Thursday, May 30, 2013

Belize 2013: Wednesday - Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

There was a buzz in the air Wednesday morning--you could just feel it. More family was coming! More friends were coming! Let the games begin!

As most people were due to arrive throughout Wednesday, it was planned to spend the day at the resort. Garrett left the room early to meet with our burrito guy--yes, we had a burrito guy that rode by on his bike every morning--to secure breakfast. As was now routine, I slipped on a bathing suit and headed to Lizzie and Kevin's condo.

We had a languid morning by the pool, spent eagerly awaiting the first water taxi that would bring our parents and a big group of Lizzie's friends to Coco Beach. As the taxi came in, we skipped gleefully down the dock to greet the new arrivals. It was almost hard letting everyone pass us and continue on to check in--we just wanted to get to the fun stuff!

The group quickly settled in, and from there on the day was passed by reconnecting, drinking frozen cocktails from the bar, and watching out for water taxis holding more wedding guests.

By Wednesday evening, most (if not all) of Lizzie's friends from Boston, both sets of parents, Kevin's sister and niece, and friends of both the bride and groom from California had settled into Coco Beach. Sunscreen was applied and drinks were thrown back as smiles and laughter abounded.  The happiness that overcame all of Coco Beach was a true testament to what wonderful people Lizzie and Kevin are, together and individually. What other couple would 50 people cross an ocean for?

The excitement of the day wore on most of us, but we all pushed on to absorb every minute of being in each other's presence in such a wonderful place. Tired but too elated to care, we all readied ourselves and headed into San Pedro to Elvi's, a favorite Belizean restaurant of Kevin and Lizzie's. With the sand floor beneath our feet and tunes from a local keyboardist filling our ears, we dined contentedly on a delicious meal.

One of my favorite parts about our trip to Belize was the nighttime water taxi rides. Never before have I flown so quickly through water in the black of the night--again, Coco Beach, and I guess the rest of Ambergris Caye, had no rules. We over packed ourselves into the water taxi to the point that two were forced to stay behind--thank you, Patrick and Garrett, for doing so. After positioning more guests on one side of the boat than the other, securing the 7 week old baby and his mama in the "safest" place, and sternly putting my dad in the back toward the engine, we took off into the night. Wind whipped our hair as the boat slapped against the tide, alerting us all to be present in the moment.

"Do you think they have enough life jackets?" one of the passengers asked me.

"Definitely not," I answered.

Luckily, there was no need for life jackets. The relief was obvious as we turned toward the Coco Beach dock. We all sprang out of the boat, some of us thrilled by the ride, others thrilled to be done. Another night was brought to a close with all of us grateful for our lives; grateful to be in Belize, grateful to be with each other, and grateful to be alive after a what-could-have-been disastrous boat ride.

Read about Thursday here!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Belize 2013: Tuesday - Finding Romance in Bonefish

As planned, Garrett and I stayed back as the rest of the group headed out on a day excursion to the Mayan Ruins. Instead of waking up for a 6 a.m. departure to the ruins, we woke in time for an 8:00 a.m. date with Nester, the fishing guide we met the day before.

I had a slight freak out on Monday night—we knew nothing about this Nester character, after all. Would he even show? If he did, would he bring us somewhere horrible? Would Garrett and I ourselves become a new addition to the Belizean Mayan Ruins? Garrett wasn’t fazed, though, so I drew comfort from his calm and fell asleep.

Anyway. Back to Tuesday morning. We approached the dock and, as planned, Nester was there waiting for us in his boat. We hopped in and sped away in the direction of the bridge. It was an uncommonly windy week in Ambergris Caye, so the boat ride was extra choppy. Garrett and I smiled at each other and our surroundings as the warm water splashed up over the bow and onto our faces.

Once we crossed under the bridge, the water became instantly smoother. Nester weaved our boat slowly through the mangroves, which reminded me a bit of the Florida Everglades, but cooler because, well, we were in Belize. Toward the end of the mangroves, Nester said we had to take a tiny detour—he had to stop at his house to pick up an extra pole. My heart palpitated for a moment as my fears from the night before circled around in my head. But then I figured I was being ridiculous. And if I wasn’t, well, Garrett’s a pretty big and strong guy.

