See that black fishing line in the photo above? It looks pretty innocuous, right? Like it couldn't hurt a flea.
I can only assume that that is what a prankster thought when he strung it tightly across the cart path up near Indigo and Grand Belizean Estates this morning.
It was a splendid Sunday morning after a cold front passed through Belize yesterday. Bright sunshine, low humidity, and a moderate north breeze made for a perfect morning for bicycling. We rode north up the beach in great spirits. I even sighted and stopped to snap a photo of this Black-Headed Trogan right by the White Sands Dive Shop. I couldn't believe how close he let me get. I wish you could see his distinctive light-blue eye in this photo.
With Indigo condominiums up ahead, we turned sharply left and rounded the curve on the cart path, heading to Grand Belizean Estates.
Before I could even process what was happening, I heard Barry yell out "woah" or something similar. I was close behind him, and almost right as I heard him yell, I felt something hit me full-on in the face. It stopped me and my bike immediately in my tracks, and the next thing I knew, I crashed down on my right side (the same side I went down on and fractured my pelvis when road riding in North Carolina in 2005).
Moments later, we realized what had happened. Some Darwin-award contender had strung a piece of strong black braided fishing line tautly across the path, a booby-trap for anyone coming by with any speed at all. Since Barry has flat bars on his bike, he was leaning slightly forward, so he hit the line right above the brim of his ball cap, which thankfully he was wearing or his scalp would have been hit full on. I, on the other hand, was sitting upright. And before he could warn me, the line caught me right across the mouth. It did not break the skin, but it stung like a sonofagun. And I was banged up from the fall as the sand is very hard there.
After this incident, I was in no shape to continue the ride. I was angry and hurting. I tied my bandanna around my leg to catch any bleeding from where I fell and scraped up my right knee, and turned around and rode back home to administer first aid, with Barry close behind me to make sure I was okay.
Taking stock of the damage at home, I have a swollen welt on the right side of my face from where I ran into the line, a badly skinned right knee, a sore and swollen palm on my right hand, and a couple of small scrapes on my left leg. My shorts got scraped up, and I will certainly have a bruise on my butt tomorrow. As bad as it was, it could have been a whole lot worse. Just imagine what could have happened if the line had hit at neck level, or if the jerk who did this had used wire instead of fishing line.
I can only assume that whoever did this was playing a prank and that we were not intentionally targeted. Maybe the expected a golf cart to hit the line and be startled by the palmetto it was tied to to suddenly rustling towards them as if a madman were jumping out of the bushes. I'd like to assume they didn't think about a bicyclist getting injured. Right after I went down, a golf cart came through from the other direction. If we'd been two minutes later, he would have been the victim, not us.
I write this post not for sympathy; I'm a little sore and banged up but am sure I'll be fine in a few days. But mostly we wanted to warn others who might ride bikes in that area, just in case the genius who set the trap decides to strike again. Since the fishing line is virtually invisible, ride or drive very slowly in this area. Something like this shouldn't happen to anyone on this island, whether it be a tourist, expat, or local.
For our third and final night in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, we decided to go for broke and hit happy hour before going to the restaurant we'd decided on for dinner. Woo-hoo! As we were walking around checking our options, this sign touting two for one margaritas for $70 MX (approximately $5.60 US) lured us right into Ay Dolores! for a couple of drinks and appetizers before dinner.
We tried the tamarindo margaritas, which were excellent. Here's one of my favorite photos of the whole trip, which you'll recognize if we're Facebook friends.
To accompany our drinks, we ordered some of their delicious guacamole, fried cheese, and quesadillas. I loved that the guac was made with red onion and lots of cilantro and have since modified my own recipe likewise.
Our waiter was super friendly, and although I was sure I'd remember his name, sadly, my memory fails me now since it's been over a month. (Yes, I am getting old!) He was very proud of his English and spoke it well, which was a treat for us -- we could actually have a nice conversation, something we didn't get to do often while in this part of Mexico. He had another staff member take a photo of the three of us on his phone, and we also got one on our camera.
For our dinner, we went to Entropia, a French-Mexican fusion place that is the #2 rated restaurant in San Cristobal in Tripadvisor. We got this photo earlier in the day while it was still bright and sunny out.
And here's the interior in the evening.
We decided to stick with margaritas, and they were also offering a two for one happy hour special. Score! Don't tell our friendly waiter at Ay Dolores!, but these tamarindo margs were even better than theirs. And the waiter was obviously French. San Cristobal is a cultural treat!
Barry had a chicken dish that was served with black beans and yet more guacamole. There's no such thing as too much guac, though, right?!
