Monthly Archives: March 2013

Placencia – the “Pleasant” Bay

Placencia is a fascinating little village and, as such, has an interesting and colourful history.  Here it is, from http://www.belizespecialists.com/Placencia.htm:

“Placencia has a long history of occupation starting with the Maya who established at least 14 sites around the Placencia Lagoon. These were principally engaged in the making of salt as well as participating in the extensive coastal trade.

In the seventeenth century, Placencia was settled by the English Puritans who were originally from Nova Scotia and latterly from the island of Providencia. This settlement died out during the Central American wars of independence in the 1820’s.

The Spaniards that travelled the southern coast of Belize gave Placencia its name. At that time Placencia was called Placentia, with the point being called Punta Placentia or Pleasant Point. The Placencia Peninsula was resettled in the late 1800’s by the Garbutt family, who decided to settle and eventually own most of the Peninsula. In 1894 Abner Westby, whose family originated in Scotland, came to Placencia and purchased land from the Garbutts. He was later joined by a younger member of his family, John Eiley. The Cabral family, originally from Lisbon, Portugal, closed their business in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the Caribbean and sailed to the southern part of Belize on two schooners, The Colibri and The Jane. Soon they began doing business with and eventually married into the Placencia community. In the early 1900’s the Leslie’s, originally from Rotan, also came to Placencia.

Placencia prospered and soon became a village, earning its livelihood from the sea. On June 20th, 1962, the fishermen of the Village came together and formed the Placencia Produces Cooperative, which is still in operation today, to provide the village with competitive prices for their seafood production. In the early 1970’s Placencia was provided with electricity (although sometimes less than 110V) from the generators of the Cooperative, and eventually in 1993 the Belize Electricity Limited assumed that role, providing 110V and 220V to supply the increasing demand.

Placencia is as culturally diverse today as it was in its formation. Walking down the sidewalk on any given day you will see and hear people from all over Belize and the world gracing the little village. The people in Placencia are united in their love for the sea and in their commitment to tourism and development. .Since 1990, Placencia has made large and sure strides toward making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize. Hurricane Iris that hit the village on October 8 of last year (2001) set Placencia back a bit but today Placencia is back on the track of tourism.”

In fact, Hurricane Iris destroyed 95% of the village and surrounding area and structures and it has grown back bigger and better than ever.  Placencia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s narrowest main street:  a sidewalk 4071 feet long and 4 feet wide.  It took 30 years to build, all done by hand, and has ceramic tile inlaid and family names inscribed and character galore.

The one waterfront bar that most cruisers frequent is called Yoli’s.  They have Sunday BBQs and local musician nights and the best information around:  whatever you need to know you’ll find out here from other cruisers.  Yoli’s also has the main dink dock in town where it is not unusual to see dinks lined up 2 deep on both sides.

We were anchored just off of Paradise Resort, where “Paradise is a state of mind”…so true.  The other sign said, “No shoes, no shirt, no problem”, which gives a good indication of the laid back and casual style of Belizeans.  Everywhere was like that, friendly, welcoming and warm.  We happened to frequent Paradise more than Yoli’s because there was good food, friendly people, mucho knowledgeable bartenders (and yes, they knew everything about the town too) and good wifi.

I think I’ll dedicate a page of photos just to “Cool Signs” because there were so many in Belize.  I forgot most of the ones I saw in San Pedro  before I got home to write them down so, in Placencia, I just took pictures of them.  One that made me laugh every time I saw it was “Omar’s Creole Grub”….I’m a sucker for oxymorons.

One thing I noticed about the flora and foliage in Belize was that, as beautiful as it looked, there was no smell to it, any of it, at all, nada, period.  You’d think that pretty flowers would smell pretty but they don’t and I don’t know why.  I have an entire folder of flower pics to put up too just cuz they’re nice to look at.

