All posts by Jake

Island Life In Belize

Beer Bottle Caps In Sand


Kayakers, sunbathers, partiers, families, grandparents, partners, spouses, kite boarders, bartenders, tourists, boaters, musicians, best friends, swimmers, off duty SCUBA instructors, lobster fishermen…

At some point everyone on the island makes their way to The Split.  On this hot and sunny afternoon, nearly all the above do so.

The Split
Lazy Lizard Bar at The Split

This island, Caye (pronounced key) Caulker, a short ferry ride from Belize City, has been my home for about ten days and will be for weeks to come.  The Split, a hundred yard gash splitting Caye Caulker, was initially carved by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and is now a daily destination for many on the island, including me.

I came to Caye Caulker for several reasons; sun seeking and relaxing were just two.  With crushed sea shell sand on the ground, reggae music setting the mood, and the stocked bar at the Lazy Lizard to keep everyone well lubricated under the sun, The Split offers both.

Beached Boat at The Split
Beached Boat at The Split

Caye Caulker, now two small islands separated by The Split, has less than 1000 full-time residents (nearly all residing on the southern island) and if I were to guess at the moment, two to three times that many visitors; and this is the off-season.  It feels like a good number; I think the busy season would be too busy for my liking.

I fill my days meeting other travelers and locals at the beach, around town, or at a bar during the evening.  Meeting people from around the world is one of the things I’ve missed most since traveling for nine months in 2013.  Being able to sit at a table and talk with people from several different countries at the same time, makes for a great evening.  For anyone who’s had a similar experience, you know it is, at the same time interesting and confusing.  With so many accents, hearing what is meant can sometimes be difficult.  It’s one of my favorite things to do while traveling.

Front Street Caye Caulker
Front Street Caye Caulker

Other than meeting and talking with people from around the world, taking photographs around town or hanging out at the beach happens nearly every day.  The main reason though, for coming to a small island and staying roughly six times longer than the average traveler, was to write.  Each day I spend a good chunk of time working on a project; one that may never be completed, and that’s okay.  Like traveling in general, I feel the journey is the destination.  This particular journey has me living on a Caribbean island for a month, so it is already a success!

This little story for the blog  evolved while sitting at the beach and noticing the different people who were there.  A single instant of inspiration in a place that is full of similarly inspiring moments.  With any luck I’ll continue to get inspired to work on my project and to post some more stories on the website.

Caye Caulker Sunset
Caye Caulker Sunset


Over the last few years I’ve seen parts of 24 countries. One week from today I will begin exploring number 25.

Next Monday I’m flying to Belize, a small Central American country with a Caribbean coastline and countless small islands, for an extended stay.  Seeing and doing many of the famous tourist activities (marine reserves, Mayan ruins, caves, snorkeling, cocktails with umbrellas) are definitely on the to do list. Plans for getting my PADI open water SCUBA certification are in the works and if I can find a Spanish tutor I’ll try to take advantage of that; but since English is the official language and spoken as much or more than Spanish and Belizean Creole that might be somewhat difficult.

After being a tourist for a week or so, the beach will be the catalyst for relaxation and inspiration as I attempt to work on (and – fingers crossed – finish) an ongoing project.

Stories and images of sand and sun will appear here in the coming weeks.  Come back and check them out!

Kansas Road Trip

This week marks two years since I began traveling, and to celebrate that small anniversary I’d like to get your advice on a trip I’ve wanted to take for a while.

If the timing works out for me – in May and June – I might take a few weeks to drive around Kansas and see many of the places I’ve never visited, meet people I’ve never met, and photograph the beautiful, interesting, and awesome in my home state.  In order to do that, and not miss things worth checking out that I’ve never heard of, I need your help.

If you’re a native Kansan, a transplant, or happen know some place worthy of a visit, let me know where to go.

