Best of Tulum: Hartwood

We arrived at Hartwood about 10 minutes past 2 pm on Friday and there was already a line. If your party is less than 8 you need to make reservations in person. They start accepting reservations promptly at 3 pm. The wait wasn’t bad, if you’re lucky to be in the front you can sit on the stone wall that borders the restaurant otherwise you will be stuck standing. There are boutique shops around Hartwood. If you’re waiting with friends you can take turns checking them out. We were given the option between 5:30 pm or 8:30 pm for dinner reservations for our party of 4 and we decided to go with the earlier reservations hoping to eat while it was still light out and take photos. 


Iceland: Part 3, Planning

I probably should have planned out the order of my blog posts before I started numbering them. As I started to write about my road trip I was reminded of what happened while I was planning for it. So let me backtrack…

While I was I in the planning stage of my trip I knew this road trip would be unlike any other I had ever embarked on. First, I would be alone. I wondered would I get bored? How much of an introvert am I really? I started posting on random travel sites I came across. Maybe I make new travel friends or at least ease some of the financial burden. Initially there were two responses. The first person to respond had travel dates that conflicted with mine. The second person to respond, we corresponded a few times, and it sounded like it could work, but there were compromises to make. I wanted my trip to Iceland to be everything, I wanted the freedom to go where I want and do what I want. And so I decided to go solo. A few weeks before my trip I started getting multiple responses, it turns out people who use the travel sites are last-minute planners.

Belize: Day 2

The rains continued into our first night in Belize. We awoke to news confirming all the caves in the area were flooded and our activity for the day, Cave River Tubing was cancelled as was our backup activity for the day, Barton Creek Cave. We scrambled up a Plan C. We drove to Mountain Pine Ridge to check out Blancecheaux and attempt to do some hiking there. We were told the rains had also flooded the main attractions but we decided to give it a try anyways. What else were we doing to do? 

The road to Mountain Pine Ridge was bumpy. We checked in with a guard at the gate and drove straight to Blanchecheaux. From there we received directions for the hike to Big Rock Falls. They warned us the way was muddy, I decided I didn’t want to hike in the rain/mud but my friend didn’t think the same so she hiked and I drove. We spent some time navigating the slippery rocks and taking photos. On a sunny day the water would have been crystal clear and you have found people swimming in the water beneath the waterfall and tanning on the rocks. Instead the water was brown and murky as it continued to rain intermittently and the sun was nowhere in sight. 

We stopped for lunch at Blancheaux. Afterwards we headed back to San Ignacio to visit Cahal Pech, the ruins of another Mayan city. These are popular for their proximity to San Ignacio, they are walkable from the city. Cahal Pech is smaller than Xunantunich. At the entrance to Cahal Pech were again offered the services of a tour guide but declined again. We explored the area on our own and again we were left to wonder what everything was. 

We got back to our hotel around 4:30 pm since there wasn’t much we could before the sunset at 5:30 pm. Most all the guests at the hotel also ate their meals at the hotel. It’s a small hotel and you quickly start to recognize everyone staying there. 

Belize: Day 1

We flew out on a red-eye and arrived into Belize City just after 9 am on Saturday. We stepped off the plane and the heat hit us immediately. We waited in line for immigration, changed into more appropriate clothes for the weather and walked across the airport parking lot to pick up our rental car. The international airport in Belize just outside Belize City is quite small. 

In less than 15 minutes we had our rental 4-wheel drive and we were off. We drove west towards the Guatemalan border to San Ignacio. It took us about 2 hours to drive about 80 miles. The roads are not in the best condition and at times the main road went through small towns with multiple speed bumps, sometimes unmarked. If that wasn’t enough adventure, the torrential downpour paired with wipers that left streak marks made it more difficult to drive. 

We got our first exposure to Belize while road tripping across the country from east to west. We stopped in San Ignacio for a quick lunch. In the 45 minutes we were there it went from clear skies to a downpour. We didn’t think to bring our rain gear so waited it out under an outdoor shelter. Once the rain let up we dashed to the car. 

Our first tourist stop of our trip was Xunantunich. Don’t ask us how to pronounce it because we will butcher it every time. Xunantunich contains the ruins of what was once a Mayan city. 

You need to take a free ferry from the Western Highway to the road that leads to Xunantunich. The ferry is hand cranked along a fixed wire and carries both cars and people. Only the driver is allowed to remain in the car and all passengers must off load. The ferry is free but you are free to tip them. At the entrance an official guide offered his services. We chose to decline and wandered the area on our own. They have two small museums on the property but we didn’t check those out. Xunantunich is fairly small and I think we only spent about 90 minutes there. We arrived close to closing, the only was out required a river crossing and we didn’t want to miss the last ferry. The rain also returned which sent us quickly back to our car.

