Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What do Belize expats buy from the US when they go back for a visit, because they can't get it here?

We are going back to the US for a visit and we have been keeping track of what we can't get down here, to shop for at home. I have been asked a few times what you can't get in Belize, and it is a common courtesy to ask your friends if they need you to bring back anything when you go for a visit.

I have been trying very hard to simplify while we are here, so by no means is this an exhaustive list. I also haven't bought any clothes for 3 months....today I was told that there was a 4 inch hole in the back of my shorts in an unfortunate place. I am now down to 3 pairs of shorts. This is a must buy :) Different things are obviously important to different people; this is just a snapshot of our experience.

I so miss Target :) It is really the only store I miss. I like going and getting everything I need at one place. When I get to go to (blissfully air conditioned) Target, here is my list:

Flea collars (for the dog, not me)
Dog treats made in the USA (no judging of other countries dog treats, just a precaution:) )
Queen sheets-hard to find sometimes, in the variety at home
Acrylic paint-pretty expensive and hard to find here
Sunglasses-these are pretty pricey here ($10 US--Ok that is not expensive, but I go through these really fast so I buy like $3 ones at home)
Razors-much cheaper at home and the brand I like is not here
Frisbees-can get cheaply
Snorkel gear-cheaper at home
Curtains-same reason as the sheets
Hand held can opener-for some reason the ones down here don't hold up we have heard!
Eye drops-this comes from Chris, who needs them due to an eye condition, you can't get good ones here
Clothes-you really can't buy a large variety of clothes here
Flip Flops-same reason
Faucets-not a good selection here
More bathing suits-and not frilly ones, more like down to business sporty ones

Some things that we didn't think we would need, already own, but are now bringing down:
Air pump
Label maker
Board games
Satellite radio
A computer to TV hook up
Hand Vac
Kitchen stuff like canisters, tongs, grill equipment, cookie sheets, casserole pan
Hiking boots
To go coffee mugs
A few other random bar and cooking tools

Lastly, we are bringing cornhole baggos and we are going to build cornhole boards--Cornhole is at most parties in Ohio--I don't know how prevalent it is anywhere else but we are going to bring cornhole to Placencia!! I can't wait!! it is the perfect environment for it :)

This will be another post at some point, but some things that came to mind of what we DIDN'T need and brought back...
Long sleeves
Dressy clothes
Dressy shoes
Nail polish and remover
Hair dryer/curler/straightener
Perfume and body spray (Off Woods DEET and SPF are my perfumes now)
Much less socks and underwear than you think you'll need
(there is a definite theme here.)

And last thought on this topic....what I was anxious about doing without, but found I don't miss...
Makeup-specific brands
Perfume and nail polish
Doing my hair all fancy
Wearing different varieties of clothes and dressing up
All of the super healthy food I ate at home (Vibrant Greens, quinoa and kale, Whole-Foods type stuff)
Protein Shakes
Good haircuts
Specific skin regimen stuff
Really awesome detergent and dryer-dried clothes (hanging the clothes makes them crunchy but who cares)
The gym (just exercise outside)
The awesome coffeemaker we had-the coffee down here is good even in a drip machine
A huge kitchen
A big house :) (As long as I have a big bed :) )
My own garden (with all the farmer's markets and year round warmth....no complaints :) )

In other news, this week we have been having  a great time with Ray. We had the Rotary Beach Olympics, where local businesses sponsor their teams and the winner gets a trophy, bragging rights, liquor, and a fun time. It was HOT Sunday, but beautiful, and here are some shots of the day:

 Not really winning anything.
 Sue joining but also not really winning anything.
Also, Ray's first day, I took a picture admiring this sailboat:

Only to find out that it was our friend Chris and his friend Tom! They stopped up and had a visit, they were awesome at maneuvering the boat!

We also went to the new restaurant on the lagoon side of Belize Ocean Club, and it had a BREATHTAKING view of the Maya mountains....gorgeous place to have dinner!
The week is already flying by. We plan on finding some new free places to snorkel while Ray is here...and we are going to attempt to organize a beach BBQ while Ray is here, before we all leave :)

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to come to Placencia Village and do a lot of fun stuff on the cheap!

