Leaps of Faith and Madonna

San Pedro Travel

Did you know that one of Madonna’s earliest hits, “La Isla Bonita,” actually references the Belizian island city of San Pedro? When Madonna wrote this song, she had not yet visited San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. At the time, she was still an up and coming artist who did not have the money to afford the luxurious vacations we see on TMZ now.

Last night, I dreamt of San Pedro

Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song

One may think this would ruin the magic of the song for me but considering my hubby and I loved the island BEFORE we visited, it makes it perfect! Like Madonna, we dreamed of a life on this beautiful island long before we actually saw it. And if you think that makes us crazy, just keep reading!

If this is the first time reading my blog, you can catch up by reading these previous blogs. But for those of you that have been following our travels, you may be thinking this was just a story about a couple who found their dream vacation spot. Or maybe some lucky schmucks who found a good locale to day dream about when their 8 to 5 was a challenge. While both are true, we decided we wanted something more permanent in our la isla bonita.

Ready…

Yep – you read that right. We decided to make our dream into a reality with a physical address. While we may be unable to walk away from corporate life and start Mopeds on the Beach right now, we could take a step in that direction by buying property there.

We knew we wanted a place on the north side of the island. In addition to being where our favorite haunts like Truck Stop and Secret Beach are located, the north side is less crowded and just more in tune with our vibe. As we researched properties on the island, we communicated with a few real estate agents. Finding plugged in members of the community was important to us to ensure we made an informed decision. One agent stood out for us in particular. An ex-pat who was responsive and included potential income stats with his listings made the process less stressful. And most importantly, both locals and ex-pats spoke highly of him when we asked.

Set…

Since this was not a permanent move, a house was too much to manage remotely. However, a condo or apartment sounded perfect. We viewed multiple units during a long weekend, house hunting trip, but one in particular stood out from the rest, El Estero. Four striking, white buildings surrounded by lush landscaping made a sleek, modern exterior appearance. The inside of the studio unit was a perfect mixture of higher end finishes and island flair. With Belizean hard wood floors, Mexican tiles, stainless steel appliances and a king size bed for my tall husband, it had the potential to be the perfect home away from home. Since we were still non-committal, we said goodbye to our agent and headed to dinner putting it on our list as a strong contender.

After a delicious dinner at Rain’s Rooftop Restaurant (another amazing spot), we decided to go back by El Estero to see its sunset view. Each of the four buildings has a rooftop deck. The unit we were looking at was on the third floor, immediately under the deck. Since the island is only a mile wide at its widest point, we were able to see both the waves breaking on the ocean side and an amazing sunset over the lagoon.

JUMP!

It was all over for us after seeing this view! We made an offer before we left the island and started the process of buying. (For those thinking of taking a similar adventure, I will share more about the buying process in Belize in a future post.)

Some of our friends and family thought we were crazy. But leaps of faith technically are a little crazy, right? After all, the definition of faith is believing in something you cannot see and taking a chance you may be right. I will not say it was a completely easy decision to make. My husband can be a glass half empty type personality and worried, what if our decision is wrong? I countered – but what if we are right? Either way, we decided we wanted to be able to say we at least took the shot!

I fell in love with San Pedro
Warm wind carried on the sea, called to me

Now we have our own place on the island we love! We have been enjoying drinks on the deck while adding a touch of our style to the place though art and decoration.

But since we cannot be there all the time, we have opened it for visitors like you! Use either of these links to book your reservation today. If you book after reading this, send me a message and I will be sure to leave you a thank you gift!

https://www.vrbo.com/7907215ha

http://reservations.belizeitvacationrentals.com/Unit/Details/163609

The Good, The Bad & What the Hell is that Smell?

I recently shared how my husband & I fell in love with the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize…first, as a daydream and then as reality. Like with any destination, our slice of paradise has locations we love, parts that could be improved and recently, a phenomenon that is really cramping the ambiance for locations in the Caribbean.

If you are reading this blog in preparation or are considering traveling to Ambergris Caye, hopefully I will paint a fair picture that captures the magic while addressing hot topics like

  • Great dining locations
  • Navigating the island
  • Safety questions
  • Seagrass

The Good

If you are looking for more high level details on what makes the island great, check out my previous blog, Mopeds on the Beach. However, if you are looking for specific island spots and information, keep on reading!

Being foodies, my husband and I prefer to sit at the bar where we are able to chat with bar staff and fellow patrons. And as Texans, we can talk! While the island has absolutely provided the backdrop for some of the best conversation and introductions, savoring some of the dishes often shut us up.

Blue Water Grill

On our first trip, we were within walking distance to this beach side restaurant. Interestingly enough, it is actually owned by a Texas couple. This can be the only explanation for how an island restaurant managed to have one of the best steaks we have ever tasted! We also enjoyed tasty items from the menu like conch chowder. Conch shells are all over the island so we had to see what the fuss was about! We expected it to be similar to a clam chowder but the heartiness of it actually more resembled a corn chowder. Seriously delicious!

