We woke up to another hot, blue sky day in Caye Caulker. We ate breakfast at Amor Y Cafe with its fresh squeezed juice. Yum! Fresh squeezed tropical juice is one of my favorite things about traveling in Central America! We walked over to Mario’s office nearby for our half-day snorkeling tour of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. It was another amazing day of experiencing the natural beauty of Belize.
Our snorkeling tour ended around 1pm and we walked back to Bella’s for a quick shower and some reading in the hammock. After a couple of hours we walked around town to grab some ice cream to cool down and to check out the local craftsmen and shops. We stopped at a British woman’s jewelry table and admired her artwork. Lindsay bought a lovely pair of earrings.
I ended up buying a Panama hat to help stay out of the sun. Lindsay and I both wore t-shirts while snorkeling today so we didn’t get sunburnt! But, beware! That fine white sand reflects the sun and you burn easily on the islands (even when you rub half a bottle of sunscreen on your skin)! After wandering around town for a bit, we headed back to Bella’s to take out one of the free canoes. We paddled over towards the split and enjoyed a beautiful view of the shoreline of Caye Caulker. There were a few sailboats out utilizing the brisk winds coming out of the East. I was a bit jealous. Raggamuffin Tours offers both a sunset cruise and a 3-day sailboat tour that finishes in Placenia in southern Belize. If we had more time I would have loved to have done the sailboat tour down to Placenia. I miss sailing!
After canoeing to the split and back, Lindsay and I grabbed our cameras and headed to the split on foot to hopefully get some sunset pictures. Unfortunately, the skies haven’t been very cooperative over the past few nights and the sky was cloudy. It was still a pretty sunset, but not the amazing pinks, reds, and oranges that I was hoping for. While watching the sun set in the West, a dread-locked local came over and asked us if we would like some brownies to enjoy with the sunset. We kindly declined his offer knowing what was really in the brownies.
As the final rays of the sun set over the horizon, our stomachs were grumbling with hunger. We decided on eating dinner at Habanero’s Restaurant. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but Lindsay had her heart set of it after reading about it in her Lonely Planet guide. And I must say the food was fabulous! Everything sounded amazing on the menu, I opted for a grilled chicken salad. It was yummy! We enjoyed our meal on the patio overlooking Front Street. Since it was off-season, it was quiet.
After dinner, Lindsay and I spent my last night at Bambooze bar where we sat and had drinks at the bar on giant swings! The bartender was quite friendly and funny. He was not from Belize and he had us guess where he was from. If we were right, he would give us a free shot of Green Elephant Juice. We never did find out where he was from, but he gave us a free shot. It was some concoction of rum punch. Lindsay and I both sipped on local beers. It was a fun atmosphere.
After a couple of drinks we started heading back to Bella’s. We stopped at the Toucan Gift Shop where I purchased a couple of souvenirs and some sample hot sauce for my father. Belize is famous for their hot sauce. Interesting enough, it’s also illegal to carry-on hot sauce on the plane. Opps! 🙂
One day this past Fall I woke and realized at age 26 I needed to get my life together financially if I wanted to pursue both my passion of travel and also return back to graduate school for my PhD studies. I’ve never been bad with budgeting and finance, but I’ve never been extremely good either. Back in October I sat down and created my Mint account to establish my first real budget that I was going to stick to while I worked to reduce my debt and increase my assets.
One of the first things I did was to scrutinize all my expenses and examine where I could cut costs. One stood out from the rest – my cell phone bill (okay, maybe Starbuck trips were up top there too). My plan with Verizon, which included about 500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, and 2GB of data on my iPhone 4 cost me a whopping $96.98 (including taxes). I was paying close to $1200 a year for something that wasn’t used much. That $1200 could easily go to paying off my student loans!
My Verizon contract expired in September of last year so I was free to change plans to whom ever I decided would meet my needs. I looked into AT&T, US Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The cheapest plan I could find at the time was Sprint at about $70-$80 a month. That would give me about $10 a month or $120 a year in savings, but I knew I could do better.
So I did what every normal person would do and “googled” cheap/budget phone plans. At first I was convinced that I would do a Straight Talk Wireless plan. Straight Talk offers no contract and unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 a month plus taxes. Not a bad deal I thought! And then I found out that you had to pay full-price for a new phone! My Verizon iPhone would not work on their system so I would definitely have to purchase a new phone. For a new (or used) iPhone I was looking at a price tag of $400-$650 for a new phone depending if I purchased a used iPhone 4s or a brand new iPhone 5.
I kept Straight Talk as a strong contender, but I really hated the idea of dropping over $500 for a new phone. At first during my new cell phone plan search, I was set on getting an iPhone. I wasn’t until I found Republic Wireless that I was open to switching to an Android phone. I found Republic Wireless through Mr. Money Mustache’s website. He is one of my favorite personal finance/frugal living bloggers. He spent a lot of time researching and trying new cell phones that fit his frugal lifestyle. Republic Wireless was his winner and continues to be so today. If it was good for him (and many other frugal bloggers) then it would be good for me.
Republic Wireless is a special wireless company. You can now choose from two phones: the Moto G ($149) or the Moto X ($299). When I made the switch in January I only had the option of the Moto X. You only have these two options because these phones are made especially for Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless had extremely low cell phone plan pricess because the company builds in a wireless transceiver into each phone. If you’re in an area with wifi your call will be made over the wifi connection. However, if you’re in an area with no wifi, the call will be made over the Sprint and/or Verizon cellular networks. The phone will automately switch from wifi to cellular if you walk outside the wifi zone (it’s worked great for me).
