Don’t Fear A Visit To Myanmar

Despite hearing glowing stories about visits to Myanmar (formerly called Burma) from friends, it was with some trepidation and a significant sense of adventure that I booked the ticket for my brother and I from Copenhagen to Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Most articles about Myanmar right now either focus on the drug trade/Golden Triangle, armed conflict in several of the remote regions, or gush about the importance of, “visiting Myanmar before it’s ruined”.

Frankly, we didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be dangerous? Was it going to be massively under-developed? Was there any tourist infrastructure at all? Would the visa process be a nightmare? Would we need armed guards to guide us around the country or military minders ala North Korea? Were food poisoning and feces stained walls surrounding filthy squattypotties lurking around every corner?

Inle Lake - Myanmar - Alex Berger

As usual, it was ignorant pigswill.

Myanmar is spectacular and the sooner you can visit the better.  The people are wonderful. The tourist circle; Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Inle Lake and back to Yangon could not be safer. The food is decent. The culture is vibrant. The tourist infrastructure is rapidly evolving (perhaps too rapidly). Getting around isn’t difficult.  It’s relatively affordable. The historical, natural and cultural beauty is spectacular.

The Restaurant by Kroun – Exciting Nordic Cuisine in Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s culinary scene grows increasingly exciting with each passing month.  The once somewhat one-dimensional Nordic culinary landscape has been revolutionized over the last 15 years. While this renaissance has been most visible at the higher echelons of the local food scene, the diversity, depth, and breadth of culinary options in Copenhagen has gradually grown. The team at Noma which is most often credited for launching the New Nordic movement, now more commonly just referenced simply as Nordic Cuisine, deserves a large part of the credit. However, there have been other long-standing bastions generating fine food, excellent chefs, and fantastic Sommeliers for years such as Kong Hans’ Kælder, which has served as Copenhagen’s culinary benchmark since the 80s. Many of the most exciting new restaurants in Copenhagen are those which pull expertise from a variety of sources to craft an exciting new fusion that wonderfully walks the delicate line between too traditional and too creative, too artistic and too utilitarian, too complex or too simple, and overly formal or casual to the point of utterly lacking service.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

Recently, the Restaurant by Kroun, which is the newly opened restaurant (March 2016) launched at Kurhotel Skodsborg, invited me to join them for dinner. The restaurant is a collaboration between head chef and namesake Erik Kroun, who honed his craft at Michelin-starred restaurants, including Kong Hans’ Kælder, Søllerød Kro and Sletten Kro, and Martin Troelsen who previously served as Restaurant Manager at Michelin-starred Marchal, situated in Copenhagen’s five star Hotel D’Angleterre and is a well recognized Sommelier.  The meal and overall experience lived up to their pedigree, making it easily one of the best meals I’ve had in Copenhagen.  Based on the experience I had during my visit, the quality of the food, flavor, and overall experience, I suspect that Restaurant by Kroun will be thundering onto the local culinary scene and you’ll quickly be hearing a lot about it.

Kurhotel Skodsborg

The restaurant itself is situated in a cozy carpeted room decorated with grand old deer antlers that pay homage to the hotel’s long-standing heritage as a spa and lodge. Kurhotel Skodsborg, where the Restaurant is located, is situated just off the northeast corner of the recently christened UNESCO World Heritage Dyrehaven (Deer Park) and previously served as a royal residence. Situated as it is, nestled between Copenhagen’s greatest green space and the calm waters of the Øresund sea, I was initially concerned that it would be somewhat inconvenient to access from Central Copenhagen.  As it turns out, the hotel and restaurant are perfectly situated. The sea is a 30-second walk from the hotel, the Dyrehaven just a minute away, and the Skodsborg train station is just a three- minute walk and a brief 15-minute ride from Norreport station in Central Copenhagen.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

