Month: September 2013

Speed bumps on the road of life got nothing on the roads of Belize

Posted on Updated on

A rare sight in Belize: an actual stop light. This intersection is in the town of Orange Walk, in northern Belize.
A rare sight in Belize: an actual stop light. This intersection is in the town of Orange Walk, in northern Belize.

Is there a difference between a “speed bump” and a “speed hump”?

Apparently there is. I just answered my own question here.

I got to thinking about speed bumps (for brevity’s we’ll just call them all “bumps”) because I nailed one the other day and it knocked me right back to Belize.

There are thousands of speed bumps in Belize.

Thousands. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Belize or bust’ takes on a new meaning

Posted on Updated on

Rose has done yoga by herself every morning under the palapa at the end of a pier just north of Turtle Inn. The owners let inn guests use the pier. Nice neighbors!
Rose has done yoga by herself every morning under the palapa at the end of a pier just north of Turtle Inn. The owners let inn guests use the pier. Nice neighbors!

We make plans. We make plans. We make plans.

So exhilarating.

So in control of our future.

We make plans. Therefore, we are. We make plans. Therefore, we will be.

And then, something happens. And all those plans, all those to-do lists and decision trees and carefully calibrated calculations which are designed to regain control over your life … they don’t mean anything.

Read the rest of this entry »

How dangerous is Belize? Let’s not ask John McAfee

Posted on Updated on

Welcome to Belize. Now, relax.
Welcome to Belize. Now, relax.

We’ve been back in California for a week now and while we’re no closer to deciding exactly where we will make our home in Belize — either San Pedro or San Ignacio — there is one thing to which Rose and I are firmly committed: We will be living in Belize by the end of February 2014.

Rose has been quietly explaining our plans to each of her Pilates clients this week and the reaction falls somewhere between enthusiasm for our new adventure and tears.

I’ve been hearing other reactions, too, like, “Seriously? Belize Why not Panama? You should check out Panama.” Or “Didn’t you consider Costa Rica? You should really check out Costa Rica before you make the move.”  Feel free to plug in the name of other Latin American countries. I think I’ve heard them all. Read the rest of this entry »

We’ve got a lot of talking to do

Posted on Updated on

Here's a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.
Here’s a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.

It is Sunday morning and I hear the sound of splashing water outside as I slowly grope toward consciousness. It is a sound I’ve heard a lot these past few weeks, the warm night rains falling on broad leafed palms and tropical growth, trickling off tin and reed-covered palapa roofs all over Belize.

But, wait. It’s Sunday morning.

And this isn’t Belize.

It’s … it’s California. We got home at 1 a.m. this morning.

I remember now.

Oh, damn.

It’s a broken sprinkler head, outside our bedroom window.

After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can't get close to this "drop" site." Can you spot Rose in the crowd?
After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can’t get close to this “drop” site.” Can you spot Rose in the crowd?

I fall back on my pillow and close my eyes and try as hard as I might to wish my body back to a nice tropical storm in San Ignacio, or Placencia or San Pedro and for an extra 10 minutes or so, as the lawn sprinklers finish their cycle, I am walking the white sand beach with my face up to the rain, a steady wind blowing on shore,  and the distant crash of waves against the  barrier reef fills me up with joy.

You said it, Madonna:

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro
Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song
A young girl with eyes like the desert
It all seems like yesterday, not far away

But right now, there’s a broken sprinkler head that is calling louder than “La Isla Bonita.”

Rose and I sat down at Peete’s Coffee with a couple of tall black ones and a legal pad this morning and began to draw up a list of everything we must do in order to move by February to Isla Bonita — or maybe inland to San Ignacio; no doors are closed just yet.

It is a long and slightly daunting list.  (Wanna buy some Glasshof sculptures? A piano? A house? Some furniture?  A Mercedes?)

But it will get done, item by item, day by day. It will get done.

This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the "C" portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.
This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the “C” portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.

The last few days in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye are a too fast-forward blur. We went snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Rose went off to yoga and a massage while I took the water taxi over to Caye Caulker for a few hours. Our friends John and Rose East picked us up in their golf cart and gave us a tour of the gorgeous house they are building north of San Pedro.

