Monday, March 27, 2000

The start - imagine this

March 11, 2000 - Saturday
American Airlines Flight 1674
Depart Seattle 11:55 pm
March 12, 2000 - Sunday
Arrive Belize City 12:51 pm

March 27, 2000 - Monday
American Airlines Flight 2104
Depart Belize City 2:20 pm
March 28, 2000 - Tuesday
Arrive Seattle 12:28 am

Early January 2000

Susan C:Susan and I have traveled together before, to the Yucatan. It was her first real international trip and it was fun to watch as she very nervously wiped down the tables and utensils with antibacterial wipes, refusing to eat the local food, pretending she wasn't hungry. By the end of the 10 days of sweaty travel in a Mexican-made Volkswagen bug, and several nights' stay in questionable hotels, she was eating whatever looked good, sitting on dirty park benches and thoroughly enjoying herself.And that trip has served as the basis of her itchy feet.

Mine have been that way for as long as I can remember, with travel posters stuck all over my bedroom walls when other girls had pictures of Elvis. So when I moved back up to the Pacific Northwest, and the gloom and cold of winter were rearing their ugly heads, the question was raised - where shall we go? Costa Rica, Guatemala or - Belize?

With lots of snorkeling and manatees and birds and tropical rainforests and, yes we are thinking on a grand scale for, offshore business and retirement in the tropics, Belize was our obvious choice.

Neither of us is independently wealthy so this has to be a budget trip. Our first decision had to be when? January and February are traditionally the yuckiest months up here so we thought that we would most likely be ready in March. Then the dates - Susan had to tell all her daycare parents that she would be gone for that time. I have to tell my people at the telecommuting job I do that I will be gone, which is no big deal.

Susan M 1994, August. My dear friend Susan C. had an assignment in Guatamala, which later turned into the Yucatan Peninsula and she asked me along. I freaked - how could I say "No" but how could I go? Mucho dinero, lack of potable water, sinister banditos.

But I went and was forever changed. Now, I travel as much as I can. After Susan C's magical intro to travel, I have even convinced others to go with me--Dan, the kids and I've even gone alone.

Susan is intrepid where I am fairly timid and a worrier (understatement), she is light-hearted where I have rules--like hand-washing. But, hey! - I have a day care. She is very patient and smart and has gently nudged me toward these and many other awarenesses: With ONLY 10 days to experience the area, the people, the food, you have to go for it. Period.(translation "Forget about bacteria or you'll perish from malnutrition." OR "Go into the restroom, turn right, enter the first stall and go pee. Do not, under any circumstances look under the stall partitions") I had no idea spiders grew that large. Aarrgh!

And for this one I will be eternally in her debt. When you put a snorkel on, you'll enter a world apart...something so delicate, beautiful and rare, you may become hopelessly addicted.

Susan C: Now comes the start of the fun part. Always frugal (cheap) and usually broke, we started looking at airfares. $536 r/t from Seattle to Belize didn't seem too bad. That we can handle. But came the day to book the flights and we got the scare of our lives! The prices were up in the $1500 range. Well! That wasn't going to work. We checked everything online of course and then called the airlines. The least expensive we could find was American for $618. This just seemed too high so...

We went to and what a treat that turned out to be! We naturally started low - one third less than the advertised price and were rejected. Oops! So we tried again. And again. After four tries we hit the jackpot. $425 r/t. Admittedly it's a red-eye flight but what the heck. We figure we will have time to catch up in a hammock on the beach somewhere. Three days later, our tickets were delivered to my door by FedEx. "Guess what!" I instant messaged (AIM) to Susan. "What?" "The tickets are here - whoo hoo."

From then on it's been difficult to think of much else. We've ordered our books Lonely Planet Guatemala, Belize, Belize : The Rough Guide, Explore Belize (Adventure Guide Series) and a Belize Travel Reference Map of the country. Now the dream is becoming reality.

Jan 30. Last night I was checking on e-Bag for a backpack to carry my laptop and digicam on the trip. I found a good one and they have a really good assortment. Again, being extremely budget minded, I think I will get a fairly inexpensive one. It's big and looks like a normal backpack. As we will probably be traveling a lot by bus, we won't be taking much with us and a backpack makes sense. I am also going to check if I can find a less expensive car rental than I have seen so far. $80 a day is a bit much, I think.

I also need to make sure that Chelsea is taken care of while I'm gone.

Notes: Check on digicam prices. Car rentals. Sort out clothes - what to take - not much!

A digicam will be such a cool thing to have so we can upload pictures while we are on the road. Apparently there are some internet café's and I think that some of the guesthouses will allow us to log on to upgrade the site and do pix of the trip.

February 26

Susan C:Two weeks and counting: We are both really excited about the trip and can't believe it's just around the corner. I've pretty much got most of the stuff I need. Bags arrived - very cool and I bought a small underwater camera from It's a Minolta Vectis GX-4 with 3 modes - regular view, wide angle and panoramic. It's only good to 15 feet, but in my experience, almost everything I want to see is within that depth, and I can free dive that deep. Or I should say I used to be able to. Also bought all my film and polarizing filters for my Canon.

Bought mosquito coils and holder. I have to call the doctor for malaria pills and I should probably update my tetanus shot. I've refilled my prescriptions so am well prepared. On Monday, I will start a tanning regimen at the local tanning salon. I've never done that before but I am soooo white that any head start on a tan will help.

Unpacked my pareus and summer clothes. I really don't need any more as we are really traveling light. I have three! bathing suits - that was a surprise. Better to have too many, I guess.

We arrive in Belize City on a Sunday which means that the boats aren't running to the cayes so we might have to stay one night in the city. We have decided to go to Caye Caulker for three or four days to just relax and unwind before we head out to the boonies to explore the country. We've been reading the books and studying the map and looks like we will go north first to Chetumal which is just across the border in Mexico. Then through Orange Walk to San Ignacio and stay in jungle lodges on the rivers. Maybe even do a canoe trip through the jungle. Then down south to Dangriga, Hopkins and Placentia. This is the area that intrigues me with the Garifuna who are a mix of African and Caribbean descendants. These are very small towns, very local, and they sound like just my style.

After that we go down to Punta Gorda at the southern end of the country where we will most likely take a ferry to Livingston in Guatemala. Then, depending on our timing, and how we liked them, go back to the cayes for a day or two before heading home.

Despite the fact that Belize is only 174 miles long and 65 miles wide, it has so much to offer - ocean, mountains, lowlands, ruins, animals and birds, flowers - and the list goes on. I don't expect we will be able to do all that we want to. But that just gives us an excuse to go back again.

Susan M --2 weeks and counting.

Here I am in analysis paralysis again! What if I take dresses and get that awful warm-weather-chafing? (Link to powder at self-care or How about shorts? No, I just look too weird in shorts and never mind tanning - freckling, that's what I do.So I am taking Autobronzant Lumiereicon icon Khakis are comfy and so they don't mistake me for a guy -just cut my hair really short- I will take some yummy girl stuff. Susan has most of the essentials covered, God bless her.Several cameras, the laptop to stay in touch, all kinds of itinerary and accommodation ideas.

