Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
2008 Presentations
Sherry did a half hour presentation on the San Blas at the East Coast Sailing Association and Melbourne Yacht Club monthly meetings.

Dave did an extensive presentation on Cruising the Western Caribbean at the Seven Seas Cruising Association 2008 Gam.

Both presentations (and some useful cruising links) can now be found on our SSCA 2008 page.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
Lots and Lots of Pics Posted

OK, all you armchair travelers, I have spent most of the last 3 days uploading all our photos from January to now to our Picasa photo album, including all of the San Blas. We have taken at least a few photos in every place we stopped.

Enjoy! Our Photo Album

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Thursday, June 28, 2007
Belize Inland - Belize Zoo
On the 4th day, we caught the 'Benque to Belize City' bus in the center of town for our trip back to Belize City. This bus again stopped for about 15 minute in Belmopan. When they stop, vendors open up the back door of the bus and come down the aisle hawking food (hamburgers, pizza slices, burritos) and drink (water, soda, chilled seaweed water). They also walk down outside the bus holding their baskets up to the windows.

We had the bus let us off at the Belize Zoo. It cost $10US to get in the zoo. We ate our lunch in the shade with a breeze on the zoo grounds. We spent about an hour walking around. The entry fee got us a map of the zoo with all the animals labeled. They were also well-labeled outside each enclosure. In the heat of the day, most of the animals were sleeping, but I think we did get to see every animal in the zoo... all local indiginous species including toucans, tapirs (pigs), crocodiles, and
several species of lions/tigers. The zoo was very eco-friendly and the emphasis for locals was co-existence with the animals. They had one sign posted about a resort that was selling "Viper Rum"... rum with a snake in it. They had posted letters to the resort and to the government to get the resort to stop this non-eco-friendly tourist practice.

The zoo was good and clean and the animals looked well cared for. Both Dave and I had fun walking around.

We were able to catch another east-bound bus after a few minutes wait along the road, for the remaining 20 miles to marina.

Soggy Paws was in good order when we got back. We were happy to be "home".

We spent Thursday with me on the computer (posting pictures, answering email, doing some financial stuff) and Dave doing small boat projects and getting filled up on fuel and water. Diesel was $3.65/gallon US. We took on 75 gallons (what we used since Marathon).

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland - Caves Branch Tubing
When Dave was in Belize last time, they did a tubing trip through a cave called "Jaguar Paw". From San Ignacio they didn't have that on the list, but had a similar trip called "Caves Branch Tubing". This time we booked with Eva's because Mayawalk didn't have a trip going. (Eva's turned out to have a better guide and better lunch than Mayawalk, in comparison to our ATM trip the day before). Both places charged $65 US per person which included lunch, transportation, a guide, entry to the site,
and an inner tube rental. Mayawalk offered a $15 pp add-on to stop off at the Belize Zoo after the tubing.

Well it turned out that "Jaguar Paw" and "Caves Branch Tubing" were one and the same. There were 4 of us, a guide, and a driver, in a minibus. The other couple were 2 kids fairly fresh out of college who had quit their jobs to go walkabout for the summer. They had spent 3 weeks in Guatemala--2 in intensive language study and one hiking around the volcano district. Our guide, Joanne, was a Belizian lady who was part of a family of independent tour guides. Each person in her family had a different
specialty (site). They contracted out to the various hotels/resorts in the area to put together tours. And on Thursday, to the cruise ships. Joanne said that all certified guides had to take a year of instruction and then take a set of 8 tests on Belizian culture and history to become certified.

Joanne picked a good specialty--it was an easy day for all of us. An hour drive, a 30 minute hike through the forest carrying an inner tube, and then a nice 3 hour easy float down through the caves. There was only one other group of 4 within sight. But Joanne says that on Cruise Ship days (Thursdays) they take groups of 45 people down through the caves! See the Caves Branch Tubing section of our photo gallery.

We got back to San Ignacio about 3 pm, spent about an hour in Eva's on their internet terminals reading email, and had a nice nap. For dinner we went to Elva's (on a back street 2 blocks from the main street). This turned out to be the best food we'd had in Belize and a more reasonable price than the places on the main drag. We went back for breakfast the next morning, and got a carryout lunch from them for the trip back to Belize City.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland - Actun Tunichil Muknal
The next day (Monday) we were up bright and early for our 8:30 departure with Mayawalk Tours to see Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM). We were told to bring sturdy shoes for walking, a pair of socks, a change of clothes, and a bottle of water. Mayawalk provided the rest: lunch, and helmets and headlights. It took about an hour to get to the locale, half on paved roads and half on dirt roads. There were no signs to guide the way, at all, anywhere (ie you couldn't find it on your own at all)

Once we got to the end of the road, we geared up and had a 45 minute hike thru the forest (crossing 2 streams) to a base camp outside the cave. There we had our lunch and then donned helmets and headlights.

