Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why I Hate Flying *or* Why my Boyfriend is The Best Ever

I know I said I was done posting about Belize, but last night I got the perfect ending to what happened at the Belize International Airport.

Since Matt and I weren't checking our bags, before we left New York I had spent 3 or 4 days gathering all of the travel size items we'd need: sunscreen, shampoo, bug relellant, face soap--everything I bought was 3 oz or under since that's what the new airline guidlines dictate. I did make a couple extra liquid purchases in Belize, however. Every table in the country boats Marie Sharp's hot sauce, a Tabasco-type sauce that was spicy, but really good, and I bought a bottle for me, two for my dad (since he's a hot sauce freak), one for my sister, and one for my super as an extra gift for watching my cat.

Like much of Belize, the 4 room International Airport isn't very impressive or professional looking. Only 3 airlines service the airport, there is 1 bathroom, and I'm pretty sure that shoes are optional. We checked in, showed our passports, and walked to the luggage scanning machine. Other than the woman running the machine, Matt and I were the only people in the small room.

"I see bottles in your bag," the woman said.
"Oh, everything is under 3 ounces," I started, pulling out all the zip-loc bags with our toiletrees.
"What's this? This is 4 ounces." She said, pointing to a bottle of hair gel.
"Oh right, sorry about that, I don't need that. I can throw that away." I had sneaked the contraband 4 oz hair gel with me on the flight from New York, but was perfectly prepared to toss it. Until she continued on about the bottles. I pulled out the plastic bag from my backpack, showing her the sealed 5 oz bottles of hot sauce I had wrapped in socks.
"Those are 5 ounces. You can't bring them in your bag."
"I know, but they're sealed," I protested.
"They're 5 ounces. They have to be 3 ounces or under," she responded, obviously repeating what she had remembered from the 'Ways to Stop Terrorism Handbook.' Tourists can make a bomb with 5 ounces of hot sauce, not 3. None of this bullshit 3 oz nonsense makes any sense—five 3 oz bottles or three 5 oz bottles still equals 15 total ounces. And so on. Plus I couldn’t have out anything into the bottles since they were sealed. Still, she insisted—either I throw away the hot sauce or I check my bag.

Leaving the room in a huff, I went back to the counter to check my bag. That’s when the guy at the counter told me I would have to pick up my bag at customs in Houston, probably ensuring I wouldn’t make our connecting flight to New York. Arrrrrrrgh! I gave the hot sauce to a waiting woman, then got back in the line for the woman to recheck our passports.

It was after we got through the luggage checking machine that I realized that I had forgotten to throw away my hair gel. So, the 4 oz hair gel that was so dangerous the first time I went through security wasn’t even noticed the second time. So frustrating! And there, in the waiting room along with food and trinkets, were bottles and bottles of 5 oz sized hot sauce for sale.

I sat, fuming and frustrated at the ineptness and idiocy of the airport staff, refusing to repurchase what I had just given away 2 rooms away.

And now for the conclusion of this airport story. About a week ago, Matt told me he bought me a present and was waiting for it to arrive. Last night when I opened my present, I was surprised and pleased to find 5 oz bottles of hot sauce from Belize.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dolphins, Rainbows, and Pyschic Diarrhea, Oh My!

It’s not that I really think that I’m psychic, but sometimes I’ll say or think or dream something before it happens. It’s times like this that I think I should buy a lottery ticket, but my number-choosing prowess has so far eluded me. My sometimes psychic ability is the last story of our craptacular Belize vacation.

After one day in Ambergris Caye, we moved to Caye Caukler, a neighboring island which also boasts excellent diving and snorkeling, but is more laid back. In fact, Caye Cauker’s official motto is “Go slow.” In the 6 days we were on the island, we saw 4 cars; most people travel the 3 sand streets (Front, Main, and Back) by bicycle or golf cart.

One of the reasons we went to Belize was its reputation for excellent scuba diving, and on Monday and Tuesday we were finally able to take advantage of it. Although I’ve been a certified diver for a few years, Matt had never gone diving before, so he began the certification process, completing his required skills in the water, diving with an instructor, and reading the PADI book.

Wednesday morning was sunny and beautiful—just the day we had been waiting for. Although Matt needed one more day of diving in order to complete his certification, we decided to relax on the beach on Wednesday and spend Thursday, our last full day on the island, doing our last dives. I almost told Matt to just finish up his dives on Wednesday *just in case* something happened, but I figured everything would be fine. I was wrong.

