Belize, Beautiful Belize

Not a Jeep’n adventure but an adventure all the same.

I took my first solo vacation in late September. August and I had always talked about going to Belize, so I decided that was the spot. I booked my plane and hotel reservations in June, I was so excited—LOL.
I flew out of OKC, through Houston and landed in Belize City pretty early (noonish). Customs in Belize only took about half an hour, and I met my taxi driver Dean right outside. He was awesome, so much so that I asked for him to be my tour guide the next day.

The Harbor View Hotel & Spa was fantastic. The only bummer was that the restaurant was closed for renos, but I made the best of it 😊 My cottage, the Scarlet Macaw, was simple and comfy, and had life-saving AC, which became very important later. (on the website you can see my cottage on the far left, it’s blue now)

Since I’d arrived so early, I decided to explore a bit and grab some lunch. There was a Radisson with a great restaurant literally around the corner, so I ordered some amazing ceviche and a few drinks while I looked out over the ocean. It was like my body took a great big breath and let it out.
I’d been debating whether I wanted to dive right into adventure the next day, and after chilling at the restaurant for a good little bit, I decided to go for it. I booked my travel adventure for 8 am the next day and grabbed some vital bug spray from the Radisson curio shop.

When I returned to my cottage, I met three amazing women, Susan, Jessica and Rachel, who were in 3 other cottages, and there for a business trip. There were only 5 cottages total, and the 5th wasn’t occupied for my stay, so it felt like our own little village—with a small pool in the middle. We hung out and chatted and had a fantastic time, then dinner later.
One interesting thing I didn’t know… Belizean days start really early (it starts to get light at 0530) and end just as early. It’s dark by 7 p.m. Since I tend to wake up as soon as it gets light and get sleepy when it’s dark, I was in bed pretty early most nights.


The next day (after buying sunscreen at the Radisson curio shop), I embarked on my adventure with Dean. The girls snapped the pic above as I left to meet him.  It was just Dean and I (I paid a bit extra by going solo, but SO worth it), so we got to know each other quite a bit as we traveled. We drove about 2 hours southwest to the Xunantunich (Su Nan Tu Niche) Mayan Ruins, which were super cool. The main temple of El Castillio is very tall, and mildly dangerous to climb (if you go to the website, you can see a tourist on the 2d level plateau).


As you can see, the initial steps are SUPER tall. Close to 2.5 feet, so not an easy step. They were made for supplication (the Mayans were on the short side), so being tall was a challenge. But I hauled my chubby (and old) ass up them, and then up to the plateau on the left, which led to another set of stairs that were holy-cow dangerous. Like, you’d never, ever see these in the States. No railings on the “holy shit, gonna fall and die” side, with some here and there to hold onto on your left. But once I got up there the view was amazing.

This is looking out into Belize, but behind me was Guatemala, less than a mile away. My guide Francisco and I took a breather (and I drank a ton of water), then headed back down. The trip down was better, but you can bet your ass I took it slow. Klutzy is my middle name, especially when I’m tired. I was exhausted and sweaty as hell. Also super stinky, tho I didn’t realize that until later. The temp was only in the 80s, but with 90% humidity, it felt over 100. But I made it and didn’t stroke out—LOL.
We grabbed a traditional Belizean lunch of rice, chicken and plantains a bit down the road in San Ignacio (which was a lovely little town) and then headed for cave tubing.

I changed of my hiking boots and stinky clothes and into biking shorts and a dry-wick workout shirt and then Victor (my guide and I) headed for the river. After fording it 3 times (which felt ridiculously good after sweating so much), we reached our destination.

I was all geared up, to include having my phone in a waterproof bag. I was so paranoid about taking it out, I didn’t get any inside pics, but trust me when I say it was stunning. If I could do it again, I’d take a GoPro, but I did find a video that really captured the experience. I was incredibly lucky in that Victor and I were completely alone as we experienced this… there were NO other people on the river or in the caves, and it was, dare I say it, a spiritual experience.
After such a wonderful ride, it was truly icky to put my gross clothes back on. But our ride back into Belize City was reasonably short, and soon I was back in my cottage and enjoying a long shower. And a LOT of air conditioning. I enjoyed dinner right down the road (a truly exceptional grilled red snapper with veggies) and then crashed hard.

