Thinking about moving to Belize? Answer these 10 questions first

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Harvesting coconuts is such a romantic notion. Reality is that it is hard work and dangerous and for very little money. This is the reality of Belize -- all is not as it looks, though much of it looks beautiful. As this story suggests, dig deeper and be honest about your own reactions. You can make it it you Belize ...

Harvesting coconuts is such a romantic notion. Reality is that it is hard work and dangerous and for very little money. This is the reality of Belize — all is not as it looks, though much of it looks beautiful. As this story suggests, dig deeper and be honest about your own reactions. You can make it, if you Belize …

The story linked here offers 10 questions for anyone thinking about moving to Belize. (Thank you for posting it, Rebecca Coutant.)

They are good questions and the background provided for each is uncommonly honest and balanced. They are not designed to dissuade anyone from moving here.

I’ve said it a lot lately, Paradise is something found in Disney movies and fantasy tales and loaded with false promises. Real life is more interesting and challenging and ultimately more fulfilling.

So, answer these 10 questions and if you are comfortable with your answers, we’ll leave a light on for you.

Welcome!

 

Grand opening today: Yo Mama is so sweet . . . .

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Yup, a toppings bar in San Pedro. What will be next?
Yup, a toppings bar in San Pedro. What will be next? (Photo by Rose Alcantara)

Two words in combination that will get a man’s glands salivating and his imagination fired up: “toppings bar.”

Yup, the words just reach deep into the primeval core and express all that is good in the world today. An abundances of choices, a multitude of tastes, a bevy of flavors, a … a … a …

You know I’m just talking about frozen yogurt, right? Read the rest of this entry »

A night of terror and violence but Paradise isn’t lost

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Acting on information received of a Home Invasion, police visited the north side of the island at an apartment complex in the Tres Cocos area of San Pedro Town where they saw three persons with varying degrees of injuries. Douglas Kelly had a cut wound to the wrist, hand, stomach and head, Ms. Gail Neal had cut wounds over left eye and mouth and Mr. Thomas Fiorille had a cut wound to the chest and wrist. Initial investigation revealed that at 12:10 a.m. Friday Sept 12th, 68-year-old Douglas Kelly and his wife 65-year-old Gail Neal both retired Americans were inside their condo sitting in their living room watching TV when they were alerted by a noise coming from the direction of their front veranda. Upon investigation, Mr. Douglas was attacked by a tall male person of dark complexion armed with a kitchen knife. The male person then entered the building and inflicted cut wounds to both Douglas and his wife. Upon hearing noise, American citizen 40-year-old Thomas Fiorille went to investigate and he too was attacked and received cut wounds also. A struggle ensued where both Douglas and Thomas fended off the culprit who reportedly received injuries to his head. The culprit then managed to make good his escape. Nothing was reported stolen.

This is the police report. It is formal, straightforward and informative. As it should be.

If you linger on certain phrases, like “attacked with a kitchen knife,” “inflicted cut wounds” and “a struggle ensued” and let your imagination float free you can begin to gather a sense of the terror our neighbors in The Cloisters endured on Thursday night. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 5: Poker run

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Ride, Sally, ride: Winner of the season's last poker run in San Pedro, Sally Backalukas flashes the cash and a wining smile at the finish, Pedro's Hotel.
Ride, Sally, ride: Winner of the season’s last poker run in San Pedro, Sally Backalukas, flashes the cash and a winning smile at the finish, Pedro’s Hotel on Saturday night.

“A poker run is an organized event where participants, usually using motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, boats, snowmobiles, horses, or other means of transportation must visit five to seven checkpoints, drawing a playing card at each one. The object is to have the best poker hand at the end of the run. The event has a time limit, however the participants are not timed—winning is purely a matter of chance.”

– Wikipedia

OK, that is basically it. We don’t use snowmobiles or horses on Ambergris Caye, but under “other,” you can add golf carts. Lots and lots of golf carts.

But more on that in a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 4: Roasting beans

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Back Street coming through. A 30-pound batch of Caye Coffee's dark roast bean is ready for cooling last Saturday.
Back Street coming through. A 30-pound batch of Caye Coffee’s dark roast bean is ready for cooling last Saturday.

Coffee

Like I always say, you can’t live without it and … well, you can’t live without it.

After nearly 40 years as a newspaper writer, I know what a really, really, bad cup of coffee tastes like. And that’s 40 years straight-up black – no cream, no sugar. Don’t soften the bad news for this guy’s taste buds, buddy. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 3: Where’s the beef

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Toward the end of a very busy Friday at the Texas BBQ and Steakhouse on Seagrape Drive, in San Pedro.
Toward the end of a very busy Friday at the Texas BBQ and Steakhouse on Seagrape Drive, in San Pedro.

