just a few days ago, i returned from a fan-tabulous weeklong vacay in Belize. it was much needed time away-- the past year has been pretty stressful so by departure time, I was more than ready to rid myself of all negative energy and just GET AWAY from it all. and boy did we. the time spent down there was incredible and filled with many once-in-a-lifetime experiences...i could barely tear myself away from it but i am absolutely sure i will be back again.
Belize had been on my list of "dream destinations" for some time. after frequent (and enjoyable) trips to traditional caribbean spots--aruba, dominican republic, st. thomas--i was in search for something a bit more unique, with the air of the unexplored. Belize provided that fix: a mix of adrenaline-inducing eco-adventures with slow days relaxing under the sun just zoning out. i started a blog as a way to recount and relive my time there. its always a little sad when you have these amazing travel stories and then one month later, all the details that made the trip so wonderful, including your tan, begin to fade-- the people you meet, that great meal, a one special view-- doesn't it deserve to continue to live somewhere? so this is my desperate attempt to justify each daily experience. please bear with me. and hopefully, others will be inspired to visit as well...but not TOO many peeps...because i'd hate for a place as under-developed and beautiful as Belize to become just another caribbean destination over-run with tourists clamoring into yet another all-inclusive resort. Let’s keep this our little secret, okay?
DAY 1-- It doesn't matter how long it takes to get there...
anticipation is probably one of the best feelings in the world. It’s hard to beat the excitement of getting ready for a well-deserved vacation. two months of obsessive planning (i like to refer to it as productive procrastination, since i detest my job) finally led to this moment-- the first day of the trip! i was traveling with my college bud and annual travel-partner-in-crime, Mandy, and my cousin Carolyn for a full week of zero stress (my other college bud, Eleanor, would join us later in the week). so what if we had a 6am flight and barely 3 hours of sleep? vacations have a way of taking care of all of that...
Belize is located in Central America, on the western most side of the caribbean sea, south of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. it is barely the size of New Jersey. a number of major airlines fly directly into Belize City via Dallas, Miami, or Charlotte. we flew from NYC via Miami on American Airlines.
TRAVELER’S NOTE:here is my little travel site plug. i did a lot of price shopping for airfare before this trip and found that Sidestep had the best user experience when it came to consolidating and comparing schedules and prices. it also has a sidebar tool you can download which will pull prices for you when you automatically go to any other travel site (ie. travelocity; orbitz). try it! let me know if you think something else is better.
our destination in belize was the loverly island of Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key"), located off the coast of northern belize. it is considered the “most touristy” section of the entire country— in that it offers the largest array of lodging, restaurant and nightlife options. it is not, by any means, the saturated tourist meccas of the bahamas, jamaica, or the virgin islands. Ambergris Caye is a small slice of paradise—only 25 miles long with one “large town”, San Pedro--where both locals and tourists go to play, relax, and enjoy the island’s remarkably cozy charm. its a place where the streets are filled with sand and the primary attire is always flip-flops, shorts, and a smile.
San Pedro consists of maybe eight distinct streets and is roughly 6 city blocks long. much of the island’s restaurants and small hotels (no big, crazy resorts here) reside here. however, we chose to stay south of town for a quieter experience. it is only a 10 minute taxi ride into town (and maybe a 30 minute walk along the beach).
in order to get to San Pedro, you have two options: (1) take a 15 minute flight out of Belize City or (2) take a 75 minute boat ride. we chose the one with the shorter duration…although, we probably could have taken a boat and arrived at the same time since the airline lost our confirmation (a long story that involves a national telecommunications shut-down—more on that later). so yes, the airline lost our reservation forcing us to hang out in the very small yet weirdly quaint Belize City airport for two hours, relishing the fact that at least we weren’t home working.
all inter-country flights are on small puddle jumpers—planes that hold maybe 15 people max, including the pilot. it’s a tight, somewhat stuffy experience (beware if you’re a claustrophobe) but the view makes up for any discomfort. as we took off, i could feel any residual stress carried over from my everyday life lift off as well. the flight is entirely over water, and from that vantage point you can appreciate the vastness of the sea’s myriad hues of blue and green and sometimes, if you looked closely, you could spot the shadow of life swimming beneath its surface.
