Unlocking Ushuaia’s Secrets – The Portal to Tierra del Fuego

A Rainstorm - Ushuaia, Argentina

The first few days of my Argentina trip had been spent exploring Buenos Aires, socializing, dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the reality that I was back on the road.   For me, it was the southern city of Ushuaia where I mentally perceived my Argentinian adventure as truly beginning. I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that the city was the departure base for the majority of the Antarctica tours, it was home to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, and  it was my best shot at seeing penguins. Beyond that, I’d heard mixed things. Chief among them was that the town and region were disappointing; that I shouldn’t set aside much time for the area, and my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Downtown Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After exploring Ushuaia, El Chalten, and El Calafate, I can definitely tell where and why people might think the above about Ushuaia.  Based on my experiences, I found Ushuaia worth the stop…with a caveat that your level of enjoyment while in Ushuaia seems to depend on where in your trip you see it.  The city of Ushuaia is a launchpad destination.  It is a city nestled between majestic, snow-capped mountains situated alongside the Beagle Channel of Darwinian fame. With a booming population and nearly 60,000 residents, the city is one of the largest in the region.  Yet, despite that, the tourist section of the city stands alone, nestled along the port and on the side of the mountains, it feels more like a town of 5,000.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The flight south is fairly unremarkable, until that is, you go to land in the city.  Located in the midst of the channel on a long, flat peninsula the airport is surrounded by large mountain ranges which still cling to snowy cloaks even in the midst of the Argentinian summer. As our plane drifted, dropped, and jumped through the clouds on a turbulent approach, I was awestruck by the view out the window.  We weren’t just making a typical approach, we were flying through a large valley and surrounded by/flying over snow-covered mountains.  It was spectacular and left me grinning as my mind immediately imagined that famous snow/ramp scene from the James Bond movies.  What also struck me was the minute or two which it lasted. Usually landings happen so quickly that you don’t really get anything more than a quick view of the surrounding area. That wasn’t the case with Ushuaia which was a true delight.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The airport is new, modern, and in excellent shape.  Fairly small, it’s built for cold weather and as such offers a lot of amenities that many smaller airports might gloss over.  There is a cost, however, as both Ushuaia and El Calafate airports are managed by “London Supply” and charge an exit tax for the use of the airport which is NOT covered in your ticket price. The tax is around $8 USD.

Ushuaia Bay - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After a quick 7 minute cab ride (around 23 pesos) I found myself at the front door of the Freestyle Hostel.  The hostel had a nice layout, clean/modern facilities, and a great location just north of the docks. The staff was friendly, helpful and playful once they decided they liked you but tended to be a bit abrasive and sarcastic on first blush.  My room offered a great view out over the harbor, was warm despite the cold weather, and fairly comfortable.

The Local Pub in Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Before long I’d settled in, snagged a hearty nap, and was set to explore.  Based on a recommendation and drink coupon from the hostel, I headed down (quite literally) the street to the Dublin Pub. A great little pub, it serves as the premier watering hole for travelers in Ushuaia. The place was packed, served a mixture of beers, and was limited to two local options on tap…Red or Black.  Both of which were delightful.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with a twitter contact who I’d recently learned was also traveling through Ushuaia.  Brendan authors the blog Brendan’s Adventures and has been on the road for over a year.  A full time travel blogger he’s done a wonderful job executing a dream that most only talk about. Definitely take a minute to check out his blog and to look him up on twitter at @Brendanvanson.

We chatted travel, adventures, antics, women, and business projects off and on over the remainder of my stay in Ushuaia. Brendan has a wealth of travel experiences and wonderful insights into travel, people, and the ancillary benefits and challenges of being on the road.

Perhaps the most comical of our adventures was an attempt to shoot the lunar eclipse on the evening of my second day.  Both eager for the chance to snap what we hoped would be incredible photos of a rare lunar eclipse over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, we camped out in the Dublin Pub until 3:30AM when it closed keeping a careful eye on the night sky and watching for the moon.  We’d researched the eclipse and found a mixture of data which suggested that it would be visible from our vantage point sometime in the early morning.  Unfortunately, it was also right around the time of the summer solstice which made for the shortest nights of the year.

As 3:30 morphed into 4AM and the sun began to rise we let out a collective harrumph, warmed our hands, and admitted defeat.   As it turned out the combination of a mere 3 hours of darkness and large mountain range in the way meant that the Moon never showed its pale face.  Was it ever visible?  It’s hard to know, but as far as we could tel, day won out over night totally obscuring any chance of seeing the moon.