Nester secured us to a dock and was gone for no more than five minutes. In that five minutes, Garrett and I got to see a small piece of coastal Belizean life. One man was gutting and salting a hanging barracuda, another was packing his boat for a day on the water, and a woman was hanging out laundry to dry in the distance. Tarpon, which are protected in Belize, swam around our boat, as curious about us as we were our surroundings. As to not seem too curious, to the point of rude, I diverted my attention into taking pictures of Garrett and, of course, making sure he took pictures of me.

Nester returned, extra fishing pole in tow, and we set off to do some bone fishing in the flats.

Garrett was in heaven. (When you ask him, “what was your favorite part about Belize?” he will instantly reply, “bone fishing,” so quickly, it will sound like one word.) I’m not one for fishing, but I am one for being outdoors. So, while Garrett “hunted” for bonefish, I read, soaked up sun, and swam in the crystal clear water.

After 5 hours of a what-should-have-been 4 hour trip, I started to grow weary. I covered myself with towels (this ginger skin can only take so much sun) and willed Garrett and Nester to return. I got the gist that the trip wouldn’t end until Garrett hooked and caught a fish, so I said my prayers.

Luckily, Garrett returned and caught his very own bonefish just as I was reaching my limit.

“That’s it? THAT is what you’ve been fishing for?” I asked. As aforementioned, I’m not one for fishing. Garrett, on the other hand, was ecstatic.

“Did you see that fight!?” Ut oh, I thought, he's caught the bonefishing fever. I let him cast a couple more times before breaking his heart and telling him I needed to go home.

After we returned (again, all in one piece! Yay! Thank you, Nester!), we scarfed down some bar food and then did MY part of the day—couples massages on Lizzie’s veranda, steps away from the beach. I smiled to myself as I listened to the ebb and flow of the ocean, thinking of all the recordings I had heard in spas before of just that. The massage was amazing, the location was amazing, and the day was amazing. We were in pure bliss.

Tuesday was exactly what we needed--time together, just the two of us. Once we got our fill, we were ready for the group to return. I spent the remainder of my afternoon reading on the beach as Garrett fished off of the docks, both of us waiting to reconnect with everyone that had left for the day.

When the group returned, everyone jumped in the back pool. The back pool had a structure in the middle of it that, were we in the States, would have been forbidden to climb and jump off of. But we weren't in the States. We quickly came to realize the Coco Beach had very few rules, if any rules at all.

Kevin's parents, brother, and sister-in-law got in on Tuesday. We had a relaxing night, as all of us were exhausted from the day’s activities. The evening closed with a game of Apples to Apples, which Kevin’s brother Bob and sister-in-law Dana dominated. The Munhalls, if you didn’t know, have quite the knack for board games.

Heavy-lidded and lighthearted, we parted ways and went to bed. Wednesday was going to be a big day, as it was when most of the remaining wedding party would be coming in. Happy to have a few quiet days, we readied ourselves for the exciting chaos that was about to ensue by taking advantage of a good night’s sleep. Lizzie and Kevin's wedding week was about to come in full force, and we had to be ready to take it by storm!

Read about Wednesday here!

Belize 2013: Monday - Happy Hearts

There is nothing better than jumping out of bed at 7:30am, throwing open the curtains, and yelling "LOOK WHERE WE ARE!"

Oh wait, I lied. What’s even better than waking up in paradise next to the one you love, waking up to a beautiful pool two steps outside of your room, waking up to a morning filled with sunshine and ocean air, is waking up somewhere that you can say “I’m going to walk over to my sister’s!” (and as the week went on, my dad’s, mom’s, other sister’s, and friend’s resort abodes).

Lizzie and Kevin established an “open door” policy with all of their wedding guests. Their Coco Beach condo was at the head of the resort, facing the beach. The condo was great, but it was Lizzie and Kevin that made it wonderful. The combination of their open invitation and my excitement alone was enough to surpass my worry of being a bother. Most mornings, Garrett and I would wake up, throw on our bathing suits, and head to Lizzie and Kevin’s. Monday morning was no different.

