Tikal, Guatemala

With only one day left on my vacation, I had to choose between a second day in San Ignacio, Belize with a daytrip to the ATM cave or a quick trip over the border to see Tikal.

It was an easy decision.  I’ve always wanted to see Tikal, and I was not sure when I would have another chance.  If I fly to Guatemala someday, I’d base myself in Antigua, which is far from the ruins.

The nice thing about guided tours from San Ignacio is they are small.  My tour only had one other couple.  We were dropped at the border to go through customs where a driver met us on the other side.  It was a two and a half hour ride past beautiful lake scenery and the town of Flores, some fruit and vegetable stands, and some rather bumpy roads.

The tour guide at the ruins was incredible.  He knew every detail, and could answer any question we threw at him.  He had boundless energy, and we gladly climbed every temple we could with him, despite temperatures hovering near 100F.  The ruins are everything I hoped they would be…not too crowded, beautifully preserved, fascinating, awe-inspiring, and surrounded by toucans (and the vocals of howler monkeys, although I did not see any).  A tourist note: it’s nice to report numerous and clean bathrooms too.

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I asked the guide about his background, and he paid to go to a tourism program that offers government certification as a tour guide.  He said he was very lucky to have the extended family help him with funds to go to school.  He now runs tours of Guatemala, but is also sent to Honduras regularly to introduce tourists to the ruins of Coba.  Every now and then, he gets to participate in larger Latin American tours and gets to tag along to South America as a benefit, acting as a translator as he speaks French, English, and some German.

He emphasized how hard work is to come by in Guatemala, and that he goes to night school every day to learn better English and pursue a TESOL certification.  His salary goes to his schooling and to repay his family for their generosity.

The driver also works multiple jobs in order to provide for his family.

I was already aware of how hard immigrants to the US work to better their lives, but meeting the Guatemalans made me even more disgusted by the rhetoric that often plays on the airwaves about “these people” who are unfairly depicted as violent drug lords.

I have often wished travel abroad was a part of an American student’s education.  Study abroad, unfortunately, often is considered a specialty…the student usually already has a great desire to explore, and has a background in languages, international relations, or international business.  It would be great if those who were fearful of travel abroad had an experience in their youth where they could face their fear and hopefully conquer that fear, and make some international friends along the way!

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The only negative about the tour was the mandatory stop at a restaurant on the way back where each small tour stopped.  The gift shop was Disney-like, with every Guatemalan craft and trinket under the sun for sale at higher prices than you know you’d find elsewhere.  The food was safe and sadly boring with little flavor.  But, in Guatemala, you knew your purchases were helping people make a very small living wage, so I really shouldn’t complain at all.  Interesting note was the waiter informed us ahead of time that the coffee wasn’t great, because the good stuff goes abroad.

The trip made me a better consumer.  I mentioned how exploring the coral reef in Belize made me really aware of my plastic use.  Guatemala has made me read coffee and chocolate labels – free trade, sustainable, certified by programs like the Rainforest Alliance – it’s worth the extra few dollars.  I also recommend buying online gifts from places like novica.com which support local artisans.

 

(photos by me)

 

 

 

 

 

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Caye Caulker

 

IMG_2337I love to travel so I knew I’d enjoy my trip to Belize, but I had no idea just how much I would love it.  Caye Caulker is easy to get to from the city – just take one of the ferrys for a forty minute ride to this paradise.  All sand roads, a sea breeze to beat the heat, friendly people and pets, and crystal clear water make for a relaxing few days.

IMG_2339Like a postcard.

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I knew I wanted to snorkel, as Belize has the largest reef aside from Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef.  I saw a turtle, sharks, hundreds of fish and eel, five manatees (a real treat to see!), and stingrays.

IMG_2340I had never snorkeled before so was very thankful for my instructor.  It was a group of six thru Caveman Tours.

IMG_2342Learning more about coral reefs and their important ecosystems was a goal for me.  I have already become far more aware of avoiding plastic packaging, and have invested in reusable fruit/vegetable bags since my trip.

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If there is one criticism I have it is Belize is not a culinary powerhouse like Mexico.  But, breakfast was delicious!

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My favorite part of Caye Caulker was watching sunrises and sunsets.

I highly recommend the island, but don’t expect fancy hotels.  One of the most charming things is it is all guest houses on the island (and they are rather affordable.)

I stayed at De Real Macaw for $70 a night with a sea view and a hammock on the porch.