I love Belize

The vibe of the place was lighthearted and fun. It is a very popular location so get there early or make a reservation. If you find yourself too late for a table, check out the bar for available seating. We found it to have attentive service and had great conversation with some fellow travelers.

Losers Bar & Grill

Losers is a country music-themed bar and restaurant located at the end of a pier, over the water and with an amazing view. We enjoyed cocktails and ceviche that was tasty and had a kick of heat!

Belize ViewsLoser in Belize

Boats are able to tie up to the pier and come in for a drink or bite to eat. It definitely has a Nashville feel to accompany the country music piping through the speakers. It is a family friendly location (at least during the day) and often has live music. While the food was tasty, the atmosphere and views make Losers a place to visit!

Truck Stop

Although we love the beachfront locales, the northern portion of the island is where we prefer to spend the majority of our time.

If you like food trucks, you will love the Truck Stop! It is a very cool, family friendly location. A handful of cleverly converted container carts make up Belize’s first “shipping container food park and beer garden.”

The Truck Stop

While it is family friendly, it is also a great spot for couples of all ages and groups. A pool is tucked in the back for its patrons, with a large movie screen where they host movie nights. The Truck Stop has different events almost every evening such as Family Feud, bingo, karaoke, local entertainers , etc.

The Capricorn

Our absolute favorite location for breakfast, lunch and dinner is The Capricorn! Also found on the northern portion of the island, this location is beach side and available for events. It was recently re-opened and the new owners are continuing to update it. One trip, we saw it set up for a wedding and it looked beautiful! Our last trip, we enjoyed a rainy day borrowing one of their game boards (Connect FOUR), chatting with the incredibly friendly staff and enjoying the view.

Belize Views

The Bad

While San Pedro, Ambergris Caye is a popular tourist location and hosts a large ex-pat community from the US, Belize is currently under a category 2 warning for US travelers. To be as informed as possible, we are enrolled in the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, STEP” offered by the US Department of State. This program issues real – time alerts and also provides Embassy locations. Travel dates and times can also be registered for emergency purpose. Check it out here.

Mostly, the hubby and I approach traveling very much like we would when navigating parts of our own hometown, Houston. Simply, we are mindful of our location and intuition. With any uneasy feeling, we turn back and find another location. Also, we talk to the locals at places like mentioned above. They freely answer questions and were genuinely helpful and honest. Finally, the mainland has exciting excursions that we look forward to enjoying. However, we have not explored because of our own comfort level and heeding the caution.

What the Hell is that Smell?

Due to heavy storms and flight delays, we were first introduced to the beaches of Belize by moonlight. While we were unable to clearly see the beaches, we asked ourselves, “what the hell is that smell?” The next morning, we were introduced to the smell’s culprit: sargassum sea grass. In researching, it was interesting to discover this pesky nuisance was not specific to Belize.

What Is Sargassum?

Prior to 2011, sargassum was located in the Sargasso Sea. It is suspected that climate change and the introduction of elements such as fertilizer and wastewater into the oceans caused it to move to locales such as the beach in the Caribbean. In 2018, Barbados declared a national emergency due to the negative impact to tourism. As recently as June 2019, 13 countries (including Belize) met to brainstorm solutions. This collaboration is great to see and hopefully a remedy can be identified soon.

The conditions can change daily so it is hard to predict when the beaches may be covered in it. Workers are diligent about removing it from the beaches before peak beach time. Along with its unpleasant presence in the water, a pretty notable smell accompanies it.

However, it is still possible to have a great beach day while visiting San Pedro!

Secret Beach

Secret Beach is located at the northern portion of the island and is on the bay side. As a result, the beaches are sargassum free and a beautiful location to spend the day. The water is clear and still as if you are on a lake so you don’t have to worry about being pounded by waves. The water is relatively shallow so you can walk out probably 50 yards and still only be chest deep (that’s only waist deep for my hubby). There are several beach-side bars and restaurants at secret beach. There are also water activities such as jet boards (like a surfboard with a motor), paddle boats and kayaks that can be rented by the hour.

Secret Beach

As you make the drive out to what seems like nowhere, just follow the signs and they will guide you to this gem. As you get closer to the beach there will likely be people waving you down when you enter. However, they are only telling you about one of the bars. The beach is free so do not give anyone money when you enter. Just find an open parking spot and head toward the water. We gave a 13-year-old jewelry salesman a ride and were thankful for this tip!

Mopeds on the Beach

Ambergris Caye

About two years ago, my husband started declaring we were going to start a new life of renting mopeds on the beach. He was tired of the corporate life and wanted a slower-paced lifestyle. Soon that phrase turned into a mantra: “mopeds on the beach” for bad days, tired days or just when we needed a getaway. One day I asked him, just where exactly was this moped beach? Belize, he exclaimed!

