Maya Beach, Belize….The New “Top Destination”

Known for it’s beautiful beaches, handful of small resorts and restaurants, and the feel of a quiet safe community, Maya Beach has morphed into a key destination in Belize for not only tourists but Expats as well.

Over the past six years, we have witnessed an expansion of new home construction, purchase and remodeling of houses, new restaurants, and resorts building cabanas and “time share” units, especially on the beaches.

Ceiba Beach Residences and Restaurant

What makes Maya Beach unique, is you can walk or bike to all six restaurants located right on the main road, most beachfront. The beachfront “Cabana Resorts” all enjoy awesome restaurant / bar and pool options, plus the added bonus of white sandy beaches, and super snorkeling. None of them charge “usage fee’s”, and you can enjoy their pools and beaches for free, they just ask that you use their bar/restaurants.

In the past two years we have had multiple stores open here, including Healthy Addictions with all health products and more, a deli, bakery, and “The Farm Store”, offering fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, wines, prepared foods and much more.

Add to that a car rental and golf cart rental businesses, Hardware store and main Grocery Store ( Sue’s Store), and Maya Beach becomes totally self sufficient for visitors and Expats.

The “Morphing” of Maya Beach into a “full-service” community not only benefits its residents and visitors, it also benefits those living and vacationing in North County Caribbean way and Plantation. No longer do they have to travel into Placencia Village for services or restaurants, which cuts quite a bit of travel time and “gas money” from their budget.

In fact, with the opening last year of the UNO Gas Station right in Seign Bight next to the Publics Store, we no longer have to drive to the village for that.

Most “For Sale” signs have been replaced with “Sold” signs in Maya Beach and North

All these things, along with the changes of North America as well as other countries, has affected the Real Estate market here as well, which is reflected in the extensive growth in Maya Beach and North County. Where the complaints of “all those for sale signs” have disappeared as “under contract” and “sold” signs have replaced the majority of them. Almost every trip up the peninsula you will discover another lot cleared and filled and home construction starting. In fact, at this time there are over forty new homes in construction in the north peninsula, and more starting soon.

So “why the growth” you might ask ? The fact is only a couple years ago most homes were being built by expats to spend a few weeks a year vacationing, and rent the rest of the year. However, that trend has also changed, as more buyers are building to move full time, selling their homes in the states, Canada or elsewhere. Also, there are many more families with small children moving here as well.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons many more tourists and expats have put Maya Beach in their targets.

http://www.mayabeachbistro.com

Starting with the Maya Beach Bistro, a long standing and pretty famous ( Trip Advisor #1 Restaurant for many years) located at the Northern tip of Maya Beach. Located on the beach with a dock and beachfront Cabanas. An awesome place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, well known for cinnamon buns and their “Happy Hour”.

“Rum Bum” is one of our newer small restaurants, offering some of the best “broasted chicken” this side of heaven, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

http://www.ceibabeachresort.com

Ceiba Beach Vacation Rentals and Homes, offers it’s newest and exciting restaurant, “Mickey’s Fish Shop, Market and Grill. This is our newest and long anticipated beachfront restaurant opening in the Maya Beach Center, with sunken restaurant dining at the pool bar, as well as in water seating in their beachfront pool for cocktails and food. Seating and service on their well groomed beach offers guests and visitors extensive dining venue. Best part, you don’t have to be staying there to use the pool, just order a drink and or pool and relax with “No Worries”.

Green Parrot is known for having “scallywag Pirates” frequent for Rum !

http://www.greenparrot-belize.com

Next we have the Green Parrot Cabana Resort and Pelican Pub, a local favorite. This resort was totally remodeled and upgraded to “luxury cabana’s with A/C”, and all beachfront. There’s a pool and dock with bar service as well. The Pelican Pub offers an array of dining options, from designer burgers to fresh seafood and pizza. You can also use the facilities for free with a drink or food purchase.

A favorite “Gathering Place” here in Maya Beach is Jaguar Lanes Bowling Alley, featuring indoor air conditioned bowling as well as restaurant services. Outside seating is quite extensive and also offers a pool table and foosball. This is not your average bowling alley, and the bar service is legendary, and the food very fast and high quality. Looking for some of the best wings ?, pizza, burgers, fajitas or salads, this is the place. It’s also a great place for Mom and Dad to bring the youngsters for some inside fun in a cool environment.

http://www.singingsands.com

Lastly but not the least is Singing Sands Cabana Resort with their excellent beachfront restaurant, Azul Del mar. This restaurant just has that “Belizean / Caribbean” feel to it, and is perfect for that “Romantic Experience” in dining. Their menu is Asian Fusion, Korean, Seafood, offering apps like dumplings with are just to die for. The guys at the bar will take good care of you, and the sea and sound of gently waves will do the rest. You don’t have to be a guest to use the pool and beach facilities, just order a Belkin or Rum Punch, and enjoy a beach chair or dip in the pool.

So as you can see, Maya Beach has become a destination in itself where people only thought of Placencia Village as the only destination on our peninsula. Of course, the village has its charm, the “Sidewalk”, the Pier, some great restaurants, just keep in mind, it’s only 20 minutes away from Maya Beach. You are only a 30 minute drive from waterfalls, zip lines and off road adventures from here. Also, fishing and snorkeling guide/boats will pick you up from a dock here in Maya Beach.

With all these other communities getting their “NAME” on their beaches and communities, I think it is time to see a “MAYA BEACH” concrete decorated sign on Maya Beach sand, don’t you ?

When you’re looking for a Vacation Destination in Belize, not in the “hub bub” of “touristy destinations”, like San Pedro, but close enough to visit them if and when you want, you might consider Maya Beach. After all, it’s called “Maya Beach” for a reason, just like “Miami Beach” πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed the article, until next time,

Arrrrrrrr…

Gary…..The Pirate of Maya Beach.

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Visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali and Thailand in the planning stage.

Our next journey will take us to Asia, October 2023.

“When one door closes, another door opens”, that’s the way of life and also the way of people who love traveling the world.

Our adventures in South America last October were barely over, and we were already discussing where our next adventures would take us. For me it was a “no brainer”….Thailand. We had completed planning a journey in Thailand some twenty years ago, but regretfully a “tidal wave” that hit Cambodia destroying massive acreage and resorts, also destroyed that trip. Because of this, we managed to put together an awesome month traveling Europe for the first time.

Now enter 2023 and the idea of visiting Asia for a month or so, starting in October of this year. Our plans have developed with some very interesting and wonderful changes. Initially we were flying to Singapore, taking the Luxury “Orient Express Train” to Bangkok, Thailand, spending two weeks, then fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a Luxury River Cruise to Cambodia.

“The Jahan” Luxury River Cruise “all suite” Mekong River Tour.

However, “the change” occurred πŸ™‚ Our good friends John and Shannon from Belize who are celebrating a special Anniversary this year were planning to celebrate in Bali. They learned we were also planning to visit Asia the same time, and “Four Heads Together” produced a different itinerary for us.

This one includes visiting a country that I have said for fifty years I would never return to, Viet Nam. Many of you that know me will understand, those that don’t, I spend two horrible years in the jungles of Nam with the U.S.M.C.

Fast forward fifty years, and I am now planning to return.

Out journey will take us directly to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a few days, meeting up with John and Shannon and boarding the Luxury River Cruise Ship, the “Johan” cruising for four days from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penn, Cambodia. We will then travel north to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to a resort therefor five days. From there we will fly to Bali, Indonesia for a week to the resort of John and Shannons choice :), and celebrate their Anniversary.

The Coast of Bali

At the end of our Bali adventure, Marsha and I will fly into Bangkok, Thailand, spend a few days there, then head north via “sleeper train” to Chang Mai and Chang Rai, visiting temples, waterfalls, and of course elephants.

For the last adventure in Thailand, we will again take a “sleeper train: South to Phuket, Krabi, the Phi Phi Islands, and of course, the famous “James Bond Island”.

“James Bond Island”

After thirty plus days, we will return to our “Little Piece of Heaven”, Maya Beach, Belize, where we will of course start planning our next adventure to ??? πŸ™‚

I look forward to blogging about this next adventure, keeping you all updated on “The Good, Bad and Ugly” ( Sound Familiar) ?, of this adventure.

