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April 2019

that time when we planned spring break in three days

we did something insane about a month ago, and i'm beyond glad we did.

my husband was in florida for a week for work, and as we were talking on wednesday evening, i lamented that spring break was starting on friday, and i was feeling bummed that we didn't think about harper and i meeting him for a couple of days at the end of his trip. something little, just to get away and get a little sun. i hadn't thought anything of yet another spring break at home, but then all of the pictures started to appear of friends on the beach with their family, and regret took over me that we hadn't ever prioritized spring breaks with our kids. sure, we took them to puerto rico once, and washington, dc once. and two years ago we all went to florida for a couple of days as a family before we left henry there with his team to swim at junior nationals. but that was pretty much it. and now he is out of the house and in college, the opportunity to go as a family had passed, and the number of spring breaks left with harp at home can be counted on one hand. and it started to really weigh on me that we hadn't done a better job of making the time and effort to get away more often.

first world problems, i know, but i was still sad. it might have been more the realization the the time of family vacations was gone, our kids are no longer little, it all want too fast, and the sadness of lost opportunity was nostalgia in disguise. whatever the reason, i was feeling it hard.

about two hours after we talked, he called me back and said, "what do you think about going to belize on sunday?"

i believe my initial response was, "belize belize? right. sure. we'll just go to belize." but then i asked why belize. turns out, once i told him how i was feeling about the spring break thing, he realized he felt kind of bad about it, too, so he started to look into last-minute trip deals and found one on delta that was too good to pass up. he suggested a week, and i told him harp had homework that was due right after spring break, so maybe four days would be good enough.

and we did it. he clicked "buy" and we just did it.

there were about five minutes of panicked "what did we just do??" but then 5 a.m. sunday morning came around, and we were on a plane. and a few hours later, after switching planes in atlanta, harper poked me in the arm and showed me a picture she took out the window: we were flying over the yucatan peninsula, and it looked like heaven.

 

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we followed the flight path on the seat monitors, and then harper would take a picture of where we were. cancun ... tulum ... chetumal ... and then belize.

 

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the tropical air hit us as we came off the plane, and it felt so right that we had made this crazy decision.

we stood in line to go through immigration and customs, then tried to find the representative for the connecting flight to ambergris caye, the island where we would stay for the next three days. it look about an hour to get that all sorted out ... because we'd planned so last-minute, our names weren't on the list for passengers needing to fly to the island. no sweat ... we were there, and it would all be fine, and life was good. the representative found our information and took us to the smaller terminal where our flight out would leave in an hour. we ate some fantastic jerk patties, and looked at some maps of where we were going and what we might like to do.

then marc was handed our boarding passes for the island plane, and he sheepishly told me, "oh ... i forgot to tell you: we take a pretty small plane to the island." and then he showed me a boarding pass that looked less like a boarding pass than a raffle ticket.

 

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as excited as he was about the idea of a "smaller plane," i knew the plane had to be pretty small for a ticket that homemade. i didn't freak out. i chose to trust that we were going to have an amazing three days and not die.

and then it was time to board the little plane, with eight other people who were also not going to die.

 

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it wasn't my favorite thing in the world, but it also wasn't nearly as bad as i feared. and the view was just beautiful the whole way to the island. i kept looking back at harp; her eyes never left the window, except for the one time when she looked at me with a huge grin and said, "i've always wanted to see water this blue!"

oh, my heart. this is why we're on this crazy last-minute trip.

after landing, there was one more short leg - the shuttle bus to the coco beach resort, which took the scenic route through san pedro, the largest town on the island, and the inspiration for madonna's "la isla bonita." san pedro looked full of things we wanted to see and explore and food we wanted to try.

but then we got to the resort, got to our "room" ... which was actually - to our surprise and delight - the top floor of a villa, with two bedrooms, a kitchenette, bathroom, living room, and balcony overlooking the resort ... and we were so happy there that we pretty much never left.

we vacationed our freaking brains out.

 

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that first day, as soon as we were checked in, we threw on our suits and headed to the pool. there was a smaller pool at the front of the resort, with graded edges that sloped into the water like a shoreline. we laid ourselves down on the edge and fought the urge to take a nap right then and there. but then we got hungry, so we took ourselves to the swim-up bar and ordered sandwiches and fries, and i got myself a rum drink.

we were giddy, and so relaxed.

we spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool. around 5:30 p.m., we went back to the room to shower and figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. but then harper fell asleep in her bed, and before it was even 7 p.m., marc and i agreed that she had the right idea. we all went to sleep without dinner.

monday morning, i was up early, but not quite early enough for the sunrise. the light over the resort was so beautiful - shades of blush and peach and lavender touching everything - that i promised myself i would get up to watch the sun rise over the ocean the next day. we again spent the bulk of our day in the pool, and again got sandwiches at the cafe by the pool. after lunch, we siesta'd in the room ... took naps, read, sat on the balcony and enjoyed the warmth. in the afternoon, more swimming ... more eating. harper ate four fish sandwiches in two days. we did literally nothing but swim and eat and rest all day long, and it was exactly what we all needed.

the next morning, day two of our stay, my alarm went off at 5:15 a.m., and i snuck out of the room and walked down to the beach. the resort was quiet ... no kids screaming in the pool, no reggae music coming from the cafe. the hotel staff was raking the sand and picking up loose palm branches and leaves and quietly skimming the pool. i walked to the beach, then out onto the end of the resort's dock to wait for the sun to come up. there was a cool breeze, and it was all so gloriously peaceful.

