I thank social media for knowing someone as awesome as Kirsten. If I remember correctly, I met her via twitter a few years ago - mobile photography was a new thing, and I loved her photos. But what I like the most about her is that she’s super friendly and always up for a good chat on twitter.
I’m glad Kirsten was finally able to visit Belize and from the looks of it, she had a great time. A Q&A on her recent trip to Belize as an AFAR ambassador follows:
Tell me a little about yourself and your travel style?
Well, I hate writing about myself! Which is hilarious since so much of my job requires it. Instead, I love photographing and writing about places and about the people who make a place special. That’s what drove me to become a travel photographer and writer. I used to be a nomad, traveling from assignment to assignment and rarely pausing to catch up on work in between. Now, I have a home in New York City with my boyfriend (and sometimes travel partner) and travel a little less. Yet I think I appreciate travel more now.
What brought you to Belize? Did it match your expectations?
I was sent to Belize by AFAR Magazine to write a story that appears in the current issue and to produce a 7×7 travel guide on www.afar.com (7 Highlights for each of the 7 regions of Belize). I think it is the first place I’ve ever been where I really had very few expectations. It definitely lived up to the hype I had heard. Belize is a beautiful country with a fascinating mix of people. It’s very diverse and I loved that even so I could speak to almost everyone because the dominant language is English.
Where’s your favorite place in Belize?
I can’t pick just one but there’s definitely a stretch of Ambergris Caye, where El Secreto Resort is located, that I fell in love with. It is the one place where, even though I was working, I was able to feel completely relaxed and at peace. The resort both looks and feels like what I always thought paradise should be.
Then there’s the open-air dining room at Maya Beach Hotel Bistro (awarded the best restaurant of the year) where I had the best meals of my entire visit to the country. More on that later…
Where’s your least favorite place in Belize?
Belmopan is an unusual town that failed to grab me even though I stayed overnight and visited more than once. It’s mostly government buildings and embassies, it is inland on a major highway and it seemed to lack the warmth I found in other places.
What was your most memorable experience in Belize?
I’ll never forget El Secreto yet my visit to Maya Beach changed my opinion about Belize irrevocably. I hadn’t really connected with the country yet and then we arrived outside Placencia, met John and Ellen who own Maya Beach Hotel and Bistro – and I was just stunned. The food John and his staff manage to serve is Michelin-quality. It is also unusual for Belize. Though John prioritizes local Belize ingredients, he doesn’t cook the same dishes I’d eaten more than a few times by that point; dishes like stew chicken, rice and beans or fried conch. Instead, the ever-changing menu represents cuisines from around the world and always showcases the very best in each ingredient chosen. John and Ellen have a great story as well. He is from Australia and she was born in the United States. Together they chose to build a new life in Belize and they love being able to employ people and inspire visitors and have a hotel that people return to over and over – as if it’s their home too and not just John and Ellen’s. In the end, that ended up being a microcosm of what I would find to be true in Belize as a whole. It’s a place anyone can feel at home and it’s a place that is always unveiling surprises.
Related: Agritourism in Belize
Share your three favorite photos captured in Belize and tell us a little about each of them?
I can’t choose just three favorites! But here are four that I do like, each which represent a place or an experience that is special to me.
One – There are many Maya ruins to visit in Belize and of those I did explore, Lamanai was my favorite. I’m not sure why I like this image from there so much but perhaps it is the solitary person and the contrast between the detail of the carving and the rough, black stones of the rest of the pyramid. Something about it just recalls my experience and makes me smile.
Two – By far one of the most terrifying things I have ever done was walk deep into a jaguar’s habitat, crawl inside a cage and then watch as I was stalked by one of the most magnificent of creatures to walk the planet. Anyone can do this at the Belize Zoo and while it was terrifying at first, in the end, I would recommend all visitors to the country do this. The chance to get that close to a jaguar is something that really helped deepen my respect for the jaguar’s power and beauty; and for that of all “dangerous” animals, really.
Three – More than anywhere I’ve ever been without my boyfriend, this is the place I most long to return, with him. El Secreto Resort on Ambergris Caye. If we ever are so blessed as to get to do so, this hammock for two is where I want to sit…and just relax, together.
Four – This is the Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie at Maya Beach Hotel Bistro. What is so special about it, is that I strongly dislike peanuts yet Chef John is so talented at what he does that he created a dessert in which I didn’t just not mind peanuts, I loved them. It was only one of a number of things that I am still craving. His restaurant is the other place I really long to return to in Belize; again, with my boyfriend (who happens to be a talented cook himself).
Would you recommend travelers to visit Belize?
As if it isn’t already obvious, I would definitely recommend Belize. Whether you’re looking to holiday in the country or live in it for a period of time — or forever — I think it is a terrific, unusual country. It’s going to come into its own and I fear one day we’ll have to tell people to stop visiting, lest they spoil all the simple pleasures that make it so wonderful.
Anyone interested in finding out more about Kirsten can follow her adventures on Twitter @kirstenalana, Instagram Instagram.com/kirstenalana, and blog aviatorsandacamera.com. To see similar interviews, check out my interview series.