This is Belize: Walk a mile or two in their shoes

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This is my favorite photo of Moppit so far.I may have already used it in a blog but what the hell. Who ever grows tired of looking at a beautiful face?
This is my favorite photo of Moppit so far.I may have already used it in a blog but what the hell. Who ever grows tired of looking at a beautiful face?

Moppit and I were sitting in the golf cart near Izzy’s smoothie shop at the north end of Middle Street yesterday afternoon. We were talking about life, love, this, that and the price of bread. For a dog, she’s a very quick study. As I droned on, Moppit gave me the occasional nod  and tolerant expressions before returning to her own business of observing golf cart traffic.

I have no idea where she picked up such habits so quickly.

Rose had popped into Barbara Brown’s boutique & coffee shop for some flowers, a corsage for Moppit to wear to Sandy Rigby’s memorial service at Caribbean Villas. Sandy and Moppit had been inseparable companions for nearly three years, until she passed away in late November.

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A memorial bike ride through San Pedro warmly remembers Marcie

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T-shirt from the first annual Bike for Marcie ride in San Pedro, Belize and in cities across the United States.
T-shirt from the first annual Bike for Marcie ride in San Pedro, Belize and in cities across the United States.

Miles for Marcie Memorial/Cancer Awareness Bike ride this morning in San Pedro Town, Belize went from from the W.O.D. Cross-Fit Zone fitness box to the northern end of the concrete road and back again. A first-ever bike ride for a cause on the island and a promising start to an annual event.

Marcie and Gerry Neumann moved to San Pedro two years ago and 15 months later Marcie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Gerry, a really nice guy, is back on the island to stay.

Friends of theirs from all over the US also rode today in memory of Marcie.

Here are some more photos from the start of the ride: Read the rest of this entry »

In San Pedro, ‘Bike to Work’ Day is every day

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Due to high public demand, here is a photo of Rose's bike (foreground) and mine.  Those baskets have already come in handy for hauling groceries, computers, water.
Due to high public demand, here is a photo of Rose’s bike (foreground) and mine. Those baskets have already come in handy for hauling groceries, computers, water. The big tires are perfect for the rough roads and soft sand trails.

One of the things I brought with me to Belize is a gray “Bike to Work 2012” T-shirt from my brief stint with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

Is it silly, ironic or clueless to wear such a shirt in a town like San Pedro where almost everyone bikes to work, and to dinner, and to shop, and to get from here to there and back again?

As Dorothy would say, “Toto, we’re not in San Diego anymore.”

Well, maybe “almost everyone” is an exaggeration. I think “most people” would be a closer guess.

In San Diego, we spent months and many dollars coming up with ways to entice people out of their cars and onto their bicycles for one day a year. We set up way stations and gave bikers food, drink and swag. Like the T-shirts.

There was music, publicity, TV news stations looking for the easy hook and visual. And plenty of good reasons why it would be better for your heart, lungs and longevity to put the pedal to the pavement rather than the gas.

Those who know me from San Diego may recall the “Pedal Power”” blog I wrote during my final reincarnation with U-T San Diego/SignOnSanDiego/Union-Tribune. I loved bicycling around San Diego and tried hard to convey that joy to our readers.

During “Bike to Work Month” I tried to do exactly that every single day. Well, I managed to bike to work most of the month, and even sporadically after that. But there always seemed to be some thing or other tugging me back into the car or the trolley or on the bus.

Well, now we’ve joined the masses pedaling their asses full time.

Yesterday we pedaled up the coast along the beach trail around 4:30 p.m. Dozens of young men returning home from construction jobs on houses and resorts passed us in the opposite direction. It is a drop-dead beautiful commute but it can be a long one too, especially after working all day.

But it is second-nature to them. I’m sure if I’d had my “Bike to Work” shirt on I would have gotten lots of quizzical looks.







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.”