Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Horseback ride on Tijax Farm

We were currently docked at Tijax farm, a rubber plantation, hotel and Marina.  We were expecting to move in a couple of days to RAM marina a boatyard, to get some boat work done since the price for labor here is crazy inexpensive.  We wanted to take advantage of our time here at Tijax. 


We signed up for the 3 hour horseback tour of the farm for $20 US per person.  David and I took Isabel, Calvin, and Savannah.  The kids were so excited to go on a “real” horse back ride, rather than the pony led by someone walking it in a circle “ride”.  Of course the horses we were riding were well trained trail horses that know their route and just plod along, but the kids still had to learn a little steering and stopping.  They did a great job.


The scenery thru the farm was beautiful and hilly.  Our guide was Raul, who had worked for the farm for 16 years.  He spoke a little more English, then we did Spanish, but we still managed to communicate and learn quite a bit, including a few new Spanish words, like left and right.  He took us for a short hike on the property over a long suspension bridge that crosses a valley 50 meters below.  The kids were a bit ahead of us when we heard that Calvin had tripped, and gratefully had not fallen off the narrow bridge.  We made them slow down and reminded them to hold on tight to the railing.  We all made it safely back to the horses to continue our ride thru the plantation. 



We saw young rubber trees and mature rubber trees and learned how they harvest rubber.  This was a fun learning experience. Both Savannah and Calvin had recently learned different things about rubber in their school work, so I guess you could count this as a “field trip”.  Calvin had been studying how different products are imported to the US because we don’t and can’t grow or harvest these products in the US,  rubber being one of these products.  He had learned about different things made from rubber.  Savannah had been learning about Charles Goodyear and his lifelong pursuit of finding the right chemical mixture with rubber to make it useful. 



Rubber trees are tapped like maple trees.  They score the trees on one side and it causes the bright white rubber sap to run down the score mark to the little “faucet” placed in the tree to drip into a bucket.  Each season they alternate the side of the tree that they score.  1 workers can tap 600lbs of rubber sap each day.  Raul scored one of the trees to show us exactly how this is done.



We also rode the horses to the top of a hill to a lookout tower.  In the distance you can see the mountains of Belize.  The surrounding scenery is just beautiful.  We also stopped and made a short hike to a natural spring pool.  The sun was going down so we didn’t stay long but was told we could come back and swim in the natural spring another day.  The kids loved their horseback ride and when we returned to the boat, Benjamin was sad that he did not get to go on the horses. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guatemala Here We Come

IMG_5830The chant Isabel started our day with “Guatemala here we come!”  She was very excited to go to Guatemala.  We pulled up anchor in Southern Belize before 8am and traveled our last 20 miles to arrive in Livingston, Guatemala.  The mountains of Guatemala just got bigger and bigger as we got closer.  The water turned a little greener as the fresh water run off from the rivers mixed in and we could tell we were traveling in the Gulf of Honduras, no longer the Caribbean Sea. IMG_5839

Although we didn’t plan it, we happened to arrive at the port at high tide, a good thing.  There is a portion of the port that shallows to about 5.5 feet at low tide. We draw just a little more.  Many boats get pulled in over this shallow bar at high tide by a local shrimp boat.  The bottom of the bar is sand/mud and in our experience we were sure we could just motor our way across it with a little rub on the bottom if necessary.  We bumped bottom just slightly, but David thinks we drifted a IMG_5888little toward town and off the path of the deeper water, so had we stayed on track we may not have touched at all with it having been high tide.  No worries though.  Once thru the entrance we anchored near 2 sailboats off the main Livingston dock, and hailed our clearance agent, Raul, on the VHF.  We had called him on our Sat Phone about an hour earlier to let him know our approx time of arrival and to ask a few last questions—like “when is high tide?” and are they going to take any food from us?  I wanted to be prepared for it, he assured us over the phone that all would be fine.  Over the radio he let us know he was picking up the official and would be out to the boat in 10-15 mins. 

He arrived with 4 officials, Customs, Immigration, Health Dr, and we think Port authority. We offered them cold waters, and the last of grandma’s coca cola stash.  We don’t drink it but had leftovers from grandma’s visit in the fall.  They all happily accepted a cold drink and sat down to stamp our passports, fill out our visa’s, quickly review our boat documentation and approve the boat.  They didn’t even look around and no food was taken.  Then off they went.  It was a piece of cake.  We are not sure if it was because of Raul, but we like to think his $30 US fee was definitely worth it.  We paid, including his fee a little less then $150 to clear in.  He allowed us to pay all the fees in USD, as we did not even have any Guatemalan Q’s as we hadn’t left the boat at all.  He even took a few Belize dollars that we had left over for payment.  We will be contacting Raul for sure when it comes time to clear out. 


Once they left, time to pull anchor and head up the river of the beautiful Rio Dulce, which means “sweet river”  FYI, the only way to reach the town of Livingston is by boat.  There are no roads leading there.  We did not go into Livingston as we have heard it is not a very safe town, and we have really been concerned for the kids.  Their government is very weak here and crime is very high.  The police and courts here do not follow thru with punishing criminals.  We have been told that on the Rio Dulce, the locals are very interested in keeping tourism high and therefore the last few years, the Rio Dulce has had much less crime.  Robbery was the most common problem and that is much less now.  The Navy and tourism police help patrol the area and keep it safe.  We were also told that the local mob is involved in keeping it safe for the gringos, that is important to them and their business.  The rule we have been told is lock your stuff up, otherwise the locals will think you must not want it anymore and will take it.