While we strolled down the front street on Wednesday, we were bombarded by calls from every guy or woman standing in front of shacks boasting snorkeling tours. While Matt politely told everyone we’d think about their offers, I began to concoct excuses to get us away from them. “Let’s tell them you can’t control your bowels—then they wouldn’t want you on their boat!” I cried, thinking I was hilarious.

That night we enjoyed lobsters on the beach, looking forward to the dives on Thursday at Turneff Reef, the reported best diving spot off the islands. Thursday morning I was awakened to my boyfriend’s sad, urgent whisper of, “There’s something wrong with me—I’ve been having diarrhea all morning.” Oh God. Damn the ice in the rum and coke that came with our dinner. Damn the last-day curse of this crappy vacation. Damn my unreliable psychic ability!

Leaving him with hot tea, Saltines, Pepto-Bismol, and the Sudoku book, at 9 I headed off to the dive shop. Although I was disappointed that Matt couldn’t join me or finish his certification, I wasn’t going to sit out the last day of diving. Right before we left, it started raining. The cold, hard, grey rain didn’t let up, which meant that I spent the 45 minutes it took to reach Turneff Island cold, shivering, wet, and regretting my decision. Everything changed, however, once we got in the water. As promised, the diving was amazing—the coral was beautiful, there were a plethora of colorful, amazing fish, and I saw a turtle, crabs, and eels. And even better? After we were done and on the way back to the island, a dolphin jumped out of the water. Then another. So our boat driver turned the boat around and suddenly there were 20, 30, 40 dolphins playing around and jumping out of the water. We grabbed our masks and snorkels and jumped in to swim with them. The best dive spot and a swimming with dolphins. Could we get any luckier? Yes—I looked up, marveling at the dive, reveling in the sun and was rewarded with a rainbow.

Matt met me at the dock, looking a little green, but at least he was able to venture away from the bathroom. “How was it?” he asked.

“Oh my God, it was amazing!” I gushed. “The dives were awesome and then we ran into a pod of dolphins and we all jumped all the boat to swim with them and then there was a rainbow….” I started laughing when I realized how ridiculous I sounded. “And then we went to the chocolate factory,” I continued.

“With the leprechauns and the unicorns?” he asked.

“You got it.”

Saturday, December 23, 2006

If our Vacation was a Movie....

It might have been Ishtar. Which, coincidentally enough, is what was on tv one of the rainy days we sat couped up in our room, staring out at the rain.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I Shouldn't be Allowed to Take Vacations

Although the night of our ill-fated canoe trip it rained, the next day was beautiful for our trip to Guatemala to see Tikal, the world’s largest compound of Mayan ruins. Because the ancient temples are in the jungle, we also got to see a variety of exotic animals including crocodiles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, parrots, and quatis (furry small-dog-sized raccoon-like animals with long snouts and tails that I ran after with Matt’s camera—no doubt to the locals’ amusement. I’m sure I looked like some dumb tourist taking a picture of a squirrel or pigeon).

Our guide took us around the complex, explaining what each temple was for, what the inscriptions and dedications meant, the Mayan way of life, and the excavation process. Our group (Matt, me and three other Americans staying at our hotel), hiked up the different temples and observation sites, something we would have never been able to do in the U.S. Not only were we walking on the actual ruins, but the wooden steps attached to the temples were precarious and the stone steps of the ruins seemed incredibly dangerous. In fact, the guide told us that several people die every year due to falls and accidents.

That night it rained. The following day we stayed around the resort grounds to hike and explore. And it rained. So, instead, we spent the day reading, playing gin rummy, and doing sudoku puzzles. I was so ready to leave on Friday when we headed for the islands.

Finally! Sunshine and sand! Getting away from our cache of mildew-smelling clothes, getting a new toothbrush (the travel-sized electric one my mom gave me as an early Hanukkah present conked out on the first day), and relaxing instead of hiking, climbing, and (shudder) canoeing.

The two-hour drive to Belize City was uneventful, but the 1 ½ hour water taxi trip to Ambergris Caye? Oh yeah, it rained. And why would the boat have a cover? We sat shivering and wet, hoping it would be the last rainy day.

No such luck. It rained that night and all the next day.