Our guide, Emil, gave us a stern lecture about listening to him and doing exactly as he said. He threatened to confiscate the headlight of anyone who didn't (and presumably leave them there in the dark...??). Our group was pretty well-behaved so we never tested that threat. Emil also gave us his version of the Mayan culture, what the caves were used for, and the history of their use as determined by researchers. Then we went inside.

The entry of the cave is a pool of water that you have to swim into. We swam about 10 yards inside the cave and then scrambled up onto a ledge. From there we walked/ scrambled/ waded/ swam for about an hour in the dark (with head lamps). Sometimes we were at the front of the line of people (about 10 of us) and sometimes we ended up at the back. Emil instructed everyone to pass his instructions (where to step, etc) back down the line, but this was done haphazardly. About half the time it was garbled. If Emil said "watch the left, step on the right", at the tail end, we'd get something like "go left" or "(mumble) left".

At the end of the trek, we were instructed to take our shoes off and put on the socks. Then we walked in several levels of caves in our socks for about an hour, with Emil using a high powered spotlight to point out artifacts and the most spectacular cave features . There were shards all over and a number of nearly-whole pots as well as 4 skeletons.

Emil was careful to make us walk on a path that kept us clear of anything we could harm. He went slowly and was clear with his instruction, and allowed plenty of time for people to take pictures (so people weren't lagging behind to get that last shot). He pointed out several crushed artifacts saying "some tourist stepped on that one". The final chamber of the cave, we had to climb up an aluminum extension ladder, about 10' to a higher level cave, had the most intact of the skeletons.

To sum up the purpose of the cave... it was considered a portal to the gods of the underworld. Toward the end of the period when the Maya civilization was at its height, around 900 AD, there was a 30 year drought, and the caves were used for sacrifices to ask the gods to send rain and help the corn grow etc. Only priests and rulers, generally, were allowed in holy places like the caves. See my photo album for our hike and pictures of the artifacts in the ATM cave.

The hike back went much more quickly. This is where we ended up at the tail end of the line and at times felt "left" by the guide. Because we weren't getting the guidance on the route through the rocks that was most efficient, we got further and further behind the group. And we felt obligated to wait for the one guy who was behind us as well. But eventually we made it out to sweet daylight (and a 45 minute hike back thru the woods to get to the van).

Another nap in the A/C completed a very nice day. There was a TV in the room, but every time we found a news channel, all they were covering was Paris Hilton's exit from jail, and we just weren't interested... Most channels were a little snowy, except the Cartoon Channel, which came in crystal clear. This must have been from a Satellite TV. The CNN channel seemed to be CNN Mideast. We got more about the weather in Hong Kong than about the US or Central America.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland Travel - Day 1
We spent 4 days 'inland' waiting for the wind to quit blowing.

We left the boat at Cucumber Beach Marina (aka "Old Belize" oldbelize.com), about 5 miles south of Belize City. It is a secure marina with nice facilities (significantly better than the old Mojo Cay marina). We had no qualms about leaving the boat there for a few days under the watchful eye of Carlos. The 7-day rate was reasonable, about $25/nite US for our 44-foot boat. Dave's friend Cliff (www.catchartersbelize.com) was docked behind us so we knew he'd keep an eye on things as well. They have
diesel, gas, and water, too.

We hopped a westbound bus, marked either 'Belmopan' or 'Benque' and for $3.50 USD for each of us. We made the 75 miles to San Ignacio in about 2 hours. This was not an 'express' bus, so we stopped for anyone anywhere that was going our way (many stops as we were entering and leaving towns), s well as a 15 minute stop in Belmopan. The buses run about every half hour. They seemed to be on a schedule but we never saw anything published. You basically get out there and wait and flag one down.