I had the special of the day, which was a really, really nice fish dish, potatoes, and salad. The fish looks rather plain in the photo, but it was very fresh and perfectly seasoned and cooked. I'll never know, but when I ended up with a bad stomach 36 hours later, I wondered if eating this salad was my downfall. I did eat a few other salads in Mexico with no problems, but Montezuma's revenge finally caught up with me on the way back, in Palenque.
A tasty dinner at Entropia
One slight negative of Entropia was the little children who came in during our dinner attempting to sell us things. It's pretty obvious that they really only want a peso or two, but they offer little trinkets for sale instead so it's not so obvious they are begging. There was a lot more begging and what I call "aggressive vending" in San Cristobal than the other places we visited in Mexico, from both children and adults. We didn't want or need anything they were selling, but I carried a few pesos in my pocket to give out to the kids. They would normally leave quickly upon getting a peso or two. It's too bad that they are living lives requiring them to do this.
Barry still had a bit of appetite after dinner, so we stopped for him to have a gelato.
I was too full, but it looked good. However, the flavors were unmarked, and having to ask a Spanish-speaking worker what every one was made for an interesting ordering experience!
On our last morning in San Cristobal, we were disappointed to find our favorite place for breakfast, TierrAdentro, closed. We kept walking by hoping they were just opening late, but when 9 am came and went and the door was still locked, we decided we better find another place. We noticed that many restaurants in Mexico don't bother posting their days or hours of business outside; if the doors are open, they're open, and if they're closed, they're closed. Simple as that.
We ended up at the Cafeteria del Centro and had a good breakfast. The atmosphere wasn't quite TierrAdentro, but it filled the bill and nourished us for our day of travel ahead.
Mexican eggs, bread and jam, coffee
After breakfast, we bought a couple snacks for the road. Can you say chocolate?
Not totally related to dining, but having heard what great coffee was grown, processed, and could be purchased, in this part of Mexico, I picked up this bag of organic coffee to bring home to Belize. It only cost me $70 MX (about $5.60 US) and was indeed a special treat. Long gone now, though!
Stay tuned for more from San Cristobal before we head back through Mexico to Belize!
Since arriving in Belize, we've gotten our share of insect bites: mosquitoes, sand flies, and various biting ants are fairly ubiquitous, at least when there is no wind or it's blowing from the right direction. We've been lucky enough not to be stung by any yellow jackets or hornets to date. However, on our recent trip to the mainland, we experienced a biting insect we knew nothing about. We're now properly educated!
There we were, innocently walking from our cabana over to breakfast through the grass at Mama Noots Eco-Resort
in Mayflower Bocawina National Park in the Stann Creek District of Belize. We hadn't bothered to put on any insect repellent for such a short walk, though of course we'd planned on slathering ourselves with it before our hike in the jungle after breakfast. All of a sudden, we noticed that we were attracting little black, gnat-like bugs, especially on our lower legs. It felt like they were biting us, though their bites didn't hurt or sting badly like a fire ant bite; it was just a passing annoyance, kind of like a no-see-um bite. After slapping at them awhile, we realized that where each one bit us, there was a small drop of blood.
As we arrived at the dining room, we ran into Liz, the proprietor, with one of the zip-line workers. We asked them about the bites, and they immediately recognized that they were made by some sort of fly. I could never understand exactly what they were saying; it sounded like "bottle fly", but maybe they'd called it "blood fly"? The latter was certainly fitting!
Here's how the bites looked the day I got bit. Not too bad yet.
We didn't give the bites much more thought until that night, when I realized that not only were my calves and shins itching like crazy, they were swelling up, especially the right one, where I'd gotten many more bites, for some reason. The bites were redder and more inflamed, and the skin on my lower right leg felt tight and hot to the touch. I've had bites that itched this bad before (fire ants -- ugh), but never accompanied by this amount of generalized swelling. Plus, as time went on, I could see how many bites I'd gotten, since each one was marked with a blood drop that began red but soon turned to black. NOT a pretty sight. And we were not very close to medical care, being in an off-grid jungle resort, so I hoped they wouldn't be even worse in the morning and require medical care. I counted 87 bites on my right leg alone!
Fortunately, although the bites continued to look really bad for the next couple of days, and my right lower leg remained swollen and inflamed, I didn't seem to be getting much worse after that first night, so I didn't seek any medical care. I'd brought plenty of Benedryl (an essential in Belize), which I lived on for the next few days to try to help with the itching and swelling. I guess I am quite allergic to these strange bites, since Barry didn't swell up nor have nearly the itching that I did. Liz also confirmed that she barely noticed them. Somehow I managed to hike even with the swollen leg, and with plenty of insect repellent, don't think I got too many more bites after that first morning.
