San Francisco

The Central American yogurt oracle has some bad news, Charger fans

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It is a sign from above . . .
It is a sign from above . . . above the cheese and butter section at Super Buy market in San Pedro, Belize.

I have to walk into my local supermarket in San Pedro, Belize, to find the answer to a question that is tearing up my friends back in San Diego: Will the Chargers be moving to Los Angeles?

And there it was, the answer. Right in the dairy section.

Yogurt containers were screaming it out to me:”L.A.! L.A.!” — or, more like “LALA” — but you can see where this is headed.

Yogurt never lies.

The dairy section also confirmed the long-standing rumor that the Oakland Raiders will also moving back to Los Angeles and that the Raiders and Chargers will indeed be sharing a shelf . . . erm . . . a stadium.

Further, the expiration date on these containers is Feb. 16, 2016. I can only say, watch for a significant announcement on that day from the NFL.

Why is there a San Francisco 49ers yogurt container lurking on the edge of this oracle? I can only surmise that it is San Francisco’s compulsive need to be at the center of every discussion in California, whether its presence is relevant or not.

You can almost see the 49ers yogurt container with its flashy gold label screaming “Me! Me! This is a story about me!”

It isn’t 49ers Yogurt, so shut up.

Just the same. I bought the 49ers container.

Why?

Because I love my wife and she is a native San Franciscan and she loves the 49ers. (I’m not a complete fool.)

You may notice that the 49ers container is sweetened yogurt, which we never buy. But there is no way in hell that anything with a Raiders emblem on it is coming into my house — even if it is a  container full of sugar-free yogurt.

I know what your are thinking right now: Why is the Chargers container full of PEACH yogurt?

I can only say this: Did you watch them play this year?

Have fun in LALA, Chargers.

And Raiders.

Shut up, 49ers. No one is talking to you.

Rounding the turn, headed for our new home: Belize

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San Pedro Town  is just on the horizon! We have a place to stay as we seek a new home -- anyone know of a nice single or two-bedroom rental on or very near the beach? Seeking a minimum six months to start!
San Pedro Town is just on the horizon! We have a place to stay as we seek a new home — anyone know of a nice single or two-bedroom rental on or very near the beach? Seeking a minimum six months to start!

We left the house in Fairfield, California, for the last time on Friday, around 2 p.m.

Rose caught a ride with her girlfriend Robin to Julie’s house while I loaded up the SUV with our bags and then in a final sweeping act of domesticity I … well … I swept.

I swept out the garage.

The garage had been our final staging area for the past few days. All the random bits and pieces that hadn’t been sold or given away or trashed found their way into the garage where they were assembled into piles, reassembled into other piles, merged, resorted and reassigned into still more piles.

One of the last items to go, to an auction for a non-profit art group, were two baseball caps –signed by Brooks Robinson, Bob Gibson and Rollie Fingers — Hall of Famers all. I’d been carrying these around since the 1990’s. One is autographed by “Baseball” documentary film-maker Ken Burns, too!

Breakfast on Saturday with my pal Walter Cook at Buck's on Woodside -- a great comfort food cafe with a quirky collection of memorabilia  hanging everywhere. Great food, great company and really weird stuff.
Breakfast on Saturday with my pal Walter Cook at Buck’s in Woodside — a great comfort food cafe with a quirky collection of memorabilia hanging everywhere. Great food, great company and really weird stuff.

Oddly enough, through all this sorting, things found their way into bags to be taken with us to Belize, bags to be left behind, bags of trash and bags for friends or nonprofits. Eventually everything had a bag and every bag had a destination.

The three bags we’d so proudly packed for Belize more than a week ago? We discovered that they conformed nicely to American Airlines flying requirements, each bag pressing right up against the 50 pounds maximum.

Then we discovered that the Belizean air taxis have a 33-pound bag maximum.

This required opening up a fourth bag and redistributing the contents to lighten the load in each. It worked, and magically, we now have four smaller and lighter bags than when we started out.

I see this as progress! Even though I am no longer sure what is in any one bag.