I’m never coming to Central America again. The last time I tired to go on vacation was when Amete and I went to Costa Rica over 3 years ago. We were there for less than 3 hours when the rains started. The sweeping, all-consuming, pounding, never-ending rains. A front had rolled in and because it was supposed to rain constantly for the next week, we decided to cut off losses and fly to Florida. Maybe it’s not just Central America. At 20 when I went to France with a friend from college, we got to experience France during the coldest winter the country had seen in the past 100 years. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to take vacations.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Super is B-A-N-A-N-A-S

I interrupt this Belize-scheduled blogging to post about my crazy super, a Hispanic woman in her 50s. I've lived in my first-floor jr one bedroom (a term unique to New York) in Hell's Kitchen for nearly 3 ½ years. During that time, I’ve, ahem, entertained a few gentlemen; let a very drunk (and possibly roofie’d) stranger who was banging on my door at 2am sleep on my couch (that story made the book); left my keys in the door overnight; locked myself out of the apartment; and survived a fire in the boiler room. My super, who lives across the hall, has seen it all. In fact, from her perch by her front window, she sees everyone who enters and leaves and building and knows everything that happens therein.

When I moved in, a single girl on the first floor, my super decided to act as my surrogate mother. Sometimes she brings me soda or pizza from the corner; she gives me Christmas and gifts, and generally feels like she looks after me. She also yells at me for reasons as vague as talking in the hallways or not throwing out my trash correctly.

My super found out I was Jewish during my first Christmas in the building when I didn’t go home for the holiday. Although she continues to give me Christmas and Easter presents, she has acknowledged my Judaism by asking about “weird, ethic food smells” coming from my apartment and having me sew the lining of her coat. Why she thought I was a tailor, I don’t know, but since I’m crafty I fixed it for her.

Anyway, today I told her that my single life was over and I would be giving up my apartment to move in with Matt on Feb 1st. (A subject that is, of course, worthy of much introspection and several blog posts to come). She expressed her please that I was “moving ahead in my relationship,” and then got pensive, wondering aloud about who would be moving in.

“I hope it’s not one of those Indians,” she said clucking her tongue. “You know, they like to show the place to those Indians sometimes.”

I just smiled and nodded. This is a good tactic to take when one has to listen to your super talk about Indians or use the n word as she is prone to do. So, apparently “slutty Jewish girl” ranks higher on her list of acceptable tenants than Indians or black people. I can only hope that whoever moves into my apartment has an affinity for nosy Hispanic ladies.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My $350 Canoe Trip

We decide to make the next day, our second full day in Belize, somewhat low-keyish, and explore the grounds about Black Rock Lodge. Specifically, we decide to rent a canoe and take it down the river, a suggested half-day trip that includes lunch at another resort and a trip to their butterfly farm. The manager tells us that because it had rained overnight, the river will be faster than normal so we’ll have to be careful navigating into currents. Fine—we’ll be great! It will be an adventure! Never mind the fact that neither Matt nor I have been on a river or near a self-propelled boat in years—how hard can it be?

I decide to take my digital camera since Matt’s is much older than mine and annoying to use. Plus, he had lost the waterproof one the day before. So, I put the camera in its case, seal it in a zip-loc bag, and put it, along with sunglasses, bug spray, some money, and sunscreen in our small, messenger bag. Matt and I meet the manager by the river where he instructs us in the way of the canoe. For about 3 minutes. Then, he straps life jackets onto us and puts towels and our messenger bag inside a plastic bag which he ties to a rope connected to the boat. He holds the canoe for me so I can crawl in; Matt crawls in to sit behind me. And we’re off.

I dip my oar in the river, wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We’re rowing down the river. Why are we rowing down the river? And suddenly we’re turning. Why are we turning? We’re turning! The current spins us around and Matt tells me he’ll flip us around and he manages to push us off a rock and right before we turn back down the river I see the manager, not 50 feet away from us, shake his head and stifle a laugh. Oh God. He totally knows that is not a good idea.

But now that we’re headed in the right direction it’s going to be fine.
“I want to take a picture,” I yell. “Can you hand me my camera?”
“Let’s wait until we’re more used to this.” He answers.
I don’t know why he’s worried; we’re fine. We just have a little bend in the river coming up, that’s all. Except the current’s pushing us and we’re spinning around again and suddenly what seemed like a wave is really a bank of rocks. Ack! We’re on the rocks! And we’re stuck! But the water keeps moving and Matt’s doing something with his oar to shove us off the rocks and the canoe’s moving but the wrong way and it tips left and I tip right and I’m in the water. And Matt’s in the water. And we’re both yelling and I have to make sure not to lose my goddamn oar and the plastic bag with our stuff is bobbing up and down and there, off the my right is my flip-flop floating away.

“Are you okay.” Matt yells at me, scrambling to hold onto to canoe.
“Yeah, I’m fine—do you still have your oar?”
“Ok. I need you to hold mine while I get my shoe.”

End of discussion, I pass off the oar and follow the traitorous shoe. I only brought one pair of flip-flops and can’t lose the fucker. I can’t think about the boat now, only retrieving the rubber shoe bobbing away.