Friday nights at Wine de Vine are something of a tradition in San Pedro.

That’s the place where newly landed ex-pats and seasoned veterans mingle with locals and visitors for a few hours over reasonably priced glasses of wine and artfully composed trays of cheeses, fruits and crackers.

Yes, Flo and her staff compose a thoughtful list of reds and whites for the night, usually priced around $6-11 per glass.

We have tried some excellent wines there and, more important, made even better friendships over time.

Friday night at Wine de Vine is also where you find out who is coming to the island, who is leaving, who is celebrating a birthday or anniversary, who is not doing well, who needs help and who is on top of the world. You can get the latest news and gossip on crime, restaurants, weather, street repairs, shopping, government and local celebrations.  You can get great advice on almost any island issue along with your Chardonnay.

I have come to the conclusion that people who move to tropical islands tend to have very interesting stories about the lives they have lived. Sometimes they are bigger than life but often they are about people who simply took control of their lives, decided they’d had enough of conventional American or European civilization and moved on.

There are great stories inside every person hoisting a glass on a Friday night inside the tightly packed but air-conditioned environs of Wine de Vine. Most important, we have the time and the inclination to listen to each other’s stories.

The truth is, I don’t like wine nearly as much as I like the people who gather to drink it.

Rose, on the other hand, a long-time Napa resident with a rolling front yard filled with vineyards, finds equal pleasures in good wine and good people.

Since arriving on Ambergris Caye our Friday nights have always ended the same. After several glasses of wine and much camaraderie, we say good night to all get on our bicycles and wobble across San Pedro Town in the dark toward home. There, Rose puts the finishing touches to a deliciously pre-prepared dinner and we call it a night.

Except this past Friday.

As we were leaving, a co-conspirator on many an adventure here, Stephen Thompson, invited us to join a few people at a new restaurant that has gained buzz all over the map, Texas BBQ and Steakhouse, on the same Seagrape Drive intersection as Pedro’s Hotel.

After a day of yoga, stand-up paddling, several glasses of wine and the prospect of cycling home in the dark — the idea of a late-night dinner out was doubtful. Even though we’ve been dying to try this place which boasts the meat-forward slogan “Fresh, never frozen.” (OK, that slogan carries a lot more weight on a refrigeration-disabled tropical island than in Midtown Manhattan.)

Stephen upped the ante: “We’re all heading home in the same direction. We’ll just toss your bikes in the back of the golf cart.”

Ok. We’re in.

And what a good call. This was about as close to live theater as we are going to get.

Barely open two weeks, by a West Texas man who professes to have zero knowledge about running a restaurant, Texas BBQ on a Friday night was a sublime study in applied Chaos Theory. There was no one entry point at the counter to place an order. Orders were written on the first available page of a waiters tablet then lost or forgotten. Everyone behind the counter seemed to be responsible for doing everyone else’s job. One guy walked out in complete exasperation.  Meals kind of sat there on plates, half fulfilled.

Somewhere, I thought, the hidden cameras of  “Hell’s Kitchen” must be recording all this for a spin-off. Just imagine Gordon Ramsay with a Texas drawl.

I ordered a pulled pork plate with corn on the cob and baked beans, only to find out much later that they were out of pulled pork, corn on the cob and baked beans.

To be fair, we were there at the end of an extremely busy Friday when concentration, stamina, tempers and reason had all boiled over into absurdity. Those guys were operating on fumes.

And in this mix, the owner Chris Burke is running around trying to tie up the loose ends on failed orders, maybe a bit too gruffly.

I don’t revel in other people’s pain but I had to stare with the fascination of a pedestrian witnessing a car wreck.

Here’s the thing: Everyone’s meal arrived, more on time than not. (I was able to substitute a very tasty beef brisket.) And the food was delicious. Stephen pronounced his steak the best he’d had in 20 years of living in Belize. Rose had a decent hamburger. Other folks were equally as pleased.

And Chris, frazzled but still Texas-big, turned out to be a pretty congenial guy who may be learning the restaurant ropes in real time but, man, does he know his meats and how to cook them.

He even brought out a huge slab of raw prime, safely sealed in plastic, to show us how really fresh his beef is. Straight from the mainland Mennonite farm to our dinner table.

Exhibit A: Chris Burke hauls a slab of fresh prime beef to our table to show that it comes straight from a Mennonite Farm to his restaurant. He's so in love with their beef, he's thinking of converting.
Exhibit A: Chris Burke hauls a slab of fresh prime beef to our table to show that it comes straight from a Mennonite Farm to his restaurant. He’s so in love with their beef, he’s thinking of converting.