If you have not “Liked” and “Followed” my blog please do, so you won’t mess any of the exciting info passed on by our adventures.

In the immortal words of the famous Italian writer,

Chow… πŸ™‚

Gary……The Pirate

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South America Journey…Buenos Aires / Iguaza Falls

We saved the “Best for Last”.

On Saturday the 22nd of October we checked out of Mendoza Wine Country, and headed by air to Buenos Aires for the final leg of our South America Journey. We will be in Buenos Aires for four nights, and plan to experience some awesome Argentina Steaks, Wines and Culture.

The “Townhome” turned Luxury Hotel

We were excited to check into an awesome hotel in Palermo Soho Area of Buenos Aires, The BE Jardin Escondido By Coppola. As we have enjoyed both Francis Ford Coppola’s resorts in our home town of Placencia, Belize, as well as his Jungle Resort in Cayo, we expected the best, and got the best.

This hotel was actually where Francis and his family lived while filming a movie in Buenos Aires, and after filming was completed, he enjoyed it so much, he bought it and made it a hotel. It’s actually a two story “townhouse” like building, turned “First Class Bed and Breakfast”.

Help yourself πŸ™‚

Our room “Sophia”, named after his daughter was very comfortable and well appointed. On multiple occasions, we were served our Capachino in our room, which was quite a treat. The excellent staff taught us how to use the fancy Capacchino Machine downstairs as well as introducing us to the extensive selection of booze, available to us “no charge” πŸ™‚

I loved “bottomless” Cappuccino

Breakfast in main dining room was spectacular, and the fresh homemade pastries, heavenly. If you are planning a trip too Buenos Aires, I highly recommend staying here.

Delfina telling Marsha…”Let’s Shop”

Our first two days in Buenos Aires I had booked a private Tour Guide, Delfina with “Tours By Locals”, to show us around different parts of the city, as well as introduce us to the best “Argentina Restaurants”and of course wines. As Argentina as a country does not wake up until noon, she picked us up at 5 PM each day to start our adventure.

The 2nd evening with Delfina we asked her to take us to a “Tango Show’, and she took us to a popular “tourist area” that she was not used to bringing customers to. It’s quite popular, with many vendors and colorful buildings, but she warned us of “pickpockets” and other “shady people” who frequent the area because of tourists.

There were multiple ” stages” set up to watch dancers, and sip wine, or beer.

Note: I wasn’t concerned about “pickpockets or shady dudes” as traveling anywhere, I am always prepared for “encounters with evil” !

Actually, we had a excellent seat in an outside “Cabrera style” show, with excellent Tango Dancers, and cold beers. It was quite the experience, and I must admit, I thought of my days in “Mrs Wagners School of Dance” that I attended in younger years, and almost jumped on stage with one of the ladies for a twirl πŸ™‚

One morning we did set off on our own for a few hours on the “hop on / hop off: bus of the city. These are always a great choice of adventure in a strange city, as you get to know its different areas. If someplace looks interesting, ya jump off, and catch another bus later.

We also took a boat tour of the Tigre River.

My honey hiding from the camera πŸ™‚

Pizza is a big deal in Argentina…Who Knew ?

The third day was quite exciting, as we were booked to go to an actual “Gaucho Ranch”, Camino Pampa, in Estancia & the Town of Gauchos for an afternoon of Gaucho Life, and “lunch”.

The tour company picked us up at the hotel at 8:30 AM and off we went out of the city, to the country. On our way to the ranch, we first stopped at the small old town of San Antonio de Areco for a walking tour. We received quite an education into “times gone by”, with many artisans still creating leather Gaucho leathers and equipment as they have for centuries. The silversmithing was beyond imagination.

Just one more helping of steak sir ????

Onward to the ranch, we arrived at noon for a tour, with Gaucho’s everywhere. And then the “big question” happened ! Did I want to take a “Buggy Tour” of the ranch, or jump up on a Gaucho Horse, on a “Gaucho Saddle” and tour with the Gaucho’s ?

Marsha choose the buggy ride.

As I owned and operated a “horse / cattle ranch in Oregon for 20 years, the answer was “of course”.

After our ride I met up with my girl Marsha ( who took the buggy ride), and we proceeded to the tables set up outside for lunch.

I did sneak into the “Barbecue Room” to check out the steaks and sausages on the grills, yum.

Let me tell you, these Argentinians know how to eat, and this was only lunch ! They started serving large trays of “internal organ meat”, (hearts, kidneys, and assorted whatever’s), followed by lesser cuts of steak and chorizo, followed buy trays of prime steaks. All very filling because there was also salads, breads potatoes, and veggies.

Of course, then the band members started playing for us, and some of us were pulled up to dance πŸ™‚

And then here they come with a second serving of the meat plates.

And of course, there were bottles of wine emptied at our table of six πŸ™‚

Even I got tired of wine, and luckily found “my girl Stella” πŸ™‚

The ride home was an endeavor of trying to keep my eyelids open, and thinking about dinner ???

View of Iguazu Falls from lobby of Gran Melia Iguazu.

The next day were were flying to Iguazu Falls, North of Buenos Aires, and directly on the border with Brazil. As we had other stops, we had booked one night at Coppola’s for our return, and we packed a light bag for the three days at the falls, and left the rest in our room.

“oh my god ! the view from our balcony of the falls

I had researched and found that Iguazu Falls was one of the Wonders of the World, and a National Park, I wanted us to really experience this as our final stop of the trip. I anticipated that it would be spectacular, and a real good end to our adventure.

What we experienced was beyond my expectations, and one of the best experiences of my lifetime, anywhere in the world.

Quote from Eleanor Roosevelt….”It makes Niagara Falls look like a kitchen faucet” !

I had booked in advance a private tour both days of the falls, one day on Argentina side, one day on Brazil side. As I wanted to be able to explore the falls on our own in addition, the only way to do this is by staying in the park, at the only resort / hotel there, The Gran Melia Iguazu, which I did.

When they say, “go big or go home” they are talking about this resort, a “5 Star”. I had decided to “splurge” on our three day stay here, and made advanced reservations, (after passing out), as the standard room rate is $1000 per nite ! I did manage to get a tiny discount.

The Gran Melia Resort from the Brazil Side.

When our tour driver picked us up at the airport and we arrived at the hotel I just knew we were in for a treat. Walking in the front doors of the hotel our breath was taken away, because looking thru the lobby to a wall of glass, there was the falls !

This is the building with elevator for the elderly and handicapped.

Breakfast with a serious view πŸ™‚

This fantastic hotel features all rooms that are suites, with a balcony enjoying a spectacular view of the falls. In fact, the bathroom / shower room, has a glass wall, so you even view the falls while brushing your teeth πŸ™‚

Marsha’s little friend….monkeys everywhere. They can unlock doors, and rob the “mini-bar”

Breakfasts were buffet style, but not your normal buffet, theirs was a perfect 10 ! Dinners were unbelievable, steaks, fish, etc., and wine list perfect.

Now for the falls, starting with the Argentina side. They say, and it’s true, the Brazil side has the “Views”, and the Argentina side has the Thunder. We started the first day being transported over border to Brazil to view the falls from that side. The border crossing was a piece of cake, and in minutes we were on our way.

Keep in mind, there are over 280 falls in Iguazu Falls Itinerary ! And each one is different. You are mostly looking across a massive expanse at the many falls from the Brazil side, and as you walk the many trails, it seems like they go on forever. On that point, I will say Brazil side was really not set up well for handicapped people, as opposed to the Argentina side. More on that later.

The next day our guide met us at the hotel for our Argentina Side Iguazu Falls Tour. This would be a long day of not only hiking trails but also a Jet Boat Ride “Under multiple Falls” !

There are just so many advantage points on the Argentina Side for different falls that after a while you just become mesmerized by them. Along the trails up and down, we came across multiple tourists in wheelchairs, which I was pleased to see. In fact, later in the day, when I was standing with my back to a wall of waterfalls, we took an elevator back to the top.

I cannot say enough about the Iguazu Falls Experience, other than you need to experience them. If I could post all of the 300 Photos and Video’s we took, I would, but I do hope the ones I post amaze you as much as they did me.