IMG_5862Okay, back to the beautiful scenery…entering the gorge and heading up river was such a different scene to the Caribbean islands we had just come from.  The green 300 foot cliffs rose above us as we meandered our way around the curves and turn of the river.  We could here the buzz in the forest around us and pretty white birds perched on the trees.  As we got further and further up river we would see locals in their canoes and wooden Cayucos fishing along the rivers edge or bringing their kids home from school.  The kids all brought their lunch up to the fly bridge so we could enjoy the scenery together.

We had just about reached the marina zone when we heard a loud bump.  David quickly slowed our engines while we tried to figure out what it was.  We wondered if we had hit something on the bottom.  As we looked back over the way we had come we saw that it wasn’t the bottom we hit, but a piling barely above the water line.  David checked all the bilges and the engines, everything seemed to be working okay and we weren’t bringing in water, so we think the boat is okay.  Not sure how we missed seeing the pilings other than they were almost submerged, but we should have seen it—too distracted by the new world around us I guess.

IMG_5931The first marina we called didn’t have room for us, so we called the one I had been hoping for, Hacienda Tijax.  It is located on a rubber plantation.  They could take us, so in we went. There are about 10 marinas here that operate with the tourism board, so we have encouraged to use those particular marinas.  We got tied up and were welcomed by the Tijax staff and a few of the other boaters.  It is a small marina and hotel.  They have cute little huts for rent all over their waterfront property and a pool.  Because they are on the Rubber plantation they have other activities on the plantation that I was excited to see.  Overall, in the area there are a few hundred boats, but maybe around 100 boats with people living on them.  The majority of them being sailboats.  We are definitely different, being a large motor trawler.  We had people driving by us in their panga boats or canoes taking pictures of the boat.  In another month or 2 I imagine more boats will arrive as hurricane season approaches.  Because you can travel so far inland on the Rio Dulce, this is considered a “hurricane hole” and is a safe place to spend or leave your boat for that time of year.  But we don’t expect to be here then.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On to Guatemala, Goodbye Belize

IMG_5765Our last sunset in Belize.  We will be in Guatemala tomorrow.  You can see the mountains of Belize in the background.  I never thought about Belize having mountains until we arrived in southern Belize and saw them.  They would sort of loom in the background on the mainland, often hard to see miles out in the islands.  We got a much better view in Placencia, and as we travelled further south.

It was a beautiful afternoon, the water was super calm, it almost made me think we should turn around and head for home—only because it was so calm.  I hope we can find calm days like this when it is time to head north; it sure will make for a very comfortable ride. 

We anchored overnight at South Moho Caye, about 20 miles from our Guatemala port of Livingston.  We figured this way we could get up in the early morning and make it to Livingston mid morning, clear in to the country, and still have time to travel the next 20 miles up river to the Marina area of the Rio Dulce. IMG_5759


South Moho Caye has a small resort located on the very small Island with thatched huts over the beach and water.  There is not much else out here in the southern area of Belize.  We could see in the distance south of us the mountains of Guatemala. 

The kids had mostly finished up school work by the time we pulled up anchor in Placencia, Savannah joined us on the fly bridge with her book.  Calvin once done with chores also came up.  The kids enjoy listening to the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites books on CD.  We got them the last 2 audio books in the series for Christmas and we have been working our way thru them during travelling times.  This has made Savannah and Calvin excited each time we move the boat so they have a chance to listen to more of the story.  We are approaching the last couple chapters.  It will be a sad day when the story ends…  My guess is they will just want to start from the beginning again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


This was our last visit to a town in Belize.  We arrived on a Saturday morning and decided to wait till Monday to visit customs and Immigration to clear out of Belize.  There were about a dozen boats anchored here over the weekend.  After talking with a few of them they were using this anchorage as a base since the robberies on board the catamaran occurred.  Here they were meeting up to make plans to travel together or “buddy boat” around the islands.  David enjoyed chatting with a few of the boaters and picking up info about the clearing out process here.  We were trying to anticipate the cost to clear out but it turned out to be easier and less money than we thought. 


We were under the impression from other boaters and books that Placencia, while still small, was a nice growing town.  After visiting the town, that is not the impression we left with.  Maybe we needed to visit the resort area north of town, maybe that is the nice growing area.  But we prefer the real local experience.  Placencia is very small and more run down than Caye Caulker.  The anchorage is nice and in light of the recent crimes it feels good to have neighbors. It is also very picturesque from the anchorage.  Placencia is on the mainland with the Mountains climbing behind it in the distance.  

David and I found a very nice small restaurant to have dinner in a lit up garden behind a house, called Secret Garden.  I did worry for the first time after we docked our dinghy at the town dock to go to dinner if it would be there when we returned from dinner.  Even though David locked it to the dock I was not sure it would still be there.  All the cities we have visited I have never before wondered that till Placencia.  Earlier in the day David took Benjamin and Suzie into town and they dinghied to a dock near a hotel and restaurant and said it was a much nicer area than the town dock, that is probably where we should have gone, but I thought the town dock would be closer to the restaurant.  I was grateful to see the dinghy still chained up, with its motor when we returned from dinner a couple hours later. 