Had to post this photo of a young Steve Jobs hanging on a wall in Buck's restaurant in Woodside, California, just down the coast from San Francisco. Walter Cook and I ate breakfast there on Saturday.
Had to post this photo of a young Steve Jobs hanging on a wall in Buck’s restaurant in Woodside, California, just down the coast from San Francisco. Walter Cook and I ate breakfast there on Saturday.

Since Friday we have been vagabonds, spending time  with our friends in the San Francisco area – a Friday afternoon visit with my favorite sister-in-law Kara in Marin, the mutual friend who introduced Rose and me to each other (and married us two years ago in Mexico); Friday night and Saturday were spent with gracious hosts and pals Pat and Walter in Woodside; Saturday night and Sunday in the city with Brian and Susan trying to power through the second season of “House of Cards”; Sunday night is saved for dinner in North Beach with my sons Ryan and Chris and daughter-in-law Katie.

Tonight, our last in the states, will be at the San Francisco Suites on Powell Street, dozing off fretfully to the melodic clank of the trolley passing out front. At 3 a.m. a taxi will drive us to San Francisco International Airport for a 5:55 a.m. flight. Our guiding angel on the wings, Julie, has already registered us for the flight, to Dallas, and we are at the top of the standby list.

The newly built home of John and Rose East, just north of the bridge in Pan Pedro. They have generously offered their first floor apartment to us for a few days as we settle in.
The newly built home of John and Rose East, just north of the bridge in Pan Pedro. They have generously offered their first floor apartment to us for a few days as we settle in.

Meanwhile, our angels in San Pedro, John and Rose East, have most generously offered up their first floor apartment for our first few days in San Pedro, as we seek a long-term condo/apartment/house rental of our own.

John rightly surmised that the uncertainty of our flight schedule left us pretty much uncovered at our destination. It is hard to book a room when you are uncertain when you are arriving. We could get bumped in SF, Dallas or even Belize. This is, after all, high season, the busiest time of year for tourism.

Just the same, we’re excited to begin our “House Hunters International” phase. I wonder if Rose and I can actually get the job done by looking at three properties, tossing out one and picking from the remaining two before embracing in a hug and kiss and strolling down the beach hand-in-hand?

Well, knowing we’ll have a place to stay, whenever we arrive, has lifted a huge weight from these shoulders! John, you guys have a week’s worth of breakfasts at Estel’s coming, on me! And I am so looking forward to helping you finish painting the fence!

I feel like we’ve turned the last big corner and are rounding toward home.

Our new home.

On the island of Ambergris Caye. In our new country, Belize.

Hope you can read this letter from Buck's restaurant's owner to the Kremlin expressing interest in buying Lenin's body so he could put it on display with all the other quirky stuff in his restaurant! On the right is a response from a Kremlin spokesman, asking the author to clarify his "six figure" offer and noting that there are many other artifacts for sale ...
Hope you can read this letter from Buck’s restaurant’s owner to the Kremlin expressing interest in buying Lenin’s body so he could put it on display with all the other quirky stuff in his restaurant! On the right is a response from a Kremlin spokesman, asking the author to clarify his “six figure” offer and noting that there are many other artifacts for sale …

Forget that ‘sign from God’ thing I was talking about

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Rose (above) and I fell in love with Ambergris Caye while pedaling around on a pair of rented bikes. We both see this as our primry mode of transportation as we make the move to the island in less than two weeks.
Rose (above) and I fell in love with Ambergris Caye while pedaling around on a pair of rented bikes. We both see this as our primry mode of transportation as we make the move to the island in less than two weeks.

That “sign from God” thing I mentioned in my last post?

You know, when my beloved 1981 Trek mountain bike with the urban tires was almost completely ignored at our garage sale, and I said it was a sign from god that I should keep it?

Well, not completely ignored. This one cranky old guy spent a ridiculous amount of time pointing out the dings and scratches and scars on the frame and kept saying, “Well, you know this will have to be refinished …”

Me: “Well, no, not really …”  and  “Oh, sure, it has marks but …” and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

A last California Christmas

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Brody tries out his new motorcycle around the livingroom ... and around ... and around ...and around ....
Grandson Brody tries out his new motorcycle around the living room … and around … and around …and around ….

We didn’t make it easy for anyone this Christmas.

I mean, what do you buy for the people who are trying to get rid of everything?

