A Day and a Half Spent Driving Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Photos

Is a four day solo road trip through Iceland enough to properly explore the country?

Absolutely not. But, it sure does make for one heck of a brilliant teaser.

My visit to Iceland’s Westfjords left off as I hopped the small car ferry from the Ferry Baldur terminal. The ferry took me across perfectly flat seas, stopped briefly at the car-less island of Flatey, and continued on before docking at Stykkishólmur on  Snæfellsnes peninsula. The following day and a half was spent exploring Snæfellsnes, photographing waterfalls, walking old volcanic craters, and even spotting an Orca from the cliffs.  It was beautiful and included amazing experiences with locals as I stumbled into the local annual Fisherman’s Festival.  This post showcases photos taken during the ferry ride and my time spent on Snæfellsnes. 

The Island-City of Flores in Guatemala

Flores - Guatemala

The city of Flores is an unusually picturesque city. Situated on a small island in the middle of lake Peten Itza, Flores is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.  The causeway connects Flores to the two surrounding towns which are home to most of the area’s population. The two neighboring towns are Santa Elena and San Benito both of which sit along the shores of Lake Peten Itza and service Flores.

Map of Flores from Los Amigos Hostel

The island of Flores is an odd oasis.  Still concretely Guatemalan, the island has evolved into a tourist oasis.  Cleaner, more secure, and significantly more upscale than Santa Elena and San Benito, Flores is home to a wealth of hotels, restaurants, small stores, internet cafe’s and nick-knack shops.  Roughly circular in nature, the island offers an incredible 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding towns, jungles and neighboring islands.

View from Flores, Guatemala

Unlike most small islands its size, Flores sits on top of a relatively tall hill.  The hill itself is mostly invisible, submerged under hundreds of years of development, modification and cultivation.  The city has a large outer loop road which wraps around the waterfront and then a series of internal rings in smaller circles which are bisected by cobble stone streets on a gentle incline which point towards the city park and Cathedral which rest on the flattened top of the hill in the center of the island.

Outdoor Market - Flores, Guatemala

The mainland is home to the airport as well as a large series of semi-permanent outdoor market streets.  The most interesting of which was a long market street which features a ramshackle collection of street side fruit and vegetable vendors.  The sheer amount of produce was incredible. The photo above showcases one stand and is representative of the 30-50 similar stands which were set up side-by-side along the street.

Outdoor Market - Flores, Guatemala

For those feeling inquisitive it’s possible to fork off of the main drag, which serves as the produce street, onto one of several smaller mixed goods streets.  These are a seething mass of humanity, clutter, smells and small motorcycle Taxi’s called Tuk-Tuks.  As an Argentinian girl from the hostel and I made our way through the market, we paused periodically to enjoy the vibrant pulse of the marketplace.

Though the market seemed safe enough, the always visible military and security personnel standing on every other street corner with automatic weapons or sawed off machine guns at the ready, were a vivid reminder of the economic and political turmoil currently plaguing the region.

Though the market itself had a fairly visible security presence, it paled in comparison to the amount of security, police and military personnel on the Island of Flores.  In many ways the police presence left me feeling as though I was in an island fortress in the midst of some sort of great turmoil.   Stores of any significant size and even some restaurants had armed security guards.  At night the police were out in force – some 10+ motorcycle officers, each heavily armed with extended clips clearly visible.

At one point I came across an armored truck making its rounds while replenishing the local ATMs.  Most of the places I’ve traveled in the past, armored truck guards are…lazy.  They meander in, meander out and while somewhat diligent are not overly concerned.  Not so in Flores.  The guards were out of the truck, shotguns in hand, eyes sharp as they hustled in to the ATM, re-filled it, then with a jump to their step made their way back out and back into their armored truck.

Despite the general sense of added vigilance and the silent threat of violence and crime – my experience was entirely positive.  The people were friendly and helpful.  The city safe. The weather beautiful.


As the Argentinian and I finished our exploration of the island we hopped in a Tuk Tuk and for less than $1 USD a piece were shuttled back out to the Island.  The Tuk Tuk was a fun adventure.  Though I barely fit, it offered a fun view of the city as we wound through traffic, small back streets, and then eventually made our way out to Flores.  All the while our driver was on his cellphone, driving one handed, except of course, when gesturing at other drivers or honking a horn in hello.

Los Amigos Hostel - Flores, Guatemala

Once back on the island it was time to relax, eat, and then settle in for a bit of socializing in the common area.  The hostel – Los Amigos – offered one of the most pleasant atmosphere’s Ive ever found in a hostel.  The entire common area was decorated with lush vegetation, hanging ornaments, or books.

Dog at Los Amigos Hostel

The hostel itself had as much space dedicated to the gardens and plant life as to beds and human comforts.  From swinging rope chairs and vegan food options to a TV documentary zone the place oozed a relaxed hippy culture. In addition to the local owners, the hostel was also home to two dogs, an Albino bunny rabbit and a parrot.  All of which had a free run of the hostel.