Three flights and one taxi ride later…
we finally arrive at Ambergris Caye and head to our amazing hotel-- Banana Beach Resort, set on the southern side of the island facing eastward, overlooking the Caribbean sea. the website for this hotel does not do it justice—it is a charming, clean, and immensely attentive small resort set right on the water. the hotel is configured around a set of open courtyards and two freshwater pools and is decorated with a warm, simple island spirit. our room was AMAZING. if you can, splurge for one of the deluxe ocean suites (around $150 US per nite during high season)—it is not that much more expensive than some of the more budget options but is well worth it. our room was a one-bedroom deluxe suite that is larger than my apartment in nyc. and here’s the kicker: it had a large and exquisite covered balconyfacing the water—-we would spend many happy moments relaxing there, reminding ourselves that a good life is sometimes so easy to achieve.
banana beach, our hotel on the right
after settling in, we took a walk down the beach (where a friendly, stray dog acted as our guide) and went to a local store to stock up on beer, water, snacks, and lunch staples. we then relaxed on the aforementioned AMAZING balcony, sipping Belikens and admiring the view. Beliken is the official beer of Belize, locally brewed and MIGHTY TASTY. i wish they would export it to the states…it tastes so much better than red stripe and i’ve been missing it ever since returning home…
TRAVELER’S NOTE: everyone in belize speaks English—its one of the national languages. in addition, everyone accepts US$ so don't bother exchanging, but you’ll just get BZ$ in return. the exchange rate is $2BZ to $1US. nice and simple for those of us who want to use minimal brainpower while on vacay.
What happened to the power?
the day wound down. we were getting ready to grab some dinner when the lights suddenly went out. um…now what? well, instead of sitting in the dark, we headed out in hopes that the power outage was just related to our hotel. nope! the lights were out throughout the island—welcome to Belize! luckily, the Banana Beach staff was not deterred…have a drink!...as long as its not a frozen one…have some food!...as long as you prefer it grilled...
a power outage in nyc would be an extreme inconvenience (see: The Blackout of 2003) but one here on ambergris caye barely mires your mood. we settled into the courtyard tables and bonded with the other guests. one family sitting next to us had two adorable girls who kept asking me if i was Chinese or Japanese. as they were no more than 5 and 7, i was not offended…and instead, taught them to say “how are you” in cantonese. their parents, in an effort to explain their daughters boldness, told me that the girls have lived all around the world and are use to asking strangers such questions. currently, they live in montana (where the mother is from) but were off to visit Guatemala (where the father is from) later on their trip. we would run into them numerous times throughout the next two days…they are lovely people.
the power came back on during our delicious dinner of grilled snapper, rice ‘n beans (the best i’ve ever tasted) and a couple of strong martinis…we were ready for bed…and it was only 8pm! its vacation, we’re allowed to do whatever we want…which includes absolutely nothing.
DAY 2—Madonna sang it first…La Isla Bonita
we woke up to the brightest stream of sunshine spilling into our room. it was hard to resist the softness of the bed sheets but the sun was beckoning and surely it must be at least 10 am by now? i stepped out of bed to retrieve my watch and—what the?—holy cow, its only friggin 6am! i guess vacation will do that to you…screw up your personal clock...but in a good way…in fact, Mandy even forgot it was her birthday (Happy 28 Mandy!) until we saw the date on the CNN crawl on tv…hehehe.
for me and many of my friends, we have a sickly obsession with food. often, we’re caught having food-gasms in public. oh yea. mmm…sometimes, i still dream about my best meals..oh yea...which brings me to our first breakfast. [FYI: Banana Beach offers a complimentary breakfast worth $10 BZ that is a pretty good value] all of us ordered some carb-based breakfast classic: pancakes, waffles, or french toast. i had the apple cinnamon french toast made with a divinely thick and sweet bread. we also had the freshest juices—pineapple, orange, grapefruit—and Belizean coffee (which is so good, i had to bring some back with me).
on the agenda after breakfast—um, nothing! let’s start working on that tan. we grabbed seats facing the ocean…me and Carolyn aka The Sun Whores wanted as much sun as humanly possible…Mandy, who’s so white she may burn under strong fluorescent lighting, coveted coverage under a palm tree…where she proceeded to apply and re-apply sunscreen every thirty minutes. Hee.
