Monday, September 12, 2016

September Festivities

September is a month of celebration here in Belize. The two major events are The Battle of St. Georges Caye Day and Independence Day.

The Battle of St. Georges Caye is an interesting story if you have never heard about it. In the mid-1600s, shipwrecked British sailors became the first recorded European settlers in Belize. This group of pirates, buccaneers and adventurers became know as the Baymen.

On September 10, 1798, the Baymen along side their slaves were forced to defend their tiny settlement against a Spanish invasion of 32 ships carrying 2,000 troops and 500 seamen. Heavily outnumbered and against the odds, the Baymen achieved a decisive victory. 

Independence Day is on the 21st and is celebrated with parades, costumes, beverages and partying. The parade includes a lot of the typical parade features that you would expect but on a smaller scale than you are used to. No matter what time the parade is SUPPOSED to start, count on it being several hours later than that. In addition to the parade another party will be that day. For more than a decade we have hosted a Not On The 4th of July party. It seems only fitting that this year we should have it on Belize's Independence Day while waiting for the parade to start!

Even with the many celebrations, September is known as "Mauga Season" or the Lean/Thin Season. With less tourists, business shut down, complete repairs or go on vacation. Places that you count on to be open certain days all of a sudden are closed for a week or a month. The chances of boredom begin to increase and people find creative ways to have fun. Squeezed between the two major holidays is a new local event known as Putt Putt Drink.

It was decided to host a hole on the Putt Putt Drink course and in true fashion, we are going over the top just a bit. It seems that a tiki bar is just what is needed for both the Not on the 4th of July party as well as Putt Putt Drink! The good news is that near us is a construction site and our material cost began to plummet.

The plan began to take shape and the design was completed. Based on the interior space of our truck the dimensions fell into place and boards were cut. Some more than once. Many of the boards came with screws and after removing those we found that they were the right size to reuse. Sanding? A hand sized flat rock came in pretty handy. The paint? It looks very similar to our house color for some reason.  Total cost to build came in at $5.65BZ. Tiki Jim should be proud.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Our first hurricane in Belize

It was time to go on vacation. A lot of people felt it was a weird statement considering we live "in paradise" but a true one none the less. Where do you go when you live at the beach where it is sunny every day with high temps? The beach of course.

The plan was to meet friends from North Carolina in St Martin and the planning began. Planning skills were definitely put to the test and the Belize International airport should have a new slogan; "You Can't Get There From Here". To get to the States or Canada, no problem. To get to any other location you better plan on a high ticket cost as well as a absurdly long layover in one or two different locations. After a 3 hour car ride up to Belize City we parked our truck at a hotel around the corner from the airport. Its a gated lot with security making it a better option than the airport itself. Hassle free check in and got to have a beer with Jet before taking off. Grabbed some mini bottles from duty free and we were off. Starting at 7am and traveling thru Miami to arrive in St Martin at 9:30pm makes for a long day.

Our first and last nights stay on St Martin

Seeing old friends was great and the week went off with only one hitch that put a real spin on the vacation. One night while we slept our house was broken into and a purse containing both of our friends wallets was stolen from their bedside table. Its a scary thought to think that someone was so close while sleeping. A feeling we have luckily never experienced in Belize.

The gang
View from our house

Don't mind if we do have another cocktail!
Who left the boat in our control?

What a captain!

After a week on St Martin and exploring both sides of the island we said "see you later" to our friends and headed off to Saba for a couple days. Figuring that we have more time than money and it being a cheap boat ride between the two islands we headed off. Did I mention the boat has free beer for the 1.5 hour ride?
The shortest commercial airstrip is on Saba. We took the boat.
Saba is a mecca of sorts for diving and we were excited to get in a couple days while there. Unfortunately the weather had other plans. The winds picked up and the rains came in. Something the locals said was very uncharacteristic of the island. The first day of diving was cancelled we set off to explore the tiny island of 300 people. It couldn't be more contrasting from St Martin as there were clean streets, friendly faces and the pace was much closer to that in Belize that we were used to. A welcome change for us after the fast pace of St Martin.