Sadly, Placencia did not have a branch or ward for church on Sunday, I really would have liked to attended another branch in Belize.  We rested in the morning, and then it got hot out.  The winds had died down so without a breeze in the afternoon soon, it gets very hot in the boat.  The 3 older kids decided to blow up our row boat and paddle to the neighbor boats and say hello, cooling off in the water on the way.  They had to practice team work skills to get anywhere against the light current.  They each took turns pulling the boat in the water, while the other 2, or 1 on the boat would paddle.  It was fun to watch them work together.  When Calvin was in the water, Isabel would order him “faster motor, faster”  as he tried to kick and push the small boat from behind.  Eventually they decided they liked pulling from the front better.  David took pity on them after a bit, and inflated the bottom raft of his inflatable sail boat.  This was smaller than the row boat and easier to get on from in the water. They visited with a couple of the boats nearby, saying hello and introducing themselves while Benjamin and I sat on the top flybridge in the shade watching them, enjoying popsicles. 


Monday morning brought preparations to leave.  David headed off 3 miles in the Dinghy to the port of Big Creek where the customs and immigration offices are.  They were very helpful he said in getting us cleared to leave Belize.  The total cost for us to clear out was $22.50 USD.  We expected closer to $100, so this was a pleasant surprise.  We contacted the Guatemalan agent in Livingston to help us clear in there to gather info about that area and emailed him all our documents so he could prepare for our arrival.  Than we decided how to get to Guatemala.  We originally thought we would head to the Sapodilla Cayes on the south edge of the reef, but as David looked at the map, he preferred for us to arrive in Livingston in the morning, clear in, and still have time to make it all the way up the Rio Dulce to what is called the Marina zone.  This was his plan due to safety concerns about the area.  Then we would not have to anchor overnight along the river.  So we picked out a little anchorage half way between Placencia and Livingston, South Moho Caye and off we went.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Queen Cays


This is how I always picture Belize.  Sandy cayes and palm trees surrounded by beautiful clear waters.  While there are many cayes like this…


most are like this—mangroves.  The waters are still clear and beautiful all around, so swimming and snorkeling are great on almost all the cayes.  But I hoped for every day at a deserted sandy beach too.  After our night at Lark Cayes we headed east 12 miles in the morning to the beautiful Queen Cayes right on the barrier reef.  The Queen cayes consist of 3 very small sandy beach cayes with palm trees. 


This picture is meant to make you jealous.  I told david that when we sell the boat this will be the picture we show of it, anchored at a gorgeous deserted beach in Belize.  We anchored off the middle Queen Caye b/c it seemed to have a good sized anchorage amidst the surrounding coral and the Caye to the south while just as gorgeous seemed to be where the daily excursions went—people were there. 


We started getting ready to head over to the beach when the park rangers showed up.  I knew there was a daily fee to be in the reserve, but then the rangers asked if we had a guide on board.  hmmm… we said no, do we need one?  They said yes, to visit the Queen Cayes you must come with a guide.  This was news to us.  Some of the parks want you to snorkel or dive with a guide, but we just wanted to play on the beach and in the waves.  We asked if we could do that, and they said no, and if there is no guide you can’t anchor here either.  We were told we would have to leave.  We asked if they could be our “guide”  and they said no, they are just park rangers.  We then asked if there were guides on the other caye to the south and they said yes.  We asked if one of them could be our guide too.  The rangers said they would go talk with them and then radio us. 

David lowered the dinghy, if we had to leave, we at least wanted a picture with the boat and island together.  So we motored around to get a good picture to make you all jealous, then we took the dinghy over to the south caye to find out about a guide.  One of the dive boats had pulled up to pay their park fee before heading out to dive and snorkel on the reef, they said they had an extra guide on board and he could stay with us.  We only had 2 hours before we had to pull anchor and find an anchorage for the night, as we couldn’t spend the night there.  So the dive boat dropped their guide with us after we picked up the kids and we all headed to our deserted little island. DSCN1974DSCN1954

We had a great time!  France was our “guide”, we found it quite silly that we needed supervision to play on the beach.  The dive boat captain told us that it was a very new rule to this particular park and they are all adjusting.  Of course it helps the guide business as it means no one can go out there with out hiring a guide to take them or go with them, which I guess is good for their economy, but makes it difficult as a tourist traveling in a private boat.  We had a nice time with France and enjoyed his company.  He told us he was of Garifuna descent.  It is one of the common ethnicities in southern Belize.  He said that English is his 2nd language, and Garifuna his first.  He shared some words with us, but I can’t remember any. Garifuna culture can be found from the Bay Islands of Honduras up the Caribbean coast to Mexico.  They are descendants of people they called in the 1700’s Black-Carib. A mixture of Brazil heritage and Nigerians.  DSCN1950



The water surrounding our little island was beautiful.   It was fairly wavy and the water would push the kids up and down the beach as it came in and out.  It was crystal clear and the sand was soft.  The island was quite surrounded with reef so we were able to snorkel around easily and look at little fish and coral nearby.  It was such a great day that we did not want to leave. 