The novel, John Grisham's The Brethren that I have decided to bring on the trip looks pretty exciting. And Susan C will enjoy reading it too.

Seems I am in the habit of assigning "redeeming values" to everything - even just relaxing. Example: while I am hanging out in the hammock I have also decided to read up on the prospect of teaching English as a Second Language in Mexico and also the idea has sprouted to live with a family in Guadalajara while attending the 5 week intensive language courses offered at the University there.

Travel tip: hot weather really zaps your strength so, in the Yucatan, Susan and I brought spray bottles and took turns spraying each other as we zoomed along the highway in the little VW bug with the windows down. Works great. Better than a/c. I will have to be careful this time because Susan has new sunglasses and might get miffed if I get them all spotty. Friendship does have its limits...

Susan C:Looking at the stuff Susan is bringing reminded me that we need to take a small first aid kit with us -- cuts and scrapes and bites in the tropics can get nasty quickly. We will take bug repellent that is also a sunscreen called Sun & Bug Stuff, plus antibiotic cream and bandaids etc. We'll get stuff we can both use so we don't double our weight and baggage.

Before we know it, we'll be on our way, and I keep thinking of Jimmy Buffett's songs -- "I want to go where it's warm" and "Holiday" I am not cut out for this Pacific Northwest weather!

5 days to go

Susan C:Time is flying by and we are really starting to believe that we are really going. I think it was the trip to the health department for shots that made it sink in - I had to have a typhoid shot and a tetanus booster. I can't remember how long ago it was since I had one.

Then called the doctor for a prescription for anti-malaria tablets. One a week. I got methlaquine and Susan M decided to take chloraquine. I hope both are equally effective!

It's been a rush trying to get the bills taken care of before leaving and making sure the house is clean and ready for my kitty sitter. I wonder what I will forget to do. I know Chelsea already knows something is up.

I found that the laptop I use for my "real" job won't allow me to hook up a digital camera so I decided to go get another laptop - something I've been thinking about for a while. So bought a nice little Compaq Presario - not top of the line but certainly sufficient.

The last few days have been spent getting that computer up to speed, loading software and making sure everything works. Then Susan's daughter-in-law-to-be loaned us a camcorder! Oh man, are we digitized! We will have memories and pictures that won't quit!

My clothes are piled all over my bed - I'm trying to decide what to take. It's a riot of color - so different from the dark things I tend to wear in the cold climates.I usually end up taking too much stuff and end up with clean clothes squirreled away at the bottom of my bag. I've got the bug repellent and sunscreen and anti-itch stuff. And because we have mostly cotton clothes I decided to get a small travel iron from Magellan's. And because last time we traveled we ended up drinking Nescafe we bought a small travel coffee maker! Talk about going in style.

Part of the trip has taken on a different aspect as I have an assignment to interview a couple of adventurers who are kayaking down the coast from Baja California to Costa Rica. So it looks like we will take a short trip into Honduras so I can interview, audio record and photograph them! Sounds like fun to me. Luke, one of the adventurers gave us tips on where to stay in Placentia as they spent a lot of time there on the way down. I told him we are on a budget so the place he recommended is about $30 a night for the two of us. I think we can handle that!!

March 11, 2000

The flight wasn't too bad but red eye's are always miserable. All the last minute rush really drained me and I thought I had plenty of time to do everything that I had left till the last minute. But as it happened it was a busy day at work and by the time I had got everything done, gone to the market, finished laundry and cleaned up the house it was time to go to Susan's.

My car fit perfectly in her garage and we loaded the rest of her stuff into this enormous bag of mine and headed out. No stops on the way and we made the ferry with a few minutes to spare.
We figured we probably wouldn't get much to eat on a flight that left at 11:45 so grabbed a bowl of clam chowder on the boat.

The hotel van dropped us at the terminal - hurry up and wait.
We both slept the first leg to Dallas. Susan slept the second - I didn't and then we had a delay in Miami. Apparently the plane we were supposed to get was "kaput" to use the reservations agents word, which wasn't exactly encouraging. But the wait wasn't too bad and we got off the ground about and hour and a half late.

Great flight down and coming into Belize the pilot brought us in low and slow so we could see the colors of the water and the reefs, and lagoons and jungles. I already knew that I was goner. We flew in right over the Belize River and the airstrip is pretty much cut out of the jungle. No cover walkways - just a roll up ramp and warm, moist tropical air. What a treat!

Immigration was no hassle - neither was customs - and we were out into the world, to see a very large Belizean gentleman named Kevin Lewis holding a board with my name on it. Yay - he had arranged to meet us with the rental car. He has a delicious, deep English accented voice. So courteous and pleasant. The only jarring note was the cell phone - it is the same as mine at home and even is programmed to the same ring - every time it rang I jumped and almost instinctively reached for it until I realized I had left my electronic leash behind.

Mr. Lewis drove us into Belize City and we picked up our Geo Tracker - bright red soft top. It has a couple of idiosyncrasies that we have to work with - a previous renter had had to have the starter fixed and the mechanic sort of hot-wired it! So you turn the key on and then press the starter button that is hanging by wires from under the steering column. Very well insulated so I won't fry myself!

Mr. Lewis is a musician and will be playing with his band in San Ignacio over the weekend. What a great excuse for our birthday parties! Our big decision was whether to go north or south out of Belize City and the south got the vote.

With only one wrong turn we were on the highway. Air temperature about 75 with a pleasant breeze and instructions to go past the Belize Zoo and turn left at the gas station. Driving can be a little hairy but there was very little traffic and we recognized out turn off onto a very bumpy, very dusty red dirt road. But beautiful! The vegetation in the area was pretty scrubby but lusher than the Yucatan. And lots and lots of rivers, overhung with vines and palm trees. The water in the streams is crystal clear and we were tempted to join a young Mayan man swimming but resisted as it was getting late and if were to reach Gales Point before nightfall we'd have to get a move on.

Gales Point

Culture shock is how you could describe Gales Point. Picturesque, true Caribbean are other terms. The dirt road narrowed as we drove into the village. Small wooden houses on stilts, some more tilting than others were set back from the road. Ramshackle by American standards, but absolutely charming. People were sitting on their porches hanging out, and the palm trees leaned over the road. The late afternoon sun sparkled on the water of the lagoons that are separate by this long skinny peninsula.

In our reading about the area we had discovered that there is a bed and breakfast co-op in the village but we were rather late getting in and had not planned anything about a place to stay. We had also read about Manatee Lodge and thought that perhaps, just this one night we would splurge and get a "real" room as we were pretty tired and grubby. But… oops the place was full. A group of 13 people were scheduled to arrive that night.

It's a beautiful place set in well-manicured lawns, the white and green painted main building looking fresh against the backdrop of the lagoons.

