13 October 2016

Vacation Planning vs. Vacation Reality


Spend two-glorious-weeks enjoying tropical paradise in Central America. You've never been there and have no idea about the actual geography, weather this time of year, or available sights to see, but this is going to be fun because you can plan later! Anticipate time for activities like hiking and spelunking and exploring the Mayan ruins and hopping around from city to city. Also schedule down time to read and relax and roast yourself under the sun like a rotisserie chicken. Buy tickets flying into Guatamela City and out of Belize City.


Look at a calendar and realize your trip is actually only 8-days long, including travel time. Google 'map of Central America' and realize those countries are bigger than you thought, and those pictures from your friend's trip where she did all the fun things that you wanted to do is not going to happen. Lambaste yourself for not doing any planning before booking flights, other than spending an inordinate amount of time agonizing over Zika and whether or not it's safe to go (it totally is). Cross 'hiking' and 'spelunking' off your list. Also cross 'relaxing in the sun' off because it's hurricane season. What? You didn't think to look that up either?

Beg your friend who just went there to plan an actual, achievable itinerary for you. She does a great job, but it's still....ambitious. Why the hell didn't you just book a trip to Hawaii you idiot?

Decide you are going to skip the whole cultural immersion experience at the lake down south. You're sure everyone is exaggerating about the great food anyway. Opt to do a quick turnaround in Guatemala City instead and fly north shortly after you arrive. Buy more airline tickets.

Arrive in Guatemala City at 9:30pm. Get into a cab with a driver and his son who was holding a sign with your name on it because today is Dia de los Ninos so the cabbie brought his son to work despite the fact that it's well after his bedtime. It's still adorable. Arrive at your hotel after passing through guarded, locked gates surrounding the entire neighborhood. Crime is bad here. Say a silent thank you for your friend who told you to book a place and a driver in advance. Plug in the mosquito repelling device, take a shower, and set your alarm for 4am.

Take the 6:30am flight to Flores where you're accosted by cab drivers when you walk out of the terminal. Finagle a ride to Tikal to see the large, impressive Mayan ruins there. Say a silent thank you to the universe for letting you hop onto a guided trip with an Israeli family who really didn't want you to join at first. Asking directions to a bathroom comes with unforeseen benefits.

Spend 4+ hours exploring Tikal. Marvel at the power of the jungle to cover every square inch of earth, then marvel at man's ability to take it back. Listen to Howler Monkeys while standing above the jungle canopy. They're unbelievably loud and sound really aggressive. Be glad they're so far away. Wow, it's so incredibly green here. And hot. You're sweating in places you didn't know you could.

See a moncĂșn out of the corner of your eye and think it's a monkey. "Hey, everyone, I found a monkey!" You'll exclaim. It's not. It's a Central American racoon. Whatever. You still saw it first!

See and hear more animals: monkeys, toucans, and more moncĂșns. Look unsuccessfully for tarantulas. You aren't too disappointed when you don't find them. Finish your tour with the satisfaction of knowing you had a really great experience and enjoyed a historic place free of many other tourists (it's the low season afterall. Did you know it's hurricane season?).

Drink your first beer of the trip. Ahh, now it feels like vacation. Order a second beer to enjoy with your "nachos": a plate of delicious tortilla chips over a spoonful of refried beans dribbled with queso.

Leave Tikal and stop on the way to go for a Canopy Zipline ride. It's cheap and sounds like fun. On your way up the first ladder you  see why it's so cheap, but cross your fingers the jungle hasn't eaten all of the tower completely and that they can support the weight of you, your travel companion, and the two guides.

Go for your first zip. Do 7 more, half of which you spend hanging upside down and the other half of which you spend in the "superman" position. To achieve this position the guides will remove your harness and put it back on you backwards while you're standing 50' above the ground. Try not to let this "safety oversight" bother you too much.

Stay in a lovely hostel in El Remate. Wander the tiny town and discover a glorious dock adjacent to an empty restaurant. Everything is empty actually. You've come during low season.