I’ve been using Republic Wireless since January and I love it! I purchased the Moto X for $299 plus taxes. I love the phone! It does everything I need it to do and the camera is about 1000 times better than the camera on my iPhone 4! You can google reviews of the Moto X for more details and comparison to other phones. I’m not a techie and I’m even going to pretend to be one either! 🙂
Republic Wireless has 4 plan options:
For the first four months I used Republic Wireless I used the $10 a month plan because about 90% of the time I was surrounded by wifi spots. It worked great for me and allowed me to recoup some of the costs I spent when I purchased the phone. In May I switched to the $25 a month plan because I would be riding my bicycle outside and wanted the ability to use Google Maps to find out where I am if I got lost. Thus far, my reception has been great. Of course, if you are considering changing to Republic Wireless, make sure you check their coverage maps HERE.
One of the best things about Republic Wireless is the ability to switch between the plans twice a month. When I travel out of the country (like my trip to Belize and Guatemala in May), I switched to the $5 a month plan for that week and as soon as I hit tarmac in Atlanta, I switched back to my normal monthly plan.
Another major benefit, which I haven’t used yet because I wasn’t aware of it until after my trip, is the ability to make calls out of the country back to the US if you’re on a wifi network. For example, when I was using the wifi on my phone at the hostel in Belize, I could have called my father in Maine. As noted above, I have not used this feature yet so I’m not 100% sure of the quality.
Let’s look at a comparison of the three cell phone plan options I narrowed down on:
Cost of Phone
Yearly Cost of Plan (including cost of phone)
$97 (w/ tax)
$200 (upgrade to iPhone 5)
$1364 (+ 2-yr contract)
Straight Talk Wireless
$33 (w/ estimated tax)
$550 (for iPhone 5)
$946 (no contract)
$29 (w/ tax)
$300 (for Moto X)
$648 (no contract)
It seemed like a no brainer when looking at the above table. Because I chose the $10 a month plan for 4 months, I should only pay about $605 for my total 2014 cell bill. If I had stayed on Verizon without upgrading my phone, I would have paid roughly $1164. I just found an extra $500 a year just by changing cell phone plans!
If you’re looking to change cell phones and save a boat load of money, I highly suggest checking out Republic Wireless! As a loyal Republic Wireless customer, if you use my referral link you can get a $20 credit (and I will also get a $20 credit). Win, win for everyone! Here is my referral link: Try Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless also offers a 30-day money back guarantee so if you don’t like it, you’ll get your money back! 🙂
** The above link is a referral link. As I mentioned above, I will earn a $20 credit if you decide to switch to Republic Wireless using my link. Republic Wireless did not pay me for this post and all my opinions are my own. Obviously, I really love this plan and phone or else I would not be using it and promoting it! 🙂
Lindsay and I slept in a bit since we were both pretty fried from the day before. I, of course, mean that literally because we both had a nasty sunburn. We slathered ourselves in aloe vera (Lindsay was smart and brought some with her on the trip) and packed up our things.
Putting a heavy pack on top of burnt shoulders and back was not a pleasant feeling. I think we both let out a small scream as we put our arms through the shoulder straps. After checking out of Pedro’s Inn, we headed into town for a quick breakfast before catching the 10am ferry to Caye Caulker. Lick’s is closed on Mondays so we had to find a new breakfast place. Luckily, there was another cafe opened just next door with a breakfast menu and free wifi. I was extremely excited to see crepes on the menu and I ordered a plate. Unfortunately for me, the crepe batter was out and the usual cook was not working today. Another plate of fried jack and traditional Belizean food it was!
As we were finishing up our breakfast, the crew was unloading the ferry of passengers and cargo. A Mennonite man pushed his cart full of fresh fruits and vegetables by us towards the market. Surprisingly, Belize is home to a large population of Mennonites that travelled south from Mexico. They live on the mainland and grow a lot of produce to sell.
We bordered our ferry and set sail for the 45 minute ride to Caye Caulker. The sky was blue and we knew it was going to be a beautiful day! We didn’t have reservations at a hostel so once we landed at the dock of Caye Caulker, our first mission was to find a place to sleep. We got off the dock and found a lovely little bench in the shade near a sleeping dog. Lindsay pulled out her Lonely Planet guidebook and we weighed our options. A local rode his bike up to us and told us that all the places were booked and he would show us a nice hotel to stay at. We politely told him that we weren’t interested. He stuck around and made a few crude remarks and finally left.
Right next to our bench was Yuma’s House Belize that looked quite lovely in a very laid back and hippy vibe. We checked with the owner to see if they had any openings, but she only had two beds in two different dorm rooms. We decided that we would try somewhere else first and then perhaps come back. We took off down the sandy Main Street in search of Bella’s and Dirty McNasty’s hostel, which were right across from each other. Secretly, I wanted to stay at Dirty McNasty’s because who wouldn’t want to stay at a hostel with that name! They offered free wifi, free breakfast, and free bike rentals. We checked with them, but decided to try Bella’s first before making a final decision.
Bella’s is a very laid back and had a free-spirited vibe to the place. We decided to stay at Bella’s because it was a couple of dollars cheaper and didn’t have the loud drunk partygoers that we saw at Dirty McNasty’s at 11am. We had to search around a bit to find Nicole, the woman in charge to book our two nights and pay. We paid about $25 BZ (or $12.50 USD) a night to stay in the bottom floor dorm room. We had the option to stay up in the tower, but I didn’t want to walk up and down the steep stairs.
After checking in, we hung around the hostel for a bit and read in the hammocks in the courtyard. We chatted a bit with the other backpackers. A couple of the girls we chatted with were from Toronto and were heading to Flores next. We told them they absolutely had to stay at Los Amigos! After reading and relaxing for a couple of hours we headed out to walk around town. Caye Caulker is really small and you can walk across the island in about 30 minutes. We headed down Main Street and came up to Mario’s Snorkeling Tours. Mario was sitting out front of his little wooden office and asked us if we were interested in a snorkeling tour. We told him that we snorkeled Hol Chan Marine Reserve the day before, but Lindsay and I were definitely up for another chance to snorkel. When in Belize, right? He offered us a discount and we gladly accepted the opportunity to snorkel again, this time in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve.