The truth is, with our departure for Belize a little more than a month away, more than anything we just wanted time with our family and friends. That is the best gift in the world.

And we got it.

Rose’s kids, Caira and Jon and Jon’s partner, Quinn, came home for what felt like whirlwind visits and an early Christmas before departing for a UK holiday with their English family. Read the rest of this entry »

Step 2: Sell everything … then have a good cry

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Not just a house but a lovingly curated show of the life and times and aspirations of Rose Alcantra.
Not just a house but a lovingly curated show of the life and times and aspirations of Rose Alcantara.

A cynic, wrote Oscar Wilde in “Lord Darlington,” is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Which brings us to item No. 2 on our list of things to do as we move to Belize: “Sell everything.”

Here’s the problem, Oscar, we know the value of everything and the price of nothing. So that makes us, what? Stricken with emotional rigor mortis, I think.

But here’s what we are discovering: Stuff is memory. Stuff is identity. Stuff is emotional. Stuff is expression. Stuff is defining. Stuff is functional.  Stuff is connective tissue. Stuff is comfort. Stuff is self. Stuff is continuity. Stuff is nostalgia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Waterfront property? Wait for it … wait for it ….

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In this screen grab from the National Geographic, Belize would be a small lump of land and San Francisco would be the Venice of the West should all the Earth's ice melt. Though it would take 5,000 years for that to happen, climate change and rising sea levels are already having an impact on coastal lands.
In this screen grab from the National Geographic, Belize would be a small lump of land and San Francisco would be the Venice of the West should all the Earth’s ice melt. Though it would take 5,000 years for that to happen, climate change and rising sea levels are already having an impact on coastal lands.

As Rose and I ponder the pros and cons of living inland or on the coast of  Belize, a new thought enters my mind: Could we be going about all of this wrong?

I have been looking at this scary interactive map on the National Geographic website titled “If All the Ice Melted.” The map invites you to “explore the world’s new coastlines if sea level rises 216 feet.”

Apparently 216 feet is how high the oceans would rise if the title of this interactive comes true. In other words, if Tea Party’s climate-change deniers and industrial polluters prevail and Ted Cruz gets elected president and puts Sarah Palin in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency …

Naturally I went straight to Belize on the map.

Or, where Belize used to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing San Ignacio through the eyes of its people

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The open air marketplace in San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize.
The open air marketplace in San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize.

I learned something about myself today and learned how to begin loving a town that is pretty much foreign to me in almost every respect.

When we rolled into San Ignacio, the other day I was bewildered by how taken Rose was with this western Belizean outpost, close to the Guatemala border.

At the market in San Ignacio.
At the market in San Ignacio.

She started uttering “Beautiful!” shortly after we left the nation’s capital, Belmopan, and kept it up pretty much until we passed through Santa Elena and drove across the one-lane bridge into San Ignacio.

Where she was seeing beauty, I was seeing dust, dirt, decay, traffic and chaos. San Ignacio and its people look nothing like anything from my past. It was all so … so … so … foreign.

Imagine that. We go to Belize to find a place to live and I’m struggling with the fact that it seems foreign to me. Maybe I am the Ugly American after all.  Maybe I’m not the easy-going, adventurous, intrepid traveler that I thought I was.

Rose was San Francisco born but has roots in the Third World. Her father was Philippine and her mother came from Mexico. She’s an all-American girl but well-traveled around the world. She even carries a British passport, as well as her American one. She once lived in Western Africa for two years. She’s traveled in more countries than I can find and name on a map.

Me? I went to England once, as a pampered travel writer. Then there were two weeks on St. Lucia where Rose taught yoga as a guest at an absurdly upscale resort. (Anse Chastanet. Look it up, and drip with envy.) Real easy to be a world traveler when you are traveling first-class on somebody else’s dime.

But being of the world? More challenging when you are not wrapped in the high-walled comfort and exclusivity of a five star resort that has carved out its own self-contained space in a foreign country.

I wasn’t digging San Ignacio and I was liking myself less, for the only reason I could come up with was that I was “uncomfortable.” This wasn’t a place or culture that I was familiar with.

