Thursday, March 22, 2018

I can't BELIZE we made it!

Our friends Serey and Mike sent us a text to say that their travel companions had contracted the flu and would not be joining them on their upcoming trip to Belize. They had the use of another friend's 2 bedroom condo on Ambergris Caye for the week and offered to share it with me and Tony. Tony begged off because of all he had to do at work, but I really wanted to go so I asked my sister to go with me.  She accepted immediately and then discovered that her passport had expired.  Fortunately you can now get a passport in one day at the passport agency in Atlanta!

We had a couple of days before the trip, so we made an appointment at the passport agency on Wednesday before we would leave on Thursday.  Tuesday, she got all of her documentation ready and got her passport picture taken.  She left home at 5:30 AM so she could be at the passport office when it opened.  The process went very smoothly and by 8:30 AM she had submitted her application and was told to come back after 12:30 to pick up the passport.

This gave us time to shop!  We went to and the Merchandise Mart.  We got back to the passport agency around 1:30PM.  There wasn't a line and the passport was ready!

We hit the post office to mail our taxes, had lunch at Fox Brothers BBQ in The Battery at the new Braves Stadium, made a quick stop at Target to buy snorkeling equipment and then met our friend Brian for dinner at Zucca's.

We slept well and headed for the airport bright and early.  I dropped Mary Jane off and went to park.  Thankfully we had left plenty of time because I had to scramble a bit when the lot where I intended to park was full.

I made a quick stop at the Sky Club for coffee (Thank you American Express Platinum) and met Mary Jane at the gate (E1 - the farthest gate in the domestic terminal).  We settled in to wait.  We were not optimistic about getting a seat, especially when the agent called us up to the desk and said, "This flight is pay-load optimized and full, but I will verify your passport anyway."  Pay-load optimized means that they might board cargo instead of stand-by passengers.

They began boarding and we started looking for our friends who had all of the information about our connecting flight and lodging.  They were connecting from Jacksonville.  I checked the arrival information for their flight.  It was late arriving and coming into gate A3, almost as far away as you can get from E1, where we were.

After all of the other passengers had boarded, we were given seats (2 of the last 3 available)!  We were happy but unsure if we should board without our friends.  Just before the gate agent closed the door to the plane, we saw our friends coming down the concourse!  Whew!  They reported that their flight delay was because the plane had to be de-iced in Jacksonville, Florida!

The flight was uneventful and we landed in balmy Belize on time.  We were all seated near the front of the plane so we made it through passport control and customs quickly.

We were looking through the duty-free shops in the gate area while we were waiting for our flight when Serey came to find us and tell us that we were getting on an earlier flight to San Pedro.

The gate agent led us out on the tarmac and helped us into the little 14 passenger Cessna 208 Caravan.

They boarded the flight by size, putting the heavier passengers up front.  Mary Jane and I felt that it was a compliment that we were seated on the back row.

Mary Jane was nervous about the flight but it was only 15 minutes so she hardly had time to worry.

We retrieved our bags and got a taxi to our condo at Tara del Sol.  It is a very nice 2 bedroom, 2 bath 1st floor unit right on the ocean!  We stepped out on the porch and felt the cool ocean breeze.

Eric, the condo manager, stopped by to make sure we were comfortable and to answer any questions.  He recommended a few restaurants, grocery stores and tours.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the pool and enjoying the beautiful view.

We met some of the neighbors who are ex-pats living here full-time. We made a short trip to the grocery store to get some supplies.  Everything is imported and therefore expensive on the island.  We bought coffee and a few other essentials.  Mike and I got milk because, as we like to put it, we need "whitener" for our coffee.

Dinner was at the Black Orchid where we sat in an open air dining room sampled the fresh snapper and some divine coconut rice.  We made a note to try to make this at home.  The waitress said that you only have to add coconut cream (the kind that is used in drinks) to white rice.  A bat swooped through the restaurant occasionally which we were told keeps the mosquito population down!