After signing up for snorkeling for the next day, we walked around some more. Lindsay bought a beer at a bar and we walked around the beach. I purchased my Tropic Air plane ticket back to the mainland airport so I could fly back to Maine on Wednesday. We walked up towards the “split.” Many people will tell you the “split” was created by Hurricane Hattie that hit Belize hard in 1961, but it is actually man-made. Hurricane Hattie did create a small split so right after the hurricane the Village Council Chairman, Ramon Reyes, and others began hand-dredging the split further. It started as a small, shallow passage for canoes, but over the years, the increased flow of tidal water has created an opening of about 20 feet deep.
Many locals and tourists hang out at the split. There is a bar where it seems anything goes. You’ll see people of all ages here, even some children, although I wouldn’t personally recommend bringing your children here with all the alcohol and weed. After checking out the scene at the split, Lindsay and I grabbed ice cream at a small shop. It was a delicious treat on a very hot and humid day.
We headed back to Bella’s for a little more R & R before heading out to dinner at Wish Willy. Prior to leaving for Belize I had posted a question on the Nomadic Matt forum asking what we should do in Belize. Matt suggested that we eat dinner at Wish Willy, so obviously coming for him it must be a fantastic place to eat.
And boy was it awesome! And it was totally not want I was expecting either. I was expecting a traditional restaurant, but this place was a backyard BBQ joint. Willy’s opens at 5pm and we arrived around 5:30-6pm. Willy welcomed us in and we sat at one of the picnic tables outside. It had just rained a little bit, but nothing that we couldn’t wipe up with a towel. It was a beautiful evening out so we wanted to enjoy the fresh air. Willy asked us want we wanted to drink. I wanted a Belikin beer and Lindsay ordered rum punch (which happened to have a 2 for 1 deal). Lindsay’s drink was pretty weak so Willy went back to the kitchen to add more rum. He came back and it was still not very strong. This time Willy went back to the kitchen and I could see him pour about half the bottle into the cup! It was good after that! 🙂
Willy has to be one of the coolest guys on the island. The Belize islands have more of a Caribbean vibe than the mainland and its population reflects that in the native population. The islands have more of a Creole and Garifuna ethnic roots; whereas, on the mainland many natives are descended by the Mayans. Willy was definitely of Garifuna descend. He was happily singing and dancing to Bob Marley on the loud speak and calling us “baby.” It appears that men calling women on the island “baby” is rather normal. Willy actually has family in Utah and has gone fly fishing in the Rocky Mountains of the USA. He joked with us that it’s quite the sight to see a big black man fly fishing in the rivers of the US.
Not only was Willy totally cool, but the food was heavenly! I ordered the fish and Lindsay ordered the steak. Both came with vegetables and potatoes. An older woman from California joined us for dinner and we had a wonderful conversation. She is a dance and Pilates instructor from the San Francisco area and comes to Belize every year for a few weeks to volunteer at a nursing home on the mainland. She then spends a week on Caye Caulker before heading back to her busy life in California. Having conversations with strangers is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. Not only do you learn about the country you’re traveling in, but you can learn so much more about the world from just talking to people from all over. Our dinner and drinks only came to $25 BZ or $12.50 USD. It was funny to ask Willy for a check. Instead of a check, he just said “uh, $25 is good for you baby.” Such a funny man!
After dinner we were going to go see Monument Men at the outdoor theater, but when we arrived, it was not open! There were 3 other 20-somethings waiting us well who turned out to be staying at the same hostel as us. We determined that they probably did not show the movie due to the rain shower earlier in the day. Another couple of guys walked up to us as we chatting with the same idea. I suggested that we all go grab a drink somewhere. We walked up the beach and had a drink at a little hole-in-the-wall bar on the beach. I’m not sure it even really had a name. There was a group of locals playing poker in the corner. The two guys were spending their summer riding motorcycles all the way from Panama back to the US. It was fun to chat with them about their adventures so far.
After a couple of drinks, we were exhausted and headed back to the hostel for a good night’s rest. After all, we had another big day of snorkeling ahead of us! 🙂
The weather in Maine on the 4th was not very nice due to Hurricane Aurther (hello downpours!), but we made the best of it. However, Saturday the 5th turned out to be a beautiful day for the City of Portland (Maine) fireworks. Below is my holiday weekend in photos.
Our half day snorkeling adventure with Searious Adventures started early. Our boat left the Searious Adventures dock at 8am sharp so we had to be there by 7:45am. Luckily, San Pedro is not very big and we could easily walk the 5 minutes from our hostel to the dock. Once we reached the dock, we were handed our snorkeling gear. Carlos, our tour guide for the day, shuffled Lindsay and I into the Searious Adventures’ boat and off we went. But, first we had to pick up more snorkelers along the way from their resort docks. We stopped twice and picked up a total of 6 other couples who would join Lindsay and me for the day.
Once everyone was onboard and we made a quick stop to exchange flipper sizes for one woman at another resort’s dock stocked full of snorkeling and diving gear, we were off for the 5-10 minute boat ride to Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The weather was perfect for snorkeling. It was a bright blue sky day with a few clouds. The wind was calm and it was hot. Good thing we would be in the water most of the trip!
As we got closer to the reserve we saw about 15 boats moored together and about 80-100 heads bobbing up and down and the telltale splashes of flippers. We had arrived at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. First, Carlos had to check in with the park rangers since the reserve is protected. There is a $10 USD park fee to enter the reserve. The fee was included in our snorkeling package with Searious. Once we received the thumbs up from the rangers, we slowly made our way over to a mooring line to begin our underwater adventure.
We spent about 20 minutes in the boat while Carlos gave us a brief introduction to Hol Chan and the ground rules for snorkeling.
