Belize Zoo

2 Aug

I must start this off by saying that I am not a zoo person.  The thought of spending an entire day (and a spending a small fortune) walking around a zoo, among crowds of people, all to see a some sleeping animals from 20 yards away, does nothing for me.  If I had the option, I’d rather stay home and watch the National Geographic channel from my couch.  Simply stated…zoos are not my thing and you will rarely find me making them a part of a family adventure.  I look at zoo excursions as more of a time killer when all else fails or simply something I do to appease my persistent children (shhh! don’t tell them that).

So that being said, while in Belize this summer, my kids started begging to visit the Belize Zoo.  I was totally hesitant.  The weather was insanely hot, the mosquitoes were out in full force, and bottom line… zoos aren’t my thing.  While the Belize Zoo prides itself in being a rescue and rehabilitation center to local animals, they also offer some unique and once in a lifetime animal encounters.  I knew that a visit would be supporting a great cause and would have an educational aspect that I always strive for with my kids…but still it’s the “zoo” thing.  So after a few beers poolside, pleading children, and the possibility of doing the “once in a lifetime experience” of  the Jaguar encounter (explanation at bottom of page), I reluctantly agreed.  My expectations were low and it made clear that our time was limited.

We arrived at the zoo right at the peak of the heat.  Let me explain that this is not just hot, it was over the top hot.  The kind of hot that burns your skin and instantly makes you soaking wet in sweat.  We quickly learned that it was even too hot for “Junior” the jaguar to be taking visitors into his cage, so we had to settle for a visit with the Tapirs (photo below of this interesting creature).  I was instantly disappointed, but logically knew that getting inside a cage with a grumpy jaguar is probably not a great idea.  Maybe a blessing in disguise.

We wandered through this amazingly well kept facility, taking a quick look at the local animals of Central America.  My feelings about zoos started to change for the better.  We were able to hang out in the enclosure with the Tapirs, the national animal of Belize, and get up close to some really unique creatures. Our visit was quick, informative, had no crowds, and the kids had a blast.  We ended with an ice cream from the gift shop, experienced something totally new, and supported a great cause all during our quick and informative 45 minute stop (exactly how a zoo should be seen).  Perfection!

Jaguar experience:  So, for $50 USD, 5 people can pile in a cage, inside the enclosure of a Jaguar. You would have the opportunity to learn from an animal trainer about “Junior” the jaguar, feed him a little snack of raw chicken, and even get a kiss from him.  Sound crazy?  Absolutely yes, but talk about a once in a lifetime experience!  Hopefully my next visit to Belize will be a little cooler for Junior and I’ll have a chance to get up close and personal.

Golf Cart Adventures in Belize

10 Jul

The small town of San Pedro, Belize is known for their cobblestone roads and tiny streets packed with golf carts.  Thats right, the main source of transportation on this tiny little tropical island is the golf cart.  So, we rented our own cart & set off with all 4 kids in tow, to discover and explore the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize.  What a fabulous day we had!  Our little adventure really gave my kids a look at how the locals of Belize live and created some great memories.

We stopped at a small local school that many of the poorest children in San Pedro attend. My kids were fascinated by the differences from their school in the U.S. and are still compelled to do something to help the school children of San Pedro.  We even left the school with a basketball from our local University.

We had to stop at my favorite San Pedro restaurant, Waraguma, for some lobster papusas!  Yumm!!!

Minor injuries are a must on every adventure with my brood.  Yes, I almost fed my 8 year old to a 100 pound Tarpon fish.  A little blood with a few tears and he was all recovered.

After leaving the town, we navigated through the north end of the island.  We rode through the tiny jungle lined paths and made a quick stop for cereal and pasta at the Mata Grande Market.

No trip would be complete without a coconut or two…or one really HUGE coconut!

What a day.  Full of fun, sun, lots of bumps, and adventure!

Welcome to the Jungle

9 Jul

First, I must start by saying that I consider myself to be pretty adventurous.  I don’t have any huge phobias, I am willing to try new things, and I definitely consider myself to be brave.  Extreme is what I set out to do on our latest family adventure and the mission was accomplished.  My desire for adventure and thrill rocked my little world!

This summer, I set out with the family for something totally unique, high intensity, and an ideal situation to create some long lasting memories. I thought that with having 3 wild and crazy boys, an adventurous daughter (that could use a little toughening up), and a flexible husband…a few days in the jungle of Central America would be a great adventure.  It was an adventure alright!  We experienced amazing new situations and experiences as a family…although it was a bit painful at times.  It was crazier than I could have imagined and the conclusion is that the jungle is not for wimps!