Now what?

We could drive on to Dangriga but I really didn't want to drive the road at night. Or we could rent a tent from Yvette at Yvette's Store. Or…

We drove back through the village feeling a little deflated and stopped at Yvette's, where we had earlier found out about her tents and bought ice-cold water. Yvette is a wiry little Caribbean lady with dreadlock hair that is wild! She is full of advice and happy to talk. She rushed off to put on her best hat before she would let me take a picture.

Anyway, we started to ask her where we could stay and she said
she'd take us to one of the b&b's. It ended up that John Moore, who works at the Manatee, brought us down to Mr. and Mrs. Perez, who are part of the co-op.

Mrs. Perez, Elaine, is charming and said of course we could stay.
She rushed around to put clean sheets on the beds and get things cleaned up for us.

Picture this.

Yard all raked and tidy.Several friendly, but skinny dogs. Chickens and roosters scratching around. Coconut palms loaded with green coconuts swaying and rustling in the breeze. Several small houses placed haphazardly on the property, all of them in what appears to be a state of disrepair.

We wonder where the rooms are! Is there indoor plumbing and please,
please let there be a shower. As we rummaged in the bags to get just what we needed for the night a young man appeared who introduced himself as Francisco Perez. Then his pretty little girlfriend Valerie walked over and we were taken to our rooms.

Up stairs in the dark and very proudly shown into our rooms.
There are no building codes!

The rooms are sparsely furnished, each with a bed, table and chair and some shelves. Mine has a ¾ bed and Susan has a double. There is no glass in the windows, just storm shutters and screens, which we discovered in the morning are more for show than function. The bathroom at the end has a sink with water; there is a toilet and shower. What more could we want!

Elaine was willing to cook dinner for us and while she was preparing it we decided to walk down to Gentle's Cool Spot for a beer. We had seen the little place as we drove in. A sort-of screened in veranda with tables and chairs, chickens scurrying in the yard and numerous dogs lounging around.

The guide book had billed it as a "pavillion restaurant." A bit of a stretch, I'd say.

As we walked down the dirt road from our room, a Range Rover came toward us and stopped and an American voice attached to a small blonde woman introduced herself as Nancy, owner of the Manatee Lodge. She had had a cancellation and was concerned that we were driving the Coastal road at night. But she had heard from one of the locals that we were staying with the Perez.

So pleasant, and the entire place has a sense of community that is sorely lacking in the United States. I can't remember when was the last time I have seen so many people so happy and smiling and wishing each other well. It makes one wonder how essential all the stuff is that we gather around us.

We were welcomed at Gentle's by Mr. Gentle himself. Other guests greeted us with "Good Night" and we thought that the place was closed and they wanted us to leave. But that is the greeting for the evening.

And so to our first Beliken beer! Boy did it go down easy! And being so tired it went right to our heads. There were a couple of Americans there, a Rasta mon named Egbert and a young woman called Cynthia. We didn't stay long and came home to chicken and rice and homemade bread and mango jam. What a treat!

Not long after dinner, after a cool shower we were both sound asleep, to be wakened in the night by pounding rain on the tin roof. What a wonderful sound, and the moisture heavy air wafted through the rooms, assisted by the fans we had going. I think there were two storms that rolled through and I woke to the sound of roosters crowing and dogs barking.

It was light outside but overcast. The temperature was in the mid seventies - just perfect. I made my way through to the bathroom and noticed that there were no screens or windows in the shower - just open to the world. You can just stand there and gaze out at the lagoon and palms and hills in the background. I hadn't had a chance to take too many pictures of the village so grabbed my camera and headed out, leaving the other Susan asleep.

I was greeted by "good morning' coming our from under one of the houses. Mr. Perez and one of the Americans from Gentle's, who introduced himself as Michael, were chatting out of the drips under the house. Michael has 1,000 acres of land across the lagoon that he is selling. An ex-patriate he lives in the western part of Belize near San Ignacio and is raising horses there. What and interesting man. He had so much to say about the country and is in the process of getting citizenship. When I asked him why here, he said that this is paradise. He has traveled all over the world, too. He emphasized the freedom he feels here, the mix of cultures and the wonderful land that can be bought.

And even after being here for such a short time, I know the feeling. I feel safe here. The people are kind and friendly though Michael did say that some of the young people get up to "mischief" and that it is wise to lock doors etc. But that is something that I do anywhere so it didn't bother me at all. Michael left shortly after that, but I would have liked to have talked to him more. By this time Susan was awake and breakfast was ready.

Elaine again overfed us with fresh papaya, homemade bread, a wonderful oatmeal with a hint of pepper and scrambled eggs that she had probably collected just this morning. And the ubiquitous Nescafe! With sweetened condensed milk. Not bad. But we didn't get to use the new coffee maker!

When we asked Elaine what her plans were for the day she said, "Cook, sweep a little and…watch "The price is right." We just about died laughing. I don't know how she watches anything; there is so much snow on the television. It's really no wonder the TV is so snowy - the antenna is held together with bits and pieces of rope and wire with an occasional wire coat hanger thrown in for good luck.

Breakfast over we wandered back toward the main part of the village, chatted with Mr. Gentle and stopped at Yvette's for orange juice. After a consultation over the map, we decided that we would stay another night. And after talking to Francisco, we decided to take the manatee watch tour with him tomorrow morning "whenever we want to go."

By the time I am writing this we have been in the village for 3 ½ days! Every day we think, "shall we just stay another day? And of course Mrs. Perez says yes Stay 100 more days.

We have been accepted into this community like I never have anywhere else! It is quite an amazing experience and especially for me, it's been a stretch as far as the racial divide goes. Here I am staying in a predominantly black village where there is no racial tension and where for the first time in my life the people have no color, they are just people. After living in Richmond, California and being scared to go out on my own, here I walk down the street saying hullo to anyone and everyone, rasta men missing teeth, old black ladies with gray woolly hair, kids, dogs and of course, Mr. Gentle.

Our first full day we drove down to Dangriga. As we turned onto the main dirt road we saw someone walking and I recognized her as the one who had been at Gentles the night before, so we gave her a lift to town. She was going to walk until either the bus picked her up or she got a ride.

Cynthia told us she has five kids and that her husband is a cop but that he works in Orange Walk now so she doesn't see him much. When we arrived at her house, she was all excited because he cousin, who was watching the kids while she was gone had done all the laundry!

It's a messy little town that didn't impress us. Drove around a bit, bought some flip flops that gave me a blister and ended up at the end of a road at the Malibu Club.

We find the best places at the end of roads!

We walked into the club that is set right on the beach. The main part of the building is round and thatched with palm leaves and two pool tables take up some of the space. Far across the other side two men were sitting at the bar. Brothers, they said, Austin and Charlie.

Welcome to paradise is how we were greeted. Charlie quit his job at Xerox after 25 years to return home and Austin had survived 3 years in the states before coming home. Interesting men who invited us out to his island. But we decided against it for the moment as they were pretty far into a bottle of brandy and milk! Interesting drink.