Belize is a small country with an area of 8,800 square miles or roughly the size of Massachusetts. However, it is home to the second largest coral reef in the world (the largest is the Great Barrier Reef located off the coast of Australia). The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System begins in Cancun, Mexico and runs a total of 560 miles (900 km) down the Belize coast to Honduras. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is located off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye and focuses on a little more than 25 yards (23 m) cut through the reef called a quebrada. Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel.”
The entire reserve covers only 3 square miles and is divided into four zones marked by buoys: a) the reef, b) the seagrass beds, c) the mangroves, and d) Shark Ray Alley. The Government of Belize established the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on May 2, 1987 in an effort to control the often destructive fishing and diving activities that were occurring in the area. Shark Ray Alley was added to the reserve on August 31, 1999 to protect the area where numerous nurse sharks and southern sting rays congregate.
Once Carlos gave us the signal that we could hit the water… SPLASH I was in. This was my first time ever snorkeling so I was more than excited to get moving! It took about another 15 minutes to get everyone ready to go and in the water. As soon as I hit the water I saw a bunch of fish congregating under the boat. Carlos led the way for us as we began swimming towards the channel. The channel itself if only 25 yards wide, but is about 30 feet (9 m) deep.
The reef near the cut is characterized by large formations of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmate). There is a high degree of bioerosion of these corals. However, a large variety of other encrusting corals and sponges have attached to dead sections of the elkhorn coral. Other coral located in the area include: brain corals (Diploria spp.), Starlet corals (Sideratrea spp.), boulder corals (Montastrea spp.), Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and numerous species of sea fans (Gorgonia spp.). The water over the reef ranges from 3-6 feet deep. I honestly was surprised how bland the reef was. I was expecting the reef to be full of bright colors, but I guess that shows my ignorance. Don’t get me wrong though, there is some color! And the water is a beautiful turquoise blue.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is home to more than 500 species of fish. It is common to see large schools of blue tang, grunts, triggerfish, hog fish, parrot fish, barracuda and nurse sharks. Loggerhead sea turtles can often be spotted as well.
We spent about an hour in the water snorkeling around the cut. We saw an abundance of fish, including barracuda and parrot fish. We saw a couple nurse sharks and a few stings rays. Hol Chan is dominated by southern sting rays, but occasionally if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll see a spotted eagle ray. As we left the boat area and headed towards the reef we saw a young sea turtle feeding on the sea grass. I got to swim along him for a little while.
After arriving back to the boat, we headed about 2 minutes south of the reef to Shark Ray Alley. Shark Ray Alley was essentially manmade. For several years, local fishermen often cleaned their catch in an area located just inside the reef slightly south of the cut. Fishermen began to notice that their cleaning of fish had attracted nurse sharks and southern stings rays. The fishermen reported the activity to local dive instructors and thus Shark Ray Alley was born.
Shark Ray Alley is a very popular snorkeling and dive site and was my favorite of the day. As soon our boat came to a mooring buoy, we could see dark shadows following the boat. Female nurse sharks and southern sting rays congregated around our boats in the area looking for scrapes. Carlos threw out some chum and as soon as it hit the water the sharks, rays, and horse-eye jack fish were swarming the water to eat. As soon as Carlos gave the signal I was in the water and swimming towards the school of hungry shark, rays, and fish! The shark and rays have no interest in you and they have no problem swimming around and up close to you. Carlos was able to snag a few rays and we were able to pat them.
Okay, maybe I told you a white lie. You have to make sure your hands and feet stay away from their mouths because they will suck the flesh off of your arm! But the chances of that happening is extremely rare. It was absolutely incredible to get so close to the sharks and rays. The water was not very deep in the area we were in and we could swim without our fins, which I prefer.
After spending about another hour in Shark Ray Alley, we hopped back on the boat. Carlos handed us sodas and water and also very delicious coconut tarts. We headed back towards land, but not without stopping at a local fisherman’s boat. The fisherman was “fishing” for conch. To “fish” for conch, one must dive down into the water and bring the shell up. Once you have a shell, you then have to punch a hole in the top of the shell and cut the conch muscle that is holding them into the shell. Once the conch is out, fishermen throw the shells back into the water for fish and invertebrate homes.
Carlos traded the men sodas and tarts for a piece of conch meat. He passed it around the boat and we all tried a piece. The meat was actually sweet and had a tough texture like clams or mussels. It was good! We watched a bit as one of the fishermen was feeding a loggerhead sea turtle pieces of conch meat with tongs. Carlos told us that the turtle was extremely old and blind. The turtle would probably not survive long if the fishermen didn’t feed him.
Finally, we began dropping the members of our tour off at their respective docks and Lindsay and I headed back to the San Pedro dock with Carlos. The snorkeling tour was amazing and definitely worth the money! The tour cost $72 BZ or $36 USD and included snorkeling gear, the park fee to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and sodas and a snack. I would have loved to do their full-day catamaran tour, but their boat was back in Belize City Harbor for maintenance.
If you’re heading to Ambergris Caye, I highly recommend taking a snorkeling tour with Searious Adventures. Our tour guide Carlos was extremely knowledgeable and very professional and friendly. He spoke excellent English and handled the boat well. Just don’t tell if him you’re afraid of sharks because he might just sneak up on you in the water and grab your toes like he did to poor Lindsay!
A Few Tips for Snorkeling:
Wear waterproof sunscreen and reapply A LOT!
Wear a t-shirt over your swimsuit of else you’ll probably end up sunburnt like Lindsay and I
Bring a waterproof camera – I love my Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4!