When exploring Saba and walking, you are either walking UP or walking DOWN. There is not a flat spot on the whole island I suspect. We had stayed Our Hotel at the top of Windwardside, one of the two towns on the island, the other being The Bottom. Pretty original right? The view from the top was fantastic as was the breeze but it made for a very steep walk and our calves became rock hard and "I'm dying" was muttered more than once on the trek up the hill.

On the second day the weather calmed down a bit and diving was on. Just the two of us and the dive master in the water. Great diving although we were told that the visibility is usually much better. Plenty of sharks, turtles, beautiful corals and even our first seahorse!

The storm completely passed during the night and the boat ride back to St Martin for our last night before our flight was an easy one. Relaxing on the beach outside of our cabana we enjoyed our last day of vacation. Or so we thought. We received word that our flight Tuesday morning was cancelled and after a couple hours on the phone we were re-ticketed. We would still fly to Miami and after a 23 hour layover would finally be back in Belize. Or so we thought. Again. You know that storm that we had in Saba? It had passed graciously across the Caribbean Sea and was headed straight to Belize. As a hurricane.

We had not prepped anything for a possible hurricane before we had left. Our chairs were still on the rooftop palapa, our trees still had coconuts in them which turn into projectiles in a hurricane, we had limited food and drink and worst of all, our dog was at friends and the cat was alone on our house. Nevermind that the truck was sitting in a parking lot that by all accounts may see some extreme flooding. In true fashion, our friends and neighbors came to our rescue. Securing our house, getting us supplies and preparing to evacuate with our cat and dog. As they say, "it takes a village" and this was one of those times.

We were prepared to land in front of the hurricane, drive 3 hours through possible driving rain, hopefully making it back home in time to survive our first Belizean hurricane. After checking into our hotel we were informed that our Wednesday flight was again cancelled since the airport in Belize City where we were to land had closed. Knowing that we would not be back in Belize before the storm did relieve some stress but our worry grew.

Back to the phone to change our flights. We were told that the next available flight was not until Saturday. What? Its Wednesday right? Yep. As we booked the last 2 remaining seats on our flight it was over. Fully resigned to a Saturday flight and not being a fan of being stuck in a hotel in Miami for 2 additional nights we rented a car and headed up to Daytona to visit my mom. A fantastic layover if ever we had experienced.

Saturday finally came. It had now been 17 days since we were in Belize and we could not wait to get home. As we were landing a survey was done from the air and the damage assessed. It looked as though the roads were passable. Our truck luckily had survived without much incident. A lot of dirt but no flooding and we were relieved. The drive home was uneventful but seeing the damage along the way made us nervous for our tiny village. Luckily our area sustained very minor damage compared to other areas including Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker where there is barely a dock standing.

Our local dive shop has been relocated a bit

Couldn't get down this road...

As we drove down our peninsula everything looked different. Its not that the buildings and scenery had changed but I felt that we had. It was as though we were returning to our hometown. We were coming HOME. Arriving home we were pleasantly surprised everything looked good. A quick shower and off to a business meeting with a client that had been waiting for us for 4 days. You have to be flexible in the tropics.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The sand can get hot!

So the winds are down today. When the winds are down it usually means that Brodie can have a good day fishing on the shore. The internet went down almost as a sign that it was time to head over to the beach and so we went.

Now, the beach is at the end of our street and only about two blocks from the house. We set off strolling down the road as we always do. We cross the main street and keep heading on down when I start to realize that my feet are getting pretty hot. A little backstory, for many months now I have been a practicing barefoot. I say practicing because I soon learned that at noon on a bright sunny summer day you better be walking in shade. I quickly head under a palm where Brodie is leisurely sniffing the trunk. I then take a long look down the road to see where the next shade spot is. I start testing which section of the road, the soft sand, the hard sand, where rocks are at, to find the path of least resistance.

Of course the next tree is almost at the end of the road.

Then its a far expanse of sand before you get to the waters edge. Our street is "lucky" for having such a large expanse. In Placencia its one of the larger areas of sand. It looks much larger today. Like Sahara big.