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The New French Bakery in San Ignacio.
The New French Bakery in San Ignacio.

So Friday morning we got up, skipped breakfast at the place we were staying – Ok, a resort … but  slightly threadbare and time worn one! – and walked down the steep hill to downtown San Ignacio. We passed a hotel where the Queen of England has stayed not once, but twice. Could we afford a room there, I wondered?

We grabbed some pastries and coffee at a place called the New French Bakery — which used to be called the Old French Bakery before it recently moved — where we heard numerous accents, none of them French. I think the total cost for three fresh-baked pastries and three cups of coffee was around $5 US. Best coffee I’ve had this whole trip, too.

We strolled across the street to the open-air market where fresh fruits and vegetables were going for a fraction of what we pay in the US. I was told later that on Saturdays you can get almost anything you need at the much expanded market, including jumper cables for your dead car battery …

The market lead to a stroll along the muddy and rain-swollen Macal River and across two one-way, single-lane bridges, one of them Belize’s only suspension bridge.

A funny thing happened as we walked through parks and markets and the town. I started picking up on the rhythms of the street and the smiles and greetings from perfect strangers. I was growing comfortable with San Ignacio. Well, a little.

We dropped in on Ginny Ophof at Rainforest Realty. She and Rose had been keeping up an e-mail conversation since Rose heard her program on Belize Talk Radio. Ginny knew of our plans and was totally onboard with the idea of trying out a place for six months before making a permanent commitment.

Rose and Ginny Ophof prepare to sit down for lunch at the Corner Cafe in San Ignacio.
Rose and Ginny Ophof prepare to sit down for lunch at the Corner Cafe in San Ignacio.

We talked about San Ignacio and expats – Ginny is Dutch but has lived around the world – and a bunch of other topics. She told us about her feisty 86 year-old mother who is an artist and has lived 30 years in San Ignacio, lately in what she called a “tree house.”

Ginny rang up Amalia Quiroz and Lovelia Seguro at the local branch of Atlantic International Bank and got them to hold off on lunch so we could get down there and open a bank account.

Our new bankers! Amalia Quiroz and Lovelia Seguro at the local branch of Atlantic International Bank.
Our new bankers! Amalia Quiroz and Lovelia Seguro at the local branch of Atlantic International Bank.

Amalia walked us through the paperwork and Lovelia explained the finer points of the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program (QRP) which provides me with all sorts of financial incentives if I commit to depositing a minimum amount of cash in a Belize bank each year.

When we were done, Ginny picked us up and showed a sampling of what’s available on the local market, even though she knows we won’t be returning until next year and might not even decide to move to San Ignacio. We saw riverfront houses for $600 and $700 a month and a brand new two bedroom house filled with native hardwoods going for $139,000. The builder was onsite and beaming with pride. “I just get better and better with every house,” he said with a broad smile.

Over a delicious lunch at a little street corner kitchenette in a tiny shack that could barely hold the three women cooking inside, Ginny told us stories of expats and family and the ups and downs of being a stranger in a strange land. The lunch, by the way, consisted of two delicious quesadillas and a burrito and three all-natural fresh fruit juice drinks and the bill was less than $12.

She told us about the  La Ruta Maya Canoe Race down the Macal and Belize rivers. that starts in San Ignacio and ends in Belize City on the coast. Thousands of people join in the race and turn it into a four-day celebration. Her mother became a local celebrity after she painted the first map for the race, which many people laminated and still use.

Once she learned that Rose once danced and taught ballet professionally she stated, with mock insistence, that we MUST live in San Ignacio. The town, she said, hasn’t had a ballet teacher for the school kids for two years. Many ex-pats, she said, are coming up with after-school programs to keep kids involved and away from trouble.

Back at her office, she marched me down to a small brightly colored shed — a very bright tropical green — in which a Scottish (I think) fellow named David sometimes sells fish but mostly decimates other ex-pats at cribbage, exchanges gossip  and witty retorts and runs a paperback book exchange. An American couple, Mike and Judi, from New Jersey and North Carolina respectively, were hanging out, playing cribbage.

David was in high spirits because the couple had brought him a large pouch of dark pipe tobacco  to replenish his nearly depleted supply. “In the nick of time,” exclaimed David, holding up the pouch. He was tossing off one-liners like Billy Connolly unleashed.

