Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Diving the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize

13 July 2015

Who says second isn't good enough?  Sure, we've all heard about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but if Australia is out of your price range (or you just don't want to fly for 18+ hours)...look no further than Central America! The snorkeling and diving in Belize is really world class and it's something you should not miss. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world. It is home to over 100 coral species, 500+species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrate species.

One of my main draws that lead me to Belize was the search for the majestic whale shark.  In the spring months, the southern Belize reef is the spawning zone for whale sharks.  It was my dream to be able to swim with them.  Even though I tried, it wasn't mean to be this time.   Even though the whale shark eluded me this time, I did get to have some amazing underwarter experiences in the reef!

I chose our hotel in part because it was the home to the tour company - Tsunami Adventures.  It was a fantastic choice.  The hotel was affordable, beautiful, and right on the water...everything I could have hoped for in paradise.  Tsunami Adventures was a perfect choice as well.  They took care of everything for us and gave us an unforgettable day!

We set sail on our boat with our captain and tour guide and small group (8 of us total) and headed into the sea!  It was our second day in Belize and what an amazing introduction to the country.

Our first stop was within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  As soon as we arrived there, it started storming.  Pouring down rain, but we persevered and our fearless guide explained that was just part of living in Belize and guided us into the water.  The first glance into this underwater world was pure magic. Even though dark clouds loomed, the world underneath us seemed so unaware of it and vibrant fish and corals danced below us.  Eventually the storm let up, but the dance below kept my full attention.

Next stop was a visit to a popular sea turtle watching spot.  I came face to face with a hundred year old sea turtle!

From sea turtles to Shark and Ray Alley.  Maybe my favorite spot!  The nurse sharks are harmless, but absolutely beautiful.  I've never been so close to a shark before!  My favorite thing was just watching the rays move through the water - they were so graceful and seem to just fly through the water (see the video below!).

Disclaimer: I'll be honest, I struggled a little with this magic moment - the sharks come up to the boats because they know that they will be fed and each of the boats threw snacks overboard so that their groups could get up close and personal.  I don't think I did enough research before I left about this and I was torn about the situation because feeding wild animals can be a really unethical practice.  As always, I advise you do your own research.

The last dive stop was the Coral Gardens.  It seemed like an endless space of alien terrain full of so many types of corals.  Every inch was just full of little creatures hiding out and making their homes there.  I was completely enthralled in the adventure of the coral reef.

On the way back to the hotel, we took a beautiful slow ride around the mangroves on the northern side of the island with a glass of rum punch.  We got to take a different perspective of the island and hear stories from our captain about what it was like to grow up there.  We also had a surprise visit with a dolphin mama and baby and our captain happily went out of our way to create some wake for them so we could watch them surface.  

Belize was full of a lot of really breathtaking moments, but this day on the water was definitely one of my favorite days there.  

Although video is not my strong suit, I got some fun underwater video that I managed to stitch together and capture some of the beautiful movement:

Thailand Adventure : That Time I Got in the Cage with Some 500lb Tigers

07 May 2014

Yup, that is me with a tiger tail as a mustache.  Sometimes life is full of unexpectedly amazing moments.  Never in my life did I think I would have this photo or be telling myself that I should probably change because my shirt was too covered in tiger fur, but that is exactly what happened in Thailand.  While in Chiang Mai, I took a trip to Tiger Kingdom and spent a day visiting with tigers.

I want to throw it out there again as I did with my elephant sanctuary post that being responsible about your choices when it comes to wildlife in your travels is really important.  There is a lot of information available, so try to do your homework before you go.  I choose this experience for myself after reading a lot of controversy over whether or not this tigers are drugged, but after talking to some locals, I choose to see it for myself.  I'm not a wildlife expert by any means and I could never know for sure, but I did not feel the tigers were drugged.  I was escorted into the cage with a trainer who never took his eyes off the tiger guided me the whole way and there were only certain ways and places I could approach and touch the tigers.  The tigers I met were pretty actually quite active and the trainer I had even got the small ones to get up and play through the water like a little kittens.

At Tiger Kingdom, the animals are divided into different age groups so you can choose which sizes you'd like to interact with.  I choose the smallest, small, and biggest.  I started with the babies where I was invited in to give one a little morning snack with the bottle and then I got to sit and rub some bellies and do a little snuggling.  The little ones were fun and sweet to be with, but it was the big guys that terrified me a little.

The biggest ones were the chance for an experience of a lifetime, but they were also the ones that really could kill me with a swipe of their paw.  It was intimidating to say the least.  I was guided into a cage full of about 4 or 5 full sized tigers and lead over to meet one.  My guide told me exactly where I could touch him, but I was hesitant at first.  After a little coaching, I got a little more comfortable and did some posing and belly rubbing.  It was beyond surreal to be touching such an impressive predator and they were breathtakingly beautiful to look at.

Have you ever had an amazing animal experience?  Tell me about it! 
If you'd like to see more of my Thailand trip, click here.

Thailand Adventure: Chiang Mai

02 May 2014

After a few days in Bangkok, I headed to north to the city of Chiang Mai.  Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in northern Thailand, but it dwarfs in comparison to the massive sprawl metropolitan of Bangkok.  It is a really beautiful and vibrant city and I fell in love with it almost instantly.

