Belize Adventure 2013, Edited with New Pictures – Part 3 Back on Caye Caulker

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Now back to Belize Adventure 2013, Parts 1-6 which I posted last March. I’m taking a summer break right now so I have edited my 2013 Belize Adventure, making it shorter and added pictures which are being posted for the first time.

Sit back and enjoy my trip with me.

The Barrier Reef

The Barrier Reef

On the road again. Greg takes us into Dangriga after heart-felt goodbyes to Rita. We get the express from Dangriga to Belize City with a quick stop at Belmopan. The bus has seen better days but at least it is not a rickety old Blue Bird. Lots of luggage room in compartments under the seats so we don’t have the hassle of trying to get our backpacks in the racks above us. Only downside is that the large windows are tinted so you don’t get the full colour of the trip up the Hummingbird Highway. On the upside, however, the trip only cost 16 bze each or 8 usd and it takes 1 1/2 hours instead of the normal 3 hours on the milk run.

Cutting through the city to the Novello Bus Station on Canal Street we notice a lot of construction on the infrastructure of the city, canals being widened and sanitized, sidewalks and roads being dug up to lay new water lines and plastic piping stretched with cables, but all the buildings look dirt poor and the store fronts are covered with red dust.

Now if all the bad boys would stop killing themselves and co-incidentally stop killing innocent bystanders maybe something likeable will happen to Belize City.

At the bus station, we are last off the bus on purpose, last to fetch our luggage, last to exit the station and by that time the frenzy for taxis has just about ended and we easily grab a cab for the water-taxi terminal. This time we choose the San Pedro Water Taxi over the Caye Caulker Water Taxi because of its schedule. It will get us to Caye Caulker faster.

We get return tickets at 32 bze or 16 usd each and after a 25 minute  wait we are sitting at the open back of a water-taxi powered by 3 200hp engines, skimming over the waves of the multi-shaded blues of the Caribbean Sea, sea-froth sprinkling us as we shift and turn under the Captain’s control.

Caye Caulker Shorline

Caye Caulker Shorline

45 minutes later we see the shoreline of Caye Caulker come into view, and as we get closer and closer we can identify the hotels and restaurants that lay claim to the beach front.

Nick of Nick’s Taxi Service, proud owner of a brand new battery-driven golf cart, is there to greet us when we disembark and ten bumpy minutes later he drops us off at the Oasi, a veritable oasis on Mangle Avenue, one block away from the Caribbean.

It is great to be back on Caye Caulker after being away for nearly a year. CC is a mid-sized island, south west of its big sister Ambergris Caye and its capital San Pedro, 1/2 an hour away by water-taxi. Over the 10+ years we have been visiting CC, it has changed dramatically, not always for the better, in our opinion, but you can’t stop change. You don’t have to embrace it but you have to accept it. Or not visit it. As we bump along on our golf-cart taxi, I feel elated. The colours and textures remain the same and the vibe is up-beat.

Luciana, the Italian owner/manager of the Oasis Apartments has been waiting for us and we are welcomed home. Her Belizean partner, Michael, owns and operates a landscaping business and also manages properties and residences when the owners have returned to their country of origin. Together they make a formidable couple, a dynamic duo.

Michael, Captain & Commander

Michael, Captain & Commander

We settle into the cabana or apartment above the cabana below. It is spacious and beautifully appointed, an open- concept room with a queen- size bed,  a large orange futon with sturdy wicker ends, a coffee table reminiscent of the tables Judd in Waterford used to make, a TV, a large armoire, a kitchen table and a full kitchen, and, of course, a full bathroom, which is not open-concept. It is air-conditioned but we rarely use it unless it gets so hot it is stupid not to.

It is hot on the island when we arrive. The Oasi is a block from the sea so we don’t get the constant sea-breeze to refresh us. But upstairs in our cabana we get a steady breeze when we sit on our wrap-around verandah.

On the Veranda

On the Veranda

We are hungry and walk up Mangle Ave to the nearest local restaurant where Evelyn orders quesadillas and I order a fish (red-snapper) burger which arrives with a mountain of salad on top . It is delicious. Evelyn says her cheese quesidilla is good too.

On the way back from lunch, I admit to Evelyn that my right foot is aching. Before we left Hopkins my foot was hurt in an incident that I will describe in a later blog. Because it was still hurting quite a bit, we didn’t wander far from home and didn’t even take our bikes out (provided courtesy of the Oaisi) for several days.

But not to worry. We were able to shop for groceries. Michael picked up a case of Belikin beer for us prior to our arrival and I bought a 60 oz  (1.75 litre) bottle of One Barrel Rum from one of the Chinese Super Stores for $30bze which translates into $15cdn. Not a bad price and not a bad drink (with water) for an old man with a sore foot, eh?

Paco, a Dog-tired Guard Dog

Paco, a Dog-tired Guard Dog


Belizean Adventure 2013, Edited with Pictures-Part 2, San Ignacio Farewell, Hello to Hopkins Village and Hopkins Inn

 

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Now, picking up where I left off in Part 1 where we returned to the Aguada Hotel in San Ignacio for 10 days before heading out for Hopkins Village.

San Ignacio has improved over the years. It’s still a dusty cowboy town in many ways, stuck inland on the border of Guatemala and cradled by the rain forest. It has become the hub for ex-pats from Europe and especially North America who have bought land in the area and are experimenting with a self-sufficient life-style far away from the hustle and bustle of their home countries and from the encroaching tourism of much of the coast and cayes in Belize.

From last year to this, the downtown has been changed dramatically.

Early Morning on Burns Ave.

Early Morning on Burns Ave.

Burns Ave., the 3 block- long main drag, has been re-paved for pedestrian traffic only, a family-friendly park has just opened one block from Burns, the market place has expanded and is open 7 days a week and a new bus station is being constructed.

Mr. Greedy's Pizza, Burns Ave.

Mr. Greedy’s Pizza, Burns Ave.

