A Travellerspoint blog

San Pedro Island, Belize

sleep eat repeat

sunny 82 °F

If you are looking for a laid back Caribbean experience, San Pedro delivers.

The eastern shore of the island is pretty Caribbean coast with a variety of restaurants, bars and hotels lining the beach.

large_San_Pedro_shore.jpg

The hotels range from luxury to budget, as might be expected. If you were looking for the closest approximation to a Hawaiian beach resort with all amenities in downtown San Pedro, you might want to look in to Ramon's Village Resort. We didn't stay there, but wandered the very attractive grounds, peeked into room windows and had a good lunch on the beach by the pool. Not a huge resort, but very pleasant looking.

We ate at several good restaurants - made our own breakfasts. Our favorite turned out to be Sunrise Island Cuisine. It's a little place; it's not on the beach but is tucked into the courtyard of a small hotel about 1/3 mile south of the airport along the main road. We had lunch there twice and dinner once. Ceviche is a restaurant staple in Belize and we had really tasty shrimp and conch ceviche. Seafood is excellent on the island - here's a snapper dinner at the same place. By the way, the owner was most friendly and positively effusive when we came back again! It's a very restful and quiet place that makes a nice brief respite from sun and sand.
ceviche_an..ine_Cuisine.jpgSnapper_di..ne_edited-1.jpg

By the way, Izzy's smoothie shop is another not-to-be missed treat a few blocks north of the airport.

The best meal we had was at another well known island restaurant El Fogon. It's a white-tablecloth restaurant where they prepare stews in an open pit in the dining room. It's very popular and everything we ate was delicious. The only downside was that I didn't do enough research on my meal. One of the items offered was gibnut stew. Gibnut is a rodent of unusual size that is considered a delicacy in Belize. Here's a picture of my meal and its source. Up top are my son's and his girlfriends shrimp and fish meals.

gibnut_stew_el_fogon.jpggibnut.jpg

Credit to Trent's blog for the gibnut photo.

The gibnut is a rodent (I don't think I have eaten a rodent before, so that was part of my interest in the dish) also called the Paca and other names. The origin of the name gibnut is a bit obscure; it may have to do with their diet of fruit and nuts. It tasted quite good; a rich and not gamy dark meat in a really tasty mild chile/tomato sauce.

The downside is that I later learned that the gibnut is overhunted and that the current level of hunting is not sustainable. So, while it was an interesting diversion for me, I would not eat it again and you might want to think twice about choosing it as well.

By the way, prices overall were moderate and I don't think I had a bad meal the whole trip. In the next entry, we will actually do something!

Posted by tdeits 06:18 Archived in Belize Tagged hotels restaurants san pedro downtown ceviche Comments (0)

Belize - getting there and getting organized

Airfare, cell service and data plans, oh my!

sunny 83 °F

This fall I was able to organize a trip to Belize with my son and his girlfriend. I have never visited Central America before, so Belize sounded like a good first foray; it's pretty politically stable, reasonably safe, and the official language is English (although Spanish and Creole are commonly used). I planned the trip in two parts; 5 days on the Caribbean coast and 5 days in the interior highlands. I would be traveling alone in the second part of the trip.

My first pleasant surprise when getting this started was that I was able to grab a really good fare on American. I currently use Google Flights site as my starting point for scouting airfares, although I have found that it can give wildly inaccurate results for travel between overseas destinations (quoting airfares like $130,000!), so use with care For domestic (US) and European travel it works very well and allows you to quickly explore options. I got a round trip from Detroit for $550, which is less than half what Delta, for example, was charging at the same time. I also needed to book a short hop from Belize City to San Pedro (a barrier island off the northern coast). My son and I used the two different airlines servicing this route and both were fine - pretty casual travel in twin prop planes for a 20 minute flight. My son even got to sit in the copilot's seat; does that count as fun or is that scary? I'll let you choose.

As I often travel alone, having connectivity is important to me. I scoured the intertubes to try and understand how phone and data service were handled in Belize. Honestly, I ran across a whole lot of contradictory information. If there was a consensus, it appeared to be that connectivity was hard to come by and quite expensive. Well, my experience was very different. I went to the BTL (Belize Telemedia)office about 5 blocks north of the airport in San Pedro. The provided me with a SIM card, $10 phone credit and 1 gig of data for $26 US (Belize dollars are pegged at $2 Belize = $1 US). I had good connectivity along almost all the main roads and in the cities I visited, with perhaps a few dropout zones in the south of the mainland and off the beaten track (more on that later). That is a pretty good deal to my mind. I don't know if other services are comparable, but this should give you a current baseline for comparison if you are planning to visit.

