There's a balance that needs to be struck when planning for any vacation where the enjoyment of your time spent away is equal to or greater than the drudgery and stress of preparing for the trip in the first place. For most people this isn't much of a trick: find a pet sitter for the dog and cat, have someone pick up your mail and newspaper and off you go. Elayne and I have a few additional responsibilities to settle before any vacation: simply put, we are ferret people. We have about a dozen pet ferrets, and Elayne is the coordinator for the Cascade Ferret Network, so we can have anywhere from one to three dozen ferrets in our house for any given week -- hardly the task you can pay $5 a day for little Billy or Jane from across the street to care for the "kids." As such when we go on a trip, we usually want a fairly long trip (2 weeks at least) to help balance things out. For this particular trip we lucked out and Brandon, a fellow Oregon Ferret Association member, agreed to live in our house and care for the ferrets while we were gone.

We had a house sitter, we had the time, so now all we needed was a destination. Normally Elayne and I prefer the wet and cool climate of Portland or other places with similar weather, but this time we felt like doing something different. We remembered the warm clear waters of the Caribbean and the amazing coral reef system we found when we visited Belize back in 1990. Although our previous trip to Belize was anything but idyllic (a tropical storm poured rain down on us for nearly 2 weeks, thus severely limiting what we could do and where we could do it), but we were determined to return and try again. Two months before our trip hurricane Mitch blew into Central America and hammered the coral reef of Belize before striking land in Honduras and wrecking far more havoc and destruction there. Leave it to nature to put things in perspective.

The last time we visited Central America we had wanted to visit Tikal, and had planned to drive in from San Ignacio, on the Belize side of the Guatemalan border, but the heavy rains had washed out the road and our plans along with it. This time we decided to fly into Flores from Belize City and make the short drive from there.

We also decided to maximize what we enjoyed the most from our last trip to Belize: snorkeling! We combined this desire with another of our favorite activities, sea kayaking, and signed on for a ten day stay at Glover's Reef, where we could kayak and snorkel to our hearts' content.

One last event occurred to make our trip even more memorable. Because of a snafu in our flight schedule change we wound up with first class seats from Portland to Houston and then again from Houston to Belize City. Continental really bent over backwards to make us happy when we (and they) discovered the schedule error and upgraded us without our asking or hinting for anything other than a flight schedule that would work. Continental also put us up for the unexpected night in Houston.

January 26th finally arrived and we boarded our flight to Houston for the first leg of our flight. Neither Elayne nor I had traveled in first class before, and we were amazed at the quality of service and food. There is a reason that the curtain is drawn shortly after take off -- the rest of the passengers would revolt if they saw how good we had it. The seats are wide, with a wide armrest between, the leg room ample, and the food and drinks are not the same as people get in coach. Our plane was a 737 which had 3 flight attendants -- one attendant was dedicated to first class only, another was dedicated to coach only, and the third was split 50/50. If you're keeping count, first class had 1 and a half flight attendants for 8 people, while coach had 1 and a half for 130 people. The night in Houston was forgettable, and the flight down to Belize City was a repeat of our pampering in first class.

We landed in Belize City to find rain. Rain? It continued to rain well into the next morning, which left us with visions of our previous rain soaked trip there.

Belize City itself is a jumble of narrow streets, open sewers, old colonial buildings, new concrete structures, wood framed houses and store fronts, and shanties all mixed together. Part of the city north of the Belize River is where most of the tourists stay. This district is kept cleaner and had more police presence than the rest of the city. The international airport is a few miles north of the city, and a (typically) wild taxi ride takes about 20 minutes to deliver you safe to your hotel.

Elayne and I would spend three nights in Belize City, and the Chateau Caribbean was our home for these stay overs. Our first night in the hotel was spent in an older room right up front, with great views of the garden and the sea. Late that night however we awoke to the sound of something scratching at the ceiling. We turned on the light and I climbed on a chair and gently tapped on the ceiling. The scratching stopped. An hour later the sound returned, only this time it was more frantic, almost like something was digging away at the plaster with sharp claws. Again the light came on and I tapped gently on the ceiling, but this time, much to my horror, a small hole appeared where I had touched the ceiling -- the plaster had been scraped away to a paper thin layer! We moved our bed to the other side of the room as thoughts of H. P. Lovecraft's stories The Rats in the Walls and Dreams In the Witch House haunted our dreams. The next morning we found the small hole hadn't increased in size and so we quickly packed and prepared for our flight to Tikal.

Move on to Tikal.