The Serendib Restaurant, New Management

The Serendib Restaurant, New Management

We will be back. San Ignacio is part of our Belize.

But now it is time to move on. Fond farewells. Eager anticipation. Tosh, the shuttle woman, will pick us up at the Aguada Hotel in the morning. Rather than take a taxi to the bus station in San Ignacio to take us to Belmopan to catch another bus to Dangriga, we arranged for Tosh to pick us up and drive us to the bus station in Belmopan, the capital of Belize. From there we would take the bus down the Hummingbird Highway to Dangriga and from there to Hopkins Village where we would re-unite with our friends and hosts at Hopkins Inn.

Tosh phoned the night before we were to leave and said she had a proposition for us. She had a fare to Dangriga (our destination) earlier in the morning than we had planned to leave, did we want to go with her. What’s the deal? I said. No deal, she replied. I’m going there anyway

And there we were next morning, whisking past Belmopan and taking the turn down the Hummingbird Highway, Tosh at the wheel of her shuttle van, two nice Canadians from Thunder Bay on their way to an island off the coast, and Brian and Evelyn in the back seat, enjoying the winding drive up and down the Maya Mountains on the Hummingbird Highway.

When Tosh drops off the Canadian couple in Dangriga, she turns around and says, Forget about Dangriga. I’ll just turn off at the Southern Highway and take you straight to Hopkins Village. Okay?

Okay? You kidding me! Let’s boogie.

It’s at least 20 miles out of her way, 20 more to get back to the Hummingway Highway. When we got to Hopkins and she drops us off, I have to negotiate against myself to get her to take anything more than the agreed fare to Belmopan. She drives a hard bargain and won’t accept anything more than a tip to defray her gas costs, which at $ 6.50 usd a gal. are crazy high.

Tosh, next time we need a pick-up at the airport, we want you or Daniellia waiting for us. www.cayoshuttle.com

Welcome to Hopkins Village

Welcome to Hopkins Village

And then, there we were. Back in Hopkins Village and back at the Hopkins Inn. Our hosts and friends, Greg and Rita Duke, were there to greet us, as was Lucy their mongrel dog with traces of the Irish wolf dog in her. We’ve known Rita and Greg for more than 12 years, and I would like to think that while they will always be our hosts when we visit Hopkins Inn we have crossed the line and have become good friends.

Our Cabana

Our Cabana

Back then, they were living in the first cabana they built and by that time had built three others. Then they built their dream house and rented out their old homestead. That’s where we have stayed for the past years. It’s roomy with a kitchen nook with a table. a bar fridge and a coffee maker. Then there is a queen size bed and across from that two chairs and a small table. Behind that  a storage space and an enclosed bathroom across from it. Everything has been tastefully done, from the bedspreads to the colour schemes to the decorations on the walls. The high arching wood ceiling is an architectural and esthetic triumph. (I’ve wanted to write about this room for years and now I have.)

Back then, as now, Rita and Greg prepared a continental breakfast every morning and Rita herself served it to each of the occupied cabanas. It is and always has been a great way to start the day. Breakfast consists of two or three different local breads, butter and jam, three different local fruits usually home-grown bananas, watermelon, papaya wedges and pineapple slices, plus pieces of cheese and at least once a week hard-boiled eggs. Plus freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice.  Breakfast was/is part of the daily rate of the room. And add to this, an opportunity to chat with Rita when she delivers the food. Rita is very engaging , the more (greg)arious of the two.

View from Our Cabana

View from Our Cabana

So this is how we began each morning.  Up around 6:30 to 7:00. Look out the louvered window or step out on the verandah to watch the sun rising and the waves crashing ashore maybe forty feet away. I make coffee for both of us. After that there’s more coffee for me and Evelyn drinks tea.

Somewhere around 8, Rita delivers breakfast and we sit out on the spacious verandah chit-chatting for a while.  After breakfast, we might read for a bit. Evelyn has her Kobo and I have my Kindle as an app on my Asus tablet, so more likely I would read the Toronto Star to keep up on home current affairs. Then we head for the beach which, in our case, we are already on, since the cabana is built on it.

Breakfast by Rita

Breakfast by Rita

There is nowhere in my experience a more idyllic place than the beach at Hopkins Inn. It is post-card perfect, what with the sea, the sun and the sand juxtaposed under creamy clouds and a bright blue sky, and a slight breeze wafting the leaves of the palm and coconut trees.

Then we wade into the waves crashing on shore, making sure we do the sting-ray shuffle as we enter the water. The small 12-14 inch sting-ray likes to come close to the shore line seeking warmer water. Greg and Rita taught us long ago to shuffle our feet as we enter to warn the rays that we are coming. It is not as if they are there in numbers. They are not. In fact, I have never seen one close to shore. But it is always smart to take precautions.

Around noon we figure we’ve had enough sun and head back to our cabana for a shower.

After that, it is time to think of lunch, maybe left-overs from the night before saved in the refrigerator, maybe garnaches, panades and salbutes from Sonia and Lena in their kiosk on the road side, or Tina’s down the road for something Belizean, or up the road to Thongs for salad and sandwich European style.

Sonia (left) Lena (right) and friend

Sonia (left) Lena (right) and friend

Afternoons drift into walks along the beach,  grocery shopping excursions, maybe another swim, conversations with strangers at the Inn or on the street, writing, reading, maybe snoozing under the fan, and then it is 5 o’clock, prime-time for a sun-downer on the verandah, waiting for night-fall.

We dined out most evenings, usually nothing special, just good food readily available at the many restaurants on the main drag, followed by a cocktail or two back on the verandah.

Luckily, we were able to have several suppers enjoying the company of Greg and Rita at some higher-end restaurants, not expensive but a step up and a nice break from the routine. Evelyn and Greg like their beer and Rita and I like our rum and wine and it wasn’t unusual for us, mainly Greg and I, if we set our minds to it to solve the problems that beset Belize and the rest of the world, only to forget the solutions in the morning, forcing us to re-discover our sage thoughts over and over again..