We start to pick up the pace. I can tell that Brodie is having the same hot foot situation that I have and I can also tell that he knows that the water is our only salvation. By the time we hit the sand we are in a fast walk. Stopping one last time we both cooled our feet under a 6' palm. Now, almost in a sprint, we are likely the fastest people on the beach. We finally hit the water and almost instantly relief is felt.

We start up the waters edge when it hits me. We have to walk back the same way. Maybe we could call someone to come pick us up? Maybe there is a shorter way? Maybe we just stay out here until the sun goes down? All thoughts that went through my head. We are taking our time on this walk for sure. By the time we turn around and start making our way back the thought hits me. There are always random sandals  on the beach, maybe I can find 2! No such luck.

By the time we get back to our road I can tell the dog is dreading the walk home. We hang out for a while hoping for rain. Not a cloud in the sky. As I hook his leash on we have a silent conversation and off we go running towards the first shade tree. At the first shade tree we stop to give our feet a little relief. I turn to see the homeowner using a grinder to sharpen his machete. Not an unusual sight other than the fact that he is wearing a speedo. Possibly not the most advised gear to have metal bits thrown about. Ok, on to the next shade. As we get close though a van pulls directly into the spot. I mean, why wouldn't he? Its the shade spot! Hugging the edge of his van as we slowly walk past in the shade. The road looks so far but with a quick pace we make it and luckily no traffic to wait for.

Arriving home we run for shade. While hosing our feet down I take a mental note to probably go earlier or wait until later in the day next time. Cloudy days might do as well. Man, my feet hurt. I might just wear flip flops the rest of today...

Monday, May 23, 2016

A year in Belize and the start of slow season

Being in Belize for a little over a year (13 months actually) brings around a season that we have already experienced. The weather starts getting hotter and everything starts slowing down. Slowing down is a relative term since by all accounts anyone from the States would think that high season was slow already.

On our recent trip back to North Carolina showed how slow I had become used to. Landing in Atlanta at 5pm and renting a car was a pretty harsh wake up. Sitting in traffic on I-85 the reality that it was the first time in quite a while that not only was another car next to me but there were 8 cars wide pressing for position. Not being used to traffic jams, crowding, street lights or stop signs it took a little time to get back into the Detroit driver I had once been. Note to self: The 3 hour layover in Atlanta and flight to Charlotte may be worth doing instead of saving several hundred bucks per ticket and driving the 4 hours up.
From this...
To this in 5 hours. 

My sister ROCKS for storing this for us!
Before we even left Belize our trip to NC was planned out almost completely. Evening with old neighbors, partying with lake friends, A Jimmy Buffett tailgate, more friends and family... There was a list of different foods that were a must to have while back in the States including sushi, steak, and red wine. A few errands needed to be completed including picking up our mail and packages from my sisters as well as everyone's favorite, a trip to the DMV! Who doesn't want to spend a day at the DMV when they only are in town for a week? Not me. I wanted to spend TWO days there. Well, wanted may be an incorrect word to use there but with the expiration date in a month and not being able to do it online I got to spend quite a bit of time studying the psyche of people at the DMV.

Last year at this time it was obvious that many of the longtime residents left right after Easter but this year after making many friends down here it was more than just an observation. Constantly we are saying goodbye to friends. Some of which are only going to be gone for a couple weeks, some are gone for a couple of months and some do not know if/when they are returning. The village is getting pretty light in terms of people and the live aboard boats who's numbers were in the 40-50s during the winter months are now down to a dozen or so. The bars and restaurants are working on their off-season hours and days.

It seems as though everyone handles how they take care of their property differently. Currently we have a long term storage truck in our yard. The owner has given us the keys and permission to drive it if needed. Our neighbors have had someone move into their house so that their dogs and cats are fed. Some people lock up and close the shades. Lucky for us, friends with a pool have asked us to watch it for them. Yes, I think we can do that.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter week in Belize

It seems as though Easter is a very big deal here in Belize. Having only been here a couple weeks short of it last year we did not experience anything other than the recovery. About a month ago people started to utter little things that started me wondering. There was talk of food shortages, traffic jams, packed beaches, and the ATM running out of money. It started to bring back flashbacks of "The Great Beer Shortage of 2015". Naturally it called for a trip to the hardware store to stock up on beer and sodas and the preparations began. Cash on hand, check. Fresh vegetables, check. Ice, check.

