We arrived in Belize City on a Sunday. Getting to the island of Ambergris Caye was really easy as the commuter planes from Tropic Air and Mayan Air leave every half an hour. The flight takes about 15 mins and is spectacular seeing the crystal clear turquoise water from the sky.
We stayed in a hotel for the first night as we could not take our briefing and the Lagoon 38 until Monday morning.
Ambergris Caye and the town of San Pedro is predominantly Mexican Spanish and in fact is not a caye at all as it is a 25 mile peninsula extending from the Yucatan and is separated from Mexico by a canal which was dug by the ancient Maya. San Pedro the only settlement on Ambergris and is a lovely tourist laden area from which an abundance of dive charter operators base. There is an array of hotel accommodations. We choose the fabulous Victoria House - a one room Casita with a Palapa style roof – it was very romantic and there were quite a few dizzy (swooning??) honeymoon couples enjoying the amenities. The Palmilla Restaurant is air conditioned and has an a la carte menu of traditional delights. We decided to hit the town and headed for Fidos Steakhouse on the beach.
Briefing and Provisioning started around 8:30am. Our party of 5 split into two groups and I headed out to the Town of San Pedro armed with my provisioning list and a fist full of Belizian Dollars. Our wonderful taxi driver George had the route planned out and we started at a delectable local bakery on the north side of San Pedro to stock up with sticky buns, meat pies and bread for a few days.
We stopped in at two grocery stores Super Buy and Island Supermarket, Linos Meat Store, a cheese shop which had great and expensive gourmet cheeses and then finally the excellently stocked Wine de Vine.
The Captain and Mate spent three hours in the briefing to gain as much local knowledge as they could in order to head out towards the second largest living reef in the world.
We sailed approximately 8 miles on the first day and anchored in Caye Caulker for the night. We enjoyed cocktails ashore in a local bar and BBQ on the boat for dinner.
We had heard that there was a fish camp on Caye Caulker and as we had planned a couple of seafood dinners we dinghyed into shore to procure ice and fish. On our arrival we found the Northern Fish Camp to be clean and only one or two workers around. They said they do not operate as a fish camp any longer and were preparing for Lobster Season. We found some frozen shrimp for ceviche in the meat shop and had to rely on our hand line on the boat for the rest of the trip.
Caye Caulker is the island and village which lie about a mile from the reef. Hurricane Hattie in 1961 carved the island in two which now allows boats to pass through to the Caribbean Sea. Caye Caulker is a popular retreat for young international tourists who seem to come back year after year. Caye Caulker is a relaxed barefoot kind of place everyone hanging out and doing their own thing. Everyone is warm and friendly. You can buy meats, local meals, breads and pastries on Caye Caukler and our favorite stop was Glenda’s for the baked goodies.
Sailing from Caye Caulker we headed towards Colson Caye on a very squally day with much spectacular lightening. Other interesting places to stop for the night are Caye Chapel, and St Georges Cay but we were on a mission to get to Placencia and enjoyed the day long sail.
We awoke to very rainy gray skies and motored for Placencia. The skies cleared in the afternoon just in time to set two anchors in 20 feet of water with turtle grass bottom and go exploring ashore.
Placencia's name was given by the Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in Europe who tried living in Nova Scotia Canada and then immigrated to Belize in 1740. This is a delightful village located on the tip of a 30 mile long narrow peninsula. It is a fishing village of approximately 600 inhabitants.
We arranged the dive trip for the next day, walked through town taking in the local sights and compared notes on changes that had taken place in the last 10 years since we had last been on the peninsula. We were pleasantly surprised at the modernization of the town including my favourite an espresso/cappuccino coffee shop and internet café the Purple Space Monkey.
We ate ashore that evening in The Galley Restaurant where I had eaten 10 years prior. Still efficiently run by a Cleveland and Julia Berry who fix a fine Conch Steak!
Diving was the order of the day and our party split into two as three headed off to Laughing Bird Caye on the dive boat to explore the reef. The Mate and I stayed aboard the boat and organized for a captain to take us into the river to get fresh water and do a repair on the bilge pump. After re-anchoring we went ashore to find lunch at Wendy’s (no, not fast food Wendy’s) where we enjoyed a wonderful Belizian Seafood Burrito. We wondered up the Conch Sidewalk to stopped in at a local beach bar for a cool drink. The heat and humidity were taking their toll on us Floridians used to air conditioning. We chatted with those who were seeking refreshment and cooling while waiting on the dive party to return from their excursion.
We left Placencia heading through the Blue Ground Range for South Water Caye which is a small but beautifully maintained caye. International Zoological Expeditions has a study center and accommodations on South Water Caye and offers Marine Biology courses to students from 6th Grade up to University graduate level. Here we experienced some of the best snorkeling we had ever done anywhere in the world. Very good selections of corals, nurse sharks, lobsters, rays etc. There are two Resorts on the island and at dusk we went ashore to the Blue Marlin Lodge and chatted with a the bar tender about the island, growing up in Belize City and the music she composes.
We motored as there was no wind and the water was very calm. We passed another Catamaran who had left Ambergris Caye on the same day that we did and took some photos of their boat with the sails up which is often appreciated by sailors who never get a chance to photograph their own boats under sail. We had been watching them approaching but sometimes we believed that they were stopped. This puzzled us but as we sailed closer we spotted a local fisherman calmly bailing his panga. We waved and shouted for lobster. He told us he had just sold his last lobster to the other boat and would have some for us if we waited. We anchored the Lagoon and the captain and mate lowered the dinghy and headed toward the pangaman. They tethered his boat to the dinghy and towed the Bernard in the direction he kept pointing. In exchange for lobster he asked for gasoline and cash. We had no gasoline to spare but did have a beautiful brand new spear gun which lit up his eyes when we offered it to him. Our new friend Bernard swam and dove like a dolphin and within 10 minutes had handed the Captain 8 lobsters. Excitedly we motored on to find a safe anchorage for the night. We feasted on Steak, Lobster and baked potatoes and spent the rest of the night trying to ward off misquotes which insistently wished to feast on us!
We sailed back to San Pedro on Ambergris anchoring in a pristine but very rolly cruiser unfriendly anchorage just off Romans Village. The water was absolutely crystal clear revealing our ground tackle and the sea grass beneath us. The dive boats and ferries sped past our stern and anchor chain with no regard for our comfort at all. We cleaned and tidied and headed ashore in search of a cooler and more stable happy hour.
We awoke to a very stormy black sky which altered our plans to go diving and snorkeling. We called the Charter Base to hand over the boat and prepare for refueling after which we were docked alongside their marina. We spent the afternoon shopping for souvenirs and local rum, ate ashore at Elvis Kitchen which had been pleasantly and substantially upgraded since the last time we had visited San Pedro.
We reluctantly packed up and made our way back to the local airstrip for our commuter flight into Belize City from where we took our Miami bound flight back to reality.
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