Posts Tagged ‘Belize’


Our Perspective

We knew before we moved to Ecuador that we were Gringos. And we have been called Gringos frequently – by store clerks, friends and even strangers on the street. I’ve gotten so used to it, I describe myself to Ecuadorians as “el Gringo” because its the easiest way to describe who I am. In a community of Ecuadorians, the term Gringo identifies me as the 6ft tall pale-faced guy.

What is a Gringo?

The term Gringo comes in a few variations

  • Gringo – for the man
  • Gringa – for the woman
  • Gringita / Gringito – for the child or the “dear little gringo”. This is a term of endearment.
  • los Gringos – the group of gringos

Online forums and blog comments are full of Americans and Canadians who are insulted at the thought of being marginalized, by being reduced to a word.

Here in Ecuador, a Gringo is anyone foreign – from any country. However, the taller and blonder you are increases the odds of being called a gringo. But the telltale give-away is when you open your mouth. Once you speak, either exclusively in English or with the distinctive English accent, you become a “Gringo”.

Something to remember: in Latin American culture, it is common, accepted and even a kindness to give people nicknames based on their physical appearance. For example:

  • Flaco (thin or skinny)
  • Gordo (fatty)
  • Gordito (little fatty)
  • Suco (fair skinned)
  • Negrita (little black)

Two years ago, while visiting Margarita Island, I was driving with a Venezuelan friend. He referred to a friend of his as “negrita” – I was shocked. I thought that it was out of bounds – that it was an international insult. But no . . . in Spanish its common term of endearment. A professional friend, a Cuencano, calls his wife “flaca”. When translated literally means “skinny woman”. In English, it doesn’t sound so nice, but in Spanish it is a sweet expression from a husband.

In Ecuador, people are often identified by where there are from:

  • Cuencano (a person from Cuenca)
  • Guayaquileño (a person from Guayaquil)
  • Quiteño (a person from Quito)

For us, being called Gringos is equivalent to being called Canadian. It simply identifies our origins. It isn’t uncommon to be walking downtown and hear two older Cuencanas say: “Mira – la gringita”, referring to our daughter. They say it with all the love and interest that her own grandmother would. To us, it is a very kind.

 

What Are the Alternatives to “Gringo”?

While most people from the United States consider themselves “Americans”, this doesn’t have the same meaning here. America isn’t a country: it includes everything from Alaska to Argentina. After all, Ecuador is part of Latin America, located in South America. Technically speaking, everyone from Canada south to Patagonia is an “American”.

If you are from Canada or the United States, you may be called norteamericano (North American). At a glance, it is impossible to tell Canadians, Britians, Australians and New Zealanders apart. So just as the the diverse nationalities of Latin America have been grouped (right or wrong) under the term “Latino”, it seems that “Gringo” have come to define foreigners as a group in Latin America. Have you noticed a Gringo Superiority Complex?

What do you say? Are you offended by the term? If you are Ecuadorian, what do you say about it?

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Been thinking about your next travel vacation destination? Consider Central America! Now many think about the regulars, Belize, Costa Rica, or Panama to see the canal. Now I can’t argue with you, these are all wonderful spots,but have you giving some thought to Guatemala, tiny El Salvador, Honduras or Nicaragua. Well you should, They’re all very affordable, right under your nose, and a flight less than four hours from most major US cities will get you there. Trust us, take the plunge, pull the trigger, just do it. You’ll thank us. Happy Travels!

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Making travel plans for Central America in 2015. We offer consulting. No matter what your means of travel are, overlanding, backpacking, biking, hiking or cycling. We can tell you the best places to stay, must things to do, and certainly make your Central American vacation an adventure you’ll never forget.

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Howler monkeys and roaring Jaguars, oh my!

Posted: April 12, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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The roads leading to Tikal were surprisingly smooth, with the exception of a few miles of teeth chattering bumps. We had heard the roads were much worse conditions  than Belize or Mexico, however, so far so good. As we entered more dense growth along the way, we were excited to see the over head sign announcing we had arrived in Tikal!

As we approached the entrance we noticed a gate with a guard standing beside it. He told us we would be better waiting for thirty minutes to enter the park, as the next days entry would also be included for one price. This gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. Out of the Land rover and checking out our surroundings when all of a sudden there was a screeching through the trees above us. Was this the famous howler monkeys welcoming us with shrill screams? No, looking up we saw a zip line amongst the tree tops where people were jumping off a platform and flying overhead. Sounds like fun!