Lest the reader think there is nothing to do at Hopkins, despair not. Snorkeling, fishing, zip-lining, bird-watching, day-tripping all await you. Except for the zip-lining which is quite new, we’ve done all these more than once.

This time we got a little lazy and the days rushed by and the next thing we knew Greg was driving us into Dangriga to the bus station on our way to another adventure.

Caribbean Sunrise

Caribbean Sunrise

Stay tuned for Belize Adventure 2013 Part 3 when we travel to and arrive on Caye Caulker.

 


Belize Adventure 2013, edited with pictures – Part 1, San Ignacio

Welcome to the Aguada Hotel

Welcome to the Aguada Hotel

Feb.12 departed T.O. 6:30 for Belize via Delta Air. Changed planes in Atlanta and arrived at the Goldson International Airport outside of Belize City at 12:15 Belize Time.
Though we have visited Belize many times before, the heat and humidity shrouded us and left us breathless as soon as we exited the plane.

We checked out the Duty Free, loaded up on wine, cleared Customs and were greeted outside by Danielia Anderson, a young woman from San Ignacio who spent some time in the States and knows her way around both worlds. She and her mother, Tosh, run a shuttle service out of San Ignacio and will pick up and deliver any where in Belize.

Danielia was good company on the 2 hour trip to the Aguada Hotel. Informed, personal and articulate, she caught us up to date on what we had missed since the last visit. A cautious driver, she takes great pride in her driving ability and cherishs the fact that she is the only female taxi driver in San Ignacio except for her mother who led the way, set up the business and hired her daughter.

At the Aguada Hotel, Shalue, the owner/manager and her staff welcomed us back and made us feel comfortable and at home. That’s one of the pluses of visiting the same place over and over again. The minus is you miss experiencing what other places offer. We made our choice a long time ago.

Our Cabana

Our Cabana

Dog-tired, we dropped our suitcase and backpacks in our cabana and went to sit under a palapa next to the restaurant. There we nibbled on nachos and salsa while drinking Belikin beer.

As the sun set and the aguada (watering hole) we had been watching disappeared into darkness outside lights were turned on, illuminating the courtyard and the swimming pool adjacent to the palapa. Tall nameless trees strangely visible in the darkness of night stretched far upwards. A slight breeze riffled through the palm trees, their large leaves fanning the night air.

And then came the exhilaration that travellers feel when they resume the adventure they had been forced by mundane circumstances to abandon.

Then we stumbled and tumbled into bed, sleeping the sleep of the dead till song birds and crazy cackling grackles awoke us in the morning.

I’ve written a lot about the Aguada in past blogs. Check out Inland Adventure 1: San Ignacio for descriptive details.

View of Swimming Pool from Our Cabana

View of Swimming Pool from Our Cabana

If anything, the Aguada is in better shape now than maybe ever. Shalue’s dad, Bill, passed on ownership to her about a year ago. I think Bill sensed the hotel needed an infusion of new energy. Shalue has more than met his expectations.

We like to lounge around the hotel for large parts of the day, After breakfast we will go for a walk, do a bit of grocery shopping, come back for lunch, take a dip in the swimming pool, tan a little, snooze (me) and read (Evelyn) under the fan in our cabana, stepping out from time to sit on the cottage chairs facing the aguada.
The aguada at the Aguada is a life-force of its own. Years ago it was where ranchers brought their cattle to drink. It is filled with an astonishing variety of fish and many turtles and ringed on the shoreline by white and yellow water lilies. Blue herons patrol the aguada, not to protect its species but to devour them.
The large trees that surround the aguada nest many birds, not including, unfortunately some of Belize’s most exotic birds such as parrot, toucans and scarlet macaws. These birds left town a long time ago to seek sanctuary in the wilds of the rain forest and the Maya Mountains.

Iguana - 2 metres from our Cabana

Iguana – 2 Metres from Our Cabana

Most interesting from our vantage on the porch is watching the iguana. On a hot day in the trees closest to our cabana we have counted 12 iguanas, young and old, big and small, guys and girls. The trunks of the tree are only 3 metres away but they shoot up tall and the foliage on the branches increases as the iguana climbs upwards, which makes iguana watching a challenge worthy of a stiff drink when the day is done.

On the other side of the aguada, we spotted the King of the Iguanas running about on land between trees, copper-coloured, bristle-backed, surveying his Kingdom with a mien of historic ferocity.

(But enough about me)

Hand-Fishing at the Watering Hole (The Aguada)

Hand-Fishing at the Watering Hole (The Aguada)

We also fished the aguada with the Vasquez brothers, Chris 13, Peter 12, Tyrone 11, and Brian 8. They line-fished, using a rock for a sinker and flour and water mixed into a ball as bait. After fishing we shared plates of Nachos Supreme full of ground beef, melted cheese, hot jalapeo peppers all mixed with crisp nachos for scooping.

Around the pool, in the restaurants, and on the verandah we met many new travellers and local Belizeas. The days slipped by so easily it came as a shock to realize we had run out of time and had to move on.
On my next blog, I will take you downtown in San Ignacio, describe our bus trip to Hopkins Village and introduce you to Greg and Rita, our hosts at the Hopkins Inn.


Transition Destination: Dangriga

belize 42

View of Dangriga from the top of the Chaleanor Hotel

Dangriga, like Belize City, is a town travellers often go to to get someplace else, and, like Belize City, it is a town an adventurous traveller might check out for its own merits.

By Belizean standards of population. Dangriga at about 9,000, is large. All the ethnic groups that make up Belze, Mayan Indian, Creole. Mestizos, Spanish/Central Americans, a growing number of expatriates from Canada, The U.S. and Europe, Mennonites and shopkeepers and traders from India and China, reside in Dangriga. But the Garifuna people or the Black Caribs, a ethnic mix of black slaves from West Africa and Carib Indians make up the majority of the population.