My second day was all about pampering, and man, did I need it. My quads were dying!! I scheduled a full body massage and a Reiki session. The massage (by the incomparable Shana) was amazing, and I felt loose as a goose. Then came Michelle and the Reiki session. I don’t know what I expected, but after an hour of deep breathing and concentrating on a mantra that I had to think pretty hard about before I decided on it, I was completely wrung out. As much as the caves had been spiritual the day before, this was epic on an entirely different scale. I was deeply comforting and uncomfortable at the same time, if that makes sense. It made me confront my grief in a way I hadn’t so far while at the same time soothing that grief. I was wiped out, but had such a deep well of goodness. I’ll definitely do it again, and I plan to continue using the deep breathing exercises Michelle taught me. If nothing else, it taught me the beauty of stillness, which is a very difficult thing for me to achieve.

The girls and I grabbed dinner right around the corner that night, at a great little shack where I got tostadas…the tortilla was from locally-ground corn with a more Guatemalan flare than Mexican. They were delicious.

The next day, it was off to Caye (pronounced Key—don’t ask me why) Caulker. It was a 45-minute water taxi ride there. Really it’s the city bus on the water, tho 😊 Caye Caulker is super chill. There are no cars on the island, only golf carts and there are plenty of golf-cart taxis waiting to take you wherever you want to go. I walked the entirety of the Caye, just to get my bearings. Got offered “the best green” once, which I politely declined (dammit) and settled for a beer at one end of the island   before hailing a taxi and heading to the Pelican Sunset Bar for the best ceviche I’ve ever had.

Then I asked for a shot of rum, and toasted August before dumping it in the ocean.

To say I was hot and stinky (again) is an understatement, so I was happy to board the water taxi again and head back to my cottage for my last night. The girls and I went to dinner at a fantastic place right on the water, and truly made a night of it.
Dean rejoined me to take me back to the airport on Thursday, and while I was sad to leave, I was also ready to be home to snuggle with my kitties.

When I landed in Atlanta, I ended up behind a pilot at Customs. We chatted as we waited, and it turns out he was a Vance AFB pilot training grad!! It was before we got to Vance, but still super cool. Then it turned out he was my pilot back from Belize. What a way to end it!
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and I’d recommend everyone try it.

Pros:

  • English is the primary language and the Belizean dollar is the currency, but you can use US dollars everywhere. The current exchange rate is two-to-one, so you definitely get more for your US dollar.
  • Belizeans are the friendliest folks I’ve ever met. Seriously. They love showing off their country and are extremely proud of it.
  • The weather is high humidity, but it’s fantastic for your skin and body. I felt totally rejuvenated there, even when I was exhausted.
  • The food, OMG, the food. Fresh fish on the coast, beef and pork dishes in the western parts of the country.
  • The diverse ecosystem. I only saw the beaches and the rainforest, but there’s tons of other places to go here.

Cons:
Not a con, but a caution – Belize reminded me of Mexico and Portugal – there are folks living in abject poverty right next door to a 5-star resort. They’re out hustling for a living, which means trying to sell trinkets to tourists. Having said that, a smile and “no thank you” usually suffices. If you want a Sandals type experience, then definitely head to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which caters more to American tastes.

