Belizean sunrise

Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas Season 2011

Christmas 2011

I was here at Easter 2011 and thought that week was crowded...wow, Christmas was worse. It's the busiest tourist week of the year, and of course the highest rates at resorts, some as much as 3x the regular rate. In my opinion, at Easter there are more locals' relatives and the inland Belizeans that come to the beach areas. At Christmas the crowds are mostly N. American and European tourists on 'holiday' (in the USA we call it vacation). You can easily spot the tourists – white-skin with the partial sunburns, designer beach wear, and guide book and maps in hand. They're a welcome sight for those who depend on them for their living though. This is when many locals make their money – souvenir and art shops, tour operators, restaurants and snackeries, and even selling food and 'junk' (err...I mean souvenirs) on the street. No license needed.

There is only one street into Placencia and with all the pedestrians, bicycles, and golf carts, there isn't much room for cars. I've never seen the street so busy. I drove into town once and it was crazy. I could have walked faster. And with delivery trucks parked on the side of the street it is crazy. There;s no loading docks, no back entrances, etc., they just stop in front of the restaurant or store.

Then there is the famous Placencia 'sidewalk' – it parallels the road about a block east. The sidewalk was supposedly constructed many years ago out of crushed conch shells and a homemade concrete. It was how the fishermen moved their catch thru the village, so I've heard. Now it's a tourist attraction and an alternative walkway through town. Tourists walk less than a mile on the road and then back along the sidewalk. You've seen it all by then. There's no side 'streets'. Yes, there are some narrow concrete sidewalks and some wide dirt paths connecting the road and sidewalk but only a few of them are maneuverable by cars. Most beach hotels and restaurants/bars have signs on the main road directing you down the right path.

It's not just Christmas season, they also celebrate Boxing Day here. That's a whole other deal started by those nutty Brits and celebrated by most former British colonies like Canada and Belize. It's a national holiday normally celebrated Dec 26th - but since Christmas fell on Sunday the official Christmas Holiday is the 26th so Boxing Day is moved to the 27th. Bottom line – they have 3 days of 'holidays' – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Not much to do in town, although many restaurants and shops stay open some of those 3 days since the tourists are here. They have to make their money somehow. But the banks, phone company, and some grocery stores are closed. There are 'rules' on alcohol sales too but few know what they are, and besides, who's going to 'enforce' them. There's not much of a police department let alone an ATF-like or liquor-board presence in town. There's not even vendor or health dept permits needed to sell anything, just roll out a blanket on the side of the street.

Of course, kids are out of school for a couple weeks so they're everywhere every day. When they're riding their new Christmas scooters, bikes, skateboards, etc. down the middle of the street they have the right-away. It is, to be sure, their town. The neighbors' 5 grand kids, all under 8, got a small 2-foot high pool and were out in it early the next 2 days after Christmas. They never got it filled up since there was so much commotion in the pool they kept knocking the thin aluminum walls down which let all the water out. It now sits collapsed in the yard probably never to be used again. The birds and dogs drink up what little water is left in it.

I drove into town today (Wednesday) (yeh, I know, it's not that far but it was hot and my truck has a/c.) The street wasn't too crowded. I guess some of those damn tourists are gone.

The phone company (BTL, Belize Telemedia Limited) has been closed 3 days and I had to buy a new chip (SIM card) for my lost phone (yes, the 2d one I've lost this trip). The new phone must have fallen out of my shorts on the beach Christmas morning after I tried calling Kelly and my mom and dad. And we all know that no one would ever try to return it somehow. This chip I had 'registered' with the phone company when I bought it in November but there was no way to contact BTL for 3 days. Remember, the 3 days of holiday closures.

So, I bought a new chip (replacement is only $11) and they deleted the old one – but not until someone had used up $15 worth of my credit on it. Sighhhh. Then I had to go through the hassle of ordering another cheap cell phone from the same company in Belize City, go to the local bank and pay into their account, then call them back for them to check online for the deposit after which they will put it on the next flight out. Another $30 for the cheap phone but only $1.50 for delivery. (The only ones for sale here locally are $150-200 ones.) I got the same guy in Belize City and the price had gone up after Christmas but he gave it to me for the same $30 price, but not without a good chuckle. I can't blame him.

Oooppps...I just heard the plane coming in (airport only a mile away). Better hurry to get my new phone – they close 10 minutes after the last plane lands. Then it's too dark...our little airport has no lights. Sighhhh. But it is quaint here.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Rain

I'm not complaining but I thought this was the 'dry' season. I guess weather is never predictable and every place in the world has its inconsistencies no matter what season it is. The past few days have actually been quite nice. 80ish. Partly cloudy most of the time and then a cloud comes across the peninsula and drops some light rain and then it's over.