But we had to go. We paid France and his boss $50 US for the 2 hours of “guide” service, and then the park rangers an additional $30US.  Quite an expensive amount for our deserted island dream.  Had we been able to stay longer it would have seemed more worth it, but we had to find a safe harbor for the night.  We loved being there anyway and will remember the beauty of the day instead of the fees.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

South Water Caye

We headed to South Water Caye to drop anchor for the evening after a lovely morning at Rendezvous Caye.  We arrived with the sun heading down around 4 pm, making it a little hard to see the coral in the water, but we did okay.

In the morning David spent time working on one of our generator’s that was having a problem, and after the kids got a good amount of school work done, Suzie and I took the kids to the beach for a bit. South Water Caye has a 2 or 3 small resorts on it. The island is about 1/2 mile long. There were 5 other boats anchored there overnight, but most had left by 9am. As we were headed to the beach, the reserve rangers showed up asking for their $5 USD per adult to visit the South Water Reserve Area. Many of the good or prettiest islands are contained in “reserves” It is just a way for the government to make some money and pay for patrols in the area. I kind of look at it as a camping fee.

While on the beach we chatted with some people staying at the resort on the island and they told us they had heard about some boat crimes this week. This was news to us. After giving me some rough details, I relayed to David what I had heard.  Before leaving the area, we connected to the internet to find out what was going on.  Exact Details were scarce but news reports stated that 2 families and friends were aboard a rented sail catamaran anchored in a secluded area for the night.  After dark they were approached by a skiff boat (mostly used by locals) with 4 men.  The men came aboard.  6 of the passengers hid in the cabins below.  A husband and wife in their 50’s stayed up top to talk with the men who stabbed them and robbed the boat.  One of the passengers below had sent out a mayday call over the VHF radio and so help soon came.  The injured couple were taken to the hospital and have since been release.  There are lots of rumors circulating that worse things happened, but I think these are the more accurate details.  A few days before that there was another incident of a boat traveling at night by a charter captain.  They were boarded by men on a skiff and knocked unconscious and robbed.

This incident made us rethink our plans.  We decided to alter our anchoring plans to stay at the more popular anchorages, that we know of, so that we don’t end up anchoring somewhere alone for the night.  We are hoping to minimize our risk by spending the night anchored near other boats.  There are not a lot of boats here, so it makes this a little more difficult trying to figure out where others are staying.  We are also making sure all windows and doors are closed and locked for the night.and that our dinghy and swim ladder are pulled up to make boarding less easy.  We also now sleep with a handheld VHF in our room along with a SPOT beacon that has an SOS button on it that is monitored by a GPS company. We are still enjoying Belize, but this has made us a little more cautious of the locals which is sad, because we would like to think that those we encounter are all friendly and have an opportunity to get to know more locals.

After David had his projects wrapped up it was time to leave and head south again.  We rethought were we would anchor and decided to head to Wippari Caye, but after arriving there, the winds had shifted directions and made the anchorage their very rolly, so we didn’t stay.  It was getting late and we needed to get  somewhere for the night.  We decided to head to the nearby Lark Cayes.  We were very happy to see another sail boat anchored there for the night.  We had great protection from the north and east winds for the night.  David was excited because this was a deep anchorage, the deepest we have ever anchored in. 

We dropped the anchor in 50 feet of water and put out all the chain we had—300 feet. When we pulled back on the anchor to check its set, we felt the boat drag.  So we pulled up the anchor to reset and found mud.  We had been anchoring in sand, which our anchor always just digs into, but mud is a little different—it takes time for the anchor to sink in the mud and set.  So with this new info we dropped the anchor again, put out all our chain and then waited a bit.  We didn’t use as much force as usual to check our anchor knowing that it would only sink deeper with time.  So if it holds with just a little force we’d be fine later after it sunk more.  We typically put a lot of force on our anchor to check it’s set, we think more than most people, but it gives us peace of mind at night that if the winds pick up and a storm starts to blow really hard, we aren’t going to get blown away.  We will only need to worry about the boats around us getting blown into us.

Our adventures with Conch

We didn’t get very good pictures of trying to open the conch shell and get the snail out, so you will have to see thru the blurriness of the photos.   We gave the camera to Savannah and she wanted to get close ups, but she didn’t make sure they were focused.DSCN1923

So, either we are retarded, or it is not as easy as the youtube videos I watched make it out to be.  We had to hammer a hole in the crown of the shell and poke it with a large flathead screwdriver.  This supposedly breaks the suction of the snail to the shell.  Well, we found that to be easier said the done.  The shell is really tough to break.  I was worried David was going to hit his finger or foot or leg and we’d end up with a medical emergency just trying to crack a small hole in a Conch Shell.