The funniest part of it all was that we had never been to Ambergris Caye, Belize so we had no idea if it was even a destination we would love. So on our anniversary in April, I booked a trip to the island for us to see if we needed to change up our daydreams!

Our trip was a success. We instantly fell in love with the beauty and charm of the island. We have made multiple trips back and already look forward to the next one! There are so many things we love about the island, but here are a few of our top highlights:

Beautiful Setting

Due to some nasty weather, our flights were delayed and we flew from Belize City to Ambergris Caye just after sunset. I was so disappointed because I just knew the sunsets were going to be epic. However, the next morning we awakened to a scene so beautiful, it made me wish I could paint. Since I can barely draw a stick figure, I stuck to what I know and used the camera on my phone.

Ambergris Caye, Losers, Belize
Ambergris Caye

In the distance, we could see waves breaking on the Belize Barrier Reef. Boats are a constant part of the scenery as people venture out to the reef to snorkel, dive or fish. The reef is actually the second largest in the world. At 190 miles long, it is the longest and most intact barrier reef of the northern hemisphere. The reef and Blue Hole make this a diver’s must see location.

Great People

From the time we arrived in Ambergris Caye, the people were incredibly friendly. Everyone introduced themselves and took the time to learn our names; it was like an island version of Cheers! When we asked other tourists and ex-pats their favorite trait of the island, the response was consistently “the people.” We completely agreed! Whether it was sharing the history of the languages on the island to the best company to snorkel, the locals happily conversed.

It also made for a contagious setting where we wanted to share all of our good finds with the next couple we met. After four days on the island, I literally left the island with Facebook friends and locals I know will remember me on my trips back. In such a chaotic busy world, it was so nice to have a place where people made an effort to personally connect.

Eclectic Food

My husband and I are huge foodies and love to try new dishes and local favorites. Unfortunately, that means we must apply the dreaded food math to the visit.

Foodies + low carb diet + delicious food + vacation = coming home with extra pounds. But there are a number of ways to work off those extra pounds with activities and excursions. (More to come on that in future blogs!)

Ramon village, Ambergris Caye, Belize, pineapple

The food on Ambergris Caye is very eclectic. From Creole to Mexican, shrimp to steak (surprisingly-it’s an island!), 99% of our meals were delicious! Above is a picture of the Spicy Shrimp wraps at the Pineapples in the Beach restaurant in San Pedro. Fresh shrimp tossed in a sweet and spicy chili sauce (not too spicy, but a little kick), wrapped in a lettuce leaf topped with crisp rice noodles. Ooh so good and one of the best bites in the island.

The service was slower than expectations in the states but “when in Belize, do as the Belizeans do!” Everything on the island is at a slower pace. But you are on vacation so what’s your rush? Order another glass of wine, enjoy the stunning views and strike up a conversation with that fun looking couple/family next to you. Share your adventures and stories with them.

Travel Distance

Many people seem to have a misperception on the location and/or travel time to Belize. However, the plane ride from Houston is a quick two (2) hour flight. Ambergris Caye is another fifteen (15) minute flight or an one (1) hour ferry.

The flight out of Ambergris Caye, I was able to see the view I had hoped for on our flight in. Flying over the island, reef, and sailboats made me want to ask the pilot to turn the plane around.

Ambergris Caye, aerial view, Belize barrier reefSunset, Belize, Ambergris Caye

 

Our first visit to Ambergris Caye, Belize made us realize our daydreams were on target. Now, on those days that marching off to the office is tougher than others, our mopeds on the beach give us something to Belize in!

Introducing: my love, hubby, bestie & Schmoopie

A Playlist for My Daughter

sweet sixteen playlist

This blog post is different from what the blogging world refers to as my ”niche.” While reading and traveling are the things I love to do, 16 years ago I lost my heart to a 6 pound, 14 ounce baby girl. So you will have to entertain me for a moment while I use the platform that I highlight my loves to give a special dedication to the one I love most.

Originally when the idea of posting something for her came to mind, I debated different methods, such as a letter or poem. But if you know my girl, you know she has a love for all music especially 90’s music. As a pregnant 20 year old, I wanted her to be smart but I also wanted her to be cool. With my perfectly placed priorities, I burned a mixed CD with music I thought were musts. While I plugged away at my desk job, she jammed to an assortment of music in utero. Now you will rarely find her without her earbuds tucked firmly into place.

When she made her dramatic and painful- as-hell entrance into the world, I remember looking at her and not being able to imagine this little perfect bundle as a teenager. Oftentimes, I see the weight of the pressures she carries as a teenage girl trying to measure up with the expectations of school and our culture’s obsession with image. So for this special birthday, I wanted to remind her of a few timeless princibles with her own playlist.

