Corozal

‘In an uncertain world, you can never have too many Monkey Bobs’

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Look, Monkey Bob would be the first to admit that he was a little spontaneous and unpredictable. In Belize, he had a way with the ladies and could disappear for hours without an apology or explanation.
Look, Monkey Bob would be the first to admit that he was a little spontaneous and unpredictable. In Belize, he had a way with the ladies and could disappear for hours without an apology or explanation.

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Long time readers of this blog — some of you go back decades … to where I’m not sure – will remember a little miscommunication that led to our split with our Belize travel companion, Monkey Bob.

And sometimes Monkey Bob just drank too much and got reckless. Belekins are pretty small beers but they go down smoothly. The buzz kind of sneaks up on you on a warm summer's night.
And sometimes Monkey Bob just drank too much and got reckless. Belekins are pretty small beers but they go down smoothly. The buzz kind of sneaks up on you on a warm summer’s night.

What part of “we’re leaving in five minutes!” he didn’t understand, I’ll never know.

I say “never” because Monkey Bob has made no attempt to contact us since staying behind at the Orchid Bay Resort near Corozal. While Rose and I continued our journey to the rainforest community of San Ignacio, Monkey Bob made a deliberate and, I believe, possibly self-centered decision to remain behind.

It broke Rose’s heart because the two of them were near constant companions and getting along magnificently as travel companions.

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Oh, rocky road, take me home ……

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(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.

Crossing that bridge when we get to it

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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!