These transported us to bottom where we boarded Jet boats

Our South America monthlong adventure was coming to an end, and we proceeded back to out hotel in Buenos aires, the Coppola Jardin Escondido for the night, leaving for Lima Peru the following morning. It was a warm feeling when we arrived to check back into the hotel, when we were greeted with a smile, and were told, “your bags are waiting for you in your suite, Sophia” πŸ™‚ That evening we enjoyed a great steak nearby with an awesome bottle of Malbec, our last in Argentina, this time πŸ™‚

Marsha loved the Infinity pool with falls view.

We caught our flight to Lima, Peru, then on to our American Airlines flight to Miami, Florida for a overnight before heading back home to Belize.

Still my favorite photo from the entire month in South America……one happy wife πŸ™‚

Wouldn’t you just know that as we flew back to Belize, Hurricane watch was in effect for our home. Lucky for us, it didn’t really turn out to be any big deal.

And again, there is no-place like home !, Dorothy was correct.

So that ends out Month + in South America, and another adventure into our unknown. Please like and follow this blog, as the adventure is not over yet.

We are already in the planning stage for our next adventure, which will bring us to Asia.

Bali, for a celebration and some “beach time” at James Bond Island,

Vietnam for a cruise down the Mekong River to Cambodia for a week,

and then two weeks in Thailand, visiting Bangkok, Phuket, Chang mai, Chang Rei and more.

Until then, be happy, Be safe, and Travel, there’s a whole big world of joy out there.

Gary…..The Pirate

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South America Journey….Finally arriving in Mendoza, Argentina……Malbec Wine Heaven.

A week in Mendoza, Argentina Wine Country

Our flights ( yes flights) from Lima, Peru to Mendoza, Argentina was probably the worst and only hard travel day. Originally, I had planned to fly us to Mendoza via Chili, which could have been done in a few hours, not two days. I had to “Sh*tcan” that idea becasue Chili was still observing “Covid Restrictions”. So, instead, we had to fly from Cusco to Lima, Lima to Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires to Mendoza, which took a day and a half.

Villa Manza, Lujan de Cuio, Argentina

Our room, the “Pinot Noir”

I went for a upper level suite with balcony, instead of one of these “Wine Barrel” rooms.

Arriving in Mendoza Airport, which is quite nice, I soon realized the “rental car” I had reserved was from a “Rental Company” that nobody there had heard of ? As luck would have it, it proved to be a blessing, as I don’t recommend driving there. Instead we caught a cab for the half hour drive in the Lujan de Cuio, Wine Region. I chose this region as it is famous as the best Malbec Wine Region in the world, which proved to be true.

Nice pool, but a little to chilly.

We checked into our Wine Resort, Villa Mansa, recommended by the Wine Tour Guide from Tours By Locals that I had hired for 3 days. Checking in and viewing our suite, I knew we had made a great choice.

The “sink” was a little to low πŸ™‚

As far as wine regions go, we have experienced all major Wine Regions in the U.S., and many of the best in Europe, but was not sure of what I would find here in greater Mendoza. As the best Malbec producing location in the world, it is no “Napa / Sonoma” I can tell you. I had envisioned dirt roads with hundreds of acres of grape vines on both sides. In fact, you will rarely experience that here. More on that when I get to wineries.

My first real steak in Argentina. Unlike Belize, I cut with fork, not a Machete πŸ™‚

You are looking at one happy man, great steak, great Malbec and awesome woman to share the experience.

Our restaurant at Villa Mansa was great, and the wine selection fantastic as you would expect. Our first evening at dinner I chose a steak, as we were now in the land of “red meat”, Argentina. As expected, it was tender, tasty and fork cut-able. The bottle of local Malbec we had was ecstasy in a bottle.

After a good night of sleep, after our 1.5 days of travel and bottle of wine, we got ready for our first day in wine country, on our own. To my suprise and pleasure, the restaurant featured two things, the first was a breakfast buffet of breads, pastry, fruits, etc. and available made to order eggs. The second was an excellent coffee machine, not just any machine, but one that you put your cup on a tray, and pushed a button, and out came any kind of coffee you could imagine ! I’m serious, regular, Capachino, expresso, LatΓ¨, and twenty other types with steamed creme.

Saven my life every morning πŸ™‚

We “slept in” and spent the day at the resort relaxing and enjoying a “Spa Day” which was definitely needed.

Later in the afternoon we took a taxi into town to explore before dinner, as we had made reservations at one of the popular steak restaurants. We were dropped off at a large Mall, where we again shopped for sneakers for me. As I didn’t have a “spare $500 U.S.” I passed. Yes, U.S. sneakers and shows are that expensive in Argentina ! We decided to experience a brewery at the mall before heading to dinner.

It was so awesome to taste really good “craft beer” again. πŸ™‚

Later that evening we headed to the steakhouse. If you didn’t already know, Argentina is well known for its red meat, steak to be exact. I ordered a Ribeye and Marsha ordered a Filet Mignon, and let me say, not only were the “melt in your mouth” delicious, but they were giant cuts! Also just know that Argentinians eat their red meat “well done”, so you must specify medium rare, as it should be in my palate.

Our Winery Tour Guide by the name of Anita with Toursbylocals.com picked us up on time and off we went visiting three wineries that day, including lunch at one of them.

The first winery we drove into was a complete surprise to me, Chandon ! As someone that operated a wine business in the U.S., have visited wineries worldwide, and even sipped Champagne at Dom Perignon in Epernay, France, I had no idea they were here also. In fact, Dom Perignon shares a winery tasting room at Dom in Champagne, France. I learned they also have wineries in California, Brazil, Australia, China and India, making them the largest producers of Sparkling Wine in the world.

Marsha and our guide, Anita

We enjoyed quite a line of wines at Chandon, of course, for me, the RosΓ¨ was “interesting, the “Sparkling” was excellent. Surly you know that only sparkling produced from grapes in Champagne, can label their bottles “Champagne”.

Anita enjoying some “bubbly”. Our first day touring she was able to enjoy with us, as she had a driver πŸ™‚

One of the many cellars storing wines.

The second winery we toured and tasted was Piattelli Vineyards, and I can tell you, the wines were amazing.

I was certainly impressed with the wines, but also that they were distributers for the “Big Green / Red Egg” πŸ™‚

The next winery we toured and tasted, was Budeguer Vineyards, a very interesting and excellent winery. Their Malbec was heavenly.

Marsha with “The Wine Goddess” and our Budeguer Winery Guide.

The third and final winery for our first day was Bienvenidos Vineyards, where we toured, sipped many excellent wines, and also had a stunning lunch accompanied by their wines.

One of the absolute best Malbec’s I have ever tasted.

A multi course lunch, with what seemed like gallons of wines to taste. There was NO SPITTING involved.

My lovely wife Marsha’s expression says it all. I believe she said,

“And this is only day one of the weeks wine tasting here in Mendoza, Argentina”?

I do hope you enjoyed this post on our time in Mendoza, and some of the wineries we visited. I have only covered day one and three wineries, and could have gone on to the next two days, and six wineries. If anyone is interested in the wineries we visited, please let me know, and I can give you their info.

Stunning view of the snow capped Andes Mountains. Fact ! The true story / movie of the plane that crashed in the mountains, and only a few survived by “dining” on each other, happened here. If the survivors had hiked this way they would have reached Mendoza in less than 2 days. Regretfully, they went the wrong way.

Alta Vista Winery has this
tasting room” for the winery “tasting team”. The wall is the exact “terroir” of soil from the vineyard and the tasters can determine different flavors / minerals, knowing exactly where the roots of the vines reach.

The owners “Private Collection”. I tried but couldn’t get in.

Marsha is actually starting to get into those “sparkling wines” πŸ™‚

Very interesting winery, the Alta Vista, and very famous. This is where we tasted the wines, in this special private room. It is set up for the winery Sommelier’s, for when they taste each vintage and produce their flavor profiles, and rate each wine. As I too have gone thru Sommelier training, and assisted in this process myself, I have never had an actual “sink” with running water to spit in ! πŸ™‚

This was about as “uptown and elegant” a tasting room I have ever experienced, in the world.

On our final evening in Lujan de Cuio, we invited Anita and her husband out to dinner, their pick of restaurants. They picked us up, and we arrived at this very old mansion, converted into a premier restaurant, quite elegant. We were seated and I asked for the wine list, and was promptly escorted into a locked room with bars on it, and told I could choose from the wine-cellar. I checked out some old and I am sure fantastic bottles of Malbec, and finally choose one, noticing there were no prices. I asked, they told……$5,000 U.S.