We left dinner in our host’s hands. This meant that we’d be doing their “Full On” menu – champagne, a signature eight course meal, full wine pairing, water, coffee and then an extensive selection of sweets. Before diving into the specifics, I want to reiterate how incredibly impressed I was by the wine pairing. In total, there were four of us at our table and every single one of us loved every single wine. The champagne was good, the whites great, the reds fantastic, and the sweet desert wines a treat for the senses. The wines were beautifully aromatic and none had the strong taste of new wood which I often find sours the wine. I also have a small quirk, where I like to keep a small portion of wine from the previous pairing in reserve from serving to serving  which I can use to compare and contrast. I’m sure some find it utterly ridiculous, but I find having the two side by side lets me compare their aromas and brings to life entirely fresh scents, nuances and flavors as I finish one round of wine and transition into the next pairing.

Sleeping at the Hospital and My Intro to Stavanger

 

Trip to Stavanger

I’ve known for quite some time now that I can’t sleep sitting up. Give me a flat surface or a semblance of one and I’m out in minutes even if its alongside a busy street. A reclining chair though?  Heaven help me. It’s a hopeless battle. So, no doubt you can imagine what – or should I say how – I spent most of my 8 hour overnight train ride from Oslo to Stavanger. I suppose given my propensity for the odd but no less boisterous snore it was ultimately in the best interests of everyone else in the train car…still…I’m just selfish enough, that I’d have gladly said to hell with them and dozed contentedly even if it might have sounded as though we had a freight train in tow.

The one upside to, well…being up was that by 3 or 4AM when the sun began to rise, I was awake and able to see the sheer beauty of the Norwegian countryside as dawn stirred it from a fitful evening’s rest. It was beautiful.  With gorgeous fjords, wild shorelines, small rivers, and beautiful forests it was my first true taste of the untamed Norwegian countryside.

Tall Ship - Stavanger, Norway

Eventually, the wild countryside gave way to a more domesticated landscape.  One with cottages, small towns, sleepy villages, and then eventually a bustling city. I’d arrived in the city of Stavanger.  At just over 120,000 citizens in the city proper and 300,000 or so in the Stavanger Metro Area it ranks as Norway’s third largest city, though if you’re like the average tourist, you may not necessarily have heard of it.   Located at the end of a rail line which branches out from Stavanger and forks down through Kristiansand before winding back up and around the deep fjords to Stavanger the city is geographically fairly close to the popular tourist and cruise destination of Bergen but only accessible from Bergen by ferry, bus or car as rail traffic to the city requires a return trip back to Oslo and then back out towards Bergen.

Upon my arrival I spent a considerable amount of time in the cool morning air dodging the occasional raindrop as I tried to make heads or tails of what seemed to be profoundly vague hostel directions.  After asking several bus drivers and getting a variety of different looks and answers I eventually tracked down the pick up spot for Bus 11. Though it sounds like a simple enough task, it was about a block away from the station and halfway around the small lake which sits in front of the train station.  Made that much more challenging to identify, as the spot was marked by a small placard on a lamp post instead of the glass booths which marked the other 20 something bus stops.

Sleepy Duck - Stavanger, Norway

The ride itself was rather painless.  My goal was to find the Student Hospital which my notes from the Hosteling International website identified as the closest nearby landmark.  As it turned out, the bus driver though being friendly, really didn’t speak much English and apparently either misunderstood my question, or forgot about it. As I watched what looked like it might be a hospital drift past, a friendly local who had over heard my conversation with the driver, suggested that I get off at the next stop for the hospital.  Grateful, I hit the button just in time and sighed in relief as we pulled over and paused at the 2nd (and last) stop near the hospital.

The bus pulled away, and I found myself standing somewhat baffled. The directions said it was located near the hospital and was at times used as overflow accommodation for the hospital.  Weird, but no big deal…right?  The catch was, the only thing I could see besides the hospital was a sea of houses. With a harrumph, I spotted the  Hospital Hotel – a hotel which was physically attached to the hospital itself and shared a common lobby, but which was designed to service hospitalized patients family members as well as those no longer i need of an actual hospital bed, but not yet ready to leave the immediate vicinity of the hospital itself.  I figured that of all the locals, the front desk staff at the hospital was my best bet for locating the hostel.

