Now we’re cruisin’

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Wow. How did it get to be Friday already?

Time is moving kind of quickly for a tropical island, if you ask me.

And yet, right on schedule, Rose and I will be signing a six-month lease on a condo this afternoon. But more on that after it happens.

In between the hunt and the acquisition we’ve been doing all those things people normally do when they move from places like California to a tropical Caribbean island like Ambergris Caye.

First up, of course, is work on my tan.

Just kidding. (I see eyes rolling from California friends and family and on the East Coast their snow-bound counterparts are thinking “What a jerk.”)

You don’t “work on a tan” here. It just sort of works on you. Just a natural part of being outside and getting stuff done.

For example, two days ago, Rose and I picked up some essential Caribbean tanning equipment. They’re called bicycles.

It is the Number One way to get around the island. We simply visited several of the many hardware stores on the island, picked out two still in their boxes and Castillo’s Hardware and were told to come back after lunch and they would be ready.

“Don’t you want a deposit?’

“No. No problem.””

“Would you like our names?”

“Bob and Rose, right?”


“OK, Bob and Rose, see you around 2 p.m.”

And sure enough, they were sitting there like two frisky ponies, ready for a spin around the island.

There are other ways to get around Ambergris Caye, listed here in order of popularity: golf carts, motorbikes, taxi vans, water taxis, walking. The last one is probably higher up the list but who’s going to sit on a corner and count?

Yesterday we were at the Palapa Bar and Grill, having a celebratory yea-we-have-a-place-to-live  happy hour drink, when a guy asked Chee, the bartender, to call him a water taxi. He wanted a ride back into town. It is true. You can do that.

The water taxis run up and down the eastern side of the island, in the calm waters inside the barrier reef. Cree pointed one boat out shortly after we sat down at the bar. It had “Miss Rose” in script across the side. “There goes your boat,” said Chee with a grin.

And that’s how you end up having two drinks instead of one at the Palapa Bar. Nobody is a stranger for long here, unless you want to be.

Up the coast – this island is about 24 miles long – is still unexplored territory to us. There are numerous resorts and private residences, for all of which water taxis are the best way to get around. The single dirt-and-sand road gets pretty rugged the farther north you go.

For us, for the most part, bicycles and walking will do just fine.

The bicycles are remarkably cheap and almost all are beach cruisers with big fat tires that can grip the sand and roll over the lumpy roadways. A basic bicycle, brand new, is around $160. After you add basket and fenders (useful in the rainy season, we’re told) and 12.8 percent tax, each bike is just over $200.

An essential accessory, which we brought with us, is a bike lock.

Dawna, a delightful woman from north of Toronto whom we met the other night, bought a bike her first day here and it was stolen the very next. As she pointed out, the thief also took the cable and lock that were sitting in the basket. “I was going to give it to someone who needed it when we leave the island any way,” said Dawna. “I just gave it away sooner than I expected.”

Dawna is renting a bike for the rest of her stay.

We were talking to Dawna in a roadside palapa restaurant called Pirate’s Treasure where I was having my first taste of lionfish, an incredibly angry and disheveled looking fish that tastes really good when served up with tasty sauces, spices and herbs.

Belize is trying to turn the capturing and eating of lionfish into a public service, as this non-native species is roaring through the barrier reef procreating like rabbits and hovering up all the other fish. Pirate’s Treasure is apparently one of the few restaurants to serve it prominently on the menu. The lionfish dishes are fantastic but pricey, by island standards, so it will be short-listed for “special occasions.”

We’ve checked off a few other places on our list – DJ’s for the best hamburger on the island, Estel’s for the best breakfast on the island, Fido’s for the best – oh, hell, everybody can’t be the best. We had a nice lunch at Fido’s. We grabbed breakfast at an old favorite, Melt Cafe in the Exotic  Caye Beach Resort complex. We also stopped into Pedro’s Hotel to watch the final minutes of Arsenal’s 2-nil defeat to Munich in Champion League play.

As a Californian I’ve learned to take the defeats of my pro teams in stride. Let me restate that: As a long-time San Diegan, I’ve learned to take the defeats of my pro teams in stride.

For the English, at least Arsenal fans like our friends John and Rose East and their fellow countrymen assembled at Pedro’s (owned by an Englishman named Peter) there seems to be no consolation. They analyze the failings of their boys and speak ruefully of lads not performing to expectations or, worse, not acquired by the team to make it better.

John and Rose dutifully proceeded over to Carlos and Ernie’s Runway Bar where one of the owners is a big Munich supporter. “I had to take my stick ,” explained John the next day, with a sly grin. “If we hadn’t gone right away, Ernie would have accused me of avoiding him or worse of being a coward!”

Soccer, excuse me, football is not a game for the weak and timid here.

We have been staying with John and Rose in the first-floor apartment of their newly built home since arriving on Ambergris Caye. Their generosity is nothing short of extraordinary and they will forever be our best friends here on the island.

If all goes according to plan, we’ll move into our place this afternoon. One of the things I like best about it is we are just down the road from John and Rose. I see lots of dinners shared at our place, breakfasts at Estel’s, some Belikin beers at Carlos & Ernie’s and, maybe, the Arsenal game or two.

Time to get on the bikes and hit the road for a bit with my Rose.

As the nearby Caye Caulker islanders say, “Go slow.”

8 thoughts on “Now we’re cruisin’

    Miranda said:
    February 21, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Hi, Bob. I will be coming to the island soon, and will be purchasing a bike the first day. I’m just wondering why you bought one still in the box,NAND not one on display. Is there an advantage to that? Do you think the ones on display are banged up?


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 21, 2014 at 10:09 am

      There just weren’t many on display, Miranda. I think they must sell them as soon as they can get them out of the box. Plus, picking though the stacks of boxes you can pick a color you like — black/chrome for me, red/chrome for Rose.
      Every hardware store seems to have a slightly different selection and slightly different price, but not much.
      We went to Castillo’s because a friend said they have good customer service, a good return/fix-it policy and a friendly staff — all of which was true.


    Tracey said:
    February 21, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Hi Bob,

    Make sure check out Coco Locos which is right across the road from Reef Village. Monday is Cribbage night and Tuesday trivia. It’s a great place! I’m so jealous. Wish I was there right now.



      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 21, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Absolutely Tracey! Almost went for dinner the other night.


    Karen Kelly said:
    February 21, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Have fun on those bikes.


    lifeagain said:
    February 21, 2014 at 10:18 am

    What? no pictures of the bikes and another of you two at least sitting on your new shiny bikes?…..Rose and Bob has forgotten what it’s like to be the kids on the block with something new to show off to the rest of the kids……….
    Without pictures how do we reeeeeeealllllly know you actually bought two new bikes….
    what color are the bikes?
    Did you give your bikes names yet?


    Kathy Chavis said:
    February 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Agree with Don! Have the Three-Wheeled Basket bikes arrived on SP? Read last year they were going to.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Can’t give you EVERYTHING at once, Don and Kathy! Being in transit and home hunting we’ve had a tough time getting a strong connection. I promise more pics very soon, especially of the bicycles which are now appropriately coated with island dust.

      I saw one cargo transporter three-wheeler — two wheels and a cargo hold up front — but no “trike” type bikes for cruising. Not sure how good they would be on these narrow and crowded streets and the beach too has some pretty rough patches for three-wheelers.


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