Robert J. Hawkins

An irresistible invitation

Posted on

We arrive in Belize just in time for tow huge events -- September celebrations and hurricane season!
We arrive in Belize just in time for two huge events — September celebrations and hurricane season!

Got to love that slogan: Belize in you, Belize in me, land of the free!

 

 

Advertisements

Crossing that bridge when we get to it

Posted on Updated on

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!

It’s here: ‘House Hunters International’ unofficial drinking game

Posted on Updated on

I have grown children so I know all about drinking games.

For example, they tell me that “Shark Week” is one long drinking game during which viewers pound back a slug of beer  when they hear an Australian accent, when a shark leaps from the water, when a diver enters an underwater cage, etc.

Besides the sociability, these games are often designed to highlight, if not outright mock, the mind-numbing triviality and repetitive cliches which stitch these programs together.

house-hunters-internationalHere’s my candidate for a drinking game: “House Hunters International” on the HGTV cable channel.

Don’t misunderstand. I love this show. Rose and I can watch two to three episodes a night before we have to do something useful, like slap each other up the side of the head to restore blood circulation to the brain. “House Hunters International” is the TV version of crack for budding ex-pats.

The fact that all episodes are shoehorned into the same template, regardless of where they take place, is what makes it so suitable as a drinking game.

Here’s the template:

A couple – gay, straight, married, unmarried, just friends, doesn’t matter– from somewhere in the U.S. decides to move to a foreign country where a nice looking real estate agent asks them what they are looking for in a new home and how big a budget they have to work with.

The agent then proceeds to show the couple the first of three properties. Usually one property is under budget, one is over and one is spot on. Usually. Sometimes two of the three can be over budget if the seekers have unrealistic expectations.

 After the three properties have been shown, the seekers must make a decision. But first they must throw out one of the three properties. That done, they enter into some half-hearted, sometimes whiney, banter over the remaining two, culminating in the Miraculous Agreement. Yes they always agree on one or the other property. And act pretty pleased about it.

I’d fall out of my chair if a couple failed to agree on a house and, in fact, separated after an angry spat. Just ain’t going to happen. Even though you can sometimes sense the strain when, perhaps, only one half of the duo is following a dream of becoming an ex-pat ….

Anyhow, two or three months later the crew checks in. The chosen abode is appropriately personalized and the ex-pats  are just flat out – happy. With their lives. With their new house or condo. With everything. … Just. So. Damned. Happy.

“House Hunters International” is like ex-pat catnip.

(Just for a change I’d like to see the film crew return to find a couple of ill-groomed retirees floating in a sea of beer bottles and pot, with every stick of furniture just as they left it. … You can’t tell me ex-pat retirement doesn’t have its dark side.)

But enough of that. Watch a few episodes and I promise you’ll be hooked, slipping into a phantasmagorical reverie  of a life lived on the Left Bank, in a steamy Latin jungle, on a sun-dappled Caribbean beach, in a London flat, in an Amsterdam aerie, in a Thai retreat ….

So, here’s the show and the rules for the House Hunters International Drinking Game. Please, play responsibly and don’t abandon your home for an ex-pats life until you’ve sobered up:

  1. Every time a seeker says “Wow!” — take a drink. (Be careful. This one alone will put the most stalwart game players under the table quickly. There are a lot of “wows” – often warranted – on this show.
  2. Every time someone enters a room and says “Awesome!” — take a sip.
  3. Every time the camera cuts to a real estate agent tapping away on a laptop (usually after the second property has been shown) – take a drink.
  4. If the real estate agent is walking on a city sidewalk or a beach with cellphone to ear – take a drink.
  5. If the real estate agent makes a face filled with gastric discomfort after hearing the couple’s budget – take a drink.
  6. If the seekers insist on both a swimming pool and an ocean view – take a drink.
  7. If the seekers insist on an ocean view and swimming pool and ultimately pick a property that has neither – take a drink (and send one to the table where the real estate agent is sitting …)
  8. In fact, if any non-negotiable is abandoned by the end of the show – take a drink for each one.
  9. If the real estate agent confides to the TV audience that one or the other “will have to compromise” – take a drink.
  10. If the seekers insist on being close to the urban action, then complain about the street noise that rises up to the balcony – take a drink.
  11. If the husband stretches out on a bed – take a drink. Take a second drink if his feet hang out over the end of the bed.
  12. If the wife complains about the size of the kitchen or the bathroom – do not take a drink.
  13. If the husband complains about the size of the kitchen or bathroom – take a drink.
  14. If an objection to a house somehow feels contrived for the benefit of the narrative – you’ll know after a while — take a drink.
  15. If there are continuity issues – winterbound Vermonters with deep  tans on their first day hunting for a Caribbean island apartment, for example – take a drink.
  16. If the couple decides to go out and buy a dog before they know where they will be living or if they have a job – take a drink.
  17. If either seeker is still wearing the same outfit by the time the third property is shown – take a drink.
  18. If the couple is walking and holding hands as they discuss the three properties – take a drink.
  19. If they high-five each other or kiss at the end of the selection process – take a drink.
  20. If they have no body contact at the end of the process – do not take a drink (and plan on snagging that property for yourself as soon as you can get to Chile or Australia or Wales…)
  21. If the couple goes over budget – take a drink.
  22. When someone in the same room says “I want to live there!” — take their drink away.
  23. If you actually guess which property the couple will select – take a big drink.

