Central America

Playing a tune in the caye of Cauker …..

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One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!
One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!

Two things I would feel remiss in not doing after all this time on Ambergris Caye: snorkeling and visiting Caye Caulker.

Spotted this sea turtle in the Hoy Chen Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour.
Spotted this sea turtle in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour. He’s missing most of his front fin on the other side.

Rose and I finally went snorkeling yesterday afternoon and today I am writing this message from Caye Caulker. I took the watertaxi over this morning – it is just south of Amberguis Caye — and so far I have gotten as far as the Laughing Lobster where I was served breakfast and a healthy WiFi signal.

Rose is off to her daily yoga class and later plans on a well-deserved massage over in San Pedro. This is our first time apart during this whole trip and, oh my god, I miss her!

Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.
Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.

Then again, we are on separate islands at the moment.

Caye Caulker is indeed a step back in time. The main street is hard packed sand and tourists walk around in bare feet and hotel towels wrapped around bathing suits.

Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.
Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.

A gentle old fellow with a single tooth jutting from his mouth stumbled up the steps and walked over to my table to talk. My fault. I made eye contact and smiled. He had an open bottle of rum in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and despite the morning hour he was half-past midnight drunk.

The waiter was very kind with him and eased him off the porch and back on to the road. “Yes, my friend,” he told the guy, “you ARE cool.”

Later the waiter said he’s a fixture in the village. And you’ll see him around all day like that. His capacity for rum is legend.

Well, I’m off to explore more of the village and island. It isn’t very large and I’m sure I will have exhausted most of it in an hour or two. Nice vibe though. I’ll post more pictures from our dive trip later and a few more from Caye Caulker.

Here’s a couple more shark photos from Shark Ray Alley:

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A rainy day in Paradise

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It has been raining all day in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, drowning out some Independence Month celebrations in the town square and dampening most everyone’s enthusiasm for being out and about.

These are some photos taken today, Sept. 10 as Rose and I tried to move among the raindrops. Today is a national holiday in Belize  to commemorate the Battle for St. George’s Caye  in which the Spanish were defeated by the British, civilian loggers known as Baymen, and slaves in 1798.

These guys were just wrapping up a successful morning of fishing when we cam along the shore of San Pedro.
These guys were just wrapping up a successful morning of fishing when we came along the shore of San Pedro.
Here's the view from inside Fido's, a popular bar and restaurant along the San Pedro beach.
Here’s the view from inside Fido’s, a popular bar and restaurant along the San Pedro beach.
Today, Sept. 10, is a national holiday in Belize and, rain or no rain, kids and water must mix,along the San Pedro shore.
Today, Sept. 10, is a national holiday in Belize and, rain or no rain, kids and water must mix, along the San Pedro shore.
You'd hardly know it was a national holiday in Belize as the rain kept all but a few golf cart drivers and taxis off the streets of San Pedro today, Sept. 10, 2013.
You’d hardly know it was a national holiday in Belize as the rain kept all but a few golf cart drivers and taxis off the streets of San Pedro today, Sept. 10, 2013.
Tuesday night there was lots of noise coming from  Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill, next to the airport. We stepped in out of the rain to see that the US was playing Mexico in a World Cup qualifying game. There at the bar were our friends John and Rose East who are building a house on Ambergris Caye, on the north side of San Pedro. We had an unplanned and delightful evening of soccer and companionship. If we move to San Pedro, John and Rose will be a big reason why. OH, and the US won 2-0! The bars is a favorite of locals and it sounded as if most were cheering for the US. Except the bartender above whom I am told bet heavily on Mexico to win, as you can tell by the look on his face.
Tuesday night there was lots of noise coming from Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill, next to the airport. We stepped in out of the rain to see that the US was playing Mexico in a World Cup qualifying game. There at the bar were our friends John and Rose East who are building a house on Ambergris Caye, on the north side of San Pedro. We had an unplanned and delightful evening of soccer and companionship. If we move to San Pedro, John and Rose will be a big reason why. Oh, and the US won 2-0! The bars is a favorite of locals and it sounded as if most were cheering for the US. Except the bartender above whom I am told bet heavily on Mexico to win, as you can tell by the look on his face.