Bring water – you’ll get thirsty from the hot sun and also want to wash out the salt water taste
Month two of the Semi-Charmed Kind of Life Summer 2014 Book Challenge is completed. I read 5 fascinating books that I highly recommend to anyone! Let’s take a closer at each book I read and perhaps you’ll find your next summer beach read.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (278 pages)
This book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for a while and I can definitely see why. I decided on this book because several other readers in the book challenge read it and suggested it. When I looked up what the book was about, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it takes place partly in Maine! Obviously I had to read it after that. The book tells two stories of two women. The first is Molly Ayer, who is a Penobscot Indian foster child who lives on Mount Desert Island in Maine. She steals a book from the library and is forced to conduct 50 hours of community service or face time in jail. She spends her hours helping an old women, Vivian Daly, clean out her attic at her seaside mansion. During her 50 hours of service, Vivian begins to tell Molly her story of becoming an orphan in NYC after immigrating from Ireland with her family. She, along with thousands of children, were sent by rail from NYC to the midwest via the Orphan Trains. The story is beautifully written and the parallel stories intertwined and enriched each other. I highly suggest this book!
Category: Read a book read by another blogger/challenge participant (15 points)
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (228 pages)
Wow! I can’t believe I just heard about this book. One of the best eye-opening books I have read in a long time. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and has held high-level positions at other companies, such as Google. Sandberg outlines why women don’t seem to hold the same high-level executive positions like men do. There is this rarely spoken about double-standard that women can’t have been a powerful career and a family. Sandberg provides insightful anecdotes from her personal life as well as other women she has met along the way. I was surprised at some of her stories because I have experienced similar stories and situations in my short career life and it does bother me. I hope that my generation will finally break through the gender gap and convince women that you can have a successful career and a family. This is a must read for all women and men.
Category: Read a pair of books with Antonyms in the title (30 points). Paired with Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (369 pages)
This book has been sitting on my nightstand for about two years on my “to read” book pile. I love science and medical books so I’m not sure why I kept putting off reading this. I absolutely fell in love with this book! Interesting enough, in my previous biomedical research life I have done cell culture research with Hela cells. I did a short presentation on Hela cells in my cell biology course years ago before this book was published so I was slightly familiar with them. I loved how Skloot intertwined the science with the personal story of Henrietta. For someone like my self who has conducted research with mice and various cell cultures, sometimes it’s nice to put a face to materials that you use in the lab. It reminds you that people donated (but not in the case of Henrietta) their genetic material/body parts to science in hopes of finding cures for incurable diseases. When my mother died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), we donated her temporal lobe for research. If you’re looking for something about science with a bit of a human story then I suggest picking up this book.
Category: Read a biography, autobiography or memoir (25 points)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (318 pages)
Everyone was fussing about this book and movie so I figured I would check it out. If you have read the book or seen the movie then you know that it has a sad ending. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed the story. As much as I wanted a happy ending, I think the story portrayed cancer actually in the sense that unfortunately not everyone survives. Interesting enough, I have actually done research on osteosarcoma in my past life. I enjoyed this book and if you’ll looking for a quick read then pick this one up. Other than that, you can probably do without reading it.
Category: Read a book on the New York Times Bestseller List when you first start reading it (15 points) – July 13th #1 in Young Adult
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (382 pages)
My sister bought this and had it on her nightstand. I was looking for a book with “children” in the title and stole this from her. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I absolutely fell head-over-heels for this book! I’m usually not a fan of fantasy books, but this book is original and beautifully written. I loved how Riggs based the story off of peculiar photographs from the past. Each character is well crafted and I couldn’t put the book down. I just started reading the sequel today and have about a 100 pages left (it has close to 400 pages in it). I highly recommend this book for young adults and adults alike! 🙂
Category: Read a book with “son(s), “daughter(s), or “child(ren)” in the title (20 points)
Where has the time gone?! 2014 is now officially half over and it’s time to do a 6-month check-in. I never posted my 2014 goals on this site, but you can click over to my coaching and training site and see them there.
Here are my professional and personal goals for 2014:
Grow in my job – I have been in my current job for just over 3 months now and I really love it thus far. Throughout my public health graduate studies, I would have never thought that I would find a job in healthcare technology. It was a topic that never really interested me; however, now that I work in the field, I love it. Not only is healthcare technology important in the United States, but globally, where my heart lies in global health and international development. My job is challenging and rewarding. Each week I am learning new skills that will only improve my work quality and also aid in my future career development. In 2014 I look forward to working hard, learning new skills, and furthering my future career path. I’m still loving my job and I have expanded my skill and knowledge set that is not only valuable in my current job, but in my future career. I’ve been given some more responsible recently, which makes me happy and hopefully that will continue. I hope that I’ll be given some writing assignments by the end of the year that I can dive into since writing is one of my passions.
Grow my business – If you have read my blog for a while you have probably noticed the changes over the past couple of months. I plan to officially launch my new business in a couple of weeks. I started my own coaching and personal training business because it is my passion and I find great satisfaction in helping people achieve their goals. I don’t plan to make a million dollars in my business, but a few extra dollars to help pay my student loans would be nice. I have some interesting plans and opportunities in the future so stay tuned for future developments!My business is doing well. It’s still very small, which I prefer. I only take on about 4-6 clients total between both my personal training and coaching clients. I’m not out there to make a ton of money and I prefer to give each client individualized attention. I am currently in the process of becoming a certified RRCA run coach (I just need to complete a first aid course). I’ve also taught a lot of spin classes over the past few months at Zone 3 Fitness and the Bay Club and really love teaching.
