I'm sure our regular readers have noticed that things have been kinda slow here on the blog lately.  'Tis true.  With Barry partially out of commission with a pinched nerve in his upper back, he can't even ride his bike without a lot of pain, so we haven't been traveling, going out, or doing many interesting things of late.  Hard to believe, but it's been six weeks since his injury.  He's improved somewhat, but it's very slow going.  I considered putting the blog on hiatus for awhile, but I decided that an occasional post was better than none at all.  

One thing we have been doing lately is taking photos of the stunningly beautiful scenery right outside our windows, mostly around sunset or moonrise time, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite photographs taken in the past week or so.  I hope you enjoy them.
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Afterglow
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Afterglow peacefulness
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Egret at dusk
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Full moon rising
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Unfortunately, ugly plastic washes up among the sargassum in certain weather conditions.
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Ruddy Turnstones on the dock while storms brew beyond the reef
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Coastal Express water taxi loaded down with passengers
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Approaching storms
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Rainbow
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Other side of the rainbow
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Afterglow
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One of my favorite views
 
When we arose to bright sunshine the next morning, we were able to see Beaches and Dreams, where we had arrived in darkness the night before, in a whole new light.  It is a perfectly charming place on the beach, set far enough from neighboring homes and resorts to be private, and with tropical foliage all around, including a large mango tree we could see out our bathroom window.  
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Our room on the right
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Mango tree
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Beaches & Dreams rooms (left) and restaurant with Tony & Angela's home above (right)
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The palapa at end of the dock was one of our favorite places to hang out in the evenings
Angela made us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, English muffins, and a huge plate of fruit.  The big breakfasts here were a really nice treat and stoked us for long days of hiking and other activities.
Our plan was to go to Mayflower Bocawina National Park today for hiking and birdwatching, so Tony called us a taxi.  I have to give credit to Sharon Hiebing's Wealthships blog for alerting me to the existence of this park; I'd never even heard of it until this month, but after reading her description of hiking the super strenuous Antelope Falls, I knew it was a place Barry and I simply couldn't miss, and our entire trip to Hopkins evolved from the desire to visit this park.  Yes, you could say we are a bit masochistic to even think about doing such a hike in the summer in the tropics, but hey, that's just how we roll!

Our driver, Kaleem, would drop us at the park in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon for a cost of $70 US.  Traveling by taxi in Belize is not inexpensive, but the rates are understandable as gas prices are high, and once you get off the paved highway, side roads are typically unpaved, rocky, steep in places, and slow-going. The roads really do a number on the suspensions of the vehicles -- mostly older vehicles -- in Belize.  Kaleem would have to travel from our inn, about two miles south of Hopkins Village (unpaved), then the bad four-mile road to and from Hopkins, then the Southern Highway for four more miles, followed by a 4.5-mile unpaved access road to and from the park. Twice.  Definitely not a job I would want.

The views along the access road to the park were gorgeous, as was the day.  What rainy season?!
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Access road to Mayflower Bocawina National Park
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Our taxi, an older Rav 4
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Barry ready to hike
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Park map
We decided to start out by doing an easier hike to Bocawina Falls to warm up before we attacked the strenuous Antelope Falls trail.  Most of this hike was along an unpaved road and was quite sunny, so we were soon dripping wet with sweat.  We saw no other people after passing the zip-line area along the way.  I'd love to try zip-lining one day, but today was all about hiking and birding.  

We saved money by not hiring a guide to take us through the park -- we prefer to hike and bird-watch independently anyway, so we don't feel like we're holding anyone up when we stop numerous times to check out and photograph various birds.  Entry fee to the park was only $10 BZD ($5 US) each.
Barry happened to look down and notice this tiny thumb-sized turtle along the path.  How cute is he?
Finally we got to the end of the "road" and continued on a more typical trail through the jungle and up to the falls.  It was absolutely gorgeous and nice to have some more shade, though the humidity was intense.

"But what about the birds?", perhaps you are asking.  As we often do, we took so many photos we'll save the bird photos from our trip for a bonus blog post at the end to avoid making the daily entries even longer than they already are.  I will say that we did indeed see some great new and exotic birds for our life lists in the park, so stay tuned.
The falls themselves were really pretty, and the temperature may have even gone down a degree or two right by them.  It was nice having them all to ourselves.
From the falls, the trail continued up, up, up to the upper falls area.  We couldn't resist going just a bit higher through the lush jungle.
There wasn't too much of a view from the "upper falls", but there were additional trails that branched off to the Peck Falls and Big Drop Falls.  These trails didn't look like they'd seen much use lately, and we knew we'd run out of time to see Antelope Falls if we continued on, so we backtracked down the way we'd come.  
    
