about the trees, vines and bushes which were all harvested throughout the year and sold locally.

Some of the highlights included the hundreds of orchids which produce vanilla. Since it’s very difficult for vanilla to be self-pollinated, teams of people go out during the very short flowering period and manually pollinate the flowers using a toothpick. And by short, I mean in a matter of hours. The flower only opens in the morning and that’s their window of opportunity. This happens daily until flowering stops. When we were there, there were no pods available to harvest or buy.

Vanilla orchids
Vanilla beans

To make vanilla extract takes approximately a year from the time the vanilla bean is picked, dried and bottled (usually in vodka) until the time you can purchase it on the shelf. No wonder it costs so much! I inquired about how many times you can “water down” (meaning, add more vodka) the bottle the pod is kept in and he said about 3. You can also use the pod in a jar of sugar to flavor it.

Nutmeg and mace in the same pod (mace is red)
A type of weird bamboo
Drying of cacao (chocolate) beans
Cinnamon bark
Black pepper

Nutmeg and mace

We had a browse through their lovely shop on the way out and picked up some spices, chocolate powder and coffee beans.

Next stop was a small place which made chocolate and gave very informative talks on the subject along with a delicious lunch.

Everyone was presented with hot chocolate upon arrival which was pure cacao powder and water only. We were then advised to add certain spices, one at a time, to see how the flavor was affected. First was chili powder, which cut the bitterness. Second was cinnamon, which added a bit of sweetness. Third was nutmeg (then one other which escapes me) before we could then add sugar. We were also given a bowl of hand made dark sugar which was almost like molasses.

Everyone was shown the inside of a cacao pod and was able to eat some of it. This brought back memories of Costa Rica when I could buy these on the street for a couple of dollars each. Sweet and bitter at the same time, it’s one of the most beneficial foods you can possibly eat.

Dahnelle’s eyes lit up when we were given a full plate of chocolate to sample which contained different fruits and spices.

We were given the opportunity to remove the shells of some roasted cacao beans and prepare them for grinding. Our master chocolate maker used a stone to smooth out the chocolate into a paste.

This was usually given as a gift to newlyweds in the Maya culture (think Cuisinart)
Roasted, unshelled cacao beans

Perfect little beginning of a cacao pod

A flycatcher watched on in a tree during the presentation and we were taken for a tour of their chocolate making facilities (which was VERY small). It was the perfect way to spend a day.

Finally, we went to a waterfall where a large party was taking place by the police force. Music was playing, lots of chicken was being BBQ’d, families were having fun and swimming. And keeping in my typical fashion of breaking up a party, within about 15 minutes, everyone was gone. I don’t know what it is about me, but this happens way too often to consider it a coincidence. The place was silent and we were the only ones left. Really weird. The only way you’d know anyone had been there was by the few trash bags left to be picked up. I have no idea how they put that BBQ out so fast or how that chicken even got cooked.

This spot was buzzing with activity just minutes before

Although the weather didn’t cooperate, it was still a great time in a place I love. It made me a little sad to see that it was becoming a lot more popular with tourists and that the airport had expanded almost beyond recognition. I had hoped it would remain a nice little secret, but not many of those places exist.

The locals were still friendly as ever and I reconnected with some I had met over the past years through other family members. My network continues to grow and I have no doubt I will see them again in the future.

One memory I have during this last trip was seeing a 60something Rasta guy squinting to look at his cell phone, as if it was a new, necessary evil. It didn’t look right, nor did it appear it felt right to him. I just don’t want it to be like that. My first visit to Belize 20 years ago was much different than it was this time. I miss the old Belize and the disconnect from technology it used to have. I miss being one of the few Americans that would visit it; instead only hearing American accents everywhere we went this time around.

Well, everything and everyone changes with the times…for better or worse. I wonder what it will be like the next time I go back?

 

 

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Te Angiangi Marine Reserve Part 2

Seven armed Star Astrostole scabra new zealand hawkes bay

Wanting to take advantage of it still being warm here, we headed out to the Te Angiangi Marine Reserve again (part 1 was last month). It was so much fun, I wanted to write about it once more because we found different stuff and we were almost a witness to a sheep falling off the cliff!