My friend John East has a blog about the construction of his home and he sometimes writes commentary on life out and about in San Pedro. It is called “Belize – Building A New Life.” Check it out!

On top of the (Mayan) world at Xunantunich

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El Capitillo at the Mayan archeological site Xunantunich, close to the border with Guatemala is the second highest structure in Belize. The name of the site is Mayan for Stone Lady and refers to a ghost of a woman in white sometimes seen high up on El Capitillo.
El Castillo at the Mayan archeological site Xunantunich, close to the border with Guatemala, is the second-highest structure in Belize. Xunantunich is Mayan for Stone Lady and refers to a female ghost in white seen occasionally since the 1800’s  high up on El Casitillo.

It was late in the afternoon on Thursday as we stood atop “El Castillo,” the soaring temple at the heart of the Mayan ruins known as Xunantunich. The Stone Lady. From the rainforest and Mopan River below, an ethereal mist was rising to meet the low gray clouds. A slight drizzle and hint of breeze repelled the dank humid air that hugged the ground, some 130 feet below.

Taking the ferry across the Mopan River to reach Xunantunich. That's our friend Hector Mar on the left, talking with the ferry operator.
Taking the ferry across the Mopan River to reach Xunantunich. That’s our friend Hector Mar on the left, talking with the ferry operator.

We were the only three people amid the ruins – Rose, me and Hector Mar, our new friend from nearby San Ignacio and guide for the afternoon. We savored the stillness from atop the second tallest structure in all of Belize. (The tallest is also a Mayan temple.)

Suddenly, from the west, arose the sound we’ve been talking about and aching to hear since deciding to come to Belize – the howler monkeys.

If you’ve not heard them, these monkeys unleash a full, deep-throated roar that sounds like the wail of fresh souls condemned to hell. I’m not exaggerating. Search for “howler monkey”” on YouTube and feel the chills.

For a good ten minutes this band of howlers, hidden in the rainforest just beyond the western edge of Xunantunich, bellowed back and forth. Were they sending out mating calls or challenging each other or defending their turf? Hard to say. But the sound is haunting, even from high above.

The experience at Xunantunich was capping an absolutely incredible day in which we’d taken a full immersion course in the secret beauty of San Ignacio, found an excellent cup of coffee, checked out some great deals on houses and even opened a bank account at Belize International Bank.

More on that later. For now I’m going to share some images from Xunantunich, which is between San Ignacio and the Guatemala border. You can see the border crossing and the Guatemala frontier from atop El Castillo. The site is 80 miles from Belize City.

The core of the city of Xunantunich was about one square mile and it was serviced by many farms in the area surrounding it. So much of the site has still to be uncovered. “It will never be done in our lifetimes,” said Hector.

IMG_2093Hector never mentioned that the name Xunantunich or Stone Lady was inspired by the ghost of a woman dressed in white who is sometimes seen walking in the upper reaches of El Castillo. She disappears into the stone. The woman was first spotted sometime in the late-1800s. Another guide that I met just this morning grew up in a little village beside the entrance to the ruins. His father was caretaker of Xunantunich for more than 25 years.

Did his father ever see the ghost?

“Yes,” said Carlos Panti gravely,  “many times. The story is true.”

Standing up there, listening to howler monkeys and watching the mist rise from the rainforest, it felt as if a thousand ghosts might rise up at any minute from beneath Xunantunich.

 

Views from atop El Castillo.
The view from atop El Castillo, looking north toward the city plaza.

 

Western side of El Castillo.
Western side of El Castillo.

 

The eastern side of El Castillo.
The eastern side of El Castillo.
Rose and Hector climbing to the top of El Castillo on the southern side.
Rose and Hector climbing to the top of El Castillo on the southern side.
Another view from the top.
Another view from the top.
Rose couldn't wait to climb to the top.
Rose couldn’t wait to climb to the top.
View from the top,looking toward Guatemala.
View from the top,looking toward Guatemala.