You can really blow a lot of money on any vacation by taking excursions every day, going to expensive dinners every night-but realistically, most of us need to find at least SOME cheap stuff to do on the "off days." Some people are OK with lounging by the pool or beach for days, but others want to do adventures, so here are some ideas you can use! I recommend taking at least a couple excursions, but you can have a very fulfilling and meaningful vacation doing these too! (note, I used some googled stock photos so credit for some of these pics goes to the internet :) )

1.) Rent a bike! You can rent them at Captain Jak's (northern village on the main street). We offer bike usage to guests for free as well. So what do you do when you bike around? Some ideas:
-bike down to the pier and watch the fishing boats
-have a picnic on the MANY beaches-stop at street food stands and farmer's markets, where you can eat very cheaply
-bike up to Mariposa and have a drink during happy hour-they have a pool and good specials!
-for the adventurous-bike all the way to Maya Beach--bring your own snorkel gear, or rent it from the gas station down by the pier--you can snorkel off of Maya Breeze, or further south, at Los Porticos. You can see a bunch of coral and fish!
-You can also bike to Maya Breeze and rent a kayak for cheap, and kayak to False Caye--a 30 minute paddle and you can see amazing underwater life!
-Bike to Belize Ocean Club, where you can hang out at their pool, paddleboard or kayak off their beach for free-just buy a couple drinks at their awesome bar :)
-Bike to Seine Bight and visit the Goss chocolate factory-right by Blue Crab Beach
2.) Fishing-if you bring your own pole, you can fish anywhere you choose, and if you take your fish to JD's, they will cook it for you. If you stay with us, we have a beach barbecue you can use for free! You can also talk to the fishermen at the pier and get fish from them too :)
3.) Visit Sunset Point behind the soccer field...you can walk out on the dock and get an amazing view of the sunset....see here!
4.) If you can stomach taking the bus-take the bus to the Inland Blue Hole-this is a turquoise hole where you can swim, you can hike, this is a really great cheap thrill!
5.) Happy hours at Tipsy Tuna and Barefoot Bar--the scenery can't be beat....beachfront comfortable chairs where you can chill out and people watch....always something entertaining to see!
6.) Yoli's on Friday night....there is music and great specials, this is a highlight for most people!
7.) Lunch delivery--I mention this a lot....get lunch delivered to your door, HUGE portion....for $5 US! You can try all the local food and not really leave your chair.
8.) At Caribbean Beach Cabanas, we have snorkel equipment, floats, palapas, beach chairs, etc that come with your room. I would recommend staying at a place that offers this kind of amenity because it allows you to have a couple very fun and free days. A SUPER FUN thing we do frequently is to snorkel out and collect shells and coral, which are also great souvenirs :)

9:) Speaking of souvenirs--do yourself a favor--visit any grocery store and buy a bunch of small bottles of hot sauce for people back home--less than a dollar and it is very local and fun present :) Other ideas--small jars of guava/mango/habanero/banana/coconut jellies, which are a couple bucks.
10.) Go on a dolphin watch--ask around when you are here--there are times of year where you can almost swim with them right off shore!
In other news, we are finally on Trip Advisor, and thanks to some internet magic, we are rated #14 of 24 specialty places in Placencia! The more good reviews we get the higher our rating so come on down! :)

We are also now on VRBO-

And finally, Here was a picture of a great sunset from the last couple days....
 Nighttime under the palapa.....
And, Ray, Dave's best friend from childhood, made a last minute visit to us and we are having a great time with him! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 must-try food and drinks in Placencia! And, why you shouldn't watch JAWS week on A&E if you live on the beach.

Most people will come to Placencia for relaxation, because the minute you turn to drive down the peninsula, you are surrounded by beautiful images of the water, gorgeous homes and hotels, palm trees, birds, the shoreline, etc. I have heard that Placencia is where people from the rest of Belize go to vacation. It may not be a place people visit to necessarily have a food or drink experience (no craft beer here-- only Belikin beer can be sold.....but there are other unique drinks here); you can't get all of these elsewhere, and it will really enhance your vacation(to have authentic local stuff as opposed to chains!) This list is based on my experience in the last 6 months, as well as the opinions of visitors and locals that I have talked to...
(not based in order of importance :) )

1.) Marie Sharps--a carrot based hot sauce made locally. It is so, so good, much better than Tabasco or any other regularly used sauce in the US. There are many varieties, and at Ming market they sell small sample bottles for $.90 US--this is also a great souvenir to take home!

2.) Tutti Frutti Gelato-it is as good as it looks in the picture! It is ridiculous. The owners bring their ingredients from Italy. It is in the heart of town, right by Rumfish, and you can walk there from our place!
3.) Coconut rum with coconut water and a lime (preferably out of a real coconut!) Barefoot bar calls this "Crazy Coconut." Not all the bars have coconut water. If you can find Marlin on your trip, he will sell you a large container of coconut water for $5 US, and you can keep this in your fridge and mix it with local coconut rum all week. You can also buy coconut water at any local store. The local brand Old Master is the tastiest coconut rum in my opinion :) At our resort the first thing we do when you settle in is make one of these in a coconut!

