If Samoa and Fiji can dominate in seven-side rugby, why not Belize?

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If I were a Rugby man, which, thank the lord I’m not, sir, the kind of man that I would be … well, hang on. I was a Rugby man, once.  A long time ago.

That first bit (in italics) was from one of the many Rugby post-match party songs, sometimes every bit as important as the games themselves. My first Rugby club, John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, used to proudly claim that, while we may lose a game here and there, we never lost the party afterward.

It was a long time before I realized that every rugby club made that claim.

There is a Belizean point to all this. And it is not that we love beer and any excuse for a party.

I was happily surprised to learn today that a network of seven-side rugby clubs is being set up all around Belize, including San Pedro. Seven-side is the shorter, faster paced version of the traditional game. Seven Side Rugby will debut as an Olympic game in 2016 in Brazil.

It might seem like a crazy dream to have a Belize Rugby team in the Olympics, but not an impossible one.  And I think most people living in Belize are big fans of crazy dreams.

And the dreamers who come up with them.

In this case, that would be author  and rugby fan Tony Gillings who is spearheading the national network of seven-side teams. In a recent statement, Gillings said, “Rugby Belize plans to focus on the development of rugby sevens as a forerunner to growing a full regular (15 man) team, and prepare to enter Belize into the next Commonwealth and Olympic games.”

Gillings’ organization plans for teams in Hattieville, Belize City, Belmopan, Orange Walk and San Pedro.

I’d like to think that rugby sevens would have strong appeal in Belize. It is fast-paced. There is room for players of all sizes, and there is a certain amount of what P.G. Wodehouse called legalized “assault and battery” on the field. And I’ll bet there are a few soldiers at British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) who might be able to help get a Belize league off the ground.

I fell so in love with rugby as a young man that it took the place of schooling for a while, long enough for me to drop out of college – just ahead of being drop-kicked out by school administrators. John Carroll was a small Catholic school but in rugby we held our own with the likes of Note Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Georgetown.

A year later, while wandering the streets of Washington D.C., I happened upon a rugby club practicing on a field in Georgetown.  It was an improbable collection of future diplomats, Marines from Quantico and street hippies, like me. Our team won the first-ever Cherry Blossom Festival Seven-Side Tournament, on the emerald green fields between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. We were also Class B Champions in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

Our strategy was pretty simple: Get the ball to the Marines – they never go down.

Ten years later, as a newspaper editor with two young sons, I tried resuming my career in Connecticut and ended up in a hospital emergency room. I didn’t need to be told twice. Around that time the U.S. was getting serious about rugby and Budweiser sponsored the Eagles. I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, to watch our boys play the All Blacks, New Zealand’s legendary Rugby Union team.

As the Eagles got off their bus, I felt the real thrill of a fan. Hollywood couldn’t come up with so many flinty-eyed, square-jawed, broad-shouldered supermen for a movie about rugby if it tried. Our time had come!

When I left the stadium, the U.S. was down 100-0. Maybe it was a team made in Hollywood.

Starting in 2007 and for several years, the IRB world series seven-sides tournaments were held in San Diego’s PetCo Park, bringing in teams from all over the world. And I went to every game that I could manage.

It is worth noting that teams from tiny island countries like Fiji and Samoa are perennial seven-side contenders.

So, you can do it Belize!

San Pedro has a perfect field for rugby, even if it is hard-packed sand and not grass. I for one am looking forward to the first tournament to be played on Ambergris Caye.

Leaving Belize for England with no shoes . . . is that a problem?

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Sometimes photos of Ambergris Caye look like we are encircled by a strand of deep sand, wide and white and velvety soft to the touch. Nonsense,  of course. There are some beaches like that but it takes work to get to them. We have modest beaches or more and more common -- sewalled beaches. Swimming is mostly off the ends of docks that stretch out beyond the protective and life-giving  sea grass. But the water -- clear, warm, and electric blue-green -- that is true. No faking the perfection of the water.
Sometimes photos of Ambergris Caye look like we are encircled by a strand of deep sand, wide and white and velvety soft to the touch. Nonsense, of course. There are some beaches like that but it takes work to get to them. We have modest beaches or — more and more common — seawalled beaches. Swimming is mostly off the ends of docks that stretch out beyond the protective and life-giving sea grass. But the water — clear, warm, and electric blue-green — that is true. No faking the perfection of the water.

Tomorrow morning Rose and I will grab a Tropic Air flight to the mainland and soon be on our way to England for a family wedding.

In so many ways I am not prepared to leave Ambergris Caye or Belize, not the least of which is that I have neither shoes nor jacket for a proper wedding.  Oh, I have khaki slacks which I’ve worn exactly twice over the past five months and several decent button-down Oxfords.

My plan is to find a British equivalent of Goodwill or Marshall’s and grab the first pair of Size 13’s I can find. I imagine blue blazers are so common in England that people just leave them lying around on park benches and at bus stops or hanging from tree limbs with needy people like me in mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Homeless in worst fire since Ramon’s doubles to more than 60 in San Pedro, Belize

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Fire in the San Juan area of San Pedro levels several homes and an apartment building along the canal tonight, July 7, 2014.
Fire in the Boca Del Rio area of San Pedro levels at least six homes, including an  apartment building along the canal tonight, July 6, 2014.