If you find yourself in Guatemala and are considering a trip to Tikal, Flores is a must!

My stay was entirely too short.  With new years fast approaching, I found a direct bus from Flores to Chetumal (the border between Belize and Mexico).  After confirming that the colectivo was a tourist bus, I booked my ticket and prepared for what promised to be a full day of travel.  You see, Guatemala and Mexico don’t connect directly in the north.  The only option was to back track from Flores to San Ignacio, then into Belize towards Belize City before turning north and striking up to Chetumal on the border. The trip took about 7 hours.  From Chetumal I had to wait an hour or two due to full buses (I was traveling on the 31st) before transferring to a 1st class bus to Playa del Carmen.  Nervous that I’d arrive late and lose my hostel/miss new years, I sent a hasty e-mail from the bus station, telling Hostel de lay Playa in Playa del Carmen that I was still coming and to save my new years reservation.  After three more hours on the bus I arrived – with only an hour and a half to spare – at 10:30PM.  I splashed some water on my face, checked in…and set out to welcome 2010….but that is a story for tomorrow!

Sailing the Belize Barrier Reef – Day 2 and 3

Giant Fresh Caught Spiny Lobster

The following morning we struck camp; laughing at the slow, stiff movements and pained, hungover looks that plagued our group.  The tents proved every bit as difficult to break down as they had been to put up leading to small frustrated mutterings and no small shortage of lighthearted teasing.

Hermit Crab in Belize

We paused briefly for breakfast, then began transferring bags, sheets, tents and bodies back onto the cramped confines of the Ragga Queen before saying goodbye to the Island and its surprising wealth of local wild life.

A small caye in Belize

As the boat gently drifted away from the Island I was once again taken by its small size, pristine beauty and the unique flavor of the adventure.  As you might imagine, a plethora of movie references and great cinematic moments filtered through my mind – always an entertaining narrative and realization: that epiphany that you’re living the adventure often delivered as fairytale across the world’s silver screens.

Hand and Scarf on Sailboat roof

The day was beautiful with hardly a cloud in the sky.  The sun kept us warm and left us relishing each opportunity that arise to pause and dive into the water to fish, snorkel, hunt for conch, or just generally relax and cool off.

Raggamuffin Tour - Everyone relaxing on the Sailboat

As we neared our first snorkeling stop I was relieved. The weather was fantastic, the group with the exception of one bratty girl, was an absolute delight and the adventure was unfolding nicely.  I’m always wary of any sort of extended duration tour.  While something like the Raggamuffin tour tends to only attracting the more laid back, younger and heartier traveler – all it takes is one or two people to really turn what should be a 3-9 day adventure with new found friends into an absolute nightmare.   As you can tell from the photo above things were rather tight and personal space was at a premium.  That said, everyone took it in stride and worked to chip in.

Belize's stunning waters

Our first stop was along a steep wall along the reef.  As I first jumped in and looked down, I felt my stomach surge towards my throat. The water below me was some 20-30 feet deep on a steep incline, drifting quickly into a dark blue abyss.  The seafloor was covered in coral, fans and schools of fish and I couldn’t help but think I stood a good chance of seeing an open water shark.

Allowing my nerves to settle, I began to explore the area. The sea wall offered a great opportunity to see a different type of reef life.  Some of the fish were different, the corals were slightly different and the general feel of the place had its own unique flavor.  As we snorkeled around the area I made my way along the wall watching rays and schools of fish go about their daily business.  Eventually, I made a wide loop that took me into the shallow water – that which was 4-10 feet deep – and towards the areas where the reef broke free from the sea.  There, in the shallower water I was greeted by large spiny sea urchins, vibrantly colored, albeit smaller, coral dwelling species of fish and even a lazy sea turtle enjoying the open sea grass.  The video I’ve included above is shown in near chronological order, and while you may recognize it from my previous post – it covers all 3 days.

Tired and hungry I made my way back to the boat for lunch.  After a quick meal, it was time to set off again.  Sail up, bodies sprawled across the decks, the subtle sight of soft white lines decorating our bodies where we’d missed a spot of sunscreen.

Alex Berger while Sailing in Belize

Our next stop was similar.  This time, however, it was a series of small sea mounts that rose from the ocean floor (about 30-40 feet) to a depth of some 10 feet below the surface.  The mounts were small but packed with coral and sea life.

Once again we struggled into our fins, held our breaths and jumped over the side before fanning out in all directions to explore.  Some were armed with spear guns, others with cameras. As we slowly explored, we found ourselves pointing off into the blue, motioning, and trying to speak through snorkel filled mouths.  All the while sharing little discoveries – a large school of 5 or 6 barracuda, a lazy sea turtle taking a nap on the ocean floor or a particularly beautiful fish.

