Oh, rocky road, take me home ……

Posted on Updated on

(There has been no internet service since we arrived on Sunday. It is up for the moment and a pretty intense storm is headed our way, which means we’ll lose it shortly!  I’ll post pictures as I can but not right now! — Bob)

The thing about this road is when something goes bad, you can't call AAA and have them tow you out of the drink.
The thing about this road is when something goes bad, you can’t call AAA and have them tow you out of the drink.

Unbelievable.

There, at the entrance to the remote village of San Estevan in northern Belize, was a traffic speed bump.

One of the water hazards along the road to Orchid Bay in northern Belize. After all the potholes, this was sort fo a relief -- except we had no idea how deep it was until a truck came along and slogged through it.
One of the water hazards along the road to Orchid Bay in northern Belize. After all the potholes, this was sort of a relief — except we had no idea how deep it was until a truck came along and slogged through it.

The speed bump itself wasn’t unbelievable. The main road through every village and town in Belize has speed bumps, at both ends … and sometimes a few toward the center.

What is amazing is that the road leading into San Estevan is bomb-cratered, potholed, rib-caged and rock-strewn — overrun by streams of unimaginable depths. If you get up to 18 miles an hour for the hour long drive from the main highway you are simply careless. And have no regard for your life or the axles on your vehicle.

We were sort of joking that this is the Belizean AAA, but then this one vulture kept following us own this crazy road .... it got less funny.
We were sort of joking that this is the Belizean AAA, but then this one vulture kept following us own this crazy road …. it got less funny.

It is just that a speed bump in San Estevan, after all that, seems so … so … so redundant. As redundant as the sign at the end of town that warns of road construction for the next nine miles. Ha! Ha! Ha! What a sense of humor these Belizeans have.

I’ve driven this road three times now – past thousands of acres of Mennonite-planted corn and sugar cane — and seem to get more wreckless with each passage. At least I seem to be dropping down into bigger craters. Perhaps the thunderous rain Sunday night changed the topography on me — moved some craters down the road and replaced them with exposed rocks embedded in clay.

Perhaps I just have more confidence in our little clay-encrusted Suzuki Jiminy. It is no Humvee or Range Rover and it rattles like bones from hell by it seems to leap over the worst of it.

Whew, home safe

Our casita at Orchid Bay, until tomorrow when we head off for San Ignacio.
Our casita at Orchid Bay, until tomorrow when we head off for San Ignacio.
View of Orchid Bay resort from the palapa at the end of the pier. Our casita is just past the first row of trees at the end of the pier.
View of Orchid Bay resort from the palapa at the end of the pier. Our casita is just past the first row of trees at the end of the pier.

Rose and I are now at an exotic little wedge of Paradise called Orchid Bay. It is a beautiful and curious looking planned community east of the town of Corozal. Orchid Bay has a majestically long gray pier with a palapa at the end, jutting into an extremely becalmed bay of gray-blue water.

The view from our casita at Orchid Bay.
The view from our casita at Orchid Bay.

There’s an on-site bar & restaurant (Monday is soup and movie night) with cold beer and Costco food, a large bed & breakfast building and perhaps 20 small detached pill-shaped houses with thatched roofs.

The houses are all close to the shore, all of them framed by extremely well-manicured and landscaped tropical growth.

On many acres behind these houses are the as yet unrealized expectations of the developers – scores of home sites, half-built condo buildings and perhaps some shops, once there is a year-round population to justify them. Everything is already laid out with roads, open spaces and stone pathways and on a map the whole thing looks like it was lifted from the most intricate crop circles of a decade ago. (By the way, I now know who did the infamous Suisun Valley crop circles a decade ago last month. It wasn’t aliens….)

We’ve seen a few of these developer dreams-in-suspension in our short stay in Belize. One in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, called The Mansions, was particularly poignant. In serious tropical decay, it had cobbled streets, old gaslamp-style street posts, all utilities and was surrounded by a large white wall, what we’d call a graffiti canvas. Two large houses on the grounds seemed derelict but inhabited.

The car ferry to Copper Bank normally cuts about an hour and a half off the trip to Corozal. It is closed for repairs.
The car ferry to Copper Bank normally cuts about an hour and a half off the trip to Corozal. It is closed for repairs.