City Streets - Ushuaia, Argentina

The final adventure of note within the city of Ushuaia itself was culinary.  After a wonderful day spent exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park, I re-connected with three of the people I’d met on the bus/during the hike.  Starved from a long day’s exhaustion and a tiny lunch we opted to try one of the city’s all you can eat buffets. They boasted a wealth of meat options with a large in-house grill as well as a wide variety of other seafood and delicious morsels.

Dinner on the Grill - Ushuaia, Argentina

After comparing prices and window shopping we eventually settled on an Asian influenced buffet that sported a hearty grill accompanied by a mixture of seafood and a light sushi bar.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

A vegetarian’s nightmare, the restaurant was a carnivore’s paradise. The meat was all beautifully cooked and awash in flavor.  Predominantly consisting of lamb and beef,  I set to sampling as many of the different options as possible.

Mixed Meats - Ushuaia, Argentina

Each trip back to the grill brought with it a hearty grin from the cook as I worked my way through normal steaks, grilled intestines, sausage, blood sausage and even rack of juicy lamb ribs that melted in my mouth.

Dinner - Ushuaia, Argentina

With a nod towards ‘healthy’ eating, I also balanced things with several trips to the normal buffet bar where I loaded down my plate with beets, green beans, calamari rings, sliced tongue, clams, fried octopus and baby mussels.

Stuffed and served up with a hearty side of solid conversation as the guys told me about their recent Antarctica trip, we eventually surrendered to our food comas before calling it night. To this day even thinking about the meal makes my mouth water and my feet yearn for a return.

Words of Warning

So, here’s the scoop.  If you start your trip through Southern Chile and Argentina in Ushuaia, you’ll probably love the place and enjoy the experience. It’s a decent city to start with and offers solid hostels, a beautiful national park, fun penguin excursions and medium-sized mountains all set to a pretty harbor with gorgeous sunsets. However, if you’ve already done Southern Chile, seen the glaciers and mountains in El Calafate and/or El Chalten and found penguins somewhere along your way, you’ll risk disappointment.

It’s also worth noting that a visit to Ushuaia guarantees exposure to amazing photos and stories from Antarctica which will no doubt trigger an intense desire to make the trip.  I know that for my part what started as a passing pre-trip desire has now blossomed into a post-trip obsession!

Please note that this post breaks with my typical chronological format and focuses exclusively on my time spent in the city of Ushuaia.  I spent my first complete day in Tierra del Fuego on a penguin tour and my second exploring the Tierra del Fuego national park.  Stay tuned for future posts covering both day trips in detail.

A Burgeoning Love for Bergen and Norway’s West Coast

Overlooking the City - Bergen, Norway

The ancient seaside city of Bergen is one of Norway’s best known destinations.  Situated in the heart of Norway’s spectacular fjord country the city offers a rich history, pristine location, spectacular seafood, and perfect starting point for those interested in a breathtaking voyage down one of the region’s nearby fjords.  The city which dates back to approximately 1050 AD is Norway’s 2nd largest city with about 260,000 citizens and a total regional population of around 380,000. The city is readily reachable by air from most or Northern Europe, train through a rail line that connects it to Oslo, and bus/ferry which connects it to Trondheim in the north and Stavanger in the South.

Summer in Norway - Flowers in Bloom - Bergen, Norway

My experience with the city started as nearly all introductions do.  Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a bit of anxiousness over the unknown.  As I disembarked from the Tide.no ferry from Stavanger into a gentle mist of light rain I immediately noted a general approximation of my location in the small map in my Lonely Planet guide book before setting off through the city’s densely crowded harbor area.

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

I’d booked several nights in the Dorm.no hostel after an extensive search for budget accommodation in the area.  Unfortunately, despite its popularity as a destination Norway has a fairly poor hostel network which is heavily dominated by Hosteling International (HI) hostels. Regular readers of the site may recall that while I’ve had positive experiences with HI Hostels in the US, I have a very low opinion of them in Europe and tend to view them as out of date, dirty, and poorly serviced.  As a result I’d opted for the privately run Dorm.no despite a limited number of reviews on the Hostelworld.com profile and extremely mixed reviews. Luckily, what I found was completely different than what the reviews had portrayed.  The hostel was clean, fantastically located, comparatively affordable and modern with ample bathrooms/showers, clean rooms, a kitchen and decent common area.  My only real complaint was that they enforced a lockout which is a huge pet peeve.