But the thing that interested me was the fact that there is aquaculture in Belize. They are shrimp farming and someone is thinking of oyster farming but that has to be done in perfectly clear water. These guys had an English mother and Creole father and after some thought, Austin said he sort of remembered that they had a cousin in Gales Point. Johnny, and be sure to say hi to him. OK.

The same bumpy, dusty road getting back and a bit of surprise - no water - a big bucket of fresh water delivered to the bathroom for sponge baths.

Oh well, certainly not a five star hotel! But I wouldn't have it any other way.
That night it was a cabbage-type soup, and the most amazing pudding - sweet potatoes and stuff that was smoked - I think it had a nutmeg flavor too. But it was certainly different and Susan said it stayed with her all night.

As the time rolled by the sparsely furnished, basic accommodations sort of melted into the background as we were drawn into the village life. We were accepted into their lives with no expectations. The family treated us as family and we did the same. There was nothing contrived about it, it was all so natural.

The following day the boys took us manatee watching. We climbed into their old canoe and young Leon fired up the outboard and we went slowly down the lagoon.

But we had a stop to make on the way - Cisco had run ahead of us down to the Lodge and was
throwing his fishing net off the pier for bait. John, who had first taken us to the Perez house, gave him a hard time about catching tarpon. You take a hook, put some bait on it and that's what you do! Another young man came to watch, and leaned on his upturned rake, also giving advice. No hurries, no worries.

Bait in bucket, all aboard and off we went, out to the manatee hole that is staked with a couple of poles. The hole is actually an underwater fresh water spring and the manatees hang out and live there. The water in the lagoon is fairly murky so the only way we would spot them is if they spouted or we saw the transmitters that are attached to their tails for tracking - two little orange baubles floating around. The manatees are being tracked by VHF radio and satellite, as more information is needed on the behaviors so that they can be protected. Currently five have been tagged and they pretty much all stay within the lagoon although apparently there is one who will go out to sea for the day and then come back at night.

Gales Point Adventure

We headed out to the sea after the sighting, winding through mangrove-shrouded islands, their roots forming a maze in the shallow waters. In the trees great white herons and blue herons festooned the branches, and as we neared the open sea, royal terns swooped overhead.

The mouth of the river emptied into the Caribbean Sea and bisected long white beaches, strewn with coconuts and palm fronds.
This is the beach where unsuspecting villagers have come across illicit drugs that have been dumped offshore. The first time cocaine was found, not one of the local people knew what it was, and the story goes that the drug dealers came to town, looking for the wayward contraband. Apparently, they conducted their investigations rather brutally. After more drugs were found on the beach, the government sent people down to quell the pushers and things have quieted down since then.

But thoughts of pushers and drugs were far from our thoughts as we beached the canoe and went swimming. The water was bathtub temperature and I had a chance to
check out the new underwater camera to see if it works - it does, and it floats.

Very cool.
Cisco was wandering along the edge of the bush, as if he was looking for something. He came back with a cobra vine, an odd, succulent plant that looked like a viper, but the ring of tiny flowers around its neck, neutralized the look. He collected other odds and ends that he told me saved.

We sat on the beach and Cisco told me how he had come back to the village because his parents are getting old and he wants to be able to take care of them. He is an unassuming, spiritually aware young man. Both young men are very aware of the necessity of protecting the environment and well versed in the native flora and fauna.

The big treat came as we were walking along the sand to the canoe. Leon went ahead and grabbed a machete out of the boat and disappeared. A minute or two later he reappeared with four green coconuts. Very efficiently he hulled two of them, and opened up one of the "eyes" of the fruit, handing them to us. I haven't had fresh coconut milk since I was cruising in the South Pacific. It was heavenly! He simply cut the tops off for himself and his brother!

We stood there, feet in the cool water, drinking from the coconuts and wondering how we could ever go home.

As if hadn't had enough "tour," we were treated to something that I don't think is on the normal tour route. "Do you like pigs?" Leon asked? "Baby pigs?" we queried.

Yes, and off we went to a farm on the shore.
As we pulled closer to the bank several scrawny dogs started barking and I was beginning to take the no trespassing sign seriously. But as we got closer the boys cried, "Look," and we saw a couple of dozen hairy strange looking pigs rushing to meet us. Thank goodness for the sturdy fence that held them back. As we clambered ashore, Susan murmured under her breath, "I wonder what the ecoli count is here."

A very shabby-looking man, who we found out later is called Tula, ambled towards us, calling out in Creole. When he saw who it was, he beamed, exposing a vast expanse of gums and jagged teeth stumps. Cisco told him we had come to see the piglets and so he turns round calling, "Here pig, pig, pig."

I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Little piglets running out from under bushes and trees to follow him like the Pied Piper. They knew he had food for them and when the big pigs figured that out, they all started oinking and snorting causing a huge ruckus.

Susan, the brave soul, picked up one of the piglets and it was so indignant that it peed all over her hand! Yuck! But she's a trouper and sort of shook her hand dry and smiled.

One of the little ones had been hand reared by Tula, and it was completely unafraid. He followed us around and had us - almost - rolling on the ground laughing as he itched himself against a post. Not just one little rub, but he found the right spot and the look of ecstasy on his little face was just too much for us. And he kept at if for several minutes as we wiped the tears off our faces. If we had had a video camera with us it would have taken the prize for Funniest Animal Video.


It was time for us to head back, Susan was fried. Her face was on fire and the back of her neck had really been burned.

We got back to our room and hooray, there was water for showers. And boy, did that cool water feel good in the open air shower. Susan got a kick out of me when I came out of the shower. "I had a great shower," I said, "And there was even water!" It sounded right at the time!

It was the night to try some of Mr. Gentle's homemade wine and we decided to taste test the grapefruit wine. It is delicious but I think could be even better when poured over ice as it is very sweet, a dessert wine. But that didn't stop us finishing off the bottle, going home for dinner and then going to the drum school.

A young man from the village has developed the school to help keep traditional drumming alive. He not only teaches drumming, but makes the drums as well. As we walked down the sandy lane, moonlight on the water on both sides of the peninsula, Cisco and Leon as companions, we heard the first rhythms faintly on the wind. As we got closer we could feel the vibrations as much as hear them.

The school is a small house on stilts like most of the houses in the village, and like most of the houses the stairs tend to be steep and uneven. Inside, standing at the set of African drums stood Emmeth Young.

Hair in dreads and wearing colorful African influenced clothing, he didn't miss a beat as we came in and sat down on hand-hewn benches. Drums of all sizes and styles lined the walls and his drum making equipment - saws, hammers etc. - were hanging from nails on the walls. Dried animal skins were stashed in the rafters. A naked light bulb lit the place with a harsh light. Another young light-skinned man was seated off to the side, also drumming.