It was during a foray in towards one of the larger mounts – one with significantly shallower water – that I came across the largest barracuda I’ve ever seen.  You’ll notice him in the video I posted above, though the size doesn’t really come across.  Easily four feet in length the monster oozed predatory confidence as it slowly, ever so slowly drifted through the shallow water.

Eager to get video and see it up close, I followed.  All the while wondering….was it truly a good idea?  After all, the plastic housing for my camera reflected the glint of sunlight and was lined in bright dive orange rubber, looking more like a giant fishing lure than anything else.   Luckily, neither I nor the Barracuda listened to the nagging voice in the back of my head – leaving us both to watch each other warily, enjoying the moment.

Marching Lobster and Feet while Sailing in Belize

From there it was back onto the boat for more fishing, sunbathing and drifting.  Pausing periodically to hunt for Conch, Lobster and to give the captain an opportunity to put his spear-gun to work.  We feasted on fresh lobster, conch and fish ceviche, fresh fruit and cup after cup of fruit punch before eventually arriving at our second destination: Tobacco Caye.

Tobacco Caye

The small (albeit significantly larger than our last) island was home to a series of docks, a small forest of large coconut trees, small restaurant, series of cabanas and small circular beach bar.

Sunset at Tobacco Caye

We quickly set to setting up our tents in a small clear space in the middle of the island, before grabbing a Belkin – Belize’s delicious local beer – and setting off to explore the island.  Some 5 minutes later we found ourselves back at the dock eager to snorkel off the dock.

The area surrounding the island itself was sheltered by the reef behind it and offered a large expanse of smooth shallow water sea grass which stretched out and away from the island on the remaining 3 sides.  The grass itself attracted large schools of fish and a large number of rays and the incredible looking eagle rays which are black with white spots, a long streaming tail and in many ways look like a manta ray.  The eagle rays are an absolute delight to watch – not only are they graceful and beautiful, but they periodically leap free of the water, throwing themselves several feet into the air.

Sailboat at Sunset in Belize on the Barrier Reef

As with the day before, the sunset on Tobacco Caye was every bit as incredible.  This time framed by sailboats, a small panga, and picturesque palm trees.  We ate a delicious meal with fish and shrimp before settling in for another night of stories, drinks and jokes before crawling into bed.  Stiff and exhausted from a long day swimming and relaxing in the sun.

Tobacco Caye in Belize

The following morning greeted us with more blue skies and warm weather. After breaking down our tents and re-packing the boat we set off once more.  This time on the final leg of our trip to Placencia.

Lobster Sunbathing in Belize

The trip itself was fairly lazy. We paused several more times for seafood and caught a few fish by line.  With each stop the number of us that jumped overboard to explore diminished until there were only 3 or 4 of us left that dove in at every opportunity. We swam, laughed and relaxed for the remainder of the day before arriving in Placencia about 3 or 4PM.  We disembarked and set to the task of finding accommodation.

It was Christmas eve and the town was quiet, although not completely shuttered.  Before long I found a small budget hotel with a room for $40 BZD ($20USD) a night.  To my delight the room had 3 beds, and a private bathroom.  The shower didn’t offer warm water (not unusual in Belize), and consisted of a PVC pipe with a small turn nozzle. It was more than I needed.

I settled in, read my book, grabbed an evening meal and then dozed contentedly.  Life was good.

Sailing the Belize Barrier Reef

Sail Boat

The morning was damp.  The occasional sprinkle fell to challenge our merry mood. Despite the weather’s best efforts we could sense that the storm had blown itself out and was able to but threaten more rain, clouds and wind.  The cold front had claimed its three windswept days and now the cycle began anew with sun breaking through the clouds on the horizon with rays of golden light.

The trip I’d booked was the three-day two night Raggamuffin Sailing trip from Caye Caulker, down through the Cayes and along the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world to the small peninsula town of Placencia.  We left on Tuesday and would arrive on the 24th – Christmas eve.   The all-inclusive trip cost $350 – which included a $50 premium for travel over the holidays/Christmas.

Sailboat Prow in Belize

We loaded our bags then slowly piled onto the small motorboat that would shuttle us out to the still small, albeit slightly larger sailboat which would be our home for the next 3 days – the Ragga Queen.

Pirate Flag

With an old battered pirate flag flying, we set sail and with our backs to Caye Caulker began a new adventure.  As we sailed south the sun slowly began to break through the clouds.  Bringing with it a warmth that left us all pinching ourselves – trying to remember that it was currently late December. With a grin and a shrug we stripped down to swimsuits and lathered on sunscreen.