Mike and Judi had lived in several places in Belize before settling on San Ignacio. It is, in their term, “the most normal city in Belize.”  They’re very happy and offered us the sum total of their experience so far, including impressions of various Belizean towns and their experience shipping furniture and goods through an Alabama firm. Naturally we exchanged phone numbers.

As we were sitting around the cribbage board,  Hector Mar pulled up in his pickup truck for our trip to Xunantunich, which I wrote about yesterday. As we left with hearty handshakes and well-wishes all around, David flashed an impish grin and said, “Remember, when you come back: dark pipe tobacco!” He held up the over-sized pouch from Mike and Judi for emphasis.

I got a funny warm feeling, just knowing that someone expected us back – and in time to refill his cache of tobacco!

Much of the road to Xunantunich is lined with eco-lodges and large houses with stately well-kept lawns. It felt like an upscale Western-ish suburb compared to the urban chaos of San Ignacio.

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.

Hector, who had once been vice-mayor of San Ignacio filled much of the drive to and from the Mayan ruins with stories of his family and life. When Hector’s turn to become mayor came up in rotation, he deferred to a “younger and smarter” council colleague “with better ideas.” The older politicians weren’t having it and crushed the young man with the bold ideas and drove him from politics and San Ignacio.

Here's Johnny! He's a Mayan slate carver with a spot along the Mopan River near the ferry to the Xunantunich archaeological site. He does great work. If you go, buy something from Johnny. He's a really nice guy.
Here’s Johnny! He’s a Mayan slate carver with a spot along the Mopan River near the ferry to the Xunantunich archaeological site. He does great work. If you go, buy something from Johnny. He’s a really nice guy.

Hector quit politics but not before working with “the people” to drive out the leader of the older politicians, after first coming to the man who had been a mentor and giving him a chance to resign with dignity. “Because I spoke with him first and acted like a man and told him exactly what I intended to do,” said Hector, “we are friends to this day, even though he had to leave politics.”

Hector left politics for another reason, too. His wife, a Guatemalan who had paddled across the border into San Ignacio at 14 to find work, was dying. Hector made a promise to God to serve him alone if his wife was spared.

On the way back from Xunantunich, we picked up a load of hitch-hiking Catholic high school students and dropped them off in the center of San Ignacio. Seems like the classic posing of high school students anywhere in the world, eh?
On the way back from Xunantunich, we picked up a load of hitch-hiking Catholic high school students and dropped them off in the center of San Ignacio. Seems like the classic posing of high school students anywhere in the world, eh?

She recovered and Hector became a Christian minister. They served their church together until she recently passed away. “God gave her to us for nine more years. How beautiful is that?” said Hector with a slight welling of tears.

He talked a bit about what it feels like to live without her, and I recognized in Hector some of my own older brother, Jim, who suddenly lost his own wife earlier this year.

When we separated, Hector invited us to come stay at his home, become part of his family and enjoy some good local cooking when we return to San Ignacio. And there it was again, “when you return to San Ignacio.”

Friday morning we were planning to leave early for Placencia and make a few stops along the way. One problem: I’d left the lights on in the Suzuki Jimny and over the last two days the battery was completely drained.

That’s when Carlos Panti showed up with jumper cables. Even though he was at our hotel, Cahal Pech Resort, to pick up another couple for a tour of nearby Mayan ruins he took time to charge the battery and make sure the car was running for me.

Carlos told me about recently starting his own tour guide business after working for bigger firms for several years and about his wife who teaches at the local high school and about the great deal he got on his SUV. He gave me some advice on keeping the Jimny running safely after putting it through some rugged roads. And he told me about his father who was caretaker at the Xunantunich archaeological excavation site for 25 years.

He talked about cave tubing, which is one of his tour specialties, and promised us a great experience “when you return to San Ignacio.”

Needless to say, this brief immersion into San Ignacio has left me with a very different impression than the one I started with. It only took getting to know a few people just a little bit to start to liking a lot this city of 9,000 people (20,000 if you count the surrounding “suburbs”).

Like Hector Mar had been saying, “It is through our stories that we learn, that we teach, that we find God. And I have many many stories.”