Involuntarily, my feet started tapping, and I could feel my body start swaying. The sounds were hypnotic, and the joy and passion that Emmeth feels for his music was evident on his face. He would break into an enormous grin as he played, his hands moving so fast that they were a blur, all that you could see were his white nails. Cisco joined in and with great skill, Emmeth instructed him on the beat and as he got the hang of it, Emmeth joined in, improvising. The sounds are unforgettable.

That was an experience I will remember forever. To be able to sit there, in that exotic setting, and have the sounds and rhythms literally take you away, is truly a spiritual experience.

When we got home, young Leon sort of sidled up to us and asked where we were headed the next day. When we told him we planned to head south he looked so disheartened that we had to ask what was on his mind. He said his dog, King was sick and that he needed to take him to Belize City to the vet. We took a look at the dog and saw that he was indeed a very sick puppy, so we changed out plans and told him we would take him to the city in the morning. I can't imagine what it would be like to try to take a dog on the bus for and hour and a half each way.

Up early, we loaded Leon and King in the back and off we went. It was hot and the dog was very uncomfortable. The first vet we went to was closed and as luck would have it, the second was open and were able to take a look at King. Heartworms and a temperature that was so high it went right off the thermometer.

It didn't look good and they kept him there for a few hours while we went to do Elaine's grocery shopping. Belize City is a bustling, noisy town with some lovely old buildings. Unfortunately it has a bad reputation for violence and crime. The streets are lined with street vendors selling everything from corn on the cob and tamales to roasted cashews and wedges of watermelon to beads and hats. The supermarket was well stocked and we met friends of Leon as we walked the aisles. Sugar, flour and other similar foods were bagged in plain plastic bags, obviously individually packaged from bulk stores. Everything necessary for basic living was available.

We did our chores, which included checking email and went for lunch. Typical young person, Leon suggested a pizza! Not to disappoint him we went but along with the pizza the restaurant had a variety of Belizean food and even he chose not to have pizza.

When we got back to the vet, Dr. Jane Crawford who was trained in Cuba, told us that she hadn't been able to identify the infection that was causing the temperature but that we could take him home. If he recovered, he would need ongoing preventative care. Leon was almost in tears, poor kid.

We have since learned that King has recovered and is doing fine. But we now have shares in a bull terrier in Belize!

In Gale's Point, everyone has a business and one of our favorites is the icecream maker. Hand-made, old-fashioned made with evaporated milk, we tasted soursop, papaya-mango and chocolate. But boy, you have to eat it fast or it ends up as a drink in the little plastic cup! It became the place to go in the late afternoon.

That night was cashew wine night at Mr. Gentle's. Good, but again very sweet.

Early the next morning, before we left we went for a walk and saw one of our favorite people. Egbert is a rasta with dreads and also missing some teeth. He has a garden that he is very proud of and we came away with a papaya, soursop and a custard apple that he grew.I can remember having a big custard apple tree where I grew up and there were always old cars, in various stages of repair parked under it. He was so sweet and told us he would help build us a house when we come back!

Ok, so we finally decide that we must get on the road and load everything up into the little red car, say fond farewells and head down to Emmeth's drum school for a few more pictures. Little did I know that Susan had picked up the rhythms the night before and before I knew it she had the sticks and was playing! And Emmeth joined in, improvising until she finally lost it! When Emmeth heard it was Susan's 50th Birthday, he sang a full calypso version of Happy Birthday, much to her delight! It's not everyone who gets her own version of that perennial song!

Slowly we left Gales Point, waving to everyone until we were flagged down by a man at the side of the road. We thought he was looking for a lift but he told us that a young pregnant woman had fallen down the stairs and hurt her shoulder.

"Mother Susan" leaped into action and before I knew it, she had Doris settled comfortably with an ice pack from our first aid kit on her shoulder, and myself heading back to the Lodge to find someone in a bigger car to take her to hospital. Karen, the manager of the hotel was already planning to go into Dangriga and immediately got into her car and followed me back to the accident scene.

"Doris," Karen said, "I know you didn't like the schedule, but this is a bit much!" That elicited a very pained smile from Doris, who works at the Lodge.

Feeling comfortable that the situation was under control, we finally got on the very bumpy trail.

(Doris and the baby are fine after first the Dangriga hospital and then the following day to Belize City for more care.

Belize has speed bumps on the roads before and after each village and around the schools. Although some are signed, quite often the distance noted doesn't correspond to the actual distance so we often had some nasty surprises! We ended up with several types of bumps in our vocabulary. "hold on!" "oh shit!" and "Whoa! Are you OK?" as we got launched over some of them!

Of course the dirt roads were their own hazard and I became quite efficient at skirting some of the worst holes and bumps, although there were times that we were sideways!

Instead of going south immediately, we decided to head up to the Western District and San Ignacio that we had heard was very beautiful. We wound along the road up into the hills, with the vegetation changing to more scrubby jungle and vast areas that have been cleared for cattle ranches. We passed several sawmills and a big agricultural college. Small towns and villages dotted the landscape. At times we ran alongside the Mopan River and we decided, by looking in our guidebooks that we could stay in San Ignacio.

Well, we found that we had missed San Ignacio, it was a lot smaller "in person" than it looked on the map and we ended up at the Guatemala border! That was not very nice-looking at all and we immediately turned and headed back the way we had come!

Missing San Ignacio was a godsend as we ended up at Clarissa Falls, a wonderful place on the Mopan River. The hotel is set on a Mayan mound and is run by a Mayan family that owns the surrounding farmlands. Our room was a bamboo sided, thatched cottage with plenty of water and a very noisy fan.

Clarissa Falls

I couldn't wait to get into the water and went down to the river. The water was clear and silky cool. Tiny little fish swarmed around me as I slid into the water, bumping against me as they checked me out. A gentle current propelled me downstream, overhanging jungle shading the river. Just think, thousands of years ago, Mayans swam in the same river, washed their clothes here, and used the water for cooking and growing their crops. I closed my eyes and imagined the activities as brilliant green parrots flew overhead.

After a lazy float, I knew that I would have to insist that Susan come down to the water despite the fact that she was sunburned and afraid to get out in the sun again. But with the river so shaded she would be fine.

After that refreshing swim we went up to the veranda and had a beer, watched all the while by the ever-present "Butcher," the resident parrot. He - or she - had adopted a visitor called Tom and was very jealous of anyone who came near him, including the help.

As we sat there, enjoying the ambience, a double rainbow formed in the north. Huge thunderheads rolled over the hills and the rainbows dipped down, pointing to a pot of gold amongst the palm trees.


Birthday dinner time and we had one of the best meals of the entire trip. I had a national dish called sere, which is a fish stew made with coconut milk and local vegetables that include yams, potatoes, squash and onions. Served with rice and fried plantain, it was "to die for." Susan had a chicken dish made with some type of black seasoning that was also delicious and we washed it down with beer. The owner's sister who helps run the hotel said that good things always happen on that Maya mound and I know I could feel the good "vibes" emanating from the earth.