4.) Speaking of drinks....at Rumfish they have premixed drinks at the bar, with fresh ingredients, and they make all kinds of margaritas and mojitos. The best one is a watermelon mojito and the orange jalapeno margarita. Ask what the mixes are that day, you can't go wrong :)
5.) Eat gibnut because it is a good story (you can tell people you ate rat). Gibnuts are cute, weird, and gross all at the same time. They taste fine and it is a local delicacy that even the Queen ate when she visited Belize, where it got its nickname The Queen's Rat. It looks like Bambi and a rat had a baby. Just eat it. There is a spectacular local place to get local food called Mim's--it looks like a shack from the outside but it always has a line of locals and tourists for lunch.
6.) Seaweed shakes--either from the Shak or Brewed Awakenings--they are so good and also nutritious. I felt I was coming down with something not long ago and after one of these I felt fine. Psychosomatic or not, they are fun and that is what matters. Brewed Awakenings is always crowded and has all kinds of coffee drinks that are way better than Starbucks--even their espresso shots--it should get its own listing.
7.) Espresso martini from Maya Beach Bistro--this is a drive but you are going there anyway, so do yourself a favor and get one! This one is courtesy of Shannon, an espresso martini connoisseur, and we agreed that it was the best ever.
8.) Stewed chicken, rice, and beans-if you don't add this to your Belize food list it is just not legit. A fun way to do this is--call Dawn's Grill, Crow's Nest, or the Galley, and ask them to deliver you lunch on a day you are lounging at the beach. For $5 US, these three places will deliver you the food and all three of these places are very good. Throw some Marie Sharp's on it. It also comes with potato salad or coleslaw--mix that all up with the rice and chicken juice if you really want to have a good time. I have been eating this lunch about 4-5 x a week for several months. I still love it and despite white rice's bad reputation for making people fat, I have never felt better and am in fact not fat yet. This also comes with a fried plantain which deserves its own listing. Yum.
Now imagine eating this on the beach:
9.) This one is a real sleeper and really sets my list apart. I originally thought that the tortilla chips down here were not so good. Then, I found these:
These are the best tortilla chips ever. One day you are here, stop at one of the many farmer's markets and buy 2 large avocados, an onion, a couple tomatoes, some cilantro, and a lime. Maybe a jalapeno if you are so inclined. Mash all this together and add some salt. Then, get a belikin and sit on your beach chair and feel smug because you made this happen for like $5 US.

10.) Our guest Kate said that this wine was the best she had ever had, and the only place they have it is at La Dolce Vita-I am adding this to the list because there is a complaint that wine is not good here and it is expensive. This was good and not expensive, yay! They bring it over from Italy. That is two things on the list brought from Italy if you are keeping track. They are known for good food and wine, so that makes sense, and, you can have it in Belize instead of across the globe.

Some other random going ons here. Ray, Dave's best friend from childhood, is coming to visit this week so Dave is like a kid on Christmas. We leave soon for a visit to the US and 2 weddings, and then we are back to start the end of low season and our first high season! We are starting to get some reservations for December through February and we couldn't be more excited!

Dave and Vic are working on building brand new custom beds, kitchens, and built ins for the cabanas. It looks amazing but I am going to try to hold off on the pictures until it is done. I will add this picture of the bedroom in the casita--yes, we jammed a king bed in there temporarily, because it is the only bed we can tolerate sleeping on together, between our abnormal heights and the dog. Even though it is the smallest bedroom I have ever had it is my favorite :) I mean, a turquoise ceiling??
I caught this picture the other day.....it has been an outrageously beautiful week, although the rain is back a little today:
Dave caught this sunrise the other morning...
And finally, this was this morning :) Are you thinking "awwwwww!" I bet you are! The poor dog has oil based paint all over his back and legs, due to me painting the door frame yesterday (we held him for 99% of the time needed to dry. How does that 1% always get you??) so my next project is going to be to deal with that.

Last thought for today is, it is Jaws week on A&E. Jaws was on last night, tonight is Jaws II and Wednesday is Jaws III. I have had a fear of being in ocean water where I can't stand since I saw this movie when I was 10. I haven't watched these movies since then. Now that I live on the water, this was poor timing on A&E's part. They had the nerve to remind the viewers that most shark attacks happen in 3 feet of water, in case you thought that would keep you safe. And yes, I am going to watch them all. 