Our time in Placencia was most enjoyable, we explored the village, the lagoon, the beaches, just everywhere.   We went up the lagoon to get gas (the only gas station in town) for the dinghy, and also when taking the water taxi over to the other side to get our Customs papers.  It reminded me of the sloughs in southern Ontario, waterways that people live beside and use as their main ‘road’,  ‘parking’ in their ‘driveways’ or ‘covered garages’.  It’s just a beautiful little boat ride just to go and experience it.

We tried many different restaurants while there and looked at menus at another hundred or so.  The prices were decent, remembering that Belize is only 2:1 USD, but the food was usually very good.  There was Crow’s Nest Cafe (a more sophisticated menu), Pickled Parrot (super burgers and everyday $10 specials), Friends (with tropical pancakes), Paradise (EVERYTHING was good there), Omar’s Creole Grub (good old fashioned downhome bacon ‘n eggs), Above Grounds coffee shop (THE best coffee around and yes, it’s in a treehouse..lol), The Shak (vegetarian style bistro on the beach), BJ’s Belizean Bellyful (LOTS of food at good prices), Barefoot (where the food was so-so but the people were great).  And probably more that I have forgotten.

Everything is within walking distance because the town is only a mile square – or less.  The famous Mile-Long Sidewalk winds along the beach with homes, restaurants, cabanas, artistes, tour shacks and hammock hangouts all along it.  Every colour of the rainbow is used in decorating homes and business in Placencia and no colour is repeated two buildings in a row.  Street signs, where there are any, are handpainted; billboards are unobtrusive; and smiles are everywhere.

Jean-Marie and I took two nights in a beach cabana – mostly for the hot shower included within.  Sleeping in a bed that wasn’t moving proved not to be the luxury it sounds like:  we still woke up every couple hours to “check the anchor”…lol.  But, finding four people on a  boat for a month getting to be a little close, staying in town was a comfort.  The little cabana had a microwave (for what reason I don’t know), a mini fridge to hold the beer and water, and a coffeepot that we never used.  No phone, no tv, no radio, no clock – perfect.  On the beach, behind the palms, with a lattice gazebo type porch, windows open and fan on, it was cool and breezy and comfortable.

We met a little Mayan lady, Olivia, who comes into town to sell her homemade goodies.  We saw her somewhere in town almost every day and finally, while in the cabana, bought some stuff from her – a table runner for the salon and a head scarf/bandanna for Jean-Marie.  She stopped to chat on her way by every day, maybe took a glass of water, and brought us some oranges from her yard.  Turns out that she takes an hour’s bus ride each way every day to come from her village to Placencia, $40 per day.

There are many many of these artisans all around town, some just walking around, some with tables set up, none in the same place day to day.  We stopped to watch a guy making bracelets out of plastic bags.  He tied one end to a post and twisted it and twisted it until it made a tiny rope about 2 mm wide.  Once he had the lengths he wanted in various colours, he would weave them or macrame them together to make bracelets or necklace cords.  Recycling on steroids!  And they were just beautiful.

Most of the furniture in the restaurants, especially on the beach, was made from the local mahogany trees or bamboo; roofs were mostly thatch from palm fronds – watching the process of one of those being built is incredible.  Most of the buildings and homes were second story, built on stilts, to catch whatever breeze was blowing.  And yes, being on the ground floor was usually very hot.  Windows and walls along the beach were practically non-existent – they would roll down a screen during higher winds or rain – and you could sit or take shelter in any closed business because the main floor and tables were still open.

Crime in Placencia was a rarity.  Oh, there were petty thefts and such, mostly crimes of opportunity but we never locked the dinghy, we never worried about walking after dark, we could leave computer on table to go to the washroom, I didn’t have to hug my purse, etc.  What a difference from Belize City just up the coast!

Besides meeting up with Yonder and Wind Whisperer again, we also saw Takatuka for a bit.  Placencia Bay soon became the United Nations parking lot with cruisers from Switzerland and Italy and England and Australia…and Canada!  We were Canadian boat #8 when we pulled in and there were a bunch more came in later.