We arrived in San Ignacio about 2pm. We had previously scoped out several hotels to check out near the center of town using a combination of the Lonely Planet Guide to Central America (2001), a local tourist magazine, and the internet. We got there and walked around and checked on rooms at each of the hotels. All the low end rooms were booked. Even though several people said it was 'low season', there were a lot of college students taking up the low end rooms. ($12/nite US for a double without
a private bath or A/C). After looking at a couple of rooms, and trudging around in the heat, we ended up back at the Venus hotel, in their nice room with private bath, king size bed, and A/C, for about $37/nite US. It's a little steep compared to Guatemala, but still pretty reasonable for what was probably the best room in town.

Once we got settled in at the hotel, we checked at Mayawalk Tours, and at Eva's, both just down the street from our hotel, about their excursions going the next day. Both had trips to "the most phenomenal trip you can go on" (Cliff's words), the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) trip. This is a 'strenuous' hike through a huge series of caves, with a number of Mayan artifacts (pottery and human remains) plainly visible. The other trip we were interested in was the "Caves Branch Tubing" trip--more caves,
but less strenuous as you float down through the caves in inner tubes. We settled on Mayawalk for the ATM trip, primarily because the guy manning the desk was a better BS-er, and their lunch sounded better (it wasn't). The cost was $80 US per person. This included transportation, entry to the park, lunch, and a guide for the day. A little on the high side, but we had to do it. There is no way to visit ATM without a guide, and there are only 2 companies authorized by the government to do this
trip (due to the unspoiled nature of the site and its religious and cultural sensitivity).

Once we had the next day's trip booked, we took a local bus out toward Xunantunich (soo-NAN-to-nich), one of the Mayan temple sites. When Dave had been here before, it had been a long hot walk uphill for about a mile, to get from where the bus leaves you, to the site itself. "Jimmy", the guy at Mayawalk had told us that we could probably pay someone with a car to take us up. We got off the bus at the free car ferry, and paid a local taxi $2.50 US to go across on the ferry with us and take us up
to the entry point of the site. We paid about $5 pp to get in (but received no pamphlet or anything, just a wave up the hill to the information building). There was a nice information center with pictures, maps, and explanations, and a set of bathrooms, but no concessions, vendors, glitzy tourist crap, or crowds of people. It was a nice quiet site. We spent about an hour exploring. We were kind of limited on time, because the site closes at 4pm. But an hour was pretty much enough time. We
climbed to the very top of the tallest structure, the temple, and sat for awhile in the cool breeze to cool off. We were fortunate that a group was there with a tour guide, and we got to hear her spiel about Xunantunich, surrounding sites (Tikal is only about 50 miles to the west), and general info about the Mayan culture. Xunantunich is a typical Mayan site with buildings at opposing ends of a plaza built in a pyramid. (see pictures posted in my photo album)

We met 2 different 'missionary' groups from South Carolina while at Xunantunich. Both were mostly teenagers. One group's focus was primarily singing and performing religious skits. They ended up at the other end of the site, at the observatory (about a quarter mile away directly across the courtyard from us), and sang a song. It was very nice. They were spending several weeks going from place to place, performing at local churches, and talking to people on street corners. The other group was
doing pretty much the same thing. We met a third group that was actually helping build a new room for a school house. I think Belize is a favored destination because they speak English, but are still as poor and primitive as Guatemala, once you get outside the 4-5 bigger cities.

On the way back, we managed to bum a ride with one of the missionary groups, in the back of a pickup truck. They wanted to go see the Guatemalan border, so we took the side trip with them (It was only about 5 miles further west). They let us off back in San Ignacio, where they stopped for dinner.

We had a nice nap and a shower before strolling out for dinner. We ended up next door at Serendib, a Sri Lankan restaurant. The typical meal price in San Ignacio was about $5 US for breakfast and lunch, and $5-$15 US for dinner. The cheapest, and on every menu (including breakfast) was 'stewed chicken' which is a few pieces of chicken on the bone and beans and rice. This normally cost about $4.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Sunday, June 24, 2007
Going Walkabout in Belize
Well, we WERE going to leave Belize City today and go to the outer reefs for some diving, but the wind is blowing like stink and is forecast to do so for a few more days.

So Dave suggested hopping the western bound bus for the city of San Ignacio, which is in the middle of an area of Mayan ruins and caves and rivers. It will only cost us a few dollar each way, and we've used our Lonely Planet guide and the internet to scope out a couple of low budget hotels to use as a base ($20-$25 US per night). We plan to spend a couple of days doing some sightseeing/backpacking. I am taking camera, but not the computer. I promise to post some pics and a recap of our trip when
we get back.

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