Once you have your hole and have poked it with your screwdriver to break the suction, you’re suppose to be able to just reach in the shell from the outside and pull out the snail.  Yeah Right!  This was tough.  First of all we could barely reach the snail with our fingers in the tight curl of the shell.  Second, those snails are really suctioned in there!  David finally got out a pair of pliers and was able to reach in and pull hard and get the snail out.  This was after we hammered away a lot more of the shell.  The kids were upset we were breaking their pretty shells, but those snails were hard to get out!DSCN1921

DSCN1918Once the snail is out, you have to clean it and cut off the unusable parts.  The white parts are the meat.  A large portion of it requires cutting off the skin, it is quite a tough skin and took me awhile to cut it all off.  After cleaning out 3 shells we were done, the 4th we threw back in the water.  It was definitely a learning experience and I am sure if we did it over and over we would get it done better.  I washed off the meat and put it in the fridge for dinner tomorrow night.IMG_5605

I had read online that the meat is rather tough and needs to be beaten or chopped up super small—so I pulverized it in my blender.  I added red bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic, egg, flour, salt and pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes.  Stirred it up and deep fried them to make fritters.  They turned out beautifully, and were quite tasty.  The kids were a little unsure, but everyone had to try at least one.  Calvin and Savannah each had more and decided they like them.  David and I ate 4 or 5, they were really pretty good.  Isabel and Benjamin ate their one, but just wanted more potatoes.  Matthew ate his and had a little more.  If the youngest eats it then it has to be good—he is picky.IMG_5607

Food in Belize

We were warned by other boaters that the fresh produce in Belize was terrible.  They were right.  It must be because they don’t export produce.  While at San Pedro, Ambergis Cay, I did find a little produce market that had decent produce, but it was quite expensive.  I paid $1US per pound for a watermelon. 

What we did love in Belize was some local made cinnamon bread.  We bought a loaf twice, it was really yummy as french toast so we had to get it a 2nd time.  The loaf has cinnamon throughout it, but the entire outside of the loaf is a dark brown, I think they must roll it in the cinnamon/sugar mix before putting it in the pan to bake. We tried a few other bakery items too and the kids enjoyed each picking something new to try.  Calvin and I both ended up with some kind of cake made from Corn bread.  His had a caramel frosting that was good.

We also tried a couple of custard apples in Belize, they were a little different.  I am not sure if they were over ripe, but their seeds are too large to swallow and difficult to get out of the meat of the fruit.  They have the texture of brown sugar, with a mellow papaya sort of taste.  I ended up mixing it up with some yogurt and it was pretty good that way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rendezvous Caye

DSCN1847A little piece of paradise.  We anchored the day before about 2.5 miles away from this little island of sand and palm trees, behind a much large Island, Middle Long Caye for protection from waves and wind.  In the morning we loaded up the kids and headed to Rendezvous Caye in the dinghy.  Our not so accurate guide book said this was a beautiful sand and palm island—this was true, but the book also said it was deserted and rarely visited—this was false.  For the last 7 years it has been developed by an American Judge as an excursion destination for cruise shippers and tourists visiting Belize.  They had several shade palapas and picnic tables, even had bathrooms, and of course a small dock to tie up to.  DSCN1896DSCN1853DSCN1912

We arrived around 9am as a tour group on a sailboat was leaving.  They had camped overnight on the island and were headed to a new Island today.  There was no cruise ship scheduled for today, or any other tourist excursion groups, so we had the place to ourselves, except for the caretaker Mike.  He was a friendly guy who welcomed us to shore and told us to enjoy ourselves.  He even took us out snorkeling on the reef around the island. While snorkeling I was able to identify some plants and things that we had learned about the day before at the aquarium.  Mike found 4 Conch shells while snorkeling for us to take with us.   The kids were thrilled!  They had been looking for Conch everywhere we went, and were sad when we would find it in a protected park, and disappointed when we wouldn’t find it.  This was a real treat for them as Mike gave us for Conch shells to take.  He told us they will live in their shells on land for 3 days.  So we didn’t have to cook them tonight.  The kids enjoyed watching the snails inside peek out wondering where they were as they were no longer at the bottom of the sea. 


DSCN1873Mike told us that when the cruise ships come in he takes out a glass bottom ferry boat to tender the passengers over in.  He lives out on the water in one of the boats so he can keep an eye on the island and the boats.  We told us we should have pulled RCabin around Middle Long Caye and anchored closer to Rendezvous so we could keep an eye on it.  We told him we weren’t sure how the wind and waves would be or how much coral there would be to dodge, so we decided to leave it where it was protected and safe.  DSCN1870

DSCN1884We had a great time playing on the beach and in the crystal clear waters.  After a couple of hours it was time to go and nobody wanted to leave.  Who would want to leave such a beautiful place, but we were planning to head to another beautiful place and needed to get there before the sun went down.  Just before leaving David made a quick trip back to the boat and back to us so we could give Mike a tip for allowing us to come ashore and taking us snorkeling.  We hadn’t brought any cash with us because we expected the island to be deserted.  The kids were sad to leave, they had a fabulous time!





Sunday, March 18, 2012

San Pedro Branch


View from the church, you can see our boat anchored behind the shed building

If you look closely you’ll see RCabin anchored in the water just above the shed like building.  This is the view from the balcony of the church building in San Pedro.  There has been a branch here for 12 years, and last year they purchased a small apartment building and somewhat renovated it for use as a church building.  It is located right downtown on the beach of San Pedro.  It is the closest we have ever anchored or docked to a church building.  Usually we have to travel much further, so this was a nice change. 