You can get to Dangriga from the international airport by taxi, car rental, airplane or bus. Taxi is very expensive and time consuming. Car rental is expensive but you control your agenda. Airplane is fast but costly. Bus is by far the most economical but you have to land in Belize in time to get to the bus terminal in Belize City to catch a bus to Dangriga. The bus trip will take you through some of the most scrabbly scenery in Belize but once you leave Belmopan, the capital of the country, and head  down the Hummingbird Highway toward the Caribbean Sea through the Mayan Mountains you will understand why it is my choice of transportation by far. Problem is, if you get to Belize too late to get the last bus, the money you will have to spend to stay overnight in a hotel nullifies the economic advantage of taking the bus to Dangriga. Think about it.

If you are headed for Tobacco Caye or Glover’s Reef or any other pre-arranged island destination, the key is to get to Dangriga in time to get a boat well before nightfall. Remember, Belize is a sub-tropical country so there is roughly a 12 hour day, twelve hour night. To get to your off-shore destination you would likely have to depart Dangriga before 4 p.m., 5 at the latest.

If you want to check out Dangriga as part of your Belize Adventure, check into the Chaleanor Hotel and ask the owners, Chad, Eleanor and Chad Jr. to suggest some day trips. They will direct you to the points of historical interest in Dangriga and can arrange visits out of town such as zip-lining at Mama Noots or hiking or biking the trails and swimming in the water falls in the same area.

While visiting Dangriga, track down the studio of Pen and Ingrid Cayetano. Pen is one of the best known artists in Belize and a celebrity in Germany.  Ingrid is a renowned artist, too, working in embroidery floss. The whole family shines with talent and some of them along with dad have formed a very popular band.

Chad Usher - Owner and Proprietor - Centre

Chad Usher – Owner and Proprietor – Centre

The Chaleanor Hotel is one of our favourite hotels in Belize, mainly because of the management. The 8 rooms are clean and spacious for two weary travellers. A/C is an option. We have always opted for fans and the hotel provides you with an overhead fan and one or two floor fans. Climb the stairs to the third floor and get a panoramic view of the town and the sea.

Swimming in Dangriga is problematic, a rather major set-back for a coastal town. Check out the Pelican Beach Hotel in the north end. There is a stretch of beach just adjacent to the hotel where you can swim.

Dangriga’s a funny town. It almost challenges you not to like it, but then you meet the Ushers, the Cayetanos, Dana who operates Val’s Laundry, the townsfolk in the restaurant and the market place who welcome you and make you feel at home.

There is something about this dusty, restless town that draws us back year after year.

Kids with their Kids

Kids with their Kids

A Grandma, a Momma and her kids

A Grandma, a Momma and her Kids


Exploring Belize City – Part 2

What to do in Belize City?

When we first visited we hired a taxi and asked him to take us on a tour of the City. It took about an hour and a 1/2 . Agree on a price before you head out.

Recently, open-air tourist trollies  are available to take you around.

In the south end, definitely visit the Belize Museum which presents the fascinating history of Belize City and more. Track down the Image Factory between the two water-taxi terminals. It offers a good selection of Belize-related literature and at the back houses a large collection of Belizean art.

IMG_2851

A Painting by Lola

When you leave the Image Factory, go across the street for a cup of coffee and lunch at the Maya Café. Walk down the street to the Tourist Village and on the left, outside of the Village, you will find a Government owned and managed  arts and crafts shop.

If you fancy a drink, you are very close to the Radisson Hotel. Check out the Baymen’s Bar.

Take a walk along Regent Street. Check out the Supreme Court across from Brodies’ Super Store and Pharmacy. Further along Regent Street you can visit the Government House and nearby the historic St. John’s Anglican Church.

At this point, you are five minutes away from Bird’s Isle restaurant, where successful Belizeans gather to plan their destinies. Very good place to eat and a great place to watch the sun set around 6 p.m.

You can take many day-trips from Belize City. Take a water-taxi to Caye Caulker (45 min) or San Pedro (1 1/2 hr), two very popular islands off the coast.

You can day-trip to the Belize Z00 on the Western Hgwy at mile 29 or visit Gram’s Farms at Mile 20 of the Western Hgwy. Take a bus from the Main Bus Terminal in the south end.

The Zoo is small but impressive. It features local birds and animals. Gram’s has a public pool, a nice patio restaurant, nature trails and a canoe ride on Hector Creek. When you leave either of these places, get back on the highway and flag down a City-bound bus. (Express buses won’t stop for you.)

You can day-trip to the northern Belize and visit Orange Walk Town and/or Corozal Town. You will have plenty of time to stroll around and still get back to the City before dark. If you visit Orange Walk Town, drop in at the Hotel de la Fuente and check it out for future reference.

Where to Eat?

As well as the restaurants already mentioned, I can suggest the following, all in the south end and all within walking distance from hotels in the south end: Bishops on Bishop Street and Macy’s and Ditz close by. Ask at your hotel for directions.

Most restaurants are closed on Sunday. For very good Belizean food try Neries on Queen Street close to the Police Station. It is open on Sunday till 3:00 p.m.

There are some high-end restaurants in the area around the Radisson and some ethnic restaurants in other areas of the city which I have rarely visited.

If you don’t want to go out, ask your hotel staff to order some Chinese food or Italian Pizza. You can pick up wine, beer or booze at Brodies or many other stores.

With a little curiosity and a sparkle of initiative you can have a good time in Belize City.

Belize 2013 085

Friends at Lunch


Transition Destination: Belize City, Exploring the City Part 1

belize city image south end

Belize City – South End

If you are grounded in Belize City for a few days or if you want to make the City part of your Belizean Adventure, I have some suggestions on what to do and where to do it.

First let me explain that over the years I have spent the equivalent of a couple of months in Belize City and for the most part have enjoyed it very much.