Today looks to be a soaker. Light rain but has been steady most of the morning so far. No clearing in sight. Is this Indiana? Haaa. There is no wind again so the rain comes straight down. It just seems odd since I'm not used to it. In So Calif we usually have wind with the rain.

Without a car it's a bit boring. I can't ride my bike into town without getting soaked. Yes, I could wear rain jacket but there's really nothing I need to do. Guess I'll just hang out here on the screened in porch and watch the rain. It is peaceful and I love the sound of it hitting the metal carport roof.

Maybe take a nap. Didn't sleep well last night. The neighbor's dog is now chained up so he barks a lot. Barked constantly from 2-3am so I got up and yelled at him. Seemed to shut him up. I guess his owners don't hear him. Weird. I have my shutters closed and my noise machine on and I still hear it clearly. Guess it's my HSP hearing. I think my landlady might say something because she's noticed it too. She's known them for years so is like part of the family.

When it's so quiet at night the dogs hear everything. I could hear a dog in the distance howling for some reason and that just sets off the next one. The neighbor's dog nipped at someone so he has to be tied up. He can run on a line but he still barks at everything, and is not used to being restricted.

Oh well...and so it goes

Monday, 12 December 2011

House fire - Placencia Belize

House fire tonight about a block away down dirt road near beach. One house totaled but no on hurt. Volunteer firefighters helped prevent spreading.






Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mistletoe Ball 2011


Last night was the annual Mistletoe Ball. It's held at different places along the peninsula each year... usually the nicer, larger resorts. It's the party of the year for the area. And when they party here, they REALLY party. It's a fund raiser but I'm not sure for what. I think for the Placencia Tourist Office. The band sponsor was the national Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) but the rest of the event and prizes were sponsored by local businesses. Most of the locals and expats go. At least ones who can afford the modest $20US fee. Well worth it.

Most people dress up, at least the women do. Beach-side casual I guess you call it. Not the overly done, show-offish look that is so common in the states but very tastefully, elegant, simple dresses with some of the jewelry locally made. I met a talented young lady who has a kids clothing store and locally made jewelry shop. You can see her work at: https://www.facebook.com/Kajexpressions

The Ball is divided into two parts - the dinner from 7-10pm, and then the band from 8 until who knows when. I heard it is usually 3-4am before the last ones stagger out. This year's event was at Roberts Grove Resort, one of the nicer, well established resorts about 5 miles out of town. It's the place where I've been looking at condos to buy.

The meal was outside on the deck on the beach-side of the resort.





Very nicely decorated and quite the beach view during a full moon with only a few clouds. It was a very tasty buffet-style menu of 'traditional' Christmas fare. Turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and to make it 'local', of course, beans and rice. Or it may have been rice and beans. The two dishes are slightly different but I can never remember which is which. I had the server pour lots of gravy on them anyhow.

A super delicious coconut creme pie topped off the meal. Yum.

Then across the road to the lagoon-side restaurant/marina for the partying. (The peninsula is only about 1/3 mi wide in this area so the resort spans both sides of the road.) One of the best bands in the country, great sound, but loud. Wow! That's the style here. Nonstop, reggae music with lots of bass from 5-ft speakers. I couldn't even stand being within 50-ft of the stage but many were right up there dancing the night away.


I wanted to see what it was like but it's not my thing so I left early. Just as many of the locals started coming in. And they were having fun. I guess I'm too old now for all that. I really never did enjoy it even when younger.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Belize - The 4th trip - the journey continues

Nov 21, 2011.

This is my 4th trip to Belize in a little more than a year. Staying ten weeks this time. Previously, the flights have gone smoothly all the way to Placencia...this one not so much. I fly Taca from LAX to BZE via San Salvador, and once again they did a great job. Their Business Class is cheaper than most and well worth it as the flights are usually very crowded, and usually a bunch of kids and babies. The layover in San Salvador is only an hour but using their air conditioned lounge with wifi is great for relaxing with a few free drinks and snacks.

Getting through and out of Belize City International Airport this time was the problem – big time. There was a large United flight that had just landed ahead of us so the lines through Immigration were the longest I've seen. Normally I'm one of the first off the plane and into Immigration first. This time I was barely inside the doors. Ugghhh. My Taca flights in the past were the all-niters. This one left LAX at 630am which put it in to Belize in the afternoon 'rush'.