After I was revived by the Para Medics, I asked Anita to inquire at the bar if there was another option ? Yes, there was, and at quite a reduced rate. We had dinner, and a private tour of the mansion, and everything was good, once I fully recovered.

The scene of the crime….restaurant πŸ™‚

So, for those of you that know me from my previous life in the states, I was “The Wine Guy”, with my own business, “A Wine To Die For”. These days in Belize, Central America, I am pretty well known as “The Pirate…. and Rum Guy” πŸ™‚

Until our next “meet-up”, for Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil, ….Arrrrrrr.

Gary….The Pirate

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South America Journey Part Four, Cusco

“I thought Guinea Pigs were just pets”?

Putting the exciting Machu Picchu adventure behind us, we boarded the Expedition Peru Rail Train from Machu Picchu to Poroy ( Cusco Peru).Again we totally enjoyed this trip in the upgraded train, with a different view this time, as well as a couple cold CusqueΓ±a Beers. The trip takes about three hours and in my opinion, much more relaxing than hiking the 5 day trail back down.

In Cusco we checked back into our earlier hotel, the Antigua Casona San Blas, one of the best hotels I have stayed in world wide. The hotel staff greeted up with all smiles, informing us they had already transferred out luggage left there while at Machu Picchu, into our suite. I was already looking forward to diner in their luxurious restaurant, with a good steak and bottle of wine.

My wife suggested, and I agreed that after tweaking and bashing our bones and muscles for a couple days, that we should book a spa day in the hotel spa, which we did. I will tell you, that this was a suggestion that we both decided was one of the best spa experiences ever, with the exception maybe of my experiences years ago in Bangkok ? Their Spa Rooms included steam rooms and large jacuzzi tubs which you enjoyed for an hour before your massage. This treatment sent me to another level of bliss.

The Square in center of Cusco.

The next day we had hired Chris again to show us around the city of Cusco, which he had told us there was much to see. As we really only had one day to see the city before leaving for Mendoza, I figured it best to again use a guide. I will say in hindsight, that 2-3 days in Cusco would have been better, but oh well, maybe another time.

Jesus

We started our morning visiting the “White Christ”, a 26 foot tall statue of Jesus Christ on a mountaintop, overlooking the city of Cusco. This to South America is the equivalent to the Rio statue. It was quite spectacular, and can be seen from many places in the city below. I will say that is was a bit disappointing to find a barbed wire fence surrounding it, but as Chris said, being white, inevitably if would have been defaced.

Chris had repeatedly smiled and told us he really wanted to show us the “Sexy Woman”, and this day he did just that. The “Sexy Woman” is actually named “SavsayhuamΓ n”, however the foreign visitors have difficulty with that, so the guides refer to them as Sexy Woman Ruins. These Inca Ruins consist of some of the largest stones I have ever seen, and they remail since the 15th century, exactly in place. It’s very difficult to imagine how they built these temple walls, with each stone fitting perfectly with surrounding stones. It’s also another mystery how the Inca actuall moved and placed these massive stones where they are. In fact one of the stones is estimated to be over 300 tons.

In 1536 there was a massive and extremely bloody battle between invading Spaniards and the native CusqueΓ±os on this site that left thousands of dead. After the battle the Spaniards used many of the stones for building in the city of Cusco, however the main walls still include original stones.

We then visited the indoor “San Pedro market which proved to be quite the experience. Upon entering we were immediately greeted by freshly butchered animals for sale, open air booths, with pig head’s, hoofs, and everything in between. There were rows and rows of everything from grains, breads, clothes, electronic’s, chocolate, etc. but I think the food was the “show stopper”. There were rows of open booths where you could sit and eat chicken soup, rice dishes and other delicacies. I was surprised not to see any “Guinea Pig on a stick” ?

Next Chris took us to the famous ( in Cusco”, San Pedro Indoor market, which was quite interesting as you will see. This place was full of everything imaginable, boots with grains, livestock “parts”, rows of food booths, like a whole row of places selling chicken soup ! They had major bread stores, chocolate, then fabrics, housewares and much more.

That pretty much was it for a day sightseeing Cusco, and we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest, and then meander into the main square to visit the Cusco Main Square to shop and maybe enjoy dinner. We discussed the walk to the square with hotel staff, and decided to walk the tiny streets to the square, which was pretty much downhill. Along the way we checked out some shops, and it took about half an hour before we arrived.

Fact ! Did you know that the Inca’s discovered how to make “jerky”

The Awesome Restaurant, specializing in Guinea Pig….Yum Yum

We took a Cab back to the hotel, and decided to ask the Front Desk Staff where a good restaurant was within walking distance. As luck would have it, there was a famous one a few doors up the street from the hotel which was a barbecue specialty restaurant. They said it was early, so reservations would not be needed.

We headed up the narrow street and found the restaurant, and immediately got excited ! It was decorated in Peru fashions, lots of wood, but most intriguing was the massive wood fired oven in the center. As it was cooling off a bit, I was happy they seated us at a table right in front of the oven, where the action was happening. You see, people make reservations weeks in advance here, for their famous barbecued guinea pig !

They asked if we had reserved our guinea pigs, and we said no, we would order other barbecue choices from the menu. They sat us at a prime table, directly in front of the oven ( great because it had really cooled off), and we got to watch as racks of the little pigs came our.

Our dinner was fantastic, as I had pork roast and Marsha a steak from this grill. Of course we also enjoyed a super bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

If we return to Cusco, I will definitely satay at the same hotel, and will dine on Guinea Pig here.

Then it was back to pack and get a good night rest before our busy flying day tomorrow.

And so, my next blog will certainly thrill you with our 12 hours of flying time, multiple flights, our Winery Resort outside Mendoza and our wine experience in the most famous Malbec Wine Region in the world.

Till Then,

Gary…. The Pirate

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South America Journey, Part 3, Machu Picchu

Chris our guide….and The Jewel of Peru…Machu Picchu

The Sacred Valley turned out to be one of the best discoveries for us in our journey throughout Peru. The history of the Inca People, the temples, homes and fortresses they built so long ago, still standing today was “Wonder of the World” itself. Our Guide Chris set up our week with him, first visiting the Sacred Valley for a few days, mainly to get used to the high altitude. Cusco, Peru Altitude is over 10,000 feet, so taking it easy there, resting a lot and drinking mega water was the key.

Peru Rail Train to Aquas Caliente and Machu Picchu

And now we are off to Aquas Caliente, the small town at the foothills of Machu Picchu. We boarded out train, Peru Rail’s “Expedition Train”, in the small town of Ollantaytambo. The train enjoyed large glass windows on the side and the roof for observation. The trip lasted about three hours, and views of the river, mountains and glaciers were spectacular. I will say that we in fact wished we had the opportunity to stay that night in Ollantaytambo, which was beautiful, and train station close-by, instead of driving over an hour to it.

We arrived at the train station in Aquas Caliente and headed the 15 minute walk uphill to our awaiting hotel, the Jaya Machu Picchu. When I made the reservations, I had found good reviews on this hotel, but ya just never know, as they also called this little town a “tourist trap”. It is mainly used by tourists that come up by train, take bus up to Machu Picchu, and return to Cusco the same day by train.

I chose to stay two nights at the hotel, which gave me the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu twice if weather was bad the first morning, however, it wasn’t and we spent the next day exploring the town.

Machu Picchu Brewery……Lunch by the river

So after exploring the first afternoon in town, having a great lunch at the local “Beer Tavern”, and later dinner we enjoyed a good night sleep. We were up early the next morning to meet Chris our guide at the Bus at 6 AM for our journey up the mountain. We instantly realized why this time of year and time we boarded were so important, and advised by Chris. There was no line at the bus!

Bus and trail up the mountains.

The bus up to the parking lot at Machu Picchu Entrance was quite an experience, winding switchbacks, cliffs, and meeting busses coming down on the very narrow road. I will say that I am so happy we are not walking up the existing trails, a treat to us “older and experienced folk” πŸ™‚

Bus debarkation area, ticket booth and beginning of climb.