A few strokes later, back at the canoe, I realize that perhaps I shouldn’t have left Matt to deal with the boat and the oars. He’s kind of freaking out.

“Did you get your shoe?” He asks panting, breathless.
“Yeah. What’s the matter?”
“Fuck. The boat. It’s, fuck, I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, give me the oars back—I’ll make sure we don’t lose them. You make sure we don’t lose the plastic bag with our stuff. Good thing you didn’t take out the camera, right?”

He hands over the oars and we float holding onto the canoe yelling over the current, trying to figure out how to right the boat, what to do. I’m really annoyed, but just because it’s been less than 10 minutes and I’m soaked and this is one stupid obstacle that I didn’t want to deal with. But Matt’s scared. His voice is all panicky and he’s acting like we’re in big trouble.

“Look,” I say, trying to remain calm and focused, “we can stand. We’re not in any danger. We just need to get to the side to flip the boat over.”
Matt’s gulping and grasping and I’m more worried about him than the river. “There,” he points to a little bank off the river. Fighting the current, we’re about the shove the canoe into the little embankment where we catch our breaths before righting it. Plastic bag in, both flip-flops on, I precariously get back into the canoe. Matt does the same. And we immediately flip back over. Fuck!

The second (third?) time’s the charm, though, and after we’re settled in, we set off. The river is calm. If only Matt was too. He’s still breathing hard and professes to being really scared. “I’m just annoyed,” I tell him, and in about 10 minutes I get even more annoyed because it starts to rain. And it’s cold. And it’s not even that pretty here. Why is the water so green and murky? It’s not blue at all—not like in those log rides at amusement parks or in the boat rides and Disney havens. Ah, here I go again wanting the Disneyfied version of this trip.

We slowly get the hang of maneuvering down river—we head perpendicularly into the current, making sure we join it slowly. Every once in a while we get too close to one side or another and if we’re going to fast Matt decides it’s easier to just run into the drooping branches, so after the first hour I’m not only wet, but the hands are scratched and I’ve got leaves in my hair.

“What the hell are we doing in a canoe?” I cry after another tree attack.
“I don’t know.”
“We’re not canoe people! We’re city mice, not country mice!”
“Agreed!” He shouts. “Can we make a pact? We’re never getting in a canoe again?”

By the time we reach our destination 2 hours later, I’ve relaxed a little. Sure, I’m soaked. Sure, we capsized the canoe and Matt thought we might die. But it’s a funny story and we canoed down a river in the middle of the rainforest. It rained twice on us and we ran into tons of trees, it wasn’t that bad. We survived.

It’s when we dock that I realize not everything survived the river. Matt pulls the messenger bag from the plastic bag. It’s soaked. I scramble out of the canoe and head right for the bag. I don’t say anything as I pull out the zip-loc baggie. The zip-loc baggie with my camera floating in a pool of water. My camera’s been sitting in river water for the last two hours. It’s ruined. As my shoulders begin to shake and I concentrate on breathing and not crying and fuckfuckfuck, I realize that this just turned into a very expensive canoe trip.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's a Small World After All

Getting to the Cayo jungle district of Belize was no small feat; after we took a flight to Houston (during which Matt had to fend off his neighbor’s elbow and body spillage for 3 ½ hours), a 3 hour flight to Belize City (during which I sat next to a man whose pores leaked booze and nicotine), we still had a 2 hour drive to our lodge in the Pine Ridge Mountains. We chose a 12 shack/bungalow/room resort about 25 minutes outside of town. The idea was to take several day trips and enjoy the isolated, beautiful grounds, so as soon as we settled in, we told the manager to sign us up for our first excursion: exploring the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. Nestled in the jungle, the cave was distinctive for its vast array of preserved Mayan artifacts like pots, as well as human skeletons—relics from sacrifices.

The next morning our guide picks us up, and then we stop in town to round out our group. One woman is from Alaska, one couple used to live in New York, and the other couple live on Upper West Side. Amazing—we go all the way to Central America and are still surrounded by not just Americans, but New Yorkers. And, even more coincidental? The New York couple? He’s a lawyer and she’s a writer. It really is a small world after all.

During our 45 minute hike through the jungle (in order to reach the cave), our barefoot guide, a half-Mayan, half-African 4th generation explorer named Patrick Warrior, points out interesting factoids: this tree is where the active ingredient in Visine is found; when needing a natural rain repellant, cut this plant and spread it over yourself. Bugs bothering you? Place a termites’ nest (like the one over there) over a fire and they’ll eat all the approaching bugs. And that smell, that marijuana-type smell? That’s what a big snake smells like. Trying to ignore the fact that a big snake is looming nearby, I concentrate on staying on the small path and avoiding the rain, although I figure it’s only fitting that it’s raining—after all, we are in the rainforest.