The stories started getting bigger and better as Easter WEEK drew closer. Now it sounded like all of Belize leaves their homes and makes the pilgrimage to Placencia. Buses packed to the gills with people with their beach gear were expected. There also started the talk of the Great Exodus from town by the people that live in the village. It started to remind me of Daytona Beach at Spring Break time and our plan began to formulate.

Friends were coming into town for the week and we wanted to show them "our" village but it seems as though they were going to be getting a slightly skewed view. Getting in on Thursday we were able to beat the influx of people at a few of our favorite watering holes.

On Good Friday no liquor is sold until 6pm and every grocery store is closed. We decided to make a trek into the jungle to one of our favorite waterfalls and a spur of the moment detour to Ben's Bluff. Now Ben's Bluff is labeled as a "rigorous" hike but only an additional 1 or 2km (depending on which sign you believe) further than the waterfall. Being from the States, and not caring too much the metric system, it seemed like a pretty short distance further. Well, not only is it likely to be the 2km distance but they must be including the vertical difficulty into the "rigorous" definition. Being that this was a hike to a bluff the tree canopy also became non existent and the sun beat down like we owed it money. One of our climbers had to tap out before making the summit. To protect their identity they shall remain nameless but for the sake of the story, lets call her Beth. The waterfall was a welcome reward on our way down the mountain as everyone was worn out. The only major failure was walking back to the parking lot and with the car in sight the cold beers were beginning to sound great. Unfortunately, the cooler that was packed with such great care was still sitting on the counter back at the house. Let's not mention his name. Surely wasn't me...

On Easter Sunday we were set to participate in the "Not-A-Regatta". In order to get ready we went out with Jeff and Daytripper Catamaran Charters on Saturday. The trip is one of our most favorite things to have our guests experience. Its a great sail out with plenty of rum drinks to be had along the way. After snorkeling at a couple of spots and a lunch break we sailed back in with rum drinks in hand. The crew got into shape and felt pretty good about our ability to perform the next day.

Sunday came and you could feel the excitement at the captains meeting. Plans were set and we prepared to set sail. Getting to the starting line early we honed our skills jibing and tacking, threading between boats and crossing within inches of other swiftly moving boats with the grace of a dancer. You could feel the excitement in the air. The 5 minute warning came and we prepared for a great start. Watching the time and doing some fancy sailing the start was announced and we were off! The crew performed well under Captain Jeff's watchful eye as did the catamaran. After a photo finish it was off to celebrate.

In Belize they celebrate Easter Monday it seems. A great way to come down from your full weekend of partying. Everyone that had not yet left was soon to do so. All that was remaining was to clean up the massive amounts of garbage that piled up in the main party area. That task was complete by the middle of the day. A big thank you to the guys that completed that task! The beaches were once again mostly empty and the locals breathed a sigh of relief.

All in all it was a a good time but not the village that I have come to enjoy. It seems silly to say that it was too many people but once you start getting used to knowing everyone on the street when you add to that it does seem like a lot of people. Wish me luck on our trip back to the States...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Back in the saddle again!

Ever have one of those things that you momentarily put down whether its a book, a puzzle, painting and you have every intention of getting back to it soon? Every day that you see it you remind yourself you really liked doing that and will get back to it "as soon as possible". Every day that goes by and you don't pick it up the idea gets just a little bit further back in your mind. Months can go by and it becomes a mere fleeting thought. Well over the past few months my pen (or keyboard in this case) has gotten so unbearably heavy that it was impossible to pick it back up.

"When's your next blog"
"We miss reading your blog"
"Are you still going to do that"
"My mom asked when you were going to write again"
"My coworkers have been asking..."

None of them spurred me to write again. What did compel me to write? Paying for another year of a web address seems to have done the trick.

