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May 14, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Belize

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Buenos dias from Central America! Last week, we left off from Miami just before boarding a plane to Belize. "Belize" it or not, Belize is just a short hop, skip and a jump from the United States. Flight time from Miami is just under two hours and a number of other North American cities offer nonstop service, too. If youíre up for checking out a new eco-friendly jungle resort, exploring ancient Mayan ruins, going cave tubing, zip lining and a whole lot more (including a run for the Guatemalan border), then grab your passport and sense of adventure. Donít have time to read the whole story? Check out this four-minute Johnny Jet video. Want to stay closer to home? This week, we invite you to travel with David Zuchowski to Pittsburgh and to read Matt Wilsonís review of a magical Cirque du Soleil performance.

Before we get started I just want to say my heart and prayers go out to all those involved in China earthquake and Myanmar Hurricane. Watching the horrible images on TV makes me feel so sad and helpless. If you want to help out here is a list of organizations and groups working on both relief efforts.

From downtown Miami, a taxi to the airport took 20 minutes and set me back $25, not including tip. This time, I had a female Haitian driver who didnít once get off her cell phone during the entire ride -- not even when she dropped me off. The MIA airport was busy as usual and I sure was happy that Iíd accrued enough miles to earn elite status on American Airlines so I could bypass some of the airportís long lines. Check-in at the First Class/Gold desk took five minutes and security was another 10. My wait time would have been quadruple the time if I didnít have elite status. If you arenít flying First Class or donít have elite status, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to make it from curb to gate. It helps to pack light, not check a bag and print your boarding pass online before arriving at the airport. NOTE: American Airlines doesnít allow online check-in for international flights.

Miamiís concourse C is the complete opposite of its new D terminal. The gate area is depressing and they have very few food options. The 737 plane was all set to leave 15 minutes early when the pilot got on the PA and said, "Sorry folks Ė somethingís wrong with one of the planeís flaps." We ended up just sitting on the ground for 90 minutes waiting for the problem to be fixed. When I spotted the ground crew taking bags off the plane, I knew we werenít going anywhere soon so I immediately called Americanís 800 number to secure a seat on the 2pm flight. Fortunately, the agent told us not to worry as they had another 737 available. The captain confirmed this information moments later. This is one of the benefits of flying out of an airlineís hub.

It was a good hike to the E concourse and the pilot, my new best friend, said that if everything went well, weíd be out of there in 45 minutes. He was right. Boarding was a breeze and felt like a scene straight from the movie Groundhog Day, as all the same faces and bags assumed their earlier positions. Maybe the airlines should set aside a retired jet for passengers who donít fly often so they can do a practice run Ė itís much faster the second time Ďround. If youíre hungry, be sure to bring your own snacks and drinks because the flight time is so short (one hour and 54 minutes), that American doesnít even offer buy-on-board service and came around with the drink cart just once.

CARBON OFFSET: I realize what airplane emissions are doing to the environment so instead of giving privately, each week I will list the amount of money I spend for a carbon offset. This may not be as good as not flying at all but letís face it: the plane is still taking off whether Iím on it or not. And my name is Johnny Jet not Johnny Train. From Miami to Belize itís 765 miles and a carbon offset from is just $1.53 (round trip).


  • Europe and Latin America fares on Delta from $298 R/T*
  • Latin America sale fares on American from $228 R/T*

    We deplaned using stairs and I made sure I paid attention this time so I didnít trip and fall like I did in Kona a few months back. The hot, humid, tropical air was a nice welcome from the chilly spring air Iíd left back home. Inside the old customs building, there were four lines with five agents and they moved pretty quickly. Itís nice when a countryís passport officials actually appreciate and want foreign visitors. My agent in particular was very friendly and when she saw what I did for a living, she said, "I hope you write good things about my country." I hoped so, too.

    Belize is located just south of Mexico and east of Guatemala at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America. The country is only 8,805 square miles; roughly the same size as the state of New Hampshire (8,968 square miles) and has a total population of 311,000. Everyone seems to know each other so donít be surprised when your driver or guide is constantly waving at people passing by. You would think that Spanish is the official language here but itís not; English is. Belize was made a British colony in 1862 but achieved its independence in 1981.

    DID YOU KNOW? The capital of Belize is Belmopan City. The capital was moved from Belize City in 1971.

