Bob Hamilton

Globe-trotting cyclist’s take on San Pedro: Not cheap

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Frank E. Briscoe, the "old guy on a bicycle," told us a bit about his bicycling adventures before dashing off to catch the air taxi to Belize City.
Frank E. Briscoe, the “old guy on a bicycle,” told us a bit about his bicycling adventures before dashing off to catch the air taxi to Belize City.

Rose and I bicycled over to the Ambergris Brewing Co. for lunch today. It is on the water, next to the Blue Tang Inn where we stayed when we first arrived in San Pedro.

The intent was lunch and to thank Don, the owner for referring us to Bob Hamilton a straight talking, bare-footed, ponytailed ex-Canadian who now sells real estate. Bob spent a lot of time with us, giving his perspective on Ambergris Caye real estate and he suggested some folks who handle long-term rentals who might also be able to help.

The million dollar view from the "curb" tables at the Ambergris Brewing Co. in San Pedro, mbergris Caye.
The million dollar view from the “curb” tables at the Ambergris Brewing Co. in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

While waiting for our lunch a cheerful, slightly rotund but clearly energetic fellow appeared from nowhere like Alice’s rabbit and with a hearty handshake to Don said he could only stay for one beer because his flight was leaving in an hour.

The energetic character Frank E. Briscoe, freelance writer, motivational speaker and super-enthusiastic bicycle rider.  He pedaled from the San Juan Islands to the Florida Keys, all around Holland, and enough other places to log more than 30,000 miles since 2005. Did I mention he turns 67 this year?

He has a website about his adventures in cycling at www.oldguyonabicycle.com.

Frank had just spent the last 29 days in Belize, mostly on Ambergris Caye and was leaving the country by bus only an hour before the 30-day limit which requires you to renew your visa for $100. Frank is taking a Belize City-to-Cancun bus. There, he’ll be house-sitting for about six week.

He was planning to bicycle from Chetemul, at the Mexican border, to Panama City but his bicycle companion backed out on him. Frank said he just wasn’t up to making the trip alone. And that sounds more than reasonable. That’s a 1,500 mile cycle through mountainous terrain in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Hey, Frank. Maybe I should go with you!

Anyhow, Rose and I were so disappointed to catch only the fleeting last few minutes of this most gregarious fellow’s time on Ambergris Caye. He reminds me a great deal of my old airborne globetrotting friend Bob Gannon who has a knack for making lifetime friends where ever he lands his airplane.

Frank did say before he left that he was not crazy about San Pedro, mainly because prices for everything are pretty much what they are in the U.S. “On the other hand,” he added, “Caye Cauker is my kind of place. The pace is slower, the prices are lower and it is just more relaxed.”

Caye Cauker is on our list of places to visit before we leave on Saturday, perhaps a day trip by water taxi. It is just south of Ambergris Caye and much smaller, but its quiet barefoot village charm appeals to many whom we’ve met.

After Frank wraps his house-sitting project he’s returning to Belize, possible to bicycle the 60 miles or so to San Ignacio from where we have recently returned. It’s a good bicycle ride – decent roads for Belize, interesting and undulating landscape out west but without steep mountains.

When he gets to San Ignacio, by bus or bicycle, the first person he’s going to look up is Ginny Ophof our dear friend from Rainforest Realty who spent half a day showing us the town. Apparently they have been corresponding and she’s promised to show him a good time in San Ignacio. We know from experience, Frank is in for a real treat.

Funny, sometimes I feel that Belize is just one big neighborhood in which your friends are no more than two steps removed from other friends, no matter where you are in the country.

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

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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.

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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.