Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Practically free ways to travel more safely than ever...and the tired advice most people still don't follow, but we know we should :)

Over the last 2 years of having friends and guests (and ourselves) in Belize and elsewhere, we have watched as new apps and ways of keeping your stuff safe, communicating more effectively all over the world, and new inventions come up that can turn a potential vacation-ruining experience, into one that you pat yourself on the back, because your past self did your future self some favors by covering your behind!

The first part of this post is some of the newer ways you can prepare yourself before your vacation - some that didn't even exist several years ago. Second part is some of the old, tired, boring stuff we all KNOW, but we still see first hand how many people do not/will not/forget to follow...and then vacations are ruined and you just want to slap that past self of yours! So, some ideas and gentle reminders...

New stuff that is practically free, so just do it, just in case!
-Don't post on social media that you will be gone on certain dates, it is too easy to find all of someone's personal info with very little effort. Don't "check in" at the sweet places you are at, just post the pics when you get home.
(google image)
-Decide what ID's you really need to bring. For most people this is passport, medical insurance card, driver's licence, 2 credit cards, 1 debit card. Take a picture with your cell of what you are bringing, front and back, and store this in some sort of cloud storage, like dropbox.
A stack of cards you’d be sad to lose.
(google image)
-Put passcodes on your devices if they don't have them already. Also download security apps that track or even shut off your phone, such as Find my Android. This costs you NOTHING and if you lose your phone or something gets taken, what a relief to know your stuff isn't getting looked at!
Obviously sad lost Android.
(google images)
-Bring a personal alarm with you; these are so easy, legal, and when you are walking home at night or doing anything where you think there is a risk, it doesn't cost anything to have this thing handy. Even keep it on your nightstand at night. Here's a good one that should just be part of your packing when you travel:
This is not going to make or break your luggage weight.

-If you want to communicate with people back home, the most popular apps we have found that are low cost to free, are to download the Skype app, put a few bucks on it, and it works all over the world, just like a regular phone - not just video chat. For texting and sending pics, use WhatsApp or Kakao Talk. Have the people back home you want to talk to, download the app to their phone as well (except Skype, my favorite, you just call from your cell phone and the number shows up as a random US number to the other person, but they don't need the app to answer - it just looks like a regular phone call to them).
-If you are worried about your house being secure when you are gone, think about a home security system that runs on wireless, using your cell phone - these are so much easier and cheaper than the old home security systems. Here is an example:

Generic, tired old safety tips about travel.....that are STILL true and STILL people don't consistently follow, until someone gets burned...don't let it be you!
-Carry any meds with you on the plane...along with your electronics, basic toiletries, and a change of clothes.
-Even though you might feel like a lil old lady with a pillbox, do pack some basic first aid things that are relevant to where you are going. Things like, emergency antibiotics for UTIs or traveler's diarrhea (your future self will thank you!!!!), band aids, antibacterial gel like Neosporin, aspirin, and extra girly items even if you aren't supposed to be on your special time.
Totally unnecessary purchase (google image)
-Do just a little bit of extra work to find out how locals dress where you are going. It's the worst to show up with a bunch of flip flops and yoga clothes and feel like a bum, or be an overdressed uptight person when everyone else is totally comfortable. This also makes you stand out much less, which you want!
- If you meet someone very interested in what you do for a living, where you are staying, etc, (even another tourist), be very aware of impressing those around you with money talk - where tourists go, so do thieves, and they are really, really good at overhearing these kinds of things to mark those that have some money. Oh, and don't talk about the exact place you are staying :)
-When you go out at night, bring the BASICS as much as you can. Leave a bit in different places on your body if you can, if you are in a dicey place. BE DISCREET when you are pulling out your cash about where it is and how much it is.
-Leave wedding rings and sentimental jewelry at home!
-Stay in brightly lit areas with tourist traffic and don't go off by yourself. This happens all.the.time when people are lulled into a sense of security.
-Just wear the SPF and bug spray....don't be a hero.
-If the people in town or the hotel staff tell you to not leave things on the porch, keep door locked, stay away from certain places, etc.....DO IT! They are telling you for a reason.
-Don't let anyone walk back with you if you are heading to your hotel. If you feel like you are being followed, head to busier areas, and make it clear you see the person. 
-Don't make yourself a target by getting drunk, being loud, being obnoxious, being really strange, or being rude to locals.
(google image)
-Use the safes and don't leave stuff out when you leave!! And LOCK your door at night. Amazing how many people forget this one. We have all done it.