So what have we been doing for the past several months? Well, we moved from Maya Beach down
closer to the Placencia Village. On the surface its only about 10 miles but in reality they are SOOOOO far apart. Going from one to the other usually involves more than one reason to travel. It means getting into your car and actually driving. I mean, you could ride your bike but its damn far. People ask if we prefer it closer to the village or up in Maya and the verdict is still out on that one. In the village we are close to everything. Walk to the market, ride your bike for produce, stumble home from the bars. The trade off is the noise. Buses starting early in the morning, dogs howling at night, endless construction and being able to hear your neighbors conversations. Things that we did not have up in Maya Beach. Is the trade-off worth it? Depends on the day.

Since we are down in the village it was fitting to get a bike. One of the local resorts was getting rid of their old ones so I took a look to see what I could find. After a little bit of rehab the bike was ready to roll!

I have found that when you wear flip flops every day you tend to wear them out. To date I have worn out somewhere around 4 pair and have resigned to going back to my Sperry brand that I thought was way too much money. In the grand scheme of things, may be a good investment after all. Its funny when you don't get any strange looks when you walk through the grocery store barefoot however. 
After a while you start to miss having a real choice in beer. Typically in a bar you order "beer" and you get a Belikin. The closest thing to a monopoly I have ever seen in the beer world. We do get Presidente, Carib, Heineken, and Guinness and if you are up on Ambergris, you can get a local homebrewers beer that is starting to gain traction but if you want anything else, its being smuggled in.  

We do have bugs here. Its a simple fact. This guy was hanging at our trash can. We also get roaches, scorpions and countless other stinging creatures. The cat does a pretty good job of killing the scorpions and laying them along the bed to let you know he is a great hunter. 

Adopting to the way things are done can be interesting. Star Wars had come out and within a couple days we were able to buy it for $1.25 at the grocery. The quality is pretty much what you would expect for the price paid. The opening scroll is in Spanish, occasionally there is a head showing up in the corner of the screen and the color is off a bit but hey, we got to see it. 

This can pretty much sum up how to live in Belize. Its for sure not what you are used to. You make do with what you are given and once you figure that "it is what it is" everything seems to work out easier.  

This is the end of this blog posting. For those that would like to submit themselves to memories and thoughts that will possibly make you unhappy and possibly cry, feel free to continue.


I mean it.


The last thing I wrote before taking my hiatus was the following. I did not want to get back into writing without submitting this story but didn't want to turn what most people might feel is light entertainment into something that was a "bummer".


That 4am call

If you have never had it congratulations. I hope you never do. For those that have, my condolences.

My dad underwent a double lung transplant over a week ago. (fyi, never a smoker just so know it could happen to anyone.) I wasn't there for the surgery but I was there for the recovery.
One of the toughest parts about living outside the US is the disconnection and distance to return. We are fortunate enough to be just a short local flight to the international airport and then a flight or two back to anywhere. It still does not make up for the time involved in getting there. In the end, it is 12 hours no matter how you score it.

The 4am call came this morning. It was a call that I feared and as soon as I saw it, knew it was bad news. Nobody calls at 4am with good news. It's never expected so don't fool yourself and think its something that can be planned.

At this point there is no brain activity but he is being kept comfortable and not in pain. I am sitting in the Miami airport feeling completely helpless and hoping to see and talk to him before its too late.
Being told by American Airlines that your flight is going to be delayed 1.5 hours really starts to set in. You realize just how helpless you are in the grand scheme of things. You cannot make a plane fly faster. You cannot bend time. All you can do is sit there, helpless, waiting more time.
More time. Who doesn't wish for more time? Typically I do. Right now, resigned to the fact that I am going to be saying goodbye to my dad, I hope this time goes quickly. Quick enough that I actually have time to say goodbye before its too late.

This is probably the most depressing and most horrible post I have written but it is for a reason.  I hope that everyone reading this will take some time and reach out to their loved ones and tell them how much they care. You never know when that 4am call might come. Hopefully you have the chance to tell them that you love them. In the end, you cannot get that time back. I am fortunate to know I told my dad I loved him before this card was dealt, make sure you have as well.

Safe travels. I love you pop.