Fishing Hut

The sailing was easy and the three-man crew took care of most of the work.  We’d help periodically as they raised sail or made small adjustments, but beyond that we were mostly left to our own devices.  We mixed, mingled and got acquainted with each other.  Told stories, played card games, napped, read and fished from the stern of the ship.  Before long we noticed an odd structure – seemingly rising out of the water.  The fishing shack which during low tide sat on an exposed sandbar rested on pillars: sandbar completely submerged.  The small structure was fascinating.  Not because of its complexity, but rather the fact someone had not only managed, but also decided, to build a structure literally in the middle of the ocean.  In many ways it reminded me of the structures built for the movie Waterworld, only far less complex and obviously still anchored in sand.  The building itself though was an odd reminder that we were sailing in shallow water – a poignant reality I had learned several nights previous when the ferry I was riding on ran aground multiple times.

Fishing in Belize

The fishing was decent, though slow going.  The first day we caught two – a decent sized barracuda and what I believe was a Spanish Mackerel – both served as the foundation for a delicious dinner later that evening.  Unfortunately, despite no small amount of time spent manning one of the two lines – I ended up skunked. Still the fishing itself was plenty rewarding, as I watched the barrier reef and various islands slowly slip by.

Open Water in Belize

We paused several times during the first day – dropping anchor seemingly at random just off the reef.  The water was typically between 8-25 feet deep and crystal clear. Eager to explore we pulled on our fins and snorkels, paused briefly at the side of the boat and then jumped.  The water’s embrace was warm – a delightful contrast from what you’d expect which made the transition far easier than I’ve grown accustomed to in the Pacific, Atlantic and even northern Sea of Cortez.

It never ceases to amaze me how big a difference fins make when snorkeling. Truly, they’re more a necessity than anything.  Recalling my childhood dreams of being a Marine Biographer I double checked my Flip Ultra Video camera and marveled once again at how well the $35 underwater case was working out.  Then without thinking, snorkel in mouth, I turned my sights to the seafloor, only to quickly get a mouth full of water and a quick reminder: snorkels and ear to ear grins seldom make good bedfellows.


The reef was rich with life – while not as tame and prolifically populated as the Hol Chan marine reserve, the reef was still awash in life and color.  With vibrant coral, giant sea fans and sprawling beds of light green sea grass the reef was an absolute delight. Make sure to take a few minutes and watch the video at the start of this post. I’m afraid that all I have is underwater video, no photos.

As I made my way carefully into the shallower water, I paid special attention to the currents and my fins.  Careful, ever so careful, not to make any contact with the reef or plant life. It sounds easy enough, but given the ebb and pull of waves, long sweep of fins and 5-7 feet of water it quickly became a challenge.  We took great care to stay horizontal in the shallower water – keeping our feet, and fins well away from the seafloor where they might potentially do damage that would take years – if not decades to heal.

We snorkeled for half an hour – or was it an hour? – before making our way back to the boat and relaxing as we quenched our hunger with ham sandwiches and fresh conch ceviche.  Then, settled in for another brief sail before a series of quick pauses, this time in much deeper water, where those willing set out in search of conch for dinner. Unfortunately, most of us found the water too deep and the conch too hard to spot – still we searched, swam, and enjoyed as the captain and crew who had more free diving experience made to 20+ foot journey to the sea floor and back easily.  Later, the captain an ex-fisherman mentioned that during his fishing days he would regularly make 90+ foot free dives.

Island along the Belize Barrier Reef

As the sun began to race towards the horizon we reached our destination for the evening.  A delightful, tiny speck of sand with a deep water dock for the sailboat, 7 palm trees, and a small one room hut for the island’s steward.  With 15 passengers and 3 crew, our little boat was overloaded. There was ample sitting room during the day, if you didn’t mind getting a bit cozy, but not even the faintest chance of fitting us all at night.

Tents on our small Island

Luckily the island had room (if just barely) for 7 tents.  We paired up, unloaded the tents, gear and sleeping pads, then set to assembling our tents.  Some teams did better than others, leaving a few to grumble, huff, and curse gently under their breath as we all struggled to figure out just how the slightly off-center, somewhat worn tents had been designed.

Belize Barrier Islands at Sunset

Hartmut – a gentleman from Germany, my tent-mate and a friend I’d bump into during later travels – and I quickly got our tent assembled and began to wander the island.  Despite its small stature the island was absolutely gorgeous.

Sailboat during Sunset

The island’s white sands were soft, warm in the afternoon’s fading sunlight, and a beautiful white that picked up the hues of the sunset and seemed to blend seamlessly with the lapping waves.

Pelican flying around island

The locals themselves – mostly seagulls and pelicans – were also quite hospitable.  Lazily sharing the island with us, and periodically taking flight to feed or just circle the island in an incredible show of grace.

Pelican in Flight

The pelicans themselves, while wary, seemed comfortable with visitors. More than that though, they seemed almost eager to show off their natural agility and skills.

Sunset over  Conch and Coral

Antsy, I wandered a bit more – pausing at an old tree stump that now held a dried coral fan and several conch.  As the sun set behind it – I held my breath in anticipation.