Cathedral - Stavanger, Norway

A few minutes later found me in the hospital lobby at the hotel desk.  As I walked up and smiled, I looked more than a little out of place, surrounded as I was by new and expectant mothers, bandaged elderly, and the occasional wheelchair bound patient out for a stroll.

“Excuse me? Can I ask you a quick question?” I asked somewhat meekly.

I followed up the woman’s nod and courteous smile, “Can you perchance tell me where to find the Hostel near here?”.

Her nose crinkled slightly as her lips pouted to one side in an obvious expression of thought before she responded, “A Hostel?  I’m not familiar with one, but let me ask my boss”.

She turned and beckoned to a second woman in the office behind her. I groaned silently in gentle frustration.

She passed my question on, and then took a step to the side as the manager joined me at the counter. “Oh!” She exclaimed “That’s us! We actually just began renting out hostel rooms, though none of the supplies have arrived yet”. I stood temporarily left mute, then recovered quickly as she continued, “Since we don’t have the bunks yet, we’ll give you a private room at the price you booked at (some 295 NOK or about $45 USD).  I checked in trying to not chuckle and began to ponder the oddity of it all.

It’s important to note that while by general European and international standards $45/night for a hostel bed is ridiculous (and by far $10 more than any other hostel I stayed in), it was fairly reasonable for Stavanger which is only serviced by 2 hostels.  The other of which is a a classic Hi Hostel which charged 250 NOK for a dorm room, and an additional fee for wifi and sheets which I figured would have come to ~295 NOK if not more. Which, despite the profoundly bizarre nature of the accommodation, made what I’ve begun calling the Hospithostal a fairly decent deal.

The good news was I ended up with my own room, with a great/clean bathroom, Television with Cable, a 4th story view out over the fjord and free Wifi with a strong signal.  The bad news was, I was effectively in a hotel attached to a hospital and seemed to be one of, if not the only backpacker in the place. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled by my prospects for wild and crazy adventures with fellow hostellers. I really can’t imagine the Hospithostel has any clue what they’re signing up for – I can imagine a lot of odd and off beat locations poorly prepared for the onslaught of a group of drunk and rowdy traveling Aussies and Americans, but a hospital is one place that just begs trouble. Especially given drunken hosteller’s propensity for playing with things and ending up in places they really aught not be in. Luckily for my criminal record (or lack there of) my stay in Stavanger ended up being a quiet one. No co-conspirators, no wandering through the hospital, and no memorable antics.  Which, given the beating my body ended up taking during the Preikestolen hike, was probably a good thing.

…and what the hell – how many hostels have YOU stayed in where you had to pass on the first elevator that showed up because a mother was pushing her newborn baby in a crib on wheels around the hospital for a post-delivery recovery walk.

I settled in, did laundry, and then curled up for a nap.  It was only 10AM after all, and I needed to recharge before heading into town and beginning my explorations.

My First US Hostel, New Friends and Flagstaff Arizona

Northern Arizona - View Towards Flagstaff

I’ve made no secret of my general lack of passion for the desert so this series of posts will no doubt surprise some of you. Based out of Scottsdale, AZ most of the year, I don’t do a lot of hiking and seldom write posts dedicated to exploring my own back yard. We’ve got a lot of different types of cactus, cat’s claw, dirt, rocks, rattle snakes and scorpions. None of which really reaches out and excites me – a person drawn to running rivers, green mountains, moss covered rocks or sandy beaches and open ocean.