Then there was a dinner out, at Fido’s on the beach in downtown San Pedro. A waiter called Squeaky greeted us as we walked in, “Bob and Rose! Chargers and 49ers, right?”

Yeah, I was stunned. Squeaky had waited on us for a late lunch a few days earlier and we’d had a brief, casual, banter about California and our respective football teams but for him to remember us several days later?

This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.
This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.

Pretty wild, but honestly, we’ve come to appreciate the uncommon friendliness of the people we’ve met. A day or two after we went snorkeling the head of maintenance and a maid at the Exotic Caye Beach Resort, where we were staying, came up to me to ask about our adventure. Was the water choppy? Were the currents strong? What were you able to see? Did you have a good time?

They really wanted to know and dropped everything to talk abut the snorkeling.

When we first came here, I kept telling myself I’m not buying the tourism line about how caring and friendly the Belizeans are. But you know what? It is true. Not everybody you meet has  a smile and warm greeting but enough do to call it the norm.

Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.
Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.

Walking home from dinner along the beach late one evening,so many people who passed us said simply, “Good night.” Like the whole village was seeing us off to bed.

Contrast that with the table of guys my age who sat near us in Peet’s this morning and sounded like a bunch of Facebook flamethrowers — abrupt, insulting, aggressive, nasty, condescending, rude — and I think they were friends.

Well, for better or worse, we’re home. And we really are glad to be back. We missed friends, family and one funeral of a dear friend.

Have we found a place to live in Belize? Yes and no. Rose and I have narrowed it down to San Ignacio, near the western border with Guatemala and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Both hold very different attractions to us.

Like I said, we’ve got a lot of talking to do.

Some more photos from Caye Caulker:

The view long the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking -- mostly walking.
The view along the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking — mostly walking.

IMG_2400

More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.
More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.

 

This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.
This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.

At La Cubana, where Andy's roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.
At La Cubana, where Andy’s roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.

 
 

Nick, The Belize Fish Whisperer, leads the way

Posted on Updated on

Hol Chan Marine Reserve from the air ... taken as we left Ambergris Cay this morning for Belize International Airport on the mainland. You can just see the channel through the surf that gives the reserve its name.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve from the air … taken as we left Ambergris Cay this morning for Belize International Airport on the mainland. You can just see the channel through the surf that gives the reserve its name.

It is uncanny. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is vast and, well, under the sea. But Nick moved through it like it was his personal playground.

He knew in which crevices the Moray eels hung out — he’d swim down and clap and they would come out like cobras to a flute. He knew where to find conch and sea cucumber. He spotted sea turtles and sting rays and sharks long before any of us.

Nick even caught a three-foot-long shark with his hands and held it so Rose could pet it. “It felt coarse, super coarse, said Rose, “Like starched jeans. I thought it would feel like a portobella mushrooms.”

Nick was our guide on an overcast, windy and choppy day off the lower tip of Ambergris Caye.

I started calling him “the fish whisperer.”

He’s been at this for five years now, taking tourists like us into the national preserve and the nearby Shark-Ray Alley to take in the vast and varied life below the sea.

Nick delivers a lecture on respecting the reserve’s environment and cautions about touching the coral or picking up shells. He points out one sandy area and says “this is the only place in the reserve where you can stand on the bottom. OK? No where else.”

You get the feeling Nick and the other snorkeling and scuba guides are pretty protective of this, Belize’s greatest natural resource. Hol Chan Marine Reserve runs right up against the Barrier Reef and is marked by one of the few deep water channels, through which come fish, turtles and more.

I went a little crazy with the iPhone camera with its waterproof cover but for what it is worth here are many of the photos that I took.  They are in chronological order, from the moment I dropped into the water until I reluctantly, got out.

The aquamarine coloring is exactly right. This is what the water looks like off of most of Belize.

I hope you enjoy them.

