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.