Together with Lizzie, Kevin, Bubby, and Kurt, Garrett and I took the water taxi into San Pedro. Garrett and I headed off to find fishing supplies while Bubby and Kurt went in search of groceries and Lizzie and Kevin met with their wedding photographer.

Garrett and I walked into what we thought was a fishing store but turned out to be...not a fishing store. The girl inside saw our concern, and told us to follow her. Shrugging our shoulders, we followed as she led us past a "Beware of Dogs" sign (the dogs we had to beware of were two floppy puppies), up a flight of stairs, and into somebody's apartment.

"Wait here," she said.

“Uh,” was our response. Our hearts fluttered, but we didn’t—couldn’t—move.

Out came Nester, a local with a serious sunglass tan. He didn’t sell fishing tackle, clearly, but was a guide. He took us out to his balcony (hearts fluttered again), and pointed out the bait and tackle store. Since he turned out to be so kind and helpful (thank goodness!), Garrett asked his price and availability. We left Nester’s home with all body parts intact and a fishing trip planned for Tuesday.

Garrett and I waited out rejoining our group at a local restaurant called Wild Mangos. We sipped tropical drinks as our party returned to take the water taxi back to Coco Beach.


The rest of the afternoon was spent playing in the pools, sliding down the water slide, and splashing in the ocean. We all soaked up the sun gratefully in each other’s company.

Earlier in the day, when Garrett and I were at Wild Mangos, we laid our eyes on some seriously large burritos that looked seriously good to eat. The group, now grown to include Kevin’s Uncle Jim, Aunt Nancy, and cousin Patrick, headed back into San Pedro, bellies rumbling for the rumored burritos. Our hearts were all broken a little when we were told the burritos were only on the lunch menu, and we had to order dinner from the dinner menu. Good thing their dinner options were all delicious.

We strolled the streets of San Pedro and settled into a local hotel’s nook of plush, red couches. Exhausted but happy, we waited, yet again, for our water taxi to return us to Coco Beach.

I think it’s safe to say that we all slept peacefully that night. With a day filled with sunshine and beautiful people, I know that my heart rested happily.

Belize 2013: Sunday - Two Planes, a Puddle Jumper, and Water Taxi Ride Later...

For the first time in my life, I wasn't upset to be awoken by a 4:00 a.m. alarm clock. I shot up in bed, stretched my arms above my head, and with a big smile exclaimed "we're going to Belize for Lizzie and Kevin's wedding!" to my less awake husband. Thirty minutes and a quick shower, dog walk, and car pack later, Garrett and I headed to the airport.

We met up with Bubby and Kurt, our two fabulous and loving uncles, in the Houston International Airport. With them we flew into Belize City, were escorted through the airport every step of the way, and were left waiting in anticipation for our puddle jumper flight that would take us to Ambergris Caye. The Belize City Airport staff were not as excited, however, as we were. Had Bubby not asked the staff when our flight actually was, after being told "in 10 minutes" time and time again, we probably would have waited in that airport for hours.

The puddle jumper and water taxi rides were thrilling, but all I could do was count down the minutes until our arrival. I was ready to get to the resort and see my sister. Arrive at the resort a short time later we did, and were happily greeted by bathing-suit clad Lizzie and Kevin, flanked by friends Emily, Lauren, and Mark.

Sunday evening was a blur of checking in, unpacking, and rinsing off. I felt like we couldn't move fast enough. My sister was out there! The ocean was out there! My excitement and relief of making it to Coco Beach was palpable.

The group--Liz, Kevin, Emily, Lauren, Mark, Kurty, Bubby, Garrett and I--gathered and took a 10 minute stroll down the beach for dinner. We ate at a lovely restaurant, open-aired and tropical. The food, however, was less than lovely. That's ok though, because the company and setting were absolutely perfect.

We closed our first night in Belize gathered around Lizzie and Kevin's table, chatting and putting together welcome bags for the rest of the guests to come. It was times like this, quiet and personal, that I enjoyed most during our week in paradise.

