19 April, 2009

Recalling Manatee Lodge at Gale's Point, 2004

The next morning at breakfast, we asked Nicole and the manager (sorry, I can’t remember her name at the moment) if they knew the person who had property for sale on the Northern Lagoon. We had found an ad on our internet search for 40 acres. They didn’t know the owner, but we were able to call him and arrange for a young local man familiar with the area to take us to see it. In the meantime, we made plans for a trip out to the cayes to snorkel and got our bearings for Gale’s Point. Gale’s Point has some international fame for its Garifuna drumming school. We walked south on the narrow road; in places the lagoon water was only feet away from either side of the road. We passed the drumming school and Gentle’s Cool Spot. We stopped in for coffee at Nicole’s friend’s place. This tiny enterprise, only ~10x15 feet, was also a dressmaker’s place and a tattoo parlor.

The weather was atrocious the entire time we were there, but we made the best of it. We made the attempt to get to the cayes. What a mistake! The first part was fine even though it was little drizzly as we made our way north across the Southern Lagoon to the Bar River. At the mouth of the Bar River is a protected area for sea turtle nesting and turtle count activities. But the force of the wind and the waves raised by the wind hit us when we got to open sea. We optimistically hoped the weather would clear and continued going. This was our first encounter with a Norther, and this one didn’t quit for a good week. We endured almost an hour of spine-breaking, air-born travel over high waves before we called it quits and headed back. Of course that meant another hour of return travel. Makes my butt hurt just to recall the pounding that we endured.

The next day, we set out with George to see the property on the Northern Lagoon. Again, the day was wet, but the wind was not as bad and the air was warm. It was an enjoyable trip. Very little of the shore of the Southern or Northern Lagoons was inhabited; the few structures that were present were primitive fish shacks nailed together from miscellaneous assortments of wood. We did see a fine dock and house/office that George thought was the beginnings of a development at the southern shore of the Northern Lagoon. We got to the property, which was very lovely. There was a dry weather “track” to the property from a dirt road which led to another dirt road and then a paved road. All-in-all not very accessible by land and several hours of serious travel away from supplies. Gorgeous, but not very practical. We did see jaguar prints (see slide show) and a couple of snakes that I wouldn’t let George kill. It would be a terrific location for a jungle lodge, provided you had enough money to put in a road. We just weren’t ready for that kind of undertaking. After exploring the area, we headed back to Manatee Lodge.

One reason we had chosen to stay at Manatee Lodge was its proximity to an underwater spring of warm water that attracts manatees. We took the canoe out a couple of times and saw quite a few manatees. We also explored the bit of land that separates the Southern Lagoon from the ocean and found a couple of abandoned houses and garden plants gone feral. What we didn’t see was other people, and that suited us. There was very little boat activity on either lagoon; maybe because the weather was not fine. We paid a visit to Gentle’s Cool Spot early one evening with some of the other guests from Manatee Lodge. Mr. Gentle makes wine from cashews, blackberry, and other fruits. Mixed with sprite, they were not bad. It was a real treat to sit on the veranda at Mr. Gentle’s Cool Spot (as I learned “cool spot” is another name for a place that serves alcohol). It was actually his home, as are most of the places of business along Gale’s Point. Manatee Lodge has a very nice library, which was another place we spent rainy days.

From Gale’s Point we went to Black Rock Lodge near San Ignacio. But that will be in the next blog.

18 April, 2009

Spring is here in southern Minnesota!

This week has brought us our first sustained real spring weather. The daffodils are beginning to bloom, bluebirds are picking out nest boxes, robins are pulling worms from ground covered with green grass. The trees are still bare, but flower buds on the maple and sarvice berry trees in our yard are swelling and will break forth at any moment.

Earlier this week I was out in the front yard with our two cats, JD and Max, checking out the status of the daffodils, etc. when I heard another cat meowing. I looked over to see a young, scrawny cat tentatively emerge out from under the mugo pine. I quickly picked her up so our cats wouldn’t chase her off. Poor kitty was skin and bones, in fact some places didn’t even have skin. It looks as though she was thrown or leapt from a moving car and is recovering from serious road rash on her left flank. Of course I took her in and gave her water and food. Over the course of the next 4 hours she ate 2 large cans of cat food and wanted more. Her road rash seems to be healing quite well, but it covers an area about 3 inches by 3 inches with a square inch in the center still scabbed over. From the looks of it, I estimate it happened as long as 3 weeks ago. We are keeping her in the sunroom while we check with the neighbors to see if any of them are missing a cat. I hope we don’t find them because I want to keep her. JD and Max aren’t too happy to have another cat in the house, but they are behaving pretty well. She is very affectionate and is sitting in my lap purring as I write this.

