Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How Travel Most Likely Saved My Life

It starts in Belize. In order to get to the first zipline platform, we have to hike up a hill, and then climb a ton of steps. 

Part of the way up the steps, I feel like I can't breathe. I’ve been exercising every day, how can I be this out of shape, I think. I let the others in our group pass by me, until I finally catch my breath. I climb the rest of the stairs. I have no issues for the rest of the day,

 or the rest of the trip. I shrug it off as a fluke.

A few months later we travel to Colorado. We decide to go hiking at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. 

We take an easy trail that meanders up the mountain. 

I’m having an impossible time. Going up, I can’t walk more than twenty steps without having to stop. 

I can’t seem to breathe. It’s not a huffing from too much exercise can’t breathe, I’m gasping for air, only able to take short breaths that do not seem to be delivering oxygen to my lungs. 

It takes me forever to get up the mountain. Fortunately once we level off and make our way down, I’m back to normal.
Just after our Colorado trip I get a huge surprise. I’m the winner of Un-cruise’s 20th Anniversary essay contest (here’s the link to the essay if you’d like to read it). My prize is a trip for two to Costa Rica and Panama. Seriously awesome! While reviewing the itinerary, I notice that there is a good amount of hiking. I don’t want to be the weird girl who can’t breathe during the hikes, so at my routine appointment with my rheumatologist (because I have Lupus), I mention my recent issues. She thinks it might be related to the pulmonary embolism (due to Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome) I had a few years ago, but it seems easier to rule my heart out first before poking around in my lungs. The rest has been a blur…

          -Call from the doctor-pressure found in the right side of my heart. Must go to the    hospital immediately for something called a V-Q scan. The test involves breathing in    nuclear gas. Sadly I do not develop super powers. The test is clear, no blood clots in my  lungs.
         -See a cardiologist. Lots of appointments with my rheumatologist. 
          -Get a right heart catheterization. Pulmonary arterial hypertension confirmed. Start    treatment (taking Viagra, yup, you read that right).
      -See the pulmonary hypertension specialist. Because it is a rare condition, there aren’t a  lot of specific pulmonary hypertension specialists. I’m lucky because I live near The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. They have an entire pulmonary  hypertension center.  

     Fortunately for me, my pulmonary hypertension was caught early. My prognosis at this point is positive. My heart is still strong and healthy. Most people are not so fortunate. Most people aren’t ziplining in Belize, hiking in Colorado, or doing other activities that trigger symptoms this early. The majority of people don’t experience being short of breath until they are doing everyday activities. Usually by this point the pressure has been quietly deteriorating and weakening their heart, and things are pretty bad (sometimes in heart failure bad). I am grateful to God for an early diagnosis and a whole team of doctors who are dedicated to, as my new specialist put it, keeping me from "falling off the cliff." 

The condition is incurable however, so I’m stuck with it. Actually, I’d like to think that it is unluckily stuck with me. I’m not in the habit of feeling sorry for myself. I am a fierce kick ass warrior. I plan to continue to travel for as long as it is possible, which will hopefully be a very long time. 

There will be challenges that I’ll have to face as they come. For example, since we fly often, I already have a special High Altitude Simulation Test scheduled to see if I need supplemental oxygen when I fly. 

I've been greatly blessed to be inflicted with wanderlust and an ability to travel often. If it wasn't for the trips we took that triggered my symptoms, who knows how long it would have taken to discover there was a problem. I feel like travel saved my life.

*Extra Note- Although this site (and hopefully my new website coming in 2017) will primarily remain a place for me to tell fun travel stories, I will add information about my pulmonary hypertension when it’s relevant. I couldn't find any other travel bloggers with the condition, so I hope to offer as much advice as I can to any in the future. With everything I do, my goal is always to be an encouragement, whether it is encouraging someone to not let a chronic illness destroy who they are, or encouraging everyone to get out and experience cool, new things. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rose's and Leaving Caye Caulker

Rose's intrigued us every time we passed. 

Each evening, as the restaurant opens, the entrees are displayed in ice bins that are set on a table in front of the restaurant. The choices are different every night, depending on what is caught or acquired that day. 

After perusing the choices, we pick our entrees. They are promptly thrown onto the grill.

We are seated against the railing which is the perfect spot to people watch. 