Both of us slept well, no bugs at all and after a good breakfast we hit the road again.

Belmopan is the capital of the country and is right smack dab in the middle. Made up mostly of government buildings it is rather drab. We stopped long enough to go to the bank and for Susan to call home and for a visit to the market.

The market was very colorful, with stalls filled with wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. While Susan sat in the shade at the International Café, I went shopping and bought tangerines, bananas and a papaya. The young Maya woman was charming and helpful and as I took pictures I heard the sound of a small baby. On closer inspection I saw her child, smiling and gurgling happily in a cardboard fruit box!

We made one wrong turn on our way out and then found the Hummingbird Highway and headed south again. What a beautiful trip! Up through the hills and jungle. Acres and acres of citrus and banana plantations woven together with a network of rivers. Mayan villages dotted the sides of the roads with Beliken Beer signs slung on the sides of the huts. The air temperature was cool - well, relatively cool - probably about 75 Fahrenheit and very pleasant.

We were headed for Placentia, a small village on a peninsula that we had heard was delightful and as we drove down the road we were surprised to see For Sale/Sold signs all along the beach. Tiny lots lined up for miles. The developers are there and although not many have any development on them, it appears that you would need at least four lots to make it worthwhile.

Our stay in Placentia was rather disappointing but I think we got it on an off night. But last night it just didn't feel right and it was probably because it was a Friday night with a lot of out-of-towners and spring break kids.

Our guesthouse, Julia and Lawrence's Guest house was very pleasant, everything was brand new; new crisp sheets, towels that smelled like they had just been unwrapped, new beds. We paid $65 BZ that works out to $32.50 US for the night. Not bad.

We also had our first experience of a local trying to pick us up! Being 50 and 51 respectively, on one hand we were flattered and on the other, it's a little un-nerving to have the hard press put on you by some guy called Rufus! When Susan went back out on the verandah where he had been, she took her Swiss Army knife for protection. She should have taken her alert whistle with her as well!

Our attempt to eat at Cozy' was aborted after we waited and waited for our food and I was so looking forward to conch fritters! Somehow the order must have got lost in the shuffle and it never appeared. But we actually were ready to leave after being regaled with political stories by Mr. Watler, Belize poet laureate. He is a highly intelligent man, but no one else can get a word in. Even his girlfriend left! So we went to Daisy's instead, and I had conch fritters there. But even there, the young men were loud and obnoxious, and the language flying around was turning the air blue.

On to Punta Gorda Town

But we did find an Internet café and could check and send email. I have put off going to Honduras to meet up with the guys, as it would probably take about five days to get it done. I suggested he comes up here but that won't work for him so I think it will have to be a phone interview and then maybe later I can catch them in Costa Rica. It's not the first time I have done long-distance stories and they have such great photos on the site that we can use, I'm sure it will be just fine.

Today is my birthday! I got up really early to wander around town. Nobody was up and it really is a very pretty place. There were several sailboats anchored out and pangas pulled up on the beach. I tried to find somewhere that had coffee but nothing was open. So meandered back to the guesthouse down the sidewalk that runs through the middle of the town. Susan was up and we decided to head out as soon as we could. Although the early morning walk had given me a different perspective on the village we were anxious to get south.

We made it down to Punta Gorda Town around 1:30 or so. The road was horrendous in a lot of places and we felt like we should have been wearing kidney belts! But what glorious country, miles upon miles of forest interspersed with citrus groves, banana plantations and small Mayan villages. Barely any traffic at all, just the buses and each time we saw one we were very grateful to have our own car. They drive rather fast and stop every few miles to pick up and drop off passengers who seem to appear at random spots along the road. And of course our schedule is so haphazard that it would have been really difficult to plan anything, let alone connections on the buses.

PG Town is definitely the end of the road and we always seem to find the best places at the end of the road. Susan was really happy to get here - neither of us really had any idea what the roads would be like and how tiring it can be driving and riding as passenger. It's a real workout!

And after the trip we were again covered from head to toe in red dust. It sticks to everything and my hair felt thick and furry from the combination of sweat and dust. Charming! Not a chance of getting a brush through it - maybe I should get my hair braided with beads and go native.

We meandered through town and the feel is of Hawaii, with the soft air and fragrant breezes. The vegetation reminded me of the Hana Road on Maui, with flowering trees and vines and huge leafed plants, some I could identify and some brand new to me. We pulled under the shade of a tree and chose Nature's Way out of our books. A guesthouse that is making it very affordable to stay here - just $26 BZ (US$13) for the room. And what a charming place

The garden is a riot of plants. We have a granadilla plant right outside the window and orchids growing in the trees that surround the building. A huge frangipani is next to one of the windows with the scent wafting through here.

The sign outside said For Sale, so I immediately had thoughts of buying the place and bringing my sister and her husband over to help me run the place, but fortunately (or unfortunately!)we discovered that it is just the lot alongside the guest house that is for sale. Talk about a lot of work - this place would most likely fall down if the termites stopped holding hands. The planked floor in our room has several boards that are completely hollow, and the window sills have little piles of termite detritus. But this is what makes it inexpensive and charming.

Nature's Way

For lunch we went to the Punta Caliente for lunch and what a great lunch it was. I had hudut which is similar to the sere we had at Clarissa Falls. A whole snapper is fried and then served in a soup made of coconut milk and other seasonings. Alongside it was served a mound of mashed, seasoned plaintain that was delicious. Add a Beliken beer and I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven for my birthday.

The breeze was blowing through the building and it was deliciously cool. Susan had been feeling the effects of a high carbo, low fiber diet so she opted for stewed beans and rice as opposed to rice and beans. Rice and beans are cooked together with coconut milk, while stewed beans and rice are served separately.

Back at the hotel, we were very lazy and it just felt right to hang out and do nothing. We were thinking about going to listen to Punta Rock at the hotel, but thinking about it was as close as we got. Punta Rock is a combination of calypso and West African rythyms that is peculiar to Belize. Why would we want to go and have our ears pounded when we have the sound of the waves on the shore right across the street and the almost-sambai moon shining in through the window. It may not be the way a lot of people would celebrate a birthday, but for me this is heaven. Besides, as much as I enjoy drumming I think it would have been just a bit too much for two unattached women to walk into a bar with a lot of dancing, singing Garifunas rocking out to the beat.

We have been drinking gallons of water in this heat and the back of the car is filled with quart - or as the Creoles pronounce it "kwart" - plastic bottles. But we were getting low on supplies so I thought I'd find a store and get a supply for the evening. Diane, the owner of the guest house, was sitting at the front gate surrounded by her five children, the oldest giving her a manicure. When I asked where the closest store was, she said, "Go up the road and turn left at the mango tree."

I discovered plaintain chips at the store - and we are hooked. Not only are they delicious and made in Belize, but they are very high in the necessary fiber. So my birthday dinner consisted of plaintain chips, coco yam chips and a papaya sliced very carefully and eaten from the point of my pocket knife. The pineapple will have to wait till I have a plate or the resident ants will be all over the juice which will surely spill on the planked floor.