We finally reached the parking lot at base of entrance, and after presenting our tickets (purchased ahead by Chris our guide), begin the hike up about 300 stone steps placed by ancient Inca builders.I will say that the climb up these steps was well planned, and fairly easy to climb, as compared to other “ruins” we have climbed in the world. Wife Marsha had little or no issues climbing with her”climbing pole” with I suggest for anyone doing this, young and old.

Areas are setup for wheelchair access, and easy trails.

When we reached the top of the trail, Chris had us stop for what he said was “the money shot”, and was he ever right ! From this point and continuing with the entire climb and exploration of Machu Picchu, it was obvious to me that Machu Picchu is not just a beautiful example of the Inca Empire temples, buildings, walls, etc., although to some that is what they see. To me it became an extraordinary “Mystical Experience”. Every photo I took, with Inca buildings, walls, monuments, what I saw and captured was the “layers” of mountain ranges behind the photo, wispy fog, sunlight peeking through clouds and mountains. It was an eerie feeling of walking in footsteps of others long gone, and wondering if they looked at their surrounding as I did, mystified.

Getting on top of the mountain as early as we did, meant no crowds for the first hour or two (we were there about four hours), but that changed as we looked back along the trails and lines of visitors followed behind.

It’s Just frickin “Un-Belizable” πŸ™‚

At this point I would like to say one thing to those reading this and planning to visit Machu Picchu. The very best thing we did, and you should do, is hire a professional guide here in Peru. First off, they help plan you trip so you don’t end up ill with “altitude sickness”. They “pre-purchase” tickets for major attractions for you, like Machu Picchu, which in our case, were “sold out” when we were there. At all the sights we visited with Chris, we would never have known what we were looking at, or what things were built for, or history of them, had we not hired him. We would have missed out on so much, that was of so much importance to us to know. and he spoke perfect English!

You need to take many breaks, however you also need to stand up on those “rubber legs”.

As my wife Marsha had not to long before our trip, broken her ankle, which was pretty much now healed, I was concerned about the climbing ancient stone steps, un-even and along cliffs ! It doesn’t really matter young or old, anybody can trip, fall, and get very hurt. Walking sticks can help, but there’s nothing quite like a Guide that looks out for your safety.

I am so very proud of wife Marsha, for tackling this challenge, and all the others on this adventure.

Because you are on a mountain top, above the world, every photo is a new experience, and the Inca planned this community exactly for this reason. The various views over, around and through the structures they build express this.

Yup ! They served lunch πŸ™‚ Kidding….but there were Llama’s up there “free-ranging”

I actually climbed a specific peak alone, where then ancient Inca “Sundial” was constructed, obstructed by nothing. I could actually feel the presence early priests “checking the time of day”, or was that a “Shaman” or “Witch Doctor” ?

I climbed that tower to see the sundial at top, the builders did have to keep an eye on the time πŸ™‚

It was amazing the history and designs of the community by the Inca, as explained by Chris. The fortress built where it is, was totally backed by un-climbable walls for security of the people living there, with only one way up from below.

You always have to watch your step.

Specific areas were constructed for “The Royals”, the workers, the “Agriculture Specialists”, the guards and others. Much of the food supplies were brought up the mountain, as at this altitude, growing crops was difficult.

The Tree

It’s simply amazing to see all the structures, intact just as they were when build so long ago. The Inca builders and Architects knew exactly how to place every stone so it would not move, ever! They fit like a glove or like Marsha says, “Like they were laser cut” ? Possibly by “Aliens from another planet”?

Nice to see ancient builder kept to “code” with 7 inch rise to those steps.

Although there were areas with grass growing I only remember this one tree, that comes up inside a small “courtyard” on a hillside.

Of course, if you do any research on Machu Picchu, you will find that almost the entire hilltop of Machu Picchu was covered up by the jungle after the Inca people abandoned it. The reason they abandoned it was of the invasion of the Spaniard’s in the 16th century, who destroyed many Inca temples and building in Peru during their conquest.

They remained under cover until 1911, when American Archeologist discovered them quite by accident. Bingham was actually looking for a nearby site when he mistakenly climbed the peak and discovered a few Inca buildings. He later returned clearing what is now “The Sacred City”, which after time has allowed millions of tourists to visit one of the worlds most famous “man made” wonders.

Yup…Paid Advertisement….Remember…TopPeruTrips.com πŸ˜‰

If you would like to know the statistics of exploring Machu Picchu, the entire mountaintop stretches over five miles of trails, with an impressive 3,000 stone steps within it. Believe me when you experience this, at the end of the day, you will know why the Peruvians love their “Pisco Sours”. πŸ™‚

If you plan to visit Machu Picchu I highly suggest doing as we did, spend two nights in Aquas Caliente, so you can take the first bus to the top, for both the cool temperature, small crowds and more importantly the spectacular sunrise.

There are two choices for visiting Machu Picchu, the way we did it, luxury train to Aquas caliente, and short bus to the site, or a 3-5 -day guided hike on Camino del Inca, or The Inca Trail.

They never tell you…No Banā on Machu Picchu…(bathroom).

Perhaps some 20 years ago when Marsha and I were adventurous (and fit), we would have done the Inca Trail experience. back then we actually descended the Grand Canyon and climbed back up in one day, something the signs there advised against.

Today and a bit older, the way we experienced Machu Picchu was exercise enough for us. In fact anyone of the older generations, or handicapped can and still should plan on visiting this wonderful destination. There is actually wheelchair access and ramps to viewing sites in Machu Picchu. Spouse and or family members can explore while you hang in the shade, watching them climb around, while still experiencing the wonders.

Drink lots of water and take frequent breaks because of high altitude.

All in all, Machu Picchu has exceeded my expectations on our month in South America, and is at this point, at the top for experiences throughout the world.

Well…for now…Chau ! (Goodbye).

However, that being said, we are not quite done here in Peru, as we head by the Expedition Train back down to Cusco for a few days exploring Cusco, before heading to Argentina and Brazil.

If you have not “Liked / Followed” my blog, please do so you won’t miss the next few blog posts about this trip, or next years October 2023 month-long experience in Southeast Asia.

Until then, I say… It’s time for a Pisco Sour with that Thanksgiving Turkey πŸ™‚

Gary ….The Pirate

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Part 2, South America Journey, Sacred Valley, Peru

A country of “un-expected pleasures”.

Map of Sacred Valley and towns leading to Machu Picchu

We checked out of the Doubletree in Iquitos on Thursday the 6 of October, headed to the local airport for our flights to Cusco, Peru. As there are no direct flights, we first flew to Lima, then connected with a flight to Cusco for one night. This was at the suggestion of the Peru Guide, Chris Condori Huanca, http://www.topperutrips.com. I had hired him for a week of guiding, both Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and for altitude adjustment, he suggested first Sacred Valley, then Machu Picchu.

I had made reservations at the Antiqua Casona San Blas Hotel in Cusco, for one night as Chris would pick up up the next morning and transport us to a hotel in Urabamba, Sacred Vally for four days of exploring. I had also made reservations at the Antiqua Casona San Blas for Four days when we returned from Machu Picchu. When we checked in, I knew I had made the right choice, the hotel was beautiful, had an excellent spa and restaurant. It was located in the City Center near all the great spots we could walk to.

The “road” to our hotel in Cusco, and yes, it’s a “2 way street” πŸ™‚

After a long day of air travel, we enjoyed a spectacular dinner and hit the sack, knowing we had an early morning for breakfast, and would meet out guide Chris in the morning at the hotel.

Beef Osso Buco and Malbec, two things I have missed dearly in Belize.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast and two cups of Capachino from their “:Coffee Bar”, we met Chris in the lobby. I knew almost immediately I liked this guy, who had a super smile and spoke excellent english ! Chris loaded our bags in his vehicle and away we wend to the Sacred Valley.

Downing Cappuccino before breakfast

Special Note- As we had packed for a month, there was quite a bit of clothes and supplies that we had needed for the Amazon, and would need in Argentina, but not for the next week. Therefore we checked one large bag with the hotel, for when we returned in a week.

A little “Guinea Pig Condo”, that I learned was not for “pets”, but for food ???:)

We me these Alpaca’s and Llama’s, and later learned that “they do not taste like chicken” πŸ™‚

The plan today was to take it easy on way to the Tierra Viva Valley Sagrado Hotel / Resort in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley, Peru. On the beautiful drive there we would make a couple stops at an Rojchi Lookout, with stunning views of the Valley, and also the village of Chincher, a local village known as a “weavers town”.