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Exotic flora along the trail back
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Bananas growing wild
When we got back to our starting point, we realized that we probably had not left enough time to complete the Antelope Falls hike.  We had asked Kaleem to pick us up at 2 pm, giving us five hours in the park, but time really flies when we're birding as we stop often to peer through our binoculars and take multiple photos, so our bird-watching hikes are not nearly as quick as regular hiking.  It was 12:20 already, so we needed to turn around after about 50 minutes of hiking to be able to get back at 2 pm.  We took off at a quick clip, unsure if we'd make it to the top of the falls or not.  It was only two miles to the top, but we knew that it would be very steep and slow-going.

First we crossed the Mayflower Bridge.
I guess the trail used to be called "Tind's Trail", per this sign.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous.  It started out easy to moderate, but didn't waste much time in getting fairly strenuous.  Still, we had no idea what was soon to come.
First we got to the stairs. There were ropes along the banks to assist, but we didn't use the ropes on the stairs.  We thought we were in good enough shape that we wouldn't need ropes at all.  Haha!  No, we may not have needed them on the stairs, but once we hit the roots and rocks and even steeper terrain on the upper half of the falls, we definitely needed the ropes.  Some of the rocks were slippery, and it was difficult enough even with ropes.  We were just hoping they wouldn't break.
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Stairs with ropes to right
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Okay, I give in -- time to use the rope!
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View of falls mid-way up
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Time for a brief rest!
Since we haven't been able to do much hill training on the flat island of Ambergris Caye, our hearts were really pounding, and I started feeling a little woozy from all this climbing in the heat and humidity.  We've done some really tough things over the years, like century bike rides (100 miles) and hiking rim to the river and back in a day at the Grand Canyon, but this was actually a more strenuous effort, probably in part because we were just not well-trained for it.  And they don't seem to understand the concept of switchbacks when building trails in Belize; they pretty much go straight up the mountain.  I'm sure it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that we're a few years older now!
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I wish you could see how soaking wet with sweat I was here!
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I think I know how Tarzan must have felt!
Finally, we realized we weren't going to be able to make it all the way to the top.  It was a combination of not having enough time and being absolutely wiped out from the heat, humidity, and climbing.  We could look up and see the top about 10 minutes away, but we just didn't have the energy to go for it at that moment.  What a disappointment!  We will definitely have to return and try again, perhaps on a slightly cooler day, and we'll do this trail FIRST next time, while we're still fresh.  Sharon's blog says there's a lovely pool to swim in at the top, so I'll pack my swimsuit next time too!

As it turned out, going down was faster than going up, though my progressive glasses were making it a little weird since I kept looking through the reading part at the bottom and slightly misjudging distance, but we made it with no mishaps.
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Coming back down
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Whew -- back on flat land
Since the trail down went faster than anticipated, we made it back to the visitor's center before Kaleem arrived to pick us up, so we got to look around a bit.  There were some ornamental peppers growing and some unexcavated Maya mounds nearby.  There was also a sign to a so-called "Bird Trail" we would have loved to have checked out.  Wish we'd had a few more minutes to walk around more, but Kaleem arrived right on time.
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Hate that we missed this!
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Maya Temple mound (unexcavated)
After we arrived back at the inn, Barry decided to head out in one of the kayaks (complimentary).  I was too worn out from our day, so I just watched and took photos after a quick dip in the ocean to cool off.  
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This was more my speed at this point
After cooling off, we realized we needed to find a grocery store for a few small items, so we grabbed a couple of the complimentary bikes to ride into the village.  After my little dip in the ocean, I had more energy than I expected.
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Bikes at Beaches & Dreams
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Weeeeeeeee!
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Riding past resorts
We stopped at this little store for a few things, which we had to stuff in our pockets on the way home after the bag broke.
When we got back to the inn, it was finally time to relax.  I sat out in the palapa over the water and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset to the west.  
The lovely Tapas dinner we enjoyed at the Barracuda Bar and Grill onsite as a fundraiser for the Hopkins Humane Society will have to wait for a later blog post.  It deserves a bit of space as Tony's food was lovely, and we took plenty of photos.
 
I was busy cooking dinner, so my sunset viewing was limited to the gorgeous photos my favorite blogger (www.sanpedroscoop.com) posted on Facebook that I checked out in amazement as I was waiting to turn the fish.  Turns out, Barry was outside snapping away at the same time and got some pretty dramatic sunset photos himself.  It was so hard to pick just a couple of photos to showcase here that we probably went a little overboard, but each one of these made us ooh and ahh.  Mother Nature surely put on a show tonight!

The photos are ordered in time, from earliest to latest.  Watch the colors deepen as you scroll through.  No Photoshop required here; it's really this gorgeous!
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Sunset over Grand Caribe, Ambergris Caye, Belize
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I think this one is my favorite - wow!