Immigration went slowly but steadily. Their people do a great job. But then you get your bags from the carousel and in line again through Customs. That's worse as it is more involved with them checking inside many suitcases. The line was wrapped around the baggage carousel so I decided a quick trip to the duty-free shop was in order. Two bottles of GlenLivet - a bit high at $33 each but way cheaper than in-country. Two bottle of nice red Chilean wine at $6 each was a steal . I thought 4 bottles was the limit but after reading the rules later I discovered it was 4 LITRES of booze. Thus, I could have bought 5 of the 750ml. Each trip you learn.

So, then I grab a cart for my 2 big bags, 1 carry on, and 1 duty free bag, and get in the long Customs line. Quickly the duty free employee came over and told me I didn't have to wait in the long line. It was for those who had nothing to declare. Even though I don't have to pay duty on the liquor I had to 'declare it' and could use the very short 'declaration' line. But my good luck didn't last long.

They usually check every bag so the 22” TV I was bringing in for a friend was easily found. Even under bubble warp and a mattress pad she also wanted. I said it was on old used TV and I had no receipt. I had the receipt, but I wanted to see what they'd do. Off the top of his head he quickly valued it at $200, which is less than the receipt. I said OK and went to the cashier window to pay $37.50 duty. Not bad. The duty rate on TVs is 20% and then there's usually a 9% sales tax rate and then an environmental 2% rate. Not sure how they figure it all but it was fair so I agreed. Not much rhyme or reason at Customs. Depends on who you ask, and their mood for the day.

Out to find the porter with my bags to head over for my short hop to Placencia on Maya Island Air. My reservation was for 4:40pm and it was 5. The guy at the Maya counter took my bags and said he might still be able to get me on 'a' flight. Hmmmm. Got to the gate and found out what was going on. Their computer system had been down all day so everything was backed up and being done the old fashion way...pencil and paper. She looked at my boarding pass and put me on her list - #12. It was a 12 passenger prop plane so that was some relief, but short lived.

They were loading up the last 2 planes quickly. I soon learned why. The airport in Placencia has no lights so they had to take off by 5:30pm. The one plane loading first made it but not mine. Ugghhhh. We had to land in Dangriga, an lighted airport half-way. They would have a van take us the rest of the way. That didn't work well either.

It took them 90 minutes to find a local van and trailer to take all 12 of us with luggage. Then a 2 hour ride on the pitch black highways. I was traveling by myself so quickly jumped up in the front seat. There were several 'large' tourists in the group and I did not want to sit 3-across in the bench seats. Sitting up front I could direct him on using the a/c so the windshield didn't keep fogging up on outside. He hadn't a clue why, and it was his van. Hmmmm...

Anyhow, finally get to Placencia airport almost 10pm. Go to call my friend to come get me and can't find my phone. Ahhgggg. The phone I use in the US and just change the SIM card to my previous # in Belize. The one to which my friend had added $25US credit the previous week on triple minutes day, so there was $75 credit on it (it's pay as you go down here). All lost and never to be found by anyone. At least by anyone who reported it. Fat chance there. Calling the # went straight to voice mail. Apparently someone took SIM card out (yes, the card with $75 credit) and sold or used the nice phone. Oh well.

The Maya Air agents at Placencia were very helpful and called my friend for me. She lives only a few minutes away so I got to my apt around 10pm. I had left my condo in CA via Shuttle van at 2:30am. See why it was not a fun trip down this time.

It takes several days to acclimate to Belize, e.g. weather, pace, etc. Things happen much slower and even less efficiently. I know that but it still takes awhile to get used to it again. Take a deep breath. Check your attitude at the border.

The weather was hot the first couple days but then a 'cold' front came thru and it got into the 60s at night. Brrrr..... A couple people in town had heavy coats on...shorts and sandals tho. That front seemed to kick off 'winter' here. We had heavy rains a couple times but it clears up quickly. Most of the puddles drain away quickly, duhhh, everything is on sand here on the peninsula.

The weather since has been quite nice. Not too hot, not too cool. Rain once or twice but who cares. Sunny all day a couple days but usually only partly sunny the rest. I love it. The locals don't. “It's freezin”. All relative.


Road trip to Cayo – Fri-Sat Dec 2-3

A couple friends were going to the 'markets' in Belmopan and San Ignacio out west in Cayo District. I was invited and eagerly went so I could see the area again, and primarily to see for the first time the Spanish Lookout (Mennonite) area. They told me they wanted to leave at 5am so I was up and ready. We left at 630am. Hmmm... It's a 2-hour+ drive on paved roads to Belmopan on Hummingbird Highway. Undeniable the most scenic road in the country. Through the hills and valleys of lush vegetation, winding across small streams on one-lane bridges, and past large citrus groves and small villages. One should drive the Hummingbird slowly and stop many times along the way. Someday soon I will.