The only misadventure I experienced was when a young Belizean man aggressively demanded money from me early one night on my way back to my hotel after eating out. That incident ended abruptly when some locals intervened and sent the young man on his way, apologizing to me for his behaviour. I used that experience as the basis for one of the Belizean Tales in my book called Belizean Sextet, the tale called Encounter on King Street.

The problem with Belize City is that it has become the home of several or many drug-gangs who are in competition with one another and fight over who rules over certain sections of the city. These turf wars often end up with shoot-outs and the victims are usually the bad guys, but still…

And, in a third-world country where poverty is endemic, drugs and crime go hand-in-hand, especially in Belize City which accounts for about 20 % of the total population of Belize.

About six months ago, I issued a Travel Advisory advising travellers to stay clear of Belize City except as a place to go to get somewhere else. Since then, from what I have heard and read the local and Federal governments have worked hard to deal with the drug/crime problems and have been investing funds in cleaning up and maintaining the city superstructure. During my last visit to Belize, I spent some time in the City and noted first-hand some of these improvements. So now I would not say, “Stay Clear”, but I would say visit with caution.

When we first visited Belize back in 2000, we stayed five nights at the Radisson Hotel at $140 usd a night. It was a good experience at the time but I would never do it again. It is far too expensive for my travel budget and it offers luxuries we can do without. But it is well situated at the south end of Belize City where we have always stayed.

We tried the Caribbean Hotel near to the Radisson. Not as pricey but not as good as the Radisson.

Then we discovered the Hotel Mopan on Regent Street, walking distance from the water-taxi terminals and the bus station and priced right at 50-60 usd a night.  Unfortunately, the brother/sister owners and managers of the hotel had to shut it down last year.

The only other hotels I know of in the south end are the Bakadeer Inn, near the Belize Museum, the Belcove Hotel, near the down-town swing bridge and the Conningsby Inn a well-established 12 room hotel on Regent Street across from where we stayed at the Hotel Mopan. I can’t recommend them because I’ve never had the experience of staying in any of them but you can check them out on-line.

Near the Water-Taxi

Near the Water-Taxi

Near the Water-Taxi

South End Street Scene


TRANSITION Destinations in Belize: Belize City

Belize City has something to offer to the traveller, but these  days it is most often used as a Transition Destination or,  to put it another way, a jumping off point for going somewhere else.

You should know something about it because it could play an important part in your Belizean vacation/adventure.

You can make Belize City the place where you want to go to get somewhere else or you can  spend some time  in Belize City and explore it as you would any other  place in Belize. Or both.

BELIZE CITY: Gotta Go There To Get Where I Wanna Go

Belize City is by far the largest and perhaps by Canadian standards the only city in the country of Belize. It used to be but no longer is the capital of Belize.

Thrusting into the Caribbean Sea at near to sea level, Belize City  has a history of being razed to the ground by hurricanes every 20 years or so. After Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the capital was moved inland to a newly created centre called Belmopan.

Today, though Belmopan has certainly become the administrative centre of Belize, Belize City  remains the focal point, as it always has been.

Some say that Belize City has as many as 85,000 inhabitants, and so it might, though recent census figures  peg it at 75,000. No matter. In a country of only 300,000 +, that’s a high percent of the total Belizean population.

The Goldson International Airport is about 15 miles inland from Belize City. As you travel by taxi from the airport to the city, you can see  symptons of the 3rd World with tumble-down shacks with corrugated tin roofs sprawled next to upper-class enclaves with Caribbean-style mansions and expensive SUV’s.

In the daytime, at the south end of Belize City, the downtown is bustling, exhuberant, loud and conjested, about 8 streets by 2 streets of shops and services, squawk and squalor. It is also where the old colonial Supreme Court sits at the edge of the Caribbean Sea and dispenses justice based on the English system, just like Canada.

Headed for Caye Caulker or San Pedro?

If you are on foot in the City,  head for Albert or Regent Street, cross the Swingbridge and head toward the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal or keep going down the street to the Tourist Village where you will find the San Pedro Water Taxi Terminal. They are both reliable, differing mainly by schedule.

If you are taking an Airport Taxi from the International Airport to BC ($25 usd), tell your driver where you are going and ask him which Water Taxi he recommends.

Taking a water taxi is one way to get out of Belize City, especially if you are headed for San Pedro on the Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, where we spend most of our vacation.

We’ve always enjoyed the 45 minute from BC to CC. Even on a hot, hot day when the boat is packed and  sweaty all you have to do is look to the back of the boat and watch the three 200 h.p. motors cutting a swath across the sea, white foam frothing over the turquoise-blue water to realize you are somewhere special and you are about to have a good time.

(Recently it has become more and more popular to land at the International Airport and take either Tropic Air or the Mayan Airline directly from the International to Caye Caulker or San Pedro. It is more costly but it does save time and allows you to skip Belize City entirely. Check out both airlines on-line)

If you are going to Orange Walk Town, Corozal Town, San Ignacio, Dangriga or Punta Gorda, your best bet might be to take an Airport Taxi ($25.00 usd) to the main bus terminal in the City and hop on a bus. Bing or Google Belize Bus Schedules and ask your destination- hosts to confirm. The bus is by far the least expensive mode of transportation and can be part of any traveller’s adventure.

Depending on when you arrive in the City, of course, there is a chance you can get to your destination before nightfall.

An increasingly popular option is to arrange a pick-up at the Airport through your destination- hosts.

If you can’t make a connection to get where you want to go in Belize, don’t worry. You can find a safe and comfortable hotel on the outskirts or in the city limits and commence your journey in the morning.