Learn French – This has been one of my goals from early fall 2013. I want a future career in global public health and international development, thus I need to become bilingual, or at least competent at a second language. I’ve been slowly practicing my language skills via software programs, but I will continue in 2014 with french lessons at The Language Exchange in Portland. I don’t naturally pick up language quickly, so this is going to be a tough goal, but it is necessary and important for my future career goals. After traveling in Central America in May, I’ve discovered that I love the Latin American culture and have decided to switch from French to Spanish. I took a year of Spanish in college, but I don’t remember a whole lot. I begin my first class on Monday! 🙂
Become more financially stable – The last couple of years have been a bit tough financially. Last year I took a risk with my career and it did not pan out as well as I hoped. The last couple of years were also riddled with unexpected purchases, i.e. lots of car repairs and health bills. My graduate student loans also kicked in and I quickly realized that about a third of my monthly income goes directly to SallieMae and Nelnet. Awesome. With my new job I received an increase in pay from my old one. I need to buy a new car some point this coming year and thus I have begun to put some cash away for that big-ticket item. I’m still driving my little car until it dies for good (or is going to cost me a zillion dollars to fix). I also plan to stash some money away again into my emergency fund since it became low due to said expensive car repairs. For the past few months I have created budgets and reviewed my spending habits to determine where I can cut back. Going into 2014 I feel pretty comfortable with my monthly budget and I have been researching ways to live more frugally. Stay tuned for that journey. Well, my little black car died in March. It was a sad day, but I am very happy with my new car! My father was very generous and gave me a down payment for my car, but I still have a $13,000 car loan plus about $32,000 in student loans. See below for more of my financial goals.
Travel – It’s ironic that one of my main goals is to save more money and live frugally, but I also seek adventure outside the US. I haven’t been to a new country in a couple of years and thus, 2014 is the year I discover a new part of the world. My mind has gone crazy with ideas, but I yet to commit to anything yet. I may travel to South America with a friend, go on a medical mission to a developing country, or take a solo trip to Southeast Asia or Europe. I love daydreaming about traveling the world and I know this year will be the year of an adventure. Anyone looking for a travel buddy? I traveled to Belize and Guatemala with one of my best friends in May for a week and will be going to the Azores Islands in November. All were new countries for me and definitely reignited the travel bug in me. I’ve been resisting the urge to impulse buy a plane ticket to Columbia! I traveled to New Orleans for work in June and absolutely fell in love with the city that I hope to pursue my PhD studies in. Montreal and Newport, RI are also in the planning stages as well as a couple big trips in 2015.
Volunteer more – This past fall I joined the Junior League of Portland, Maine and have met some pretty fabulous and inspiring women. The organization is built on giving back to the community, which is one of the main reasons I joined. I look forward to volunteering around the community with the JLP, but I also hope to give back to my community in other ways. I have been researching various organizations related to my career interests and will be making contact soon so hopefully I can help in any way needed. Junior League is awesome and I think all women should join! 🙂 I’m still seeking out more opportunities to volunteer as well. Since I have more time on my hands due to my hip injury, I am reaching out to a couple of organizations after the holiday.
Read a book once a month (or more) – I love to read and you periodically will have book reviews on my blog. For a collection of old book reviews click HERE. I’m an avid reader and I usually read daily, whether job related papers or pleasure reading. My goal in 2014 is to finish a book at least once a month; however, I would like to read more than just 12 books a month. Heck, in the past 5 days I have almost finished all three Hunger Games books. I have a stack of half-finished books so I will start my reading list there. I fell off the bandwagon on this one, but began back up again in May. I’m doing a summer book challenge which has inspired me to read about a book a week over the past two months. You can find out more information about the book challenge here.
My Emergency fund is now up to also $1200! My goal is to have about $2000 in it by the end of the year. Right now, I’m a head of my schedule. Currently I put in $100 each month automatically from my checking account, but will increase the monthly payments to $150 in October. I keep my E-fund in an online bank. You can read more about why I use an online bank and how you can earn a free $76 by opening a savings account with Capital One 360. I just learned today that if you open a checking account and make the 5 purchases within 45 days, you’ll also earn an additional $100! Their checking account is fee-free and no foreign transaction fees!
Since March I’ve paid $1512.04 towards my student loans! Since April I’ve been paying an extra $150 towards my SallieMae loans. One of my $778 loans will be paid off this month (YAY!) and the second one will be paid off by hopefully October. I’m planning on selling my tri bike this fall and will use that money to pay off another bigger SallieMae loan. My goal is to pay off my SallieMae loans by the end of December 2015.
My net worth is getting closer to zero! My total net worth was about -$31,223 at the end of December 2013 and over the past six months is now sitting about -$17,896. The main reason that it shifted towards positive by nearly $15,000 is the purchase of my new car. Yes, my car loan currently sits at about $12,500, but my car is worth, according to Kelly Blue Book, $17,000. My investments are doing well. I currently put in 7% of my yearly income into my company’s 403(b) with a company match of almost 7%. I rolled my old 401(k) into a Roth IRA in March and have finally reached over the $6000 mark in April. I am planning to start contributing to my IRA this fall.
I haven’t been very good about sticking to my budget over the past few months. May was expensive because of my vacation. I had planned a head so I knew they were coming. June had some unpredicted extra expenses, such as $300 dentist bill, a few business-related expenses, and a $330 plane ticket to Portugal in November. My goal for the remaining summer months is to reign in my spending and stick to my budget better. I know I will have some extra expenses coming up such as another $90 dentist bill and an eye exam. I just need to stay out of the J. Crew outlet store!
Not to wish away the remaining six months of 2014, but I’m really excited about the prospective of nailing all my goals this year. I feel that I’m in a solid place both personally, financially, and professionally. I know 2016 is going to be a big transition year for me with my future goals of going back to school so I’m happy that I’m well on my way to be able to pursue my dream of attaining my PhD. And hopefully reach a net worth of $0 within the next year! 🙂
We woke up early for our big day of snorkeling. Yesterday was rainy and the weather forecast wasn’t really in our favor, but when we opened our eyes the sun was shining! We had to be at the Searious Adventures boat dock by 7:45am. Lindsay and I both slathered sun screen on and walked down to the beach to Estel’s Dine by The Sea for breakfast. Estel’s is pretty much the only place open at 6am. The menu had traditional Belizean foods for a decent price. You order off of their chalkboard menu, which was different. I ordered the fruit with yogurt and water. It only cost me about $5 USD.