Expenses: $2500 total; Hotel=1065; Airfare=$475; Cash=$350 (most of that went to tips); Mayan Temple/Cave Tubing=$300; Massage/Reiki=$250
Audiobooks: Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham for the flights.
Mood music: When I was in my room, played my Happy Music Playlist or jazz.
Things I learned:

  • If you’re female, MAKE SURE you bring 2 bras. I thought I did. I did not. So I had to wash mine every night because I got so gross during the day. Also, bring Febreeze. You’ll need it.
  • For the Mayan Temple, I was told tennis shoes would be fine. NO. Just no. Bring hiking boots, they’re totally worth the space. Remember, NO railings. You need solid, sure footing and ankle support. Definitely a hat and sunscreen, + bug spray, tho not as much as you’ll need in cave tubing. If you have a fear of heights, I wouldn’t tackle the big one, like I did, but there are smaller pyramids that are an easier climb and not so high.
  • For Cave Tubing, swim shorts/bike shorts and a dry-wick shirt is just fine if you don’t want to wear a swim suit. Your boobs are covered up by the life vest 99% of the time. 100% on the bug spray here, so-so on the sunscreen. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip this one.
  • Most of the people you will hire are day jobbers, meaning they get paid for the whole day. I paid $300 for my adventure, but my driver was only paid $25 American. So you bet your boopie I tipped, and tipped well.
  • Pleasant surprise – the Mayan pieces of lore were exceptionally well done (I kind of knew about 75% of it anyway, and what I knew was on target) and consistent across 3 guides.
  • Gas is VERY expensive there. Like $8 a gallon. Get a driver. It’s cheaper and if you’re in a city, you will get lost fast.

 

 

Terri’s Jeep’n Adventures (OK to SC)

Terri’s Jeep’n Adventures–Oklahoma to Charleston
This is my first travel blog post about my maiden Jeep journey. A bit of backstory first, tho.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my husband passed away, and in that time I’ve done alllll the things to keep myself busy, to try to start to build a life without him.

We’d always talked about traveling when he retired, and I decided that I’d continue with that plan. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it, whether I’d Jeep it to hotels (and maybe sleep in the back of the Jeep when the weather was nice) or get a pull-behind. For context, I have a 2015 4-door Wrangler that can easily tow a small pull-behind, and I also have a blow-up bed for the back that I’ve slept in before.

Visiting our oldest friends in Charleston seemed like a good test of the drive/hotel option because it’s still damned hot in late August/early September. My main concern was to see if I could drive that far and not lose my mind, to either overthinking, or just being on the road that long by myself.

Let me start out with this… the drive/hotel option was an unqualified success.

I left northwestern Oklahoma at noon on a Friday after a half-day at work and made it down to Little Rock in about six hours. I stayed on the river and ate at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro, which was fantastic. If you ever go there, the White Truffle Mac and Cheese cannot be beat. I’d thought I’d commemorate my trip by taking selfies when it seemed right, and while I was sitting there, I shamed myself a little bit. I wondered what people would think about this sorta-overweight, mid-fiftysomething woman taking a selfie in a restaurant. So I didn’t. And the next morning, I kicked myself. Because who is actually going to care about me taking a selfie? Am I ever going to see these people again? And do I care what they think?

The answer to that was a resounding “no,” so I vowed to get over myself as the trip commenced.

The next morning, I left Little Rock behind, knowing I’ll be revisiting it in the future. It has a great vibe that I can’t wait to explore, and since it’s so close, I can see doing it on a long weekend before I retire.

Side note: I discovered I have a 120-150 minute bladder 😊, so caveat that with the time I’m spending on the road.

I put in a solid eight+ hours the second day and arrived in Atlanta. Now, I’ve been to Atlanta before for a conference and loved the downtown area. Where I booked my hotel this time around? Not so much. The area was a complete goat rope on a Saturday night. I’m not talking about it being busy. I’m talking people parking on the sidewalks, ignoring lights and just a general feeling of impending mayhem. The hotel wasn’t much better. It was just weird, almost looking like it’d once been an efficiency apartment or a shared dorm room. I was hoping the “soul food” restaurant next door would salvage the experience, but it was a wannabe Chilis with bad service. But the drinks were good when they finally arrived.

So needless to say, I was pretty happy to put Atlanta in my rearview mirror as I headed to Charleston. The drive there was short and sweet, just under five hours, and most of it was lovely.

Our friends George and Jodi and their kids treated me like royalty, showing me super fun stuff in Charleston to include treating me to a culinary tour that we ended up getting soaked doing, but it was a blast. This pic is from the CU restaurant (Church + Union), a former Naval chapel. Food was fantastic at all of our stops, but here especially.