Marsha learning how to “spin Alpaca”

Weaving Alpaca after it is died many colors.

The views go on forever

Snow capped mountains and glaciers are seen all over Peru

Finally arriving at our resort, again we were pleasantly thrilled with its location outside the town. The mountain views were spectacular, the room was well appointed, restaurant excellent, and we were located next to the “Spa”, which we both appreciated.

A very popular game found in Peru, and major competition, the Sapo Coin Toss Frog Game.

In the Village of Chincer after viewing Alpaca and Llama weaving, Chris introduced me to the Peru Game of Sapo, or “toss the coins into the frogs mouth from to far away”. This is a great “bar game” enjoyed there, one which I will attempt to introduce here in Belize. Chhris has already challenged me to a “re-match” when I return to Peru.

The next morning, Saturday Chris and his driver picked us up at our hotel, and off we went on a full day, exploring the Colonial Town of Maras, the Urubamba Mountain Range, and the Moray Salt Mines. I will tell you that I had no idea what the “salt mines” were, or any idea what we would find when we got there. Maybe a pit with salt in it and guys shoveling it up ?

As we ventured on winding roads over the mountains, we pulled over to the side of the road and got out to what Chris called “a good photo op”.

The winding dirt road to Salt Flats below. Nice “guard rails” ?;)

Looking down we could see what looked like a field of white patchwork in the valley below. I was more concentrating on the small winding road down, with cars and busses trying to pass each other, and little or no “guard rails”.

As we proceeded closer to the bottom and a “parking lot”, with many vehicles and lots of tourists, I figured this was more that a pit of white salt. My first closeup of these salt mines took my breath away. They were actually salt “ponds”, about 12 feet square, filled at various stages, from salt water to solid bleached white salt. There are more than 5,000 salt evaporation ponds, most owned and maintained by local families.

This is the small “Salt Spring” that supplies the salt water to over 6,000 ponds below.

Since “Pre-Inca Times” these salt ponds have been producing salt which starts from a small stream of salt water coming out above the ponds. The keepers of the family ponds regulate how much water enters each pond as the water evaporates, until it is pure bleached salt. Within days the flow is cut off, and salt is scraped and bagged and carried up the hill to awaiting trucks.

There are three qualities of salt produced, the first pink/white, sold as table salt and highest quality, the second is bulk salt and third brown used in industry.

You could take horses from town below to the salt pond, we did not, more about riding horses later.

The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the local community, as this is the major industry and “lifeblood” of the community and has been for centuries.

When salt is dry it is bagged in 50 lb sacks, carried up to top and awaiting trucks.

My wife Marsha and I returned to resort after a full day in the sun, along with much “climbing exercising”, which like Machu Picchu, included hundreds of steps down, and up again. The suggestions of visiting “The Spa” for a long needed massage and soak was definitely in order.

The next morning Chris and his driver picked us up at the hotel, for our 2nd day of Sacred Valley Expeditions, visiting the Pisaq Ruins and Ollantaytambo Town ( down your Pisco Sour, and say that three times fast ! πŸ™‚

The walk to ruins from parking lot

We first traveled to the Pisac Ruins in Sacred Valley, which as most places in Peru was extremely interesting. As are with most ruins, there were steps to climb, but if you take your time and stop to observe the beauty of this place, its not a bad climb. The nice thing about these ruins is that the are only about 9,000 feet above sea level, instead of the 11-12,000 feet like in Cusco, so climbing wasn’t as bad.

These Inca Ruins are believed to be one of the best preserved in all Peru, and you can find ancient residences, baths terraces and my favorite part, the largest Inca Cemetery in all of Peru.

The Inca Cemetery, known as Tankanamarka is hard to locate unless you have a experienced and knowledgable Guide like Chris. As we stood in ruins pretty high up, I was looking at the side of the next steep hillside, thinking, ” I wonder if those are Mining entrances in the side of it”? Chris pointed out the hundreds or thousands of little holes, that most people would think were bird nest holes. In actuality, they are graves dug in the side of the mountain, with the bigger ones being royalty.

If you look closely you can see the holes where Inca’s were buried.

There are so many areas of ruins to explore, from the Towers overlooking the town below, to walls of stone that fit together so well that they look “laser cut”. In fact, thats something we noticed in many Inca Ruins throughout Peru on out trip, “How did they get such precise angles on such mega stones, to fit so perfectly”?

Prospective of relationship of high mountain temples and living, above city below.

My answer…Aliens of course ! πŸ™‚

Our Guide Chris, attempting to “levitate”, as was accomplished by his past Inca relatives. :0

Next we journeyed on to the town of Ollantaytambo Town, which is the last stop for the journey to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. In fact, we will be coming back here tomorrow morning to catch our train to Aguas calientes and MP. I am so happy that we visited this town and didn’t just come here to catch the train.

The town has much to offer, surrounded by ancient terraces, snow capped mountain peaks, with small narrow stones streets dating back to the Inca days. The stone walls, many intact have been replenished on top to keep them intact, but you can see the difference from original on the bottom.

Most importantly in this town is the water supply from mountain streams above the town, still supplying drinkable water to the residences today as they did in the Inca times. The patchwork of homes on these streets all have stone canals in front of doorways, with fresh water rushing at all times for household use. Must be nice…no water bills.

Channels from mountain tops to the town with fresh drinkable water, to each house.

Ollantaytambo was built for the Inca “elite”, for both astronomical and worship in the temples rising up above the town below. There are massive rows of terraces carved in the hillside for agriculture to feed the masses. You just can’t comprehend the magnitude of this citadel, and how long it took to build it.

Today was our last in the Sacred Valley, and I felt it was well spent, exploring the ancient Inca ruins, preparing us for our journey to Machu Picchu, the “ultimate of all Inca ruins”. We have learned so much about the history of the Inca’s visiting and learning from Chris our guide. The past 3 day, by Chris’s design, have been spent here in the highest altitudes, conditioning us to the high altitudes, so Machu Picchu would not be a problem. We did learn however, that Machu Picchu isn’t as high as here in Sacred Valley, or Cusco, which is about 12,000 Feet in elevation.

Marsha at ancient Inca “drinking fountain”

Window into the soul.

Celebration of the Guinea Pig. This was in a town that produced the pig for Peru.

“Ok, lets see if this does taste like chicken” πŸ™‚

So you know, other than taking some “over the counter” altitude pills for a few days, drinking lots of water, and not getting wasted on Pisco Sours every day, we had very little effects from altitude. Well, Marsha did have some nausea, which might have been from high altitude. We actually did suffer a bit on our return from Machu Picchu to Cusco, where we were for 4 days. More about that later.

After a “hard day”, there we are, ready for that “Pisco Sour” or 5 πŸ™‚

Now its back to the resort to rest up for our journey tomorrow by train to Aguas Calientes, have dinner and possibly another massage !

See you next on the “Luxury Peru Rail Expedition Train” to Machu Picchu, Peru.

The third leg of this Blog Post will be our three hour trip on the train to Aquas Caliente, Peru, at the base of Machu Picchu. We will be staying at the Jaya Machu Picchu Hotel for two nites. I planned this in case on the first day there was rain and or fog on the mountain. This would give us a “back up” day.

Until then….please remember…we were excited to visit South America for many reasons, one being the food, especially “meat”.

So far we have had Llama, Alpaca and of course, the Guinea Pig. πŸ™‚

Gary…..The Pirate

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30 days, 5 Countries, 6 Destinations, South America 2022 Vacation.

The town of Iquitos, Peru, or “Tuk Tuk City” πŸ™‚

This will be a six blog endeavor to accurately and pleasurably take you on our journey to South America, this October of 2022. Our journey started with a flight to Miami, Florida from Belize, our home. You might ask, why Miami when we are destined for South America ?The answer is we can’t get there directly from Belize, nor many other places πŸ™‚

Marsha in Fontainebleau Lobby relaxing after “hurricane Flight”.

Things did get a bit “dicy” flying to Miami, as we flew in a hurricane ! Not the drink, but a real hurricane. We were the last flight into Miami because of it, just barely made it in, and realized this when the pilot came on and said “Everyone buckle up, we are in a dangerous situation, and flying in a hurricane, so stay in seats, and hang on” !