We booked an apartment in San Pedro located about a half mile south of the airport through Airbnb . We took a taxi there ($5 US - no meters, so ask the fare before you get in!) and settled in. The apartment was clean and comfortable and in a pretty good location. We like to walk, so hoofing it up the main road or along the beach into downtown San Pedro was easy and convenient. Downtown itself is small enough to completely cover on foot; no vehicle needed.

Speaking of vehicles, the predominant modes of travel for tourists are taxis and golf carts. The carts are small, noisy, open gas-powered vehicles that reminded us of Disneyand Autopia cars. We were in San Pedro over the New Year's holiday which is absolute peak visitor time, and the streets reflected that. They were full of golf carts, delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. The relatively low speeds and narrow streets helped mitigate the rather casual attention to stop signs and other traffic 'laws' downtown. Golf carts are expensive - rates seemed to run in the $60 US range per day so you may want to add that as a budget item if you plan on renting one; taxis would probably be a cheaper alternative.

san_pedro_street_by_robin.jpg

When we left the island after New Years, it was considerably quieter.

new_years_..16_by_robin.jpg

(photo credits to Robin Deits)

We hit the grocery store for provisions (prices are quite reasonable) and settled in for our visit.

Posted by tdeits 12:11 Archived in Belize Tagged shopping golf san pedro lodging downtown tips carts service airfare cell data Comments (0)

a few final thoughts

924,601 steps later

Yes, that's how many steps I took on this trip (step counter app)!

What an excellent trip - so many great places and so many really terrific people along the way. Plus the fact that I planned this thing and executed it successfully! I also had only one item in my suitcase I didn't use (sewing kit) and my suitcase only weighed 12 kg. I didn't lose anything of note (one close call, admittedly) and I had no flights delayed/canceled/rerouted.

I had great weather almost everywhere - a cloudy November in Paris counts as great weather, by the way. I got rained on exactly once! I had two extra summers, too!

Most of all, I have to simply say how privileged I am to have this opportunity. So many of us are so fortunate and we really need to occasionally reflect on that fact, life's vicissitudes notwithstanding. I am grateful that my health made this trip possible and I am most grateful for all of my friends and family who were excited and happy for me to do this thing. That is a true friend - one who can be happy for your happiness - and I have so many!

Thanks for joining me on this journey. May we all have many more excellent adventures!

Posted by tdeits 13:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Valparaiso

semi-overcast 69 °F

The best way to get from Santiago to Valparaiso is by bus. I used a company called Turbus and had a window seat on a nice modern two level bus for the 2 hour journey. I did have some trouble figuring out the connections between bus and subway in Santiago, and frankly there is a fair amount of misinformation about this online. Briefly, buses to destinations within the city including the airport leave from a terminal just outside the University of Santiago metro station on line 1. Buses to other cities leave from a station which is upstairs from the Estacion Central stop on the same line. So a trip from the Santiago airport to Valparaiso on the bus requires an intervening short metro trip.

The trip itself was pretty interesting with a fair amount of elevation change and various climate zones.

santiago_to_valpo_hwy.jpg

Here's some of the more arid country near Santiago and fairly high up and, on the more temperate coastal side of the hills, some truly enormous orange orchards.

cacti_san_to_val_hwy.jpgorange_tre..san_val_hwy.jpg

I have always been intrigued by Valparaiso as it is often compared to San Francisco (my home town). It's a reasonable comparison, but I kind of feel it's more of a larger version of Sausalito, a smaller, equally hilly town in Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Sausalito is extremely gentrified and expensive today, but I remember it from many years ago as a child and that memory is the one that seems to best fit the Valparaiso of today.

I actually stayed in a small condo in Vina del Mar, a town just north of Valparaiso proper and easily reached using the local metro line. Here's the view from the condo - nice! Walking around the neighborhood I encountered another very nice Chilean park that also took me back to the park by the ocean in Sausalito, including the palm trees.

valpo_apt.jpgvina_del_m..borhod_park.jpg

Valparaiso is a fishing and naval town, with the headquarters of the Chilean Navy and a small local fishing fleet. Here are some of the fishing boats pulled up at the central fish market in the afternoon as well as a mural next to them that expresses a not uncommon attitude towards factory fishing.

valpo_fishing_boats.jpgvalpo_port_mural.jpg

Needless to say, seafood is a prime ingredient in Valparaiso meals. I stopped in an unassuming restaurant for lunch and had ceviche (Peruvian style, with the fish chopped into little cubes) and a seafood stew. The first picture shows the stew as presented and you might imagine that there are a few bits of seafood in a sea of broth, but no - it is a sea of seafood just barely covered with broth; the next picture gives you an idea. It was packed with tiny clams and mussels and other mystery seafood bits and, of course, quite delicious. I guess I should mention that prices are very low in Chile - a meal like this is well under $10.

valpo_lunch_1.jpgvalpo_lunch_2.jpg

The town itself is extremely vertical with a downtown along the seafront and very distinctive neighborhoods up each of the flanking hills. You can get up to the neighborhoods by some rather impressive stairs or by way of ascensors - funicular cars, most from the 19th century, that will take you to the top for about a quarter.

valpo_steps.jpg179F3C0C9BDE7D4A3E6DE71DC095AD77.jpg

Unfortunately, this ascensor, which goes to the Chile Maritime Museum, has been non-functional for months (although there were some guys working on it with welding torches) so I hoofed it up there after lunch. It's a nice small museum with some interesting bits.

