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Archive for December, 2008

Hidden Valley Day 2

On our first full day at Hidden Valley, we decided to check out some mountain bikes from the inn and go exploring. The Hidden Valley Inn property is 7200 acres, and there are extensive hiking and mountain biking trails.

The mountain bikes were very old school, and a few minutes into the ride both Steve and I were missing the comfy rock shox on our Gary Fischers. Unfortunately, the biking turned out to be almost a total bust. Steve’s bike wouldn’t shift into any of the low gears, so every time we hit a big hill, we had to walk. We finally made it to the hiking trail and left the bikes at the trail head. (The other nice thing about Hidden Valley is that they equip you with two-way radios in case you need anything while you are out on the property. So they will pick you up, pick your bikes up, whatever you need). Here I am at the trail head to Butterfly Falls, armed and ready with my hiking stick.

A guy named Peter does an amazing job at maintaining all of the trails year-round. There were tons of bridges and ladders all over the place, making for a fun hike.

In talking to Peter, we learned that the wood they use to make all of these bridges, ladders, and steps only lasts a year to a year and a half before it starts to rot and needs to be replaced. I can’t believe his crew is able to keep up with all of the maintenance, but somehow they do it. After about 45 minutes, we came to Butterfly Falls.

It was really beautiful. This was one of the taller water falls that you could hike to.

After admiring the falls, we pressed on and did some more hiking. I couldn’t get over how awesome and fun the trails were.

The bottom of this ladder ended up right in one of the waterfall pools. The pictures we got with the disposable camera are really sucky, but this is to prove that I did actually get in the water. And it was so cold.

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After our little swim, we decided to stop for lunch on one of the trails. They had packed us bag lunches before we left so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting back. While we were eating, we ran into Peter the grounds keeper, and he offered to give us a ride in his truck over to another trail so we wouldn’t have to deal with the bikes. In talking to him, we found out that a few weeks before we were there, Bear Grylls was there filming an episode of Man vs. Wild for the Discovery channel. Pretty cool! We stopped at a lookout point for some awesome views.

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After that stop, Peter dropped us off at the lookout point for King Vulture Falls. This waterfall was huge, but it was hard to get a good picture because it was so far away.

Apparently Bear Grylls was dropped by helicopter at the top of this waterfall, and he somehow climbed down and into the jungle. I will definitely be watching for that episode to air on the Discovery Channel.

After looking at the falls for a while, we hiked back to the inn and hit the outdoor hot tub (as we did every night we were there). Then it was time for dinner, and of course after that we had a fire back in our room.

Such a nice relaxing end to the day.

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Hidden Valley Day 1

Now that the Holidays are over and the year is winding down, I thought I’d better finish up my honeymoon recap before we aren’t even in the same year anymore. After spending 5 nights on Ambergris Caye, we rented a car and headed inland for the last 4 nights of our trip. I had come across the Hidden Valley Inn duringmy online research, and it looked amazing. It is situated in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve, about a 3 hour drive from Belize City. Here is our pimp car:

It’s a Suzuki Jimny, and it was about the puniest little thing I have ever seen. It was a tough little guy though, and it could take a beating. We asked for directions at the rental company, and the lady behind the counter produced a map. She highlighted the roads we were to take, and showed us the road not to take to the inn. She told us she had just heard from some travellers that the one particular “road” was in really bad shape, and we should take an alternate route. There is a reason that the word “road” is in quotation marks, and the term will be used loosely from here on out. So you can get an idea of where we were, here is a map:

You can see Belize City on the coast, and Hidden Valley Inn just to the left of center. The black lines are actual highways, much like here, except that every time you go through a town there are massive speed bumps every hundred yards or so. Apparently they are serious about speed control, but really it’s necessary for safety, as many of the locals get around on foot or by bike. To get an idea of the distance, it took about an hour and a half to get from Belize City to San Ignacio. It took us that same amount of time to get from San Ignacio to the Inn on those little brown “roads” you see on the map.

We knew from the get go that we would have a bumpy ride, as we were advised that a four wheel drive vehicle was a necessity. We soon learned that “bumpy” didn’t quite cover it. The roads were unpaved, narrow, and sometimes steep. Here is a shot of a pretty good section of the road, before we really got up into the forest:

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It’s hard to see, but there are giant potholes everywhere, and the only way to drive is just to go wherever it looks best and not worry about whether you are on your own side or not. This shot was taken higher up into the forest on an amazingly smooth section of road that had just been graded:

You may find it odd to see so many pine trees, as most people think of Belize as more of a tropical rain forest type climate. The very unique thing about this area is that it has both. If you notice the redness of the road here, that is because it is limestone clay. The Caribbean pine trees grow really well in it. As you will see later, much of the area is also broad leaf jungle, which grows best in the granite clay that is also present in the area. (End geology lesson).