Update: The San Pedro Sun reports this morning that more than 60 people are homeless, five homes and numerous smaller structures destroyed and two people were injured in last night’s raging fire in the Boca Del Rio section of San Pedro. 

Adds the Sun: “The fire affected 66 people from 16 different families, including 32 minors below the age of 17. During the fire, two people received injuries; a male who sustained a broken hand after a house beam fell on him during the fire and a one-month old child who had difficulty breathing from the smoke and heat. They were both treated and released from the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro PolyClinic II.
“According to both San Pedro Police and the San Pedro Fire Department, their investigations continue to determine the cause of fire. The total estimated loss has not yet been calculated, but is expected to be above $2 million. None of the nine buildings were insured.”

Read the weekly newspaper’s latest report here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Puerto Azul planners rethink their fantasy island project

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Artist rendering detail of developers' vision for Puerto Azul on the  on the islands of Northern Caye and Sandbore, at the north end of Lighthouse Atoll.
Artist rendering detail of developers’ vision for Puerto Azul on the on the islands of Northern Caye and Sandbore, at the north end of Lighthouse Atoll.

International Holdings Corp., developers of the luxurious fantasy island project Puerto Azul,  are switching visions for their resort in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, according to the Hon. Godwin Hulse in an interview with TV 7 News Belize.

Hulse heard a presentation from the from the developers last week, as chairman of the Cabinet Investment Subcommittee. Apparently the developers are downplaying their plans for a hyper-luxurious refuge and playground for One Percenters. Read the rest of this entry »

In San Pedro, a cat food shortage and no Internet — a diabolical connection?

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Ambergris Caye has suddenly been hit with a shortage of two essential products — Internet service and dry cat food.

The Internet problems have been linked to massive server attacks on Belize Telemedia Ltd.’s system by outside forces, possibly from China.

The cat food shortage, I’m not so certain about the cause. All I know is that friends with cats (FWC) have been a bit panicky over the last week or so as market shelves have become conspicuously empty. Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Fare sale in Houston, more flights to BZE, Southwest to add Cancun

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Update: United Airlines is offering 30 percent off round-trip tickets between Houston and BZE. Tickets are on sale at $507, normally fares average $720. Departure dates are available from August 2014 to May 2015.

The sale began July 1 and there is no end-of-sale date announced as of yet.

Thank you John East for tipping me off to the sale.

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Delta is ramping up its seasonal flights to Belize from the States at a quicker pace than previously. Read the rest of this entry »

Internet trouble in Belize blamed on attacks from China

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Belizeans, expats and visitors, it is not your imagination. Internet service really has been horrible.

Belize Telemedia Limited says that its system has been under attack from outside forces, possibly from China, sending Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that consume vast resources, forcing the company to shut down service.

Basically, the attacks create a massive traffic jam on the Internet servers, making it nearly impossible for a company like BTL to handle legitimate traffic. Read the rest of this entry »

A fabulous day at Caye Caulker LobsterFest . . . but what a surprise finish

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The hurricane-created Split on Caye Caulker in Belize. To the right is north, to the left is the southern, more populated portion of the island.
The hurricane-created Split on Caye Caulker in Belize. To the right is north, to the left is the southern, more-populated part of the island.

We were idling a few hundred yards off Ambergris Caye late Sunday morning, passing out beers and waters from the cooler and pouring wine into little plastic cups.

The Newt rocked back and forth in the choppy, brilliant blue waters. Read the rest of this entry »

With a snip of the ribbon, Cafe Valentino opens for business

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Valentino de Caliz and his sister Celina, who will serve as manager, open Cafe Valentino for business last night at The Hotel.
Valentino de Caliz and his sister Celina, who will serve as manager, open Cafe Valentino for business last night at The Hotel.

It is official: Last night Valentino de Caliz, with his sister Celina beside him, cut the red ribbon across the door and Cafe Valentino in The Hotel was open for business.

Celina will be managing the new cafe, the first coffeehouse north of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge here in San Pedro, Belize. The tasty selection of breakfasts and lunches will be the responsibility of chef Celia. Valentino, himself a busy musician here on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, said he will maintain a steady presence at the cafe. Read the rest of this entry »

At the new San Pedro House of Culture: ‘History. It is a beautiful thing.’

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Wilema Alamilla stands proudly beside a photo of her grandfather, Octavio Alamilla, a founding member of the island's first fishermen's cooperative. The photo is part of historic exhibit at the San Pedro House of Culture across the street from the town footballl field on Back Street.
Wilema Alamilla stands proudly beside a photo of her grandfather, Octavio Alamilla, a founding member of the island’s first fishermen’s cooperative. The photo is part of historic exhibit at the San Pedro House of Culture across the street from the town football field on Back Street.

The young woman walked up to the display of photographs at the new home of the  San Pedro House of Culture, across from the town’s football field, and let out an exclamation of recognition.

Excitedly pointing to a framed black-and-white photo of a dapper young man in white shirt, tie, wire-rim glasses and snap-brim Panama, she said, “That’s my grandfather!”

Glancing at another photo she added, “And that’s my uncle!” Read the rest of this entry »