17A02819F4CC0B2217613E2D1CBDE03C.jpg

I actually wanted to see it because my favorite author, Patrick O'Brian, wrote a couple of his Aubrey/Maturin naval historical novels set in Chile during the time of its independence movement. In particular, he deals with Thomas Cochrane, a British naval officer, who is a Chilean hero of independence in rather uncomplimentary terms. No sign of that in the museum, that's for sure!

A few items of interest. An albatross, a chicken (?) and a nice ship model as well as one of the vehicles used to rescue the miners from the Chilean mine disaster of 2010. Interestingly this was a Chilean Navy operation and they created a rescue squadron for the purpose.

PC102034.jpgPC102024.jpgPC102027.jpgchilean_mi..scue_vehcle.jpg

The next day I hopped on the metro again and headed for the Valparaiso museum of fine art, the Palacio Baburizza. It's a nicely restored mansion of a wealthy resident and art collector.

valpariso_..of_fine_art.jpgvalpo_art_museum_detail.jpg

Mr. Baburizza primarily collected Impressionist era paintings but did not manage to select the better-known artists. For example there is a Rosseau in the collection, but it is the 'wrong' Henri Rosseau (there are two- the better known one is famous for his jungle paintings and unique flat style).

valpariso_rosseau_-_Copy.jpg

The Valparaiso art museum collection, primarily of local works, is also housed here. There is also the occasional howler like this one, 'Youth tempted by vice' - which looks a lot more like 'guy really enjoying vice' and perhaps does not quite send the moral message the artist (or the commissioner of the piece?) was going for.

youth_temp..vice_-_Copy.jpg

There are a number of pictures of Valparaiso and environs as well. This one, from 1844 shows the Chilean Navy headquarters, which are still in use.

port_of_valpo_1844.jpgchilean_navy_hq.jpg

I like this town. Here are a couple of views from the hills. One of a hillside from the art museum and another which is a reflection from a glass building adjacent to Chilean Navy headquarters.

valpo_hillside.jpgvalpo_glass_cube_edited-1.jpg

The glass building is an interesting story. A major shipping company needed to expand and proposed sticking this cube into the middle of an existing historical building, retaining the lower facade. This was viewed as extremely inappropriate in the context but, as often happens, they threatened to pull up stakes and move down the road if they couldn't build it, and so approval was granted. This controversy did inspire the community to seek UNESCO designation as a world heritage site to prevent further such encroachment, which was granted. This, too, though, is not without controversy as it turns out that renovation and rehabilitation of buildings under UNESCO rules can be extremely costly; there are some burned-out homes that haven't been rebuilt in decades because the owners can't afford to rebuild to meet these standards. The two-edged sword of protection.

Valparaiso is also a town that has embraced murals/graffiti. Unlike other cities such as Athens, there is a tacit agreement between artists and taggers. Taggers still tag, but in general they don't do so on wall art. Here are a couple of smaller examples and one truly enormous one.

valpo_graffiti_family.jpgvalpo_graffiti_2.jpglarge_valpo_mural.jpg

I really enjoyed my few days in Valparaiso. Not a lot of purely touristic stuff but just a great setting, fine weather (cloudy mornings, sunny afternoons, much like Sausalito) excellent food including amazingly good and cheap fruit - I bought the stuff below for about $5 and it was all perfectly delicious) and great people.

19CE93B3DBC44F9A17BAA6885CE34F47.jpg

On my last day I decided to take a Chilean cooking class. We went to the market in the afternoon and picked up ingredients and then cooked and drank piso sours (the national cocktail of Chile) and then ate and drank carmanere (the national wine of Chile) among others and ate and drank and.....a good time indeed. Our instructor, Boris, has a cookbook coming out and promised to email me some excerpts.

valpo_cooking_class.jpgvalpo_cooking_class_mural.jpgclass_empanadas.jpgvalpo_clas..iche_-_Copy.jpg

In addition to the empanadas and ceviche above we also made a corn pudding dish that is quite versatile and tasty - I plan to experiment with it soon!