The next day we toured a winery (this is Jodi) and a tea plantation (this is me, George and Jodi) before indulging in a fantastic selection of bourbons at Paddock Bourbon & Whisky Bar.


I loved having a chance to reconnect with one of my Airmen (waving at Taylor, if he sees this) who’s stationed in Charleston and then we had an AMAZEBALLS family dinner at Halls Chophouse. This was truly a bucket list dinner, and I’m so grateful for the chance to go with some of our bestest friends. I threw a toast to August in the sky, because Halls was exactly the kind of foodie/drinkie experience we loved to have together.

I hated leaving Charleston but wanted to get back home with a few days to re-center myself before I head back to work. Return day one was just under 8 hours, and I rolled into Tupelo, Mississippi around 4 pm. And you KNOW I had to get a pic with the statue of Elvis!

Stayed at the Hotel Tupelo, which just a smidge more pricey than the other hotels, and was worth every penny. The room was fantastic, and the food downstairs at Jobos was ridiculously good. For dinner I had squid with bacon lardons and bacon dashi and then a blackened shrimp Caesar salad. It as amazing. 

Then before I hit the road, I had a fantastic, healthy breakfast bowl that seriously set me up for the rest of the driving day.


I rolled out pretty early after a great breakfast and was 2 hours down the road when the hotel called me to tell me I’d left my tablet in the room. I was so very pleasantly surprised they’d called (I mean, the housekeeper could have kept it and feigned innocence) and we worked out a plan to get it back to me. So A+++ to Hotel Tupelo.

I’m a pretty fearless traveler, but not stupid. So when a random guy approached me at a gas station in Arkansas, asking me for a jump because he’d left his lights on, I told him no. He pressed. I told him no again and looked at the dude at the pump next to me, who was watching what was going on very intently. Rando moved on to approach another woman who told him no, then another who said yes. And granted, his car was in plain sight, it was just so weird that he went to ONLY women and not the other dudes at the station. I made sure to stick around until the woman who’d agreed to help him was well on her way before I saddled up myself. It might have been totally innocent, but gave me a creepy vibe, y’know?

Then I entered the monsoon. Seriously. It rained so hard on 3 separate occasions in Arkansas and Oklahoma that I was doing 30 on the freeway, flashers on, the whole nine yards. And I was in WAY better shape than a lot of folks because I’m so high up in the Jeep and the roads were totally flooded. It was reasonably dicey for a good bit. I was just happy to see blue sky as I pulled into Tulsa for my last night on the road. I could have probably jammed on to home, but I promised the cat-sitter that I wouldn’t be back until Saturday morning, and it gave me a chance to go to Sprouts the next morning to stock up. Had a lovely dinner at Charleston’s, which is next-level road food where I can go Paleo or not with ease.

My drive from Tulsa almost seemed longer than half the trip, probably because I’ve done it a million times and because I was coming home 😊

It was a great trip, and I’ll definitely be doing more long trips in the future, but for the rest of this year, I think I’ll be sticking a bit closer to home.

More adventures to come, they’ll simply be of the Oklahoma/Kansas/Arkansas variety.
Expenses: Gas =$495; Hotels=$600; Food=$400. The food cost is only for the road, and most of that was me splurging on a nice dinner at each of my stops. (I tried to treat my hosts as much as possible once I was in Charleston, but we fought over bills 😊) I only ate breakfast or lunch, and nibbled from the small cooler I brought, then bought fast food to bridge the gap. I wouldn’t do the fast-food thing again. All told, this was about an even-steven cost if I’d flown and rented a car and I definitely would have spent more on food if I was at my final destination.
Audiobooks: Death Echo & Blue Smoke and Murder by Elizabeth Lowell. I started 4 others but ditched them when the narrator didn’t do it for me.
Mood music: My feel-good playlist has lots of fun stuff on it, but for this trip, it was ALL Lizzo (especially About Damn Time), after I kicked my own ass in Little Rock for not being brave.
Things I learned:
• I can drive 10 hours if need be, as long as I get out to stretch when I pee and gas up.
• The map on my laptop overestimated travel time. Maybe they’re factoring in traffic. I dunno, but this wasn’t as long as I anticipated it being, so I got to my destinations way earlier than I thought I would.
Notes for next time:
• Research standing road-yoga for when I stop at gas stations or rest stops
• Better road food. I just kind of winged it this time, and I need to be better prepared next time with less carby/fast food stuff. I bought a mini-fridge that plugs into the 12V outlet for my next trip. I threw away a bit of food because my cheesy $12 cooler from Wal-Mart didn’t cut the mustard. This way I can definitely pack some perishables for the driving portions that are actually healthy and tasty.
• Have a full set of silverware and paper napkins packed, just in case.