By the time we got home from our late July trip, my legs were feeling a lot better. The swelling was gone and the itching was much less, but they still looked bad. It took a couple of weeks for all the little scabs to fall off.
As soon as we unpacked, we googled to find out more about these mystery flies, and although information was sparse, we did find a few things.
They are not bottle nor blood flies, nor are they (thank the gods) bot flies
, the awful creatures whose larvae burrow under the skin of humans. They are sometimes referred to as bot-less
flies because of this fact; but the correct name is BOTLASS Fly
; blackflies, bloodsucking insects). They are a local type of blackfly and are apparently found primarily in the Silk Grass Creek area of Belize [ref: http://biological-diversity.info/Downloads/Mayflower_REA_s.pdf
, search for botlass], which is very close to Mayflower Bocawina Park and Mama Noots. We found several mentions of them in blogs and forums solely in this area, but no mention of them elsewhere in Belize, nor have we encountered them anywhere else in the country where we have traveled fairly extensively.
Tiny Botlass Fly packs a mean punch
Fortunately, the referenced report states that botlass flies are not known to spread any diseases. Actually, even a month earlier (June) when we were in the same park, we didn't get a single bite, so they must be seasonal as well.
This photo was taken on the last night of our trip, and you can see bites on my lower right leg.
And you can see them here, the day we arrived home.
I'm pleased to say that within a couple of weeks of arriving home, all the bites had healed, and I don't even believe I have any scarring, thankfully. I hope this is the worst the jungle ever has to throw at me!
Since moving to Ambergris Caye in late August, we've been quite healthy overall. This isn't unusual for us as we tend to avoid most of the viruses that go around, at least in part because we're around young children only infrequently. In recent years I actually went four years without a single cold, while my co-workers seemed to catch every bug going around. Barry and I both caught a cold with a cough around the Christmas/New Year's holidays, but we weren't sick enough to require doctor's visits.
That changed this week. Barry had been tending to a fingertip that was a bit red, swollen, and infected. He thought it probably started when he poked his fingertip with the sharp blade while cleaning our blender a month ago, but it could have stemmed from a small cuticle tear around his nail that became infected. Whatever the cause, it wasn't getting any better; in fact, it was getting worse. He'd been soaking it and squeezing it, applying antibiotic ointment and Band-Aids, but none of this self-care was helping. The area around his nail was red, swollen, and there were a few pustules visible.
Google to the rescue! He determined that what he had was most likely Paronychia
, a skin infection around a fingernail or toenail. And since the various websites he read indicated that antibiotics were probably going to be required, he decided (with some urging from me) to call Dr. Lerida Rodriguez. We'd heard good things about her and pass her office frequently, since we often shop at Maria's for fruits and vegetables, right next door.
Barry called her office at around 3 pm yesterday, thinking he might get an appointment for today, but she was actually able to see him at 5 pm the same day. Not bad! Most private doctors in the US don't even work past 5 pm other than perhaps one night a week or on an emergency basis.
He rode his bike down to his appointment and was in and out of the office in 30 minutes. Dr. Rodriguez operates a pharmacy right off her office, so she was able to give him the antibiotics she prescribed, along with some epsom salts to soak his finger, without him having to make a trip to another "pharmacia" in town. Very efficient.
I believe her home behind her office is for sale, not the office or pharmacy
Behind the gate
The total cost for the office visit plus antibiotics was $140 BZD ($70 US). The cost for the equivalent generic medication in the US would be approximately $70 for someone without prescription coverage, about the cost of the office visit AND medication for Barry. Since we have only catastrophic health care coverage here in Central America, we pay as we go for any other medical expenses; fortunately, care is much less expensive here than in the US.
Today, his finger is looking a little worse, as more pustules are rising to the surface of his skin, probably due to the epsom-salt soaks drawing it out. Hopefully the antibiotics will start to take care of the infection soon, and they should if it is a bacterial infection and not fungal. The doctor wants to see him again on Thursday to ensure that it is improving.
Today we bought him some probiotic capsules at GoNature and some probiotic yogurt to help maintain proper intestinal flora as he takes the antibiotic.
Today - redder and more pustules visible
We are frequently asked about health care in Belize and on Ambergris Caye in particular, so I guess the silver lining of Barry's ailment is that we finally have first hand (or first finger?!) experience with medical care here. So far, the experience has been a positive one. You can't argue with quick, efficient, and reasonably priced service and medications!