Belikin

In San Pedro, Belize: No room at the Inn-ternet

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Saturday morning we set off in search of the single most-prized possession on Ambergris Caye: A home WiFi connection.

Just about every bar, café and restaurant on the island serves WiFi with your drinks and meals. That works once in a while but do you really want to be knocking back a half-dozen beers every day while checking your e-mail and uploading pictures?

You can see the problems involved in having to eat or drink every time you want to get on the Net. I can see the future me: an overweight, slightly alcoholic, expat with great Internet skills …

As best I can tell, there are three primary Internet sources here – Smart, Coral Cable and BTL.

Belize Telecommunications Ltd. (BTL)  is the gorilla in the room. Every commercial Internet provider buys their bandwidth from the government agency. They don’t work on Saturdays.

Smart is the tech whiz kid, a portable card you can take with you anywhere but users we talked with say it is s-l-o-w.

Coral is the feisty upstart, challenging BTL for customers — while still being dependent on it for its pipeline.

You know me. I’m a sucker for upstarts.

So we went to Coral Cable, which was actually open on Saturday. Yea, upstart!

“I’m very sorry, we’re not taking any new customers at present.”

An internet company not adding new customers? Unthinkable.

Welcome to island life, my friend.

“We’re experiencing some technical issues right now that make adding new customers impossible.”

The technical issues, as best we could determine, is that BTL sells a fixed amount of its capacity to Coral. And this being the High Season, Coral is currently maxed out and negotiating for a bigger piece of the pipeline.

Which puts BTL in a nice negotiating position, I should think.

It’s like housing: Scarce  in High Season, plentiful the other eight months of the year.

Shortly after we left Coral’s office, their entire Internet system went down.

On Monday we’re off to BTL and hope that they have room for one more Internet hookup.

Meanwhile, we’ve tapped in at WiFi-with-breakfast places like Estel’s and Melt but you begin to feel a little guilty about hogging a table during the busy season when everybody makes their money.

So if Rose or I am a bit non-communicative over the next week it is because we’re limiting our Internet activity.

Instead, we are bike riding all over the island, reading some nice books, food shopping, cooking, meeting new people, exploring, relaxing, falling more in love with each other …

Hey.

Maybe we don’t need that WiFi connection.

UPDATE: Be careful what you ask for! We cycled over to BTL this morning and Vanessa Guerrero couldn’t have been more helpful and delightful to work with. She’s set us up with home Internet, which the techs will install some time before Thursday.

Vanessa was born on the island, left as a baby and returned at ages nine and 16, the last for good. She has seen it all — the expansion from quiet little fishing village to TripAdvisor’s No. 1 island destination in the world.

She’s the kind of person you’d love to stroll around town and see what it used to be through her eyes.

For now, back to the bikes! Let’s roll, Rose!

 

 

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?”

“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.”

‘Big game’ house hunters in Belize, looking to bag a home asap

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With many apologies to Jimmy Buffett, I'd like to write a song titled "House Hunters in Paradise," where the cheeseburgers (at Legends)  and glorious weather and scenery are major distractions to finding a home in San Pedro. First things first, yes!
With many apologies to Jimmy Buffett, I’d like to write a song titled “House Hunters in Paradise,” where the cheeseburgers (at Legends) and glorious weather and scenery are major distractions to finding a home in San Pedro. First things first, yes!

Well, coming in we knew finding a place to live is going to be challenging in San Pedro, Belize. This is, after all, the meaty side of High Season and we’ve been told winter-weary northerners, Canadians especially are descending on the island in record numbers.

Bottom line: Space is tight.

So far, playing the House Hunters International game, we have looked at three properties.

Not the House Hunters International drinking game that I proposed ages ago. This is kind of like the real one, only no film cameras and if we don’t find a place to live we’re a little bit screwed … Read the rest of this entry »

Riding the two last seats all the way to San Pedro, Belize

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When you wake up an this is the first thing you see, it isn't unusual to think you're dreaming or maybe in Paradise. This is the lagoon side of John and Rose East's lovely house in San Pedro where we are currently guests as we look for a new home.
When you wake up an this is the first thing you see, it isn’t unusual to think you’re dreaming or maybe in Paradise. This is the lagoon side of John and Rose East’s lovely house in San Pedro where we are currently guests as we look for a new home.

It is 7 a.m. on Tuesday. I am staring out the glass door at a white sand backyard, dotted with young coconut trees and surrounded by a crisp new wooden fence. Just beyond are the impossibly blue lagoon waters with their impossibly green mangrove islands. The canopy to all this is an impossibly blue sky. A gentle breeze cavorts through some nearby trees and birds call out to each other.

Did you ever have one of those days when everything went so well that it felt as if you were living in a dream? Read the rest of this entry »

News to me … and thanks!

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You have to love how information travels these days.

My friend John East in San Pedro saw a post on the AmbergrisCaye.com Forum about a wellness centre opening in San Pedro. He thought it would be of interest to my wife, Rose, as the owners are seeking yoga and Pilates teachers.

As it turns out, it is!

