Back in 2010 after traveling to Belize for our 25th anniversary, we were presented with an incredible opportunity to purchase a waterfront condo on the tropical island of Ambergris Caye. We didn't have to think long before taking advantage of this chance to experience a totally different lifestyle in a foreign country, and we moved here full-time in the summer of 2011 after I (Emily) retired from my job just one week prior. In this short amount of time, we have had so many adventures, seen many amazing places, and learned so much about the food and customs of these proud and extremely friendly, welcoming people. We have also met many interesting visitors to the country, and some of them have become good friends. We have been truly blessed to have had this opportunity.
We have always enjoyed traveling and have done much of it over the course of our over 28 years together. But traveling all over this small and exotic country (along with excellent side trips to neighbors Guatemala and Mexico) brought that love of wandering back to the forefront, amplified it, and gave us the courage to do more than we could ever do before. And now that I am retired, we finally have the time to have many more travel adventures.
Ultimately, and especially after meeting some inspiring full-time nomads here, we realized that we are not ready to hang our hammock in just one place. And we missed participating regularly in two of our favorite activities besides travel, road cycling and hiking, neither of which are possible on the island of Ambergris Caye. Even travel is more difficult from an island. Although it was a dream of ours to live car-free and we've genuinely enjoyed the fun and challenge of riding our beach bikes everywhere, we miss being able to hit the open road when the desire hits. And we want to be able to take our favorite companion Paisley along with us when we travel, at least some of the time. In Belize we always have to leave her behind. Well cared for to be sure, but not where she wants to be most, with us.
So today we announce, with bittersweet feelings, that we have just sold our condo in Ambergris Caye and moved back to the United States. Because of Paisley, we aren't going to become world travelers at this time, but we do plan to do a lot of traveling in the US and some of Canada as well. We're thinking about a motorhome. There is still so much we haven't seen in our own country, especially out west, and we want to see as much of it as we can while we're still healthy and fit enough to enjoy it. But that's not to say we won't miss many things about Ambergris Caye and indeed, the entire country of Belize.
What we'll miss most:
- The most genuinely friendly people we've ever encountered. Their smiles, their "good mawnin, good mawnin"s are sincere and infectious. These Belizean locals who have so much less than most Americans are much happier, much less stressed out, and their simple lives, focused on family, church, community, seem to be the reason. Not to mention the sunshine that seems to put everyone in a better mood.
- The balmy breezes and turquoise sea -- Yes, it's hot, humid, and muggy at times, but when you're taking it easy in the shade, it's super pleasant. Shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops are the order of the day, so it's easy to go outside. Very seldom is a jacket needed, and I think I've worn long pants about 5 times here total.
- Everything is less crowded. When we traveled to the mainland to go hiking, often we were the only people in an entire park or site. We've hiked for miles on trails where the only other living, breathing creatures we encountered were birds, insects, and maybe a fleeting glimpse of a small forest mammal. That is refreshing and so rare in the populous US.
- Fewer rules. We've climbed ruins and trails that would certainly be deemed "too dangerous" and off limits in the US.
- Our blog readers. Yes, that's you. You good folks from all over the world have been one of the biggest surprises we've experienced! We've received so many kind, supportive notes and comments, and I hope we've been able to answer some of your questions and maybe inspire some of your own dreams. Some of you have even become friends, and we've had the pleasure of meeting a few of you in person as well. We sincerely thank you for coming along for the ride with us.
At this time we are going to put this blog on hiatus and take a "blogging break". We are undecided about having a travel blog in the future as we think we want to go back to more private lives, but if we ever decide to start another public blog, we'll update this one with the link, so feel free to keep your subscription. Of the many lessons we've learned from our Belize adventure, one of the biggest is that we can never predict the future or what we'll be doing in a year or even six months!
