17 September, 2013

Going to Market, Part One

One question we get fairly often from friends and relatives is "Where do you shop for groceries?"  Shopping can best be viewed as an adventure because you can never be sure how the experience will turn out.  :-)  Come along with us in this post and the next one as we go by boat from our dock to the villages of Independence (Indy) and Placencia to do our shopping.

It is 7:30 and the sun has already been up for almost 2 hours.  Dennis and I join Richard and Joy on our boat Houdini.  The sea is calm, which means our route will be on the outside of the mangroves.  In rough seas, we take the route through the mangroves so we don't get banged up as much.  We can make better time and use less gasoline with the outside route, too.  Gas is about $12.50BZ ($6.25US)/gal, which is roughly twice the price in the US.  It takes about 5 gallons to make the round trip.  We try to make the most of each trip.
Boarding Houdini from our seaside dock.  Look at how flat the water is!
In the map below, our place is marked by the yellow asterisk, Indy by the red, and Placencia by the purple.  To give you an idea of scale, a straight line from yellow to purple is 12.5 miles.
When the sea is flat, we can stay in the deep blue.  But when it is rough, we wind our way through the blue-green of the mangroves for shelter.  The patches of dark blue rectangles on land are shrimp farms.
The view is fairly monotonous mangrove-lined shores.  There are no businesses or houses on the shore until just south of Indy at Big Creek.
Mangrove-lined shore.  Unless you can see palm trees or tall gumbolimbo trees, you can assume that there is not much solid ground, just marsh.
Just south of Mango Creek, which leads to Indy, is the deep water port of Big Creek.
Looking out to sea are 2 buoys marking the shipping channel to Big Creek.  Huge cargo freighters and oil tankers dock at Big Creek.  The smudges on the horizon at the right are 2 of the many small cays (pronounced like "keys")that dot the area.
Big Creek is an official port of entry into Belize and has fully staffed customs and immigration offices.
With the Maya Mountains as a backdrop, Big Creek has warehouses and oil storage tanks.  There is a moderately productive oil field in western Belize and Big Creek is where the oil winds up to be picked by tanker to go to the refineries.
After passing Big Creek, we wind around into the estuary that leads to Mango Creek. You can see how much smoother the water is in the photo below as compared to the one above.
Signs of civilization on the shore.  Note the 3 communication towers.
Winding deeper into the estuary you can see the 3 communication towers from a different perspective in the photo below.

Another boat, headed out as we head in, passes by.  It is one of the Hokey Pokey water taxis that provides service between Indy and Placencia.  Houdini is a former Hokey Pokey boat.
A Hokey Pokey water taxi going to Placencia with a full complement of passengers passes us.
As we get closer the dock on Mango Creek, the channel gets increasingly river-like with defined edges and more stretches of solid ground and real banks. 
The Hokey Pokey dock is marked by the purple asterisk and the public dock is gold.  The Fishermen's Coop is the building with the green asterisk.  The road leading to the village of Indy is marked with a red asterisk.
There is usually some activity at the public dock; folks waiting for boats to take them somewhere, taxi drivers waiting for business, and local boys who like to make tips helping you off- and on-load goods.  It took us 47 minutes to reach this dock from our dock.
Passing time at the pubic dock.
The Hokey Pokey "terminal" is restricted to paying passengers.  It is the covered space with the white columns.  They also have a parking lot for passengers.
Indy is a small village.  All the streets and roads are unpaved.  It has a primary school and a high school.  Since we arrived by boat and have a lot of places to go and purchases to make, we always hire a taxi.  Nelson, our usual driver, is not available, but there is another driver with a van who can accommodate our needs.  I need to go Immigration for my monthly passport stamp ($50BZ), the post office where we get our general delivery mail, the lumber yard to pay a bill (the red asterisks in the photo below).  Dennis (purple) needs to go to the bank, the MnM hardware store,  the Social Security Office.  We both need to go to the airstrip and to a store to buy groceries except for produce.  Joy and Richard need to go to the bank, the airport, and to several grocery stores.  We decide to divide and conquer, so the taxi driver and I drop off everybody in the center of the village before we go to the outskirts for my errands.
The dock at the top of the image a little to the left of center where Mango Creek curves south is our starting point.  The only paved road is the one leading to the airport with the purple and red arrow heads; that winds across the image and terminates near the red asterisk at the bottom right.  That is Immigration Office at Big Creek.
The Post Office is in a building with a couple of other business offices.
Inside the tiny Post Office is one Postman who files the post into a cubby in alphabetical order.  We pick up mail for our nearest neighbors and they do the same for us.  The patriotic decorations are for the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.  The Postman recognizes us and is always very pleasant and helpful.  I needed to personally pick up a priority international mailing from the US.
Right next to the Post Office is Mr. Leslie's Lumberyard.  I need to stop in there to pay the bill.
All the wood is full-dimension lumber.  It can be cut to the required lengths on site.  Mr. Leslie will deliver (for a price) by truck to the Monkey River dock about 1 mile from our dock.
 From the Lumberyard, the taxi takes me to the Immigration Office at Big Creek.
A view of the oil tanks from the land side of the port of Big Creek.
 The Immigration Office is a 2 person operation.  As an American staying in Belize, I need to have my passport stamped once a month and pay $50BZ to remain in Belize.  Eventually, I will qualify for residency and will not have to get stamped every month.
Like the Post Office and bank, the Immigration Office is air conditioned; not much else is.
Dennis and I meet back up in the village so the driver can take us to the airstrip.  Dennis needs to send some paperwork to our lawyers in Belize City and the best way to do that is using Maya Island Air parcel delivery.  

The general availability and assortment of groceries has improved dramatically during the years we have been coming to Belize, especially in Indy.   No such thing as a supermarket, but Ming's, the main store we patronize, has dairy products, staples like sugar, flour, dried beans, etc., canned goods, sweet and salty snacks, frozen chicken and other meat, canned and bottled beverages, breakfast cereal,cooking oil, seasonings - almost everything except fresh produce.  The selection is odd and variable visit to visit.
Pear infused balsamic vinegar?  You bet!  Giant bottle of toasted sesame oil?  Why not?  You never know what you will find.  But you better buy it now because they may never have it again!
All of Indy was decorated with banners, pennants, and flags for the Independence Day celebrations coming up on September 21st.  Belizeans take their holidays very seriously. There will be multiple days of celebrations; banks will run out of cash, stores will run out of booze, and businesses will be closed. Parades, parties, and good times will be had.
The main drag in Indy.  Just past the hanging pennants is a green park where lots of celebratory activities will be held.
Two and 1/2 hours after leaving our dock, we complete our errands in and around Indy by 10:00 and head back to Houdini to commence the second part of our market day.  Stay tuned for Part Two of Going to Market. 
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  1. Hey Wilma, So great to read your wonderful blog and your shopping trip. A lot more exciting than our bumping our way along the terrible roads here in Cayo. Hope that one day we can meet in person, but for now will follow your updates here. Happy you were finally able to join the expat ranks here in Belize. Gale

    1. Hi Gale - thanks for visiting. We have our share of bad roads, too. That will come in another post! We hope to do some traveling in Belize pretty soon; will let you know when we head in your direction so that we can meet up. Cheers, Wilma


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