Two points of view on San Ignacio

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Miss Rose takes one last walk along the jungle trail in Orchid Bay.  We also took out a couple of paddleboards on the glass-flat bay, between rain storms. As she looked out toward the mouth of the bay Rose said, "Now I know how they came up with the idea for infinity pools."
Miss Rose takes one last walk along the jungle trail in Orchid Bay. We also took out a couple of paddleboards on the glass-flat bay, between rain storms. As she looked out toward the mouth of the bay Rose said, “Now I know how they came up with the idea for infinity pools.”

We stopped in Belmopon for lunch Wednesday on our journey to San Ignacio.

The Belize government was moved to Belmopan after Hurricane Hattie wiped out Belize City in 1961. There are only about 15,000 people there and from everything I’ve read, nobody wants to be there – full-time, anyway.  Apparently it is pretty quiet for a national capital.

Although, the recent opening of a US embassy there was seen as a shot in the arm — you know, free-spending, American party animals and all that …. Except for the various government buildings and embassies and a sprawling drugstore called Brodie’s,  Belmopon didn’t exactly wow us. Frankly, there is no there there – not yet, anyway.

Rose walks into San Ignacio, a town she immediately fell in love with.
Rose walks into San Ignacio, a town she immediately fell in love with.

Well, we did find a decent enough restaurant for lunch, Corker’s, where Rose had a chicken curry and I had a nice beef stew as the rain came down.

As luck would have it, at the next table was a group from Belize Bird Rescue which is located just outside the city. Having recently begun volunteering with Bird Rescue International in Northern California, I was well aware of its Belize sister and was half-hoping to visit.

Just half-hoping. I wasn’t sure how it would fit in with our agenda.

When Rose sees San Ignacio, these are the things she focuses on -- like the yellow house for $600 a month. She sees beauty and function. And a nice place to live.
When Rose sees San Ignacio, these are the things she focuses on — like the yellow house for $600 a month. She sees beauty and function. And a nice place to live.

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The co-founder of Belize Bird Rescue Nikki Buxton popped in as we were talking with her crew.  I think her daughter owns Corker’s. And, yes, she said, she’d love to show us around the facility, although it isn’t generally open to the public.

So we made a tentative date to visit on our way to Placentia later this week.

Funny how those things happen.

Like the night before, as we rolled into the restaurant for dinner at Orchid Bay near Corozal in northern Belize. There was a small group dining, chatting away and half-watching an old James Bond movie. At the center was Tara, who operates the restaurant and her husband who is handling a lot of the construction on the development site. They’re from San Luis Obispo, California.

Tara was giving a couple from North Carolina advice on furnishing their newly purchased Orchid Bay casita, identical to the one we were staying in. So we learned a bit about shipping stuff from the US and also some more about Orchid Bay. Which is lovely and remote and won’t be home for us.

Bob's first impression was different. He saw decay, clutter, stray dogs and things like cow foot soup. He may not be as comfortable in a strange land as he first imagined. But those are first impressions. They can change.
Bob’s first impression was different. He saw decay, clutter, stray dogs and things like cow foot soup. He may not be as comfortable in a strange land as he first imagined. But those are first impressions. They can change.

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One mark against it is the vast acreage of corn and sugarcane that leads up to Orchid Bay. We think that might explain why Rose’s allergies went off the chart there.

With morning came one last trip down the hard scrabble road to civilization. I took it slow and nursed our Suzuki Jimny around the potholes and across the rocks as if it were about to collapse in a million little pieces. There was no avoiding the flooded areas however – wider, deeper and more of them. For the first time there were vehicles on the side of the road that had clearly soaked their electrical systems.

Before leaving I’d written to Cahal Pech resort in San Ignacio about holding a room for us. A couple of people in Orchid Bay had recommended the place. It sits atop the tallest of the seven hills that make up San Ignacio and adjacent to the Mayan archaeological site from which it takes its name.

Somebody at the desk named Lenny wrote back “Don’t panic. It’s the slow season. We have a room for you.”