With that in mind, I am going to suggest the following mid-priced or budget hotels that you can investigate on-line. These hotels were identified by friends of mine in the hotel business. I cannot recommend them because I never stayed at them:

D’Nest Inn in Belama, a quiet residential area 3 miles out of the City, $82-92 usd, double occupancy

Easy Inn on the Northern Highway, a few mile out of the City, $65-75 usd, double occupancy

Bakadeer Inn, in the City near the Belize museum. 15 minutes from the Water-Taxi Terminals and the Main Bus Station

Conningsby Inn on Regent Street in the City, a well-established 12 room hotel by the water front, 15 minutes from the Water-Taxi Terminals and the Main Bus Station

Belcove Hotel, “in the heart” of the City by the Swing Bridge, minutes away from the Water-Taxi Terminals, 15 minutes from the Main Bus Station.

In my next blog at the end of the month, for those of you who want explore  Belize City as part of your Belizean Adventure, I will suggest places you can visit and where you can eat, i.e. where you can have a good time.


Belizean Adventure 2013, Part 6

But now, all is calm on Caye Caulker. Our daughter, Rhiannon, her partner, Andrew and our granddaughter, Clea, have flown the coop and are back in Toronto facing the vicissitudes of city life in the winter. Alas.

We are left alone again, forced to face one another across the table on the front verandah of our 2nd storey cabana on a sub-tropical island in the Caribbean. I read the Toronto Star on my Asus tablet. She’s doing something but I don’t look up. We grunt monosyllables at one another, each of us wondering how much more of this we can endure. Black grackles the size of vultures soar ominously overhead…

I jest.

We chat with Luciana and Michael, two truly busy people who don’t have much time for chit-chat but alway make time, exchange greetings with other guests as they come and go through the gates of the Oasi, talk with Oasi staff members, street vendors, shop keepers and tourists and travellers we meet at restaurants and at the split, our favourite swimming hole.

This season the weather has been less predictable than years past, more inclined to days of hot, hot weather tempered by cold fronts from the north when you have to wear long-sleeved shirts or even a jacket till mid-day and at night tuck yourself in bed with a woolly blanket. Today is one of those days, so we skip our daily swim at the split and stroll along the main drag looking for presents to bring home.

We still frequently use the gas barbecue available for guests and often eat our supper under the palapa set in the midst of the bushes, plants and flowers that adorn the front yard.

As my birthday approaches, we decide not to have a birthday bash for me. Since our family has gone home,  we will  more go low-key and less labour intensive. Over supper one night, I mention “Chinese take-out”” as an alternative, Michael says, “Peking duck”, Luciana likes “dumplings”, Evelyn offers “wontons” and so for my birthday supper six of us sit under the comfort of the brightly-lighted palapa feasting on all of the above plus an extraordinary dish called “salty Chinese chicken” and vegetable rice. The wine flows and the beer is cold. Happy Birthday to me.

Tomorrow I am going to rotisserie a whole chicken, using the rotiserrie heating attachment on Michael’s barbecue. This is field-training for our next culinary adventure on the last Saturday of the month. We are going to rotisserie a leg of lamb and plan a whole meal around it. After that it’s pack up and go home.

I’ve been thinking about the “adventure” in my Belizean Adventure 2013 series, and mentioned this to Evelyn.

She said, “What’s your point?”

I said, “Well, looking back at it , we don’t seem very adventurous.”

She said, “Depends what you mean by ‘adventurous’, doesn’t it?” she says, punctuating the italics like a stuffy English Major. “If you mean ‘adventurous’ as a thrillingly exciting moment, I would agree with you. But we’ve done all that. Snorkelled the famous Blue Hole, hiked here and there and everywhere, identified and visited every Mayan site  in Belize, wore coal-miners helmets to explore the pitch-black Barton Creek caves,  tubed down the Red Bank river, canoed the Sebun River with Mr. Brooks and you even swam in a crocodile infested river, need I go on?”

“But…”

“But if you mean ‘adventurous’ in the sense of  dealing with an experience out of the norm, like, for example, travelling in any third-world country for any length of time, I would say that every day is an adventure, wouldn’t you?”

And believe it or not I had nothing to say.

So what do we do next? We go to the Friday Jam at the Sportsmens Bar on Front Street, sit on the beach side and listen to a core group of five musicians + anyone else play old-time rock and roll and some hard driving rock that sounds like a freight train full of steel pounding the tracks on a down slope.

The Jam is an ex-pat extravaganza with a mixture of tourists, travellers, local Caye Caulkerans and Belizeans from around the country. If the band is like a freight train, the Cuban guitarist is the engineer careening around bends with abandon, the other musicians like freight cars racing behind him. Only the drummer can keep pace, flipping her sticks to the clickety clack of the train on the track.

The music is contagious and we dance as the sun sets.

We pretty much stick with our routine for the last week. We are both getting a lot done on our special pursuits.

Evelyn is crewel embroidering her second section of a museum project which when completed will consist of 20 sections sewn into a hooded coat, called a ‘soil’ coat because it depicts the creatures that live in the soil we trod on. Judging from what Evelyn has shown me, the finished coat is going to be a beauty.

I’ve been blogging of course but also writing more travel noir fiction which I hope will result in another book of Belizean Tales of Adventure being published in the fall of this year.

On Tuesday, I order a leg of lamb from Maria at my favourite shop, the Land and Sea. This is where I buy our sausages, pork chops, pork roasts, chickens, shrimp, lobster in season, conch and fish, mostly red snappers. Maria orders my lamb from a shop in Belize City and promises me delivery Saturday morning.

I pick up the leg of lamb at 10, pack it into my basket and bicycle back to our cabana where Evelyn has a marinade prepared. I sever the shank from the leg with a machete and we turn turn the leg it its marinade every 1/2 and hour for the next 6 hours.

Evelyn shops for zuccinis and egg plants, gets them ready for broiling, then prepares a Greek salad.

Michael and Luciana do their part though they are both also working. Michael readys a dish of onions and potatoes which he will finish off on the grill. Luciana bakes three different loaves of bread. She will also offer appetizers she picked up in Belize City on Friday.

I’m working on the barbecue, making sure its ready when we are ready, then, with Michael, piercing the leg of lamb on the rotisserie rod and tying it with kite string.