What hidden waterfall or century old bridge is worth searching out? Where are the best local museums?  What festivals/fairs are not to be missed?  Know a great small town mom-and-pop café?  Tell me where.  Know a place for great sunsets?  I want to go there.  Who’s the person in your hometown that knows all the history, the legends, and forgotten stories – and wouldn’t mind sharing them?

Share your Kansas knowledge with me and help make my road trip something special.

Thank in advance!!


Author Interview – Scott Finazzo

I love a good adventure story.  I love anything told by a good story-teller.  If there is excitement and a little danger in a storyline, and the adventure was carried out with a mix of skill, luck, and guts – I’m in.  Add damn fine storytelling with a good measure of self-deprecating humor and I can’t stop reading. Scott Finazzo’s Why Do All the Locals Think We’re Crazy? has it all.

Book Cover

Recently I met Scott at a talk on his new book at the Kansas City REI store. Scott and two friends (all local firemen) decided to build sea kayaks, haul them to the Caribbean and paddle from Virgin Island to Virgin Island. None of the three had any boat building or open water paddling experience.  The locals thought they were crazy!  I listened to Scott’s talks and chatted after each session which led to this interview.

UNMAPPED TRAVELS:     First of all, for anyone who has not read the book, what is it about?

SCOTT FINAZZO:     Why Do All the Locals Think We’re Crazy? is the title of my book as well as a recurring thought when two friends and I realized we had been reading adventure stories all of our lives and, with our younger “wild and reckless” years in the rearview mirror, we wanted to create our own adventure.  We decided to kayak the Virgin Islands.  It would encompass tropical scenery, adventure, and everything that was NOT part of a day-to-day routine that people find themselves in.  For multiple reasons we ended up building our own kayaks and chasing our idea of kayaking the islands.  As you would expect, nothing went according to plan.  We fought and cussed with each other during the building process and certainly experienced an adventure, just not the one we planned.

On The Beach
On The Beach

UT:     What is the biggest thing you learned from the experience?

SF:     I would say the biggest thing I learned is that, before embarking on an expedition, do your homework.  In hindsight I acknowledge how fortunate we were to survive with a pretty good story to tell, but in a lot of ways, we were lucky.  Whether you are building boats and kayaking the ocean, climbing a mountain, hiking over long distances and perilous terrain, etc., you need to do research and prepare.  While I strongly encourage people to break free of their comfort zone and challenge themselves, when you are going up against mother nature, the odds are against you, so make sure your risks are calculated ones and you’re ready before you set out.

UT:     Normally I would ask someone who completed such an awesome adventure if there was ever a time when you thought you wouldn’t be able to do it.  But with all the difficulties building, floating, and paddling was there ever a time you thought you would be able to do it?

SF:     With our story, that is probably the better question!  To be honest, I always thought we would be able to do it.  I just didn’t know to what degree.  Even though, in the book, I expressed my doubts along the way, I think setting small goals and leaving room for improvisation were key.  We certainly had our share of issues (most of them self-imposed), but throughout the process we were always considering contingency plans.  “And if that doesn’t work out…” was a common phrase between us.  Maybe because we are firefighters and trained to plan in layers, it bled over into our trip preparation and execution.

First Assembly Ever!
First Assembly Ever

UT:     What is one thing you took that you didn’t need and one thing you did not take that you ended up needing?

SF:     I don’t know that we brought anything we didn’t need.  We made a conscious effort to keep things at a minimum and I think we did a pretty good job.  I would say there’s one thing that I didn’t consider that I’m REALLY glad we brought.  Eric packed a small bag of extra kayak parts.  A few zipper pulls, nuts, bolts, etc.  That turned out to be savior of the trip.  Our zipper pulls broke on the first day and had we not brought any extras, we never would have left the shore.

What we didn’t bring, that we could have used was a water desalinator.  We carried all of our water for the entire (scheduled) trip, plus a little extra.  The water bottles and bladders were heavy and bulky.  It would have been handy to be able to save some space and “make” drinking water.