We began our Central American adventure in high adventure mode.  After traveling for what seemed like hours on end, I led the family away from the airport and headed deep into the Belize jungle for a stay at the Caves Branches Jungle Lodge.  Three days in a treehouse, limited electricity (no hairdryers, TV, & air conditioning), and only walls of screen to protect us from the life of the jungle.  The place was unique and beautiful.  I felt like I was a million miles away from it all and I was ready for the adventure to begin.

We spent the days exploring the local cave systems and learning about the Mayan culture.  We rode around in a vintage bus, had a picnic lunch in a cave, climbed to the top of a Mayan temple, and played in the rivers throughout the jungle.  The adventure factor was high, the history was amazing, and the weather was hot!  I returned to the lodge each day ready for a cold beer and loving the heavily shaded pool!  Little did I know that while I felt the days were adventurous, the nights were the real adventure.

When the sun set, the jungle became a whole different world.  The humidity rose, the noises got louder, and the bugs became braver.  Actually, the 4 inch cockroaches can’t even be considered bugs, they were more like nasty little monsters…yuck!  I slept with one eye open (when I could actually fall asleep).  I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the noises in the dark or what could appear right in front of me if I turned on a light.  My one and only nighttime bathroom visit included bumping into my husband while we both were chasing a cockroach with DEET bug repellant.  Not a pretty sight I’m sure.  Just a side note, DEET does not kill massive cockroaches.  It actually doesn’t even slow them down.  I decided it was better to just wait to use the restroom until morning, regardless of how uncomfortable it became.  I was also so incredibly thankful that my poor husband was the only one suffering from a case of montezuma’s revenge (sorry Honey!).  It was hot, loud, and I was scared.  I patiently waited each night for morning to come so I could actually relax and get a couple of hours of shut eye.

Over all, (speaking after recovering for 6 days in a fabulous tropical beach resort) this was an amazing experience.  A bit painful at times (okay, it was horrible at times), but I wouldn’t change a thing.  The stories and experiences we shared are irreplaceable.  I feel proud and strong.  I can say I survived and my kids have experienced something that none of their friends have ever done.  I set out for an adventure and was it ever an “adventure”!

My daughter will never again be squeamish about the bugs at home and my boys will always view me as one pretty brave Mama!  I can cross staying in the jungle off my bucket list and start looking toward what to do next to top this adventure of a lifetime.  I just know that my next extreme  family experience will involve air-conditioning and hopefully no cockroaches!

Staycation Anyone?

6 Jul

Spending quality family time together and creating memories doesn’t have to involve thousands of dollars or airline travel.  Great memories can happen right in your backyard…literally.  Grab the kids, dump the screens for a few days, and reconnect.  It’s time to take a Staycation!

A staycation is the art of staying local but acting like you are on a vacation.  It is a great way to have some quality family time without the hassle and expense of a traditional vacation.  The possibilities of things to do are endless and with some planning and preparation you are sure to create some amazing family memories.

First, suffer the typical pre-vacation stress that you would if you were actually going away.  Clean your house, “pack” your clothes, pay bills, stock up on food, and let the office know you are on vacation.  Being prepared is the most important part!  You don’t want to spend your entire staycation looking for matching socks and running errands.

Also, decide as a family what everyone would enjoy doing and come up with a plan beforehand.  Water parks, amusements parks, museums, and movies are all great places to spend time together as a family.  The summer months are also full of free concerts, outdoor movies, festivals, and farmers markets.  Decide before what you are going to do each day to avoid confusion and arguing.  Here are a few more unique and creative ideas to make your staycation a success.

Go back to school.  Spend a day enjoying a day on a local college campus.  College campuses have such a fun and exciting feel.  Find a sporting event, check out the football stadium, buy some souvenirs at the bookstore, and eat some grub at the local hot spot.

Go visit some horses.  Kids love animals and horses are great to love.  Go out for a horseback ride, enjoy a local rodeo, or go and watch the horse races.  You can’t go wrong with any of these ideas – kids love animals and cowboys.

Find a last minute deal on a hotel room in your city.  Stay the night, enjoy the pool, and let the kids eat room service in bed.  You may only be a few miles from home, but you will feel like you are a thousand miles away.

Learn about your local history.  Do some research and learn about the unique and historical landmarks in your area and go visit them.  You might be surprised!

Turn your yard into a fun zone.  Get out the slip ‘n’ slide, play your favorite music, BBQ, make s’mores, and end the night with an outdoor movie while sleeping under the stars.  You could even splurge and rent an inflatable waterslide, with all the money you’re saving by not traveling.

Experience a new adventure as a family.  There is not much better for family bonding then doing something new for everyone together.  Go zip lining, rafting, water skiing, rock climbing, indoor skydiving, or anything else that is out of the ordinary for your family.