A final note on safety, one of my BIGGEST PET PEEVES is when a US news site will post some crime committed in some exotic place in the world, and people make comments like, “well now that place is off my list.” Meanwhile, in their own home city, crimes are going on by the dozens. DO NOT decide about where to vacation based on one random news story, because you may be missing out on some of life’s greatest experiences. If you are truly concerned about crime in a place you haven’t gone, look online at their local newspapers or stalk the city on facebook groups – in small towns like Placencia, you will find the most honest knowledge from people that live here, about what is really happening.

Or, just come to Placencia, and on your first day, feed some treats to one of the beach dogs. They will then follow you around like a security team the rest of your trip  (not that you need it here!)
Actual beach dogs that will follow you here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Step by step guide to taking your (small) dog to Belize from the US! (as of 12/2016 rules)

Hopefully you have stumbled on this blog after googling how to get your dog into Belize from the US, because it seems stressful, complicated, and there is WAY too much information out there to make sense of it. You will feel like you have no idea what you are doing, and that what you are doing is probably wrong. I successfully brought my dog in and out many times and I wanted to clear up some of the misinformation - however as you will read below there is still some conflicting info.
Relevent Google image.

Note: here is the official latest info; NOTE I JUST CALLED THE APHIS OFFICE AND THEY JUST CHANGED THEIR WEBSITE AND UPDATED THE APHIS FORM-new form below (as of 12/19/16.)

This one is specific to Belize. You will note that the area for the USDA signature is blocked out. When I just took my dog through in August 2016, the Belize BAHA officer told me that I now needed the USDA signature/stamp. This means you would have to send the APHIS form to your state USDA office after your veterinarian fills the form out. Note that this was never required/stated before. Although I argued for a while with this gentleman, he assured me I needed the stamp. Fast forward to Dec 2016, and I send the form dutifully in to USDA as told, for my next Belize dog visit. USDA JUST called me (12/20/2016) to tell me this stamp isn't needed. If you are moving to Belize, LOL, this is a good introduction to some of the frustrations you will face (different rules based on who you get.) The following is what I have verified to be true as of Dec 2016!

****When I took the dog through on 12/28/16, the BAHA officer accepted my form with the USDA stamp (and I had to beg the USDA to stamp it for me just in case, although they reassured me it was not needed.) The BAHA officer told me that the stamp IS needed unless you have a pet passport, which you can request through BAHA. I explained that the USDA told me I didn't need the stamp. I could not get a straight answer. My advice is, get documentation through an email with Ms. Melody (see below) and print off the sites below where it says you don't need the stamp - or be safe and get the stamp. As I take my dog through several times a year, I will be looking into the pet passport and will update how that goes!

****UPDATE - I requested a Pet Passport from Ms Melody 4/2017, and brought the dog in with the Pet Passport (which was painless and as easy to get as the regular permit) this last time. It was super easy when I arrived at BZE and no questions asked. I had a temporary printed pet passport, and BAHA had the actual document at their office waiting for me. It is $100 for the whole year and then you update it once a year. You don't have to inform BAHA that you are coming in, or get the permit, when you have the passport. You do have to get the APHIS form, but I was told FOR SURE you don't need the USDA stamp especially with Pet Passport. 
If you do not have the Pet Passport, read on! (Even if you do have the passport there is some helpful info here!)
1.) Before anything else, get your plane tickets squared away - I fly United, and they are very pet friendly. Caveat - my dog is really small so he can go in the cabin with me. If you are traveling with your dog as cargo, I will have missed a few steps for you. I know Delta has just changed their pet restrictions and most can't fly your dog as cargo during certain times of year. This whole thing is a much bigger pain for you. :(
Pretty much the best flight ever, for dog loving, plane riding traveler; Google image.