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once the sun was up, i went back to the room to read on the balcony until the other two were awake. we got some breakfast, then ... that's right ... back to the pool. an hour or so later, harper and i found ourselves in a water aerobics class with four retired americans who now live at the resort. we giggled our way through an hour of of exercises, getting stern looks from the russian instructor who seemed to not realize it was much easier for her to do the moves on land than it was for us in the water, buoyed by a noodle. harper and i were apparently not taking it seriously enough.

after the class, the retirees hung out awhile longer and we started to chat with them. they recommended a lunch place about two blocks down the road from the resort, so we opted to try that for lunch.

it was amazing how much hotter it got once we were away from the breeze off the ocean. we were sweaty by the time we'd gone to the two blocks to the tipsy lobster. but we sat at a picnic table under a thatched umbrella, and after we'd ordered conch fritters and more fish for lunch, the owner came over and asked if we wanted to see the alligators while we were waiting.

turns out, the tipsy lobster backs up to the lagoon, and most of the time there is an alligator or three chilling out by the bamboo fence. given the fact that the owners of the restaurant throw food to the alligators, it isn't such a surprise that they were so easy to find.

 

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after lunch, i was feeling the need to get out of the sun, but marc and harper decided to utilize the resort's kayaks and go for a paddle. for awhile, they stayed near the shore, paddling past other docks and underneath them, where they found lots of fish hiding out.

 

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but then they started to head out toward open ocean. they got smaller ... and smaller ... and smaller ... until they were just a dot, near a buoy a mile offshore.

 

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i began to wonder if i would ever see them again or if that was it ... they were just gone now. eventually, i gave up waiting for them and walked back to the pool area. an hour later, i went back to the beach to see if i could see them; in all honesty, i was getting a little mad that marc was not thinking about harper's skin and the sunburn she was going to have when they finally decided to come back.

they eventually returned, and i got to hear all about how they got out past the sand bar, where the water got so clear that they could see all the way to the bottom. they saw a ray swimming along the sea floor, and they both got out of the kayak for awhile at the buoy so they could swim and cool off. they had a great adventure, but were hot and tired and ready to jump in the pool.

(there is a theme to the first two days we were in belize, and that theme is "we rarely left the pool.")

that evening, we decided to try the restaurant at the resort and give ourselves a break from the sandwiches. but harper had gotten too much sun (yeah. i know.) and felt pretty crummy. so we sent her to bed and promised to bring back something for her to eat. then marc and i realized: date night! we opted to eat outside, under the patio lights, with the breeze blowing the tablecloth and the palm branches overhead. it all worked out quite well.

wednesday was our big adventure day. while there are a million things in belize that we would have loved to do, in the end we opted to just relax for the three short days we had and not go too far. but on wednesday, we took a four-hour boat excursion to the hol chan marine reserve and shark-ray alley.

after breakfast, we walked down the beach to the dock from which our boat would leave. we got there early enough to kill some time - what else - relaxing on some hammocks.

 

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then the boat arrived, and we all boarded, carrying our snorkels and fins and masks. we sped several miles south, to the marine reserve, where we donned our gear, splashed into the ocean, and immersed ourselves in part of the second largest barrier reef in the world.

all of the people on the boat were divided into three smaller groups, and each group had a guide who would lead us around, pointing out the sea life below us, and sometimes diving into crevices and small caves to chase out a creature. we were able to see so many kinds of beautiful fish, including a sweet-faced puffer and a fierce looking barracuda, three different species of ray, a moray eel ... too many things to remember.

we had handed harper the underwater camera and let her go to town, but i wish i'd had a camera of my own. i would have recorded the sight of her listening intently to the guide, then diving below the surface to see where he was pointing, then pointing nose-first toward the fish and swimming down to get as close as she could.

mama's little pisces.

and she got some great pictures.

 

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after quite awhile in the water, we climbed back on the boat and went another 15 minutes out, to shark-ray alley. there, the guides chummed the water on one side of the boat while we all dove off the other side. then we swam quickly around the back of the boat ... and there were hundreds of horse-eyed jacks, nurse sharks, and rays, swimming all over each other to get at the snack.

 

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and there was my girl, just diving into the melee, chasing after the sharks to get the picture.

 

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sadly, our adventure was over all too quickly and the boat took us back to the beach. i think we would have loved to spend the rest of the day out there, swimming happily, one with the fish.

but we did have the rest of the afternoon to ... shocker ... go back to the pool for a little while longer. i wandered around and took more pictures of the surroundings; the whole resort was not that big, but it was all so lovely.

 

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we took harper to the restaurant for dinner, since she'd missed out the night before. we ate inside this time, and were impressed by how lovely it was. apparently, we were early diners, because we were the only people in the place. harper and i both got fish, and marc got a filet flambe, and it flambeed like crazy.

 

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and then that was it. we took one last walk on the beach, and then it was time to pack up and go to bed. we had another long travel day ahead of us.

 

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it was hard to leave after only three days, and there are so many more things we would have liked to do. we decided that we will go back someday soon, and plan a longer trip that is mostly on the mainland. but we'll fit in a couple of days on the island, too, because it was just so beautiful and relaxing.

i'm not usually good with spontaneity, but it felt truly wonderful to just say "YES!" and throw clothes in a bag and go. i look forward to the next last-minute adventure, because it was magical in so many ways.