Rose's is a place to get to early. Once an entree is gone, it's gone. The later you get there, the less choice you have. We're actually a bit on the late side this night, so the restaurant has already cleared. 

Our fresh water shrimp kebabs arrive to our table perfectly grilled. Fresh is an understatement. I think they are the freshest shrimp I've ever had. They are extremely juicy, they seriously taste like they were just pulled from the water. 

The kebabs are accompanied by tomato rice and cucumber salad. Everything is yummy, but we can't help but leave with a sigh. It is our last meal of the trip. 

In the morning we wake up extra early. Already packed, we trek one last time from Oasi to the main town. I'm reminded of our first morning, sipping coffee at Ice and Beans while watching people leaving the island. Now we are those people. 

After buying our departure tickets for the water taxi, I'm feeling pretty unhappy. I don't want to go.

Leaving works exactly like getting there, only backwards. It's all very easy. 

I'm excited for our long layover in Miami. Miami has my favorite airport eatery so far, La Carreta.  

Lunch cheers me up.

While we munch maduros, we reminiscence about our time on Caye Caulker, then we do the best thing to beat the post-trip blues...we start planning the next trip. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Aladdin's-Caye Caulker

After a couple of failed attempts, we finally found one of the highest rated restaurants on Caye Cauker, Aladdin's, opened for business.

Though not right on the beach, Aladdin's offers a lovely view. 

We settled at a table and watched the last wisps of sunset dissolve into the water. 

This is another restaurant where many things are made to order, so remember Caye Caulker's motto to go slow. Savor your dinner. There is no rush. 

We started out by sharing the fattoush salad. 

The ingredients were very fresh and the balance of herbs was perfect.

For our entree, we both ordered the vegetarian platter because it included one of our favorite things, stuffed grape leaves. We were crushed when we were informed that they were out of stuffed grape leaves. We were invited to order double of one of the other items on the platter, so we both picked the tabbouleh. 

It still seems funny to admit that the best restaurant we ate at on an island in Belize was a Lebanese restaurant, but wow was this place good. It has joined the ranks as one of our favorite travel meals thus far. 

The hummus was creamy, and the pita was fresh. Normally I'm not a huge falafel fan, because I find it to be dry, but this falafel was incredibly moist.  

Now let's take a moment to appreciate the baba ganoush. It was the best baba ganoush we have ever had, and I dare say we may never find another to be its equal. It had a deep roasted flavor, combined with lots of garlic, and just a hint of lemon. It all blended together to create a little bit of eggplant heaven. Had we known it was going to be that good, we would have ordered it as our missing grape leaves double helping.

 Everything we ate at Aladdin's was delicious. If we were staying on the island longer, we definitely would have eaten there again. We saw quite a few people order food to go, so whether you get food to go, or take a seat at one of the picnic tables, if you are on Caye Caulker and you find Aladdin's open, eat there. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Playing Hide-and-Seek in San Pedro

We stand and watch as the water taxi glides away. We missed it by mere minutes. Now we must wait an hour-and-a-half for the next taxi. 

We settle down under a palm tree on the beach and put things into perceptive. 

An hour-and-a-half sitting on a beach beats an hour-and-a-half in a cubicle any day. 

We people watch, stare at the water, and Shannon does a little artwork.

"Hi, what's your name?" asks the pint sized girl who appears before us. "My name's Gabby." 

We exchange a few more words, Gabby skips away, then returns with one of the most adorable little boys I have ever seen. Gabby introduces the boy as her brother. I very much regret never asking him his name, so hence forth he will be known as Gabby's brother. 

"Let's play," exclaims Gabby, "let's play hide-and-seek." I look at Shannon and shrug. I stand up, brushing the sand off of my pants. Shannon follows. Gabby is the activities director. She decides we should play boys against girls. The boys hide first and the girls search, then we switch, then we do it all over again. 

There aren't a lot of places to hide on the beach. Fortunately Gabby and her brother aren't competitive. It's more about being silly, and having fun. 

Next they want us to swing them around. After a few swings, they deem me a bad swinger, so Shannon becomes the main swing guy. 

When Shannon's arms get tired, they want to try on our sunglasses. It's too hard to say no to their cute little faces.

They offer us some of their snack, plums covered in chili powder. We politely decline. Sticky hands, sand, and a soon to catch water taxi do not go together, otherwise, I probably would have tried one. 