That last one happens less often than you would think. I mean, who knows what is really going on in their heads and how much money they really have to work with? In fact, there are all sorts of variables that just can’t be packed into a single program, making an accurate pick tricky.

That’s all part of the challenge. We have seen some fabulous — and fabulously affordable —  properties on this show. Right along with the couples seeking a new home, we’ve said “wow” to charming spaces, artisan quality craftsmanship, breathtaking views and the low rents and mortgages.

The wow factor is pretty big. I mean, why would you travel halfway around the world to live in a ho-hum house in a blah-blah-blah community? Maybe if you are in a witness protection program. But not if you are going about the business of reshaping your life, controlling your destiny and launching into the next big adventure of your lifetime.

You want the “Wow!”

And I’ll drink to that.

PS: Any other rules come to mind? Post them in the comment section below!

Pop Quiz on Belize

Posted on Updated on

I woke up at 5 a.m. and started putting together a quiz on our future homeland, Belize. I have no idea why. It just sort of came to me and I went with it, sort of like the idea of moving to Belize.

So let’s go with it. No prizes. (Heck, I can’t even guarantee that the answers are correct. ) But in the end i think you’ll agree that for such a tiny place, Belize is an amazing country.

1.Belize is a country
A. In Coastal West Africa.
B. Near the Philippines.
C. In Central America, bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea.
D. Conceived in the imagination of Florida-centric author Carl Hiaasen.

2. The Blue Hole is
A. Form of depression that usually hits career professionals in their Thirties.
B. A Willie Nelson song.
C. One of the eight natural wonders of the world.
D. A popular regional beer.

3. Jamaica is to Belize as Red Stripe is to Belikin.  True or False?

 4. Which of these animals are found in Belize?
A. Manatee
B. Jaguar
C. Howler Monkey
D. Taipir
E. Crocodile
F. Toucan
G. All of the above.

5. A Garifuna is
A. A taller and busier species of Hobbit.
B. A geological depression in a valley.
C. A descendant of Caribbean natives and West African slaves.
D. A recently discovered planet in a nearby solar system.

6. Which of these cultures can be found in Belize?
A. Creoles
B. German-speaking Mennonites
C. Mayans.
D. Descendants of Confederate Civil War veterans
E. East Indians
F. Hispanics
G. All of the above, and many more.

 7. A “caye” is
A. Spice used in preparing barbecue sauce.
B. Tool used in boat building.
C. Creole for “All is cool, mon.”
D. An island. And it is pronounced “key.”

8. In Belize a “highway” can contain
A. Bumper to bumper traffic jams during rush hour.
B. European sports cars on Autobahn-like roadways.
C. Dirt surfaces with many ruts, bumps and washed out areas.
D. Adequate signage.

9. Before 1973, the one-time British colony of Belize was known as
A. West Indian Honduras
B. British Honduras
C. South Beach, Miami
D. Captain Morgan’s Retreat

10. To finance the national football team’s first-ever entry into the prestigious CONCAF Gold Cup tournament, Belizians
A. Held a barbecue fundraiser.
B. Took out a rather large loan from a British bank.
C. Collected quarters from school children all over the country.
D. Conspired with gamblers to fix their first game in return for a one-time payment.

11. To surface a road recently, a government contractor
A. Dredged gravel from the bottom of the Blue Hole.
B. Recycled roadside trash into a synthetic form of asphalt.
C. Ground up a big chunk of an ancient Mayan temple.
D. Collected and ground us seashells from coastal beaches.

12. Concerned Belizians say the greatest threat to the natural beauty of this country is
A. Oil drilling in the world’s second largest barrier reef.
B. Illegal clear-cutting of jungle trees for agriculture and lumber
C. Construction of a cruise ship island/terminal in largely pristine southern Belize.
D. All of the above.

13. In 2006, Belize musicians were nominated for a World music Grammy principally for their
A. Drumming
B. Singing
C. Broadway-style musicals
D. Conch shell renditions of classical music.

 And the answers are

1.C (Just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. Can’t miss it, though it is only the size of Massachusetts.)

2. C.

3. True: Belikin is the national beer of Belize.

4. G. There is an incredible diversity of animals in Belize, including more than 500 species of birds.

5. C.

6. G.

7. D.

8. C. Yes, the term highway is used rather loosely.

9. B. The English still retain a small contingent of soldiers in the country to train the Belize Defence Force which protects the country from a long anticipated invasion from Guatemala.

10. A. Incredible as it sounds, the team wasn’t sure it was playing until the day they left Belize. Several  players reported being approached by a game fixer with a monetary offer which they refused. On the other hand, Belize last all three games in its bracket and went home without scoring a single goal.

11. C. Archeologists seeking a silver lining noted that they now had a “cutaway” look at the inside of a Mayan structure.

12. D. Amazing that a country with so much natural beauty can be under siege from so many directions at once.

13. A. Garifuna drumming is a source of national pride.