As we stood there we saw the outline of a mammoth vehicle approaching. I immediately recognized it as  a Mercedes Unimog. This is a serious off road machine designed to be a totally self sufficient overland vehicle. It is the size of a commercial Semi truck or Massive dump truck. It has on. board generators, air compressor, winch with synthetic line, and many other amazing features, bells and whistles.

We talked with the owners for a while as we waited to enter the park. They had been on the road for five weeks, starting from Canada. They planned to be traveling for two years before returning home. We exchanged travel stories and contact info to place on our website. It is always nice to meet up with fellow overlanders and make new friends along the way.

Finally, it was time! We followed the winding canopy tree covered road along back towards the ruins and lodging area. Along the way, we noticed numerous signs warning of possible encounters of animals such as turkeys, snakes, anteaters, deer, and most interestingly, jaguar!

We pulled into the Jaguar inn, one of several accommodations inside the park. We checked in and were shown to our rooms. We were centrally located deep in the jungle. The atmosphere was consistent with our surroundings. As with many outlying areas, we noticed a sign that said we would lose power from 9 pm until 6 am. A candle was provided for light, however.

The park closed at 6 pm, so we decided to take a sunset walk into the ruins before dinner.  The trail was an easy 10 minute walk from our rooms. We encountered many interesting jungle sites.


As we rounded a slight bend, you could see the remains of a towering building with stairs all the way to the top. The stone had eroded away in areas, but it was very much intact. Of all of the ruins we have seen, this was surely one of the most complete and spacious layouts. On the other side of the building was a large open stadium style grass area. It was surrounded by many other ruin remains. Obviously this was the central area of the town lost and forgotten. The sun was beginning to set, casting interesting shadows from the piles of rocks and stairs. One section was still open to be climbed so we made our way to the top to watch the bright sunset.

Interestingly enough, we learned that a portion of the original Star Wars was filmed here. We talked with a couple that was from Southern Belize, expats, originally from the U.S. They owned and operated a dive school there and had come to see the ruins on vacation. A large group of teenagers approached the massive stair steps and proceeded to have a group photo done. They were a traveling soccer team and were taking some time to enjoy their stay in Guatamala. At one point the teacher/coach made his way to the top of the pyramid for the photo, clearly announcing he was the “head”. I couldn’t help but walk behind him and tower over him with my hand resting on his shoulder, waiting for another photo. l usually would have easily stood a foot taller than him, but with me standing on the top platform, towered over him by two feet! The kids roared laughing despite our language barrier, until the coach looked up to see why they were laughing. We shook hands and the team moved on across the field.

After dinner in the nice onsite restaurant, we made our way to our rooms. As promised, the power was cut off later that evening, leaving us without lights or a fan. It was a little stuffy, but not unbearable. All of a sudden,we were awoken from our sleep by a hissing howling sound. It was eery! What made that noise? All around us, there seemed to be a chorus of this sound. It finally calmed down and we were able to settle back to sleep. The only thing I could figure is the Jaguar Inn had lived up to its name. Then around 5 am, we heard the hair raising sounds again. Hair raising even when you know you are sleeping in the middle of a  jungle.

The next morning, I asked the host, if in fact that was jaguar we had heard. He chuckled a little and said, “no, howler monkey”. That was like no monkey sound I had ever heard. We packed up the Land rover again and were off toward Lake Atitlan, a lake surrounded by volcanoes and traditional Mayan villages.

Tikal Guatamala, Here we come!

Posted: April 6, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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After we loaded into the Landrover, we had one more stop to make. Natalie, Mckinley’s wife was flying in to Belize City from work to join us on the expedition. We will be traveling for three weeks through Guatamala and then back into Belize for another week. The airport is small,so finding her was a breeze. We loaded her luggage and were off!

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Packing the rest of the luggage!