We got there around 10am and walked a bit farther than last time along the track. We could see Blackhead beach ahead of us and 4 wheelers and a few cars were driving toward us. I did notice a sign that said cars were not allowed to do this, but apparently others didn’t. Sometimes there was a rough track but it often dropped down to the shoreline. Something about cars on beaches that annoy me to no end.

We got to a small cliff and decided to walk the beach back which took quite a while since we wanted to explore the tidal pools. The water was nice and warm…all 3 inches of it!

I came across the head of a crayfish (or lobster) which reminded me of the ones in Australia which are called painted crayfish but these weren’t nearly as beautiful. What I hadn’t noticed before is that they have hair on them!

Check out those fine little feathery looking things…I’m not sure if “hair” is the correct term. Although there are a lot of hairy crabs here as well. I found a dead one chilling on a rock and saw a lot in the water blending in really well.

hairy crab te angiangi reserve

I was taking pictures of the cool trees up on the hill and I had noticed a bunch of sheep under that wind swept one. It made me think about the sheep bone I had found near the beach last time. It’s hard to show how steep it really was up there.

I wasn’t fast enough to catch what happened next. One of the sheep made a move and I saw its back end start to slip off of its ledge. She caught herself and watched the big chunks of rock and dirt fall and fall and fall. Lucky girl! That’s her looking down, probably pondering what would’ve happened. And you know me, I would’ve been scurrying over to help…if I could!

sheep almost fell off hill

I kept an eye on her…looks like she’s kind of stuck in that spot!

nz spider with silk

I was inspecting the eroded spots by the beach and saw a small spider. Nothing too exciting there, but when I viewed the photo, I could see the silk coming out of its abdomen which I thought was pretty neat.

The paua shell sticking out of the sand was sure pretty.

abalone shell in the sand

More mudstone surrounded by the neat impressions in the sand which also made me think of Blacks Beach in Mackay.

mudstone new zealand

But the real excitement began when we got back to the beach. For some reason, I never bothered inspecting the rocks that were sticking up here last time. We had been lying on the beach for a while and it got too hot so we headed to the water. I noticed a bunch of small, round jelly looking things with some tiny purple blob inside. At first, I thought they were jellyfish but there were no tentacles coming off of them. That made me think back again to Blacks Beach where I found the snail eggs and thought these were tiny snails in them. There are a lot of snails around, so it made sense.

However, upon further research, I came across that they might be salps and then saw this great blog post that talked about exactly what I had found. You can see from the closeup photo the distinct body in there. I wonder if these are babies because from what I can gather, these are really much larger and stick together. It looks like they’re encased in this jelly. The part you can see are actually the intestines. Now don’t hold me to this, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. They’re neat creatures, usually in a chain floating around together and they eat plankton while removing carbon from the water. You can read more about them here.

People have said they tend to show up on beaches when bad weather hits. The cyclone just went through the South Pacific and is headed our way tomorrow, so that might be it.

There were a bunch of crabs and a few weird black sea slugs (maybe sea hares?). It was wild how everything started coming to life once the tide came in.

But the coolest thing of all was watching this seven armed sea star crawl out beneath a rock and start looking for food. It was the largest one I’ve ever seen and it was cold and slimy! It even had spines on its arms. I took (a fairly bad) video of it as well. I believe the scientific name is Astrostole scabra.

Seven armed Star Astrostole scabra new zealand hawkes bay

We watched it as long as possible until the water got too deep. We’ll check for it again next time!

By 3pm, EVERYONE had left the beach…it was weird. We had the entire place to ourselves. We didn’t stay much longer though as we’d been there quite a while already and were getting hungry.

Oh, another thing I found were these:

possibly sheep teeth on a beach

At first I thought they were whale teeth, but found out those would be pointy. Then I thought maybe they were sheep teeth but they seem really large for that. They don’t look like shells or anything like that…they were found on the beach. Maybe they are remnants of  the dead sheep…if anyone can ID them, chime in!

And a little bit of comic relief from the garden…I’ve started picking my carrots and after I tore the leaves off of this one, realized it looked like a half person! Although it also had a tail.

These are about the only two Cherokee Purple tomatoes that didn’t get completely messed up. Too bad…they’re really meaty and huge but I’ve had to throw away most of them so far because of sunburn/bugs/cracking.

We’re still being graced with great sunsets, too! No Photoshop needed.