Not this time. My friends wanted to hit Belmopan early for the open air market. Interesting. Lots of fresh produce, hand made goods, clothing both new and used. I think some of the clothes were from compressed bundles of excess clothing from Goodwill, et al in US. Fresh juices and made on-the-spot tacos/burritos, etc. for brunch. I didn't need my Metamucil anymore.

A few hours at that market and then we headed south and west to Spanish Lookout. It's a large area of pastures and fields that the Mennonites bought up years ago. They started large cattle ranches and a huge dairy operation along with several crops. Now they supply much of the country's beef, chicken, pork and dairy products. They also make a lot of furniture from the native wood. They even build pre-fab homes and bring them to your site and life them onto your pilings.


The Mennonites somehow found oil a few years ago so several oil wells seem a bit out of place right in the middle of hay fields.

On the narrow roads you pass numerous oil tanker trucks hauling the crude oil. You have to watch out for them. They know all the curves and bridges and they take the right-away. There is a temporary, very narrow, flat wooden bridge across one river while they put in a new permanent bridge. The semis' wheels just fit on the wooden beams making up the bridge but I swear the tank is outside the width of the bridge.

I saw one picture when the river was just a bit higher than the bridge, with a semi going over it. It looked like it was driving on the water. They apparently had just opened the bridge after heavy rains made it impassable earlier. The car and semis were backed up in both directions so once the water was about level with the bridge it was opened. Quite a sight I'm sure.

They haul the crude oil out to the coast to Big Creek, the only deep water port in the southern part of Belize. The other port is up north in Belize City. Big Creek is just a small one-ship port where the tanker ships take the oil off to Guatemala or somewhere to be refined to gas and then shipped back to Belize and distributed around the country. What a cycle. No wonder gas is $5.18US/gal. There is talk of building a refinery in Belize but since it is a major expense it may take awhile. Many of the original people of Belize don't want all this modernization but there is a large influx of North Americans and their money talks down here.



Day Trip to Hatchet Caye – Tue, Dec 6th (aerial pic from their web site)



Hatchet Caye (usually pronounced key here) is a fairly new, small, all-inclusive resort on a private island 18 miles out on the reef. The Aussie who owns it has pumped millions into it and it is quite impressive. The trip was mostly a way of making local people aware of the resort to use as word of mouth advertising.

The trip was a super bargain. $25US for the boat ride out/back, 1 rum drink and BBQ chicken lunch, and use of all their facilities. They had all new kayaks, Hobie Cats, paddle boats, and a small pool, etc. You could even use their fishing equipment. All free. I was in heaven with the water sports.


Took Hobie Cat out awhile with one of their employees and a young kid whose sister worked at the resort. Then kayaking with a fishing pole. A couple of the local kids who came out with their parents brought a seine net and caught some bait fish. They let me use some but I only caught one nice mackerel. I was mostly out there just for the fun of it.

The caye has several beach front cabanas and several rooms in a 3-story building with a roof top deck which offers amazing 360-degree views. They have a small open-air restaurant and bar that has decent basic food and drinks. Not bad prices either. The loud Creole music was nice but it never stopped and the heavy bass from the 5-foot high speakers got old. You couldn't even talk in the bar area. But that's what the locals enjoy so you can't complain. You buy a beer and hang out of the other parts of the island.

The caye is a self-sufficient island, of course. The head maintenance guy gave three of us a tour of the solar power system, backup generators, and desalination system. Wow. So impressive with all the new equipment they had to have for operations. Not sure what they do about toilet sewage...hated to ask. Everything to build it had to be boat-barged out. Can't imagine the amount of work that it took to build it all. Wow.

It was a bit cloudy but no rain so it was a great day. Their 42-foot boat made the comfortable trip in around 45 minutes. Since there were no guests staying on the island this week they offered anyone in our group the cabanas for $100/night which 2 US couples took advantage of. I hadn't taken much money with me so staying over will have to wait until the next trip. If they offer this trip again I'm going for a couple days. Can't wait.


Friday, December 9th.

It's an all-day light rain day. Peaceful and quiet with the only sound of the rain. With no wind it's interesting to see rain come straight down. Temperatures have fallen more and it is the coolest evening so far. May have to close the shutter windows tonight.

No city water this morning. Apparently they are working on pipes somewhere so it's a slight annoyance that is not all that uncommon. It is a small village. The water tastes great and is safe. I think it comes from underground wells down from the mountains. A few hours later the water is back ...and so it goes