Clearly, The Mansions is going nowhere soon. But Orchid Bay seems like it has legs. If you don’t mind the absolute remoteness from civilization. In fact, I think that is their selling point.

Orchid Bay isn’t far from Corozal under normal circumstances. For us, it was a two hour ride, traveling a V-shaped path south to Orange Walk then north to Corozal, more than half over rough roads. There is an east-west road that makes the whole trip in less than 10 miles. It requires passage across two rivers on car barges. Unfortunately the government has taken two or one – it is not clear – of the ferries out of commission for badly needed repairs. No matter. If one is out, the whole route is out.

Checking out Corozal

Trevor started school today, kindergarten in Corozal. He came to Belize eight months ago and speaks four languages. He like to ride his bicycle around the tables in his mother and father's restaurant.
Trevor started school today, kindergarten in Corozal. He came to Belize eight months ago and speaks four languages. He like to ride his bicycle around the tables in his mother and father’s restaurant.

We took the trip to Corozal on Tuesday and, if nothing else, we were able to scratch it off our list of potential places to live. There is an expat community of sorts and it meets on Tuesdays at a restaurant or bar, we were told. That’s about it. We ended up eating lunch at an open-air Chinese restaurant along the shore and it was fresh veggies and good but ordinary.

On the way home, down the Northern Highway, through San Joaquin, San Francisco, Adventura, Louisville, San Narcisco, San Pablo and more the same scene was unfolding – children were being let out from their first day back at school. Kids walked up and down the roadway or stood in clusters according to their brightly colored school uniforms. Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelicals and more all seem to have their own schools and colors.

Getting hustled, Mennonite-style

The two little Mennonite entrepreneurs who hustled me for an extra buck after I bought one of their watermelons. I made them pose for the picture in exchange for the buck.
The two little Mennonite entrepreneurs who hustled me for an extra buck after I bought one of their watermelons. I made them pose for the picture in exchange for the buck.

On the way home we stopped and bought a watermelon from a couple of Mennonite boys. It was about $2.50 which I paid to the older of the two. The younger one stuck out his hand and I looked quizzically at his big brother.

“Give him a dollar,” he said flatly in a Germanic accent.

“Why?” I asked.

The older boy just shrugged with the slightest hint of a smile. The slightest.

OK. Reason enough. I dug out a Belizean dollar (that’s fifty cents US) and handed it to the younger boy.

He simply turned and walked away like it was his due.

Our little Isuzu road warrior, which is not  two-toned.
Our little Suzuki road warrior, which is not two-toned.

That’s OK because on our way up on Sunday, not far from their watermelon stand, I hit a pothole and accidentally splashed a group of Mennonite women sitting under a shade tree beside the road. Just a little. About fifty cents worth of splash.

Tomorrow we head south, past Orange Walk and Belize City then west past the capital of Belmopan and toward San Ignacio, near the border with Guatemala. It’s mostly highway – read that as two-lane, paved road – and that will come as a relief.

Except that, as we head into the jungle, we don’t yet have a place to stay.

Advertisements

Heading for mainland Belize

Posted on

A resident of southern Ambergris Caye.
A resident of southern Ambergris Caye.

It is 9 am and our bags are packed but were not ready to go. San Pedro is a multi-layered, complicated town on a beautiful island and were just beginning to pick up on its true nature and rhythms.

Yes, there are some crabby types in Paradise.
Yes, there are some crabby types in Paradise.

Fortunately we’ll be back for five days at the end of our journey.

We’ve already become friends with the woman who runs the place we’ll be staying at upon our return, because of Rose of course. The two were in a yoga class Saturday morning and hit it off well.

Gaylynn is a former Californian and like a lot of people here, it seems, she does a lot of jobs. She runs the resort, an athletic club don the street and a condo complex next to the athletic club, among other jobs.

And she has the energy to get it all done.

Signposts are all around San Pedro, so getting lost is a challenge. Well, getting lost on an island is a challenge to begin with.
Signposts are all around San Pedro, so getting lost is a challenge. Well, getting lost on an island is a challenge to begin with.