We got a cold front in and I was worried summer was over. Thankfully, I was wrong! It’s been fairly unbearable in the house between 2:30-5:30 but I’m not complaining.

Until next time…

 

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve

From our humble little town of Waipukurau, we are about a 30 minute drive to the coastline. There are quite a few beaches, all very different from each other which makes choosing our favourite a bit difficult. We decided yesterday that this one in particular, would be our go-to beach. It was a bit off the beaten track, having to travel about 6km along a dirt road to get there.

I only just read about this Te Angiangi Marine Reserve in our local paper last week. The story behind it was that there was a massive landslide in 2011 which was caused by 25 inches of rain over a 4 day period. It was then triggered by a 4.5 earthquake nearby. The result: most of that hill in the above picture slid into the ocean, disturbing sea and bird life. However, it has now started to recover and we went to check it out.

With the prospect of seeing octopi searching for food in the shallows, I got pretty excited. There are even sightings of dolphin, seals and orca in this bay in the summer. They call this Stingray Bay, although I didn’t see any or read any reference to them being there. Sometimes bays are named for their shape, so that could be the case here. Although stingrays do inhabit these waters.

As usual, I took quite a few photos so I’ll just talk about them below.

This was the first view of the huge hill from the parking lot. You can see where the part of the slide happened on this side.

The reserve starts about where I was standing to take this photo of the beach in the distance. We got there as the tide was going out, luckily. It was quite shallow but became even more so about 30 minutes later.

We walked the track for a while which led to the reserve and saw a bunch of sheep headed toward us. I couldn’t help but wonder if any had been caught in the slide. It seemed like a pretty scary place to be walking, considering. Then I noticed this bone down near the water, which I assume was from a sheep and wondered if it had been a victim.

Orange signs showing the reserve boundary

I love wind swept trees and I don’t see nearly as many here as I did on the South Island.

Getting down to the beach put me into shiny object syndrome mode. I move pretty slowly once I get immersed in things that have been washed up.

Some of the first things I saw were urchin shells (or Kina in the Maori language). I’m pretty sure I ended up with a spine in my foot, which is still bothering me.

Also washed up were these Neptune’s necklace (sea grapes or bubbleweed), which were in abundance in the shallows as well. They are a type of seaweed. Once the tide went out, they were exposed, creating a field of yellow.

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve neptune's neclace

Washed up on shore were a few of these hairy crabs and even some Portuguese man-o-war jellies. Yikes. I read that immersing the wound, should you get stung, in as hot of water as you can stand for 20 minutes is what you should do. Heated sea water works and even urine, if nothing else is available. But to definitely NOT use fresh water on it and to try and remove the stingers with a dry towel.

Cormorants (or Shags) are common everywhere.

I was able to spot some cute starfish, mostly hidden under rocks. I bet this place is crawling at night with all sorts of neat stuff! For the first time ever, I even saw small shrimp! I wasn’t able to get a good photo, though.

Cuddling starfish, how cute is THAT?

Then we spotted this creepy worm-like thing. I saw one later, much smaller, writhing like it was having a fit while floating in the water. Once it touched bottom, it straightened out and crawled along.

Also under the rocks were these dark, what I dubbed ‘Tarantula Crabs,’ which freaked out looking for cover.

I had been too busy looking down to take notice of these cool rocks that were everywhere. I read that they are called mudstone. Their appearance is due to the expansion and contraction of the material, which causes these geometric shapes and also makes them very fragile. It reminded me of dinosaurs with those hard armour shells.

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve mudstone

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve mudstone

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve mudstone

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve mudstone

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve mudstone

Those are limpets stuck in there. They talk about the golden limpet in this area, which I saw a few of in the water. I’m not sure exactly what they do, but they appear to make some deep marks in the rock and you could see evidence of where some had been before by their oval shapes.

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve golden limpet

It had gotten pretty hot yesterday and at the time of this photo, this was as deep in the ocean as I had ever gotten in New Zealand for the past 4 years I’ve lived here! I’m proud to say I made it up to right below my knees for a few minutes later on in the day.

Andy spotted these tiny snail shells on a rock, but you couldn’t tell just how small they were so I added my finger to the next one to show you.