The Church’s website states that the branch meets at 9:30am, but luckily on Thurs. we passed by the building and saw the missionaries and asked them.  They told us, it really starts at 9am.  We asked if they could come out to our boat for dinner, but missionary rules—No.  So we brought dinner for them and left on the doorstep knowing they would be back to the building for a meeting that evening.  They later told us they weren’t sure who it was from until they opened the foil and saw the green beans (still had that canned green bean look) on the plate and new that was a American food. 

The branch is quite small but very friendly and welcoming. They mostly speak English, but have a few members that speak Spanish, so they translate the meeting from English to Spanish.  There were 4 other couples visiting as tourists and I think we were all hugged by each member of the branch.  The other couples all left after sacrament meeting.   Primary consisted of all the kids in one room together listening to a primary CD and singing together.  We had a small Sunday school class  where the 2nd half of lesson number 3 was taught. And then we split into relief society and priesthood.  There were 4 other sisters and myself for relief society.  One of the younger sisters said the relief society president didn’t make it today so we will need to figure out a lesson.  She then suggested we could read from the Book of Mormon, that is what they did last week.  One of the other sisters asked if I could give a lesson from memory.  I told them I would be happy to give a lesson as I had all the manuals on my phone for reference.  They thought that would be great.  I asked them if they were using the George Albert Smith manual, and one of the sisters said she thought so.  I asked if they might know what lesson number they were on and they didn’t know.  So I guessed based on where we had been when I last attended church in Mexico.  I quickly looked at lesson number 6 and saw it was on supporting our priesthood leaders and thought as a struggling branch it would be a good lesson.  There branch president is very young, I would guess in his 20’s and needs a lot of support I am sure.   I read from the quotes in the lesson and gave some of my thoughts and they all listened attentively.  Two of the sisters did not speak English, but said they understood a lot of English, so it was a quiet lesson.  I asked if any of them wanted to share any experiences of supporting their branch leadership.  And then the tears came.  One of the sisters was having a difficult time.  What I gathered was the branch president was new in the last year and making some changes that were hard for some of the members.  But the sister said “ I keep coming to church” and  I thought that was an important thing.  I don’t know all the background or what the situations are for them here, but I know that she loved the gospel and the church, so she keeps coming, despite the difficulties she has.  She keeps coming to church to worship her Savior and Heavenly Father.  Most of the people of Belize are very poor, minimum wage is about $1.00-2.00 USD, they don’t have much here.  Their homes, like in Mexico, are mere shacks or cement buildings they built themselves.  But these women, had great testimonies of the gospel, despite their circumstances or problems, they love the Book of Mormon and the Savior, and they have faith he will provide for them as they do their best to follow him. 

Caye Caulker

After Church on Sunday we pulled up the anchor and headed south 12 miles to Caye Caulker.  While we were in San Pedro 2 or 3 other boats had joined us in the anchorage, but that was it.  I thought we would see at least a dozen other boats for the size of town.  When we arrived at Caye Caulker I was glad to see 6 other boats anchored.  One of them was a a boat we had seen in Mexico and also in San Pedro.  The Banana Catamaran.  In San Pedro we talked with them a few times and mentioned we had seen them in Isla Mujeres. They have a big banana painted on the side of the boat along with their name.  Every time we pass them in the dinghy our kids would chant B-A-N-A-N-A!  over and over.  They are french, but live in South Africa, where there boat was built.  They sailed it here from South Africa and are headed to Panama.  They had left San Pedro the day before us and had told us they were headed to Caye Caulker, so we weren’t surprised to see them, but were surprised to see the other 5 boats.  Most were Catamaran’s, which seems to be the preference of boats here in Belize.  A couple were monohulls, all sail, no other power boats like us.

It was a nice calm anchorage in the lee of the Island.  We went for a short walk in town after arriving.  It is much smaller than San Pedro, the 3 streets were all hard packed sand streets.  It has a more laid back feel, much less crowded, but still had a decent amount of shops and activities for tourists.  We stopped to watch a local’s soccer game.  They were young adults in uniforms playing a great game.  During half time Savannah and Calvin headed onto the field with some other local kids to play for a bit.

In the morning we took Benjamin in for his Birthday Breakfast with Mom and Dad.  We went to a little local shop for eggs and homemade cinnamon rolls.  He loved being with just Mom and Dad!  At lunch time we took all the kids in for a local lunch.  By the time we got ashore, the shop we had gone to for breakfast was sold out for lunch, so we headed a little further down the street to another local eatery called Syd’s, we enjoyed Garnaches for lunch.  They are tostadas with beans, cheese, onions, and cabbage on them.  We ordered a few with chicken too.  They are simple, yummy, and super cheap.  Lunch to feed all 8 of us full cost $20 BZ including tip, that’s $10US.  DSCN1782



That afternoon the kids swam for a bit off of the boat and tried to scrub our waterline which is attracting algae.  They have been looking for ways to earn spending money, so we have put them to work cleaning the outside of the boat, which needs a good scrub often b/c of all the salt water.  David and I reviewed the maps trying to decide where we should go and what we should do, trying to plan out our remaining time.  We planned to head south in the morning. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hidden Treasure Restaurant, San Pedro

On Saturday night, before we left San Pedro David and I headed out for dinner.  I had looked up a place on  They had 125 restaurants listed for the tiny town of San Pedro, I think that is more than is listed for the whole Treasure Valley in Idaho.  But I guess more people visit here than the Boise area. 