Before we enter the cave, Patrick collets items for his waterproof pack—-everyone hands over their shirts (we had been told to wear bathing suits) and digital cameras. You see, a river runs through the cave, a river we need to swim and walk through. Wearing my brand new sneakers was such a bad idea, but Matt’s footwear choice was ever worse—rather than wear his hiking boots, he decided to walk through the jungle in his brand news aquasox so during the cave exploration he would have an advantage against the slippery rocks. Walking through a jungle in aquasox meant that by the time we reach the cave he has some nice, big ankle blisters and considers just going barefoot like our guide. Deciding not to lose the shoes, he does, however, manage to lose our underwater camera within the first minute of entering the river. Excellent start to the trip.

At several junctures we're able to take a break from scrambling over wet rocks and swimming through the chilly water to oooh and aaah over Mayan pots, learn about the skeletons, and admire the seemingly never-ending array of stalactites and stalagmites, glistening with water. It’s all humbling, daunting, and very pretty, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen this before. Have I been in a cave with stalactites and stalagmites before? And why does the jungle seem so unimpressive? And that’s when I realize why this is all so familiar—it’s EPCOT. I’ve been on the Disneyfied version of this trip before, down to the misting in the jungle and the plasticine stalagmites and tites. How am I supposed to be wowed by the significance of this cave when, as a kid, I already traipsed through it, glassy-eyed and bored, my mind wandering to the singing, animatronic bears. Traveling to another country, I still can't escape the Disney influence of my youth--crap, it most certainly is a small world after all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yellow Eggs

Sunday, December 3rd, Matt and I were at LaGuardia by 6:30am to make our flight to Belize. Since booking the trip the week before, we'd been trying to refrain from making corny jokes like "we're taking a vacation together--can you Belize it?" Ha ha!
Ahem. Anyway, I had packed nuts, granola bars, and dried fruit for our trip (since, like my mother, I can't leave the house for more than an hour without a reserve supply of food), but we decided to get some yogurt at the Au Bon Pain kiosk by the gate. Matt sat with our bags while I waited in line, 2 girls loudly pondering their options behind me. Passing over cinnamon rolls, bagels, and doughnuts, they moved on to the breakfast sandwiches being kept warm in the glass mini-oven.

“What kind of eggs you think this is?” the first girl asked her companion, eliciting a shrug.
“You think this is scrambled eggs?” she asked me, pointing to a bagel with a fake-cheese drizzled piece of ham and square patty of egg-like substance jutting out.
“It doesn’t look scrambled,” I said, not bothering to compare it to the plastic food I thought it did look like.

“Hey,” she yelled to the guy behind the cash register, “what kind of eggs is this?”
“Frozen. Frozen egg.”
“Frozen? Whadya mean frozen? Dontcha have any real eggs, you know?” She mimed cracking an egg as if the man might suddenly realized the food to which she was referring.

“Yellow. They yellow eggs,” was his second try.
“Oh,” she said, as if that suddenly cleared everything up. And, satisfied, she pulled the bagel with the yellow eggs out of the oven.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blogging about Belize

My boyfriend Matt and I had been wanting to take a December vacation--I wanted to scuba dive and drink on the beach; Matt wanted to combine that with exploring historial remains or doing something adventurous. While we considered India and Brazil, both countries required more planning than we could manage, so we decided on Belize which offered both Mayan remains and excellent scuba diving.

The next several posts will be about our (mis)adventures in Belize and why I should not be allowed to take vacations.

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's Baby Moses!

Every year when my sister and I go home for Thanksgiving, my parents insist on driving to the "Christmas House," which is decorated with hundreds of animatronic people, bears, santas, elves, and reindeer. The entire roof is a city comprised of cut-out cartoon characters, snowmen and children dance in the windows, and the whole garage is a robotic moving, singing Santa's toy workshop. The crowning glory, however (and what we, as Jews, always skip) is the nativity scene on the side of the house.

The nativity scene is the setting for my mom's favorite story about my childhood. I was 3 years old when my parents brought me to the Christmas House, and after looking at all the dancing figures and lights we went to see the people crowded around the baby in the basket.
"Look Mommy," I cried, "it's baby Moses!" I cried, undoubtably pleased with myself that I remembered the Passover story from earlier in the year.