Flagstaff - Downtown

That said, A three day weekend presented itself and I decided to give Northern Arizona a chance while checking out my first US Hostel. I’ve been in Arizona for a long time. Nine years in Sedona, four years in Prescott and another seven plus in various cities around the valley. Prescott holds a special place in my heart for its fun atmosphere, history and spunky nature.

On the other hand Sedona and I have just recently begun to get re-acquainted. After leaving the city at the end of middle school we got a much-welcomed divorce. I lost any/all appreciation for the area’s natural beauty and was at constant odds with the never ending onslaught of star children, boredom, grumpy retired corporate executives and a prolific assortment of people that were…well…quite often batshit insane.

Flagstaff - Downtown

I share this with you because it underscores the often overlooked value of changing your perspective and exploring your own back yard through the eyes of a tourist. Over the years I’ve probably made 50+ trips to Flagstaff to shop or visit College friends. I can navigate my way around, am familiar with some of the popular watering holes and can readily recite local attractions. Despite all that I hadn’t ever truly seen or experienced Flagstaff until this past weekend. A realization which has only just begun to register.

The Trip

The premise was simple: Drive north. Try a hostel. Be a tourist. Have fun.

I had 3 days, a hand sketched map of Northern Arizona with a few significant points of interest marked and a $19 online booking for 1 night at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, AZ. From there I’d spend a day exploring the far northern reaches of the state before returning to Flagstaff where I’d crash on and old College buddy’s sofa before heading back to Phoenix the following morning.

Flagstaff - Downtown

The trip started out well.  Shortly after mid-day on Saturday I packed up the car, grabbed a water, wiped the sweat from my eyebrows and cranked up the AC.  I was off. Me, myself, my thoughts, and an adventure.

Flagstaff - Downtown

The drive north was great. No where near the Memorial Day Weekend traffic I expected.  The weather was beautiful – sunny blue skies with a slight breeze.  The Scottsdale/Flagstaff leg of the trip on the I-17 was old hat, but I tried to push myself to see it differently…to explore it as a new adventure and experience. The end result was a very pleasant drive which left me drifting along the interstate lost in my own thoughts and the hypnotic feel that goes with a long drive down open roads on a beautiful day.

Flagstaff

I reached the city around 4:30 in the afternoon. Scratched my head and looked at my poorly drawn directions before setting off to find the hostel.  Before long I found San Francisco Street and made a right turn.  The road was blocked by a passing train which caught my attention and drew most of my focus.  As I sat filming the train from my diver’s side window a shirtless biker paused briefly.  I raised an eyebrow to which he quickly responded, “Dude, you know this street is one way, right?” I quickly muttered a curse about one way streets in Arizona, thanked him for the heads up and flipped a hasty U turn more than a little grateful that the train was still racing by blocking the wall of traffic which no doubt waited patiently on the other side. I was a bit flustered and couldn’t help but laugh heartily at myself.  You don’t find many one-way streets in Arizona and yet I’d not only found one but turned down it. It would appear I was working overtime to play the part of the tourist.

Flagstaff - Downtown

After a bit of backtracking I quickly overcame the challenges posed by the one-way streets and found the right cross streets for my hostel.  Parked and made my way inside. The guy at the front desk was friendly, checked my reservation and made a face.  My heart skipped a beat as he muttered “Oops, looks like there was an issue with your reservation” he paused briefly, then looked up and smiled, “No worries though, your reservation has been transferred over to  Dubeau hostel down the street” I grimaced, not sure what to expect and thanked him for the directions.

Flagstaff - Downtown

It turned out that the Dubeau hostel was right around the corner and a great place with a fun vibe. I’ve done dozens of hostels in Europe and Central America but had no idea what to expect in an American hostel.  Would they be social?  Would they be clean?  Would they be youth oriented? As it turns out, the answer is yes.  It would seem that hostels are hostels no matter what country you find yourself in.

The hostel was an old converted motel in the shape of a U.  The rooms stretched back around a parking area while the bottom of the U consisted of the main office, two kitchens, a dining room, common reading area and activities room with free pool, table soccer and several tables.