Serey and Mike brought the game bananagrams, so that was our pass-time when we were between activities.  They had obviously played it a lot, but Mary Jane and I held our own and won a few times.  I liked the game so much that I ordered it from Amazon!

Friday, I got up in time to watch the sun rise from our porch.  There was a 2 hour time difference from back home so I woke up early every day, made the coffee and read on the porch until the others got up.

After our coffee, we walked south on the beach as far as we could go.  We came upon Casa Mariposa and its eclectic little sculpture garden.  We read the amusing little signs about all of the creatures and talked to the owner.

After our walk, Mary Jane, Serey and Mike were ready for a golf cart ride to breakfast.  I decided to take a walk on the beach and meet them at their chosen breakfast place, The Baker.  The walk was nice to a point, but there is a lot of garbage on the beach and there was stinky seaweed (Sargassum) everywhere.

The resorts that have a sea wall were better able to control the accumulation.  Workers were raking the stinky stuff into piles and carting it away but it seemed to be a never ending problem.

I found the others finishing their breakfast.  Serey was having a smoothie that she thought was delicious but I commented that I didn't like smoothies (more about this later).

After breakfast, we took a ride out to the north end past the bridge.  We had to pay a toll of 5 BZD each way to cross the bridge.  It was a long bumpy ride and there wasn't a lot to see.  A huge Wyndham resort is under construction.  We encountered a real estate agent who told us that several other resorts are planned for that area.

We found a lovely little place called the Tika Maya bar that sits out over the water where we could sample the local Belikin beer.  It was fun to read the messages left by other travelers written on just about every surface at the bar.


Our next stop was at Pacos Bar for a frozen drink!


I ordered a Pina Colada and commented to Serey that THIS was the kind of smoothie I like!

We had fun joking around with the bartender and learning to play a dice game called "Shut the Box".

When we got back across the bridge, we stopped at a vegetable stand and got some veggies for dinner.  We picked up one item that looked like a sweet potato but was a little more red on the outside.

We had a late lunch of curried chicken and fish at a little roadside stand called "Robin's Kitchen".  Delicious!

We cooked dinner at home and played games.

Saturday, after a leisurely morning on the porch, we decided to walk to town for lunch.  We encountered a woman selling her wares from atop her head, a dog walker and a man selling fish from the basket of his bicycle.

We made it as far as Pier 366 Seafood House.  We were enticed by the beautiful view and the fresh seafood.  We sampled the conch ceviche which was in season this time of year.

It happened to be St. Patrick's Day, so after lunch, we stopped at The Baker for dessert because it is run by an Irish lady.  We got some sweets and she gave us some Irish soda bread.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the condo and by the pool.  Raul from Suya Tours stopped by to tell us about the tours they offer.

It was Mike's night to cook, so he made us a surprise chicken dish with pineapple, zuchini, coconut milk and his secret ingredient (peanut butter).  We thought we were having it with baked sweet potatoes but when we cut into them, we realized they must be something else (maybe yucca).  They weren't bad with a little butter!

Sunday, Mary Jane, Serey and I decided we would take the $50 USD per person half-day snorkel tour.  We all took the golf cart down to the Suya office and arranged the tour with Raul.  They would pick us up at our dock at 1PM for the tour.  We asked Raul for a recommendation for breakfast.  He suggested Estel's.  It was a happening place!

We weren't sure if we would get a table, but we were directed to go to the board to place our order and they would find us a place to sit.

Service was really slow, but the food was great!  We tried the Mayan eggs which were scrambled with ham, tomatoes and onions.

We got back to the condo in time to change into our swimsuits, grease up with sunscreen and meet Victor, our guide at our dock for our afternoon adventure.

Our tour would take us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley.  We picked up another couple at a nearby dock and went to Hol Chan.   Victor got our ticket from the ranger and we tied to one of the buoys in the marine park.

Victor led the group around the area and pointed out various types of coral and fish.  We even saw a huge moray eel!  Mary Jane didn't like using the fins so she took hers off, but later regretted it when she got into the swift current.  Victor went back to get her and towed her back to the boat.