UT:     In your presentations – more than the book – you talk about Norman Island. Please tell us why Norman Island attracted you. Also, did you know about Norman Island before or did you find out about it while planning this trip?

SF:     When I travel somewhere I do exhaustive research.  I want to know as much about a location as I can and that will allow me to prioritize things that I want to see and do.  Again, leaving plenty of room for down time and course correction.  On my first trip to the Virgin Islands in 2006, I devoured every website I could find that is related to the islands.  In doing so, I found that Norman Island, a small island in the southwestern end of the British Virgin Islands, is the reported inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.  Being a wanna-be pirate as a kid, I was taken by the idea of someday going to the real Treasure Island.  I am aware enough, though, to realize that there is no documented proof of this and it could very well be a cool story to promote tourism.  Either way, when it came time to kayak the islands, this kid was going to Treasure Island!

Thanks Scott for taking the time to answer a few questions.




Being someone with a desire to experience new places and new adventures, I loved the idea of this trip from the moment I learned about Scott’s REI talks.  What a great (and ballsy) idea for a trip with friends, I thought.  If it had gone as intended, if they were able to pull it off, there would have been an interesting story to tell – not to mention bragging rights back at the firehouse.  But, as you learned from the Q & A, the trip didn’t exactly go as planned.  There were problems along the way, too many to list even if I wanted to do so.  Those setbacks, the unexpected detours in building the boats and executing the trip, the rough seas, drunken yacht parties, being stranded on an uninhabited island, etc. – those are the things that turned an entertaining story to tell at dinner parties into a book worth writing – and reading.

Hopefully your interest is piqued as mine was.  If so, check out the links!

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out Scott’s website.

Check out Scott’s blog.

20 Minutes in Tuscany

Most twenty-minute periods in a day go by without incident or notice.  It’s just twenty minutes.  This is a story about how much can happen in twenty short minutes.

We were on our way – the beginning of our week exploring the Tuscan hill towns and hot springs!  This holiday, two days in Florence and a few in Rome, sandwiching seven nights in Tuscany, had been several months in the making for Matt and Jennifer (my brother and sister-in-law).  This was their big vacation for the year and my hurrah  in a nine month European backpacking adventure.

After 48 hours in Florence, and 90 minutes driving south toward Massa Marittima (our home base in Tuscany), it was five minutes till noon when we stopped in Poggibonsi, a small Tuscan town.  Pizzeria/Ristorante, the sign read.  Perfect for our travel day lunch, but it wasn’t open for twenty minutes so we followed the signs toward the city center hoping to find an open restaurant

Along the way we saw a car stopped on the road.  Driving past it, and in the middle of me asking “What is this guy doing?” we noticed a scooter and it’s rider on the ground in front of the stopped car – the rider wasn’t moving.  Immediately Matt pulled over.  I jumped out of the car and ran back to the accident, Matt and Jennifer right behind me.

He’d apparently wrecked on his own, we decided later after noticing the car had no marks of a collision, but the car’s driver, now out of his sedan, was frenetic nonetheless.  When we got to the injured man he was still face down in the roads concrete gutter, his helmet still on.  He was motionless and making a snoring-like sound – for a moment it looked like he was sleeping.  Then a red pool could be seen forming under his face.  The sound was the man choking on his own blood.  The old, white-haired man from the car was on his phone with emergency services, though he could have been talking to us, I wasn’t paying him any attention – and I don’t understand Italian when spoken slow and deliberately, let alone unintelligibly fast as in this situation.

Whether he was a cautious rider or only because this was a cool, early winter afternoon, his helmet was strapped tightly on and he was wearing a thick, heavy-duty riding jacket and gloves.  At the least, the gear saved him from getting road rash on much of his body.  Other than the blood near the temple and above his right eye, from when he was face down, the only sign of injury was blood coming from his mouth.