I'll close with one of my favorite quotes and one of the wisdoms we gained from our experiences here. Once you live in a place, no matter how lovely, it is all too easy to lose that "childlike enthusiasm" that a new place inspires. We're hoping to get that enthusiastic feeling back in our future travels, wherever they may take us.“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
– Bill Bryson
Barry and Paisley at Belize International
Emily at Jacksonville International Airport (Jacksonville, Florida) after a long and exhausting day of travel
Lucky us! Last weekend we enjoyed two of our favorite San Pedro eateries on back to back nights. We enjoyed the casual beachside setting of Caliente for their half-price margarita Friday taco night special and the more upscale, urban feel of Red Ginger for artful cuisine on Saturday evening. I'll let the photos do most of the talking.
2-fer-1 -- gotta love it!
My fish tacos -- delish and so reasonable ($22 BZD)
Barry's chicken fajitas -- lots of fresh color
After our meal and three margaritas each (!!!), we were craving ice cream, so we walked over to Mannelly's for a treat. Believe it or not, Barry had to have TWO separate servings. Yep -- he ordered two scoops, and after finishing those, went back for two more! I don't know how he does it! We get ice cream so rarely in Belize (since it would melt if we tried to bring it home on our bicycles), it's a rare treat, and we really had an appetite for it this night!
I enjoyed a scoop of coconut and one of chunky monkey.
Red Ginger -- ooh la la!
We've only eaten at Red Ginger a couple of times because it's rather pricey, but it's absolutely scrumptious, and service is top-notch. We were not disappointed this time either. Once again, the service and food were perfect, and the atmosphere so tranquilo, it helps you forget any worries or stress you might be experiencing. When you want the best San Pedro has to offer, this is the perfect place for that special meal -- birthday, anniversary, or just because!
Come sit a spell in this peaceful oasis...you won't be disappointed!
Instead of bread, your meal comes with complimentary plantain chips and a spicy chipotle aoli that is rather addictive.
Barry started with a beautiful bowl of black bean soup
And blackened snapper with mango rice and veggies as his entree. Isn't it gorgeous!?
I ordered this succulent grilled snook with coconut rice and veggies. Divine!
Of course we couldn't resist their very special desserts. We shared a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and a tart key lime pie. Both were irresistible, and just look how beautiful!
I may never cook again.... :)
We hadn't eaten dinner at Wild Mangos
, one of San Pedro's most popular restaurants, in quite awhile, only lunch. It was time to ride our bikes to town and enjoy the delicious creations of well-known Chef Amy Knox once again. Since we had reservations, we got a primo table!
We started by sharing a tasty black bean gordas appetizer. Barry enjoyed a Pantyripper (coconut rum and pineapple juice), and I went with SanPedroScoop's
favorite here -- Caipirinha
(not on the menu, but delish and reasonably priced at $8 BZD).
Black Bean Gordas
For our entrees, I tried the Budin Azteca ("Layers of tortillas, beans, sauteed veggies, mole negro, cheese, and garlic white sauce (Mexican lasagna-ish), side salad with chili-raisin vinaigrette.") Both the Azteca and the salad were super flavorful and great to look at, too. I just love creative, healthy food!
Barry went with the Conchita Pibil ("Mayan spiced shredded pork, rice, black beans, plantains, pickled onions, and corn tortillas"). He loved that it was served with an assortment of salsas, from hot to inferno level, just like in Mexico!
Love the color!
We've always had a soft spot in our hearts for Mangos' desserts, though we do miss the molten chocolate cake that used to be served hot in a coffee cup. (Just putting in a plug for it's return!) We decided to try two of the desserts we hadn't had before, and they were both absolutely wonderful choices -- and good together, too, since of course we shared.
This Ultimate Flourless Chocolate Cake would whet any chocolate-lover's appetite. Moist, rich, simple dark chocolatey perfection!
Every bit as good was this Mexican Margarita Cay Lime Cold Cake, described as a "local dessert made of a creamy lime filling, biscuit layers, tequila, with a guava sauce". It was truly a thing of beauty, and we loved it's tart creaminess.