Gaylynn has offered to keep an eye out for the right property for us for our eventual migration to Belize. Though we’ve yet to explore the rest of the country,  San Pedro just might be the place.

We really like it here.

Already Rose is talking with two women (her yoga instructors) who will be opening a wellness center in San Pedro later this year. It is the kind of work Rose does right now — therapeutic and restorative yoga and pilates — and they are interested in incorporating her skills into their group which will also include a chiropractor.

Sounds like a good thing for the aging expat community that is headed this way! Still, nothing firm and much to talk about but it is great to see possibilities opening before you.

We rented a golf cart again yesterday afternoon and went as far south as we could, past some really nice houses and condo complexes. It is pretty remote and the road is a kidney cruncher.

Some beautiful crafts along the beach area. Saw our first acquaintance Jesus Anthony walking the beach with a crazy coconut "party hat" on his head. He'll make and sell anything given a few coconuts.
Some beautiful crafts along the beach area. Saw our first acquaintance Jesus Anthony walking the beach with a crazy coconut “party hat” on his head. He’ll make and sell anything given a few coconuts.

We suspect that a lot of people simply keep a boat for the ride into town — the fastest and smoothest way to get around.

Our taxi arrives in a few minutes and we head off for northern Belize and Corozal for a few days. But, really, we can’t wait to get back to Isla Bonita.

Last night, atop the Blue Tang Inn for sunset.
Last night in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, atop the Blue Tang Inn for sunset.

Finding the rhythm and beauty in San Pedro

Posted on Updated on

San Pedro transportation consists mainly of bicycles, golf carts and taxi  vans.
San Pedro transportation consists mainly of bicycles, golf carts and taxi vans.
The golf carts in particular are everywhere in San Pedro. Sometimes parking can be a challenge....as is staying our of their way as  pedestrian!
The golf carts in particular are everywhere in San Pedro. Sometimes parking can be a challenge….as is staying out of their way as a pedestrian!

On the water there are boats taking people everywhere -- off to other islands, over to the barrier reef for diving and snorkeling, to the mainland and up and down Ambergris Caye to homes and resorts in more remote sections.On the water there are boats taking people everywhere — off to other islands, over to the barrier reef for diving and snorkeling, or fishing, to the mainland, and up and down Ambergris Caye to homes and resorts in more remote sections.

Selling fresh caught fish on Back Street for $5 BZ a pound (That's $2.50 US)
Selling fresh caught fish on Back Street for $5 BZ a pound (That’s $2.50 US)
A majestic old house, a survivor of the faded glory of the British  colonial era, on Back Street.
A majestic old house, a survivor of the faded glory of the British colonial era, on Back Street.
Terrell is a street painter working on Barrier Reef Drive this morning. He'd just finished this painting of the corner directly behind him on which sits the Caribbean Connection Internet Cafe.
Terrell is a street painter working on Barrier Reef Drive this morning. He’d just finished this painting of the corner directly behind him on which sits the Caribbean Connection Internet Cafe.

In Belize, ‘What do you recommend?’ opens doors

Posted on Updated on

Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine
Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine

Can I get a recommendation?

On Ambergris Caye you only have to ask and people come forth with all kinds of great stuff.

The other day over breakfast with English expats John and Rose East, we learned that Friday night’s must-eat dinner is the Mayan buffet at Elvi’s Kitchen. And, holy cow, was that a great recommendation. Later this morning we’ll line up for the soup at Briana’s on Back Street, a Saturday-only experience that lasts only as long as the soup. And according to John and Rose, you get there early or you don’t get any at all.

Part of the buffet table at Elvi's Kitchen.
Part of the buffet table at Elvi’s Kitchen.

Over breakfast yesterday at the Melt Cafe, owners Mark and Michelle tipped us off to what sounds like a pretty good rental — two bedrooms fully furnished on the ocean in one of the nicer condo complexes south of town. We’re going to grab a golf cart or bikes and check it out later this morning, after Rose is done with yoga.

A glimpse of the interior of Elvi's Kitchen
A glimpse of the interior of Elvi’s Kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon we grabbed a light lunch at the Ambergris Brewing Co., which as yet does not brew any beer. But they do offer good sandwiches at a cheap price and they are right next door to out Blue Tang Inn. The owner, Don, stopped to chat after picking up his son at school. When he learned of our intent to move to Belize, possibly San Pedro, he immediately recommended talking to Bob Hamilton, a former Canadian, now Belize citizen, who owns Coral Beach Real Estate.