Me in Miami Beach after flying in the Hurricane πŸ™‚

We did land ok, buy with lots of turbulence, and checked into the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach South. I know, kind of “ritzy”but I did get a good rate. Fact is, the city, beach and hotel were deserted because of the hurricane, except later tons of residents from West Coast Florida were checking in because of evacuation orders. The good thing, we got great seats at the restaurant for Sushi :).

After two days in Miami we flew on American Airlines, directly into Lima, Peru, then on to Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is the port to the Amazon River, where we would embark on a five day “Luxury River Cruise” on the Amazon River. Let me say that we highly enjoyed and suggest others making this trip to also stay a couple days in Iquitos as well for two reasons. The first is “shit happens”, with flights, weather, etc., and giving yourself an extra day to be sure you make the cruise can be key. After all, you wouldn’t want the ship leaving without you.

Ramp down to loading area for boat to Island Restaurant.

The second reason is Iquitos is more than just a “tourist trap” as you will read in internet posts and articles. I call bullshit to that. Yes it has bunches of shops selling junk, but it also has some nice views of the waterfront, good restaurants to experience Peruvian food and cocktails, especially the countries favorite drink, the “Pisco Sour”.

Marsha enjoying her first ( of many) Pisco Sours.

We stayed at the Doubletree By Hilton in Iquitos, which I found to be perfect, room, view, restaurant and service. As we were to stay there two nights, then be picked up by cruise line and return after cruise, we asked to keep large luggage in storage while gone. No problem.

Me enjoying the first of very many Pisco Sours.

While in Iquitos, we tried some of the local food and checked out some shops. One highly recommended restaurant was the “Island Restaurant” you need to take a boat to. It’s a two level restaurant in the bay, that includes a swimming pool. This was where we enjoyed our first “Pisco Sour”.

My new favorite beer, Cusquena, from South America.

One thing about Iquitos, more so than anywhere else in Peru, is the Tuk-Tuks πŸ™‚ There are thousands of them here, racing around the village. Its the main mode of transportation here, including from the airport. As we had a lot of luggage that wouldn’t fit in a Tuk-tuk, we were lucky to find a “taxi”, which was a sedan held together by tape πŸ™‚

As this entire blog project about our month in South America will be an honest attempt at the various segments, so others can make an “informed decision”, I will start with the Luxury Amazon Cruise with Rainforest Cruises. We never really got any “itinerary” for the cruise and what we would be doing each of the five days. That being said, we had no idea what time we would be picked up at the hotel for the one hour trip to the port where the ship awaited us. I had been told that the hotel would know this, but when I asked the front desk, they looked at me with a blank stare. When I told them it was with Rainforest Cruises…..same blank stare. They had no idea who this was.

GULP !

Luckily we met another U.S. couple also going that had the same experience, but finally was contacted that the bus would pick us up at 10:00 AM at hotel. Actually, before ten the bus showed up, and guides as well as a “Lab Tech” showed up. Yup…thats right, nose swabs for … you got it, Covid !

We all “passed” and boarded a really nice bus for the ride to the cruise ship. On board the bus, the guides introduced themselves, and talked about the cruise ship and things we would be doing. After about 45 minutes they announced that we would be taking a “bathroom break” in a local village. This I will tell you was quite an “experience” for most of the bus. As I have spent quite a bit of time in Asia, I was not surprised but would have expected better from a “Luxury Cruise Line”. The “stop” was a small, and I mean small store, and we walked to a back room with a curtain in front of two “non-plumbed” toilets. There was a barrel of water and a dirty “bucket” to dump after done. All in all, very “stinky”, but, oh well, welcome to “rural Peru”.

*** I will not be including a photo of toilet ! πŸ™‚

We finally reached to “port”, which was end of a dirt road, and a treacherous walkway down to the boarding vessels which would take us to the awaiting cruise ship. Bright orange life preservers awaited us, and as we took off from shore, everyone was excited as we headed to the vessel. It was easy boarding the River Vessel with many helping hands. I will say that this was the case every day, as we left and returned from excursion. In fact we had not only some elderly cruisers, but also one gentleman with advanced issues, and the crew took excellent care with him.

Climb down to small craft was “interesting”.

Room Key aboard the Zafiro

I was extremely pleased with our “upgraded” suite, the “Master Suite”, located on the 2nd floor, with enjoyed a sweeping front glass window so we could enjoy watching where we were going.

Our suite and awesome view.

Exploring the ship, the dining / entertainment area was well appointed, fancy and had an awesome bar. There was also a large open area at the front of the boat with another bar and a hot tub, tables, loungers, etc.

During the cruise, we were taken to different areas of the Amazon, and divided up into two smaller craft to explore areas and tributaries, searching for wildlife, day and night. The guides worked hard to spot the different birds, sloths, and other wildlife for 5 days. They did succeed to some extent, however, the two of my “bucket list” creatures of the night, we never found, the Anaconda and the Cayman. I will say they really tried at night to find Anaconda, because at this time of year, they are giving birth, and usually plentiful.

The guides explained that the Amazon River was extremely low, and that they couldn’t go deeper into the Amazon because the ship couldn’t make it. We actually got an example of this one day while enjoying lunch, as we felt the ship ground out in the middle of the Amazon River. It took the Captain multiple attempts to “un-ground” us.

Speaking of lunch and food, I will say the meals were excellent on-board. Lunch was always a buffet, but a tasty one with many choices. Dinners always served table side, and both meals enjoyed bottomless wine, or cocktails at your expense, plus coffee, tea, etc.

We enjoyed an evening onboard with a visit from a local Shaman who explained via an interpreter her role in the health and well being of the eight communities she was responsible for. I found this fascinating, as she explained that the Amazon Villages used her services for illnesses as well as a “midwife” during births. When we asked how she handled the Covid issue, she explained many developed symptoms, and she treated all of them with local herbs and Shaman methods, and had no serious issues or deaths in her eight communities. Another “interesting” fact we heard about was that there were still “Witch Doctors” in the Amazon Region, still used today. They are still used for “spells” and other “methods” to “eliminate” any village people harmful to others in the village. Where the Shaman gets a “calling” to become one, Witch Doctors can just decide to be one, and based on that I believe they are just bad guys, who wanted to become “hit men”, and did.

The Shaman we met was a female, very, very rare in the Amazon, and she is well respected in her communities. I in fact was so impressed by her that I asked her to give me a blessing on a Amazon Village necklace I purchased, and she smiled and blessed it and me.

We were informed that the next day we would start with a expedition to the shore of one of the villages that the Shaman looked over, to plant trees and give back to the Amazon. It was a great experience and we all enjoyed planting one for each couple. The Shaman was there and blessed all the seedlings.

Who knows, I may return some day to a large budding tree πŸ™‚

Our special tree that we planted in the Amazon Jungle.

We also had the experience of visiting one of the Amazon Communities, watching them prepare food, visiting their school, meeting the local children, having a song sung to us, and we sand a song for them. We also get to meet up close the cutest monkey. Lastly we got to experience how they make their local alcoholic beverage ! Ladies of the village chew a local vine, and spit the juices into a bowl, which is allowed to ferment into a “fine booze”. I did not partake in the process, nor the beverage.

One of the excursions in small craft, was to an area known for abundance of Piranha, where were were given the opportunity to fish for the Piranha with polls and “meat baited hooks”. I think we all caught one, which was quite exciting. Locals eat them, we passed. Later in a different location, we were invited to Kayak and or swim in the Amazon waters. We had learned from the Shaman that the reason most Amazon families have anywhere from 6-10 children, is because 20% of the children die each year from infections gotten from Amazon waters.

We passed on swimming and instead headed to the ships bar.

Lunch served on the small boats

Our final evening adventure in small vessels up a tributary we discovered in the distance, a Sloth in a tree, something our guide really tried to locate in days past. We then proceeded to an area against the bank to observe a fantastic sunset over the Amazon River. The guides tied the two boats together, and proceeded to serve us Champagne Mimosas on the boat to celebrate our voyage.

It was quite special.

The next day we packed up and headed to the small boats to head to shore and the awaiting bus. We had gotten to know the small crew, the Cruise Director, the Spa lady, Bartenders, Guides and Crew, and gave them a warm farewell. Ten off to shore where I had my final big surprise !