TRAVELER’S NOTE:people don’t come to belize for its beautiful beaches…cuz frankly, i’ve seen better. if you want large stretches of soft white sand and easy swimming from shore—go to negril or the bahamas. instead, come to belize for its diverse and rich ecosystem and some of the friendliest, most hospitable people you’ll ever meet. and let’s be fair, belize’s beaches may be small, but it doesn’t diminish from its beauty and a water-lover’s paradise. look out over the turquoise ocean and if you stretch your eyes some more, you can see a soft white line of waves breaking over the second largest barrier reef system in the world.
we zoned out, got some sun, and when our stomachs gurgled (as they most certainly will after a tough morning of tanning), we retired to our room for sandwiches and belikens on the balcony. then back to more sun and zoning out…
Who knew chicken poo was so exciting?
although tanning can be such hard work, who were we to deny ourselves the opportunity to attend an (in)famous San Pedro event: The Chicken Drop. after enduring the second power outage of our stay (let’s start counting), we showered and headed into town to the Pier Lounge where this weekly poo-betting affair took place. and conveniently, this took place during happy hour—a perfect solution for those of us with a double hankering for rum punch.
tourists and locals from all over ambergris caye come to the Pier Lounge every wednesday nite for this nontraditional gambling game. what’s on the line? $100 BZ. how does it work? well let me tell you!
basically, on the beach outside the bar, there’s a pen set up around a board filled with 100 numbers. each number is worth $1BZ—once you hand your cash over to The Man—you then pick your number(s) randomly from a bowl. when all 100 numbers are sold, the lady who runs the bar (she’s an expat from Louisiana, i’ll call her Louisie) corrals everyone over to the pen (seriously, even if you have no money on it, you’ll wanna watch, her screeching southern drawl draws you in), The Man brings over the basket with the chicken (a live one, in case you were wondering) and then Louisie announces the rules:
1) someone (a volunteer, not her) picks up the chicken—actually it’s a rooster, but i guess that’s a technicality. and yes, he has a name…and his name is Rebel.
2) then, you are suppose to gently rock the rooster up and down three times…
3) and THEN, you blow on its arse…to jazzes up its bowels…i know…its gross and weird and TOTALLY fascinating!
4) THEN…put that baby down in the pen and await its poo! whatever number he poos on, is the winning number!!!
then the waiting begins. yep, grown men and women crowd around to watch and wait for a chicken, ahem, i mean rooster, poo. its really funny actually—everyone’s yelling and whistling and talking to the rooster to make it move to their number(s). anything goes…except, you CAN’T touch it. you can snap your fingers, wave your bag in front of it, whatever…just don’t. touch. the. Bird. and then…when you least expect it…it POOPS! the crowd goes crazy and the winner shrieks in ecstasy! sigh...it was funny while it lasted.
the whole evening is not just about chicken poop. its also about drinking and mixing with the locals. We met a group of guys led by their leader, The President. actually, they were tour operators and asides from some harmless flirting, they were perfectly friendly and non-harassing (which is not what one can say about locals from other Caribbean destinations). however, they were not friendly enough to persuade us to party the night away with them. i mean, c’mon, stay out past 10pm? puh-leez.
however…we can’t turn in without a good meal in our tummies. conveniently, there was a mexican restaurant located right next to Pier Lounge. Caliente was a perfect way to cap our evening. a round of margaritas followed by some of the best stuffed jalapeno peppers EVER. it was filled with two types of cheese that was extra yummy—not only was the pepper STUFFED with cheese but there was also cheese stuffed in-between the pepper and the fried part…oh yes, yummers. we also had conch ceviche…which was so light and tasty in its cucumber and carrot marinade, i vowed to eat conch EVERY DAY of vacation…mmm…conch…
DAY 3—BUTTS UP!…and does this harness come with wings?
remember how i said belize is a place where you can lose track of time? it's wonderful to have no sense of obligation…except when you’ve scheduled an all-day adventure tour and your pickup is at 7am. then it might be a good idea to put on a watch. brilliantly, we didn’t. so the Beach Police (yes, i’m not kidding) had to locate us at breakfast. the brisk walk to the pier laughing at ourselves didn’t exactly mask our shame…but our apologies were accepted by the other members of our party. its vacation, all’s good.