Chiang Mai reminds me a little of Portland and maybe that is why I was so enamored with it. It's a slower pace, filled with happy & creative people, and surrounded with incredible mountains and natural beauty. I am so glad I choose to spend the largest chunk of my trip in this lovely city. I took many walks around the old town, surrounded by a moat and pieces of a crumbling old city walls and found a lot of beautiful treasures down little alleyways and I also got to go on some grand adventures from the city. I took an amazing cooking class at a local farm, visited tigers, and spent a day hanging out with elephants.


The first night I was there just happened to be Sunday which is the night of the weekly night market through the center of town. Sunday Night Walking Street spans from the old Tha Phae Gate and is over a half mile down full length of Ratchadamnoen Road full of amazing vendors of all kinds - soap carvers, musicians, painters, and everything in between.  It was a great place to pick up some unique inexpensive souvenirs to bring home. There is an incredible amount of street food and I everything I ate was absolutely incredible. The street is overwhelmed with colors and people and it reminded be a lot of Last Thursday in Portland.  The one edge the Sunday Walking Street had?  There were most amazing $3 foot massages available all over the street.  Nothing soothes achy feet that are tired from a day of walking like a quick pamper break.

Gender has always been a topic that fascinates me & kathoey (aka ladyboy) culture is something I've read about and wanted to check out while I was in Thailand. I found out that there is a free cabaret show every night in the Anusarn night market that I was excited to check out.  It was an incredibly fun show that the performers had obviously put a lot of time into with the amazing costumes and impressive choreography!  I also made some new friends at the show and had a lovely time checking out the nightlife in Chiang Mai!

The next day, I ventured out to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - a gorgeous treasure high above the city of Chaing Mai in the mountains.  I took songthrew up long, winding mountain roads with beautiful views the whole way there. Simply tell your driver you want to go to the temple and he will likely take you to a "bus station" where you can meet up with another songthrew that makes the daily route up to the temple for about 50 baht (less than $2). It's about a 20 minute drive, but it is well worth the effort. To reach the temple, you can choose to walk up 309 steps for free or pay a dollar to take a tram.  The highlight of Wat Phra for me was the gorgeous views there and along the trip.

I also just got to spent some time wandering the city and looking beautiful ruins.  I was just so taken with the culture and vibrancy of this small town.

Overall, Chiang Mai was amazing I hope that I'll get to see it again someday!

Thailand Adventure : A Day with Elephants!

30 April 2014

Animal interactions in Thailand are plentiful and animals are very much a part of the life and culture of the country.  Animals are pretty much my heart, so when I travel, I really do try to make wildlife a central part of my experience if possible.  Before arriving in Thailand, I did a lot of research on how to have these experiences responsibly without participating in any experiences or supporting businesses that cause harm to animals.  I won't get on a soapbox and pretend to be an expert or tell you how to live or travel, but I do encourage you to take some time to do your own research and follow your heart if you plan to make animals a part of your travel experience.

Asian elephants are a beautiful and important symbol of Thai culture and they are also endangered, so I knew I wanted to learn and experience them while I was there.  I choose the Elephant Nature Park for my experience based on lots of research and some inspiring bloggers experience there.  It is run by a wonderful woman named Lek, who started the park years ago when she rescued an elephant from the illegal logging industry. She believes elephants should be respected and trained using positive reinforcement and love instead of hooks.  The money raised with tourism to the park goes toward the elephant care and towards buying other elephants in bad situations in need of rescue.

The day started out with an hour drive from Chiang Mai into the beautiful mountains, we watched a video about the park and about elephant treatment in Thailand as we drove.  Once we arrived, we met two of the park's residents - two old girls, one blind from being shot at with a slingshot in her time as a logging worker, the other her best friend who never leaves her side and has protected her for years.  The story of these two friends brought me to tears and genuinely inspired me with their way of loving.  We fed them their favorite snacks of melon, squash, and bananas and they waved their ears (a sign our guide told us meant they were happy - like a dog's tail wag).  

Next, our lovely guide, Kai, took us for a walk to meet some of the other herds around the park.  She told us stories about where each elephant came from and she was full of knowledge about each of them.

One of the things about elephants that really touched me was they way they form bonds with each other and make families even though they are unrelated. And these bonds last a lifetime.

We had lunch at the park and then watched a documentary about elephant phajaan or "crushing" - the way most elephants are tamed to work in logging and tourism in Thailand.  The movie was heartbreaking at hard to watch, but it was important and I felt grateful that education was such a large part of the mission of this park.  It really made me understand why elephant riding is not acceptable & I would be careful to make good choices in my travels.

After the movie, to soothe our heavy hearts, we came to one of the best parts of the day - bath time!  We met our elephant, Medo, at the river with buckets and gave her a nice cooling rub down.  Medo had a very obvious broken hip for being forced to haul more than she was able in her work in logging, but she was sweet as can be and seemed to appreciate the attention.  

The rest of the afternoon, we followed our guide to meet more of the herds - including these sweet little babies!

Elephant Nature Park also offers sanctuary for stray dogs and I loved that.  Thailand's streets are filled with wandering dogs and cats and it was nice to see some of them had found a nice home among the giant elephants with good care.  Kai took us to the kennels and it was so hard not to take one of the sweet dogs back to the states with me! It was a nice way to end the day.

All in all, the Elephant Nature Park was an incredible day!  I learned so much and had experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime!  My dream is to be able to visit Thailand again and spend time volunteering for them.

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