Pink Boat in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Relieved that my accommodation not only met but beat my expectations I set out to explore.  The city of Bergen is every bit as active as it is picturesque – at least during the summer months.  Nestled between two large hills the city has a number of large open squares, a park with a large fountain and statuary and a beautiful old harbor lined by old warehouses and a fish market.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

My obsession with the ocean goes back to well before I could walk.  A cornerstone of my childhood was the month+ every year my family and I spent on the Sea of Cortez outside of Puerto Penasco in Mexico.  As a result I’ve always harbored a love for the ocean and seafood.  As one might imagine outdoor fish markets are one of my favorite destinations.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

Overflowing with fresh fish, live crabs, lobster and shrimp all accompanied by a wealth of pre-cooked and smoked seafood the Bergen fish market is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. While the prices may be somewhat higher than seafood prices in the super markets, the experience is quite an adventure.  The seafood is fresh and a great mixture between northern fish, deep water species like Monkfish and of course all of the usuals from arctic shrimp to dungeness crab.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

A lazy stroll through the tightly packed tents is an absolute delight.  The area is all open air which cuts down on the smell, and the combination of fresh seafood and ready-to-eat dishes encourages the vendors to maintain clean cooking conditions.

Knife Balancing in the Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

As if the wide assortment of browns, oranges and reds wasn’t sufficient to keep the curious passerby entertained the workers are also eager to put on a bit of a show. While most were not overly dangerous, I stumbled on one individual who had a pension for balancing a razor sharp fillet knife on the bridge of his nose.  Not half bad right?

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Located a quick hop and a skip from the fish market is the old warehouse row. A must for anyone visiting the region, the old shops have been restored and painted beautiful to create a picturesque waterfront.  Add to that, they’re one of Norway’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

The buildings which have served a wide variety of uses over the years predominantly date back to the 1700s when most of the water front was re-built after a large portion of the city burned to the ground.  Given the close construction, wooden materials, and forms of heating available throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it’s no surprise that Bergen has a long history of catastrophic fires.  In many ways I found it absolutely amazing that the city still exists after reading excerpts from its history.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Though snugly interconnected in front most of the warehouses have small alleyways that cut between them.  These alleys are lined by leaning ancient wooden walls that show the cuts, scars, and old nails from hundreds of years of constant use and near constant re-purposing.  Many also show the signs of ancient wooden doorways or windows that have since been boarded over.  The roof-line is also a cluster of enclosed windows, doorways, and loft entry points which hang over the street and would have helped workers lift large bundles up and into the buildings.  Many are also connected by 2nd and 3rd story walkways as well which give the whole thing a disorganized, charming appearance, even if it is slightly claustrophobic.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

As I explored the buildings immediately behind the warehouses I paused briefly to snap the above image.  It’s hands down one of my favorite shots from the trip.  The young lad pictured was exploring the area and decided to march off determinedly, leaving his parents behind as he explored the area.  I couldn’t have asked for a better contrast between young and old.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for more from my time in Bergen including live music, squares, cathedrals, and even a trip into the bowls of an ancient coastal fortress.

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 – Pictures, Video and Local Cuisine!

Caye Caulker Beach

Having already mentioned my delightful case of food poisoning in my previous post, I’ll refrain from re-telling the story and instead focus on a few snapshots I took around Caye Caulker during my remaining two days on the island.  You’ll note that the photos are often a bit dark and gray.   This is due to the large cold front which was rolling through the region.

Caye Caulker Waterfront

Despite the gray clouds, slightly cooler weather and rain it was still enjoyable – though it was cool enough to merit a light jacket from time to time.

Bird on Dock in Caye Caulker Belize

With a water bottle in hand and slightly pale tint to my complexion I meandered through the city pausing to take in the town’s small quirks and subtle beauty.

Cat on Lounge Chair in Belize

The good news was, though, that despite the weather – at least a few of the locals decided to hit the beach for a bit of sunbathing.

Boat with Signs

From there it was on towards the gap in the island where one of the most flavorful boats I’ve seen in a long time was tied up.  After all, what boat is complete without “No War” painted on the side, a reclined, palm frond sun shade, and live baby palm trees growing along the deck?

Seagulls and Pelicans relaxing

From there it was down a small dock – where the local birds seemed to be relaxing watching their own version of island TV.

Caye Caulker, Belize

As the day wound to a close (and my appetite finally returned) I found the “World Famous Jolly Roger’s Grill” – only open in the evenings, Jolly Roger’s was set up in a roadside stand along the main drag.  It consisted of a few beat up pick-nick tables, a small table for preparing food and the long grill pictured above.