As we paused, enjoying our dinner of fresh seafood and garlic bread the sun continued to set. As each minute passed it revealed new beauty, new colors and my smile grew.

Sunset in Belize

Words cannot describe the incredible beauty of the sunset as it set the sky afire. The leftover clouds – those straggling behind the cold front – picked up the sun’s evening song and magnified it ten fold.  The waves of the ocean gently moaned as they slowly tickled the white sandy beaches – turned golden by the sunset.

Sailboat at Sunset in Belize on the Barrier Reef

It had been a good day.  An incredible one, that I’ll remember for the rest of my life – but as the sun set and we settled in around a campfire I quickly realized that the day held one last surprise. As complete darkness settled over our small island, with the fire slowly burning down – I sprawled lazily across the sand and looked up.

The stars were incredible – so vivid, so densely packed and so bright that I could hardly contain a soft sigh.  Living in the city, the stars are always dim and far away.  On the rare occasions I escape into the countryside camping or return back to my parent’s home in Prescott I can always count on vivid stars but even those barely compared to the sight that greeted me.

It was as though the galaxy itself sat just out of reach. The depth and richness of the stars something beyond the norm, something special, something incredible. Then breathing slowly, eyes roaming the sky I saw the first shooting star. Then another.  Then a third, a fourth, a fifth…they blazed across the sky in incredible arks.  As luck would have it – I was witnessing what I believe was the Ursid meteor shower.  The view that night alone made the trip well worth it.

Stay tuned for part II of this post covering days 2 and 3.  Can’t wait?  Check out my Belize photo stream on flickr. Q9VRSZ4BCZXJ

Caye Caulker – Belize’s Hidden Gem

Caye Caulker photo from an Airplane

When I talk about Belize – Caye Caulker (pronounced Key-Caulker) – is the place that quickly comes to mind as my favorite.  The somewhat sleepy island village is a backpacker’s dream.  Beautiful water, exciting day trips, two delightful hostels, dirt roads, golf cart transportation, cheap prices and delightful people leave just about everyone who visits smiling.

Unloading Luggage at Caye Caulker

As I understand it the Islands itself was carved in two back in 1961 by a major hurricane which created the channel on the right hand side of the photo above. The island has two main streets and the town itself sits mostly on the narrow northern part of the island. View an aerial of the map on Google Maps [here] and the official Caye Caulker website [here].

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. My Caye Caulker adventure begins in San Pedro where I left you last.  After a delightful day spent on the reef and enjoyable night relaxing I strapped on my backpack and wandered my way to the local airport.  The airports on the smaller islands are serviced by two main airlines.  Mayan Airlines and Tropic Airlines.  Both offer an affordable and enjoyable alternative to the water taxis for a small premium.

I was eager to see the islands from above and had discovered the day before that inter-island flights were surprisingly cheap. Instead of the $80-$150 USD ticket I was expecting to fly from San Pedro to Caye Caulker a one-way ticket was $56 BZD or $28 USD.   Sure, it was more than triple the price for a water taxi – but it also came with a aerial view of the islands.  Eager to enjoy my latest adventure I asked when the next plane was – learned the 10 o’clock plane was full, but that if interested they’d call up another plane for a 10:30 flight. I agreed.  The operator made a quick phone call, and before long had me penciled in for 10:30.  The planes were small, the airport more or less a dirt strip.  It was refreshing.  No security lines, no metal detectors.  Just a patch of dirt with a raised metal table to leave your bag on.

Mayan Air Water Stained Boarding Pass

As I sat, relaxing and waiting I couldn’t help but chuckle.  My boarding pass/ticket was a laminated piece of color paper with a map highlighting where Mayan air flew.  The lamination itself had begun to peel back allowing water into the ticket, as you’ve no doubt noticed in the image above.   A few minutes later the plane arrived and with a little disappointment the pilot informed me I was too large to sit shotgun.  Not to be dissuaded I squeezed into the chair immediately behind and had a nearly identical view.

San Pedro from Above

The take off was fast, the view during the flight incredible.  The water is so shallow and clear that you can see the reef and sand formations clearly, even on a cloudy day.  The clouds are shaped heavily by the presence of the islands often mirroring the islands’ jagged outline. Some 9-10 minutes later we lined up on the Caye Caulker airport. The pilot dropped our speed suddenly leaving me with that Wile E. Coyote sensation, before suddenly gunning the plane at the ground.  With the polished precession of someone who makes the trip several times a day he dropped us onto the short runway, before hitting the breaks and taxiing to the small building that served as the main airport.

Flower on Caye Caulker in Belize

There a Brit – Rob – and I disembarked and took the airport attendant up on an offer for a cab.  A few minutes later a golf cart with “TAXI” painted across the windshield arrived and spirited us off to town. The 5 minute drive was a kick.  The roads in Caye Caulker are all hard packed sand.  Unfortunately, they’re also very susceptible to rainstorms and ruts.  The result is a very bumpy golf cart ride and somewhat treacherous late night walking – at least for those returning from the bars.