While there, our batteries decided they didn’t want to charge anymore so we ended up replacing the whole bank of 4.  Even with the exchange rate, it cost about the same as it would in Canada – about $200 each including tax, shipping, etc.

For being a village of about 750 people, Placencia has really got it together.  All schools have a uniform policy, crossing guards set up morning and afternoon on school days, and there is a Tourism Police force which routinely carries out roadblocks.  I found it pretty cool to see these things in a town where “rush hour traffic” means there are more than 3 vehicles or bicycles on the road at the same time.  But what I found amusing were the golf cart/motorcycle rentals and taxicabs – in a town less than a square mile in area.

Life in Placencia, like most of the Caribbean that we’ve seen, is slow and easy.  Not much is open before 11:00, maybe a restaurant that serves breakfast and even then it closes at about 4.  During the day, siesta is normal between 2 and 4-ish, dinner is normally about 7 or so.  Even parties or dances don’t last much beyond midnight at the very latest.  Belizeans seem to cram a whole lot of living into the 12 hours or less that they are active.

As cruisers, we found it more normal to do the sun-up sun-down thing.  It is hazardous to be out on the water in the dinghy after dark because so many boats rip around the harbour with no lights; and dinghies don’t have lights unless we carry a little flashlight to show our whereabouts.  Being up at sunrise has the disadvantage, however, of being upright and mobile while no one else is.  Coffee in the cockpit can only last so long, a bit of cleaning or maintenance before it gets too warm and then it’s off to town to explore and wait for things to open.  The biggest advantage to early rising is getting to see the beautiful colours and patterns of each unique sunrise.

We had been there about a week when word went around that a norther was coming, ETA Super Bowl Sunday.  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning saw many boats making a run in for the shelter of the bay.  A cute trend that we noticed was all the boats pulling up anchor and nosing toward the shore that offered the best protection.  When we arrived they were all over on the eastern shore, actually the western shore of the island lying off the east of town.  As the storm day approached many of them moved over to our side, tucking in behind the spit that formed the north edge of the bay and ranging down the line.  Personally, we found it didn’t really matter:  no matter what or where the wind, the bay stayed fairly calm and we didn’t rock and roll much at all.  The best indication of wind was which way our nose was pointing.

Sunday afternoon the sky lowered and the wind picked up to form quite large chops (comparatively) with whitecaps, the rain started and it pounded so hard it left holes in the sand and bounced 2 feet off the water.  And it just kept on.  One boat that had just made it in time didn’t fare so well.  We watched as he dropped the anchor then dropped about 100 feet of chain directly on top of it, turned off the engine and left in the dinghy not waiting to see if he grabbed.  Well, he didn’t grab.  Over the next couple hours we noticed the boat wasn’t there anymore and found it had dragged about ½ mile away to the south toward the rocks on the next shore.  Jean-Marie and a couple others took our dinghy out to the boat and tried to reset the anchor.  They were working on it when the owners finally returned and took over, bringing the boat back up into shelter and re-anchoring – properly this time.

As it turns out, the boat was from Italy and had come across the Atlantic and toodled around the Caribbean before reaching Placencia.  I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to be on it, not after seeing the botched attempts at anchoring, I wouldn’t trust the competency of the captain.  But that’s me.  We’ve seen many boats like that, ones we wouldn’t want to be on, but they were mostly rentals.  A boating license (that you can get online for $50 and a multiple question test) and a credit card allows you to charter a boat wherever whenever for however long.  For some reason, they seem to be the ones that put everyone else into danger with their incompetency.  Just a week or so before we got to Placencia, a rental boat had dragged 150 feet into another boat, causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage and 2 weeks of waiting for parts and repairs.