Ironically, the water has been so clear this week that Dave and I snorkeled out front, and we saw a ton of fish.....not the least of which was an irritable looking barracuda. You better believe I did research about the chances of this fish having a problem with us. Turns out there is very little chance of this. However, something to be aware of; and don't YouTube Barracuda attacks on humans. if you see this fish, simply pleasantly swim the other way:
 Because after watching YouTube and Jaws, like me, the above fish will actually look more like this to you: (Also an actual barracuda but I am sure this one doesn't swim near shore.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

What to pack for your trip to Belize-Not your normal trip!!

Here is an easy list to bookmark for your trip:

-Every bathing suit you own. And buy a couple extra.

-Flip flops for sure!

-Several--at least one for each day you are here, unless you do laundry-pairs of comfortable shorts (you will sweat A LOT and will not want to re-wear).

-The same number of tank tops or tee shirts.

-A sturdy pair of flip flops or Tevas, or whatever really comfortable walking sandal you have. I would bring a back up pair, and also a pair of running shoes you can hike in.Water shoes if you have them. If you are interested in some deep jungle hikes, bring a pair that you can get wet, and a bag to bring them home in.

-Bring a travel umbrella and a poncho--everyone looks like a tourist in a poncho but sometimes, who cares--it really can save a day from being ruined into being salvageable if you can be outside.

-Sunglasses, sunscreen (like 2-3 bottles for a week trip), deep woods off (2-3 bottles for a week trip), Avon Skin So soft or baby oil (the only repellent for sand fleas), benedryl (in case of jellyfish sting).
Sand flea bites....they itch 100x worse than a mosquito bite...
-Bring one long sleeved shirt if you are here in the winter months--don't bother from March-Oct--I have not needed or worn long sleeves since we have been coming here at the end of January. Sometimes people like to snorkel in these too.

-Bring all your scuba diving needs if this is your thing. Bring snorkel gear in case your hotel doesn't have it (we do!!)

-A surge protector is recommended--we have had no problems here, but during a storm the electricity can be erratic, and it can fry your electronics.
-Bring some ziploc bags-- in case of rain you will want to put your cell phone in one, if you go kayaking this serves as a waterproof bag, in your room--you will want to put any food in this as the bugs have food radar that is not of this world.

-For females--seriously, coming from a former high maintenance hair and makeup person---do not bother with a hair dryer, curler, straightener--I have not used one in months and I am seriously high need in this area. you will not do anything but let your hair air dry once you are here, and if you try doing anything fancy with your hair, it will look like frizz in 5 minutes. The more natural the better. A little mousse or gel if you have curly hair and let it air dry looks the best. Straight hair people--not sure what to tell you as this is really foreign to me. But hair doesn't stay straight down here unless it is natural that way. For makeup, some lip gloss with SPF and some waterproof mascara really will be enough. Don't bother with a manicure or pedicure as it will last 2-3 days down here! I'd also leave the perfume at home, it just attracts bugs, and Deep Woods off can be your scent while you are here :)

-Bring a small backpack/athletic bag/tie string bag for your adventures. Always carry a ziploc bag, bathing suit, and towel, along with the SPF, baby oil, and bug spray wherever you go on your trip.

-In Belize you just get used to feeling kind of sticky and dirty, but it is in a fun way!! You do need to keep up on the SPF and the bug spray, and because you are on the coast pretty often, you are frequently on the sand. You just become a dirty mess with all of this. It becomes the new normal and hopefully by the end of the trip it doesn't bother you at all :)

-Maybe bring 1-2 nicer outfits (sundresses, nicer shorts and shirts) for dinners out. Leave the nice jewelry at home, both because it is hot, and a developing country, and no one down here wears a bunch of jewelry outside of maybe some dangly inexpensive earrings.

-We have beach towels here, and all the normal stuff that comes with a hotel, so don't bother with bringing your own!

-We also have a lot of water toys, inner tubes, water weenies, etc., including playing cards and games.

-Bring your kindle or a couple books you want to read (in the hammock is recommended).

-Binoculars if this is your thing....bird watching etc.

-A big beach bag wouldn't hurt if you have one

-All the other normal stuff that we worry about forgetting...)...an extra hat, watch, phone chargers, passport, 2nd photo ID just in case. No need to worry about exchanging your US dollars, they are accepted widely here. 2:1 Belize to US, and all prices are in Belize dollars. If the charge is, say, $30, just hand them $15 US and they won't bat an eyelash!