A guide would have been helpful since we didn’t know what we were looking at. We did see some people walking around with guides and they seemed to know a lot abou the area. One of the nice things for Americans visiting Belize is, English is the national language. Most everyone we encountered is friendly and helpful. 

Fighting jet lag and lack of sleep we called it a day and headed to our hotel. Our hotel was located about a 20-minute drive from San Ignancio. We checked in, showered and got ready for dinner. It was only about 5:30 pm, the sun had set and we could barely keep ourselves awake. Dinner wouldn’t be ready until 6 pm and it was a struggle to stay awake. We walked over to the restaurant and waited for dinner to be ready. The hotel we stayed at was family run and although close to the town of San Ignacio the road there was unpaved and unlit. We decided it was easier to eat dinner and breakfast at the hotel. The meals were surprisingly good, everything we had read prior warned us to keep our expectations for food in Belize low. After we filled our bellies we tried to stay awake a few more hours so we wouldn’t wake up too early but by 9 pm it was lights out until 7am the next day. Exhaustion was the cure for our jet lag. 

Planning for Christmas in Belize

I didn’t know I wanted to travel to Belize until I decided I want to spend Christmas in Japan. 

When it comes to deciding where to travel to next I usually start by telling friends places I want to visit and wait for someone to respond back in agreement. 

This time around I expressed interest in traveling to Japan over New Year’s. Even though I briefly visited Tokyo on a 3-day layover to Korea last year I still wanted to travel more extensively through Japan. I really just wanted to visit Japan and indulge my appetite to my heart’s content. I was surprised when my friend expressed interest in traveling to Japan over Christmas. It turned out that was doable for me so I transferred my miles to Singapore Airlines to waitlist an economy seat round trip to Tokyo. Plans changed as they sometimes do and we decided to reroute to warmer climates, that warmer climate being Belize. 

Iceland: Part 2, Getting There

Iceland - Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Before I even boarded a plane I was offered a $1000 United credit to take a later flight the following day due to the flight being overbooked. Earlier this year I was offered $700 from United because of the same reason. At that time I was in a place to change my schedule so I took it. This time I hesitated. My hostel was already booked and it was too late to cancel and get a refund. I was purposely flying to Iceland a day earlier than I needed to because I was worried about any one of my four connecting flights being delayed. I was flying on miles so I could only book flights with award availability rather than the most direct route. I had just seconds to decide, the agent looked at my flight itinerary and drew a deep sigh. I could be rebooked and expect to arrive 12 hours later than I had originally planned. I wanted to say yes! $1000, that’s a free flight home for the holidays! But instead I thanked the agent and said no. I had already booked a guided hike in the highlands of Iceland and I didn’t want to miss it. The rebooked flight would still have 4 connections and I didn’t want to chance. The kicker, the first flight departed at 6 am, knowing how easy it is for me to oversleep I would probably do just that. I decided it was a safer to stick to my original travel plan. That didn’t prevent me from guilting myself with buyer’s remorse and wishing I could be headed back home with a $1000 United voucher in my pocket.

And so while I continued to run what if scenarios in my head I boarded a plane to London! I chose to route through London to check out United’s new lounge. The lounges in the US are nothing to be impressed with and I never end up using them since I always arrive at the airport at the last minute possible. In my daily reading of travel blogs I ran across news of United’s new lounge. After a ten hour flight and the usual one mile walk to anywhere in Heathrow airport (why???) I arrived at the United lounge, sheepishly displayed my paper lounge pass (thanks United MileagePlus Explorer card) and was ushered inside.

First stop, shower! Last year I had to pay $20 for a shower at the Vancouver airport, this time it was free! The bathroom was nice. It was the first and last time I will ever snapchat in a bathroom.

Next stop, food! One of the other reasons I decided to route through London was to get free food in the lounge so I wouldn’t have to buy food in the airport and thus save a few dollars along the way. When you’re traveling to the most expensive countries in Europe, everything counts! It’s buffet style with a variety of cuisines, skippable in my opinion. I had a few minutes to grab a few bites before embarking on my 5K through Heathrow  airport to catch my next flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

I was flying away from Iceland… I booked my tickets for the end of high season with miles on Star Alliance just a month out from my departure. That didn’t leave me with many options. Once I arrived in Frankfurt I had about an hour to find my gate for my connecting flight to Hamburg. Somewhere in Germany I sneezed and the person next to me said, “gesundheit!” I was shocked at first. It was small, but that was my first authentic German cultural experience.

Finally just after midnight after over 24 hours of flying I landed at Keflavik airport just outside Reyjavik, Iceland. I looked out the window searching for the aurora and I saw a slight green glimmer along the horizon, I thought maybe it was just light pollution. The next day I went on a walking tour in Reykjavik and the guide said last night’s Northern Lights display was the most impressive he has ever seen! The airport was hopping at midnight, I did not expect that.