We got back into the boat and took a short ride to Shark Ray Alley.  Victor kept the nurse sharks busy with a fish head on the left side of the boat while we jumped out on the other side.  The sharks swam beneath us and were fascinating to see.

Mary Jane got a little seasick on the way back.  We played games and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and then went to the Lone Star for dinner.

We talked to one of the employees there who told us that he left home on the mainland when he was 11 years old to move to San Pedro and live with his uncle.  He later brought his mother here and now they rent housing to other locals.

Serey and Mike had prearranged an all day catamaran trip for Monday.  It was very windy Monday morning so we were all a little concerned about their trip.  A small boat came to pick them up and it was very difficult to get in the boat in the choppy water.  Thankfully the boat was a short ride to where they would board the catamaran.


Mary Jane wanted to shop for souvenirs, so we took the golf cart into town.  She was disappointed that the souvenirs were mostly things that could be found cheaper back home.  After our one stop at the Artisan's market, she was finished shopping so we spent the rest of the day exploring on the golf cart.



We were fascinated by the construction technique that used spindly looking sticks to support heavy concrete structures!

We thought we would have lunch at the Hungry Grouper which had been recommended to us, but when we got there, the menu didn't appeal to us so we just had a couple of beers.  We met a group from Canada sitting at the next table and talked to them about their trip.  They recommended a tour in Belize City and gave us the email of a good guide.

We found "The Office" for lunch and were very happy with our choice.  We had fresh grilled fish with rice and fried plantains.  We tried another local beer called Land Shark but we like Belikin better.

After lunch, we wanted to have a beer at the Road Kill Bar but we were having trouble finding it.  We saw Crazy Canuck's and decided to stop there instead.

It was a great find!  They just happened to be having a guitar circle that day and lots of local musicians were playing and singing.  We had another "smoothie" and listened to the good music!

As we left the bar, we noticed that we were right across the street from the Road Kill Bar that we had been looking for.  It didn't open until 4PM though so we didn't get to have a beer there.

We found a store where we could buy a few things for dinner and then headed back for the condo, getting there just as Serey and Mike got back from their adventure.  They had made the same two snorkel stops we had made the day before and then spent some time on Caye Caulker, a small island that reminded them of Key West.

Mary Jane made a delicious chicken pot pie for dinner. Her recipe usually calls for a frozen pie crust but that was not to be found on the island of San Pedro so she used oil and flour (flour here comes in plastic bags labeled Bebe [for baking], Gitana [all-purpose], Purity [for cakes] or Hi-Rise [whole wheat]).  We didn't know what kind to get, but Bebe seemed to be the most prevalent so we got that.  The pastry turned out beautifully!

Tuesday, our last full day, we relaxed on the porch with some of the neighbors and their dogs.  We really liked Chris and her dog Fabby.  Chris stopped by every morning to have coffee with us and tell us stories about her time as a prison warden in Wisconsin.

Another neighbor, Susan, was a professional dog trainer and had some retired award winning show dogs.  We were particularly fond of Lisa, the champion dachshund!  She's put on a little weight since her days on the show circuit.

Poor Mike, not only was he the only male on what probably seemed to him like a girls' trip, but two more stopped by every morning to have coffee with us!

After our daily visit with the neighbors, we went back to Robin's Kitchen for breakfast.

We stopped for gas in the golf cart.  The gas tank is under the front seat.

When we got back to the condo, I noticed a set of spiral stairs leading to the roof so I decided to check it out.  There was a beautiful view but it was so sunny I couldn't see my camera so I got a great picture of my finger!

We read, relaxed, napped and played cards and bananagrams until it was time for happy hour.  We went back to Crazy Canucks where they were about to start their weekly Hermit Crab Races.

We had dinner reservations so we didn't get to stay to watch the races.  We found a table and the server came over to tell us that tonight's drink special was the "Panty Ripper".  Of course we had to try it!  It was a very sweet rum drink.  We knew better than to have more than one!