Jolly Roger

My host – Roger – promised the best fresh grilled lobster in town at a great price.  A bear of a man, he had a a friendly smile and boisterous voice as he called to passing travelers and locals alike – wishing them well and inviting them to pause for a meal.

Grilled Lobster in Caye Caulker Belize

As I sat, watching Roger and his wife prepare the meal, I enjoyed the soft sound of rain drops hitting the hut’s tin roof.  The fresh smell of cooking food, fresh sea air and rain heavy in my nostrils I felt both refreshed and invigorated.


Curious about the meal?  I’ll yield the floor to Jolly Roger himself and let him introduce dinner!  Just click play and enjoy the video.

Jolly Rogers in Caye Caulker

As I chatted and slowly worked my way through my dinner, rum punch and desert I was quickly joined by a gaggle of travelers as Roger’s quickly filled up.  Several of which I knew – some of the girls from the night before, who were also booked on the Raggamuffin Sailing trip we’d be leaving on in the morning – while others were new friends, like a family who had met up with their daughter and were exploring Belize.  We mixed, mingled and socialized for a a stretch before I found my way back to the hostel, pulled out one of C. Descry’s books and turned in for the evening.

Tomorrow promised to be a big day.

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!

Cadiz Part II

After the previous night’s sushi and tapas I started the following day with plans to take things easy. The combination of an old injury, hours of walking each day, cobblestone streets and nights full of dancing had done a number on my knee and I needed to rest it.  Still, I was eager to stock up on food and had heard that with Christmas coming the following day all of the markets were closing at 3PM and would remain closed through the following day.

After a slow start to the morning I set out into the warren of old winding streets that zig-zagged across the peninsula crowned by Cadiz .  Map in hand, I slowly made my way down beautiful cobblestone streets, pausing from time to time at small intersections just large enough to fit a single pedestrian and car through at once. One might think that with tiny winding streets barely large enough for a compact car, and buildings hundreds of years old, that European cities would be dirty.  While some are, most are incredibly clean. Cadiz is no exception.  Its carefully laid streets are washed on a regular – perhaps even daily – basis leaving clean walking paths devoid of most litter and unmarred by so much as a single weed.

I struggled to internalize the scale of the map as I plotted out my route to the large outdoor market.  I eventually bumped into the ocean.  The day was gorgeous with calm waves gently caressing the large square cement breakwater.  As I traced my way along the ocean I enjoyed the fresh sea scent and gentle crispness to the air.  Before long I found the side street I needed and made my way down a wide, albeit random, set of  stairs which dumped in to a small alleyway being used as a parking area for several compacts.  As is somewhat common in the back streets and side alleys in Europe, the whole area smelled of urine.  Eager to avoid stopping and smelling the roses I quickly made my way back into the internal mix of streets and before long found Cadiz’s old outdoor market.

The original building which looked to be quite old was being renovated. In what I assume was originally a square in front of it, an expansive portable tent had been set up.  As I rounded the side of the old market and prepared to enter the temporary tent, I passed by the following street vendor with a small table set up loaded with a healthy mound of raw sea urchins.  The fisherman had halved urchins sitting out on his table in the same way super markets often display their melons. In retrospect I probably should have stopped and sampled one of the urchins, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the texture or taste and as such decided to skip the snack.

The tent was chock full of hundreds of small vendor’s stands offering everything from fresh crab to exotic olives.  I’ve always loved the ocean and the bounty of creatures that come from it.  I guess it’s no surprise then that I also love fish markets and seafood.

One of my favorite things about European markets is the quantity of fresh food displayed.  From beautiful fresh salmon to fish roe, the seafood section of the market was packed with stalls.  If I had to guess I’d say that there were easily 30 stalls with seafood alone.  Located on the coast, Cadiz has fantastic fresh seafood at incredibly reasonable prices. I candidly filmed the following clip from my hip as I walked through the crowded isle.  I apologize for the quality of the video but hope it conveys part of the experience (make sure to select “watch in High Quality”):


Eventually after taking in the sights for a few minutes and checking out the various vendors prices, I remembered that I was there to pick up food for several meals. Before long I’d purchased 1kg of large tiger shrimp for 8 Euro and another kilo of smaller shrimp for 4 Euro. With bags in hand I wound through the stalls to the next row over which had a mixture of meat, vegetables and fish.