These desserts didn't last long!
The perfect way to end a perfect meal is a ride back home on our bikes with our headlamps. It's so much fun to ride under the stars with a cool breeze and less traffic than during the day. It's one of our very favorite things to do here on Ambergris Caye.
Not quite a year ago we met a future Belizean expat, Debbie, and her family for a nice lunch at Aji
. They are building a condo on north Ambergris, which due to some initial problems with the development that is now back on track, has been in progress for several years. This month she and her family were visiting Ambergris Caye again, and they were kind enough to invite us out for lunch. This time we chose Blue Water Grill and had an absolutely beautiful day for it. Joining us were Debbie's husband Tom, son Justin, and friend JW.
The food was almost as good as the conversation. We all shared this gorgeous coconut shrimp appetizer that Justin ordered.
I got the delicious shrimp po-boy, and Barry tried the jerk chicken wrap. Excellent!
It was great to catch up with the "Wags", and since I know Debbie will be reading the blog at some point, I'll say thank you once again for your generosity. We truly enjoyed spending time with all of you!
We woke up this morning to the coolest temperature recorded on our digital thermometer since moving to Ambergris Caye -- 62F. Yes, that's sixty-two. COLD by island standards! The humidity was desert-like for here (which I love), and the wind was blowing fairly hard out of the northwest. Dressing quickly as I shivered, I got Paisley out for her morning ablutions, and felt just how brisk it was out there. This would be a much cooler than usual Sunday morning bike ride!
Once we'd had a snack (and a quick cup of coffee for me), we saddled up and headed north on the beach and over to Grand Belizean Estates on our bikes. It was a bit chilly starting out, and the wind was at our noses as we headed west on the road towards the lagoon side of the island. It was a slow slog as we fought the fresh breeze, but once we'd hit the most westerly point of the road and made the u-turn, we were flying! Such fun that is, to be pushed along by the wind.
We continued riding east, then southward, right past our condo and on into town as we had breakfast at Estel's by the Sea on the brain. We hadn't been there in a long, long time, and were hoping that with high tourist season in full swing, the slight chill in the air would keep at least a few folks away so we'd be able to snag a table on the beach, and fortunately, we were rewarded with a nice one.
Long sleeve weather!
Barry got his usual breakfast burrito. Not for the faint of heart, this thing is huge. And yes, he ate every bite!
He added some Marie Sharp's on top before he ate it, naturally
I had been hankering for a cinnamon roll ever since seeing (and smelling!) a tourist eating one outside of The Baker earlier in the week, so I went with two eggs over medium and a warm, gooey cinnamon roll. It hit the spot just perfectly! And I too joined the clean plate club.
Seems like a lot of folks were sitting inside today rather than on the beach. Wimps!
You can see just how large my cinnamon roll was in this photo!
After our delicious breakfast, we headed back home. Barry chose to be brave and venture into the pool for the traditional post-biking "pool down", but I just sat on the pool deck with Paisley and enjoyed the sunshine. Our pool was bathwater warm a few days ago, but thanks to the cold front has cooled down a bit now.
While enjoying the pool, we caught a glimpse of a Green-Breasted Mango in a tree close by. We actually had time to run inside for binoculars (to confirm the id) and camera.
It was a good day for the birds as I also noticed that this woodpecker pair were tending their nest-hole in a palm tree right outside our condo.
Despite the "chill", and a high temperature only in the 70s, it was a beautiful day!
The town has been widening parts of the unpaved road in the Tres Cocos area of Ambergris Caye this past week, as we showed in some photos in a previous blog entry (Ch-ch-changes north of the bridge
). In some areas, this involved plowing down vegetation and relocating fences that were apparently encroaching into the town right-of-way. In other areas, it is swampy or low near the road on the lagoon side, so fill had to be brought in. The fill consisted of a mixture of tree branches, stumps, vegetation, and dirt (probably gleaned from early-week plowing). Yesterday, the dozer was at work again flattening it all out. This is the area right across the road from Lazy Croc BBQ.