TRAVELER’S NOTE: visitors to belize have many options. i am first to admit that though our week was full,we only experienced a small portion of what the country has to offer. also, many visitors choose to first spend some time inland at a jungle resort (belize is known for great eco-lodges) and then head to one of the beach resorts. we chose to base ourselves at the beach and do all of our inland tours from there. the downside: the travel time necessary to get to the places inland can make the days seem gruelingly long. the upside: staying at the beach offered us a way to space out activities with much needed hammock time. me, i’m a beach fiend—love the sun, love the sand, love the ocean. there are numerous tour operators out in San Pedro that conduct adventure and eco-tours inland—some are truly excellent—and they will pick you up from your hotel’s pier (almost all hotels will have their own).
today was ADVENTURE DAY. our daylong activities are cave tubing and an aerial trek—that’s zip-lining baby! i was so excited. ever since i became an Amazing Race addict i’ve always wanted to go ziplining. which is ironic as i grew up in a home that taught me to be risk-averse. crossing the street during a red light was considered seriously risky. it was a childhood based in fear. fortunately for me, its only reinforced my desire to test myself and try things new…even if you’re scared out of your mind. however, i had to do a bit of gentle coercion in order to get Mandy (who has a fear of heights) and Carolyn (who has a fear of sketchiness…hehe) to commit to ziplining. but to be fair, i had to convince myself that there will be no spiders in the cave. hehe, always an arachnophobe…can’t get rid of that one.
it would take a boat, a plane, and a long van ride deep into the jungle of western belize to reach our adventure spot. the van route took us through Belize City and out into the heart of the country, revealing a developing nation with a shaky line dividing the wealthy from the poor: mansions stood next to rickety thatch roofed homes standing on stilts. what the country lacks in economic and political strength, it makes up for with a rich topographical landscape: miles of untouched fields, lush green mountains, a jungle teeming with wildlife. our drive twisted past towns that were once destroyed by hurricanes juxtaposed with the visions of children walking in their school uniforms, readying for class.
we turn off the main highway, up a bump-filled, dusty road towards the jungle. no seatbelts, so our driver told us to hold on…
Who knew tubing was a workout?
we arrived at our site at 9am and stripped down to prepare for a wet ride. TRAVELER’S NOTE: when you get there, there are vendors renting out water shoes for $3 BZ. don’t even hesitate—just RENT ‘em. you’ll be glad you did.
it was we three girls and a guy traveling on his own…and Keno, our wonderful guide. during the van ride, Keno seemed aloof; we soon learned that he was a shy, gentle man with a quiet demeanor. he was very tall and athletic and we would get to know him very well throughout the day as he was stuck with us. Keno (plus a funny little dog from the nearby lodge) led us on a hike through the jungle towards the system of caves. each of us carried an inner tube and followed him as he pointed out the jungle’s natural flora and fauna. some highlights, the “Give and Take”—a tree with spiky needles running along its sides. if one of these needles pricks you, you can relieve yourself from the pain by cutting off the bark from the same tree and rubbing it against the wound. we also saw a pineapple tree, sugar cane, and the mahogany tree—the national tree of belize.
as we approached the river, Keno walked us through some dry caves, using his light to point out families of bats just hanging out. we then headed down towards the river, where the water was crystal clear—the water closer to the cave entrance had an intense shade of blue, most likely fed from the cave’s limestone bedrock. we took a quick break to cool down from our hike and wade into the icy cold water before heading into the cave.
while frolicking, acting silly and observing the little fish swimming around our feet, Keno was getting nervous. uh-oh. what’s that sound? it’s not…oh god, it can’t be…it’s the Cruise Shippers. Damn cruise-shippers. a whole horde of them upon us—fifty at least!—before we could get all of our gear together to get a head start. oh well, too late.
TRAVERLER’S DISCLAIMER: yes. i admit it. i don’t like cruise shippers…i’m sure they’re not all obnoxious but when they arrive in crowds of fifty or more, its hard not to be obnoxious. cruises are not my speed—there’s a herd mentality to it and it seems like such a superficial way to travel--you barely experience each of the ports of call. i don’t mean to judge cruise shippers (okay, i do) ... i’m sure they’re perfectly nice people on land (heck, i’m even friends with some of them) but i prefer to immersing into a country vs. being stuck on a boat. to each his own. and yes, you’re allowed to slap me if you ever catch me on a cruise ship.