Enjoy a beer on the water. Then a second. Decide food is probably a good idea and send your capable travel partner to order something to share. He'll think he ordered Ratatouille for $40 GUA (roughly $6.50 USD), when really he ordered three giant shrimp for a much higher price. This explains why the waitress/chef/owner was so giddy...

Walk back to the hostel. Ask the helpful woman at the front desk to help you book a bus to the "totally awesome, absolutely must do" cave tour the next day. Realize, yet again, you will not be able to make it to the tour on time in the morning. Sulk for a minute. Give up on the tour entirely, and book a 5-hour bus/water taxi ride straight to Caye Caulker outside of Belize City. Sleep.

Board the bus to Belize. Drive 2ish hours in relative discomfort through the countryside. Marvel, yet again, at the incredible power of the jungle. It's everywhere.

Arrive at the border crossing. Gather your stuff and wait in line, where apparently pants are optional. Get stamp #2 in your brand new passport and walk into Belize to board a new bus. Cars don't really cross the border here. You have Guatemalan cars and Belizean cars, but not both. Now it's time for the Belizean bus which has been sitting idle. It's so hot it makes you nauseous. Power through.

Arrive, at last, on Caye Caulker (pronounced key). You won't find cars here - only golf carts and incredibly rusty cruiser bikes to help you navigate this tiny atoll. It's the best thing you never knew you wanted.

Wander "up" the island toward The Split, a small waterway between the north and south islands created by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Find a hotel with reasonable prices and an amazing view for two nights. Book it.

Watch your first tropical island sunset from the roof with a beer in hand. You could get used to this.

Wake up in paradise to go on a snorkeling trip. With 7 stops you'll see everything: manatees, turtles, eels, sting rays, fish of all kinds - including Tarpin who don't have teeth but are 2-3' long and jump like crazy out of the water - and one seahorse. Bring your waterproof GoPro to capture the magic, but it won't turn on because GoPros are like that sometimes. Whatever. Who needs photos when you have memories? You also have a sunburn.

Move to a new hotel two days later. A cabana further south, away from "the city". On the second floor, it has a fresh breeze and a water view. It's incredible. Lay at the end of the dock under the thatched roof of the palapa. Enjoy. At lunch time a man comes by selling fresh chicken tamales. Order one. Regret eating it for the next week.

Use the kitchen in your cabana to soothe your sour stomach. Start your day with eggs and pancakes. Make pasta one night and bake a cake the next day. Eat the cake for days. It's delicious. Savor all of the good choices you've made and ignore the 'eating tamale' oversight.

Discover the island bakery. Eat all of the things. Why didn't you look for this sooner? These ham and cheese pastries are devine! Drink fresh pineapple juice. Eat fish for dinner every night, sometimes while sitting in a swing-chair. Enjoy another beer...err, wait, did you say 'Rum Punch'?

Catch your own yellow snapper using only a line (no pole), some stinky sardines, and your glowing personality. Take it to your favorite restaurant and have them cook it for you. Somehow it tastes even better than the other fish you've eaten. More authentic. You're surprised they left the eyeballs in this time though. Even more surprising is that they're hard just like a tiny marble.

Realize it's been sunny your entire trip. How did this happen? Isn't it hurricane season? Take the double kayak around the island to celebrate. Take it back to The Split to watch the sunset another day.

Commit to staying forever...or at least until the end of your trip. You love it here. Why go anywhere else? Use your bikes and your snorkels and read your books. Lay in the sun. Let the happiness that comes with not having anything to do or anywhere to be wash over you, and be thankful you finally relaxed enough to embrace this whole "no plan" thing.

Ask yourself, "Who needs Hawaii?"

1 comment:

Jania Marfi said...

I don't need to plan before go out for an adventure. Though some fixed task are important and I know in the way I have to do those but i like to free my way and i found lot of new experience when someone go out with no plan to do. Thanks for this post.