After a few more minutes I’d picked up a kilo of delicious, sweet, mandarin oranges for 2 Euro, a clove of garlic, lemons and a bag of potatoes. With my arms and bag loaded down I began my trip home, pausing at a small super market to pick up a 6 pack of beer and a bottle of wine.

Despite slightly overshooting my hostel I easily found my way back. Once back  I separated my goods into bags, labeled them and then either put them in the hostel fridge or one of the small dry goods bins they had available. After getting everything put away I set to making a delicious shrimp and pasta meal for a late lunch which I shared with several of the other guys who were relaxing in the hostel common area.

Stuffed after several bowls of pasta I cleaned up and made my way to my room for a refreshing shower, pleasant nap and a bit of reading (Dad’s The Spirits in the Ruins).

More to come soon – Stay tuned!

Crab, Oysters, Shrimp & Pasta for $14 a Plate

Table with Crab Dinner

Listen to this post:

Crab, Oysters, Shrimp & Pasta for $14 Audio

The Challenge?

To cook a seafood meal for three, for under $20 a piece with fresh seafood purchased at the local Chinese Cultural Center (best seafood in town). Actual per person cost? Less than $14. This post is a follow up on my earlier, “How To Eat Like a Millionaire on a College Budget” post.

The ingredients?

  • 2 Live Dungeness Crabs
  • 1.5 Pounds of headless Shrimp
  • 3 chunks of fresh Garlic
  • 1 set of fresh Green Onions
  • 1 bag of Fettuccine Pasta
  • 1/2 bottle of Pasta Sauce
  • 6 leftover button top mushrooms
  • 1 bag of frozen chopped Spinach
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Several Limes
  • Several Lemons
  • Garlic Powder
  • Italian Seasoning Mix
  • Parsley Flakes
  • Rosemary

Please note that the cost of the seasonings, olive oil, and butter is not included in the cost because of their multi-use nature.

Without further delay, here’s the video walk through with guest presenters Nathaniel Berger and Charles Trahern.

Post Mortem
The meal was fantastic.  I wasn’t paying attention and accidentally overcooked the Spinach, which was the biggest disappointment, but still very edible.  The shrimp were also slightly overcooked for my taste (I prefer most of my food on the rarer side) but still very flavorful. The crab was absolutely fantastic – packed with flavor and perfectly cooked. The pasta was delicious with a little fuller flavor than standard pasta. The oysters were fantastic.  Fresh, good sized, and full of flavor – remember the salt and lime, it’s a must!

As always, thanks for tuning in!  Please post questions, thoughts and feedback in the comment section – I value your feedback and insights!

Fish, A Frying Pan and $9

Howdy all,

I’ve decided to follow up on my previous post in which I shared my technique for cooking a live Dungeness crab, shrimp, squash and salad for $15. For today’s project I chose salmon, sole, yams, and a side salad. Total project cost is about $9. In usual form my focus is on simplicity, price and how to use your frying pan/microwave to cook anything you can dream up.

Instead of writing out a step by step I’ve recorded a video of the process. Additional comments, information, options and directions are included below.


  • .7 pounds of fresh salmon (skin on) – on sale for 5.99 pound – cost approx $4
  • .2 pounds of fresh sole – cost $1.00
  • 1 lemon – cost $.70
  • 1 yam – cost approx $1
  • 1 bunch of onion chives – $.60
  • 1/4 white onion – $.50
  • 1/2 bag pre-mix leftover spring salad – cost $1.25
  • Odds and ends herbs/salt/pepper – not priced.
  • 1 quick pour of open white wine I had on hand – not priced/necessary.

I tend to have a cavernous appetite and as a result the portions I cook are often fairly large. If you have a small/medium appetite you could easily cut out the sole, or reduce the size of the salmon portion in order to drop the price of the meal. For the super price conscientious you might also substitute lemon juice in a bottle for the real deal. While effecting the taste somewhat (I used half of a whole lemon with the peel on as flavoring) a few drops would still allow for sufficient flavoring. I have not tested this recipe on other types of fish, but it should work with almost any mild fish including trout and tilapia.

Spices – In this recipe the primary flavoring comes from salt, pepper, lemon and onions. However, if you have rosemary, sage, or other spices like those shown in the video feel free to apply them. As you do so, just follow a simple rule – how will this taste with fish, onion, and pepper?

Cooking time – fish cooks extremely fast and tends to be pretty thin. Keep an eye on it. You want it to be moist and flaky, but if you overcook it, it will fall apart and you will end up with more of a soup than a fillet.

I hope this was helpful!