In last weekend’s blog I started telling the story of how we wound up in Belize. After our first 2 trips to Belize in 1998 and 1999, during the next 4 years we had winter vacations in Puerto Rico (including a side trip to Vieques), Bahamas, Baja Mexico, Tortola British Virgin Islands, and Kona Hawaii. We had previously been to St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John in the US Virgin Islands, Maui Hawaii, Culebra Puerto Rico. It seems that with each warm place we went to, each of us was, independently and without the other knowing it, scoring the location as a possible place to live. We finally realized that both of us were thinking this way, possibly in reaction to moving from Georgia to Minnesota in 1993. ;-) Our highest ranking places were Culebra Puerto Rico and Belize. Neither of us likes crowds or has a need for poshness. Not to say that we don’t like our comforts or are antisocial, but we do like a simple life. Belize won out for a number of reasons, cost of living being a major factor.

So it was that in February of 2004 we set off to Belize, checkbooks in hand just in case, to look for property. We started our vacation at Gale’s Point. Gale’s Point is a low, narrow, finger of land that juts straight out into the Southern Lagoon from the south shore. We flew into the Phillip Goldson International Airport, took a taxi to the dock at the Save-U store in Belize City. We were met at the dock by John Moore who boated us to Gale’s Point Manatee Lodge. The journey was wonderful. We started on the Belize River, then a canal to the Sibun River. The Sibun River took us to the Northern Lagoon. All along the way we watched birds in the tropical jungle plants along the water’s edge. Once in the Northern Lagoon we made a brief detour to Bird Caye. It lived up to its name. We couldn’t stay long because evening was approaching and we still needed to navigate through the maze of waterways connecting the Northern and Southern Lagoons. The sun was setting behind the mountains as we arrived at the Manatee Lodge dock. We checked in to the lodge, put our things away, and went down to a quiet dinner before bed.

To be continued …

17 April, 2009

New slide show

As promised, I have scanned in my old film-based photos of our second trip to Belize in 1999. You can view them with their captions by clicking on the photos that show to the right of this blog. Enjoy!

12 April, 2009

An Easter Retrospection

Here in Rochester, Easter Sunday is a lovely, sunny, warm day. As Dennis and I drove to the gym a little after noon, we saw a couple of children dressed in their Easter finery and riding their apparently brand new tricycles and scooters and other children at the playground. This has been the first weekend that has really been warm enough (mid 50s) to bring people out to simply enjoy the weather.

Although we haven’t been there to see it, Easter in Monkey River Village is quite a celebration. Monkey River Village today is much smaller than it was in its heyday. Many people and families left the village after the banana industry temporarily collapsed. But over Easter, several hundred people make their way back to Monkey River Village to remember family and family history. My thoughts of Monkey River Village bring me back to our second trip to Belize.

Thinking back … In 1999 we made our second trip to Belize. We had enjoyed Singing Sands on the Placencia Peninsula so much the first time, that we decided to end our trip at Singing Sands this time to be sure that we could just chill out for a couple of days before returning to the frozen north. The first leg of the trip had us flying in to the Placencia Airstrip where Buck, from the Monkey House, picked us up in the boat alongside the runway. As dusk approached we wound our way through the mangroves toward the Monkey River. Monkey House was a little resort just to the north of Monkey River owned and run by Sam and Martha Scott. We didn’t get to meet Martha on this trip because she was in the states taking care of some business. (We did meet her on our next trip, but that is a truly cosmic story for later.) So Sam took over Martha’s role and played host to us. He did Martha proud, making sure we had a fine lobster dinner on the last day of lobster season, keeping us entertained with stories of how they had built The Monkey House, and helping us decide which outings we would enjoy the most. We settled on going to the Sapodilla Cayes for snorkeling and a picnic lunch. The snorkeling was fantastic, possibly better than it will ever be again. The Monkey House had 2 (or was it 3?) beautifully constructed beachside cabanas. The windows were fitted with gorgeous hand-polished mahogany louvers that Sam and Martha made. Inside the cabanas, Sam had set off the floors using braided rope instead of quarter round where the floor meets the wall. There were many other creative touches in the cabanas and dining room of The Monkey House; we could tell that Sam took great pride in what he and Martha had built. We left The Monkey House knowing that we had a new friend in Sam, regretting that we had missed Martha, and planning to stay there again on our next trip. I took a fateful, life-changing, photo of Sam waving to us from The Monkey House dock as Buck boated us down to Punta Gorda and our next leg of our trip. (The story of the fateful photo will be the topic of next week’s blog.)