The time passes quickly, and it's finally time to go. We say good-bye, turn away, and make our way towards the taxi dock.

"Wait, wait," yells Gabby. We turn. She blows us kisses. Gabby's brother copies his sister's movements. My heart melts. "Good-bye!" They wave furiously, then skip off down the beach. 

Now I'd like to think that we were special, but I have a feeling Gabby and Gabby's brother frequently coerce visitors into playing on the beach. And just in case you were feeling concerned, though Gabby's mother never interacted with us, she kept a close eye on the playful duo.

It's fun to plan adventurous activities like ziplining and cavetubing, but there is something equally special about the little, unexpected, unplanned moments, like playing hide-and-seek on the beach with Gabby and her brother. No matter what adventures we have in the future, that hour-and-a-half will always hold a special place in our hearts. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Munching in San Pedro, Belize

While researching for our Belize trip,I read a lot of blog posts and articles that compared Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. In the end we chose Caye Caulker because it was quiet, chill, and easily traversed by foot. Still, we wanted to spend at least a little bit of time checking out the island that we decided not to stay on. Fortunately, it was only a water taxi ride away.

After spending a few days on laid back Caye Caulker, San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, was a bit of a shock to the system. For starters, there were paved roads and cars.

A lot of cars. And there were even more golf carts. 

The streets were narrow, the traffic was congested, and there were few sidewalks. You had to be on alert as you meandered through the town. 

Now in all fairness, since we didn't have a car, San Pedro was all we saw of Ambergris Caye. The rest of the island may be lovely. 

It is a good island if you want a little bit more going on in the way of nightlife activities.

San Pedro had a nice beach area that was calm, quiet, and exhaust fume free. 

We spent a good amount of time walking and hanging out on the beach.  

Our favorite activity in San Pedro was eating.

Since it was still morning, we got a couple of to-go coffees, spiked with a little coconut rum cream. 

Next, we dropped by Neri's for some pre-lunch, 50 cent, tacos. 

We got three pork tacos, and two chicken tacos. 

I thought the chicken were the best, while Shannon preferred the pork. They were tasty, and it was fun watching locals chowing down on plates piled sky high with tacos. 

For lunch, we ate at Original #1 Pupuseria Salvadoreno (not to be confused with any other Pupuseria). 

I have to thank fellow travel blogger Vagabond Spirit for the recommendation. She was in San Pedro a few weeks before we were and spoke highly of the Pupuseria. 

We actually have a Pupuseria not far from our house, but have yet to visit, so this was our introduction to Pupusas. Pupusas are thick, homemade, corn tortillas that are stuffed with fillings. I got two bean and cheese pupusas. Shannon got one bean and cheese, and one chicken and cheese. 

The tortilla is light and fluffy, and the inside is gooey, in a good way. There was a condiment on the table. I have no idea what it was, but it made the pupusas extra good. We gave pupusas a thumbs up. 

Shannon was still hungry after eating his two pupusas, so he also got what he thought was going to be one tostada, but turned out to be four. 

If you are in San Pedro, I recommend checking this place out.

I saw it from a distance.

"What? Does that say....does that say....raspados?" I might have knocked over a few small children in my delighted delirium to get to the cart. We fell in love with raspados when we were in Panama. They are like a snow cone only ten times better. Saying that I was excited to find a raspados cart in Belize is an understatement. 

This cart was set up in front of a school. Outside for recess, kids and teachers were reaching through the school gate to get their hands on an icy, fruity, treat. 

Shannon went with strawberry, while I went with orange.

Now I can't say that they were as good as the ones we had in Panama. Some of that probably had to do with the fact that the raspados guy in Casco Viejo, Panama actually shaved the ice from a giant ice block, right in front of you. Our Belize raspados were still great, and in the blazing sun of San Pedro, they were a welcome refreshment. I was such a happy girl (I learned that one must lean forward for sipping pictures after the Butter Beer debacle).

We had a lot of fun eating our way around San Pedro, but we can say with certainty that we loved Caye Caulker more than we liked San Pedro. After a few hours of dodging traffic, and lots of people, we couldn't wait to get back to our tranquil, little island. Little did we know as we made our way to the water taxi, we were about to have one of the most memorable experiences of our travels thus far.