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve snails

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve snails

The views toward the beach were great as the clouds made a nice reflection on the top of the water. There were patches of eel grass as well. The photo of it looks surreal with the cloud reflection

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve eel grass

Te Angiangi Marine Reserve

We finally hit the sandy beach but after 4 hours of being out there, got to be a bit much with no shade. Dehydration crept up and we came back to town for some cold drinks.

We were then graced with an amazing sunset that night. No Photoshop needed, folks. Summer is FINALLY here. Although with no a/c in the house, I’m feeling almost like I’m back in Central America (minus the monkeys and birds and sloths).

Waipukurau sunset Hawke's Bay

Waipukurau sunset Hawke's Bay

Another post soon once my Cherokee purple tomatoes start to change colour and an update on the garden!

 

 

Sources: http://www.academia.edu/8625105/Effects_of_catastrophic_coastal_landslides_on_the_Te_Angiangi_Marine_Reserve_Hawkes_Bay_New_Zealand

http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/conservation/marine-and-coastal/marine-protected-areas/te-angiangi-marine-reserve-brochure.pdf

Ducks, Eels & a Parade

IMG_3455du

We took a ride outside of our bubble to Norsewood one weekend. I was told they had some sort of wool outlet store with good sales, so that was enough of a reason for me! The shop was ok, certainly no bargains to be had…where I really scored was around the corner! If I’ve learned anything, it’s when there’s an eel on a sign, that means they’re close by! It sounded like it was a paid entry to a park, but as we approached, it was free to walk around.

IMG_3456Nicely landscaped and a small stream running through it, Andy spotted eels right away…..BIG ONES! They all huddled in a deep area before a small waterfall, somehow managing not to get swept over it.

The longest one was at least 4 1/2 feet and they appeared to be wanting food. A sign said ‘no unauthorized feeding’ and besides, I didn’t have anything with me to be tempted.

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We walked around Norsewood for a bit, finding the old jail the most interesting thing there.

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The jail cells were like large, dark saunas. I’m not sure which would have been worse…being in the cell or sitting in that chair all day!

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Captivating reading

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We headed back through Waipuk to Waipawa for the duck races! Yep, this is what I get excited about now. Let me tell ya, it was hoppin’ in that little town! Lots of stalls and I even picked up more duck eggs. If you ever have the chance to buy these, do it. I had them once in Texas and they were great! Cook up nice and fluffy and they have more protein than chicken eggs. There are quite a few duck egg “dealers” around here so I’m happy about that. I paid $3.50 for half a dozen.

duck eggs
Duck egg on the left, chicken egg on the right

We headed down to the river to watch the duck race. People were able to buy a ticket for their duck but unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what the prize was. Proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House which was about $1200.

A tractor had dug out the area for the ducks and a man stood behind the finishing line, waiting for them to arrive.

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Two ducks were head and tails above the rest and once the others arrived, the mad rush to net and stuff them in bags was on!

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Last weekend was the Waipukurau parade, celebrating 150 years on the map. I’d never seen so many people here! It consisted of vintage fire trucks, cars and dress. Even a tiny (fat) pony!

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Over the same long weekend, we visited a winery nearby which is on a property that was originally a retreat for WWI soldiers, then became a sanitorium and then in the 50’s, a care facility. It was abandoned in 1998. Pukeora estate is now up for sale after being occupied by a couple for the past 17 years if anyone’s interested!

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We were able to walk through one of the buildings which was a bit creepy. A bird was trapped in one of the rooms so I opened the windows and door and he eventually flew out…PHEW!

The wine was very good and we left with a couple of bottles. Another couple who lives on site has an art gallery which was terrific. The vineyard is perched on limestone and we saw some small fossils in the hills leading up to the place. Kinda reminded me of home.

Finally, we went back to a memorial park for a longer walk to see what was blooming.

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This interesting park is full of plaques memorializing family members. They planted flowers, trees and bushes around each one. Each area is different and there’s a small stream running through the park as well.

IMG_3658Some of these folks were close to or over 100. Although some were younger than us, which made us feel lucky to be alive.

I found out that these hard, bumpy fruits were from the strawberry tree! You can eat them when they turn red and I haven’t figured out if they’re delicious or otherwise, as I picked a couple that were yellow. I’m giving it another couple of days before opening them up.

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Thanksgiving is around the corner and it’s going to be a little different this year! You won’t believe the story.

Tonight, the clouds were in rare form and I’m waiting for something to happen!

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