IMG_1984

Dinner at Elvi's
Dinner at Elvi’s

Another great call. Bob — or Barefoot Bob, as he’s beginning to be called — turns out to be an incredible resource. Even though we just sort of popped into his office yesterday he gave us as much time as we wanted to talk real estate, local gossip, the trials and tribulations to migrating to Belize — he knew it all. And he hardly cared if we were interested in buying property.

He calls it good karma. When we’re ready, he said, he’ll be here. Meanwhile Bob recommended a couple of property management companies that could set us up in a long-term rental while we decide the next big step.

After leaving Barefoot Bob’s — he does work barefoot and in shorts, with a graying ponytail, we headed for the social hour at Wine de Vine, a high end wine, meats and cheese bar. That was another recommendation, from Rose’s yoga instructor. Lots of expats flock to the wine bar on Fridays.

Wine, by the way, is a bit of a luxury here — very expensive by US standards. After a couple of glasses of chardonnay from Chile and sauvignon blanc  from back home in Sonoma we felt it was time to get back into island life and head for the Mayan buffet.

Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie's (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.
Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.

But first we had to check out another recommendation: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill, an open air bar right next to the airport landing strip. John East had noted that it was one of three very inexpensive bars worth visiting.

We thought it was pretty decent of Carlo and Earnie to donate a big portion of their parking lot for a detour around the town’s one major street rehabilitation project. Otherwise traffic would have been routed around the far side of the airport, a major inconvenience to all.

And what do you know? We ran into John there, picking up fish and chips for him and Rose, who’d taken a bad fall at their home construction site yesterday. She was home recuperating as he ran errands. (We send our thoughts and well wishes to Rose, a lovely woman, our first friends on the island.)

The Mayan buffet was every bit as good as John and Rose said it would be. Starting with a shrimp bisque, the fare was familiar — rice, chicken, pulled port, tortillas, refried beans and more — all with unique twists to flavoring and preparation. Desserts included a very dark papaya, chocolate bread pudding and strong Mayan coffee.

Elvi’s Kitchen is a cavernous space with a packed sand floor and a huge tree decked in twinkling lights. Great atmosphere.

For the moment we’ve run out of recommendations but I’m pretty confident that as soon as we strike up a conversation with the next local we’ll be off on our way to the next great discovery.

Working in the ‘office’ today – Belize-style

Posted on Updated on

Looking back at the Blue Tang Inn this morning just before our walk down the beach to yoga class for Rose.
Looking back at the Blue Tang Inn this morning just before our walk down the beach to yoga class for Rose.

This morning we walked down the beach to the Exotic Caye Resort so Rose could attend a yoga class. A nice breeze kept the temperature cool and activity on the island seems to be picking up with the weekend.

As luck would have it, there is the Melt Cafe downstairs from the studio with a very strong WiFi signal.

So I ordered up some WiFi, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and a bagel.

My "office" this morning, an outside table at the Melt Cafe in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. A gentle breeze kept me cool and the view kept me distracted -- my kind of office.
My “office” this morning, an outside table at the Melt Cafe in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. A gentle breeze kept me cool and the view kept me distracted — my kind of office.

Mark and Michelle, both retired from the Air Force, recently took over the Melt and are working hard to make a go of it. Yes, working hard is not a foreign concept in the island.

As Michelle pointed out, there is hard work and there is working hard at something you enjoy. And they clearly enjoy their cafe.

This is their first go at a restaurant — in the military, Mark was in telecom and Michelle was in operations. They are emphasizing fresh and local with a nice dose of warmth and personality.

That cool breeze brought with it some dark clouds from the northeast and with it, some rain. So I moved my office in under the protective palapa covering as the rain came down for about 20 minutes.
That cool breeze brought with it some dark clouds from the northeast and with it, some rain. So I moved my office in under the protective palapa covering as the rain came down for about 20 minutes.