We spent the rest of the day and evening at Paradise where the game was on the big screen.  Between the power outage at the Super Bowl and the off and on flickers from our own storm, the losing and regaining of the satellite, the wind blowing the rain in over the first row of tables (remember there are no walls) it was an interesting day.  I sat and played on the puter the whole time ignoring the hooting and hollering, and had a great dinner.  I was happy.

The next morning I counted:  33 sailboats of all sizes and models, 2 cargo ships and 1 barge lying off, and a mini-cruise ship that had come in and was able to beach itself.  It was a virtual parking lot!  The cruise ship was interesting to watch.  About 10:30 pm it came off the beach and made its way through the maze of boats to lie off nearer the cargo ships.  Making way dead slow, it had a monstrous searchlight going back and forth to find all the boats, sometimes shining on a particular boat for a few extra seconds to determine where the anchor chain was.  It zigzagged through without mishap, turned about into the wind and lay with no anchor for the whole night; even with the engines running the current was strong enough to hold it in place.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching his adventure.  Kudos to the captain for a job well done!

So 33 boats and a 150 foot anchor drag doesn’t really sound like much until you realize that the bay is only about 1.5 miles long and 1 mile wide and each boat has probably 100 feet or more chain in front of them, requiring a good 300 foot diameter swinging circle for good clearance.  I am impressed with the seamanship of all the captains there that day: no incidents occurred.  Same with all the local boats – fishermen, divers, lanchas, resort tenders – they had to do the same weaving in and out to get from one of the bay to the other; and they usually do it at full speed and without lights!  They done good – there was no crashing that night.

The night of the full moon, I was honoured by the presence of a pair of dolphins that came in to feed.  The gentle shoosh of them sounding was the only indication and it took me a bit to find them in the moonlight.  The water would ripple and part to reveal the sleek forms curving on the surface for just a moment before slipping silently beneath the water.  The full moon reflecting on the mirror-like surface was the perfect  backdrop for these gentle creatures.

They were in the bay all the time and came in close to shore almost every night to feed but that was the only time I saw them.  For that moment, I am grateful.

As with most beach front cafes, Yoli’s was built on a pier and piles extending out over the water with a plank walk to the dinghy dock in front.  The fish would hang around for the tidbits thrown to them.  It was fun to feed and watch them, perch-like ones, needlefish, even a white stingray in San Pedro (there is photos of that one).

Something we had been told, and found to be true, is that Belizeans love to gamble and they will gamble on anything – literally anything and everything.  One favourite pasttime turned into a Thursday night routine was Chicken Drop.  They built a walled square with checkerboard pattern floor, each square being numbered.  Then they let a chicken loose into the square and bet on which square he would “drop” (ie, poop).

At the Pickled Parrot one night for dinner (BEST burgers in town), the owner, Eugene, said that the bartender was on break and due back at 5 but that it could be whenever because Kareem was not known for his punctuality, the night before being 5:25 before his return.  So we started a pool to see what time he would get back, park his bike and walk through the gate.  It was $1 per bet (2 BZ) and winner took all; so everyone put in their money and Tommy wrote the time on the bill with a Sharpie.  We covered right up until 5:30 and as it was getting close to that time, we had to revise the rules and place new bets.  When Kareem finally did walk in at 5:38 or something like that, he did so to cheers and jeers and loud applause.  He didn’t mind at all being the centre of a gambling pool based on his tardiness.

Placencia was just an awesome little town to visit and I can completely understand why so many people come for a vacation and just never leave.   Everyone is so friendly and helpful, smiling and laughing all the time; there were never any fights or arguments or even loud angry voices.  The people there really don’t have much but will share or give what they’ve got and they always have time for a sit and a chat.

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Crash – Boom – Pound

If a stopover could be described in short, yet very descriptive, verbs, Dangriga would be crash – boom – pound.  Lightning crashed, thunder boomed and the rain pounded.  That was the strongest impression I retain of Dangriga.