I was given a quick tour, then sent out to find my room.  The room was nice and clean.  It had an en-suite bathroom, and 4 bunk-beds.  I quickly chose one of the remaining free ones, and got acquainted with a Brazilian guy who was unwinding after a long bus ride from Canada. We talked about Flagstaff, things to do and see and a bit about Brazil before I set out to explore the town.

The hostel has a great vintage feel, driven home by a large sign mounted on top of what looks like an old radio tower in the front yard.  It adds a very western feel which seeps into the surrounding area.  The streets south of the railroad tracks between Beaver Street and San Francisco Street are alive with small shops, dive bars and old-nearly abandoned warehouses, accommodation, and apartments.  Buildings are either decorated with pealing paint and old sun faded signs or vibrant wall art/graffiti which brightens up alleyways and puts a near constant smile on your face.

Flagstaff - Downtown

As I wandered through the area I found myself pausing regularly to take in entertaining little nuances.  Perhaps the most entertaining was an old beat up tourism sign on what looked to be a small abandoned building framed perfectly by a sign for the local strip-club which was across a side street and right next door.  The end result was a comical contrast of clashing cultures which perfectly reflects Flagstaff’s eclectic culture.

Flagstaff - Downtown

Before long I found myself crossing back over the tracks and into the city’s main downtown area.  A mixture of outdoor shops, restaurants, bars, new age shops, art galleries and coffee shops the whole area is alive with foot traffic and bustling with energy.  People are friendly and the sound of an outdoor music performance could be heard drifting from a public square near by. Truly, it’s a great part of town and one that I’d never seen or experienced during previous trips.  The area which also holds the town’s bar district (similar to Whiskey Row in Prescott and Mill Avenue in Tempe) was something I’d only seen at night and often only in passing.

Hostel Life

From there it was back to the hostel where I quickly struck up a conversation with two guys from the  UK – one from England, one from Scotland. As it turned out there were 6 of them, all Royal Airforce/Military on a two week hiking trip out from their military base on Cypress. We quickly hit it off and talked travel, Arizona, US and Mexican food before joining a game of horse shoes (a first for them) with two girls from Durango.  As we continued to get acquainted over a beer or two  a French Canadian gal joined the group, along with two Germany girls and the rest of the Brits.  We shared stories, got acquainted and then got several raging games of table football going before playing some music.  Shortly after 11PM I geared up to head to the bars where I was scheduled to meet up with an old College friend. I set off with one of the guys from Scotland in tow. Before long we’d found our way into one of the local watering holes and set to enjoying the local bar scene.

Flagstaff - Downtown

A while later my friend arrived with several of his girlfriends. We got acquainted and continued telling funny stories while laughing heartily as the others tried to decipher Paddy’s thick Glasgow accent. As the night wound down, I shared my plans for the following day with Noelle – one of Ryan’s friends. She expressed interest in the trip and I invited her to join.  To my surprise (Given we’d just met and since I’d made it clear I didn’t have a set schedule) she jumped at the opportunity.  We set a time to connect in the and then said our goodbyes before heading back to the hostel to call it a night.

Stay tuned to part II of this post for photos and stories of the wild desert north of Flagstaff, Tuba City, Painted Desert, a Man on Rollerblades and Sunset at the Grand Canyon!

Shipwrecked on the way to San Pedro

Shipwrecked in Belize

After a relatively early start I set off to catch the 11AM bus from Playa del Carmen, Mexico down to Chetumal, Mexico.  The plan was to cross the border into Belize, head to Corozal and then catch a water taxi or cheap inter island flight from there out to the famous barrier islands – most likely to San Pedro.

The truth is I didn’t have a hostel lined up, was a little anxious about the lack of a guide book and had no clue how the border/ferry/bus was going to work out.   After overshooting the bus station I backtracked and eventually found it, pausing only at a Walmart like superstore to pick up batteries, albondegas and a small thing of Spanish rice from the deli counter which I intended to eat as an early brunch.