Most importantly, just spend time together connecting and bonding as a family.  Let the chores wait, turn off the phone, and have fun!

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

23 Jun

Family vacations for my crew are all about serious adventure, exhausting the kids, and having some new experiences along the way.  I strive every day of vacation to play hard and exhaust my kids physically and mentally.  I aim to stimulate their minds to total exhaustion.  At the end of the day, I hope that they are so tired and overstimulated that they forget to bicker and are forced into a sleep trance by 9 p.m. (which leaves me about 2 hours of quiet adult time to relax).  Flashing back to last summer, we took an adventure to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, absolutely breathtaking.  Really this place had it all…plenty to explore, beautiful beaches, amazing people, and tons of adventure.

Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica and thought by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It sits on the Pacific Ocean, and it is where the jungle meets the sea.  The monkeys and lizards roam freely on the beach, giving an amazing show and entertaining travelers several times a day.  The beaches are great for surfing,  horseback riding was amazing, and the dining was fantastic.  While the kids would vote the playtime on the beach was the highlight, I think I vote the zip lining as my highlight.  I have to admit that seeing my middle schooler (that knows everything) a little frightened was a bit entertaining.  If you’re reading this Son, stop now.  You might not like the next picture.  Overall for family adventures, Manuel Antonio has it all.

The lodging options are endless in the Manuel Antonio area.  There are rustic hostels to elaborate villas.  Since I was traveling family style and watching a budget is always a concern, I found our dream vacation spot right in the middle. After many hours of research and planning, I decided on a private home in the Tulemar Gardens gated community.  Best decision ever.  The waves on their private beach were perfect and the kids loved the boogie boards and sand toys.  There were cocktails served on the sand and the monkeys were always around to entertain you during the day.  The kids were happy (and exhausted at the end of the day) and I was relaxed.

After a full day of fun in the sun, we settled in to our comfortable home to enjoy a dinner on the patio while watching the sun set.  Casa Panorama was truly a perfect spot for a family or group of friends. Whether we were preparing a great meal in the gourmet kitchen or sitting in the hot tub, this was the perfect home away from home.

So, families looking for a big adventure to exhaust your own little monkeys, Manuel Antonio has it all.  There was always somewhere to explore, waves to ride, and monkeys to watch.

WARNING:  I am not a professional videographer.  Actually, I’m a pretty crappy amateur videographer.   So, if you are prone to motion sickness, watch this at your own risk.  At least it will give you a visual of my monkeys being entertained by some real monkeys and amazing scenery of the jungle meeting the sea.

Father’s Day Bliss…not really

18 Jun

So to be totally honest, I couldn’t be happier that Father’s Day is over.  For some reason, yesterday at my house seemed to be extra crazy.  Considering that my house compared to most homes, is pretty crazy on a good day, Father’s Day this year was insanity.  Kids were wild, Dad was trying to relax, and even the dog seemed to be barking at nothing more than ever.  I’m not really sure why, but I know that holidays can bring out the worst in kids (even when 2 parents are on high alert).  Well, yesterday brought out th worst in all of us.  So I hoped yesterday to give my husband a little break…I would handle the meals, kids, and clean-up.  In reality, I couldn’t get a handle on it.

All my husband wanted was a relaxing afternoon with his family, to enjoy and celebrate his special day.  An afternoon of hanging out with his 4 amazing kids and minimal bickering would have been fabulous, but yesterday didn’t have the word relaxing in it at all.  The kids want to shower him with attention.  All 4 of them, all at the same time,  and things got competitive.  For some reason with the excitement of wanting to make Dad feel really special, the fighting seems to escalate.

We started the day with brunch on the patio and some incredibly strong wind that come from nowhere.  The winds were strong enough to rush us through our meal and chase napkins all over the yard.  Not really my idea of a relaxing brunch for staying up until 2 a.m. the night before preparing. Then the kickball game…after breakfast my husband said all he wanted to do was do play kick ball.  WTH?  Kickball I thought.  Instantly the kids thought the same thing.  3 people on each team, 95 degree weather, what?  So, kickball it was.  My guys got overly competitive, I got smacked with the ball on my arm, my daughter cried about her feet hurting (btw…sparkly Tom’s aren’t great shoes for running in dirt), and my youngest never got excited and flat out refused to play.

The day went on with a water fight in the house, one hand slammed in a door, my 8 year old ran away (he came back though), about 5,000 fights, 20 loads of dishes, and one frazzled Mom…get the point?  I knew I hit a low when I told the kids they could bathe the dog for pure entertainment purposes.