Others we have spoken to since say the key to great service is to get to Texas BBQ during the off hours, like 2 to 4 p.m. when nobody else is thinking lunch or dinner.

Chris has as many dreams for the future as he has cuts of meat stashed inside the 14-hour smoker. He wants to expand the seating – there is one large table right next to the meat smoker. He plans an incredible breakfast menu. I honestly couldn’t keep up with his dream stream of consciousness.

But, damn, I wish him well.

How do you spot a cyclist in San Pedro during the wet season? Two ways: Speckled legs (above)  and a skunk strip on the back, from shirt top to butt.
How do you spot a cyclist in San Pedro during the wet season? Two ways: Speckled legs (above) and a skunk strip on the back, from shirt top to butt.

After dinner Stephen and our newest friends, from Nashville, whose names I lost in all the beef and wine (Sorry!), did indeed port us and our bicycles home.

That’s oddly a mixed blessing for me. I enjoyed hitching a ride home but I dread getting used to or becoming dependent on a golf cart — mine or someone else’s. I like cycling but the rains are coming and as Rose teaches more and more, she’ll need better transportation.

Against my own faulty judgment we may soon be in the hunt for a golf cart, electric or gas I don’t know.

But the real lesson for me this night was to consider the answer “Yes” more often when someone suggests an adventure.

That lesson was applied the next day over a late breakfast at Estel’s — last of the season for us before they closed their doors — when our friend Ed Butterick suggested we all go on our first poker run that night. But first we’ll need to smell the coffee roasting. …

 

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 1: Solo snorkel

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 2: What’s SUP!

 Next up on Doing stuff we haven’t done before: Smell the coffee roasting

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 2: What’s SUP!

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On the edge of the great Belize reef on stand-up paddleboards, the crew takes a breather before the sprint back to home base at Chuck & Robbie's dive shop where BIGSUP Belize operates.
On the edge of the great Belize reef on stand-up paddleboards, the crew takes a breather before the sprint back to home base at Chuck & Robbie’s dive shop where BIGSUP Belize operates.

There have been better days than last Friday to go stand-up paddling for the first time on Ambergris Caye.

For one, the four previous days, which were marked by still air and a glossy flat sea. Cutting through that water would have been like cutting through soft butter. And just as slick, quick and greasy.

Friday’s weather was, um, challenging. Imagine you are a feather floating atop lovely blue-green water and you are trying to get to the other side of the bowl, where your true love (another feather, of course) awaits. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 1: Solo snorkel

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First time snorkeling on Ambergris Caye withhout a tour guide to keep me out of trouble. Not exactly a "boys in long pants" feeling but, well, it is a start!
First time snorkeling on Ambergris Caye withhout a tour guide to keep me out of trouble. Not exactly a “boys in long pants” feeling but, well, it is a start! And the water was nice.

The past five days didn’t start out this way.

I mean Rose and I didn’t sit down and agree to try some different things now that we’re back on Ambergris Caye and in our new home.

This just the way things turned out – without even thinking about it we were trying our hand at late-night barbecue, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, a poker run, roasting coffee …. Read the rest of this entry »

Nice try, rain clouds. You almost made it!

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Instead of going about their business and bringing rain to this parched island, most clouds this morning took turns playing "Guess what shape I look like?" Very disappointed in them.
Instead of going about their business and bringing rain to this parched island, most clouds this morning took turns playing “Guess what shape I look like?” Very disappointed in them.

This morning it tried so hard to rain. The clouds gathered on the horizon and put on their best gray colors for the march westward toward our shore.

Unfortunately, the wind’s heart just wasn’t into it.

Oh, a few gusts rose to the occasion and a very few clouds made it to drop sprinkles here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

I swear, the heat’s making me stupid

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Two men slowly  press north in a boat full of trimmings. Manual labor here can be hard, really hard. Then add the heat and dust and bugs. Serious admiration for Ambergris Caye's laborers.
Two men slowly press north in a boat full of trimmings. Manual labor here can be hard, really hard. Then add the heat and dust and bugs. Serious admiration for Ambergris Caye’s laborers.

I thought for sure that it would rain last night.

While cycling back from Annie’s with a bag of chips for dinner I felt like the mythical fish on a bicycle (“A woman needs a man like a fish ….”).

No feminism reflections here. It was just so muggy that it felt like the air itself would burst open like a balloon and unleash torrents upon this parched little island. Read the rest of this entry »