Bicycling Ambergris Caye north: 24 clicks to home

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There are few things more peaceful than lying on your back beneath a palapa at the end of a dock -- especially on Ambergris Caye, Belize.
There are few things more peaceful than lying on your back beneath a palapa at the end of a dock — especially on Ambergris Caye, Belize.

If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.Anatole France

Every journey in life should begin at the end of a pier, on your back, beneath a palapa.  They have a way of putting you in the right frame of mind, whatever the distance you plan to travel.

If you don’t have access to a pier and palapa, think of them as a very pleasant metaphor. When the going gets tough, the knowing duck under their mental palapa and chill for a while.

That was my thought late Monday morning as Rose and I lazily stretched out at the end of a private dock about seven miles north of our home, feeling the steady cool sea breezes wash over us, as gentle waves lapped at the support piers below us.

If it weren’t for the distinct cry of hunger, we might not have moved from that spot all afternoon.

But move we did, heading reluctantly south toward home — or the first decent meal we could scour up along the way.

First you go north ….

We’d  pedaled as far as a resort called X’tan Ha, the farthest north we’d reached on our occasional coastal rides.

Rose practicing Pilates on a dock just north of our home during our Monday  bicycle ride north.
Rose practicing Pilates on a dock just north of our home during our Monday bicycle ride north.

On the way up, we stopped at a nice dock with a sunny exposure where I took publicity pictures of Rose in various Pilates positions. Not sure what people passing by thought of that!  Rose begins teaching Pilates at Zen Arcade in June.

Northbound once again, we traveled familiar territory to us until exited the beach trail, in search of Mata Grande Grocery — only grocery in the north — where we bought some “native” snacks – a bag or Doritos BBQ chips, a Snickers candy bar and an apple.

Being a holiday, Sovereign’s Day/Commonwealth Day, the beach trail and the road were pretty quiet, so we stuck to the road for a bit. Literally, it turned out. There is only one road north and it is pretty rough, and in places very wet. We played a fun game called:  Who can find the best spot to cross the giant mud puddles covering the road – Bob or Rose?

I’d say that Rose has the better eye, but that wasn’t my foot that sank in the goo in the middle of one puddle. This time.map-clicks2

We got off the road with its dead, steamy, air and mosquitoes and back onto the beach at Rojo Bar and Restaurant where owner/chef Jeff and bar manager, Finn, were cleaning up from a late breakfast session for their resort guests.

We talked with Jeff a while about his business, hurricane season (June 1) and his 13 years on the island. He serves some of the best food we’ve tasted here – especially his bacon-kale salad — and are really stoked that he is opening an auxiliary café inside Zen Arcade, any day now. Jeff made some suggestions for places that would be serving lunch later, once we swung back toward home.

Which brings us to…

And then you go south ….

I know Rose was ready for lunch. She was already sailing down the path once we got off the dock.

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This resort is undergoing refurbishment including the construction of some of the biggest palapas on the island and an elaborate swimming pool. There is a semicircle of wooden cabanas on stilts behind the palapas that are getting fresh paint and railings and probably much more inside.

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This is my obligatory photo for folks who want to see the “real” Belize. Yes, we are awash in trash. It is especially noticeable on the shore of empty lots. And nearly all of it is petroleum byproducts — rubber and plastic. I don’t know if it is from cruise ship dumpings or garbage skows or what but there is plastic everywhere.  Kind of sad, really. Lots of island men spend there days raking the trash and sea grass in front of private homes and resorts. Undeveloped lots don’t get any love.

Memory is the basis of every journey. ― Stephen King, Dreamcatcher
Memory is the basis of every journey. Stephen King, “Dreamcatcher”

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Rose, who was a little ahead of me at this point suddenly disappeared. I could see far down the beach and she was not there. Strange. When I got to the end of the bushes in this picture, I found her kneeling next to her bike, both in the water soaking wet and crying. She’d hit a mango root which sent her front wheel flying over the seawall and away from the downramp. She landed in a pile of rocks before falling into the sea.