Wow - I hate to do it but at this point I am going to bring my visit to Valparaiso and the entire magnificent round the world adventure to a close. What could be more appropriate than yet one more wonderful sunset. Goodbye world, hello Lansing!

large_valpo_sunset.jpg

Posted by tdeits 11:45 Archived in Chile Tagged museums food fishing sunset navy valparaiso ascensor Comments (1)

Santiago

overcast 78 °F

I left a cold and gray but delightful Paris and headed for Santiago, Chile - another 12 hour overnight flight, this time on Air France. I guess it's no surprise that they win the prize for best food so, with a modest amount of sleep it was really no problem. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that jet lag was never a problem on this trip. I have generally found that traveling east to west is much easier for me to avoid jet lag and that certainly was confirmed on this trip.

When morning came we were over the Andes so I can't resist a couple of airplane window snapshots. I later found out that there is a bus route from Argentina to Chile over the Andes that sounds like an awesome experience - next time?

andes_from_the_plane_2.jpgandes_from_the_plane_1.jpg

I disembarked and grabbed a shuttle bus to the hotel. After a quiet afternoon at the hotel sitting on the deck, sipping mojitos and blogging, I had a light dinner and hit the sack. By the way, the hotel was the Hyatt Place Vitacura and it was an extremely nice stay with an exceptionally helpful and friendly staff. A bit of a break from Airbnb's and well worth it.

mojito_and_andes_edited-1.jpg

So what to do first? I know! Let's go to a hands-on science museum! I hit the subway system and zoomed out to MIM, the Museo Interactivo Mirador. It's a nice modern building with an attractively laid out interior.

mim_exterior.jpgmim_interior.jpg

Each bay contains a related set of exhibits, and each had a volunteer explainer standing by. There were some maintenance issues with the exhibits, which is of course not uncommon, but overall it was quite well done. One exhibit was kind of unique- devoted to copper and copper mining. It had nice displays of different uses for copper and of different methods of ore refining. It also had an exhibit where kids could see themselves in the equipment used by various workers in the mines and refineries; a little bit of recruiting, I guess.

mim_2.jpgmim_1.jpg

One cool thing that appealed to me was their exhibit shop, just outside the museum proper.

mim_exhibit_shop.jpg

I seems to me that this would be an absolutely ideal place to install an Innovation5-style fablab for the surrounding community!

I walked around the neighborhood of the museum quite a bit to get a feel for the area. My overall impression was of modest and well-maintained single family homes. I did glimpse pockets of poverty in Santiago but I will say that in general the people seemed in good spirits. I also had the feeling of greater warmth of interactions between people wherever I went, including families with children, young couples and just regular folks. I would go so far as to say that I felt that the Chilean people were the most content population I saw on the trip. There are some very nice parks and perhaps surprisingly some very good and well-populated bicycle trails. They have had some tough times both politically and economically, but the economy is apparently recovering and people seem to be getting on with their lives pretty well.

I decided to go for a traditional Chilean meal and picked a place nearby called Chilenazo where I ordered a traditional Chilean barbeque specialty, the parrillada, cooked by this guy.

parrillada..zo_santiago.jpgIMG_20141207_201730.jpg

It looks big, but it is in fact much bigger (this is the half portion, by the way). Imagine being served a delicious skirt steak that would be a full meal in any US restaurant along with a blood sausage. You wolf it down and the server brings a delicious flank steak of similar size and a nice big pork sausage. You work through that and then its an amazingly tender pork chop and a serving of barbequed tripe. Now in a state of total torpor and meat saturation you are served two more relatively small (waafer thin?) pork sausages. Oh and did I mention the potatoes? I failed completely, by the way.

I only had a couple of days in Santiago and I wandered around downtown for a while. Their central market is quite cool with lots of fruit and flowers. I also ran across this bridge which had a couple of interesting features. First, of course, are all the padlocks. I had seen this in Paris as well but apparently it's a worldwide thing - love locks. Couples write their names (or sometimes a wish) on a padlock and lock it to the bridge. It's becoming a bit of a problem in some places where the weight of the locks actually are damaging the bridges. The second interesting thing is the water. It's hard to tell from this photo, but that water is extremely muddy and moving extremely fast - Andean melt water which is carrying huge amounts of sediment even in mid summer.

santiago_flower_market.jpglove_locks_santiago.jpg

I really liked Santiago - from the great weather (upper 70's) moderated by their altitude, the surrounding Andes that poke up wherever you look, the decent infrastructure and people it is a pleasure to be around it's an extremely appealing part of the world.

Next, I'm off to Valparaiso a coastal city that has always intrigued me - and my final stop on this adventure!

Posted by tdeits 08:05 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains food hotels markets on museum santiago hands barbeque Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 64) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 .. »