So we ended up in a hillside cabana overlooking the right lights of San Ignacio and beyond. The resort is a bit frayed at the edges – we were warned of as much – but clean. Its bathroom towels are the thinnest I’ve ever seen.  However, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and the kitchen under chef Jimmy is first rate.

Dodi Guerra, a friendly face at the end of long days, at Cahal Pesch Resort.
Dodi Guerra, a friendly face at the end of long days, at Cahal Pesch Resort.

The place also has a first-rate bartender/restaurateur in Dodi Guerra. Both nights it was Dodi who greeted us with a warm smile, a welcome and a nice cold drink.

After driving most the day, our first night in San Ignacio consisted of a brief walk around the neighborhood, a late dinner, some quiet reading and bed.

Still, Rose is making it pretty clear that San Ignacio was rising quickly to the top of her list. She finds the rolling hills and rivers and mix of jungle and farmland that lead up – and surround — to the city to be most beautiful. I was surprised how quickly she said she could definitely live here.  I, on the other hand, find the heat, dampness and busy city traffic less than appealing. My taste runs toward something oceanfront with sand under my feet.

I think we’re headed for our first disagreement in Belize.

In San Ignacio, Bob and Rose have some talking to do and questions to be answered. And they still love each other madly!
In San Ignacio, Bob and Rose have some talking to do and questions to be answered. And they still love each other madly!

If this were “Househunters International” the questions just before the commercial break would be:

  • Is Bob willing to give up his love of the ocean for an inland dream home with Rose?
  • Is Rose willing to give up her dream home for something smaller and closer to the sea?
  • Can Bob and Rose both compromise and find something that will please them both?

Stay tuned, when we come back to Belize Hunters International ….

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.

Working in the ‘office’ today – Belize-style

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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.

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

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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.

Cruise line buys Belizean caye of its own

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Norwegian Cruise Lines is nothing if not persistent.  Denied permission to build a cruise ship terminal on an island off southern Belize earlier this year, NCL announced on Wednesday the purchase of another set of islands, called Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”), that it plans to turn into a southern tourist attraction for its cruise ship passengers.

Artist's rendering of Norwegian Cruise Lines vision for its southern Belize port on Harvest Caye.
Artist’s rendering of Norwegian Cruise Lines vision for its southern Belize port on Harvest Caye.

The big difference is that the original island, Crawl Caye, was in a marine reserve that formed part of the barrier reef —  a World Heritage Site. It was a clumsy, insensitive move that was ultimately rejected by the Belizean government, despite its outspokenly favorable attitude toward the cruise ship industry.

The government, which has a memorandum of understanding with NCL encouraging eco-sensitive development of an off-shore port in southern Belize, said it would approve the right proposal.

NCL may have found the right one. The 75-acre Harvest Caye, three miles off Placencia, has already been approved for resort development.

Currently all cruise ships check into Belize City to the north, the country’s largest and most crime-ridden city. Some cruise lines have cut back on stops in Belize, the major reason given being port congestion. Belize took in 728,000 cruise passengers on 315 cruise ships last season, October 2012 to May 2013, according to Business Research & Economic Advisors.

The entire population of Belize, a country the size of Massachusetts, is about 300,000.

A second cruise destination would certainly relieve pressure on Belize City, for a short while. NCL has several new ships under construction and says it wants to quadruple its business with Belize.

While NCL would like the cruise terminal open in time for the 2014-2015 season there are many critics lined up against the plans. The sudden disgorgement of thousands of passengers runs contrary to the country’s eco-tourism strategy, they say.

NCL promises the $50 million project will be sensitive to the surroundings and “eco-friendly,” but a project this large is a game changer regardless of what is promised.

According to an NCL press release, “While the master plan for the 75 acres is still under development, the vision is to create a world-class cruise destination, consisting of two locations: an island destination with docking/tendering facilities and a mainland connection point for inland tours.

“Major components of the project are anticipated to include a floating pier, island village with open-air structures on raised platforms, marina, transportation hub for tours to the mainland, a lagoon for a variety of water sports and a relaxing beach area. The goal is to design an authentic experience grounded in the storyline of nature, ancient culture, art, adventure and music that celebrates Belizean, Mayan and Garifuna history and culture.”

