Lesssons from Kindergarten

‘Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.’ – Albert Einstein

Being an elementary school teacher, I’m always excited at the opportunity to enter the ‘grown up’ world. I know many people who have careers that include extensive travel and even though the allure of a vacation flight is different than a business flight, the excitement of mature activity is still very appealing. While I was a ‘stay-at-home’ mom, the thought of rw2 going to the airport and flying to a new destination, staying in a hotel (with maid/room service), eating out and conversing with actual adults filled me with envy as I stayed behind to handle the daily grind of diapers and formula. When the kids got a little older, my days became filled with conversations of the potty, tummy aches and ‘accidents’.

As of this writing, I am sitting at O’hare airport awaiting our flight to Doha, Qatar via London. Rich has been invited to attend a series of round-table meetings with the QCRI (Qatar Computing Research Institute) and we’ve managed to turn his 2 day trip into a week for the two of us. Having taken the time off of work, told my students I wouldn’t see them for a week and kissing my kids good-bye- here I sit, but my grown-up world illusion has already started to crumble.

While checking in, a man took issue with the United representative because the airline’s computer check-in awarded him a complimentary first-class upgrade, but couldn’t issue him a paper boarding pass. Yes, United was giving this man money and he was upset that he had to wait in a 5 minute line to be issued a paper boarding pass. Upon receiving his ‘golden ticket’, he proceeded to grill the rep as to the ‘process’ of not being able to receive his pass via the kiosk, thus detaining him another 15 minutes. He then headed for the 5 city-block-long security line which he would have been through by now, had he not felt the need to whine and complain. Lesson: when the teacher gives you and extra graham cracker at snack time, say thank you and move on.

Here’s a riddle for you… what’s worse than the check-in line? Security. With all of the recent additions to the security screening process, travelers are always advised to take extra time while traveling to get through the airport. Our line-mate for security didn’t seem to get that memo. With only one metal detector and 1 scanner for 2 large lines of people, she proceeded to gripe about the lack of movement of the line, sigh heavily when the scanner was closed and shifted from foot to foot when other travelers took forever to remove their shoes. ‘My flight started boarding 10 minutes ago’, was her commentary and rw2 demonstrated eloquent reserve when he didn’t say, ‘Why didn’t you leave for the airport sooner?’ Lesson: always make sure you leave the playground in enough time in the morning to be present for ‘the pledge’.

Ok, so perhaps this grown-up world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. After all, at the end of the day, kindergardeners still like you, still hug you and look forward to the next time they’ll see you. Wait, what’s that? We’re having a 2 hour flight delay and will probably miss our connecting flights? Lesson: sometimes you can’t go outside for recess.

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Un-Belize-able

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’ – St. Augustine

Our recent trip to Belize for spring break wasn’t just an opportunity to get away to visit and experience a new country, it ended up being quite an experiment. Usually, when rw2 says ‘let’s take a trip’, I head for the book store for travel books, hit up Google for umpteen travel sites and information and ‘put it out there’ on facebook to hear about friends’ trips/tips/info about our destination. This last January had me heading in a completely and very uncharacteristic direction in my world of trip-planning. I didn’t research a thing.

I already have several friends that think we’re nut cases for traveling to some of the destinations we’ve been to in the first place, but this time they stared at me with wide eyes and gaping mouths uttering things like, ‘Really?’, ‘I could never…’, ‘Where IS Belize’, and ‘Huh.’, while scratching their heads in disbelief. I can’t even imagine their surprise if I told them that we literally booked our plane reservations and hotel in about an hour without knowing anything about Belize.

As if the unknown was experiment enough, I left my phone in the states (way too expensive to turn on in Belize) and also, my computer. I’m not a tech geek or slave to the laptop, but let’s face it, we live in a tech heavy society and it’s nearly impossible to live without one. From social networks to email to shopping to information gathering, I use my laptop on a daily basis which is why the thought of going off-line for 8 days thrilled me from the start. There was something exciting about a phone number being the only way someone could reach me and laying by the pool, walking on the beach, talking with locals and exciting activities that made this trip extra special.