When everyone has arrived, we toast one another with sparkling wine and feast once again at the table under the palapa

Sunday I turn left-over lamb into a remarkable lamb curry

Monday Evelyn cooks the lamb shank with lamb bones and creates a succulent lamb osso bucco.

Monday night after the March Madness Final, we sit together on the verandah overlooking the road that runs past the Oasi and toast each other.

Tuesday is departure day, April 9. We say farewell to our hosts, take the water taxi to the mainland, a taxi to the airport, Delta to Atlanta, Atlanta to Toronto where our friend Sandi welcomes us at the airport and then, early in the morning, home.

We have had a great Belize Adventure 2013 and have already made booking for next year.

But for now and the next 10 months, it is home sweet home.


Belizean Adventure 2013, Part 5

We’re well into March now, the weather is good, swimming good, food and drink good and my foot is feeling pretty good, too. I admit I’ve been somewhat mischievous about my foot and what happened to it and I promise to tell all at the right time. Suffice it to say that I have had a very unique experience which, as a writer I view as climatic and therefore want to save it to the end; and, because of its very uniqueness, I don’t want it to overpower the narrative of my 2013 adventure in Belize, leaving the rest hum-drum and uneventful.

I will say categorically that it has nothing to do with kicking Evelyn in the ass, as one of my readers has opined. An ass is nothing to be kicked at and Evelyn’s is strictly off limits.

We are looking forward now to our annual visit with our daughter, Rhiannon and her partner, Andrew, and our granddaughter, Clea. Clea is 8 years old and this will be her 4th visit. She has learned to swim in the Caribbean and this experience coupled with swimming lessons at home in Ontario have turned her into a good swimmer. She is confident in the water, even exhilerated by it. She started snorkelling at the split last year and was so proficient at it that Luciana, our host, has a special surprise for her.

We have been able to chart their progress from Toronto to Atlanta to the Goldson International Airport in Belize. Jason, our favourite taxi driver in Belize City, is at the airport to pick them up and take them to the water terminal in the city. Jason waits as they visit the duty free and clear customs. He helps handle their luggage and the 12 bottles of red wine they have purchased on sale at $6 US. Don’t you just love visitors like that?

Jason phones Luciana to tell her what water-taxi they will be on, so we know now where and when to meet them when they arrive.

And there they are. We are standing under some palm trees near the termininal when we spot the water-taxi swing round the tip of the island leaving a wake of white froth behind it as it lunges through the waves towards us.

As the boat docks, we make our way out to greet them, then it is hugs and kisses and hand-shakes all around.

Clea is as excited as only an 8 year old can get but we are not doing badly as decrepit old grand parents either.

We immediately pick up on a routine we have established over the years.

Our cabana or apartment is over their cabana. I’m usually up making coffee by 7, am sitting out on the verandah dunking a ‘hard times’ cookie when Evelyn joins me. We chat and watch life on the road in front of us, the first tricklings of school kids, Belizeans on foot on the way to work, alone, in pairs or in small groups, bicyclists ghosting in and around them, the occcasional golf-cart taxi humming slowly by, headed south to the little Tropic Air airport or north to the village..

Usually the sun is up and shining through the littoral forest across from us. That’s where I take my  ASUS tablet to check up on current affairs as presented by the Toronto Star. We sit people watching and bird watching in the oasis beneath us, listening to the grackles grackling and a few song birds singing, but mainly waiting for the 8 yr. old bird in the nest beneath ours to wake up, spread her wings and fly into the arms of her grandma and grumpa.

The general plan is to be ready to head for the split by 10. We are not regimental about it but usually we are ready to go by then. We all have our bicycles and pedal at a leasurely pace to get there, about 10-15 minutes.

By the time we have unpacked our snorkels and masks and spread out our beach blankets, Clea, in full gear including fins, is in the water. It is a great place for us to swim because it is often glass clear, clean, firm sandy bottom and its bounderies are circumscribed by patches of sea weed.

I’m usually in next, following Clea who is snorkelling ahead of me, diving for shells and occasionally emerging above the waves with a sea star clutched in one hand.

We snorkel together for awhile, then we are joined by Evelyn and we track red snappers and 2′ barracudas through the water.

Then our Rhiannon and Andrew tag-team us and take over in the open sea-ring.

When the four of us are ashore, Clea is lured out of the water with promises of  sea-snacks like sun-chips and popcorn. Then she negotiates more time in the sea.

Sometime after 12, we bicycle back, stopping at shops along the way we need for lunch and supper.

(Special Note. We’ve been in the sun for a couple of hours. We all applied sun screen lotion before leaving. It’s supposed to be water-proof but you can’t be too sure about that. We all wore hats while out of the water and draped towels over our shoulders or put on shirts if we thought we had had enough sun. We were over-protective with Clea who is fair-skinned and our efforts paid off with a golden tan after 6 days. The tropical sun is ferocious on a clear or a cloudy  day. Burn-rays penetrate the clouds. And remember, you are getting direct sun rays and rays reflected by the water and the sands. Be very very careful.)

Then it is lunch time, an afternoon nap if possible, and maybe an afternoon swim in one of the swimming pools at the houses managed by Michael. When the owners are absent and the property has not been rented, Michael opens the gate and lets us in.

Then it is time for a sun-downer and supper preparations. Many nights we barbecue outside under an almond tree and eat our meal under the near-by festivally-lit palapa.

(Two SNAP SHOTS to end this post:

1. Michael takes us out to the Barrier Reef on a snorkelling expedition.  I watch from the boat as the serious snorkelling begins. Luciana, Evelyn and Clea head for the reef. This is Clea’s first real snorkelling adventure and it is on the second longest barrier reef in the world. I watch their fins stir up the water as they leave the boat far behind, headed for the reef. Then they disappear, all three of them, then after minutes of anxiety on my part, they reappear, one, two, three heads bobbing in the water.