Read about Monday here!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Life has been overwhelming lately. The kind of overwhelming that makes me want to draw my curtains, shut my eyes, and sleep until all of the difficult stuff passes.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that. This is real life. I have to meet my challenges head-on. Anybody can do well at living when things are good. It's the way that we handle life when things are tough that really defines us.

You will fight with somebody and you will fail at something at least once in life. It's isn't how big or how small we fight or fail, but how we do it. Do you stay honest? Are you true to yourself? Are you being fair? Do you learn? Do you grow?

Everybody reacts differently to conflict. Some people like to exercise, some people like to drink, some people like to shut down, some people like to act out. Me? I like to hide. My first instinct when faced with something scary is to plug my ears, close my eyes, and turn my back. Seriously--plug, close, and turn.  Not the ideal reaction. I'm working on it. Luckily, this reaction only lasts for 60 seconds, tops. Because, after 60 seconds, reality hits me. Problems don't disappear when we hide from them. At least not mine. Just because I can't see the monster behind my closed eyes doesn't mean he can't see me.

I've been trying to curb my block-everything-out-and-hide reaction to fighting and failing lately by, of all things, looking up. Not figuratively, but literally. When I feel weighed down and overwhelmed by what lies in front of me or what I've left behind, I simply lift my chin and look up into the sky. The space out there reminds me that everything will be ok. This world is a lot bigger than I am. Its problems are a lot bigger than mine.

Looking up has given me peace in my recent times of turmoil. Since it calms me down so well, I’ve worked it into my confrontation routine. Right now, my process of confronting fighting and failing has been this: 1) Freak out and plan to bail for 60 seconds. 2) Look up and breathe for at least 60 seconds. 3) Meet my problems head on, for however long it takes. React, look up and breathe, act.

Eventually, I'd like to be rid of the plug, close, and turn process. I'll hold on to looking up, though, because that's what helps me stay honest, true, and fair. It helps me approach my fights or failures with a clear head. And with a clear head, I can learn. I can grow. Right now, to me, fighting and failing are the scariest things out there. If I keep meeting them with a lifted chin, though, maybe someday they won't be.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Guest Post by Garrett

Garrett wrote the below essay a long time ago. It goes hand in hand with my last blog post, Bioluminescence, so we thought it would be good to share. I like how we both interpreted our experience differently. Thanks for reading!
The quest for true freedom is a challenge, that to some extent every person faces. I am most concerned about the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want, and the things that hold me back. At the same time, I find the relationships I share to be more important than anything. So it comes a time to ask myself: what is more important, freedom or relationships? Is it possible to have both?

With those questions in mind, I look to the words of a role model of mine, Alexander Supertramp (Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer). He said “an experience is nothing unless you have someone to share it with.”

I can give no greater example of his words than an experience I had myself in the summer of 2009. I was sitting on my boat by myself, having a moment in time with no connection to any responsibility. It was just me and the opportunity to sail away.  Laying on the bow of my venture 23, I found myself contemplating life’s great questions.

In every great moment there is a specific variable that makes that moment special. In this case there were about four: the moon was greater and higher than any I had every experienced, the cool wind kept the temperature comfortable enough to fall asleep anywhere, the sound of a live band danced across the water, playing a concert just for me. But the most important variable in that moment was the feeling of isolation. All came together to give me, for the first time in my life: complete contentment.

As I sat there I experienced two epiphanies.  1. I thought this would be the best moment in my life, or, more straightforwardly it was all going to be downhill from here (true or untrue, it was still an unsettling feeling). 2. I was having the best moment in my life all alone; there was no on to share it with.

Which brought me back to my understanding of the quest for freedom. For the first time I experienced true euphoric freedom, only to be followed but the utter sickness of having no one to share it with. I mean real pain and nausea from the anguishing frustration of loneliness.  Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days and moments felt lost,  as if anything I forgot would be like it never happened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I wondered—if we lose the memory, is it even worth happening in the first place?