    When people think of Belize, they often think of tropical beaches and the countryís famous Blue Hole and coral reef. Thatís what I associated with Belize. But more than 65% of the country is forested and my Frommerís Guide taught me that the region was once at the heart of the Mayan empire. Archaeologists estimate that one to two million Mayans lived in this area. Today, Belize is home to 178 plant species, 247 different marine flora, over 550 species of birds and who knows how many animals. Here, youíll find five different kinds of wild cats; the jaguarondi, puma, margay, ocelot and the jaguar. Did you know that Belize has the highest concentration of jaguars than anywhere else in the world? There are also howler monkeys, green iguanas, boa constrictors and the list goes on and on. And just in case youíre curious, the national animal is the tapir. The best part of Belize is that more than half of its land and marine areas have been set aside as national parks, nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Thatís why some call Belize Natureís Best Kept Secret.

    The official currency is the Belizean Dollar (at the time of publication, $1 BZD = $0.51 USD so itís 2:1), but practically everywhere accepts U.S. greenbacks. However, most places will give change in the local currency. The majority of people who come to Belize, come to escape winter as the temperature in Belize holds relatively steady. Highs hover around 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) and the temperature inland is often five to 10 degrees warmer than on the coast. There is a difference in seasons here: The dry season, which runs from January to May, is the best time to come and itís also the most expensive. The wet season is mid-June until the end of November but it isn't so wet that you can't do anything except in the south. Although Belize is in the Hurricane Belt (hurricane season runs the same as the wet season), on average they are hit by a major hurricane once every 20 years. Hereís a link to the 10-day forecast for Belize City.

    Itís recommended that travelers take Malaria pills when visiting the western part of the country but I didnít take any, nor did anyone in my group. Luckily, no one contracted it but the mosquitoes werenít out. Just in case, I doused myself with bug spray and some even wore Insect Shield repellent apparel that is proven to repel insects. Next time, Iím going to wear it too because I asked a local if I should worry about Malaria she said, "Oh no, itís fine!" After a huge sigh, I asked if she knew anyone whoíd ever gotten malaria. She said, "Oh yes, my dad got malaria last month." What?! She went on to say that he was sick for seven days but then he got better like it was no big deal. She said no one takes malaria pills nor do they get flu shots -- they just ride these things out. For more information on malaria, read my story on South Africa.

    I wasnít in Belize to experience the incredible beaches or remarkable diving in the worldís second largest coral reef. Instead, I headed west to the countryís jungle interior. I recommend doing both; start out in the jungle and finish up on the coast. The majority of visitors will want to rent a car since itís easy to get around and thereís a lot to see and do. However, if you have deep pockets and prefer not to drive, many resorts can arrange car transfers and set up private guides or drivers.

    DID YOU KNOW? Driving Belizeís borders takes just under two hours east to west and five to six hours north to south.

    The drive to the Kaíana Resort where I was staying is 73 miles. Itís three miles from the town of San Ignacio and eight miles from the Guatemala border. It took us only 90 minutes because we bypassed Belize City (over 70,000 residents) and took the shortcut. If youíre starving because you didnít eat on the plane (like me), a great place to stop off is Amigos bar/restaurant. Itís 45 minutes from the airport and they serve local favorites like stewed chicken. I had the BBQ chicken with rice and beans ($10 BZD) and it hit the spot.

    Belizean food is made up of lots of rice and beans. Inland, chicken is a popular choice and seafood is an obvious choice on the coast. The cuisine is a mishmash of Mexican, Caribbean, African and Spanish cuisines but everything can be found, including hamburger, pizza and Chinese food joints. Speaking of the Chinese, they own practically every grocery store in Belize. I found that out when I stocked up on some bug spray.

    NOTE: I love fruit and Belize grows lots of tropical ones. The most common are mangoes, papayas, pineapples, bananas and star fruit.

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    Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    Pictures From

    The Trip


    Miami Airport

    Terminal D


    Concourse C


    Flight Delayed


    Coastline of Belize


    We Finally Made It!




    Giving Back


    Central America


    Belizean Dollars


    2 Major Roads


    Resort Pickup




    Mennonites Playing Volleyball


    Roads Are Paved


    Amigos Restaurant


    Amigos Waitresses


    BBQ Chicken


    Chinese Grocery Stores


    Bring Bug Spray


    San Ignacio





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