Once at the bus station, however, I ended up spending about 25 minutes in line waiting to purchase my ticket.  Hungry but more concerned about missing my bus I left the food in my bag and watched the minutes tick by.  Just before 11, with ticket in hand I let out a resigned sigh and made my way from the ticket counter to the bus gate.  Seconds later I was on board a nice ADO bus located behind the only window in the bus that had the ADO logo painted across the glass (completely obscuring the view).  Slightly frustrated that I would be spending the next 5 hours crossing Mexico without a view I settled in, smiled at the elderly Hispanic woman sharing the row with me and pulled out my book.  My stomach roared from time to time but without a fork I dared not pull out the food and dive into it until I saw a sign that others were doing the same.

Three hours into the bus ride the bus stopped for 5 minutes, people rushed out and returned with tacos.  Wishing I had taken the opportunity to grab a taco i contented myself by finally diving into what had been intended to be a late morning snack.

Chetumal

The rest of the bus ride was uneventful.  I read the first book in C. Descry’s Spy Trilogy, watched an animated movie or two in Spanish and listened to music. At the Bus station in Chetumal all of the tourists on the bus were quickly approached by a large man who spoke excellent English.  He said there was a new direct ferry from Chetumal straight to San Pedro that cost $30.  Eager to bypass the border hassle, added expense of Corozal and headache most of us opted to give it a try.  As we disembarked I noticed two travelers, who I’d later learn were Canadian.  I introduced myself, asked if they were doing the ferry and if they were interested in sharing a cab to the harbor – as luck had it they were.   The ferry left at 4 we were told leaving us just 15 minutes to get our ticket, get a cab and get to the harbor.   The three of us (myself, another Alex and Jenna) quickly found ourselves in a cab racing across the streets of Chetumal. In typical form the cab also had another random passenger which he dropped off about halfway across town.  We took the brief 10 minute drive to get acquainted.

Fisherman at the Chetumal Pier

Once at the pier we anxiously watched our watches, wondering if we’d be forced to go through customs and miss our boat.  It was 4:00 on the dot.

The San Pedro Ferry
We shouldn’t have bothered worrying.  We stood in line for a good 20 minutes on the end of the pier.  Customs consisted of a small kiosk set up in front of the boat with 4 military personnel reclining lazily with automatic weapons and a desk clerk behind it.   By 4:30 we had our exit stamps and piled onto the ferry.  There was a storm blowing in from the ocean bringing with it stunning clouds with gorgeous rays of light piercing through to spotlight various pieces of the surrounding country side.

Sunset in Chetumal Mexico

Luckily, despite the weather on the horizon the water in the bay was flat and absolutely gorgeous.  Running pleasantly late we started what we expected to be a 1.5 hour high speed ferry trip on a relatively small boat to San Pedro.

We pushed off and began to get to know each other better.  Working through the usual questions about work, school, passions and trip duration.   About 15 minutes into the boat ride we all paused as one of the local ladies began making noise and running around going through her bags.  Unsure and with a little anxiety, we quickly spotted a boat approaching from the shore at high speed. The captain cut power as they approach and we quickly realized it was customs – not pirates.  They searched the boat quickly before sending us back on our way.

The first hour was delightful.  The sunset was incredible, the clouds continued to offer a stunning backdrop to beautiful scenery and the fresh scent of the open ocean was invigorating.  The sunset was spectacular.  Then there was a crunch.  A second louder crunch and then a smack, crunch, thump, thump, crunch.  The boat went from blasting across the smooth open waters inside the great barrier reef to a total standstill.

San Pedro Ferry

We’d run aground. In the dark.  In the middle of the channel. It was one of those things that takes a while to settle in.  How could a ferry line that runs the route twice daily run aground? We quickly learned that it was the first time they’d run the 4:00 route (after dark) and that we were only in the first throes of what would be an eventful adventure.