This is a slow time on Ambergris Caye for any business, said Mark. Come October and the high season, everybody starts making a living. “You make your year from October to April,” he said. “After that it is all profit.”

Mark and Michelle took a year off after spending time in Afghanistan as consultants and moved to Las Vegas. When considering their next move they looked at a lot of countries but settled on Belize, specifically Ambergris Caye.

They are avid divers and love fishing and some day in the future there will be a boat of their own. Meanwhile they are working from 6 a.m to around 3 p.m. at the cafe and are thinking of eventually adding dinner to the menu.

They’ve got their two-bedroom oceanfront condo, their business and their dream and they sure seem to be enjoying all of them.

Move over, buddy, I have a golf cart and I’m crazy!

Posted on Updated on

The view from the pool at the Blue Tang Inn in San Pedro. At the left is Wet Willy's at the end of a pier. My friend Kevin Brass says Jerry Jeff Walker ("Mr. Bo Jangles") used to give an invitation-only concert out there. You can read Kevin's story here.
The view from the pool at the Blue Tang Inn in San Pedro. At the left is Wet Willy’s at the end of a pier. My friend Kevin Brass says Jerry Jeff Walker (“Mr. Bo Jangles”) used to give an invitation-only concert out there. You can read Kevin’s story here.

After experiencing a genuine San Pedro traffic jam this morning, Rose and I naturally went out and rented a golf cart for the afternoon. At least we went north of San Pedro, away from the traffic.

Even then, the clerk was horrified when I told him we were headed to the north end of the island.

“You know its been raining,” said Allen.

Rose posing at the Ak'Bol Yoga Retreat just north of San Pedro. Morning yoga classes are held at the end of the dock directly behind her.
Rose posing at the Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat just north of San Pedro. Morning yoga classes are held at the end of the dock directly behind her.

My blank face gave nothing away. So he continued, “The road is filled with potholes and ruts and big puddles. If you get the motor wet, it is a long way to push it back here.”

Point well taken.

He recommended going no farther than the Palapa Bar, about a half mile north of the toll bridge. We did make it a little farther, to the Grand Caribe resort.

And Allen was right to be concerned. “Washboard” doesn’t begin to describe the rutting of these dirt roads in the rainy season. My teeth and kidneys couldn’t have taken another half mile of it.

OK, if we rented this place ... the upside is I wouldn't have to mow the lawn. The downside is we'll never again own dry clothing. Still ...
OK, if we rented this place … the upside is I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn. The downside is we’ll never again own dry clothing. Still …  To the right is the Palapa Bar, on the end of a short pier. OK that’s another plus: The bar is a short row from your front door.

Seriously though,  worse than the road is the mosquitoes.

Every time we stopped to look a a house behind a for sale sign they would swarm the cart and try to tip it over. Only the most reckless swerving on my part kept them from getting a good grip on it.  Unfortunately a few thousand got through and attached themselves to  major parts of my body.

So proud to be giving blood in Belize. Wish it were for a greater cause.

As everyone knows, it is not the bites, it’s the itching.

A second view of the beach at Ak'Bol Yoga Retreat. Really lovely and lovingly maintained grounds.
A second view of the beach at Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat. Really lovely and lovingly maintained grounds.

Then there’s the Dengue Fever epidemic. Apparently 19 people on the island have contracted Dengue in the past couple of week. The culprit is a small black and white striped mosquito. Frankly I didn’t look at their markings as I squeegeed them off my arms and legs. I’ll let you know if I begin to ache in my joints, contract fevers and acquire headaches.

The best antidote for a mosquito attack is a Belikin beer out in the Palapa Bar. II think the mosquitoes are either afraid to swim or can’t fight the headwinds coming off the water. At any rate, they didn’t follow us down the pier to the bar.

Rony provides service with a smile at the Palapa Bar. The bar has Jimmy Buffet photos posted allover the place. I'm sure he is a god to the patrons of this way laid-back place.
Ronny provides service with a smile at the Palapa Bar. The bar has Jimmy Buffet photos posted allover the place. I’m sure he is a god to the patrons of this way laid-back place.

Like most places we’ve visited so far, this place was nearly deserted. In fact, while my burger was cooking, the few remaining guests got up and left.