Bellas Hostel in Caye Caulker

Before long we’d reached Bella’s hostel only to discover from a group of local’s sitting across the street smoking and socializing that Bella was out and about.  Rob and I took the opportunity to get acquainted. As it turned out he was visiting the Islands as part of his Dive Master certification – fun stuff!  Some 15-20 minutes later Bella returned from her errand – and to my delight informed me that she had space in the group dorm room.  The hostel was nice and clean.  An odd building with more nooks and crannies scattered throughout it than you can image.  Lofts, side rooms – you name it.  The common area itself was basically an open air room.  With solid walls on two sides and mesh/wire net walls on the remaining two.  The price per night?  $20 BZD or $10 USD.

Fresh Snapper in Belize

Settled in Rob and I struck out to find lunch – both starving.  Eventually we found a restaurant that had a few people already seated and a decent looking menu.   Itching for seafood we both ordered the fish of the day.  I opted for the whole fish pictured above served with coleslaw and french fries, while Rob went with the fillet and a Salad.  The meal also came with a complimentary ceviche appetizer.  I opted to wash it down with a Belkin Stout.  One of the local beers brewed in Belize.  The Belkin Stout is both surprisingly light, has a slightly honey brown taste and is curiously strong at 6.5% given its taste.

Fresh Snapper in Belize

When the fish arrived I was pleasantly surprised by how well it was cooked.  Pulled off the grill just at the right moment the meat was moist, flaky and full of flavor.  It was the type of fresh seafood i’d been itching for – but having trouble finding (or affording) previously.   To make matters even better – the price was decent at about 20 BZD or $10 for the meal.

Carved Face on Caye Caulker Belize

With a full stomach we set off to explore the city of Caye Caulker. The town itself was simple, straight forward, and of a size where you might walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes or less.  The main road traces along the beach with a thin layer of bars, homes, hotels and dive shops periodically squeezed into the space left.

Caye Caulker Animal Shelter

In the North West part of the town there’s a large open lot with a half completed foundation.  The lot seems to serve as the towns local animal shelter – home to at least 10 cats and a similar number of dogs, all of whom live in harmony.   As most cats seem to do, these had set themselves up at the entrance, keeping a watchful eye on everyone passing by on the street, lazily purring when someone pause to take a photo or scratch them.  The walls themselves were unpainted and undecorated, except for large bold biblical quotes and religious statements.

Bellas Hostel - Group Dorm

From there it was off to a small internet cafe to write home – and then back to the hostel to relax for a few hours.  Once there I met one of the other guys staying in the group dorm, as well as learned that 3 girls – 2 sisters and their friend – who I’d gotten to know in San Pedro and shared the Ferry/Run Aground adventure with were also in one of the hostel’s private rooms. We caught up and lamented the light rain and poor weather while exchanging tidbits we’d picked up from the locals.  The rain and cloudy weather was the vanguard of a cold front that would be passing through the area.  The locals shrugged, expecting it to last 3 days and break on Tuesday but had little confidence in official weather predictions.  Apparently the islands have their own micro-climate which results in unique, quickly changing weather.

Storm Rolls in on Caye Caulker in Belize

Ready to explore once again I set off, hardly noticing the periodic light drizzle that brought a heavy freshness to the air.  It was refreshing and the electricity in the air invigorating.

Fresh Grilled Lobster on Caye Caulker

After a walk up and down the main drag, I noticed a sign set out in front of one of the local restaurants advertising fresh grilled lobster at an unbeatable price – $20 BZD or $10 USD.   The lobster was delicious, but the highlight was the young kid and his dog who decided I was his new best friend.  Shortly after placing my order, the young boy – who was just learning to count looked my way, smiled and waved.  His mother was distracted by her nursing babe, and he was bored.  He took my smile as an invitation to join me, making his way over and asking me what my name was.  Bored as I waited for my food, and entertained by his sincere curiosity I answered his questions (including what my name was some 5-10 times).

Eventually he decided to raid the salt shaker.  Unfortunately for him, the second sprinkling of salt – actually ended up being pepper.    Chuckling, I began to teach him how to look at the holes in order to best identify which shaker was salt and which was pepper.  Which quickly turned into helping him practice counting to 10.  All the while his dog would wander into the restaurant, hide curled beneath my feet for a minute or two, and then get chased out by the waitress.  Eventually, my food arrived and his mother collected him, leaving me to subtly trade the saliva covered salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to another table before diving into my meal.

Bar on Caye Caulker - Meeting New Friends

From there it was back to the streets and into a light rain.  Eager to stay somewhat dry I ducked into an open air bar near the restaurant.  As my eyes adjusted and I took in the lay of the venue two girls sitting at the table with a 3rd and another guy got my attention and encouraged me to pull up a spot along the bench.  Happy to connect with other travelers I obliged and was quickly introduced.  The three girls were from the West Coast of the US, the guy from German but working in NYC.  Shortly there after “Smiley” the DJ appeared and joined the table.