We got to the inn around 3 in the afternoon, and were greeted by the friendliest staff I have encountered anywhere. We were given fresh limeade and face towels while we sat on the couch in the main lodge area and were told about what to expect during our stay. Turns out that the first few nights, it was just us and one other couple (also on their honeymoon) staying there. They have 12 cottages in all, so this was a nice surprise. We went to our cottage and just relaxed for a while before dinner. Here is our cozy little cottage:

We headed over to the main building before dinner and sat at the bar for a while, chatting with the bartender and the managers. Everyone was so nice, and they gave us ideas and suggestions for our next day’s adventure. By 7pm when dinner started, we were starving because we hadn’t eaten lunch. There were always three choices for dinner, and a different menu each day. The tables were set up all cute with candles and flowers:

My dinner the first night was shrimp with veggies and rice – yum!

After dinner we went back to our cottage and made a fire. It was unseasonably cold during our stay, so the fireplace came in very handy.

We got to bed fairly early to rest up for our big day of hiking. Since this already turned into a rather lengthy post, I am going to separate our time at Hidden Valley into posts for each day. We did a lot while we were there, and I have tons of pictures, so stay tuned!

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SCUBA in Belize

The main reason we chose Belize for our honeymoon was for the SCUBA diving. Off the coast of Belize is the second largest barrier reef in the world, topped only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Also on our list of places to dive was the Blue Hole, located about 60 miles off of the mainland. We could see the reef from the plane, and it just seemed to go on forever and ever.

We decided to do 2 afternoon dives on our first day there. The nice thing about Ambergris Caye is that no matter where you are staying, any of the dive shops will come and pick you up on the pier outside of your hotel. It was so nice not to have to schlep all of our gear into a taxi every day. The reef is just a 5 minute boat ride from the shore, so we were there in no time. The first dive was an 80 foot reef dive with some swim-throughs called Tacklebox. It was just us and a  dive master, which was really nice. Since we were too deep for my crappy disposable camera, I didn’t get photos on this dive. Here we are on a different dive, so we’ll just pretend for now.

After the first dive we headed back to the dive shop for a 45 minute surface interval, and snapped this photo.

 

For the record, this is the last time I am buying one of those craptastic disposable underwater cameras. Half the time it wouldn’t take pictures underwater, even though it said it was rated to 50 feet. When it did work, the pictures pretty much sucked, so it wasn’t worth the money. Next time we want to get an underwater casing for Steve’s digital camera, which should work much better. Problem being they go for around $200, but I think it would be worth it.

Moving on.

The second dive of the day was awesome. Our dive master told us we would probably see some nurse sharks, and threw some fish in the water before we dove in to attract them. I am still kicking myself for not having the camera on this dive, because what happened next was incredible. As we got down to around 50 feet, I looked down and there were big nurse sharks everywhere. They look like this:

 

At first I was a bit nervous to get near them, but then I saw our dive master start grabbing and petting them. They were so friendly, it was almost like they were playing with him. I got down deeper and grabbed one by the fin. It turned around and came right next to me so I could pet it. We got to stay there and play with them for about 5 or 10 minutes, which was so cool. We also got to see a moray eel on this dive, as well as a spotted eagle ray. Overall a fantastic dive.

We were dropped off back at our hotel, and planned to get picked up the next day at 8:30 am for 2 morning dives.

We woke up the next day and saw that the weather had changed dramatically overnight. The first day it was hot and sunny, perfect. Now we woke up to an overcast, cool, windy day. Not ideal, but it doesn’t matter too much for diving, because you are underwater anyways. We got picked up and went to the dive shop, where we met up with the rest of the divers. There were 5 of us in all, and we took off for the reef. The water was much rougher today, and the waves breaking on the reef were pretty big. We did the dive, didn’t see much, and decided not to go for a second dive. I was freezing and a bit queasy from the waves, and visibility underwater was not great. The other 3 divers decided to scrap the second dive as well.

For our last day on the island, we scheduled a trip to the Blue Hole.

 

It is a limestone sinkhole about 1000 feet across and 480 feet deep. The day before we went there, Matt Lauer was at the Blue Hole filming a segment for the Today Show. Since it takes so long to get there, we had to be picked up at 5:30 am to go to the dive shop. Don’t I look chipper?