Looks like the low concrete walls that demarcate the driveway for this home/bed & breakfast (to right in photo above) are going to have to be torn out as they extend into the right of way, which I believe runs right up to the power pole.
It will take some more work to make this mess a road
We snapped the photos above on our way to Lazy Croc with Chunky and Ruthie. We had barely seen them since they arrived back on the island in November as they've been having nearly continuous visits from family or friends. It was great to catch up with them again. They are always so much fun to hang out with and full of laughs.
Ruthie and Chunky on the left and Barry at right. We shared our table with a few folks we didn't know as the 'Croc was busy!
And speaking of crocs, there was the obligatory sighting in the pond below.
Don't feed the crocs!
We had a great meal as always, but must haven been distracted by the lively conversation as we totally forgot the traditional food photos. Sorry about that!
After lunch as Ruthie and Chunky prepared to head back south on their bicycles, Paisley brought a toy over as she was sure that they couldn't resist playing. She knows as well as we do that they are good peeps!
It worked out to be very good timing having our lunch yesterday, as it was the last in a series of beautiful days. A cold front passed through last night bringing overnight rain, cool weather (72 this morning - brrrr!) and a general gloom to the island. Sounds like it will be quite windy and cool for the next few days, a real bummer for the tourists.
Not as pretty as yesterday's view
Barry got some great photos last night of the full moon from our veranda. I couldn't pick just one, so I'll give you a series. It really was breathtaking.
As many times as we've ridden by this surprising sight on our bikes, we've never stopped to take a photo until today.
It used to have a sheet metal structure partially enclosing it, but awhile ago, that structure disappeared. Here's a closer look.
This is the only public toilet north of the bridge that we are aware of -- maybe on the whole island! Belize is not big on public restrooms.
We rode north to Grand Belizean Estates this morning, and this time the cart path was not booby-trapped. Aside from a couple of scabs on my skinned knee, I'm all healed up from last week's incident
. Thanks to all who expressed concern and outrage -- your words were much appreciated.
Had to snap a few shots on our way home from town today of all the work being done from the Palapa Bar north to Grand Caribe all of a sudden. It's a real beehive of activity. There's road work, construction, and lot clearing.
New fence going up
The road between the Palapa Bar and Grand Caribe is being widened quite a bit. You can see the widening around the curve here. (Sorry it's blurry, I was riding my bike while snapping photos.)
In the photo above, you can see where Barry is standing with his bike. The road north turns to the right. To the left, there is a road that used to be little more than a narrow path. Now it's a lot more than that. Here's the new view down that "path" to the left. As for why this was widened, it remains to be seen. Are they hoping to bring in large vehicles laden with construction supplies the back way? Possibly.
Now, looking north up the road where it is being widened up to people's fences.
A bit farther north but looking southwards, the Maya House is having to move their fence back to allow the road widening.
A little farther north, more road widening being done on the left.
Just before arriving at Grand Caribe, a large lot has been cleared on the lagoon side of the road in the past week or so. Perhaps whatever is being built here requires access by some really large trucks, and thus explains the widening of the road. We've heard rumors of a convention center being built don't have any confirmation yet.
Part of newly cleared land on lagoon side
If you've got the "scoop", feel free to enlighten us in the comment section below. Thanks!
Occasionally we have seen a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
hanging around Grand Caribe at dusk. And sometimes Paisley flushes one out of the grass during her night-time walk that I don't even see until it flaps off, startled. But recently Barry saw one down the beach, hunting in the shallows, in the light of day. He rushed back in for his camera, hustled back down the beach, and the heron was still there. He managed to get some really nice shots, which had proved impossible at dusk. I love this hunting sequence.
A lone hunter