That left bartender Ronny, a native Belizean, time to tell us about the enormous New England Patriots logo tattooed on to his right forearm. Seriously, why not a soccer team, like Manchester United or Chelsea? He’s just always been a fan, well, at least since his high school football coach told him about the Patriots.

Coolest feature of the Palapa: There is a cluster of inner tubes gathered in the warm Caribbean waters below the bar. You can lounge on them and the bar will lower drinks to you on a rope.

Since we had the golf cart for four hours we decided to see how far south we could go. Answer: Pretty far. It’s not like the cart has an odometer. It does have a turn signal which I was forever leaving on thus instantly becoming the old man in the gold cart you hate to drive behind …. The normally cheery Belizeans apparently are easily pissed off by tourists who forget to turn off their turn signals.

Sorry, my new friends. I’ll do better.

Traffic jam, island-style

Posted on

Taxis and golf carts are lined up along Coconut Avenue waiting to get through a road repair zone in San Pedro.
Taxis and golf carts are lined up along Coconut Avenue waiting to get through a road repair zone in San Pedro.

For the longest time last night we were the only diners in Wet Willy’s, a restaurant we chose for convenience and not the name. Wet Willy’s is an open-air palapa bar and restaurant that sits on the end of the pier across  from our inn.

Seeing as Wednesday night was Ladies Night at Wet Willy’s, we were concerned that the joint might be packed.

No worries. All the hot action started later, long after we were sound asleep. If there was any action at all. San Pedro is much quieter than I imagined. There are no teeming throngs of tourists rushing down narrow streets like rainwater in the open gutter.

Alternative route to the crowded, noisy streets in San Pedro? The beach sidewalk. This morning we had it practically to ourselves during a post-breakfast walk.
Alternative route to the crowded, noisy streets in San Pedro? The beach sidewalk. This morning we had it practically to ourselves during a post-breakfast walk.

But there was plenty of rainwater in the open gutter, which might explain the lack of tourists, teeming throngs and otherwise.

This is the rainy season after all. But the rain and accompanying wind come as a refreshing break from the heat and humidity. It rained for a while before dinner last night, as we sat on the porch and sipped drinks. And it rained briefly this morning as we made our way to Estel’s for breakfast.  Fortunately our rain gear is still safely tucked away in our backpacks ….

We met John and Rose East at Estel’s, an English-Irish couple who moved here permanently about 18 months ago.  John is keeping a blog about the construction of their new home, just north of San Pedro. He also salts his entries with tidbits about their life on the island.

This section of Ramon's Village Resort was spared from the devastating fire that destroying 29 units on Tuesday night.
This section of Ramon’s Village Resort was spared from the devastating fire that destroyed 29 units on Tuesday night.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon's Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon’s Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon's Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon’s Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

We kept Sam the waiter busy filling coffee cups for nearly two hours as they told us about island life and their decision to leave England for the tropics. John and Rose had been vacationing here for 14 years  before making it their retirement home so it wasn’t on a romantic whim that they chose Ambergris Caye. In fact, they fell in love with it the first time they came here.

Clearly they are rich in information about making the transition but what was more reassuring was how at ease they are being strangers in a strange land. We’ll never be natives, they said matter of factually. Some here will never like you and some  will become good friends. Over the years, they have gained many Belizean friends and many expat friends. But they never feel the need to join an expat club. They are comfortable moving among all on the island.

This was actually great news to me because I’m not a joiner by nature. I’ve never seen the inside of a Rotary luncheon or put on a Lions Club sash. But I really like people. And was concerned about making the adjustment from the US to Belize.

I think we’ve made our first friends in Belize.

After breakfast Rose and I took a long walk down the beach, past the remains of Ramon’s Village Resort. It was very sad. The oldest resort on the island and much-beloved by locals, Ramon’s went up in flames Tuesday night. The ruins are still smoldering. Fire took 29 units as well as a restaurant, bar, gift shop and offices. Power was out on much of the island for hours. The fire put a lot of people out of work, too.

Needless to say, it is the talk of the island.

Things have improved since the last major fire — in 1999 — during which the islands only water-pump truck experienced pump failure … after losing its transmission. Even so, it took the trucks precious extra time to arrive because the road on which the resort resides has been torn up for repaving.