The birds' dawn chorus woke me after sleeping like a log with the breeze blowing over me. I heard people up really early going to catch the bus. Just another reason for us not to travel by public transportation. But for those who must, the system appears to be fairly reliable. Susan was still snoozing and I enjoyed the solitude of the morning as the sun rose over the Caribbean, lighting up the billowing cumulous clouds on the horizon. A slight, warm breeze ruffled the trees outside as I contemplated the day, and whether we would have running water enough to do any laundry!

The downside of staying in these little guest houses is that sometimes what we consider necessities, like continuous availability of running water, don't exist. It's sort of luck of the draw whether the water is running or not!

Both of us feel lazy today and decided to do "just one more night" here. This place is heavenly and every plant I know lives here. Even avocados grow, right alongside the guava trees, just like in South Africa. Granadillas are growing and orchids sprout out of trees. It really is a Garden of Eden and I think I have found my home. As Jimmy Buffet sings, "You can have the rest of everything I own, 'cause I have found me a home." The rent is cheap, fruit is plentiful, internet access is available via wireless modem. Airtime is fairly inexpensive so what else do I need? When people come to visit I will recommend that they fly from Belize straight to PG.

78 Front St

Today I rented a house on the Caribbean. My new address is 78 Front Street, Punta Gorda, Belize, Central America. I should know for sure tomorrow after Diane talks to her husband Chet who is in Laguna Beach.

Happy Birthday Susan. This means that I am living my life as I want to live - I can still most likely continue to work for Quokka and I already picked up my first job setting up John's daughter Nicole's computer. PG Town made me feel young and alive again. The architecture of the government buildings reminded me so much of old Durban when I was growing up.

When we went into the Post Office, it was hilarious. It joins the Courthouse and when you walk into the office, there is a long counter and to the left is a wooden arch mounted on the counter with Stamps printed on it. Behind the counter, a gentleman sat at his desk. We asked for some stamps as we stood side by side at the main counter. He languidly got up from his desk and indicated that he would sell us stamps, but we had to stand at the stamp arch! It was really hard to keep a straight face.

Postscript: Circumstances have changed (notably my two sons need me as a base for a while and the stock market took a dive)so I have put off my move to Belize for a year or two. The dream is definitely not dead, just on hold. So I will continue with contract work but in Southern California so Ryan and Cody can live with me.

The area seems to attract a wide variety of people and most are adventurers and oddballs. Dr. Lau is a 72-year-old botanist known around the world as the King of Cactus. I called him the Prince of Passion Flowers. He had just returned from leading a two month long expedition into the Amazon in search of new plant species. I was intrigued with his vast knowledge of flowers and particularly passion flowers.

I saw the first flowers outside our window the first morning and couldn't believe it! Granadillas growing right outside. Later he told us at length about the various species and brought books filled with passionflower pictures. The garden at Nature's Way is a paradise, filled with orchids, ornamental gingers and hibiscus. Lizards and iguanas scuttled about in a feeding frenzy. To me, this is heaven.

Damian, who runs the hotel has five children ranging in age from 15 down to three and all have their daily chores around the place. Even the youngest, little Diane assists her big sisters. Thomas, who is ten, cooked and served us breakfast with as much aplomb as any adult. Scrambled eggs, toast, coffee fruit and juice served on the veranda. It can't get any better than that. The two dogs, Whitey and Blackie sat at our feet while the lone puppy Sheba, bounced around.

We were concerned about the health of the animals after the episode with King in Gales Point. All the animals were covered with fleas and poor little Sheba was going frantic. But as Susan says, "they are used to it." So we did nothing.

PG Town

A couple of months before we left the States, I had written to a couple near PG about caretaking their self-sustaining farm and so we spent a day visiting with Alfredo out at Dem Dats Doin.

What an interesting place, with a biogas digester, solar energy, about ninety varieties of fruits and untold numbers of trees. It is way out in the jungle and if I were to take the job of caretaker, which is during the rainy season next year, I think I would like to have someone stay out there with me. It could be a real handful by myself. But it was so interesting, learning about the plants and sustainable living. They even make perfume using the flowers and we came home with ylang ylang flowers whose heady fragrance stays with them forever.

Alfredo took us throughout the property, taste-testing some very intriguing fruits! Some that looked inviting but were so bitter, they puckered your tongue, and others you wouldn't consider eating, but were delicous. It's a long way from the corporate world that he and Yvonne left behind, but how happy they are, and what an accomplishment to have carved a world for themselves out of the virgin jungle.

The following day we decided to go out to the butterfly farm and so set out fairly early. But we ran into a road that was beyond our little car's capabilities! We thought we were on the wrong road after bouncing around for a couple of miles, with the road getting progressively worse and worse until finally, the grade got so steep and the rocks so big we just couldn't make it. I had to back down the road, that in itself an interesting experience, and find a place to turn. On the way in a child materialized out of the jungle. With long dark hair, wearing a pair of red shorts and brandishing a machete, the child looked like a bit-player in a Tarzan movie. By the time we came back down the hill, she had disappeared into the scenery. (We later found out that the child was a boy!)

The local market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we were up early. Truck loads of fruits and vegetables were piled along the pavement, guarded by Mayan, their inscrutable faces passive as we walked by. They had most likely risen at two or three that morning to arrive in time and get a good spot. Miriam's Cafe served delicious fry-jacks and coffee and we bought fresh papayas and custard apples. We headed back to the guest house before the day heated up.

PG is a mix of cultures, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, Mayan, European and East Indian. We found a great little restaurant called Auntie J's and had delicious curry. She made it from the heart of the cahune palm that we saw and tasted out at Dem Dats Doin. At the Mangrove Inn we also had great food, fresh fish and Susan said the best chicken she had ever tasted! We were very spoiled. And as usual we stayed "just one more day" before deciding that our next stop would be Hopkins, a Garifuna village up the coast. Talking to Benjamin at the Mangrove, he asked us to see a friend of his, Mike at the Swinging Armadillo! And we also discovered that Jungle Jeannie lives there too. Oh boy!


The one thing I have regrets about is that we didn't swim as much as I had hoped to. At Hopkins we did go in but I was stung by little jellyfish so hightailed it to the beach in a hurry. One actually got inside my suit and I was ready to rip it off there and then! Caladryl took care of the stings but it put an end to the swimming.

We met Mike, the owner and passed on Benjamin's message. Mike has an organic poultry farm out on the highway and the cooler in the back of his trooper was filled with fresh chickens that he was taking to other restaurants. Small business entrepreneurs are who make Belize run!

We took Charlie up on his offer of Mum's cooking and drove out in the direction of his house. It was dark and nothing looked familiar. After creeping around the streets, we asked some kids on the road if they knew where Charlie lived. Suddenly we were surrounded by a clamoring hoard! They shouted and danced around the car and led us to Charlie's house where, after dinner we were treated to another drumming treat.