We arrived about noon-ish off the little town of Dangriga, Stann Creek.  Home to about 10,000 people, it was the second largest settlement after Belize City and is now the third.  It was settled in the early 1800’s by “Garinagu”, Black Caribs from Honduras and, since the 1980’s has undergone a cultural awakening.  This included changing their name from Stann Creek to Dangriga and fostering a cultural renaissance of the Garifuna, the ethnic group descended from shipwrecked African slaves and native Caribs.  They had adopted the Carib language which is an interesting mixture of African, Creole, English, French, Spanish and probably a few others; it has very little relationship to any of them singularly but a keen ear can pick out terms and words from each.  Fascinating, singsong, language and very pleasant to listen to.

These Garifuna have kept their African musical and religious traditions more so than other islands/countries in the Caribbean and celebrate mightily with festivals and rituals lasting days.

Dangriga is also where the Caribbean music, Punta Rock, originated and some of Belize’s more well-known folk bands came from here.

We didn’t get much of a chance to explore this little gem of a town that one day we were there but what we saw was lovely.  We found a few provisions and stopped for dinner.  Believe it or not we had THE BEST chop suey we’ve ever had anywhere – in downtown Dangriga, Belize!  Fresh made, piping hot and way too much for any normal person to eat.  I had asked for a coffee and, true to Belizean custom, was handed a mug of boiling water and the instant Nescafe jar and a huge bowl of sugar.  Usually taking cream only, I asked if there was some, or even milk.  After umming for a moment, the waitress conferred with another guy who took off out the door; we heard “Just buy one!” and then it dawned on us.  The custom is to drink heavily sugared strong black instant coffee – they actually went to the nearby grocery store to buy a can of condensed milk just for me.  Hmmm, third world country indeed!  How little we know of these wonderful people.

It was amazing just how many Asian owned shops and restaurants there were there.  There were Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Philippino establishments everywhere.  No one we asked could supply an answer for this phenomenon.

Loaded down with our booty (and full stomachs plus doggy bags), we decided to head back to the boat and maybe leave exploring for the next day.  We had just gotten to the beach when we noticed the sky to the east was dark, black, and  moving fast.  We whistled for David to bring the dinghy up for us and were being pelted by rain before we even got off the dock.

Rushing to close hatches and put away everything, we were soon soaked and completely overtaken by this storm.  Although only about 4:00 pm, it was like twilight with such heavy clouds.  Waaaay over in the east we saw lightning but with all the low-hanging clouds it looked more like sheet lightning.  Then we started hearing the thunder as it got closer and closer.   Withing a couple hours, the lightning and thunder had combined into a loud cacophony being directly overhead; coupled with the pounding rain, we couldn’t even hear ourselves think.  We were rocking and rolling pretty good in waves kicked up by the wind, the wind generator about to take off into the ether it was spinning so hard.  We had had the presence of mind to bring the dinghy up onto the davits to prevent drag on the boat, not knowing how the anchor would hold.  (We found out next morning we had only dragged about 10 feet!)

Jean-Marie was very glad there was a 300 ft tower just a few hundred yards away, hoping that any lightning strike would find it instead of us.  Me, I just sat up in the companionway and watched the awesome power and beauty of it all.  Oblivious to the dangers of lightning (or ignoring them), I just love to watch thunderstorms – usually from as close as possible.

The storm passed by overhead and was going inland by about 10:00 so we were able to turn in and get whatever sleep there was to be found.  It was a pretty rocky night and there is always the concern of dragging in the back of our heads.  Jean-Marie and I met each other upstairs quite a few times that night, watching the shoreline to make sure it wasn’t moving.  <sigh>  the joys of anchoring.

The next morning dawned clear and beautiful with a brilliant sunrise.  We decided to get the hell out of Dodge while we could as we didn’t have internet or any weather information, and really REALLY didn’t want that to happen again.  We didn’t have a clue this storm was on its way, nothing had shown up in the weather reports we looked at.  So we upped anchor and took off for Placencia, about 40 miles down the coast.