Plane tickets - with United, I have to make a phone call to customer service to find out what flights are dog friendly (they have a limit on how many dogs per flight, and some planes are too small). If you just try to book online and check the "I have a pet" box, they won't let you book. Also, I don't book over the phone because you get charged now for phone bookings. Hang up with nice lady on the phone, get online and book tickets, and call back. The operator will confirm that you can have dogs on the flight you booked, and charge you $125 per way (:() and also give you a confirmation # for your pup. Make sure you leave 2-3 hours at layovers for your sanity, so you can go let the dog use the bathroom outside.

2.) First step -  you need an "Import Permit" (UNLESS YOU HAVE PET PASSPORT - THIS IS NOT NEEDED WITH PET PASSPORT) from The Belize Animal Health Administration (BAHA). This is issued by BAHA to the airport and is there when you arrive, but note that the BAHA people are only at the airport between about 9-5, 7 days a week - so schedule your incoming flight during that time. To get the permit, first print out this application:
Note - if you don't already have this, download the free app called Cam Scanner. You can hand write out the form, then scan it in picture form on Cam Scanner - this app is totally awesome and I use it all the time. Emailed docs look very professional.

Attach application to an email and send to this address: animalhealth@baha.org.bz. Current person I talked to was Ms. Melody Robateau; she is very nice.

The first email I sent looked like this:

Hello, I will be moving to Placencia, Belize from the USA and I would like to take my pet dog, a 3 year old Chihuahua, with me. I would like to request an approval import permit. Please let me know if there is anything else I need to do to get this approval.

If I can have this approval, can it be emailed to me? My email is _________________. I very much appreciate your help and assistance, and again please let me know if there is anything I can do to help the process. Thanks so much! Attached is my application.

**Being very gracious and nice always helps.

Here is her other contact info:
Ms. Melody Robateau
Administrative Assistant/Permit Officer
Animal Health Department
Belize Agricultural Health Authority
Central Farm, Cayo District, BELIZE, C. America
Tel: (501) 824 4899/72/73
Fax: (501) 824 4889/3773

They are pretty good - they usually email you the permit within a week and it is good for 90 days - so you technically have a 90 day window to schedule your flight. Please note I did have to call this last time and it took 2 weeks, so don't wait too long.  Print a copy of the permit they email you to have on hand at the airport just in case.

3.) You have to see a USDA certified vet no more than 14 days before your trip (PLEASE NOTE - I have heard this number is anywhere from 7-10-14 days. I always try for 7 days before. The link at BAHA says 14 days:
**note there ARE SOME BAHA OFFICERS who are going to have differing opinions - I have experienced this - note 2c where it says other conditions as specified!! - you may want to have this printed with you.

If you don't have a USDA vet, call around to vet offices and ask if they do travel forms for pets. My vet made me go through Pet Relocation - because vets have gotten sued in the past when people showed up in other countries with dogs and then had problems. Pet Relocation (if you choose to use, you don't have to unless specified) (http://www.petrelocation.com/   )will try to sell you a whole bunch of services, but you don't need them to ship your pet for you - you will feel like a wreck the first time you do this, convinced that your pet will be quarantined, but then after you do it once you will be a master. Just tell them you are going to Belize and want them to email you the latest rules. NOTE they will do a lot of overkill!!! Most of the papers they say you need are never asked for.
Purely for example if you are required to do this:
Pet Relocators told me I needed the Certification of Treatment against Ticks and Tapeworms, which I purchased here (and was never asked for, you can pay the few bucks and get it-I can't find it free anywhere)
Pet Relocators also told me I needed this (this may be only for certain airlines, or if pet is traveling cargo, but it is free so if you want it, do it!)

I brought the APHIS form with me to the appointment and your vet will fill them out. NOTE - your dog has to have proof of rabies shot and it has to be more than 30 days out from your travel time (their first shot can't be within 30 days of your trip). I also brought my proof of rabies shots with me on the trip just in case.