IMG_2300 IMG_2301 IMG_2303 IMG_2304 IMG_2306 IMG_2307 IMG_2308 IMG_2309 IMG_2310 IMG_2311 IMG_2312 IMG_2313 IMG_2314 IMG_2315 IMG_2316 IMG_2317 IMG_2318 IMG_2319 IMG_2320 IMG_2321 IMG_2322 IMG_2323 IMG_2324 IMG_2325 IMG_2326 IMG_2327 IMG_2328 IMG_2329 IMG_2330 IMG_2331 IMG_2332 IMG_2333 IMG_2334 IMG_2336 IMG_2337 IMG_2338 IMG_2339 IMG_2340 IMG_2341 IMG_2342 IMG_2343 IMG_2344 IMG_2345 IMG_2346 IMG_2347 IMG_2348 IMG_2349 IMG_2353 IMG_2354 IMG_2355 IMG_2356 IMG_2357 IMG_2358 IMG_2359 IMG_2361 IMG_2362 IMG_2363 IMG_2364 IMG_2365 IMG_2366 IMG_2367 IMG_2369 IMG_2370 IMG_2372 IMG_2373 IMG_2374 IMG_2375 IMG_2376 IMG_2377 IMG_2380 IMG_2381 IMG_2382 IMG_2383 IMG_2384 IMG_2385

Playing a tune in the caye of Cauker …..

Posted on

One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!
One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!

Two things I would feel remiss in not doing after all this time on Ambergris Caye: snorkeling and visiting Caye Caulker.

Spotted this sea turtle in the Hoy Chen Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour.
Spotted this sea turtle in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour. He’s missing most of his front fin on the other side.

Rose and I finally went snorkeling yesterday afternoon and today I am writing this message from Caye Caulker. I took the watertaxi over this morning – it is just south of Amberguis Caye — and so far I have gotten as far as the Laughing Lobster where I was served breakfast and a healthy WiFi signal.

Rose is off to her daily yoga class and later plans on a well-deserved massage over in San Pedro. This is our first time apart during this whole trip and, oh my god, I miss her!

Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.
Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.

Then again, we are on separate islands at the moment.

Caye Caulker is indeed a step back in time. The main street is hard packed sand and tourists walk around in bare feet and hotel towels wrapped around bathing suits.

Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.
Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.

A gentle old fellow with a single tooth jutting from his mouth stumbled up the steps and walked over to my table to talk. My fault. I made eye contact and smiled. He had an open bottle of rum in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and despite the morning hour he was half-past midnight drunk.

The waiter was very kind with him and eased him off the porch and back on to the road. “Yes, my friend,” he told the guy, “you ARE cool.”

Later the waiter said he’s a fixture in the village. And you’ll see him around all day like that. His capacity for rum is legend.

Well, I’m off to explore more of the village and island. It isn’t very large and I’m sure I will have exhausted most of it in an hour or two. Nice vibe though. I’ll post more pictures from our dive trip later and a few more from Caye Caulker.

Here’s a couple more shark photos from Shark Ray Alley:

IMG_2367

IMG_2366

This old house, and a new one, in Belize

Posted on Updated on

Show me an unusual house, curious looking people or a mystical place in the wild and my mind begins creating stories about them. It has always been this way, since I was a child.

You might think that this would conflict with my career in journalism but that is quite a different thing. As a journalist, my role was to uncover the story behind a person, place or thing.

As a regular person out on a bike ride, my mind is my own to play with and let it travel to where ever the imagination will take me. That is what happens with this old place for example:

IMG_2288

It sits a few feet up from the beach, among coastal pines and palms, right next to Crazy Cannuck’s beach bar — which is on the north end of the place where we are staying, The Exotic Caye Beach Resort.

I am inexplicably drawn to it.

Each day, when we walk or bicycle up the beach, I pause and begin imagining the people who built this now derelict and seemingly abandoned old beach house. Former British colonialists? Some US college dropout who scored big with a load of pot in the 1970’s then dropped out like Tim Leary directed,  to his dream Caribbean paradise?

I love the rambling, add-on nature of the place. Growing family? Add some bedrooms off the side!

Notice the indigenous wood carving that now holds up a section of the porch! Who does that to a wood carving?

This is one of the, seemingly, few places in San Pedro that do not have for sale signs on them.

We talk lightly about buying the place then having an architect and builder replicate it, board for board. But that is just a fleeting teasing of our imaginations.

I do think it is a style of housing that is being replaced here by more practical structures of rebar-reinforced concrete, with tile and marble floors and spacious windows that meet the Miami Hurricane Standard. Besides being able to withstand hurricanes, they stay dryer and cooler and more bug-free.