You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are. ― Joss Whedon
You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.Joss Whedon

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Nothing was broken but Rose had pain in her knee and ankle and was in shock, not surprisingly. I helped her out of the water and toweled her down while we checked for more injuries. Then I retrieved her bike and sunglasses from the rocks and water.

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The bike was OK, too. No bent wheel rim or broken frame. One of the places Jeff had suggested for lunch, Portofino, was a short ways down the beach. We decided to slowly make our way there, order lunch and then regroup. This was one of the docks on the way. First prize for creative accessorizing with conch shells.

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At the Portofino Resort’s Green Parrot Cafe, Raul produced a big bag of ice for Rose’s knee, and two of the coldest beers I have ever had on the island. He held up a couple of premium Belikins to show me the ice clinging to the sides. Aaaaaah. Ice in it’s many forms is so useful ….

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After some delicious fish and chips and conch fritters, Rose was feeling better but we decided to hang around a while. A couple of beach chairs in the shade were calling to us. Off went the sandals, out came the Kindles and down we went for a good two hours of R&R. Raul stopped by a couple of times to see if we needed more ice for Rose’s leg or beer for our battered spirits. A really nice guy.

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No matter how long we laid there, the distance to home wasn’t growing any closer. I offered to call Rose a water taxi but she insisted the pedaling would keep her muscles loose. It is such a strange thing to be surrounded by incredible beauty and be in pain. Rose handled it well, even when the sand got soft or we encountered other ramps.

The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. ― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. ― Norton Juster, “The Phantom Tollbooth”

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I couldn’t help but wish I was inside the head of this guy, sitting on the roof of this weather-beaten old resort, gazing out toward the Caribbean Sea. Rose and I wondered what it would take to get about four other couples — you know who you are — to buy into a place like this as a vacation/retirement retreat. Just daydreaming on the way home!

I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist. ― Billy Joel
I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist.Billy Joel

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This house was so freaking big I couldn’t get it all in the picture frame without wading out into the water! And to think, it is probably somebody’s occasional summer home. Wow.

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One of the nicer more open beaches that we encountered on the ride, beautifully maintained by the resort that fronts it.

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The classiest dock in all of Ambergris Caye, at Las Terrazas Resort, about 3.5 miles north of San Pedro. Sweeping elegance, that is all I can say. The whole resort is an architecturally austere collection of carved white sugar cubes — a fascinating choice, as if in defiance of its jungle surroundings. The restaurant is called, simply, O.

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Remember I mentioned the army of men with rakes and wheelbarrows who keep many of the beaches on Ambergris Caye free of debris? Here are a couple of them, on a break. The constant east-to-west wind ensures that by tomorrow this pristine beach will have a necklace of seagrass, perhaps interspersed with scores of plastic bottles.

“Sometimes it's worth lingering on the journey for a while before getting to the destination.”  ― Richelle Mead, The Indigo Spell
Sometimes it’s worth lingering on the journey for a while before getting to the destination.
― Richelle Mead, “The Indigo Spell”

***     ***     ***

Back in its heyday, this resort must have been something with its Greco-Roman statuary and arches. The lions still stand sentinel, welcoming guests and perhaps warding off … who?

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Not every acres of the north coast is built up beyond redemption. There are lots of pleasant little interludes like this one.

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The closer we get to home the more distinct and gentrified the beach path becomes. There are fewer actual beaches and more seawalls in front of elegant residences and very small resorts.

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The there is Aji, a tapas restaurant right beside the beach path. With its twinkling lights at night and tables organically integrated among the low palms, trees and beach growth, this has to be one of the most naturally romantic settings on the island.

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My second favorite dock on the island, the pier at Grand Caribe Resort. If you watch “House Hunters International,” real estate people will invariably bring their clients by water taxi to this dock in quest of the perfect island condo.

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We’re back in the ‘hood! For us, the Palapa Bar marks the north end of what we consider our neighborhood, the zone in which we can comfortably walk to a local establishment for a drink, a meal, some local camaraderie.  Actually, we’d walk a wee bit more up the coast to the yoga resort Ak Bol for a coconut french toast breakfast.