It was a gorgeous day yet again, spent watching the cays go by and looking out for the little fishing marker-sticks.  It was a bit of a concern, since our prop is a rope-magnet, because they were in the main channel and we didn’t know just how much line was tied to them or where it was exactly.   Our earlier dodging through a literal minefield of them had taught us they were not nets strung out – thank goodness for that, at least.

As we neared Placencia Bay we saw other sailboats in what looked like the opening between the mainland and the island.  The gap was not large to begin with and we knew it widened out afterward but didn’t know just how congested the passage would be with those 4 or 5 boats there.

As it happened, the perspective changed totally when we got right up on it and we found that yes, the sailboats were  directly in front of the opening but back in the middle of the bay.  It is incredible the different perspectives on everything being out on the water as opposed to standing on the shore.  I am learning every day – mostly that my spacial estimation ability is very limited.

During the day, from the water, the shore and other boats look a certain distance away.  From the shore, the boat looks a lot closer.  At night, it’s the same thing.  It’s very disconcerting to say the least.

We found, once in Placencia Bay, that there were actually about 15 -18 boats there, all anchored here and there.  We decided to pull up fairly close to one end of town just off what looked to be a decent sized hotel (hoping to be able to pull in their wifi from the boat), and laid the anchor.  The current was fairly strong and it took a few tries to catch but when we did it held us very well for the duration of our stay.  The bottom in Belize was more mud or clay than it was in Mexico, where it was more sand or sand over coral.

Looking around the bay we saw that Yonder had made it there already (Steve and Sandy) and Wind Whisperer was parked just behind them (another couple we met in Belize City).  We are finding out that cruisers never really leave one another behind, we will always meet up again somewhere.

3  First sight Dangriga

3 First sight Dangriga

2  Misty foggy raining but calm and no wind

2 Misty foggy raining but calm and no wind

1  Not a nice day for sailing

1 Not a nice day for sailing

4

5  Yes it is waiting for us

5 Yes it is waiting for us

6  It was like this the whole day, night, day

6 It was like this the whole day, night, day

7  A great shot of a pocket of rain

7 A great shot of a pocket of rain

8  Dangriga, population about 600

8 Dangriga, population about 600

9  Dangriga

9 Dangriga

10  Main street (there is only one street)

10 Main street (there is only one street)

11  Beautiful sunset except....this is facing east.  Figure that one out!

11 Beautiful sunset except….this is facing east. Figure that one out!

Adventures in Belize City

It seems that pretty much everywhere is 25-30 miles away from where we are; so again, we did a half day of motor-sailing down to Belize City. Travelling south behind the reef is beautiful; there are cays everywhere, some inhabited, some treed, some filled with mangrove. Something we found a little out of the ordinary was that the water was murky – it was nowhere near as clear as up in Mexico. Maybe it had become more of a muddy bottom than a sandy one? There didn’t seem to be as much coral either which may explain it. Whatever the cause, it was almost disappointing not to be able to see into the water. But it was still lovely and various shades of blue and green, sometimes reflecting the clouds in a shimmering white swath or dulling to the colour of old jade when the clouds took over completely. The camera would not, could not, capture the subtle changes but the water changed completely if there was a gray sky behind it rather than a blue sunny one.

San Pedro to Belize City required dodging a few little islands/cays which looked infinitely more difficult on paper (the chart) than it did in real life. What looks to be a trip through a maze on the map was actually a nice sail through wide channels between treed and gorgeous islands. I think the trickiest part was catching sight of the little posts the lobstermen used to mark their traps as no one used buoys in this area. They were hard to pick out, usually being just a branch stuck in the rocks no bigger than a broomstick and they stuck up anywhere between 6” and 6 ft above the water. The sticks were not so much the problem but the rope they were attached to was – our propellor seems to be a rope-magnet. Also, a lobster trap meant rocks and we didn’t know how far down they would be. So we just watched carefully for them and steered clear.