After a quick breakfast we walked the two minutes down to the boat dock to begin our snorkeling tour. I will go into a more in-depth post about the snorkeling tour because it was awesome! This was my first time ever snorkeling so I was stroked to do this. I’m a water person so if there is water around I want to be in it. Our snorkeling trip brought us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. I was super excited to snorkel up close and personal with sharks and sting rays. Lindsay, however, was not. But, she willingly (or maybe unwillingly) tried to get over her fears and hopped into the water. 🙂
Here’s a few pictures as a sneak peek of what’s to come:
We got back from our morning snorkeling tour around 1pm. I was hungry! We went back to our hostel to change clothes and grab our books so we could lay on the beach after a quick-lunch. We went back to Lick’s since it was right on the beach and the smoothie I had yesterday was delicious. I ordered a plate of the conch fritters, which is a traditional Belizean dish of fried conch. They tastes similar to fired clams. While sitting and eating at our table right on the beach, we enjoyed spending time with Patch, the very friendly dog that belongs to the owner of Lick’s (that Lindsay and I wanted to take home).
After lunch, Lindsay and I migrated down the beach to find a spot to lay out and read. We found a little place near some palm trees and little kids playing in the water. I enjoyed a few hours reading Nomadic Matt’s How to Travel the World on $50 a Day on the beach. However, after a little bit I realized that my skin was on fire and I needed to seek shade or else I would have a monster sunburn!
We packed up our stuff and headed back to the hostel. Yup, I definitely got sunburn. Lindsay and I spent another hour or so hanging out in one of the pools at the hostel. Pedro’s Inn has two pools. One pool was filled with a bunch of drunk 20-something trying to funnel beers through the pool cleaning hose. We chose the pool with the two older ladies from upstate New York.
Around 7ish we headed out for dinner. We chose to walk further into town to check out the restaurant scene there. We decided on Caramba! Restaurant since they had AC! As we were walking downtown I was starting to feel really dizzy and nauseous. I ended up not eating and just ordered a cold water and watermelon smoothie. The thought of eating made me want to barf whatever food I had in my stomach. Clearly, I got too much sun that day. After Lindsay quickly ate dinner we walked back to the hostel to cover our bodies with aloe vera. Sun – 1; Lindsay and Katelyn – 0.
I don’t know about you, but I know when I have a lot of money stashed in my savings account that is easily accessible through my bank debit card, I get attempted to use it (especially when J. Crew has a sale!).
When I officially began saving for my emergency fund I was just putting money into my savings account at my bank. However, when I found out that the current annual percentage yield (APY) was a pathetic 0.05% I decided to look at other options to put my money to use! If my money is going to sit in my account (hopefully for a very long time) until I have an emergency and need to use it, I want it to earn the most interest that it can.
Ever since the US economy began to collapse in 2008, the APY for savings, money markets and CD accounts have been crap through just about every bank. Through my research and determination to make the biggest bang for my buck (pun intended), I decided to go with an online bank.
I liked the idea of an online bank because
I couldn’t access it as easily so the temptation of using that money wasn’t there
I could earn over 90% more for every dollar in my account
I can set up automate transfers from my checking account to my new savings account
I can transfer money out of it relatively quick (~24-48 hours) if and when I need it
The online bank with the highest interest rate today is Barclays Bank at 0.90%. Barclays is a British bank, but recently expanded into the US. Barclays is FDIC-certified, meaning that the US government insures deposits in banks for up to $250,000 per depositer per bank. All Barclays online accounts have no hidden fees, no minimum balance to open, and is secure and accessible 24/7. An APY of 0.90% is the highest you’ll find in any bank currently in the US. And to make things even better, you can open a Dream Account and earn 0.95% APY. To earn the extra 0.05% a year, you need to make six consequent monthly contributions of any amount (must be less than $1000/month) six months in a row and make no withdrawals in that six month timeframe. I have both my emergency and tax fund in a dream account.
To open a savings account with Barclays, go to their website.
Today, I received an amazing opportunity with Capital One 360. Many of the personal finance bloggers I read use Capital One 360. If I didn’t like Barclays so much I would have opened my E-fund account with Capital One. However, I when I checked my Mint.com account today I was alerted about this awesome incentive with Capital One 360. From today through Thursday July 3rd, if you open a Capital One 360 account with a minimum deposit of $500, Capital One will give you $76! The APY for the Capital One 360 savings account is 0.75%, which is still one of the highest in the country! Capital One 360 is also FDIC-insured, so you can have a piece of mind about your money.
If you’re looking for a little more of a bonus, you can open a 360 Checking account and earn $100 by making 5 purchases with your debit card within 45 days. You earn 0.20% APY on deposits up to $49,999 and the account is fee-free.
I decided to open up a 360 Savings account and earned the $76 immediately (but I can’t withdraw that $76 until 30 days) by transferring my travel fund from my current bank savings account (where I’m only earning 0.05% APY). The $76 and the greater APY will make my travel fund grow even faster! That means I can travel longer. 🙂
If you’re interested in opening a Capital One 360 savings or checking account (which you should because who doesn’t love FREE money!!), then please use this link – Capital One 360 Financial Independence Days Sale! <— Note: This is an affiliate link. If you click and use this link I make a few dollars. Those few dollars can help me travel longer so I can write more travel articles and show you more pictures of amazing places! Thank you! 🙂
Lindsay and I woke up in our Belize City Hostel, the Sea Breeze Guesthouse, after a solid night of sleep. I actually woke up about an hour earlier than Linds and wrote in my travel journal on our balcony. Our balcony shared a door with our next door neighbor. He came out and we chatted a bit. He’s from Los Angeles and comes to Belize for a week or two every year in May. The sky was a cloudy and looked like impending rain. Other than that it was a decent day, aka less humidity!