Duck and Run Pre-order .99c through 1 March

So very excited to share a bit more of Duck and Run with you, to include a .99c pre-order! For anyone who purchased it even earlier, no fear, you’ll get the 99c price. D&R releases on 26 February, so just a few weeks away!!

Cris and Nick are two characters who were a long time coming… around a decade. When I first wrote this story, I had Harlequin Intrigue in mind, so wrote the first half, and then a big tornado hit Oklahoma City and a book that opens with a tornado seemed super tone deaf. So I put it away for a few years. And then started writing again and fell in love with Cris and Nick again… And then another massive tornado hit in our region and I figured, that’s it, done with this one.

But something happened to me last year. Maybe it was because of the pandemic, maybe it’s my day-job retirement looming on the horizon, but I decided to get off my butt and finish things. So I finished the CASI series and I finished the Mariposa series.  And then I finished this book and dove into the next one (Broken Wings, coming in August).

I still adore Cris and Nick and the whole Red River Repossessions crew, and I hope you will as well!

Repossession agent Cristine O’Connor escaped the horrible memories of her past in Austin and buried herself deep in a new, safe, quiet life.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Nick McClain sucks at undercover work, but that doesn’t stop the powers that be from sending him into the field, and into danger.
When Cris repossesses a car and discovers Nick locked in the trunk, it’s just a matter of time until their secrets—and their pasts—collide. They’ll need to risk everything, including their hearts, to survive.

Passing of an icon…

The book world lost an icon this month when Rachel Caine passed after a long battle with cancer.

I first “met” Rachel about a million years ago after I read the first book in her Weather Warden series, Ill Wind (https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Wind-Weather-Warden-Book-ebook/dp/B000O76OQ8) and adored it.

I was a very young writer at the time with only one book under my belt and a tiny newsletter following. But I’ve never been accused of being shy, so I reached out to Rachel for writing advice and to ask her for an interview for my 50 whole followers. I was so pleasantly surprised when she not only replied, but actually began a conversation with me about writing and reading and how her writing process worked. She graciously granted an interview, and we chatted off an on for about a year before I plunged into the business side of the publishing world as an editorial director for a small e-house.

But even when I wasn’t writing, I was reading, and I was reading her books. And as I did, I realized how much of a gift Rachel had given me in those early days…her most precious resource…time.

Her Stillhouse Lake books will always be one of my favorite suspense series, and I have a shelf full of Weather Warden books that I’ll always cherish.

I began writing again after a break, and that early advice from Rachel has been my constant companion since. To put your butt in the chair and write. To read, not only to see what’s trending in the market, but for the joy of it. And to understand the business of writing. What she didn’t tell me, but has impacted every book I’ve written, was how to write a kick-ass, sympathetic heroine, who stands her ground for what she knows is right. She gave us all Joanne Baldwin, and for that I’ll always be eternally grateful.

Rachel, you impacted a generation of writers and readers, and you’ll be missed so very much.

 

 

Lunatic Fringe, coming 25 August 2020

Sooo geeked that Lunatic Fringe, the third book in the CASI series, will be published on 25 August 2020. You can pre-order it now, if your heart desires 🙂 It’s only 99c through the end of August.