Anyway, one of the top restaurants listed was Hidden Treasure.  I found in Mexico that I could look up places to go eat on TripAdvisor, but actually finding where the restaurant was needed more research.  The addresses are really never listed and even if they were there are usually no street signs anyway so an address really doesn’t help. It makes finding some places tricky.  Luckily we had a town map printed of the website from the toursim board.  And it had the restaurant marked in an area south of town. 

We hopped in the dinghy and went in search of a dock on the south part of town.  There are lots of docks, we just needed to find someone to let us use the dock.  The first place we stopped, a man came out and told us it was private, he spoke Spanish or we would have asked if we could pay him to let us use it.  We went a little further south and stopped at the Belize yacht Club dock—which was empty, but there was a security guard for the resort behind it.  David talked with him and he radio’d to ask if we could use their dock for a few hours.  He asked David where we were going, and he said we were still far away and would need a taxi from there.  He told us we should go further south and try some of the resort docks. David came back to the dinghy where I was waiting and asked if I had set us on a wild goose chase.  He relayed to me what the security guard advised us.  It seems the map I consulted is not really drawn to scale and the restaurant is much further south of town then I anticipate.  So we went down another 5 docks and tried there.  The security guard at the Banyan Resort was very friendly and nice.  He told us to tie up, no problem. 

We walked out to the street and headed south.  I marked where we were on the map and thought we only needed to go to the next cross road and turn, but we found an area map on a pole in the street and looked at that.  Luckily it also had the restaurant with an accurate location.  We needed to walk down 3 cross streets and then turn.  From there we walked thru sort of a residential area and there were signs to follow. But once in the neighborhood, we either missed a sign or the signs ended.  A group of teenagers were out playing soccer barefoot in a field, and we weren’t quite sure where to go next.  A woman was walking by so we asked her, and she said we were here, it was just down the street a bit.  Tucked behind the trees, very “hidden” was this beautiful, romantic restaurant.  It was surrounded by bamboo and trees under a wooden patio covering.  The location was a bit odd, but the restaurant was very nice.  They run a shuttle to pick people up at their hotels/resorts or people drive golf carts there.  We didn’t have reservations, but they said they had one table left to seat us.  I saw them turn away another couple that came about 20 mins later, so we lucked out.  After we sat down they brought us cold, wet wash cloths with eucalyptus on them.  They were very refreshing for a quick wash up, they were so cold I didn’t want to put it down.  It was very nice after our walk in the humidity. 

We ordered our dinner and appetizers and it was all delicious.  I had a green salad with apple fritters, and a stuffed grouper for dinner.  David ordered a seafood bisque and chicken thai curry dish.  We both loved the grouper that I had ordered and shared that-it was big, and then brought home half of the meal David had ordered. Both our dinners came with local seasonal veggies, one of them being a veggie called Cho Cho, we had to ask what it was as it was new to us. We shared a bread pudding dessert and then it was time to head back to the boat. Had I called the restaurant earlier and inquired about a reservation, they probably would have mentioned their shuttle and we could have been picked up in town near the town dock, but we had fun exploring and trying to figure out how to get there.  Rather than take the shuttle back to the resort we decided to walk.  It wasn’t too far and the exercise is always good for me.  When we reached the resort and dinghy, we had planned to tip the security guard for allowing us the courtesy of using the dock, but he was no where to be found.  

We really enjoyed our night out and the hunt for the hidden treasure restaurant. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

One of the things we knew we had to do in San Pedro was snorkel out at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  I knew I wanted to go during the day and then also at night.  It is a national park and has protected status so the marine life is abundant there.  They constantly run tours out there, so it can get crowded.  This is where having out own boat aided us.  We had heard you need to go with a guide regardless, so we visited the Reserve office in San Pedro to find out for sure the rules.  #1 We can take our dinghy there—but it has to be registered with them.  For an annual fee of $10 USD we could register the dinghy.  #2 We would need to purchase park tickets—$10USD per day for anyone over the age of 12.  #3 You must go with a registered guide—this we had to find.  DSCN1611DSCN1633

We checked with the dive shops, there’s a lot, but most do not hire out freelance guides, they require you to go on one of their “tours” at the low cost of $45 per person, kids 5-12 were half price.  This would also mean we would go with the crowds and a group and not get a personal tour on our own time.  We also wanted to go again at night, which would mean we would have to pay for a whole tour again, and the night snorkels cost a little more than the day time.  So we kept asking. 