New Friends in Caye Caulker

In typical backpacker form we all set to drinking, exchanging entertaining – and often inappropriate – travel stories, and generally enjoying ourselves.  As the night progressed we quickly accumulated other travelers.  Rob re-appeared and joined us, as did one of my roommates from the hostel.  Other random travelers made brief cameos – the most noteworthy of which was a tall, bull-necked Texan who did the region’s reputation proud.  While discussing tattoos he informed us that at 17 he had gotten a rather unique one: A winking smiley face on the head of his shlong.  Not in the least bit put off by the girls disbelief he collected their digital cameras, and disappeared briefly before returning with photo evidence.  Even now, over a month later – I still find myself laughing at the absolute insanity of it.

As the night progressed I learned that the girls were also signed up to do the Raggamuffin Sailing tour which I had signed up for on the following Tuesday – 2 days away (more on that soon).  Hartmut, the German gentleman, was also considering it – and eventually opted to join us.  Rob opted to sign up for the same tour, but the one departing the following Friday.

It was then that I made a mistake.  A bit tipsy after several shots of local rum, several Belkins and a short or two of Tequila I bought a bread pudding from a boy selling them out of a bucket.  Needless to say, purchasing bread pudding from a bucket vendor at 8PM isn’t the best of decisions.   It’s one that I paid for with a light case of food poisoning which left me retching my guts out from around 3AM-11AM the following day.

As you can imagine I spent most of the following day re-hydrating, trying to get my stomach settled and hiding out, which – given the bad weather and near constant rain worked out relatively well.

On that chipper note – stay tuned for my next post exploring the wonders of the Belize Barrier Reef as I spend 2 days and 3 nights sailing, snorkeling, and camping along it!

Berlin – Walking the City’s Streets

Berlin, Germany

Whew, it’s amazing how easy it is to get behind and how hard it is to get caught up! That said, this should hopefully do it. Also, if there’s something you’re curious about, or would like to hear more about – post a comment with what that is and I’ll do my best to answer the question/include the info.

Right now I’m winding down after a good day spent walking around Berlin, during which I saw Checkpoint Charlie, a long stretch of the wall, a war/fire ruined cathedral, and some random parts of East Berlin.

But first – My last few hours in Amsterdam were fairly uneventful. I woke up, scrambled to get everything ready, made the brief walk to the train station, then sat around and waited on my train. The train ride was about 6 hours and about what one would expect. Beautiful countryside, very little leg room and a lot of people. I finished the Four Hour Work Week (awesome book – I highly recommend it) and began on the new Lord of the Rings book which I also have with me.

Upon arriving in Berlin real culture shock set in. While most people (even the occasional brat vendor) speak English the signs etc. are almost all in German. Exit signs are now green instead of red, the bathroom is exclusively called the WC and everything is significantly different. I made the mistake of not having a German – English dictionary, so it was sink or swim time and all 100% up to me. Feeling slightly overwhelmed I did the best thing I could think of – I ate….at Burger King of all places. I was starving and grumpy from the train ride, needed a second to get my bearings – so why not find the one place that was familiar, grab some food, and figure things out.

Berlin, Germany

With a full stomach, I set to the task of finding my way to my hostel – which with the aid of the gentleman who sold me my bus ticket became doable. After standing on the wrong side of the street for a few minutes (in the rain of course) I eventually realized my mistake and found the right stop. Much to my relief the bus stop itself was pretty clearly marked and the bus was even better. It told you, both audibly and visually, what the next stop was…which, given my complete inability to understand anything that was said was probably a good thing.

After getting dropped off, I found a map tied to the subway (didn’t have a Berlin map either at this point…lol) I memorized the route I needed to take to make the 5 or so minute walk to my hostel. The hostel itself was great, nice, clean, good shape, friendly people etc. in fact before I even made it up the elevator to my room I met a Canadian (Ian). As it turned out he was also in my dorm. He immediately invited me out on the pub crawl he and his two traveling companions were planning later that night. I agreed readily.

I got settled, got some food, took a shower, then geared up for the quick trip on the U bahn (Tube) to where the tour started at 9. We were a good 15 minutes late, but found them right away at the bar. I’d say there were a good 30-40 people on the tour mostly foreigners, but a few locals mixed into it. The tour had a few guides, the chief one among them a burly bald-headed German. The guy just oozed character. He reminded me in a lot of ways of an early barbarian. He had a few piercings (including a tongue ring), and a big fur-lined coat. You can drink on the streets of Berlin – as a result about 1/3 of the crawlers had drinks in their hand, even when moving between pubs. Our guide was no exception only he was double fisting 3 large bottles of vodka which he’d pour freely every time we paused at a light, park, you name it. It was reminiscent of a mother sow, chased by thirsty babes.