Jesus Loves Me by Whitney Houston

Even on your worst day, you are loved, have always been loved and always will be loved. And when me and the rest of the world are doing a poor job showing it, know The Big Man and J.C. do it a lot better than any of us.

Independent Women by Destiny’s Child

While it feels good to make others proud, making yourself proud feels a ton better. Always put in the work and effort so you can be proud of the finished product. Hard work will not always equal success. In those times, the work you put in it is the reward.

Happy by Pharrell Williams

Try to always live a life you love.  Check your inner compass frequently and you will know if you are on the right path. WARNING: It is not the same as living a life chasing the things you want! Whether you are living in a high-rise as a CEO or renting mopeds on a beach somewhere, live a life that makes you happy the majority of the time.

Unpretty by T.L.C.

Like Yourself! People will tell you to love yourself your entire life, which is important too. But liking yourself can be a lot harder. If there is something you do not like, ask yourself if you can change it. If you cannot, give yourself the peace to accept it as a part of beautiful, unique you.

Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey

Hard days are a guarantee. However, we would never appreciate the sunshine without a few cloudy days. The secret is to grow from them and use the experience as an opportunity to be a more well-rounded person. You do not have to be defined by your hard days! Be great in spite of the circumstance – not out of spite.

Life is going to get overwhelming, that is to be expected. However, you hold onto these few principles and they will remind you to just keep singing!

Three Hidden Gems in Austin

With a motto like “Keep Austin Weird,” it is obvious that Austin marches to the beat of its own drum. The free-spirit attitude of Austin is an interesting comparison to its faster paced neighbor Houston. However, the short distance makes Austin a great weekend trip for people who call Houston their home base. Legends like Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan have put Austin on the map as a place for great music. So when Fleetwood Mac added Austin as a location to their 2019 tour, the husband and I decided to make it a weekend event with a great set of friends.

This past weekend was unusually cold for Austin but we set off for day drinking each day like true Texans! But the cold weather encouraged us to turn to the locals for some warmer dives.  The result was finding some true gems in Austin that we probably would not have found this trip.

Elephant Room

Walking downstairs to enter this place, the speak-easy feel of the  underground jazz bar was immediate.  According to its Facebook page, it has been around for 28 years and has been ranked as a top ten Jazz venue. The atmosphere was the perfect backdrop for the jazz quartet. I would recommend arriving early to grab a table as it becomes standing room only quickly.

Small Victory

One of the fun parts of this cocktail bar was finding it!  With the tiniest of markings on the entry door, we finally found our way in to Small Victory. After being let in by a door(wo)man, we navigated the bar to find a booth that would fit our four top. Its narrow size only allowed for one-sided booth, definitely making for extra friendly conversations. The menu was interesting with speakeasy themed drinks and charcuterie trays. Even though it was a tight squeeze, we loved the ambiance.

Firehouse Hostel and Lounge

Maybe it was the hidden entry door, but the Firehouse Hostel and Lounge was my absolute favorite spot! Located in the oldest standing fire station (1885 – people!), this place is a history nerd/drinker’s dream!

To enter the lounge, you literally roll back the bookcase. Firehouse also has a speakeasy theme with music variety.  No music acts were there during our visit but they had a great mixture  of music playing while we enjoyed our drinks. Be warned that the bartenders are as authentic as their location; no foo-foo drinks here!

While Stevie & Fleetwood Mac rocked it out, these hidden gems truly made this visit Austin-perfect! Read more about my Austin visit and the book I chose as my accessory here!

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Kindred Spirits

Thank you for vising my site! I have had such a great time meeting and networking with authors, writers and readers on my Instagram page that I decided to build a website to allow me to add more content and hopefully, continue to grow that network.

While my IG site has primarily been dedicated to reading, this site will also include my travels. As San Augustine said, “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Both traveling and reading have enriched my life with the introduction of different cultures and varying points of views.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” 

~ L.M. Montgomery

For as far back as I can remember, reading has been a constant companion. Books have proven to be dependable at every stage of life. I escaped the awkward phased and ignored the mean girls alongside Pony Boy, Johnny and Dallas from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. And what pre-teen girl wasn’t thankful for Judy Blume answering all the questions we were too mortified to ask in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret? 

As I quickly approach the big 4-0, books have never stopped being my favorite past time, conversation topic and “go-to” whether sad, happy or curious.  In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley said, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” While Anne was not referencing books, the characters I have met and the authors who have painted them so vividly have always felt like my kindred spirits.

Brandy

Welcome, friend! My name is Brandy and I started this blog to share the love of my favorite things, specifically reading and traveling. Writing is also a passion of mine. By day, I am one of those odd creatures who enjoys writing policies, procedures and project plans. My dream is to write my own book one day but for now I am perfectly paced.

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