Coming through the last entrance between two cays, there were cruise ships lying off. There didn’t seem to be any tenders around them or movement that we could see so we have no idea just what they were doing there. Belize City is a destination port but they were lying off so far from the shore that it didn’t make sense.

We cruised up and down in front of the main part of town where we knew there were a couple of marinas advertised. The only thing we saw was a small-ish area that had only motorboats which meant that we probably couldn’t have gotten in. We decided to head a little farther south of town to Cucumber Beach. Coming around the point and heading in we saw a nice little norther kicking up with its attending wind but we got in just ahead of it.

Ete Infini is a most wonderful boat to handle: under sail it constantly seeks the wind and responds, motoring forward it can turn on a dime. But motoring in reverse it is an obstinate tub that just will not go where you want it to. You can turn and crank and cajole and swear all you want but it will do whatever it wants…and if there is even the slightest hint of wind, it will respond to that and totally screw you over. The slip that the marina wanted us in was a side tie but we needed to back into it first and, with the wind threatening to kick up, we were not amused. But Jean-Marie did an amazing job with it, kicking and gearing and turning ever so slightly and we slid in without a hitch. Beautiful job!

And the rain started.

Cucumber Beach Marina, also known as Old Belize, is a nice little place and will be quite comfortable for an extended stay when it is finished. It seems that the owners had run into financial difficulties with the economy and it was allowed to run down a bit; they were in the process of rebuilding and expanding while we were there. In the meantime, their hot water tank system broke and they didn’t bother to fix it because the renovations in that area would be completed in about a month….so that meant cold showers for us but hot ones in the future. There was shore power and water, the bathrooms were not far away, the wifi was at the office where a little table and chairs were set up on the porch, the restaurant was on the other side of the marina which meant a bit of a walk around but was worth it for the food, prices and people.

It had been called Old Belize because there was a museum on the property where your tour guide could explain all the history, flora and fauna, and stories of the area. In fact, you had to walk through a bit of it to get to the restaurant, something like an arboreum with native plants and trees under trellis and thatch. It was beautiful and had such a peaceful feeling in there.

Instead of the normal pool to swim in, they had made a “swimming area” out of a natural bowl. It was all sand and dug out approx an acre large with a nice gentle drop off; a waterslide at one end and a rope swing at the other, it reached up right to the balcony of the restaurant. It was loaded with fish and there were crabs on the rocks and some coral along the side, cabanas and chairs and a beach cafe were on the ocean side. A novel idea that turned out lovely.

Past the beach cafe they were building a second swimming area, this one lined with blue tile and steps leading in. It also had coral and fish and a natural feel to it, but with more manmade surroundings and no sand.

It rained the whole time we were there and the stiff wind made it somewhat uncomfortable. Cruise ships normally stopped there so the sheeple could have a swim and lunch and go snorkeling, etc, but the weather forbade that. It was nice to have the restaurant and all to ourselves but we felt bad for the staff because they weren’t getting the business they depend on.

While there, we took a day trip into Belize City for supplies and banking. The bus came along every ½ hour or so and stopped if you waved them down, $1.50 BD was the fare into the city about 5 miles away. Once on the bus, it stopped if you yelled to the driver. lol We rode it right into the terminal and started walking from there. We had no clue where we were going but headed toward the water figuring that most of the businesses we wanted were down that way.

Belize City is a small, cramped, dirty, depressed, violent, slummy and just all round ‘not a nice place’. Over 10,000 people live on approx 18 square miles, or rather, exist. The buildings are all the same gray stone or gray wood or gray metal or a combination of all of them; even the old cars and the rusted everythings were gray – or so it seemed in the rain. Small, narrow streets with a rain gutter in the middle, built of stones not pavement; sidewalks, where there are any, were only 1.5 to 2 feet wide and most of them crumbling. Every other doorway seemed to be sleeping quarters, all windows and doors had wrought iron bars across them and very few places even looked to be open. The big thing we noticed missing were the smiles that we were used to – very few people smiled or said hello back to us.