if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. we hopped onto our tubes, adjusted our headlamps (ow! that’s tight!) and began floating down the river, into the mouth of the cave. i thought this was going to be soooo easy and relaxing…you know, just floatin’ down a river. dude. i was SO WRONG. tubing, especially when the water levels were so low, required paddling, steering, and an innate sense of navigation that none of us had. we would run into the cave wall and get off track so much—i can’t tell you how many times poor Keno had to rescue either Carolyn or myself as the currents veered us off course, preventing us from any forward movement…
floating inside the cave was such a cool experience. we lit the way with the lights on our heads (which at some points were REALLY bright as we were sandwiched between cruise shippers) and saw a natural waterfall and numerous natural rock formations. one looked like a winged eagle; another like a mother cradling a child. at a certain point, we were told to turn off our lights as we went through a particular passage…gliding down the eerie darkness in homage to an ancient Mayan superstition relating to this section of the cave.
exiting the cave, we continued down the river out under the glaring sun. as it was dry season, the water levels were pretty low—sometimes flowing at mere inches. anytime we approached a more shallow area, Keno would warn “Butts up!”where you pushed your ass up and lay as flat as you can atop the tube to avoid hitting yourself against the many jutting rocks. of course, if you failed to do so, you just got yourself a nice butt massage. lucky for us, we were adept at the butt-lifting. in fact, i think we all kept yelling “Butts up!” for fun as we continued down the river. hee.
tubing down the river...
It’s a small world after all
we dried off, downed some fanta (yes, sing the song. you can’t help yourself!) and headed to Jaguar Paw Resort for lunch. most tubing/zip-lining excursions stop here for meals as it is positioned just minutes from the cave system and built the zip-line course on its property.
while dining on mayan chicken and rice ‘n beans (you never get tired of it…its so good!), a guy approached me and asked if i went to penn. well, yes. yes i did. and who the hell are you? ten seconds later…it hits me! he was friends with jen! omg! what are you doing here?!?! it turns our that David Austin was here on his HONEYMOON with his wife, smiling alongside him. How TOTALLY RANDOM. who knew the world could be so tiny? freaky tiny.
Do you believe you can fly?
what’s the most appropriate thing to do after a filling lunch? swinging through the jungle canopy? ding ding ding! right answer! oh yea, with full tummies in tow, Keno dropped us off with our two zipline guides: “you girls think you have wings!,” he said, smiling as he left for a well-deserved break from us. our guides were so sweet, chuckling at us as i asked them nicely to make sure they returned us in one piece. we knew they’d take care of us. one of them, George, had the cutest smile.
we all marched through another section of the jungle to put on our gear—a harness, hard hat, gloves and a mess of ropes and carabiners that looked mighty protective. that, or foolish, whichever. then we hiked up to the first in a series of eight platforms. our guides noted that the course was built to be a part of the jungle system—nothing was destroyed during course construction--platforms were built up and around trees, ziplines weaved through the natural canopy. it was yet another reminder of belizeans’ environmental conscience—each fact they shared underlined an innate desire to preserve their country’s natural beauty and resources. you cannot visit a place like this and not take notice how significant the environment is to their people.
the hike up to the first platform was quite arduous—man, was i out of breath--but buck up, the moment of truth awaits. george and his partner (i’m sorry partner, but i forgot your name!) gave some pretty simple instructions—hold this there, put that hand there…and DON’T PULL DOWN ON THE WIRE…unless, of course you want to stop, then pull for God’s sake!
1,2,3…and we’re off…trepidation slipped away (even from Mandy, who went from a fear of heights to a new adrenaline addiction!)…one by one…zipping down, screaming more in glee than fear. it was so A-W-E-S-O-M-E. what a rush to fly through the jungle! the lines spaced at steeper inclines enabled a faster ride—so fast, that they even built padding around the trees for the many who run head-on into it. George always laughed at us as we each nearly rammed head first into the pad—so THAT’S why we have hard hats. Heh.
one line was so long, that the platform on the other side doesn’t come into view until ¾ of the way there! of course, since i am an inept and lame-o embarrassment seeker…it was on that very line that i also got stuck. in my defense, many a hapless zipliner gets stuck on this run as its length depends very much on momentum…and many people lose momentum halfway down the line…thankfully, i ran out of speed about 10 feet from the platform. it wasn’t scary, just close enough for my cousin to catch me on camera in all my foolish glory…gotta love your family. if you do get stuck, you gotta find a way to the platform…and as cute and sweet as George is, he won’t come to your rescue. so i turned my body upside-down, back parallel to the ground WAAAY below, and used my arms to pull myself over. oh yea, building some nice arm muscles to boot. woohoo.