We may have to return to San Ignacio to learn and record those stories.

But first I’ll need to pick up an extra large pouch of black Cavendish pipe tobacco.

Electrician at work on a future illuminated sign, in downtown San Ignacio, seen just as we were pulling out of town.
Electrician at work on a future illuminated sign, in downtown San Ignacio, seen just as we were pulling out of town.

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!

Oh. My. God. I’m not broke!

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Imagine my surprise when I found out that I still have a pension, and a six-figure one at that.  And a 401K/IRA, albeit a much punier bastard sibling.

I hadn’t looked closely at the books since Wall Street took our economy down. I just didn’t have the stomach. And besides I was still working full-time as a reporter, still loving the work I was doing and still thinking that I had a real future in my profession.

I won’t get into the indignities of being made a “part-time” employee after 27 years and consequently stripped of all benefits, including medical. I had a great run, after all, and will forever be grateful for the opportunities that came my way, whether I made good use of them or not.

The fact is, my world changed. But good – no, wonderful – things came with the bad. I’d gotten married to the most incredible woman, Rose Alcantara, and we were in the midst of a dance about how we were to merge her Northern California life and mine in San Diego.

Sometimes fate intercedes, when there is no clear path.

I quit the San Diego Union-Tribune and took a temporary, full-time communications job with a terrific public agency, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).  And when that assignment was up I jettisoned most of my possessions (as I have done before in my life) and moved to Northern California to be with Rose.

Why didn’t Rose move to San Diego? Many good reasons: She had an infirm mother in her 90’s to care for; she had a lovely teen daughter, Caira (to whom I’d promised very early on that she would graduate high school with her friends); she had a hard-earned and thriving business in her own Pilates studio. Rose also had a large and beautiful home with an underwater mortgage that was an anchor tied to her dreams.

I pretty quickly realized that after nearly 40 years as a full-time newspaper and newsweb writer and editor whose every job was a gift of providence, I was ill-equipped to reinvent myself. (Can you imagine? I have a box of business cards on which I define myself as a “Content Evangelist.”)

I tried. I sent out scores of resumes into an eerie void of silence; I attended various classes on job searching and resume building; I was even a member of networking groups in two towns, both called Job Club – Napa on Mondays and Fairfield on Thursdays. There were some really smart and talented people in those groups and some who you could just tell would never seriously work again. There were broken spirits and also highly motivated souls determined to create their own next breaks.

I slowly came to the conclusion that as much as I love to write, I don’t think I could do it for anyone else any more. What’s the alternative when writing is all you have done for 40 years?

Well, there is retirement.

That’s when I blew the cobwebs off the links to my pension and 401K and opened the lids. (Cue that creepy screeching noise of rusty hinges.)

Oh. My. God. I’m not broke. Well, not completely.

The bad news is our “nest egg” is pretty modest. We could never move back to San Diego, for example, unless we wanted to live in some dry-toast rural East County trailer park. Our other dream, of moving into San Francisco, is tragi-comically inaccessible.  We could continue living in Fairfield but Rose was now filling her every waking hour with clients to meet her mortgage and other bills. My pension would help, but what then?

Some things began to happen. Caira graduated from high school and started college in Arizona. Last November, I got quite sick and required surgery (which wasn’t possible until April when I got enrolled in an early version of God-Bless-You-Obamacare). Both of my parents died and Rose’s mom passed away. And most recently, it appears that Rose’s house has risen above water, giving us the option of a debt-free life. Somewhere.

For reasons I have discussed before, we have opted to move to a foreign country. That would be Belize. For now, it appears that we can live comfortably, with financial room to spare, on my pension and Social Security alone. If Rose or I decide to supplement retirement with work – and we both suspect that we will – we have that option, too. We also have the option of traveling on our “surplus” income, developing a business of our own, house swapping, surfing, kayaking, reading, living…

It sort of comes down to this: Whereas before we faced an endless series of compromises and struggles living in the United States, we now face endless potential in a foreign country.

Will the reality prove us right or are we just a couple of dreamers who drank the promotional ex-pat Kool-Aid?

Well, finding out is just part of the adventure. Isn’t it?