While we were enjoying our drinks, a rastafarian standing behind Mike started taking his shirt off and whipping his long dreadlocks around.  We weren't sure what he was doing, but he started climbing the coconut tree beside our table.

He climbed all the way to the top and did a few poses for the crowd.  We were afraid he was going to fall on our table so we moved away.  As he was coming down from the tree a bag of (what we assumed was) ganja and a lighter fell out of his pocket.  Back on the ground, he held out his shirt and collected tips from everyone.

After we finished our "Panty Ripper" drinks, we decided to try the Crazy Canuck Beach Toboggan! Mike declined to join us.  I can't imagine why!

We found our golf cart in the long line of carts along the street and made our way to dinner.

We had a wonderful meal at the Victoria House restaurant to celebrate the wonderful time we'd had in Belize.  It was the perfect way to end the trip, toasting our good fortune and good friends!

Wednesday morning we bustled about getting packed and ready for our ride back to the airport.  We had a little time to relax on the porch until our ride arrived at 8AM.  Our 9AM Tropic Air flight left at 8:30AM so it was a good thing we arrived early!

We didn't get the back seat this time, but we all had a window seat so we had a great view of the beautiful blue water!

The Delta flight looked like there would be seats for all of the stand-bys, but sometimes Delta has to take cargo instead of employees so I gave Mary Jane fair warning that even though it looked good, we might not get on.  As we were passing through customs, I pointed out the window and told her that if we didn't get on, we could stay at the "Embassy Suites".

Fortunately we got seats on the flight!  When we got back to Atlanta, I stood by for a Jacksonville flight but the weather in the Northeast had caused a lot of mis-connects so there wasn't much possibility of me getting a seat.  I picked up the car and got Mary Jane from the international terminal so she wouldn't have to take Uber or Lyft to get her car.  We went to her daughter Lauren's house for some chicken pot pie (made with a good old frozen crust!).  Mary Jane went home and I spent the night at our Smyrna condo and got out on the first flight to Jacksonville Thursday morning.

It was a GREAT trip but I am glad to be home with Tony, Lucy & Lola!  I missed them!

Belize dollars are worth 50 US cents which makes the conversion easy.  They take US dollars too, so anything that is quoted in BZD can be divided in half and paid with dollars.  When paying with US Dollars, change will be given in Belize currency.  I recommend taking lots of cash in small bills.  We never went to an ATM while we were there but I assume cash is dispensed in BZD.  Some places take credit cards but very few accept American Express.

The short flight from Belize Airport was not terribly expensive but an alternative would be to take a 90 minute water taxi for $24 USD round trip.  A taxi from Belize airport to the water taxi would be about $25 USD.  The water taxi also goes to the nearby island of Caye Caulker (Serey and Mike went here on their catamaran trip) for $14 USD round trip.

When you arrive in Belize and get through the door to customs, it is only about 10 feet to the check-in counter for Tropic Air so unless you have too much luggage to carry, you won't need to pay a porter $2/bag to carry your luggage the 10 feet.  The porters make you think that they are with Tropic Air when they take your bags, but they just put them on a cart and take them around the corner and drop them in front of the Tropic Air counter.

Groceries are all imported and fairly expensive unless you buy things that are made locally (like plantain chips, tortilla chips and fresh bread).  I would recommend checking a duffel bag with some snacks (crackers, snack mix, breakfast bars, powdered drink mix, coffee) and spices if you plan to cook.  Take bug spray and sun screen too!

We stayed at Tara Del Sol in Unit A1. The warden that we met has a townhouse at Sunset Beach (Unit A1) which she also rents.

We got a couple of recommendations for cab drivers in/near Belize City.  The Canadians we met at the Hungry Grouper had taken the water taxi to Belize City and their cab driver Norval Flowers took them on the cave tubing tour.  Susan, the dog trainer, recommended Teddy Bear Taxi (501) 600-5002.

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