That’s some pretty big stuff.

IDEA Inc., a Florida company that designs ”branded ports” has been hired to carry out the vision.

Stuff we think we know about Belize

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So, yes, Belize is where we have chosen to live out our lives.

This blog, “Bound for Belize,” is where the process for migrating to another country will take place. It is where our dreams, our plans, our discoveries, our disappointments, our decisions, our doubts, our delusions, our conversations, etc.  will be documented.

All we have at the moment is a “mission statement” – Rose and I will be moving to the Latin American country of Belize some time in early 2014.

How are we going to do it? Where will we live in Belize? Will we rent or buy? Will we bring possessions or liquidate everything before we go? Will we ever come back? What will we live on? What will it cost to live there? There are no answers yet.  Well, not concrete answers.

We know some things about Belize. (And, OK, some are first impressions, rather than cold facts.) These were actually compiled in mid-July. New information has been added to our plate. I’ll get to that stuff later. Meanwhile, some first impressions:

1. Belize is the size of Massachusetts. With fewer people — just more than 300,000,  not counting troops from the occasional military incursion from Guatemala.

2.  Belize is closer to San Francisco than a cross-country flight in the U.S. to Boston

3. Belize has many nationalities – Creole, Hispanic, Anglo, Mayan, Garifuna, Africans, German Mennonites, Indians, among them. English is the official language but most natives speak Spanish and Creole.

4. Northern Belize is the most developed and populated region. This is where tourism and wealthy ex-pats are clustered. There is also some touristy development as you head south but it grows less-developed and more agriculture-oriented. Moving west from the coastal areas you encounter either expanses of farmland or dense jungle.

5. There is crime in Paradise. Lots of it. Burglary is a big problem. Belize City seems pretty rough, with US-styled gangs popping each other on the south side. 

6. Belize has the worst Internet infrastructure and service in the Caribbean.

7. While Belize is part of Central America it feels aligned more with the Caribbean island nations… but they are working on it

8. The cost of living seems all over the map. Coastal areas that are rich in tourism and ex-pat developments are costly – some as expensive as living in the U.S.  There are million dollar homes and condos. Less-dense areas have very nice housing for $600 to $1,000 a month with ocean views. You can “go native” and live for less than $300 a month, especially inland. Exchange rate: One U.S. dollar is worth two Belizian dollars.

9. The manatee population is actually increasing. Hooray, manatees!

10. There are carefully preserved Mayan ruins all through the country, and some not so carefully preserved.

11. Bicycling (competitive) is a national preoccupation. So, briefly, was the national soccer team when it played in the CONCAF Gold Cup. Sadly, its first game was against the U.S. Happily, it’s members refused to accept bribes. Sadly, the country could barely afford to send the team to the Cup competition.

12. There is no problem running into Americans or Canadians. Migrating to Belize has become quite popular. Too popular? That is one fear.

We are still thinking of Belize as our first choice for where we will live out our lives. Not the last. Not the only.

Belize is spectacular in many many ways. Nobody can argue with that. Not even me, although my perspective to date consists of the travel-brochure-level view. No feet on the ground. Not yet.

So there is that risk, that we will migrate to Belize and regret it.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, we will fly to Belize in September for several  weeks on a recon mission. That should give us enough time to figure out where we want to live, if we want to live there and how we are going to accomplish it.

Among the decisions we need to make: Do we simply want to be Americans living abroad or will we integrate ourselves as closely as possible into the native culture? We’ve seen the come-ons for the American experience – “as if you never left the states.” Gated communities.  American stores. Surrounded by Americans. Only a cheaper place to live. Ugh.

If that is all we are looking for then there are probably places in rural America that could fulfill the need. What is the point of migrating to a foreign country and then walling yourself off  from its culture? Why travel 5,000 miles to insulate yourself from all that is different and strange and wondrous?

I think we want to be as much a part of our host nation and contribute to its society as much as we do living in Fairfield, California.

We still have a lot to learn.