Bye-bye Mexico, hello Belize

With our hard-won exit papers from Xcalak we turned south for San Pedro, Belize. It was another nice little day sail of about 25-30 miles, inside the reef, under the sun and before the wind. We had a great day on the water and looked very forward to going through the reef for the last time.

The wind and the water were both fairly calm when we neared San Pedro. Being a different country we didn’t really know what to expect: if Belize was completely different from Mexico in All ways or some ways or what. All we knew was that Belize is predominately English speaking, somewhat more expensive than Mexico (2:1 exchange vs 12:1) and not as populated.

Going through the reef was a breeze in comparison, it was quite a wide opening and some sailor from back in the day anchored a large yellow buoy in the middle of it. Missing the buoy also meant missing the half-submerged reef behind it, so that was a nice bonus. Without the huge waves of Tulum and Xcalak we rode in nice and quiet, not surfing, and were able to gape in awe of the surf breaking over the reef on both sides. We turned at the buoy, followed the heading marked out and there was San Pedro right in front. The landmarks we were looking for were obvious, there were several other boats anchored in front of the town and we had no problem finding a good parking spot. The anchor grabbed on the first attempt which was a good omen. We had been warned that there was a lot of grass in the harbour but we found a nice large sandy spot and shut down.

San Pedro is a very easy spot to clear in to the country; Jean-Marie went ashore first to scout it out and we joined him in a short while. Basically, at the Customs office, you put a pen in your hand and start writing; they will feed you blank forms and you just keep writing until they stop, then you give them money. Going next door to Immigration you just keep writing and filling in their blank forms – most of them exactly the same as the office before. The Port Authority agent was in the office at the moment so we just changed desks and kept on writing. They took copies of whatever they needed, stamped everything all over the place and took more money. But within an hour or so, we were all done and good to stay for 30 days.

Whilst at Customs, they did notice that our crew list and passports were not stamped with exit permission from Xcalak, also we were given the photocopy not the original. We explained the difficulty we had in Xcalak in getting anything done at all and they asked if it was “Maria” that cleared us out. It seems they know Maria and not to expect proper paperwork or permissions from her. I hope they lodge another formal complaint about her with the Mexican consulate or something; I know we are going to do that when we get back to Canada.

But now we were free to roam around San Pedro and what a great little town to roam around in! It is more touristic than we were expecting for Belize but this is a port of entry so it figures. Belize, as we are coming to find out more and more, loves colourful buildings. Pink, orange, salmon, purple of all shades, green of all shades, blue – oh my, it was beautiful to wander around and see all the personality. And the names for the various businesses! So unique and revealing the personality of the owner, some are quite ingenious.

Sea-duced Tours, Ambergris Hope Centre (a pregnancy clinic, obstetrician, gynecologist), Warpaint Beauty (salon and store), etc. One billboard advertised a local bar, called a “centre” but I forget the name; the billboard called it a “Husband Daycare” asking if “your husband was driving you nuts”, “you want a day to yourself”, etc….just drop him off there and they would take care of him with entertainment, food and drink. The cost was free, just pay for what he drinks/eats. I laughed when I read that, I literally stopped on the sidewalk and laughed.

To me, seeing these business names and the colours of the buildings all told me a story of people with pride in themselves and what they are doing. Belize is a poor country, poorly populated, sparse in towns of any size, rife with corruption at the highest levels, a very defined two-tier society – the haves and the have-nots. For people trying to scratch a decent living in a place like this and to do it with such humour and cleanliness and colour, that says a lot to me of the attitude of the local people. And others wonder why we love mingling with the locals?!

It seems as if there is a hardware store on every corner and I think we found every one of them. We are still on the hunt for certain specific plumbing articles to fix our water bus; it leaks a bit even after the fix Jean-Marie did. Whenever we have the water pump turned on, it will cut in periodically even if the water is not running, which tells us there is still a bit of a leak. <sigh> We haven’t yet found anything to fix it properly and nothing small enough to make a new one – if we used normal PVC or even copper or brass fittings, it would be way too large for the compartment under the floor. Ah well, somewhere someday……

We did manage to score, however, on a fix for our ladder. The bottom rung had rotted away quite awhile ago and now the second one was cracked through. They look like they were originally made with a slat of wood covered/wrapped in plastic or fibreglas. We’ve been on the hunt for a new plastic step of the type found on pool ladders, with no luck. We did, however, come across a cabinetry shop albeit a kitchen type. We told the guy what we were looking for and why and he came up with a solution. We walked out with three teak slats of 1”x3”x18”, beautiful wood, and finished that evening with three new steps on our ladder. Big score! They were already cabinet-standard and cut to size and we plan on refinishing them with LOTS of varnish and just keeping wooden steps. $15 Belizean Dollars which = $7.50 US I have no idea how much that would be in Canada, if you could even find it, but it would be a whole helluva lot more than that!