Once Lindsay got up we packed up our things and we walked the couple of minutes to the San Pedro Water Taxi station to catch the 9am San Pedro Belize Water Taxi to San Pedro. When we crossed back over the Belize border from Guatemala the day before, one of the water taxi representations gave us a discount coupon for our tickets. I purchased a one-way ticket to San Pedro since I was planning on taking the Tropic Air flight from the islands to the international airport, but Lindsay purchased a round trip ticket since she was in Belize for another week and was planning on heading south after I left. We each saved a few bucks! A normal one way ticket to San Pedro costs $17.50 USD, but I paid about $15 USD with the coupon.
We hopped on the boat and enjoyed the 1.5 hour ride to San Pedro. The boat was nice and basic. There was plenty of room for everyone, but I can imagine that it is more crowded during the high season. We arrived on the San Pedro dock around 10:30 and hit the first cafe we found for breakfast. Right across the water taxi dock is a little cafe called Licks. It was a great little breakfast place and we both had the traditional Belizean breakfast of fried jack, eggs, beans, and cheese. It was yummy!
After breakfast we began our walk to the Pedro’s Inn Backpackers Hostel. As we were searching for the hostel it started to downpour. We got half way to the hostel and asked a local warehouse worker if we were heading in the right direction. He pointed in the opposite direction and of course we headed in that direction because we didn’t know any better. Once we figured out we were heading in the wrong direction, we headed back the original we walked and eventually found the hostel. We checked in quickly and chose the cheapest option, the dorm room.
The room had two beds with a window. The beds were comfortable and we had access to the shared bathrooms, which were very clean as well. The accommodations were simple but comfortable for the $13 USD a night we paid. The downfall of the location of Pedro’s Inn is right next to the airport so it can be loud when planes take off throughout the day. It’s relatively quiet at night though. Pedro’s does have a reputation of a party hostel so it can be loud from drunk people, but it wasn’t bad when we were there for two nights.
It continued to rain for a while so we both read awhile in bed. In the early afternoon the rain started to turn to a drizzle and we both decided to head into town to check out the massage place we saw on the beach for $25. After a few days of nonstop travel, hiking Mayan ruins, and cave tubing, we both could use a little relaxing and massage. My right IT-band and hip were quite tight (I have a chronic right hip issue) so a massage was just what the doctor order. We found out that a half-hour massage cost $25 USD and an hour-long massage cost $50 USD. This a bargain compared to the $75-$100 I pay in Maine (which doesn’t happen often these days)! We decided we would do a half-hour.
The cool thing about this massage place was that it was a tiki hut right on the beach! It wasn’t extremely private, but we lucked out that because it was the beginning of the low season and the weather was rainy, the beach was quiet. As soon as Lindsay and I hit the massage table, we both decided a full hour would be better! That massage was amazing! One of the best I’ve ever had. I was way more relaxed and carefree after that hour. The massage was definitely a splurge, but well worth the $50 plus a $5 USD tip! 🙂
After the massage, Lindsay and I set out to find a snorkel tour for the next day. We talked to the people at both Seaduced by Belize and Searious Adventures. Both tours cost about the same price and offered the same level of snorkeling. We decided to go with Searious Adventures because they were a couple of dollars cheaper. Both tour companies have excellent reviews along with Grumpy & Happy Belize, so you can’t go wrong with any of those choices!
As we were walking along the beach we saw a little chocolate shop and who can’t resist chocolate?! Belize grows cacao in the Toledo district in southern Belize. About 10 years ago Jo and Chris Beaumont, a UK couple, quit their London jobs and moved to a little island in Belize. They went to the annual chocolate festival in Toledo and came back to San Pedro with the idea of starting a chocolate company. Kakaw Chocolate was born and is now sold in a cute little shop on the beach in San Pedro called the Belize Chocolate Company. Lindsay and I spent some time looking at all the boutique chocolates. I picked out 3 of them to try – a chocolate peanut butter cup, a mint pattie, and a chocolate-covered marshmallow. All were delicious! I also purchased some chocolate bars and chocolate tea to bring home.
After an afternoon snack of chocolate we walked back to Pedro’s Inn to shower and get ready for our “fancy” dinner. Lindsay and I decided that we would splurge on one really nice dinner. Lindsay had her mind-set on another restaurant called The Tackle Box (not to be confused with the bar in San Pedro), but we discovered it was on the other end of Ambergris Caye and would have required a taxi ride. The Blue Water Grill at the Sunbreeze Hotel was our second choice and it was worth it! The restaurant is right on the beach and we were able to score a small table right on the railing to enjoy the sunset and cool evening breeze.
Lindsay had one of the local beers and I had a nice glass of Malbec. We enjoyed an appetizer of conch ceviche. Conch is a traditional island food and the South American ceviche dish is popular in Belize. Mixed together it was quite yummy. One thing I love about travel is being adventurous and trying the local foods. I drawn my line at insects, but generally I will try anything at least once. Being in the Caribbean I couldn’t resist eating seafood every chance I could and this dinner was definitely not the exception either. I ordered the breaded-pan seared grouper with chilled papaya-red onion salsa, plantain cakes, and grilled vegetables. Lindsay had the black bean crusted snook with steamed rice, wok vegetables and a caramelized-banana curry sauce. Both plates were amazing! I still dream about that dinner…
After dinner Lindsay wanted to get another dinner so we walked down the beach to find a bar. Since May is the transition month from the high season to the low season (aka rainy season), the party scene was pretty dead. We decided on Fido’s Courtyard. The place had about 10-15 people at most. We were able to sit right at the bar with a few locals and tourists. We both ordered fruity drinks. They were okay. We chatted with the bartender a bit and then we headed back to Pedro’s. I was exhausted and we had to get up early for our snorkeling adventure in the morning!