DSCN1683We decided to go with a shop, the name I can’t remember, but they scheduled a guide for us for the next day.  We planned to go between the regular tour groups at 12:30pm.  The tour groups go out in the morning and then again in the afternoon, so we were going to head out when they had just come back.  Sounded like a good plan.  And it was.  There were only 2 other small boats out there when we arrived.  Our tour guide, Gonzalo was great.  He checked us in with the park rangers—they sit in a boat waiting and watching for boats that come out to the area.  Then Gonzalo tied us up to a mooring ball and off into the water we went.  We had only brought Savannah, Calvin, and Isabel with us.  We left Suzie behind on the boat with Benjamin and Matthew.  He had brought some sardines with him to help entice some of the marine life out—like a moray eel.  They flow like ribbons in the water.  He showed us large schools of fish and knew all there names.  Yellow tailed jacks followed us everywhere we went.  They were 18inches long and traveled in large schools right beside us the whole way. We saw a sea turtle, large schools of several different kinds of snapper, grouper, angelfish, a couple of nurse sharks-one was little, the other close to 5 feet long.  It was great!DSCN1622DSCN1652

DSCN1714After we snorkeled on the reef for about an hour, we loaded back in the dinghy and headed a little further south to a spot in the reef where a decade or so ago fisherman used to clean their catch at.  Because of this the spot attracted nurse sharks and rays.  They gather as the boats pull up hoping for something yummy when they hear the engines coming. They call it shark ray alley.  We hoped right in, but the shy nurse sharks headed off a bit. The rays stuck around.  They must know more food was coming.  Gonzalo still had more sardines to feed them.  They were all different sizes and he held a few so the kids could touch them and see how they feel.  It looked to me like some of them had their stingers removed for safer handling.  Not all, but the ones he grabbed all had the stingers removed.  There were dozens of rays swimming around, they were so neat to watch.  About 20 mins later another boat pulled in and we watched the rays all gather nearby.  We followed Gonzalo over and hoped to see the sharks reappear.  Nurse sharks are quite shy.  After they tied up to a mooring ball their captain started tossing bait into some shells and tossing them over.  It was fun to watch the rays all gather in anticipation.  After a few minutes, a 5 foot nurse shark came swimming back and argued with a ray over the food in the shell.  Once the food was gone, the shark swam off again.  DSCN1706

It was time to head back to the boat.  The wind had picked up and it looked like a storm might blow thru.  We headed back to shore, about 5 miles in the choppy water and made plans with Gonzalo to meet later at 5:30 pm to hopefully head back out for a night snorkel if the weather cleared up.


At 5:30pm we met up with Gonzalo at the dock.  He was a little apprehensive about going back out.  I think he had a long day, with a trip in the morning, us in the afternoon and now we wanted to go back out for night.  Luckily he was still willing to go.  The water had calmed and the sunset was spectacular with the clouds creating beautiful colors.  We stopped at a dive shop to rent some waterproof lights.  We had brought a few flashlights that we hoped would hold up in the water, but we weren’t sure, so it was better to rent a couple of lights that would work for sure.  We headed back out to the same spot we first went to and tied up to a mooring ball and waited till it got dark.  There were 2 other boats out there waiting as well, the both had divers in them.  about 20 mins later it was dark and time to hop in.  Gonzalo gave us some tips:

#1  If you see an octopus, keep your light shining on it or it will quickly hide and camouflage itself.  I had no idea octopus could change colors to blend in to their surroundings, but when we first saw one you could hardly tell what was rock and what was octopus.  Once the divers had all moved away from it and we had swam just a bit away, the octopus felt safe to move on.  Gonzalo’s noticed it moving and put his light on it and we got to watch it move along the grass and sand.  It was very cool.  DSCN1747

#2 If you see a barracuda, don’t shine your light in its eyes or it will charge.  Move your light away from it or turn your light off.  We didn’t see any, so no problem there.

#3 When the worms start to bother you turn  your light off or swim near the coral.  There were blood worms everywhere.  They are like little flies that swarm to your flashlight.  There would be thousands of them around us and you could feel them on your skin or swimming down your swim suit.  They don’t bite but they are creepy feeling.  The coral feeds off of them and sucks them in when they get close.  And if you turn off your light they swim away.  But they come back after a bit when you turn your light on.

#4 If you see an eel and there is a fish nearby, shine your light on the fish and the eel will eat the fish.  This took a bit of coaxing.  We saw 2 eels out of their rock houses swimming around we had to flicker the light for a bit on the fish to get the eel to turn to the fish to eat.  It was neat to watch the eels swim, they look like ribbons flowing in the wind, waving. 

DSCN1753We also saw tons of spiny sea urchins.  I had never noticed them before, because they  hide under the rocks during the day and come out at night to eat.  It was neat to see them everywhere.  The rays were mostly resting for the night, we could see them buried in the sand. We also saw 3 lobsters on the move looking for dinner. The divers were about 10 feet below us and at one point we swam over them and they were shining their lights on this huge black grouper.  He was at least 3 feet long and 2 feet tall.  He was big. We also saw another octopus, but he quickly hid under a rock when we approached him.  All the big schools of fish were gone, but a few different fish were out that we hadn’t seen earlier in the day.  It was great.  I am so glad we did the night snorkel and am excited to go again in other areas, it was fun to see the marine life that hides during the day and only ventures out at night.

Including the cost of the waterproof flashlight rental, and an extra tip for our guide Gonzalo because he was great, we paid for the guide service $130.  So adding in the other costs it was a total of $160 USD for 2 trips of snorkeling.  It cost us half price of what we would have spent had we paid for the tours, plus the benefits of going when we wanted—with out the crowds and a private tour guide just for our little group.  It was a great experience.  These 2 trips are the best snorkeling we have ever done and well worth the cost of a tour.