A well deserved Mimosa (re-filled 3 times) at a perfect sunset.

Boarding the bus we embarked on a three hour trip back to Iquitos or the airport. However, they made an un-expected stop at a “Manatee Recovery Center” that we had not expected. Although they did have a few Manatee in tanks recovering from injuries, they also made us tour a bunch of other enclosures with other animals. At various points, the “zookeeper” told us not to attempt to touch any animals, and that “tourists always try and don’t listen”. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t like the tone or way that he talked about “tourists”, especially at it was obviously all about us giving him donations.

Enjoying a “Stella”, the 1st of many in South America.

We boarded the bus finally, and headed back to Iquitos, where we checked back into the Doubletree overnight before heading to Lima, Peru, the next day.

Ahhhh…Lima. Peru, where they eat these guys, and we did too πŸ™‚

My final thoughts based on this experience are both positive and negative. Although I had a quite enjoyable five days in the amazon, I would have planned differently, even though all my research made me plan this way. We didn’t get to explore deeper into the Amazon because its waters we to shallow, at this time of year. I figured that the “rainy season” would bring more issues, but instead it left us pretty much “high and dry”. We didn’t get to experience many things I had expected to, mainly because we couldn’t go “in deep”. However, many on the cruise were excited about the adventures. In hindsight, after discussing the experience with my wife Marsha, we came to a conclusion.

Maybe if we lived somewhere like L.A. or New Your City, we would be feeling different now. We live in Central America, Belize, where we enjoy Jungle Rainforest Adventures, Tropical weather, Parrots, monkeys, Iguana’s and other exotic creatures. It’s hard to impress us with the Amazon, when we live in a country much like it.

So I say, if its on your “list”, experience it for yourself. Take our experience and make yours even better. After all, we only have one life to live, so experience life.

Experience new things, places and cultures, because at some point, you won’t be able to anymore.

Please “Like” my blog, and look for the next five adventures:

Sacred Valley, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Mendoza Wine Country, Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil

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The “Key” to successful Real Real Estate Transactions in Belize is… Patience !

How many times have I heard a “Buyer or Seller” complaining that they can’t believe it’s taking so long for their property to “close”, or “where’s My Money”!

Anyone that buys land or a house in Belize and decides to sell it and move away, should know…

Belize is not the United States or Canada, or anywhere else for that matter. Things don’t happen quickly here in Belize. Contracts and moneys are held up by the Tax Departments, Banks and Central Bank Authority. Where it used to take a couple months, things can now take 3-6 months to finish and close.

One of the main reasons is because of people like the “developers” of Sanctuary Belize / The Reserve. They being the largest “scam” in U.S. History, involved the Belizean “system”, and actually caused the demise of the Atlantic International Bank ! Belize is looked at under serious microscopes, and a “money laundering country”, a “Real Estate Scammers paradise”.

Before any moneys can leave the Belize banking system, necessary “checks and balances” have to be done. You as a Seller or Buyer can do nothing to speed things up. It’s out of your control. As a Seller, if a good professional Attorney is involved for you and or your buyer, they will do whatever they can to move things along. However, the Belize “Powers that be” can be very trying on your patience.

Another problem comes when a Seller has put his holdings/Real Estate in a LLC. This just adds another problem to moving moneys up North out of Belize.

Blaming your Belize Bank for delays is nonsense, as they are restricted on time and money transfers by Central Bank. Blaming Central Bank will get you nowhere, because they control everything, and if you bother them to much. you file could somehow end up on the bottom of the pile.

Blaming your Realtor or Real Estate Office is one of the dumbest thing you can do in Belize, or anywhere else in the world for that mater. After a contract if signed off, inspections done and monies deposited, they have nothing to do with your receiving funds. If they did, don’t you think they would do it ??? After all, they don’t get paid until after the deal closes.

You just need patience, pretty much with anything in Belize. Whether it’s licensing a vehicle, getting a license plate, QRP, Residency or anything else.

I read people on Social Media complaining about “the wait”, and “can someone help me or tell me who to contact ?”. In some cases, yes they can give advise, lord knows everyone on Facebook is an “expert”.

But in all things Real Estate, unless they are an Attorney, or work in Lands Dept., Central Bank, they don’t know crap.

Anyone that complains that Real Estate transaction were better in the states, and why is it so bad here should know, that in the states, Realtors turned over the contracts ti a “Title Company”, who did everything from Titles, legal paperwork, money transfers, and finally the closing of escrow.

There are no “Title Companies” in Belize. Remember, your selling or buying in the “Wild West of Real Estate” here in Belize.

So, sit back, pop open a cold one, and have patience Grasshopper, everything will happen in its own time. After all, our “motto” in Belize is “Go Slow”, “No Worries”.

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Real Estate Confusion & Understanding “how things really work” in Belize

I can clearly remember seven years ago, when I was seriously looking at the Real Estate Market here on the Placencia Peninsula. When I heard it was the “Wild Wild West of Real Estate”, I wasn’t clear what that meant, but quickly learned, and over the years, it appears to be even worse.

Vitamin “Sea” cures everything πŸ™‚

You might remember that I came from a Real Estate Background, many years as a Realtor with top agencies, and then as a Real Estate Broker / Owner with my own business. In Oregon, I constantly took classes, and learned everything in “Contract Law”. In fact, I took the same courses as Attorneys, as well as the same “final exam” in Real Estate law.

Then came Belize, where they have no “Real Estate Agency”, no “overseeing” the conduct, integrity, legality or “right/wrong” of agents. While a couple Belize Real Estate companies are “International” established agencies, with offices here in Belize, where their are certain “standards”, many agents are still “cowboys and cowgirls” so to speak.

In the U.S. you have to go to a Real Estate School, take tests, pass an intense Real Estate Exam to work as a Realtor. Here in Belize, you don’t need any kind of training, or have worked in sales, or have an education, or any customer service. Heck, most Realtors here have no clue how to write a sales contract, or understand their offices contracts.

And then there is the fact that there is no “MLS”, Multiple Listing Agency, where all listing have to be entered, so Realtors have access and info on “listed properties”. In Belize there is no such thing. While there are very few that will only advertise their actual “contracted” “Exclusive Listings” on their office websites, many offices copy / paste info of the actual Listing Agents “exclusive listings” and put them on their pages, even though not theirs.

Thus the confusion of buyers searching online for homes and land. Different Real Estate Offices have those other agents listings on their pages, but don’t “update” them when the actual listing agent makes changes. You can find a property advertised on different Realty sites, all with different info / Listing Prices. The only way you find out that it’s not their listing, is when you arrive here to look at the property, and the agent says “Let me contact the listing Realtor to see if we can view it”!

You will also find a lot of “listings” on Real Estate Office websites that either already sold, or are off the market, again, because they don’t “update” like the Listing Agent will do.

Surprise ???!

In the past two years, in spite of “The Pandemic”, the Real Estate market has been on fire ! The house and land inventory for sale has dwindled, especially waterfront properties. Average price of land and homes is up about $100,000 U.S. in most cases, at least, with some offices raising list price even more than that. Because of the decline in available properties, more a more “exclusive listings” are showing up on other offices websites, because they have very few “exclusive listings” or any that are in popular locations.

Homes selling like crazy

So, I highly suggest that if looking for a property, when you contact any office, ask them if all the properties listed on their webpage are their “exclusive listings” or not. If they are honest, they will check with the Listing Agent for any update, and get back to you. Most will not tell you that they only advertise their own “exclusive listings”, although there is at least one that does in Belize. If interested to know who…..just comment πŸ™‚

Although things are getting pretty “slim” here on the Placencia Peninsula, it appears that Ambergris Caye is getting busy expanding their market and land/homes. The Northern “Secret Beach” is growing and offering pretty cheap building lots, small, but for a “vacation rental”, perfect. Their beaches are fantastic, beach bars and restaurants growing. Regretfully, some National Chain Hotels are popping up there in San Pedro, but for now, we are keeping them away from our peninsula. Even Caye Caulker is now getting “hi rise condo’s” on the northern split, sad but true.

So, there’s still deals to be had here in Belize. With a little extra “due diligence”, you can have a good experience buying or building a home here in Belize.

Something like this can be in your future

Good Luck and remember

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