In Punta Gorda, we were met by Agrapeta from Fallen Stones Resort and Butterfly Ranch (
http://www.worldaware.org.uk/awards/awards1995/fallen.html) near San Pedro Columbia in the mountains next to the Lubantum ruins. We bounced along a very rough road into the mountains, past Lubantun, and further up the mountain toward Fallen Stones. Ray Harberd, the owner, showed us to our hillside chalet. Along the way he pointed out the dining room where our dinner would be served later that evening. Fallen Stones is in the heart of the jungle and the chalets are position so that each one looks into the tree tops of unspoiled jungle. The sounds of the birds came from all directions. It was amazing. Dinner that night was served with linen tablecloth and napkins, silver flatware, and fine china by young Maya women. I can’t remember the details of the dinner, only that it started with a soup course and everything was delicious.

The next day we had a tour, led by Ray, of the butterfly rearing enterprise. It was most impressive to see, but even more impressive to listen to what had been accomplished. Each species of butterfly requires specific plants to feed on as adults and different specific plants as caterpillars. By trial and error, he and his Mayan crew had figured that out for a number of the indigenous butterflies. The mainstay and money maker of the business is to raise blue morpho butterflies to the chrysalis stage and then ship them, mostly to the UK, where they will emerge as the stunningly gorgeous adult for garden shows, weddings, etc. We also had a tour of the Lubantun ruins. These ruins have been partially restored, but parts will never be able to be restored because the original archeologists blew them up in their haste to find the "secrets" of the interiors of the Mayan pyramids. The secret is that there is no secret! The neat thing about these ruins is how many of the stones were dressed (carved) to make them fit with great precision. Lubantun is the only example of this in Belize.

Before we came to Belize, we had arranged a 3 mile jungle hike with Agrapeta as our guide. He was fantastic; we saw hummingbird nests, learned which vines held water that could be drunk if you ran out of water in your bottle or canteen and which vines were better not to even touch, and saw more birds than I can remember. The highlight of the hike was to come to “the Eye of God” where the Columbia River roils out of the ground, spilling into a pool out of which the river poured. We had our picnic lunch next to the pool and I took a quick dip before we continued our hike. Downstream from the Eye of God, the river has carved out a small gorge. We looked over into the gorge to see Agrapeta’s son balancing in the family’s dugout floating on water that was a mystical milky-translucent turquoise color. I have never seen anything quite so beautiful. I have pictures from that day showing the color of the water and the incredible beauty of the surrounding jungle. These were taken with film in my pre-digital days, so I will scan them in and add them as a slide show sometime next week. From there we went by dugout to the bridge over the Columbia River at San Pedro. As we neared San Pedro we saw little garden patches of maize and other crops along the shore and women washing themselves, their hair, and clothes while standing waist-deep in the gently flowing water. I put my camera away at this point so as not to intrude further into their privacy. We got out at the bridge and drove back to Fallen Stones. But first we watched as Agrapeta and his son carefully put the dugout away inverted on a wooden rack under a shelter of palm leaves. This dugout has been used by at least 4 generations of Agrapeta’s family; with the care they give it, it should last for several more generations!

Agrapeta drove us to the Punta Gorda airstrip and we flew to the Placencia airstrip again for the last leg of our trip. We were met at the airstrip by Singing Sands staff. The place had changed hands since our last visit, but it was just as lovely and relaxing as it had been. Once more we were able to stay in a beach front cabana. We did a little ocean kayaking and also kayaked in the lagoon. Singing Sands is located near the village of Maya Beach at a very narrow part of the Placencia Peninsula. Singing Sands also owns the property across the road that is on the lagoon. If you are brave (or foolish?) enough to face the mosquitoes in the brush, you can claim a lagoon kayak trip as your reward. It is very peaceful on the lagoon with lots of opportunity to hear and see birds that aren’t on the ocean side.

When we left Belize after several days at Singing Sands, we didn’t know that we would not be back to Belize for four and half years. Check in to next week’s blog to see what happens when we return to Belize after visiting a number of other Caribbean countries.