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Riding an elephant

With the new year coming, I’m dreaming of travel.  Maybe you are too?  But, if riding an elephant was on your bucket list, you might want to think twice:

Daniel Turner, Associate Director for Tourism at Born Free told the BBC:

While some may consider riding on top of the largest land mammal to be a cultural experience that holds an air of romance, few recognise that this practice actually significantly compromises the welfare of these magnificent animals and potentially places people at risk.
Riding or interacting with captive elephants, swimming with dolphins, walking with lions, or cuddling a tiger cub for a photo – these are just some of the many worrying tourism excursions and activities involving animals. All can impact on the welfare of the animals involved, and risk people’s safety.

What can you do instead?  Visit a sanctuary, where often you can interact with the elephants (feeding them, helping with bath time) yet know that they have plenty of time with their peers and in natural surroundings.

Here are some reputable ones I’ve heard about:

The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park, Thailand and Cambodia

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya

The Elephant Sanctuary, South Africa (3 locations)

Elephant Rehabilitation Center in Agastyarvanam Biological Park, India

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Sri Lanka

YouTube: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya

 

 

 

 

Autumn in NY

The mid-Atlantic and Northeast are rightfully famous for their autumn colors.  Tour busses regularly go along our highways in October bringing “leaf peepers” with their cameras.  They visit the state parks, but miss out on the quiet local parks.

At the start of the month, before you go leaf peeping, get a pumpkin!

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IMG_6385Even the tiny park by my house begins to lay out a welcome carpet of royal gold and red in mid-October.

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The Erie Canal becomes a quiet place after the busy summer, but if you bring a warm hat and gloves, you can still enjoy taking to the water.

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Hiking paths can be empty in the local parks, as people rush to the more famous sites to see the colors.

IMG_6386By the end of October, the bright reds hint the brief season is quickly coming to an end.

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Until next year!

 

(photos are my own)

 

 

Niagara Wine Country

IMG_5208It feels like fall today, with gusty winds, clouds, and temperatures no higher than 70F/20C.

It made me think of how my grapes will like it, and I’ll be picking them next month.  It also made me think of Niagara Wine Country, and since I had nothing in particular to do this morning, I drove two hours away to wander around the area.

I’ve been here countless times but I never tire of it.  At any season, it’s an enjoyable excursion.

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Niagara on the Lake is a small town in Ontario with a very British feel.  Have some tea, pop into the cute shops (many British products, many Canadian made goods like hats and Christmas ornaments), buy some delicious baked goods or candies, go to a Shaw play, eat a filling meal with local specialities, or visit a fort.  Then, go wine tasting.  There are countless vineyards, and none are bad.  Many are picturesque and welcome visitors to take photos without expectations of purchase.

If you do want to purchase a wine, this area is famous for ice wines.

If you are here in the summer, local produce like peaches and strawberries are delicious and very affordable at farm stands.

Of course, Niagara Falls is only twenty minutes away so you will have plenty of options of things to do there as well.

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Photos taken by me August 5, 2017

 

 

Summer in the Finger Lakes

IMG_4675Sunrises and sunsets can be very dramatic in the Finger Lakes region, but this sunrise might have been one of the most beautiful I have seen.  This summer has brought rain and thunderstorms, which has given us some fantastic cloud formations.

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And, rainbows.  So many rainbows.  We had double rainbows three evenings in a row.

IMG_4907This past weekend there were two Lavender festivals.  I attended the one in Skaneateles.  It was as if I transported myself to Provence.

IMG_6040My favorite summer activity here is fruit picking.  Cherries for $2.49 a pound.  Western NY is actually the second most agriculturally rich area in the USA – in terms of variety and abundance – Sonoma, CA is ahead of us.

I love to travel, but home is pretty great at this time of year.

(photos are my own)

Jazz Festival

IMG_4627Every year my city puts on a fantastic Jazz Festival.  This year the event lasts nine days and I went downtown for day 1.  The headliner was Joss Stone, a singer/songwriter I’ve long admired.  I remember “Soul Sessions” blowing me away at her vocal talent.  But, she continued to impress me by doing projects that she was interested in, even if it did not make the big bucks.  She has dabbled in reggae, blues, jazz, soul…

She also has a passion like I do for elephants, visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the GRI Elephant Orphan Project.

Anyhow, Rochester’s Jazz Festival also has some terrific free performances, so if you’re in the Western NY area, check it out.

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Photos: my photos of Rochester Jazz Fest – yes, I was far away, but Joss Stone sounded great!