Afterwards, by all accounts, it was a fantastic snorkelling experience. Evelyn said they snorkelled in water as deep as 20′ and Clea dove as deep as 8′ to retrieve a sea urchin for examination.

Back on shore, in the comfort of our cabana, with a double rum and water in my hand, Clea describes in detail what she witnessed and pointed out the fish on plastic identification cards.

2. Michael and Luciana bring their scuba gear to one of the swimming pools in an early afternoon. Luciana suits Clea up, explaining the apparatus. They enter the water and after some last moment instructions, they submerge. Clea is breathing air from the tank strapped to her back. She faces Luciana underwater and mimics whatever Luciana does. One arm out mirrored by one arm out. Two outstretched arms mirrored by two outstretched arms. She is totally composed, totally trusting Luciana. They stay under for nearly an hour, emerging from time to time to discuss what they will do next. Clea learns hows to clear her mask underwater. a remarkable achievement for a beginner. We are in awe.)

Next Post in 10 days. Life on the island continues…and the beat goes on


Belizean Adventure 2013, Part 4

So, we are back on Caye Caulker comfortably ensconced in the second storey apartment at the Oasi, a chic open-concept apartment with a living-room futon and coffee table and T.V., full kitchen with gas range, small fridge, ample counter space and kitchen table with chairs and a roomy bright bathroom and a wrap-around verandah ccomplete with a full-length cotton hammock, a small rectangular table with two stools and a table with two clam chair around the corner.

My foot is still sore, not painfully so, not that I can’t get around, but I have to be careful how far I walk and I don’t even want to start bicycling. We walked up to the small local airport and watched a couple Tropic Airline 12-seater propellor planes fly in from San Pedro and Belize City, and take off again, picking up and off-loading their human cargo.

We walk ten minutes to the sea to check out the abandoned dock we swam and fished off last year but it was in such disrepair we decide to make it off limits for ourselves and guests. When she heard about this, Luciana said we could use the dock next to the old one. It is a first-class dock and she has made arrangements with the owner to let her guests use it.

Now it is time to re-explore the island.

Caye Caulker is approx. 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Check out www.cayecaulker.com for more details. Suffice it sufficient for me to tell you that it has grown increbily from the first time we visited 12 years ago to now. Not in settled population, around 2000, nor in tourists as far as we can tell, but in hotels and restaurants opened we guess on the premise ‘if you build it they will come’. And they probably will but right now it is still under-crowded during the week and it still has it old-time charm.

Come while you can.

We make manageable forays into ‘town’ to get foodstuffs for our visit. We walk to the nearest grocery store to us, the China Town Super Market. Most grocery stores in Belize, Chinese or not, claim Super Store status. Don’t get your hopes up. China Town provides us with most of our needs, canned and dry goods, rum and miscellaneous items.

We  lug our stuff back.

For baked goods there is a great bakery not far away (nothing is) with fresh breads, buns and sweet buns and pastry-wrapped sausage and ham and cheese.

For chicken, there is the store next to the bakery that sells whole chicken and  cut -up parts.

For vegetables, there are kiosks specializing in vegetables and often offering fresh juices like orange, lime, pineapple, papaya and watermelon.

For fish and meats we visit Land and Sea for pork chops, pork roasts, breakfast sausage, hot italian sausage, shrimps and fresh catch if we can get it.

We shop them all, one by one, stocking up, but knowing that we don’t have far to go to replenish our stock.

In a few days we are back on our bikes transversing the island from end to end.

Except for the incredible surge in construction which has been going on for 6 or so years, nothing much has changed.

The roads are a mixture of sand and pulverized coral and shell which when levelled and rolled are very good. When not regularly cared for, however, what with some heavy rains and heavy-duty trucks brought in to haul cement and such-like, the roads get pitted and pot-holed, making for some bumpy bike rides. We are lucky this trip because a municipal election is coming up so  a grader and huge roller have been brought in from the mainland and the roads have been levelled. What’s new?

The people are mainly Mestitzos, a creole mixture of Spanish and Mayans, plus every other racial group in Belize, plus a goodly number of Chinese entrepreneurs,  plus a cadre of Jamaican rastafarians, plus a burgeoning number of North American ex-pats who are changing the landscape of Caye Caulker, plus tourists and travellers from around the world. It is a friendly and fluid society that by and large gets along very well with one another.

We swim daily at the split, a popular swimming area on the north end of the island unencumbered by the docks that spike out from the sea shore and attach to the prolifigating number of hotels.

Where we swim it’s almosts a cul de sac of sea water, safe and clean and beautifully coloured with many-nuanced shades of blue and green, interupted from time to time by  frothy white caps as the tide rolls in.

We snorkel there just for fun in water not much over our heads, snatching shells from the  sandy bottom and sea stars that we touch and release, often watching  young barracuda or silver snappers glide beneath us.

Afterwards, towelling off and catching some rays, we watch athletic wind-surfers and kite boarders decorate the skyline with the wild colour of their sails.

Later, after a shower to wash away the salt, we lunch in or lunch out, read a little, maybe write a little, sudoku, crosss-word puzzle, maybe nap, and then, before you know it, it’s time for a sun-downer before the sun goes down, and, remember, the curtain in the tropics comes down fast. It is dark by 6:30.

Supper? Sometime we eat out, more often we eat in. With a full kitchen, we can create extraordinary dishes and we do, but we also have the option to use the communal barbeque and eat our dishes under the lighted palapa in the front yard.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m waxing eloquent in a post-card kind of way and of course reality ain’t always like that. You drag your same sorry-ass carcass with you no matter where you go, your own ups and your own downs, your skits and your git-arounds. There is no place on earth is going to sort all that out. That’s something you’ve got to do yourself.

Truth be told, I think we’ve sorted a lot of that stuff out over the years.

Maybe the post-card scenes I describe are reverse snap-shots of what’s going on inside of me.

Maybe I’m getting closer to where I want to be.