Seriously one more hurricane and these wooden structures on stilts will be a thing of the past.

Including this one north of the bridge which I’ve photographed before:

IMG_2292I wonder if the dock came all the way to shore at one time or if you always had to take a boat out to this place?

No illusions about living in this one. I don’t think you’ll ever know what a dry piece of clothing is like again until you move out of it.

Here is an example of the contemporary construction you will find on San Pedro and other coastal parts of Belize. And this one i don’t have to imagine stories aobut. It belongs to our friends John and Rose East, and John has been documenting its construction daily at his blog, A Belize Home for Us:

IMG_2290

Rose likes what she sees of the construction of the new home of our friends John and Rose East. We were out on a bike ride Thursday mornign which took us past their house, just north of San Pedro.
Rose likes what she sees of the construction of the new home of our friends John and Rose East. We were out on a bike ride Thursday mornign which took us past their house, just north of San Pedro.

John and Rose have a magnificent lot that gives their new home lagoon views and sunsets to the west and Caribbean Sea and sunrise views to the east.

We are so excited for them as construction gets closer and closer to completion. They will most definitely be in residence in the next couple of months, says John. His blog gives you an appreciation of the incredible amount of detail you must track and process and the build goes up, plus all the household items you must acquire to make this house a home.

John and Rose are shipping goods from home and building a stockpile of other necessities through internet shopping that will be shipped here under the Qualified Retired Person (QRP) program which enables people with certain commitments to Belize to ship in goods free of duty for one year.

****      ****     ****    ****    ****

The following images were all taken Thursday morning as we ate up the last few hours on our 24-hour bicycle rental. We went north over the toll bridge and cycled along the narrow beach, in and out of coconut trees.

As noon time neared, we  cycled through downtown San Pedro’s Central Street to our hotel. Notice the patriotic bunting that decorates every street here. We are celebrating Independence Month here in Belize.

The fruit and vegetable stand is pretty typical of the ones you’ll find on every block in this town.

Cycling on the thin strip ob beach north of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize.
Cycling on the thin strip ob beach north of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize.

These images were all taken Thursday morning as we ate up the last few hours on our 24-hour bicycle rental. We went north over the toll bridge then cycled through downtown San Pedro's Central Street to our hotel. Notice the patriotic bunting that decorates every street here. We are celebrating Independence Month here in Belize.

IMG_2297 IMG_2295

IMG_2294

Found: The Weasley Family’s vacation retreat in Belize

Posted on Updated on

Amazing what you will find when you grab a pair of bikes and just get lost on the rutted back streets of San Pedro: The Weasley Family vacation home.
Amazing what you will find when you grab a pair of bikes and just get lost on the rutted back streets of San Pedro: The Weasley Family vacation home.

After a grueling year  at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the kids and Arthur’s  ever-more-challenging role  in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, do you really think the Weasley family spent holiday in soggy old Ottery St. Catchpole, outside Devon?

Of course not!

The Weasleys were featured on “House Hunters International” back in the early 1980’s,  as they went in search of a vacation home in sunny Ambergris Caye, Belize, where they could enjoy sun, surf and sand — and still find a touch of Merry Old England in the former colony known as British Honduras.

As the HGTV program put it at the time: “Can the Weasleys find a rambling quirky structure that complemented the Burrow and their own eccentricities — without all that English fog to thwart their attempts at tanning freckled skin? Will a summer home in Belize put that old magic back into the lives of these hard working wizards and witches?”

You bet.

These days, locals say, the beginning of high season is marked by the sudden influx of carrot-topped, freckle-faced Weasleys in San Pedro.

Some say that, in recent times, even a paunchy, sun-burned Harry Potter could be seen tooling about in Arthur’s 24-foot fishing boat, here cleverly and magically disguised as a sunken derelict while the home awaits the coming of the Weasleys during high season.

Locals recall one gift shop that tried to market “Weasley Belizely” T-shirts back in the early 1990’s, but most people didn’t get it, mainly because J.K. Rowling hadn’t yet published the books that splayed open the secret life of magic. Way ahead of their time, the shirts were eventually discontinued.

I really, really think this is it, a Weasley vacation home if ever there was one, on the lagoon side of San Pedro.