I made my way over to the airport coach that takes you into Reykjavik. The cold air quickly woke me up and I quickly forgot how tired I was. It’s about an hour’s drive into the city. I peered out the window catching my first glimpses of Iceland.

Iceland: Part 1, Why Iceland?

I finally made it to Iceland and it’s nothing I imagined it to be. Everything I read prior to traveling to Iceland reminded me of New Zealand. They both have (melting) glaciers you can visit. You can hike on volcanoes. Sheep are everywhere. In Iceland, the sheep are not always fenced in and frequently cross the road. I was quite impressed that they stopped to look both ways before crossing and would move to the side of the road when a car approached. I did feel the numbers of tourists was greater in Iceland than New Zealand but I always travelled to New Zealand in the low season and I travelled to Iceland at the end of the high season. I thought New Zealand was most beautiful place I had ever visited but there’s something about Iceland that seems mysterious and I find that intriguing.

So let’s backtrack a bit…

I wanted to plan a trip somewhere for the fall of 2015. I wanted to go somewhere in Europe to take advantage of the strong dollar and was considering Croatia. I asked some friends if they would want to travel together but with friends popping babies out on both coasts… schedules didn’t work out so I decided on a solo trip to Iceland. I didn’t jump at the chance to travel solo in Iceland but I also didn’t let having to travel solo prevent me from traveling at all. I was feeling restless and I needed to travel and embark on another adventure.

I scoured the Internet reading up on everything I could find on Iceland. I filled my Instagram account with photographers who had travelled to Iceland. I read countless blogs on solo travel and Iceland came up as a recommended country for solo female travelers. It was already a place I was interested in traveling to one day. I’m not new to solo travel but I’ve never traveled extensively on my own, and here I was planning a 10-day road trip in a country I’ve never even visited.

Having now had the experience of traveling to Iceland I did feel safe at all times. Even when I was out late at night in the middle of nowhere by myself shooting photos of the aurora borealis.

Because I’m a millennial and I suffer from FOMO I only booked a one way ticket to Iceland and continued researching before booking my return ticket. I wanted to make sure I covered all my bases in Iceland. My initial thought on planning for my Iceland trip was to include everything I wanted to see so I would never want to visit Iceland again. Now that I’ve returned I realized it’s impossible to say I will never travel to Iceland ever again. Last year I was ready to pack my bags and move to Queenstown.. I’m not saying I want to move to Iceland, I’m not sure how I would survive without seeing the sun everyday. I’m already struggling now with the early sunsets. It worked out that I waited to book my return ticket since it allowed me to tack on another week to spend in Norway.

Hopefully this is part 1 of many more parts. Stay tuned!

Hike to Rattlesnake Ledge

I was visiting Seattle for a weekend to visit friends and I wanted to go on a hike, big surprise. I had seen images of Rattlesnake on Instagram. I asked my friend if she was down, expecting her to say no, but to my surprise she replied with a resounding yes. She wanted to bring the whole family along which included her husband, her parents, a toddler and a baby. I looked up the hike, at 4 miles, round trip and an elevation gain of 1160 feet I figured it wasn’t difficult. My friend didn’t have a carrier for the toddler so I was hesitant as to how far she would make it, but I figured with enough breaks we could make it.

We woke up not so bright and early on Saturday and ate a sugar-rich breakfast of maple bars. Did you know a maple bar is a doughnut shaped as a bar with a maple glaze? I learned something new. We filled up every seat in the minivan and off we went. We had an initial hiccup when our GPS misguided us, but after getting directions from a local we found the parking lot for Rattlesnake. The parking lot was already full, so we joined the other cars parked alongside the road.

If nature calls there are portable toilets at the start of the hike. From the beginning the hike climbs constantly. Within the first 30 seconds the toddler declared she was tired and needed a rest. For the next half hour there was frequent stopping and resting. It was at that point someone decided the toddler and the grandparents would return to the bottom and wait for my friend, her husband and the baby to complete the hike.

With new determination we started again for the summit. We asked someone how far we were from the top and they estimated about 45 minutes. The suggested time says it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit, but after taking so many breaks we didn’t make it very far. We continued up, stopping less trying to get to the summit quickly. The next time we asked someone they said we were only 20 minutes from the top. Not too far now! Just like the parking lot down below the top is crowded. It is a ledge so you need to keep away from the edge and navigate carefully between the groups of people.

The view at top is a nice reward for the short but strenuous hike. We snapped a few photos and then quickly made our way down. I didn’t know, but it was the first time my friends had ever hiked so I have to give them props for making it to the top.