I decided it was time to leave my boat. As I rowed to shore to escape my depression, I noticed a faint light surrounding my oar every time it hit the water. The more I oared the brighter the light got, until it was as if fireworks were igniting below my vessel. I stopped to contemplate how to explain either the scientific or spiritual possibility of the glow. As I turned on my head lamp, I quickly noticed thousands of jellyfish surrounding my boat. The glow was their defense mechanism against me hitting them with my oar.  I related this situation back to ancient folklore, fairytales, and even the creation of religion. Stories come from unbelievable experiences, shared  and exaggerated by their story teller. A Native American in ancient times may have had the same experience, but without a head lamp, he would maybe would have understood and shared it to be the story of the magic/holy glowing water.  At this point I had my third and most important epiphany of the night,  #3: If you can’t share an experience, as long as you can share the story, you are never truly alone.


Saturday, May 4, 2013


It was a mundane summer night. Garrett had spent the day's hours in solitude upon his sailboat in Greenwich Cove as I worked away mine in a downtown Newport t-shirt shop. The midnight hour struck, and as I locked up the shop I momentarily struggled with the decision of driving two minutes down the road to my bed or 25 minutes to meet Garrett on his boat. I chose the latter because, well, that's what you do when you're in love.
So over both bridges and through the woods I went in the dark quiet of the night. Garrett called to ask when I’d be arriving; he was excited to show me something. He couldn’t tell me about it, though, he said. It was purely something that I would have to wait and see.

When I arrived, Garrett was waiting on shore, practically bouncing from foot to foot with excitement. We piled ourselves into the one-person kayak—yes, kayak—and pushed off into the cove. I sat on Garrett’s lap, knees high to my chin, as he navigated our way through the water with the paddle.

"Look down,” he advised me.

I didn’t see anything. I told him so.

“Just keep looking down. Watch where the paddle hits the water.”

And then I saw it, the most awe-inspiring thing: as our paddle hit the water, what seemed hundreds of neon green sparks bounced away. Mesmerized, I asked him to do it again. And again. My head turned like a tennis spectator’s from side to side, watching as every stroke took to the water. With every stroke, the sparks returned. The night sky and sea were black, but at the tip of our paddle, neon green sparks abounded.

Garrett explained the phenomenon to me as what I now know as bioluminescence, an emission of light by process of a chemical reaction. It is most commonly used by creatures for offensive, defensive, or attractive purposes.

In our case, the luminescing creatures were jellyfish—the night tide washed them into the bay in massive quantities. We assumed that the jellyfish were acting in defense to our paddle’s disturbance. As they were defending themselves against our paddle, and not our flesh, we were able to appreciate the show that they were putting on.

We didn’t stop for a moment to realize that we were sitting merely inches above the waterline of a cove filled with thousands, yes, thousands, of jellyfish. We only noticed the wonderful beauty that was happening around us. No words escaped our lips, breath barely flew from our lungs. The only sound to be heard was the whooshing of the water being pushed behind us.

Through the water in our tiny kayak we quietly glided, flanked by a sea illuminated by flashes of light. What was a regular 5 minute trip to the boat became a 20 minute journey, a journey where Garrett and I understood that we were together receiving a beautiful gift from nature. When we reached the sailboat, we sat in silence for a minute more. As we had no further use for the paddle, we let the jellyfish be. The water swallowed the light and all was black once again.

We arose from our peace and faced the realization that we’d have to stand in the kayak, one at a time, to hoist ourselves over the boat’s edge. Standing in a kayak is no easy feat, mind you, especially when you are surrounded by waters engulfed in jellyfish. The mistake of shining our flashlight on the water’s surface was made, revealing a stretch as far as the eye could see filled with brown jellyfish.

They weren’t going away, and Garrett was trapped beneath me. I took a deep breath, slowly rose to my feet, and grabbed onto the boat. My heart quickened until my mind admonished it to not be afraid of something that had been so beautiful just a moment earlier. I pulled myself up and fell ungracefully into the aft. Garrett secured the kayak and leapt into his boat. We peered over the edge together and watched the sea of plain jellyfish float by. Our light show was over.