Google Image that probably reflects your feelings right now. We are almost done. 
I mean, most people have zero anxiety/things on your mind/racing thoughts the week before a major move or international trip anyway, right?
Google image of stress. Relevant to dog topics.
Finally, the first time I flew with my dog Sticks, I actually stopped by the United Airlines desk a few days before my flight, to show them my pet travel bag, to ensure it was OK. I once met a guy who was traveling with a pet, and he found out last minute that his bag wasn't OK, and it screwed up everything for him. Don't be like him.
Appropriate travel bag and a picture I actually took myself. Actual dog of blogger.
I will also tell you my experience of showing up at the Belize Airport. (By the way, if you are taking a puddle jumper after your other flight, they don't give a hoot about your lap dog. I took my dog out of the bag on that flight, no charge and you don't have to worry about that one on Tropic Air. Love them.) When you show up at the airport, I was very concerned about letting my dog pee, and this was not an option for a while. You have to get in line for immigration and customs, and then right past customs they will show you to a door that says BAHA. The guys in there were very nice. They just looked at my APHIS form, made a couple jokes (is that a dog or a hamster LOLZ <he's 4 pounds>, and charged me about $65 Belize dollars for the dog permit. I THEN was able to finally find a door on our way to check in for our Tropic flight (door to the right) where the dog finally peed.

Finally, I want to note that getting the dog back INTO the US was a total cake walk compared to this. If you are only bringing your dog to Belize for a short time (a few weeks) you just need proof of rabies shot and the vet information who administered it (should be on the same form). (Also, don't bring Belize dog food into the US - they do sometimes ask.) At customs, the guys just eyeballed the form and we were on our way. That is literally all it takes to bring dogs back into the US.

Let me summarize and organize this by saying- the papers you should have when you leave for Belize are the following:
1.) APHIS form signed by your vet (7-10-14 days before - shoot for 7 if you can)
2.) A copy of the Import Permit (only if you don't have pet passport)
3.) Proof of rabies shots (shot being more than 30 days before trip)
***Based on my August experience at BAHA, I am also printing out an email from Ms. Robateau showing that I don't need the USDA stamp, as well as the BAHA website above where it says vet certificate can be within 14 days, AND the USDA website above where it says USDA stamp not needed. This should cover all your bases, don't be like me on my August visit where you don't have any evidence, in case you get a BAHA official who says you don't have the right stuff!!!

And that's it! :-p Your dog will love Belize....it is my dog's favorite place in the world :)
Actual dog of blogger, in an unfiltered image of him enjoying the beach in Belize. He is smiling as you can see.
Total Cost to bring your dog to Belize: $125 per way on the airline, $25-75 for your vet visit, plus maybe $50 for a travel bag. However, as they say, having your dog in paradise = priceless!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Scarlet Macaws, humpback whale sightings, new yoga classes, and what else to do in Placencia this week!!

It has been a thrilling week in Placencia!!

We had a once in a blue moon sighting in Placencia this past week....this poor humpback whale got a bit off course and ended up inside the reef wall! Maybe he decided that it was time for some warmer waters....thanks to Annelise for taking pictures and doing her part to inform the right people to get the whale back on course! Many people got to experience as long as a half hour of boating next to the whale!!
For more locally authentic wildlife, if you are in Belize from now through March, a huge attraction is to see the Scarlet Macaws! Here is some more information:
Picture from Viva Belize
Doyle with Dtourz often goes on this tour! He also has a night jungle hike...where he has recently seen TWO elusive jaguars!

Right in the village, at Secret Garden Day Spa, there is a new yoga deck!! Here is the new schedule of classes....is there anything more relaxing and exotic than doing beach yoga on the Caribbean??
Sue posted this very endearing picture today....the guests at Caribbean Beach Cabanas had an exciting day, as Sue and Carlos went out kayaking on our shore out front with a guest, to Placencia Caye, where the guest had a manatee swim right under her kayak!! Here are the guests discussing their adventures - the rest went bone fishing and to a private island today!
And for your dinner plans......if you are looking for a unique and exotic place to eat while you are in Placencia, we recommend a quick 10 minute cab ride to Tiger, an Indian Caribbean restaurant that is one of the most exotic and memorable meals I've had! Here are some pictures from their facebook page:

High season is in full swing and it has not disappointed!!! Here are some recent photos I found....if you want to get excited for your trip, do yourself a favor and type #placencia into google. You will hit on all the photos that tourists and locals have recently taken....here are some of my favorites from Instagram!

Crazy pelicans (they will stare right at you from inches away) at Ranguana Caye (ranguanacaye)

Beautiful shot of the Placencia Lagoon (depictionpaintings)
Can't figure out if this is at Tipsy Tuna or maybe Mango's? (dannyhun_photography)

New resort north of the peninsula...(kaanabelize)
Silk Caye (bazzad18)