What do you think?

IMG_2285

Globe-trotting cyclist’s take on San Pedro: Not cheap

Posted on Updated on

Frank E. Briscoe, the "old guy on a bicycle," told us a bit about his bicycling adventures before dashing off to catch the air taxi to Belize City.
Frank E. Briscoe, the “old guy on a bicycle,” told us a bit about his bicycling adventures before dashing off to catch the air taxi to Belize City.

Rose and I bicycled over to the Ambergris Brewing Co. for lunch today. It is on the water, next to the Blue Tang Inn where we stayed when we first arrived in San Pedro.

The intent was lunch and to thank Don, the owner for referring us to Bob Hamilton a straight talking, bare-footed, ponytailed ex-Canadian who now sells real estate. Bob spent a lot of time with us, giving his perspective on Ambergris Caye real estate and he suggested some folks who handle long-term rentals who might also be able to help.

The million dollar view from the "curb" tables at the Ambergris Brewing Co. in San Pedro, mbergris Caye.
The million dollar view from the “curb” tables at the Ambergris Brewing Co. in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

While waiting for our lunch a cheerful, slightly rotund but clearly energetic fellow appeared from nowhere like Alice’s rabbit and with a hearty handshake to Don said he could only stay for one beer because his flight was leaving in an hour.

The energetic character Frank E. Briscoe, freelance writer, motivational speaker and super-enthusiastic bicycle rider.  He pedaled from the San Juan Islands to the Florida Keys, all around Holland, and enough other places to log more than 30,000 miles since 2005. Did I mention he turns 67 this year?

He has a website about his adventures in cycling at www.oldguyonabicycle.com.

Frank had just spent the last 29 days in Belize, mostly on Ambergris Caye and was leaving the country by bus only an hour before the 30-day limit which requires you to renew your visa for $100. Frank is taking a Belize City-to-Cancun bus. There, he’ll be house-sitting for about six week.

He was planning to bicycle from Chetemul, at the Mexican border, to Panama City but his bicycle companion backed out on him. Frank said he just wasn’t up to making the trip alone. And that sounds more than reasonable. That’s a 1,500 mile cycle through mountainous terrain in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Hey, Frank. Maybe I should go with you!

Anyhow, Rose and I were so disappointed to catch only the fleeting last few minutes of this most gregarious fellow’s time on Ambergris Caye. He reminds me a great deal of my old airborne globetrotting friend Bob Gannon who has a knack for making lifetime friends where ever he lands his airplane.

Frank did say before he left that he was not crazy about San Pedro, mainly because prices for everything are pretty much what they are in the U.S. “On the other hand,” he added, “Caye Cauker is my kind of place. The pace is slower, the prices are lower and it is just more relaxed.”

Caye Cauker is on our list of places to visit before we leave on Saturday, perhaps a day trip by water taxi. It is just south of Ambergris Caye and much smaller, but its quiet barefoot village charm appeals to many whom we’ve met.

After Frank wraps his house-sitting project he’s returning to Belize, possible to bicycle the 60 miles or so to San Ignacio from where we have recently returned. It’s a good bicycle ride – decent roads for Belize, interesting and undulating landscape out west but without steep mountains.

When he gets to San Ignacio, by bus or bicycle, the first person he’s going to look up is Ginny Ophof our dear friend from Rainforest Realty who spent half a day showing us the town. Apparently they have been corresponding and she’s promised to show him a good time in San Ignacio. We know from experience, Frank is in for a real treat.

Funny, sometimes I feel that Belize is just one big neighborhood in which your friends are no more than two steps removed from other friends, no matter where you are in the country.

Uh, oh ….

Posted on Updated on

According to the National Hurricane Center, there is a disturbance directly over Belize which has a 40 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone within the next 48 hours and that probability can increase to about 70 percent within the next 5 days.

This system is the cause of the heavy rains since yesterday; and today, we can continue to experience more heavy rains and strong winds,although here in San Pedro it has been breezy and cool with the slightest hint of drizzle.

Let’s see,  we leave Saturday morning …

Here’s Belize, circled in orange on the NOAA map:

Awful lot of weather squiggles going on around Belize ....
Awful lot of weather squiggles going on around Belize ….

Belize-weatehr