wheeeee! that's me, coming down the zipline!
the eight runs go by way too fast. we loved it and would have done it over and over. mandy and Carolyn, former skeptics have become new converts. as for me, I felt fully prepared for my turn on the Amazing Race (fingers crossed!). after the last zipline, you cap the experience off by rappelling down the last platform to the ground. can we do this again? please pretty please?
Conversations with Keno
we undid ourselves from the harnesses and returned to Keno, who rewarded us with chilled Belikens after a mighty tough day. vacation can be so tiring. it turns out we had a couple of hours to spare as we waited for others to finish their adventures, giving us a chance to get to know Keno better. he is a sweet sweet man. we sat at picnic tables drinking and chatting about his favorite way to eat journey cakes (warm and spread with butter, beans and cheese) and told us stories about his 5 month old baby girl (named Kena, close to his heart) and how his stepson calls him daddy and tells him everything (no secrets in that household!). he also educated us on the fragility of Belize’s political system—as we witnessed (citizens were rioting in Belize City while we were there)—and his contentment working as a tour operator (much better than the unease associated with government jobs). like many former bachelors, he told of his “glory days” as a belize basketball player, where his many trophies use to go to any pretty girl that crossed his path. those days are gone as all trophies must now go home to the wife at home! Keno still plays basketball, which has allowed him to tour the country and his only time spent out of belize—over the border in Guatemala.
The Quest for Caye Lime Pie
the long ride home was exhausting (why is getting there always so much better?) but it didn’t deter us from one of our fave pastimes—EATING. i had read about Casa Picassoonline prior to our trip. it’s a tapas and martini bar and said to have one of the best “Caye” Lime Pies on the island. i have an affinity for all things tart and citrusy, mandy loves tapas, and carolyn enjoys all things potato (a frequent tapas offering) so it seemed like a good way to celebrate the day.
boy is this place swank! Casa Picasso is located in a house on the edge of San Pedro and walking in is almost like walking into a NYC lounge. in fact, their killer martini menu also offered nyc-like prices: most averaged at $15 BZ. beyond the bar, there’s an open dining room with sleek, minimalist décor—one wall is filled with a movie screen which first projected some video footage of the owner’s diving experiences (and yes, he’s another conservationist!) which was then followed by the f*cked up movie that was Barbarella. can someone please explain to me what this film is about? the movie was on mute (trance/house music played over the speakers) but it seems to fixate on Jane Fonda being naked or dressed up in weird futuristic S&M gear…but I digress…
all the tapas were good…but the standouts include a papaya spread over toasted wedges w/cream cheese (this was truly yummy, I kept eating the spread!), sliced beef tenderloin (mmm…beef!) and salmon croquettes…which were more like grilled salmon cakes vs. the deep-fried balls of goodness i’m used to at other tapas restaurants. we each washed this down with a couple of martinis—mandy had a fresh watermelon one that tasted like summer. i first tried the key lime martini (with a layer of foam replicating meringue) and then had the lamanai—which was vodka with grapefruit and cranberry juice. Delish!
as the small plates cleared, I was readying for my caye lime pie. the waiter said there was one left (yippee!) but then he returned shaking his head (NOOOO!!!!) as the last piece was already taken. DAMNIT. thought I’d be safe opting for my second choice (a pineapple cobbler)…but alas! the waiter returned shaking his head again as I screamed: “You’re breaking my heart!!!” drama aside, they were kind enough to offer me the coffee crème brulee for free(which was actually very very rich and tasty) as mandy and carolyn successfully got their first choice—a cracked coconut (which is essentially coconut ice cream with chocolate filling a coconut shell) and a banana-ice cream-rum thing that was the warm blend of sweet perfection.
we closed the bill, looked at our watches and pondered our next step…hm…it’s already 11pm….and we’re tired…and…so…let’s just go back and sleep! alrighty then…sleep it is! after all…we want to be awake and ready for when Eleanor arrives for the second half of our trip…TO BE CONTINUED!!!