Matt and I both thought we needed to get him on his back and do something to improve his breathing so I attempted to stabilize his neck while Matt starting rolling the injured man over on his back.  In mid role, Matt said “His body is completely stiff!”  That’s the exact opposite of what I was thinking.  His neck was like jelly and his head would have flopped around like a stadium giveaway bobble-head if I wasn’t steadying it.  After what seemed like minutes, but was probably only moments, more passersby were out of their cars to help.  I heard many of them on their phones.  His breathing was starting to improve, I thought, and while my level of concern didn’t drop, I thought the improved breathing could only be good.

That said I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know what else to do.  If the situation were to get worse I’d be at a loss.  We were right in the middle of this but with everyone speaking Italian so quickly, to each other and on their phones, for the first time – in many months – I felt completely foreign.

Matt was holding the man’s gloved hand and I was still supporting his head and neck when his breathing started getting worse.  “Should we roll him on his side?” I wondered aloud, thinking blood was now collecting in his throat and blocking his airway.  “I’m not sure what to do, now his breathing is…”

Huge gasps for breath interrupted staggered breathes.  Following that were, what seemed like, extremely long moments of breathlessness.  All this time the rest of his body was still motionless – no twitching, no uncomfortable grimaces.  Just violent breathes.  I’ve never watched someone die but I imagine last breathes, when taken under similar circumstances, are akin to this.  My thoughts changed from hoping he’d be okay to wondering if he would live.

Then, gradually, he started coming to.  First, a little movement from his left hand, the one Matt was holding.  Matt said, “His eye is opening!” as the man rubbed his gloved hand around his face.  Then came movement in his legs and bending of knees, like he was in pain and uncomfortable (and I’m sure he was).  We thought it was a good sign for him but it also presented a new challenge for us.  Now we had to keep him still.  He wanted to take his helmet off.  He wanted to sit up.  I had to hold the shoulders of his coat, squeezing tightly with the helmet wedged between my wrists and forearms to keep him from turning his head.

Another pedestrian helper was on the ground beside me by now trying to unzip the jammed coat zipper.  He and others talked to the injured man, trying to calm him and make him stay still.  Now I was glad there were Italian words all around us.  If Matt, Jennifer and I were the only help, the man would be injured, confused, and with no one around able to communicate with him.  By now several people had gathered and tried to talk him into remaining still and keeping calm.  This went on several minutes (actually probably less than two, but it felt like 10).

Finally, from behind me, Matt saw the ambulance approaching.  As they arrived the small crowd began to part and one paramedic took the place of the man next to me.  He talked to the rider before turning to me and speaking Italian.  “Sorry,” I said, “English?”  He replied, “You can take your hands away.”

I did, slowly, as he replaced them with his own.  I stood up to back away while he and the other emergency workers began further assessing the situation.  First, removing his helmet, then, feeling around his neck for injuries and immediately putting a neck brace in place.  They had a board ready to put under him and…

Moments later while walking back to the rental car I noticed my legs were numb from squatting in a strange position for several minutes, and my hands shook from adrenaline still rushing through me.  From behind I heard Matt tell Jennifer his hands were shaking too.

It was intense.  A week’s worth of confusion, fear, anxiousness and panic concentrated into a short series of moments.

We left and drove a few minutes before finding an open restaurant.  It was 12:15.

A lot can happen in twenty minutes.

This is a true story from Tuscany on December 7th.  We don’t know what happened to the man, if he was alright, or the extent of his injuries.

Interesting Observations – Weeks 3 and 4 in Italy

Manarola, in Italy’s Cinque Terre, is a majestic place.  Perched on a rocky cliff like a toddler who couldn’t quite reach the end of the slide, it’s stuck in place, and in some ways, stuck in time.  When the railroad first came to town it was the first real chance for many locals to escape the area’s natural isolation.  That emigration had a detrimental effect on the local economy which wasn’t reversed until tourism started its siege on Cinque Terre’s villages.  Along with being an oasis for tourists the area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an Italian National Park.  Because of those designations commerce and tourism won’t change the area like so many other places.  I loved my week here, even though it rained almost nonstop.  It’s high on my list of Places I’d Return To.