After the crowded, loud, college student swarmed beaches of Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, Belize turned out to be a quite and serene tropical paradise. We opted to stay on Ambergris Caye just off the coast of Belize. The caye (pronounced ‘key’) runs parallel to the Belize Barrier Reef, the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We stayed at Cocotal Inn and Cabanas and couldn’t be happier. The coast is sprinkled with resorts and private residences but Cocotal is a quiet boutique property with a large house, beach front casita and 3 small cabanas located at the back of the lot. Complete with pool, honor bar and personal staff to book excursions, we found ourselves having everything we needed.

A short, or even a long stroll, down the beach brought us to anything we wanted: sushi, BBQ, steaks, seafood, entertainment and of course, those frosty tropical drinks with the little umbrellas! Being 3 miles north of the town made for a fun adventure walking along the beach, or taking a water taxi into town. Although, walking along the uninhabited lots did offer a unique array of garbage that had washed up on shore. We found ourselves tip-toeing through everything from plastic bottles to doll parts to shoes. Interesting.

Most days were filled with lots of sun and fun, but the most memorable event while at Cocotal was paddling out to the caye in a kayak and snorkeling on the reef. We’ve scubaed and snorkeled in several locations over the years, but this was the most pristine and beautiful reef we’ve ever experienced. Rich also took a half-day excursion to the Hol Chan marine preserve and shark-ray alley to see the local sea life.

After several relaxing days, we decided to hop back to the mainland for the day to experience even more that Belize had to offer(and Rich just can’t pass up the opportunity to fly in a small plane). We found ourselves 3 hours into the mainland and almost to the border of Guatemala standing on top of Mayan ruins being amazed at the expansive jungle before us. Xunantunich is certainly not the largest or most famous Mayan ruins, but the small footprint (about 1 sq. mile) was charming and beautiful. Our private guide was very informative and even though the temp was around 100°(F), we enjoyed climbing the 130 ft. ‘El Castillo’.

Our next step was to ‘zip’ through the Belizian rainforest. Having major back surgery just over a year ago, I’m always leery of new activities, but I was certain that I wanted to try. Donned with crash helmet, harness and heavy leather gloves, we were soon flying through the tree tops 100 feet in the air. It was truly exhilarating and worth every second. Odd, but the fact that I’m not thrilled about heights didn’t occur to me at all. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t see the ground, perhaps it was because I didn’t have my glasses on, or perhaps it was just *that* cool!

With sweat rolling back our backs, we headed for the river in the nearby Cave Branch Archeological Park and spent the next hour leisurely floating through the cave system and jungle. Our guide continued to point out fascinating flora and fauna as well as birds and bugs. The drive back to the airport was filled with beer (Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more) and sharing fun moments of the day with our guide and trip mates.

It seems impossible to ‘top’ the events so far, but we actually did. Ok, well, maybe not. On our second to last night, we headed to downtown San Pedro to experience what everyone had been telling us we HAD to see since we landed… the Chicken Drop. Yes, we took bets on what number the chicken would ‘drop’ on in the hopes that we’d win $100. *sigh* This was not a proud moment for me (i’m a vegetarian) but it was a fun time and meeting up with our friends from the tour made it a great social event and memorable evening.

So, even though I hadn’t planned out every moment of our trip beforehand, scoured the internet for info and painstakingly researched our destination, we had a great time. Not having the distraction of the computer was a welcomed treat, but I did miss the opportunity to sit quietly with a beer, reflect on the day and write my blog. You can bet that I will be bringing it with from now on. I don’t think we will be heading back to Belize in the near future, but it was a great trip and we again found ourselves immersed in culture, talking with locals and experiencing all the great things that make travel awesome.

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