All in all, we survived.  As this great photo shows, Dad read a book and took a little nap.  He also got a little alone time (ok, so he had to go out for a 2 mile run in 95 degree weather).  On a positive note, I will say that we ate a few really yummy meals,  indulged in plenty of bacon, and ended the night off with a few mojitos.  But the truth is, I’m feeling a little guilty.  I don’t’ think this year made the list for best Father’s Day ever, at least not today.  I know we will look back on this crazy day and have fond memories at some point and some people even say that we will miss these times (although I’m not totally convinced).

Since we will be spending some time this summer in the tropical paradise of Belize, I’ve decide that I’m going to do Father’s Day over.  I’m going to do it right though.  I am planning to take advantage of 1/2 priced cards this week and stock up.  Make breakfast in bed for my husband and set out for an all day sailing trip.  Perfect day…kids will be happy and someone else will do the cooking.  Who cares that we will be celebrating our great Dad on a different day than everyone else!  Also, next year, I am going to plan Father’s Day right.  I think I will schedule our summer adventure around Father’s Day, since travel is truly my family’s happy place.

 

 

Belize Getaway

15 Jun

In honor of my upcoming family vacation to Belize this summer, I’m feeling inspired to share my amazing experiences in Belize for Flashback Friday.  Just about 3 years ago, somehow I convinced the grandparents to watch my kids for a week (I’m sure this commitment was made after a fairly large consumption of wine) so my husband and I could get away for an extended break.  We took full advantage with a 9 day break from the kids and daily routines of life.  We headed to Belize with no kids, explored 2 very different regions, and had an absolute trip of a lifetime.  I’m not really quite sure how I ended up taking our 1st and only week away ever  to this tiny Central American country, but it was a decision that made travel my passion. Many people would ask why Belize?  I can only imagine that I came across it by chance and our airline flight miles made the final decision.  Perfect fate.

Let me first start off by explaining my family.  I grew up traveling a bit and enjoyed the family adventures from my childhood.  Still to this day, my parents are a couple of crazy jet setting retired folks.  Travel and adventure is in my blood.  My husband on the other hand, not so much.  He grew up in a small town alongside the corn fields and hog farms of the Midwest.  His idea of a travel was taking a 2 hour road trip and an international destination to him was Tijuana.  So when I booked our 1 and only getaway, since becoming parents, to Belize I was a going out on a limb.  (I say one and only, because I was pretty confident that the grandparents would NEVER do it again after spending a week with our “angels”).

As we were landing into this simple and relatively poor country, my husband was busy looking and watching out the window.  He looked at me in shock and said something along the lines of  “where the hell are you taking me?  Why didn’t we just go to Hawaii?”  At that moment, I promised him it would be great, but I really crossed my fingers and hoped more than you can imagine that my research was correct.  I was pretty confident in my planning of our Belize trip, but I knew that my role in my family’s future for vacation planning was riding on this decision.

Well, it all worked out and overly exceeded our expectations.  This tiny little country in Central America is a true gem.  Situated on the Caribbean, you get a Latin American feel, with a flair of the Caribbean culture, and add a dash of Mennonites (yes, as in the German religious folks that don’t use electricity).  Unique, diverse, and amazing.

We started our trip off with a 90 minute drive to the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio (a region near the Guatemalan border).  We were stunned by the beauty and detail that was put into this resort.  Over the next 4 days, we explored and learned.  We visited Mayan ruins, caves, and dined on some of the most amazing foods we had ever experienced.  You truly felt that you were the only people at this fabulous boutique resort and I loved every second of living the life of a celebrity.

After our Jungle adventure, we hopped on a quick 20 minute puddle jumper off to the island of Ambergris Caye.  This busy little town still has dirt roads, filled with golf carts, restaurants, and gift shops.  The Caribbean Sea was as blue as pictures showed and our hotel, Victoria House, was perfectly situated just far away enough from town for relaxation, yet close enough to enjoy the hustle and bustle.

The last half of our trip was spent lounging on the beach, exploring the town of San Pedro, enjoying oceanfront massages, and of course taking advantage of Belize’s incredible water activities.  Being that I am not a scuba diver,  snorkeling and fishing  filled our desire for new adventures.  Under the sea was better than I could of imagined…sting rays, sharks, and bright colored beautiful fish.

So, I’m off again to the beautiful country of Belize, but this time with 4 wild, crazy, and adventure seeking kids.  I know it won’t be nearly as relaxing (actually it won’t be relaxing at all), but there will be plenty of adventures and stories to tell.  Reflecting back…I think I picked the perfect place for our summer adventure.  More posts to come, but with a wild & crazy family twist!  As they say in Belize…you’d better Belize it!

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