The tour itself took us to 4 walking distance pubs, then we all got on the tube together and headed to a fun night club which was in old East Berlin. The club was huge, located in a maze of rooms under the railway. It had a giant techno room, modern top 40, then a classic room, as well as 3 or 4 other smaller secondary rooms. In addition to the three Canadians from the dorm, I met a few other travelers – particularly two of the other taller guys on the trip, one from the U.S. and another from New Zealand, and a group of 3 girls from Spain. The 1 (mother hen) kept to herself, but the other two Anna and-I forget the other girl’s name -were super friendly. Anna and her friend made a fun mix. Anna was taller, thin and attractive … her friend was super short, with a little stockier build, bright eyes and a quick smile. The three of us talked, danced, and wandered off and on throughout the night, until my hostel mates and I decided we’d best head home. I bid my new friends adieu and headed out. We got back to the hostel around 3:30 and crashed right away.

Germany - Berlin

After sleeping in a bit, taking a nice shower, and a good bit of water I headed into the city to explore. The girl at reception recommended I see the Museum Isle, which I headed to first. There I walked through a fun flea market, before finding myself in front of the Bode Museum. Not really having a clue what I was doing, or what it was about (it looked pretty, and seemed interesting) I wandered in. I found out much to my surprise that a student day ticket for the entire island was only 6 Euro and decided to explore.

Germany - Berlin

Well, turns out I guess that the Bode is kinda important…so guess it was a good decision. The Museum itself was gorgeous and in it there were a number of beautiful pieces of art as well as a pretty interesting coin exhibit. I have to admit though, that a lot of the stuff was from cathedrals and religiously oriented. After the 5th gilded depiction of Jesus on the cross, I got a bit bored and moved through to the older sculpture.

The following were the ones that really stood out: A marble dancer mid-step. This was a larger piece located in the center of the room, the life-size carving was of a beautiful, robed woman with arms upraised with cymbals on her fingers. The position, flow, and composition of the piece reminded me of a belly dancer mid-dance.

A sequence of small bronzes – about the size of a cat-were incredibly realistic, detailed, and beautifully cast. They ranged from depictions of a beautiful woman and fawn holding each other to a mighty lion with a bull in its maw as the two fought.

Berlin, Museum Island

From the Bode I wandered down and off the island briefly (no other option) before coming to a bridge back onto the Isle that dumped me in front of a building based heavily on greco-roman architecture. Though most of the exterior columns were wrapped in scaffolding the building still struck me as incredible. In fact the whole island is pretty awesome. Not sure – but I have a hunch if you pull it up in Google Earth you’ll see what I’m talking about. Fascinated by the architecture I walked into the plaza, scratched my head and decided as far as museums go that this one seemed as good as any other. Turns out, it was the Alte National Gallery. Had no idea about the Alte part, but was able to figure out the National Gallery bit. Turns out they had a big French exhibit going on right now.

Berlin, Germany

In the National Gallery the most captivating part was again a beautiful marble of a woman with angel’s wings. This life size crystalline masterpiece was captivating. The emotion, presence, and beauty of the sculpture was fascinating. The wings in particular were beautifully worked and the statue itself was positioned next to/under a window which accentuated it.

Germany - Berlin: Dancer

Beyond that the paintings were fun, some were beautiful, some were ugly, others were just odd. I’m not a big impressionist fan, so the vaguely outlined paintings depicted with smeared paint and random brush strokes for the most part didn’t really hold me. They did however, have some fantastic realist pieces which were incredible. I forget names, etc. but a number of the large wall-sized pieces were fantastic. It was also fun to see pieces by a number of the more famous artists.

From there, more than a little tired I wandered through Berlin a bit more before finding my way back to the hostel where I wrote the other updates, took a nap, and eventually made an easy night of it.

Berlin, Germany

Today I woke up and headed to a stretch of the East-West border that I’d been told had a large chunk of the wall still intact. While the wall was intact, and a lot of the graffiti was still visible, it was hard to tell what was new, what was old and what was significant. The wall itself was impressive, and the difference between the east and west definitely is something else. From there I crossed the bridge and wandered a bit, before finding lunch and a tube station that would take me the rest of the way to Checkpoint Charlie. CC was a tourist trap and the line for the Museum was too long to make it worth bothering with, so I saw it, looked around, then moved on pretty quickly.

My next-final destination was the Zoo Garden area and the famous pillar-monument square, which is centered around the golden lady and her pillar. I started in the middle of the park or so, which resulted in a long, beautiful walk through the forest/garden along a canal, before eventually finding my way to the pillar.

Monument Square and Museum Isle were both really impressive. They are so organized and gigantic in scale! It seems like it’s one of the few places post Rome where things like that have been done.

On that note, my fingers are tired and it’s time for some more food, and to finish booking my next destination – Frankfurt.