That is repaving as in paving stones.

We passed by the roadwork on the way home this morning and golf carts were lined up as far as you could see as construction trucks backed in and out of the site. Seriously, an island traffic jam.

Hello, Belize, you beautiful, colorful, complicated thing you!

Posted on Updated on

Rose and her longtime companion, Monkey Bob, at a BART station in San Francisco. Making our way to San Francisco International Airport. Monkey Bob was around in various forms before I was, apparently. Some attachments are hard to let go of!
Rose and her longtime companion, Monkey Bob, at a BART station in San Francisco. Making our way to San Francisco International Airport. Monkey Bob was around in various forms before I was, apparently. Some attachments are hard to let go of!

A couple of flights that can only be described — thankfully — as “uneventful” have brought us to Belize.

More specifically: the Blue Tang Inn at 1 Sandpiper Lane in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. (I’ve suddenly begun misspelling the caye as “Amberguis” on Facebook. What’s with that? Sleep deprivation?)

So, words fail me just now — hey, it is sleep deprivation!

Until the brain re-engages, here are some early photos.

Suddenly we're at the Belize International Airport, boarding a Tropic Air puddle jumper for the 15 minute hop to Ambergris Caye. Miami's airport was a brief and anonymous blur, notable only for the bowl of grits I age at 6 a.m.
Suddenly we’re at the Belize International Airport, boarding a Tropic Air puddle jumper for the 15 minute hop to Ambergris Caye. Miami’s airport was a brief and anonymous blur, notable only for the bowl of grits I ate at 6 a.m.
The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
Wheels dowbn, landing strip ahead. The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
Wheels down, landing strip ahead. The view out the window as we flew to Ambergris Caye from Belize City.
Classic view at the Blue Tang Inn. Every photo album I've seen has this shot from the entrance looking out toward the sea. Big difference is, mine has Rose Alcantara in it!
Classic view at the Blue Tang Inn. Every photo album I’ve seen has this shot from the entrance looking out toward the sea. Big difference is, mine has Rose Alcantara in it!
Jesus Anthny cleans a fresh caught baracuda. Dinner for the family tonight, he said. He also cuts up coconuts for tourists to drink, for a slight charge. "Very healthy for you" he adds. What you don't see is the very large "pet" ray that swims up as soon as it hears water splashing around the cutting table. Scraps have conditioned it to know when the dinner bell rings.
Jesus Anthony cleans a fresh-caught barracuda. Dinner for the family tonight, he said. (He was also smiling every second except the one in which I snapped this photo!) He also cuts up coconuts for tourists to drink, for a slight charge. “Very healthy for you,”  he adds. What you don’t see is the very large “pet” ray that swims up as soon as it hears water splashing around the cutting table. Scraps have conditioned it to know when the dinner bell rings.
Monkey Bob's first exposure to the national beer, Belikins. Very tasty but the bottles? Very small. Even at $2.50 US a beer. Shot taken at Estel's on the beach where we'll be meeting some recent ex-pats, John and Rose East, for breakfast tomorrow. Can't wait! They are building a home just north of the town of San Pedro.
Monkey Bob’s first exposure to the national beer, Belikin. Very tasty but the bottles? Very small. Even at $2.50 US a beer. Shot taken at Estel’s on the beach where we’ll be meeting some recent ex-pats, John and Rose East, for breakfast tomorrow. Can’t wait! They are building a home just north of the town of San Pedro.
Rose looking so much warmer than when were were sitting in the BART station. Here at Estel's, where we grabbed our first Belikins and fish tacos shortly after chacking in at the Blue Tang Inn.
Rose looking so much warmer than when we were sitting in the BART station. Here at Estel’s, where we grabbed our first Belikins and fish tacos shortly after checking in at the Blue Tang Inn. Monkey Bob did NOT get a fish taco.

As we walked back to the inn we met our first San Pedro real estate agent, who naturally offered to help us find a home. We may drop back to chat with her.

An irresistible invitation

Posted on

We arrive in Belize just in time for tow huge events -- September celebrations and hurricane season!
We arrive in Belize just in time for two huge events — September celebrations and hurricane season!

Got to love that slogan: Belize in you, Belize in me, land of the free!

