moving to Belize

Mark. Set. Paddle! Some really different strokes in Belize

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Dig in: Competitive paddlers go all out during the four-day, 170-mile La Ruta Maya River Challenge in Belize. Photo from the Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio.
Dig in: Competitive paddlers go all out during the four-day, 170-mile La Ruta Maya River Challenge in Belize. (Photo from the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio.)

The Belize equivalent to the Tour de France is currently underway: The annual Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge.

No bicycles here.

This is a four-day, 170-mile canoe race on the Macal and Belize rivers, starting in western-most San Ignacioat the towering Hawksworth Bridge and ending in Belize City at the Swing Bridge. Read the rest of this entry »

Carnaval in San Pedro Town: Ramping up for the big finale

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Practicing for Tuesday evening's Fat Tuesday festivities at Carnaval on a side street in San Pedro Town
Practicing for Tuesday evening’s Fat Tuesday festivities at Carnaval on a side street in San Pedro Town

Last night was the final orgasm of Carnaval — the last big hurrah before Ash Wednesday when all hard-partying Belizeans (and many tourists) bow on bended knee this bright clear morning, and with hand chastely held over heart, say to themselves:

“Oh. My. God. What was I thinking?” Read the rest of this entry »

Carnaval in San Pedro: Hit me with your best shot

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On the beach at Central Park in San Pedro Town. Let the painting begin!
On the beach at Central Park in San Pedro Town. Let the painting begin!

One of the rules of Carnaval in San Pedro Town, Belize is “Respect the tourists, unless they want to participate.”

And if they do ….

Well, it looks like they are in for some kind of crazy fun.

Just wear some really old clothes. Read the rest of this entry »

It is a good day that begins with yoga at Zen Arcade

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Yoga class begins to gather at Zen Arcade just south of the airport in San Pedro on a beautiful Sunday morning. Just by posture alone, guess which student is Rose ....
Yoga class begins to gather at Zen Arcade just south of the airport in San Pedro on a beautiful Sunday morning. Just by posture alone, guess which student is Rose ….

Up early Sunday morning to watch the start of the Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, a 170-mile, 4-day canoe race from San Ignacio to Belize City.

Couldn’t find it on TV.

That’s because we are very early. It starts March 7.

Only thing left to do: Yoga! Read the rest of this entry »

Following the road most-cycled on Ambergris Caye

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The evening light was beautiful on Saturday.
The evening light was beautiful on Saturday.

Very late on Saturday afternoon, Rose and I decided to head :30 p.m.)north on the bikes.

No destination. No agenda. No plan other than to ride into the night (which arrives around 5:30 p.m.) and then head for home.

There is one road when you head north from San Pedro. The condition varies from flat and dusty, to rocky and dusty, to very rocky and dusty, to very rocky and lumpy, to BMX-class track.

Perfect for a lazy Saturday evening excursion. Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday is shopping day in San Pedro

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MMaria gives a little wave between waiting on customers, like Rose, at right, this morning.
MMaria gives a little wave between waiting on customers, like Rose, at right, this morning.

With no prospect for internet installation today, Rose and I were free to move about the caye.

That means getting some shopping done.

The fun of it all is that there is no one place to get it all.

Our first stop was the Lion’s Club which holds a monthly rummage sale. People can lease a couple of tables and unload their excess. Rose picked up some shorts and we got some books. Read the rest of this entry »

Pleasantly trapped in a scene from ‘Waiting for Godot’

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One of the nicer sunsets we've slowed down long enough to fully appreciate from the balcony.
One of the nicer sunsets we’ve slowed down long enough to fully appreciate from the balcony.

What is time? Is this island time? Have maraschino cherry stems been genetically engineered shorter than they were two decades ago? How many t-shirts have I gone through today?  How many of the conspiracy theories woven into Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” are pure artistic fabrication?  How many are cribbed from anecdotal encounters by the author? Should I take up bird watching? There are a lot of birds in Belize. Am I already losing weight? How hard can it be to learn to play cribbage? Now would be a good time to take up the harmonica, to begin meditating again. What are my friends doing? Who are my friends? Why am I saying “”like” every time I think of one of them? What is happening in the outside world? Should I be concerned? I mean, any more or less than I used to be? Is it time for a nap? Gosh it is pretty outside. I wonder who lives in those buildings way, way, over there on the western side of the island? How did the buildings get there? How do they get there? Should I take up fish watching? There are a lot of different fish in Belize.

Many of you will recognize the symptoms. Read the rest of this entry »

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!

 

 

Our Belize, quickly becoming home sweet home

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The view from our new home in Reef Village, just north of the bridge in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
The view from our new home in Reef Village, just north of the bridge in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Our first night in our new home and it rained.

Thunderous, pummeling, buckets of rain. For, maybe, fifteen minutes. Maybe half an hour.

I honestly don’t know. But it was long enough to come pouring in through the windows in the two bathrooms. They were wide open to aid cross ventilation of the tropic breeze which blows in a constant ocean-to-lagoon direction. Read the rest of this entry »

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.”