Banks and other government buildings, or prosperous foreign-owned business that catered to cruise ship sheeple were large and colourful and clean and landscaped and well maintained – of course. All school age children were dressed in one colour of uniform or another and it seemed that all the schools were church-oriented or church-sponsored. There were no parks or gardens or greenery or natural little spots anywhere in the city until you got down right to the waterfront by the resorts and casinos – of course. It was impossible to tell where the business centre ended and the slums began, they sorta just ran into each other and blended everywhere. It was definitely not a place to walk around at night, and even during the day the feeling of violence was just beneath the surface.

Belize hoards American dollars. The banks will give a $250 advance on credit card only once per day. The one bank told us to go to the Central Bank and get an authorization and they would be able to give us a different amount. Two hours later (pouring rain all the while) we finally were talking to the bank representative – after walking and finding the place tucked away back in a corner on the opposite side of town – to find out that they “don’t do that”. This is where we found out, for certain, that American dollars were completely unavailable in Belize in any quantity.

We put up with the rain and cold, the 0530 starts of the tenders, the lack of hot water and the overall miasma of despair for almost a week before crying “Uncle” and deciding to cast off for better climes. We found a decent weather window and set our sails for Dangriga, another ½ day’s motor down the coast.

It was clear and mostly sunny, no wind to speak of, with calm waters as we made our run to Dangriga. Innumerable little cays, some inhabited but mostly not, swept by on both sides. Some were treed, some had little beaches, some were cliff edged, some were just massive mangrove swamps….and all beautiful in their own way.

1  Sunrise before leaving San Pedro

1 Sunrise before leaving San Pedro

2  There it is

2 There it is

3 Last sight of San Pedro

3 Last sight of San Pedro

4  On our way

4 On our way

5  Marker for a lobster trap, they were all over the place

5 Marker for a lobster trap, they were all over the place

6 Calm, no wind, but no sun either

6 Calm, no wind, but no sun either

7 The gap is where we're heading

7 The gap is where we’re heading

8 Gap between cays.  There are hundreds of them along the Belize coast

8 Gap between cays. There are hundreds of them along the Belize coast

9  Some are really tiny

9 Some are really tiny

10 Still inhabited, a usual sight

10 Still inhabited, a usual sight

11  A typical Belize residence

11 A typical Belize residence

12  Finally, the tower marking the entrance, with ever present bird on top

12 Finally, the tower marking the entrance, with ever present bird on top

13  Another cay to go around

13 Another cay to go around

14  Welcoming committee

14 Welcoming committee

15  Beauty babies

15 Beauty babies

16  I think they were a couple

16 I think they were a couple

17  First site of Belize city

17 First site of Belize city

18  After we go around yet another cay

18 After we go around yet another cay

19  A calm ride

19 A calm ride

20

21  Cucumber beach

21 Cucumber beach

22  The swimming area at the marina, with water slide

22 The swimming area at the marina, with water slide

23 Pathway to the beach cabanas and outdoor bar

23 Pathway to the beach cabanas and outdoor bar

24  The beach bar

24 The beach bar

25  The second swimming area, also natural

25 The second swimming area, also natural

26  Amphitheatre

26 Amphitheatre

27  The restaurant on the near side of the 'pool'

27 The restaurant on the near side of the ‘pool’

28  Beautification along the edge of the bay

28 Beautification along the edge of the bay

29  More swamp than inlet, a great home for the mangroves

29 More swamp than inlet, a great home for the mangroves

30  The rope swing

30 The rope swing

31  View from the restaurant

31 View from the restaurant

32  Downtown Belize city, and yes it rained all week

32 Downtown Belize city, and yes it rained all week

33  Boats lined up at the swing bridge, canal in the middle of the city

33 Boats lined up at the swing bridge, canal in the middle of the city

34  Bridge opens twice per day to let the boats upriver

34 Bridge opens twice per day to let the boats upriver