  • Kick-ass heroine losing her identity 1 day at a time
  • Cold as ice hero who’ll scorch the Earth for her
  • Frenemies to lovers
  • Saving the world (again)

This series has been a long time in the making, and I’m so happy to finish it up with Monica and Heath’s story, as well as closing the loop on the big bad that has been haunting the CASI crew for the last 3 books (and 1 novella).

And hey, if you’re new to the series, Behind Blue Eyes is FREE for the month of August, and Shoot to Thrill is just 99c. So what are you waiting for?

June Book Reviews

Greetings y’all!  In this month’s reads, I wasn’t quite as vociferous, as I was finishing up the first round of edits for Lunatic Fringe. BUT, I did read and adore these…

Dirty Like Me, Jaine Diamond — FANTASTIC rock star romance. I loved this book so much. Katie and Jesse are my new fave couple, and I can’t wait to gobble up the second book, which will be Jessa and Brody’s story. SOOO happy this is a completed series and on KU.

Wrapped up in You, Jill Shalvis — I’ve been a Shalvis fangirl since the early days, and her books never fail to be a comfort read when I need it the most. It’s guaranteed I’ll cry at the end, but they’re always happy tears 🙂  In the latest (and hopefully not last) book in the Heartbreaker Bay series, Ivy and Kel are a perfect match for each other, even though it seems like their happily ever after is impossible to reach, given their pasts. Because this is a romance, I always know they’ll get there, but SO much fun along the way 🙂  You can totally read this one as a stand alone, but why would you when there are 7 more books in the series? All as fun and sexy and happily-ever-after as the last.

Merry Christmas, Baby, Katie Reus — Super sweet, fun holiday romance (it’s only 105 here today, I needed some snow-LOL). If you’re looking for a short, heartwarming book w/o too much angst, then Nora and Jackson will do the trick. I read this in one sitting and had a huge smile on my face at the end of it…so much so that I bought the next book in the series.

May 2020 Reads

So I’m horrible about blogging, which is obvious from how many posts I have 🙂 But I AM an avid reader, so I thought I’d drop in once a month and let you know what I’ve enjoyed over the last month.

Fair warning, I tend to read VERY broadly — LOL.

  • Protect the Prince, Jennifer Estep — LOVED this second installment of the Crown of Shards trilogy. I can’t wait to read the third. Highly recommended. Fantasy romance.
  • Sinister Shadows, Colleen Gleason — Super fun, with a zany supporting cast and a fun romance. All the books in the Wicks Hollow series are fantastic. Mystery romance.
  • Aurora Blazing, Jesse Mihalik — Amazing second book in the Consortium Rebellion series (huh, reading a lot of second books this month) with a solid stand-alone romance. Sci-Fi romance.
  • The Transporter, Liz Maverick — High-stakes, fast moving with interesting characters… this is the first book in the Hudson Kings series (on KU) and I’m super interested to see where the series goes. Romantic suspense.
  • Brazen and the Beast — Love, love, love this book and series (Barenuckle Bastards). Feisty heroine, yummy hero. An all over just-wow series, with the 3d installment coming at the end of June. Historical romance.

New Site, New Book, New Blog!

Hello all (or at least the 3 people who see this off the bat 🙂 )!

Once upon a time I had a blog called Musings from the Blonde Side and I posted semi-regularly, and it had book reviews of stuff I really dug, and news about books and such. 

And then life happened and I stopped blogging entirely.

Now we’re in a new year. I’ve got a new website (oooh, look, shiny), a new (sorta) book (look to the right, look to the right!!!), and decided to start over with the blog. 

Because who I was back then isn’t really who I am now. Not that there was anything wrong with the old me 🙂 I just had a different set of priorities, and turning 50 seems to have given me a kind of freedom I didn’t really expect (along with hot flashes, ridiculous weight gain and the attention span of a fruit fly).

I won’t discuss politics on here (that’s what Twitter is for), but I will do random musings on most Mondays, and throw a recipe or two in when I have something I really like, and likely talk about the realities of getting older.

So if you like to chat about books, welcome!

 

 

Archives