The 20 or so locals around us let out various cries of alarm and began throwing on life jackets while the young children in their group cried.  I looked at Alex and Jenna and talked through what was going on.  The boat was made out of fiberglass, much like a giant Pangaboat. I knew from past experience that they were almost indestructible.  We’d hit a number of rocks, but none that stopped us outright so the blow was glancing or only to the prop.  Whatever we’d hit was submerged…in a shallow area.  It was unlikely that the boat would actually be able to sink more than 4 or 5 feet even if the hull was punctured.

Once we talked it through we let out a slightly relieved laugh, opted to put on our life preservers just-in-case, and looked out the windows into the dark for a nearby island.  The barrier coast was about a mile away on the left.  A small group of islands was about the same distance away on the right.  The boat was poorly equipped for running at night…and by poorly equipped I mean it wasn’t.  There were no running lights, no flood light, no powerful on board lights. Leaving the crew to look into the murky water with small hand-held flashlights as they guessed how to get us off the rocks.

Before long a member of the crew appeared, it turned out the boat had an on board motor which meant it ran deeper than it’s outboard siblings.   They had us all move to the front of the boat which lifted the back up and off the rocks long enough to back the boat off of the submerged mount it had hit.  We then re-dispersed across the ship and were revealed, if a bit surprised, when they announced that we’d continue to make for San Pedro and wouldn’t be switching boats.

The impact itself had bent the prop which made for a rough ride and slow going.   As the hours stretched by and we slowly crawled the remaining leg of the trip we ran aground three more times.  Though luckily, these were on sandbars and not rocks.

Our faith in the captain shattered, with anxious but amused laughter driving around the cabin we waited as the boat grounded out a 4th and final time.  This time even re-locating passengers front to back wouldn’t dislodge us.  When I glanced over the side it quickly became apparent why: a glance over the side revealed a smooth, sandy bottom just a few feet under the surface.  We were in water so shallow that even at night we could see the bottom.  I’d place it at between 4-5 feet deep, max.

Finally at a loss for a solution the captain and crew called out a second boat, this one far smaller and with a set of 3 powerful outboard motors. We were told that customs had been a big issue and that they were unwilling to separate us from our bags.  Twenty minutes dragged by before the second boat arrived.  Our bags were transferred over first, then the 30 or 40 of us on the boat began to pile into the small cabin.  The end result was comical.  Sandwiched knee-to-knee, shoulder to shoulder and back to back in a dimly lit cabin cruiser it looked like a scene straight out of a news piece about illegal immigrants trying to boat from Cuba to the US in overloaded, cramped quarters.

Going through customs on the ferry

The customs agents carefully waded through the seated crowd with passport stamp and pen in hand filling out forms, stamping passports all the while moving people around to create small flat surfaces they could write on.  The cabin was so dim they had to use flashlights held by whomever was nearby to see what they were doing.

Boat 2 San Pedro Ferry Disaster

Some four hours later we arrived in San Pedro. A beautiful town situated on a large sandy area of the outer barrier reef.  The town is a resort town and picturesque with wood dock after wood dock jetting out from white sandy beaches into the crystal clear Caribbean water.  Even as we waited for our gear on the dock we were able to spot stingrays and baby barracuda in the crystal clear water below.

Tired. Relieved and eager to eat and find lodging I  got a few recommendations from Alex and Shannon’s Lonely Planet and struck off.  Before long I’d found an odd, but helpful guy who showed me where the hotel was and introduced me to the night-man who could set me up with a room.  $50 Belize dollars later or about $25 USD I had a private room with a bed, fan and shower.  From there it was for a $9 BZD ($4.5 USD) taco stand meal: The national dish.  Stewed chicken, beans and rice.  All served up with a coke to drink.  It was both delicious and a successful finale for what had ended up being an unexpected adventure.