Top 20 Highlights of My Trip to Belize
Today is my last “official” day as the second Road Warrior for the Belize Tourism Board and MatadorU.
This past week, winding down in Placencia, I’ve had time to reflect on my time in Belize and I’m amazed at all that I’ve accomplished and lived through in 90 days!
To say it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had is an understatement.
First and foremost, I had the opportunity to do what I love day in and day out, for a living – travel writing and photography.
I still remember my friend Mary’s reaction when I initially told her about my new gig, back in June: “Get out! That’s the kind of job we used to joke about having!”
She was right. When we were travel buddies and hopped to Spain, Portugal and Italy, we’d joke about getting paid for what we loved doing the most: traveling abroad and discovering the local culture, food, activities, nightlife and shopping, and bringing back some fun stories and fabulous advice for fellow travelers.
Well, it become a reality. For three months, I got to document and satisfy my thirst for culture, music, stories and adventure in one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited so far.
And I now have an even greater appreciation for the crafts of travel writing and travel photography and for those are constantly on the road.
Beyond that, I pushed myself physically and mentally to levels I never thought possible – throwing myself into activities I’d never tried or been afraid to before – from rappelling 300 feet>> into a rainforest to hiking almost every other day for weeks, diving and becoming PADI certified, horseriding, keeping my cool during encounters with nocturnal creatures, spelunking and cave tubing in the longest of caves, photographing the month-long 30th Independence events, learning to balance work and knowing when to take a break, and handling long-term solo female travel- ooh, the adventures and stories are endless!
Belize has almost made me… fearless.
Several folks over the past month have asked me: what were the top highlights of your time in Belize? They are so many I could probably find 100!
But I listed those that stand out the most in my mind.
Top 20 Highlights of my 3 Months in Belize
5. Attending the flag-raising ceremony and fireworks at midnight on the 21st of September for Belize’s 30th Anniversary of Independence from Great Britain
6. Learning to scuba dive one-on-one off Laughingbird Caye and Silk Cayes and becoming PADI certified
7. Meeting and photographing Belizeans from all ethnic backgrounds for a series of portraits
8. Spending a morning with the Queen of Brukdown and of Creole culture, Leela Vernon
11. Meeting Heidi Curry and some of her students from Ocean Academy High School in Caye Caulker
13. Spending the day in Barranco, a Garifuna village and the birth place of Andy Palacio
14. Driving through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Rio on Pools and the Chiquibul National Park
15. Attending a jam-packed three-day outdoor concert of Belizean music at Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash
16. Capturing and attending the State Funeral of George Cadle Price, First Prime Minister of Belize and “Father of the Nation”
17. Catching my first Permit and hooking a tarpon with Anglers Abroad
18. Attending local summer fairs or “fiestas” in Orange Walk and San Pedro
20. Relaxing on the beaches of Placencia and the southern Cayes
Gosh I’d even add another – food! It’s all been so delicious, from Belizean to Mexican to East Indian or Lebanese… from the fruits to the fry jack’s, the rice and beans to seafood, the ceviche’s and juices, and even the pure chocolate.
There are so many people I’d like to individually thank for my amazing Road Warrior experience, from all over Belize!
First is Julie Schwietert Collazo, Managing Editor at The Matador Network, who recommended me for the Road Warrior program and offered me this fantastic opportunity. She also served as my sounding board, editor, inspiration, mentor and friend throughout my time here. Not to mention she carried a new suitcase for me all the way from the US when mine got damaged. I could go on about Julie for another ten paragraphs.
Then there’s Maynor Larrieu, Direct Online Manager at the Belize Tourism Board and my every day contact, who did a fantastic job of planning my schedule and always made sure I was well, happy and healthy, no matter how busy he was and picking up the phone even in the middle of his countless meetings. Not to mention, he carried my heavy camera bag around for me in the hot sun more times than I can count, especially during the September celebration events, often losing track of me as I moved around but never losing patience. I also want to thank every BTB staff member who made me feel welcome and reached out to me during my journey, including Minister Manuel Heredia who took time out of his busy schedule to have dinner with me and Yannick Dalhouse.
Third but not least, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, the First Lady of Belize, whom I met within the first couple of weeks of my stay in Belize, when I got to photograph her and her family. Since then and consistently over my stay here she has offered me friendship and counsel, checked on me often to make sure I was well, shared my work with others and gave me great tips along the way to make sure I was experiencing the best of Belize. I have to say, Belize has one cool First Lady. Oh and I wish I’d started collecting a dollar a long time ago for each time a Belizean asked me if I was Kim Simplis’ younger sister!
Next up – gosh I can feel this becoming a long list! – are those who went above and beyond and made me feel like a “normal person” when I needed it: Joanna Evans from Ka’ana, Tara and Mike from The Placencia Hotel, and my friends in Caye Caulker, Heidi & Haywood Curry, of Sea Dreams Hotel & Ocean Academy, Stacy Badillo of Sea Dreams Hotel and Joanna Arellano from Caye Caulker Plaza Hotel. When I needed a break one weekend at the end of all the month-long September celebrations, I escaped to la isla cariñosa at the last minute and they were happy to host me again, take me out on the night trail and spend an awesome Sunday on the beach, swimming, eating and talking.
And I really do wish I could mention every single person I’ve met!
My sincere thanks to all who welcomed me to Belize, shared their experiences and life stories, their culture, history, language, food and music, and showed genuine interest in my visit. All of the numerous hotel owners who hosted me beyond providing a room and their staff, tour guides and operators, drivers, artists, teachers, students, tourists, fellow photographers and every single Belizean who added to my experience. Thanks to the Belize Government press office for that precious media pass that allowed me to photograph and experience Mr George Cadle Price’s State Funeral, and thanks to Ambergris Today and other local media outlets for featuring my work.*
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
Thanks to EACH of you for reading, commenting, and sharing this journey with me by following my blog and being a constant source of inspiration for my work. I realize how busy life gets and I am more than appreciative to every person who spends time stopping by here and reading my stories or viewing my photography. I hope I have entertained you as well as made you want to travel and come to Belize!
I have so much more about Belize that I’ll be sharing for months to come, am sure. Stay tuned for my updated photo album and a couple more blog entries on my time in Placencia. I’ll also soon begin blogging about my visit to Taiwan – where I was invited on a Foodie Tour by the Taiwan Tourism Board back in August.
In the meantime, please join me in congratulating the newest and third Road Warrior – Norbert Figueroa of MatadorU. You can follow him on Facebook at GloboTreks or on his website.
Stay tuned for my upcoming piece on Visiting Placencia!
*While my entire three-month trip was sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board, all of the opinions and recommendations on my blog and in my Matador articles are my own and every business I’ve mentioned are those I would recommend “to my best friend.” To read back to the beginning of my journey, please click here.