Rose already knows the women who started the Zen Arcade Wellness Centre from our visit in September-October, and is talking with them about picking up some classes after we move there next month. Read the rest of this entry »

Tipping a new Belikin beer in honor of Sir Barry

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Three tanker trucks collide on a highway and their skins split open and pour their contents onto the road. One is filled with peanut butter. Another is filled with chocolate. The third is filled with marshmallow.

 The result is the creation of a universally beloved candy bar. (And everyone survives the crash, including a little baby found on the scene but apparently not connected to the accident. The Miracle Baby, nicknamed Sweetness, becomes the face of the new candy bar and .000001 percent of all profits go into her education fund for college.)

 The combination captures the public imagination and pretty soon the Internet is flooded with recipes for chocolate-peanut butter-marshmallow brownies, cookies, sandwiches, facial cremes, bath-ware and T-shirt designs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Moving to Belize? Making a list, checking it twice …

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Downtown San Ignacio offers the hustle and bustle of a center of commerce but also has lovely parks on the Mopan and Macal rivers and a relentlessly encroaching rainforest.
Downtown San Ignacio offers the hustle and bustle of a center of commerce but also has lovely parks on the Mopan and Macal rivers and a majestically and relentlessly encroaching rainforest.

It all starts out so simple:

  1. Decide to move to Belize.
  2. Sell everything.
  3. Pack what you want to keep into two oversized suitcases and a backpack each
  4. Fly to Belize.
  5. Move into a cool place.
  6. Open a Belikin beer on the veranda and watch the sun set … or rise.
  7. Exhale.
  8. Repeat 6 and 7 as needed.

Apparently there are some interim steps that must be executed before you get to Step 8. Like a million.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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.

No! Not that trip to Belize

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Open letter from Belize Tourism Board to the cast of "Breaking Bad."
Open letter from Belize Tourism Board to the cast of “Breaking Bad.”

Our friends are now sorted into two camps: Those who watch “Breaking Bad” and those who don’t.

Before the recent season-opening episode news that we are planning to move to Belize was met by a whole range of reactions – mostly curious, supportive. Some nod wistfully and wish they could be moving there too. Some cautiously ask, “Have you really thought this through?” (We have.) Those who have been to Belize are unreserved in their praise for the little coastal country. Best. Vacation. Ever.

Lighten up people! Yeah, the cast of "Breaking Bad" definitely needs a vacation to Belize ... and maybe some cargo shorts, t-shirts, sandals and suntans, too.
Lighten up people! Yeah, the cast of “Breaking Bad” definitely needs a vacation to Belize … and maybe some cargo shorts, t-shirts, sandals and suntans, too.

But ever since Saul suggested that meth kingpin/school teacher Walt should send his brother-in-law/DEA agent Hank on a trip to Belize the reaction to our upcoming, well, “trip to Belize” has been kind of interesting.

Those who watch the show understand all too well that Saul was employing a dual-edged linguistic dig into Walt’s ribs. It is a nifty sounding metaphor for offing Hank and maybe burying him in a shallow desert grave. On the other, Hank has apparently been claiming that another inconvenient character had fled to Belize, something apparently nobody believes — and I think Saul is kind of letting him know that.

I say “apparently” and “I think” because I’ve never seen “Breaking Bad.” Nor has Rose, although this week she watched the first half-hour of the very first episode on Netflix, just because so many friends are now associating our move to Belize with the show. She thinks she could get into it.

Me, I’m still not certain I want to invest the time.

But thanks to the recent episode, I’m now aware of how many people do watch “Breaking Bad.” I’d say, scientifically, it is a hell of a lot.

In a weird way I feel like a Level C celebrity, now that “Breaking Bad” has invested Belize with a cache of lethal coolness. I mean, we were talking about Belize long before “Breaking Bad” was, dude.

I think that — cooler than the “Breaking Bad” reference – is the way the Belize Tourism Board has responded to the suddenly – if fleetingly – hip expression. First, they get that it is a TV show. Second, they get that any publicity on television is worth a thousand tourism trade shows and a million newspaper stories.

So the government agency did the only possible thing it could do: It got on board with the show and invited the cast to get in bed with Belize. They turned “Breaking Bad” into “Breaking Good” for Belize.

The tourism folks, who claim to be fans of the show, have invited the cast on an actual trip to Belize once the show ends.

“We figure you will all need a little time to relax after a riveting season and, if you ask us, there’s no better place to relax than Belize,” writes the tourism board in an open letter to “Breaking Bad.”

They also have cleverly provided some vacation suggestions, keyed to the nature of each character: “… we have the Blue Hole for Walt, purple fish for Marie, geology for Hank, great music and friendly people for Jesse, delicious breakfast cuisine for Walt Jr., several nice locations to swim for Skylar, colorful clothing for Saul …”

The invite has gone crazy on media around the world, maybe even crazier than the show itself.

Hey, look at me, I’m writing about it and I’ve never even seen a commercial for “Breaking Bad.” Although if the cast does show up in Belize sometime in the future I’ll be the first to buy them a round of Belikin beers at Crazy Canucks or a Pantiripa at the Rum Cigar & Coffee House.

We should be right at home by then.