 

 

Crossing that bridge when we get to it

Posted on Updated on

The soon-to-be-replaced eastern span of the Bay Bridge. It goes from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island where vehicles travel through a tunnel to the western span and San Francisco.
The soon-to-be-replaced eastern span of the Bay Bridge. It goes from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island where vehicles travel through a tunnel to the western span and San Francisco.

We’ve crossed the old Bay Bridge for the last time.

On Saturday Rose and I drove into San Francisco for the last time on the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. We had dinner with old friends and family at a great little restaurant called Roxy’s Cafe on Mission Street.

Out with the old. In with the new: TThis is an artist's rendering of the new Bay Bridge eastern span, a $8.4 billion work of art. For now. the old span is just to the right. Dismantling of it will be as interesting to watch as construction of the new bridge was.
Out with the old. In with the new: This is an artist’s rendering of the new Bay Bridge eastern span, a $6.4 billion work of art. For now. the old span is just to the right. Dismantling of it will be as interesting to watch as construction of the new bridge was.

When we return from Belize in mid-September the beautiful and long-awaited $6.4 billion replacement bridge will be open to traffic.

We won’t be crossing the old bridge Tuesday night on our way to San Francisco International Airport. We’ve decided to take the subway, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), from Walnut Creek directly into SFO.

The night after we leave for Belize the old bridge will be shut down completely until Sept. 3 as they connect the new span to the roadway. So glad we won’t be around for that. There are few ways to cross over the bay and none of them are convenient for people who want to get into San Francisco from the East Bay.

Crossing on Saturday  filled us with mixed feelings. The old bridge is, well, old. It opened in 1936. It has two levels — the upper is westbound traffic, headed into San Francisco. The lower level is all eastbound traffic. There is one spot on the eastbound lanes where Rose, a San Francisco native, has to suppress feelings of panic and nausea. It has something to do with the design of the ceiling.

Neither of us can forget the images from the October 1989 earthquake in which whole sections of the bridge surface dropped out, taking vehicles and lives with them.

By contrast, the new bridge is an architectural delight — looking so light and airy as if it could float atop the famous San Francisco fog.

Unlike the western leg of the bridge, from Yerba Buena Island to the city, the new bridge comes with bicycle lanes. Crazy, I know, to essentially have bike lanes only halfway across a span. Perhaps someone will come up with a carrier business to transport bikes and riders from the island to San Francisco.

Anyway, my San Diego friend and former colleague Greg Gross promises to come up to Oakland when the bridge opens and we will cross it together on bikes. Greg is a New Orleans native who grew up in Oakland and is the author of a great  blog “I’m Black and I Travel.”

I guess we’ll pedal over to Yerba Buena Island and back — since the bicycle path won’t connect to the island for some time — then look for a place to have lunch in Oakland. For now, cyclists are jokingly calling the bridge “the longest bike pier in the world.”

Another reason to anticipate the bridge opening is a sense of familial pride: My engineer son, Christopher, was involved in designing some aspects of the bridge. I think he had something to do with the cables.

Eventually the old span will come down and reveal the new one’s true unobstructed beauty. It promises to be as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge.

We’ll be sorry to miss all the bridge opening hoopla — ironically that is the sort of thing I helped plan for San Diego Association of Governments for a brief time. They loved holding ribbon cuttings for segments of highways, bridges, bike trails …. never a problem to get politicians to the opening of a transportation project!

Closed for repairs: The Ministry of Works is  rehabilitating the Copper Bank/Chunox Ferry in the Corozal district. It will soon closing the larger Pueblo Viejo ferry for repairs.
Out of order: The Belize Ministry of Works is rehabilitating the Copper Bank/Chunox Ferry in Corozal district. The larger Pueblo Viejo ferry is also closing for repairs.

By contrast, there are two small car ferries  across rivers on our way to Corozal in Northern Belize. Both, I hear, are closed for repairs. I look at the humble ferries which move traffic across rivers in Belize and I wonder what that $6.4 billion spent on the Bay bridge could do for transportation in this country.

I guess, for now,  they are non-bridges we’ll have to cross when we get there (and find an alternate route!)

The adventure starts Tuesday night!