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

Pisa.  This single word brings a singular image to most minds – and for good reason.  The Tower of Pisa – which is not the only leaning tower I’ve seen in Italy – is amazing.  The fact that it still stands 835 years after it began to sink (it started sinking 5 years into construction) is amazing (in 1989 a similar leaning tower in Pavia, Italy collapsed without warning), and with the corrective reconstruction that has happened in the last several decades it should continue to stand – crooked – for generations.  Amazing!  But the leaning tower won’t be my first memory when I think of Pisa, though it will be a part of that memory.  I’ll remember the entire Piazza del Duomo.  The tower, the two museums in ancient buildings, the Baptistery (the first I had seen), and the Camposanto.  They all surround the Cathedral in the middle.  It’s a beautiful area.

Piazza del Duomo, Baptistery, Cathedral, Tower - Pisa
Piazza del Duomo, Baptistery, Cathedral, Tower – Pisa

Florence is a real ‘Italian’ city.  Perhaps the first ‘Italian’ city I’ve visited.  Venice is…uniquely Venice, and different then everything.  Milan is vast and impressive, I loved Genoa and Bologna, but for me, Florence is different.  It’s hard to explain, so I’ll just say this: When I first saw Piazza della Signoria, is the first moment I thought, “I’m in Italy.” (Italy like I’ve had in my imagination since I was a child), and that was the end of my 4th week in country.

Piazza della Signoria - Florence
Piazza della Signoria – Florence

Last one, and its more of a statement then an observation.  You can’t go wrong with the house red.  There, I said it.  Trust me, I’ve tested this theory, it doesn’t matter where you are, the house red is perfect.  Drink it!

Observations: Two Weeks in Italy!

Every town in Europe seems to have a historic district, and while they are all, in a way, similar, many are also unique.  One unique example is the historic old town in Genoa, Italy.  Being quite hilly and stuck between the mountains and the sea are two things making the old town unique.  Also, it is massive and easily the largest old town district I’ve visited in Europe.

Modena, Italy…The City of Engines?  It has less than 200,000 people, but the area around Modena boasts a lineage of sports/super car manufacturers unrivaled anywhere in the world. Historically elite manufacturers Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini, along with relative newcomer Pagani each have headquarters, factories, and/or test tracks within earshot of Modena, literally.  One morning while relaxing in Modena’s Giovanni Amendola Park I could hear the fine tuned engines working on the test track a few kilometers away.  The City of Engines?  yes!

Milan, among other cool things, is the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper.  Who knew?  Not me….until the day before arriving in Italy’s second largest city.  Painted in the 1490’s in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie and commissioned by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza (the Duke of Milan).  Fun fact #1 I didn’t know until visiting the painting: It is massive, about 15 feet high and 29 feet wide.  Fun fact #2: It is on a wall, and previously above the door to the kitchen.  While enlarging the doorway in the 1650’s Jesus’ feet had to go.  Long ago bricked up, the strange irregular shaped doorway arch is still part of the painting today.

Bologna, Italy is home to the oldest university in the world, famous for its towers, the home of Ducati motorcycles, and miles upon miles of awesome porticoes (covered walkways and building entrances).  The longest portico is two miles!

I’m no scientist….but Venice is sinking.  Or maybe sea levels are rising.  Either way there is some flooding going on in the City of Canals/City of Bridges/City of Water/City of Masks/The Floating (Sinking) City.  That said, it’s still pretty damn cool to walk around this city and if the flooding is only prevalent during  certain times of year (though each year it is getting a little more frequent and deeper!).  No worries though, bring some galoshes with you on your visit and you’ll have no problems!