The little 10-year-old drummer was amazing. I hope we can hook the group up with Emmeth. Charlie has the dream of keeping the drumming and traditions alive and I think that if he and Emmeth get together they could really make a difference. Although we enjoyed Hopkins, we found it expensive and also not as friendly as other places. There is a lot of development to the south where the British American Cattle Corporation had a large platted area that is being actively marketing some international publications.

Originally we had planned to go out to the cayes, most likely Caye Caulker but we had heard that it was becoming a bit touristy so we took other's advice and went to Tobacco Caye, a five-acre coral atoll out on the reef. The boat out to the caye leaves from Dangriga right near the River View Café where we had eaten lunch on our previous visit to the town.

As soon as we drove up, a young man, Rudolpho directed us where to park and started negotiating to take care of the car while we were gone. We struck a bargain with him that included having him wash the car as it was so covered with dust and mud you could barely tell what color it was. I couldn't even see out of the back window. Not knowing him, I paid him half up front, and promised him the rest when we returned, praying that it would still be there with our belongings intact. I took the cameras and laptop with me - just in case!

The trip out on a panga, a 20-foot fiberglass outboard was exciting. Fermin, the boatman open the throttle and we sped out to the horizon. He obviously knew exactly where he was going although we couldn't see anything to steer toward and he didn't have any sort of navigation instruments. Pretty soon we saw the islands appear on the edge of the glassy water and as we drew nearer, we saw the mangroves growing down to the waters edge. At one stage we appeared to be heading directly into the mangroves but at the last moment, the boat veered left and an opening appeared and we sped through, mangroves kissing the sides of the boat. The water had turned to that glorious, tropical turquoise. And it was warm!

Dangriga and Tobacco Caye

Originally we had planned to go out to the cayes, most likely Caye Caulker but we had heard that it was becoming a bit touristy so we took other's advice and went to Tobacco Caye, a five-acre coral atoll out on the reef.

The boat out to the caye leaves from Dangriga right near the River
View Café where we had eaten lunch on our previous visit to the town. As soon as we drove up, a young man, Rudolpho directed us where to park and started negotiating to take care of the car while we were gone. We struck a bargain with him that included having him wash the car as it was so covered with dust and mud you could barely tell what color it was. I couldn't even see out of the back window. Not knowing him, I paid him half up front, and promised him the rest when we returned, praying that it would still be there with our belongings intact. I took the cameras and laptop with me - just in case!

The trip out on a panga, a 20-foot fiberglass outboard was exciting. Fermin, the boatman open the throttle and we sped out to the horizon. He obviously knew exactly where he was going although we couldn't see anything to steer toward and he didn't have any sort of navigation instruments. Pretty soon we saw the islands appear on the edge of the glassy water and as we drew nearer, we saw the mangroves growing down to the waters edge. At one stage we appeared to be heading directly into the mangroves but at the last moment, the boat veered left and an opening appeared and we sped through, mangroves kissing the sides of the boat. The water had turned to that glorious, tropical turquoise. And it was warm!

We planned to stay two days and then back to either Dangriga or Belize City for the last night before heading home. Well, again it was "just one more day" as we couldn't drag ourselves away from the island. With six small "resorts" we ended up staying at Gaviota's Coral Reef Lodge. Bert and Marie, the owners call it upscale camping on an island. The rooms are basic but comfortable, and as the other places do too, meals are served family style.

After a full 24-hours and three meals, we decided that we'd like to try the other restaurants and so for the next two days we ate at each place sampling the local food. We had conch soup at Tobacco Caye Lodge, fish panadas at Oceanfront, chicken at Lanas and an absolutely delicious coconut pie at Reef's End. And watermelon, bananas and papayas everywhere.

On Sunday we had the traditional Sunday meal of beans and rice, baked chicken and potato salad. Carbo delight. It takes work there to get a more balanced diet but the locals seem to be healthy!

We spent the rest of our time hanging out in the hammocks and snorkeling the reef. The little camera was great and I had fun with it. The water was heavenly. Just floating and watching the pelicans dive for food was entertainment enough.

last day

By this time, Susan had decided that she wants to buy the resort and bring her mother and husband down there. She approached Bert and Marie and they said they were thinking about selling and would let her know.

Wow! Sounds like a good idea to me.

Finally, it was time to leave the island and we boarded Captain
Buck's boat to head back to Dangriga and the car and the airport. It was heart wrenching and neither of us felt thrilled about going home. Cap't Buck gave a little tour on the way, going by Bird Caye where the trees are loaded down with boobies and frigate birds. An amazing site. There is nowhere to land there and the birds must feel really safe. The horizon was hazy as we headed for the mainland. There had been a lot of brush fires in the heat and the smoke hung in the air, hiding the mountains. As we got closer, we could actually smell the smoke.

The 12 miles flew by and soon we were being greeted by a smiling Rudolpho who had been given the message the previous day that we
would be a day late. The car was there -- and so were our belongings.

Also there to meet us was a young man who we had met on the caye, AC, whom Susan had bought some grapefruit wine from. He had brought us more wine, this time ginger wine and it was in quart sports water bottles, sealed with masking tape. Having already quietly given the grapefruit wine to Buck as we had a suspicion that customs wouldn't let us bring it into the States, we were now landed with two barely sealed bottles of drink.
AC was so sweet that we couldn't say no, so loaded them into the car. We shouldn't have done it! Before we had even left the city limits the bottles had exploded and we had wine all over the car! And in the heat, we soon smelled like a traveling brewery and heaven knows what Kevin will say when we return the car!

I had had an ominous feeling about the car early that morning but was relieved to see it in it's parking place. But when I went to start it, the battery was completely flat!

Oh Oh!
But no worry, mon! Rudolpho and friends to the rescue! First they pushed and it wouldn't start. Then they did something I have never seen done before. Nobody has battery jumper cables so they replaced the battery from our car with one from their truck, I started the car and then, with the car still running they very carefully removed the good battery and replaced it with the dead one. I was afraid someone was going to get fried! But obviously they had done it before and there were no sparks or problems. What a relief - if we had had to find jumpers we would have been delayed and missed our flight and we would have had to stay "just one more day."


The drive to the car rental place was anti-climactic and we made it to the airport on time. It was a sad day and when we landed in Miami, where we were delayed due to weather in the mid-west, I could feel myself slipping back into what I suppose is reality. The women were wearing makeup and their hair was brushed and tidy, their clothes were neatly pressed and they were wearing real shoes.

Let me out of here - I want to go back.

The day we arrived home I had a call from a company that I have been in touch with for eight months about a job in southern California. I will go down to interview again next week. Two days after coming come, Quokka told me that there are budget cuts and my weekend job is going by the wayside. So I have made the decision to delay my move to Belize as the new job will offer me that much more financial security for the move. I think I will be starting the new position in about two weeks.