We usually come to the Palapa in the early evening on a Sunday when much of the crowd has staggered home. I always have the feel that I am about two hours too late to the party when I walk in here. Many, many happy people.

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Instead, we decided to stop at Coco Loco’s where we can always count on running into a neighbor or two, if not an interesting conversation with a complete stranger. This night is the weekly cribbage contest.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be. — Douglas Adams
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be. — Douglas Adams

***     ***     ***

As we st there, a barge pulled out of the nearby transfer depot. This is the point where heavy equipment, lumber, gravel, rock and any other high-volume, heavy-weight materials are off-loaded. The depot is situated right across the road from our complex, Barrier Reef Resort.

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While I was watching the barge, a smaller watercraft was pulling up behind me. One of the local fishermen brings his kayak, filled with the day’s catch, to the seawall next to Coco Loco’s and there are always buyers. On this day we split his catch of snapper and pokey three ways. He filleted the fish as Rose and Kim caught up on their days on the island. Rose brought home well over a pound of fresh fillets for $10BZD ($5 US).

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Seabirds maneuver for the scraps from our local mini-fish market.

All journeys eventually end in the same place, home. ― Chris Geiger
All journeys eventually end in the same place, home.Chris Geiger
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10 thoughts on “Bicycling Ambergris Caye north: 24 clicks to home

    Susan said:
    May 27, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Please tell Rose I hope she is OK, and that I have the exact sandals…I think…Dr. Scholls. In fact, I’m going tomorrow to buy 2-3 more pairs. Most comfortable sandals ever! Let me know if she needs a pair, I’ll bring them with me in August! Seriously. Thanks again for a glimpse of Ambergris Caye.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 27, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Hi Susan,
      Thank you so much. Rose has been taking it slow all day, still sore but confident that she’ll be back to yoga tomorrow and teaching for sure starting June 1. I’ll pass on the news about the shoes, although we’ll be in the states for the first couple of weeks in August! It is really nice of you to offer.

      Like

    Wes Witt said:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Looks like you finally made it as far north as our place. We are the house just south of X’tan Ha. I wish you had posted more pictures of your trip north. Next time up check in with Oliver, the manager of X’tan Ha. He is a really great guy. You might also try a meal there. The chef there is the famous DJ from DJ’s in San Pedro. He still makes the best burger on the island. You made the right stop at Portofino. We always walk down there for a meal at least once during our visits.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 28, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      Hi Wes! What a beautiful location you have. I think we ended up lazying on a dock maybe three down from yours under a nice palapa. Thanks for mentioning Oliver and DJ, we’ll definitely get in touch with them next time we’re in your neighborhood.
      How often do you get back?
      Thanks for writing.

      Like

        Wes Witt said:
        May 28, 2014 at 6:45 pm

        We come in about once a quarter. Our next trip is scheduled for mid July. Here is a link to our house. http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3001208

        Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        May 28, 2014 at 9:07 pm

        I remember the house now, Wes. Really nice. I think we may even have taken a little R&R time at the end of your dock! So tranquil! We’ll be in England in mid-July and San Francisco til mid-August. Maybe we’ll meet next time you’re here!

        Like

    Tracey said:
    May 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

    X’tan Ha used to be Legacy Resort. I stayed there on my first trip to Belize and I knew then that I had to return and hopefully retire there. I sobbed the day we left! Then, Legacy closed. 😦 I am so glad that it has since reopened. I think it is one of the most beautiful locations on the island.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks, Tracey! We certainly want to explore it more! Another good reason to bicycle back up there.

      Like

    lifeagain said:
    May 28, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    And the guy sitting alone high up on the roof top corner?
    Why not stop and pick his brain……..now that would have been worthy of a cool post alone and a blog gold piece you stumbled upon….
    Did you miss an opportunity?

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 28, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      Maybe. He looked very much at peace and in his own world. Why pop his bliss bubble?

      Like

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