The trip from Belize city toward the border was uneventful and beautiful. We made good time, but decided since it was getting later in the day, we would stop at the border to spend the night, and cross in the morning. We found an excellent resort offering two pools, one of which, featured a dinosaur fountain shooting a stream of water into the pool. I posted a picture of it on Facebook, and leave it to my brother, he made a comment about, “Nice bidet”. That’s my brother, Chad, you have to know him. The next morning, we loaded up again. Wow! Thats a lot of work. I will be glad when we stay in one place for a few days.

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We pulled up to the border and were met by many “money changers”. These are local people that will exchange your currency to their local currency, the Quetzal or “Q” for short. For example, a gordita might cost Q3 or $ .39 US. The official exchange rate, is currently about 7.77 to 1 U.S. dollar. Its not quite as easy of a conversion as the peso or Belizian dollar, but my handy currency exchange app on my phone does wonders. We paid the Belize exit tax, purchased our Guatamala visas, and reluctantly did a currency exchange. Of course their was a small fee incurred for the “convenience”.

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Pay the fees to Exit Belize

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Fumigation is mandatory for vehicles entering Guatamala

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Welcome to Guatamala!

At last second we decided to run back to the burrito stand a local girl had set up and eat an early lunch of gorditas and jack, a type of fried bread that is delicious. Once on the other side, it felt like another country. Spanish was now the first language, unlike Belize who’s language is English. Another stop to register the Land rover was an opportunity to get a cold Coke and bathroom break. We crossed over the toll bridge, paying 50 quetzales or 50Q.

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Burrito girl

The bustling town of Melcher spread out before us like a small metropolis. We decided to find a cell phone store to purchase data and cell service for our phones. The usual communication issues were lessened by Mckinley’s practicing of Spanish. A few parts from an auto parts store and we were off to Tikal! All in all, We spent about an hour crossing the border. Not too bad!

Easter dinner in Cancun Mexico??

Posted: April 5, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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We decided to have Easter dinner in Cancun Mexico. the weather was beautiful, the temperature was right, and we were feeling especially thankful for the true meaning of Easter.

The plan was to purchase ADO bus tickets for a straight through drive from Cancun to Belize city, where we would meet up with Mckinley Pritchard, a new found friend who lives in Placencia Belize, a beautiful resort area located on a peninsula, bordered on one side by the Carribean sea, the other by a 18 mile long lagoon.

The problem with plans, is sometimes, they do not work out as “planned”. The man at the counter said, “the only bus to Belize is full”. This was not good, Mckinley was driving to meet us in Belize city. We were told we could catch a bus to Chetumal, Mexico and cross into Belize on another bus line. With this being the only option, we went with it. This bus left two hours earlier and there would be a layover, so we missed dinner and hopped onboard, happy to still be heading in the right direction.
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ADO buses are nice, rivaling any chartered bus line available in the states. An action movie played most of the trip, and it was entertaining just trying to read the lips of American actors, while their voices were dubbed in Spanish. The air conditioning was outstandingly cold! Angela, having read this warning online, brought light blankets to combat the Arctic air. At one point, she wrapped one around her head to deflect the icy blasts. In order to remain happily married, I chose not to share this photo on the blog. Take my word it was a sight! 5 hours later we arrived in Chetamul, chilled through and through, lack of sleep, and a little hungry.
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With the time change, we learned we had 4 hours until the smaller bus would arrive. At 2:30 am, nothing was open, so we had officially missed Easter dinner, save the half sandwich wrapped in clear wrap from the little deli at the terminal. The “chicken bus”, turned out to not actually be a chicken bus. This was a smaller bus holding about 15-20 people. The driver was eclectic and amusing to watch as he interacted with the passengers. He often “grunted” and made painful noises, when he encountered heavy luggage, one of them being mine.
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The bus ride was broken up only by the occasional close encounter with an oncoming bus headed the opposite direction. At one point, the driver pulled over for no apparent reason, without saying a word. 10 minutes later he emerged from behind a large dirt mound carrying his half full roll of toilet paper. Apparently when nature calls…..

Finally, we arrived in Belize city, only to be dropped off at another location than the pre determined terminal. Without phone access, and it being Easter holiday, none of the internet cafe’s were open, we hopped in a cab to the other side of town.

Pulling up to the terminal, we could not help but see Mckinley’s Land rover. He recently had it outfitted with a roof rack, ladder, and butane conversion. Needless to say, it was the only one of its kind on the street. We went inside, found Mckinley and the adventure continued!