 

Ok, not really I guess, but at least I am smiling. The trip to get to the Blue Hole was long. And rough. And long. Especially when you are feeling green and queasy. Once we got out of the calm area that was protected by the reef, the swells were big. There were two deep sea crossings that took over an hour each, separated by another calm reef area. I started to feel sick and was worried that my dives would be ruined if I didn’t start to feel better. I moved to an area of the boat that was out in the open air, and I felt a lot better. We made it there and were ready to dive. The dive into the Blue Hole is very unique. It is also very deep. Because of the depth, our bottom time was very limited. We were told that if we couldn’t make it down to 130 feet in 2 minutes, we would be sent back up to the boat so as not to limit anyone else’s dive.

With that, we went down fast. I was a little bit nervous about the depth, as the deepest I had ever been before was 85 feet. I made it down without a problem and it was surreal. It was pretty dark, and there were gigantic stalactites left over from when it was an extensive cave system. These pictures were taken 130 feet underwater:

 

After 6 minutes of swimming around down there, it was time to go back up. That was the longest we could stay at that depth without having to decompress. On the way back up we saw several black-tip reef sharks. They were quite a ways underneath us, but still a bit unnerving. Overall the dive was awesome, but it went by really fast, and I think since I was concentrating on not messing anything up at that depth, I didn’t look around as much as I could have. I am really glad we have these pictures to remember it. Here we are back on the boat:

Next we headed on to the second dive of the day. Because of the depth of the first dive, we were instructed to stay above 60 feet. I brought my camera, but it malfunctioned. I got a few shots, but they were all pretty disappointing. This picture was taken by the photographer that was with us all day.

After the second dive we stopped at a small island called Half Moon Caye for lunch. This trail led to the red-footed booby bird sanctuary on the island. Yes, I said booby.

We climbed up an observation tower and saw this:

You can’t really tell from the picture, but these birds were huge. It was the wierdest thing to see them all hanging out in the tree tops. The also made some of the craziest noises I have ever heard. After lunch we headed back to the boat for our third and final dive of the day. It was another reef wall dive, and just as awesome as the rest of our dives. We saw a gigantic crab, I am talking huge. I tried taking a picture of it, and here are the results:

Can you spot it on the left? Now you can see what I mean about the camera. We also saw some big sting rays and warm water lobster. And now for our cute but dorky pose:

After the last dive we got on the boat and prepared for the long trip back to the island. I sat in the correct spot this time with the wind in my face, and I felt ok the whole way. Overall I rate the diving in Belize as the best I have ever done. Of course, I have not done much, but it was truly amazing. If you love to dive, a trip to Belize is a must.

After our time on the island, we headed inland to spend some time in the Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, so stay tuned for my next post.

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I just got home from performing my civic responsibilities at jury duty. I was summoned back in January, and promptly put it off. Then I rescheduled 2 more times and finally my number was up. It was “Show up December 1st and 2nd, or we will come and get you.” Ok, so it wasn’t really that dramatic, but it was time to get it over with.

The first day I was called for a case along with 26 others, and after a 2 hour jury selection process, I was not selected. I’ll admit I was a bit offended. I would have made a fine juror in the case. However, it was a domestic violence case, and I’m sure the defense wanted to eliminate as many young females as possible. The thing is, that was going to be a short case, probably wrapping up the same day. I figured if I got on the jury, I maybe wouldn’t have to come back on Tuesday. No such luck.

I reported this morning at 8:30, and was called for a case around 10:00. This time there were 40 people called all together, so I knew we were in for the long haul. Questioning 40 people was going to take a while. As we got started, the judge stated that he hoped this trial would be done this week. As in Friday. Today is Tuesday. Oh no I cannot get chosen. He proceeded to ask the jury to raise their hands if they would be unable to stay the rest of the week. A flurry of hands shot up and he looked amused.

Each person was allowed to state their case as to why they couldn’t do it. Some people had valid reasons, some ridiculous. I threw out the “self-employed with no one else that can get my work done by the deadline” card. I didn’t know if it would fly, but I had to try. The questioning continued until we broke for lunch around noon. The judge told us to report back at 1:45. Seriously? Who needs that long to eat lunch? Let’s just get this thing over with!

We started back up around 2:00, and by 3:00 or so the selections had been made. Please don’t say number 12 please please please. Number 11 was called and my heart was in my throat (don’t ask me why, I get nervous easily). They are going to call me I know it I just know it…”Number 17, Number 19.” My body relaxed with relief. I will not have to spend the next 3 days (and probably more judging by the number of witnesses on the list and the propensity of the defense attorney to ask millions of questions that seemingly have nothing to do with the jury or the case) sitting in a jury box. Thank the lord.

Due to losing Monday and Tuesday to the legal system, I am going to be insanely busy with work for the rest of the week, but I am going to try my hardest to continue with my honeymoon recap posts in the next few days. I got my underwater camera pictures developed, so my next post will be all about the SCUBA diving we did in Belize.

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