You could pretty much dinghy up to wherever you wanted outside San Pedro, although your dinghy may not be there when you got back, but there was a pier just in front of us that seemed the most convenient. It happened to be outside a bar called Hurricane’s. We ate there the first night and had great burrito, nachos, etc and figured that we would probably adopt it as our home-base kinda thing. It was open air, no walls, on a pier, over the water, thatch roof, small and intimate – just our perfect kinda place. It also had wifi. <BIG grin> So Hurricane’s became our place to be in San Pedro, everyone could find us there if they were looking for us.

The bartenders there, Josh and James (00not7 as he said), were fantastic – friendly, talkative, made a show out of making drinks, made a home-away-from-home for everyone that stopped there. There was always music and talk and much laughter. –

It was there we met up with Steve and Sandy again, a couple we had met at El Paraiso in Isla Mujeres. They were on their way south too, to Roatan Honduras, and we kinda thought we’d catch up with them along the way. That’s the way with sailors, we meet and part and meet again. Most of the time, that’s a good thing when the people are nice like “Yonder”; sometimes, with people you don’t get along with, it could probably become a nightmare. Luckily, we’ve only met nice people along the way so far – yeah, they’re sailors.

We also met a super nice bunch: Cindy, Harold and Shawn (apologies if I spelled your names wrong). They had flown in for a holiday just prior and were looking forward to exploring the area. We made arrangements to go snorkeling the next day out at Hol Chan Reserve…otherwise known as Shark Ray Alley…just a couple miles away down the reef. There was sun the next day, which was promising, and little wind although the water became a little rough once we got past the end of Ambergris Cay. We anchored okay as close as we could get to the reef and lowered the dinghy. Jean-Marie stayed with the boat to keep an eye on us, and to pay the fee we were expecting to pay ($10) to use the reserve, and I went with the group in the dinghy. We moored on a ball and had just gotten the rope on when we were approached by an official looking boat with an official looking guy on it. He said we could not snorkel there because it was a reserve; we had to be a Belizean registered boat with a licensed tour guide on a legitimate tour. We asked where we could go otherwise and he pointed a bit south of where we were. We dinghied back to the boat and hauled anchor and moved a bit farther south and anchored again. This time Cindy and Shawn decided to stay on the boat so Harold and I went out. We didn’t bother with the dinghy this time, just left it tied to the boat and went off the side. There wasn’t much to see there and it was too far to the reef and we didn’t really feel like going through the hassle so we climbed back aboard and took off back to town. We ended up at Hurricane’s again and had some lunch and talked and laughed together for awhile. It felt like we had known them for longer than a few hours and could have been good friends in another life. They, very graciously, said that they were happy just going sailing with us for a day and considered the day a success. Such super people we meet on our travels!

San Pedro was a jumping off place for us in Belize. We now had 30 days to traverse the length of the Belize coast, exploring all the little cays and beaches along the way. We really figured on taking 6 weeks to make it to Guatemala, until the end of February or so, a trip almost totally behind the reef. This meant it would be calm waters, one foot ashore (so to speak), and lots of towns and people and beaches to get to know. Little did we know that Belize is so sparsely populated that we would run out of country way ahead of time.

With such a popular harbour and so many boats around, it was unsafe to do any swimming or snorkeling from the boat. All the tour boats and dive boats and water taxis and (it seemed) every boat in Belize roared back and forth at all hours of the day and night, usually at high speeds, and didn’t care at all about the boats at anchor. We rocked and rolled in their wakes constantly. At night most of them ran without any lights at all, which I thought was pretty dangerous; some of them came so close to the boat we were almost waiting for the clank/splash/curse that would signal them hitting the anchor chain.

There were no marinas at all in San Pedro, thus being on the hook, and nothing in town for cruisers – few laundries, no public showers, etc – plus we started hearing about a turn in the weather and so figured we should probably take off for Belize City while we could. One thing about Belize is that we didn’t have to check in and out of every port we visited, we just left. So we did.




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