We'd been wanting to go to Belize City for awhile to do a little shopping, since availability and prices of goods are reputed to be better than on Ambergris Caye. We'd also been wanting to try the ferry, as we've always taken Tropic Air to and from the airport on our trips here, so Friday seemed like a good day to have a little adventure. I was a bit wary of the city (often called simply "Belize" by locals), having read about the crime there, but we got some good recommendations online. These included this highly informative blog entry entitled "How to Survive in Belize City" (http://www.sinnvollereise.de/?p=1368
) and this commercial site, which is refreshingly honest about some of the less desirable sides of the city: http://www.belize.com/belize-city.html
. Seems if we stayed on certain streets during the day, we would be okay. Still, I insisted on preparing a "give-away wallet" (recommended in the blog above) with an expired credit card, some other expired/unusable cards, and a small amount of money, just in case.
Although we'd planned to go Friday, we kept wavering as the weather looked dark and threatening down south, but after watching the online Doppler radar for a bit, it appeared that most of the rain would have passed through already by the time we got there, so we decided to go for it. We grabbed our backpacks, water, rain jackets, and camera, and walked the roughly two miles to town to the ferry terminal. We were running a little late due to some neighborly socializing outside our building, so we had to make tracks, and it was awfully hot in the bright sunshine on the way, but we made it in time and paid our $55 BZD ($27.50 US) per person for round-trip tickets.
Pretty sparse crowd today
The ferry over was not too crowded, and the sea was glassy most of the way, making for a nice, smooth ride. But as we closed in on Caye Caulker, the only stop along the way, the skies turned dark, and we hit some fairly heavy rain. It was kind of neat to watch the sky and sea change from the comfort of the covered ferry.
Approaching Caye Caulker
Leaving Caye Caulker after dropping off a few and picking up a few passengers
By the time we arrived in Belize City, the rain had stopped, and we were fortunate in that we never had a drop of rain while we were there. It was overcast, keeping the temperature moderate, so really ended up being the perfect day to go.
As we pulled into the ferry dock, we noticed the row of brightly colored buildings, a part of "tourist village" for cruise-ship visitors. Love the Caribbean colors! However, this was not a cruise ship day, so tourist village was closed, with just some renovation work going on. The ferry terminal and small restaurants/gift shops there were clean and secure, so I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable.
Tourist Village in Belize City
I can only imagine how busy this ghost town would be if a cruise ship were docked
Belize Express ferry dock
And then we emerged from the safety and quiet of the ferry terminal onto the streets. Wow, what a change. The closest I can come to describing it is like New York City, a seedy part of New York City. There were taxis lined up everywhere and drivers offering their services. There were a lot of men loitering around, sitting on the curbs, and since this was not a cruise-ship day, and most of the folks who disembarked the ferry with us appeared to be locals, Barry and I definitely stood out like sore thumbs or fresh meat! There was a lot of traffic, and no stoplights in this area, only stop signs, so the traffic movement seemed pretty chaotic, and it was not easy to find a good place to cross even at pedestrian crosswalks, since there were no "Walk" signals. No, Dorothy, we were not in Chapel Hill any more!
We knew which streets to stay on downtown once we exited the ferry terminal and crossed the nearby swing bridge, but finding the swing bridge was more difficult than we expected. A city at street level looks just a bit different than satellite view on Google maps! Fortunately a taxi driving by (with a full load already) pointed us towards the bridge, and we were on our way. We had to wait for what seemed to be an entire school's worth of kids coming the other way on the narrow pedestrian walkway over the bridge, but we finally made our way across.
The view of the sailboats in the harbor was really pretty, I thought. Again, loved the colors.
Once we came off the bridge into the city, it was once again a bit of a disoriented feeling, but we figured out which street we needed to be on to get down to Brodie's, a large supermarket, only a couple of blocks down. We were happy to see a sign stating that Fri-Sat-Sun were 10% off days. Score! They definitely had a larger quantity and variety of goods than in San Pedro, but not all prices were better. Fortunately we've been shopping at various groceries on the island long enough now that we had a good idea of which items were good deals and which were not. We picked up some peanuts, olive oil, cereal, and a few other items. I was hoping that wine prices would be lower than in San Pedro, but alas, they were not, so I am still wine-free. I was also sorry to see that the price on the box of 100 bags of green tea I had just bought the day before on the island was less than half the price at Brodie's -- wish I'd waited!
To the left of where I was walking was a pretty sketchy park with a lot of men loitering...I walked by quickly!
As we walked along the street, a couple of panhandlers approached Barry wanting "a dolla, just a dolla man", and they were pretty aggressive about it. We just kept walking. Fortunately, we didn't have to surrender our give-away wallet to anyone. Barry wanted to explore more, but I was a bit wary of staying on the streets any longer than needed to do our little shopping, and most of the stores we passed were not appealing (blasting rap music, hoochy clothes, etc.), so I urged him to find the bike shop we wanted to go to so we could get going back to the ferry terminal. I was afraid we would not find the street it was on, but suddenly, there was the street, and there was the bike shop, Hop Sing! Ah, the familiar smell of rubber tires made me feel instantly at home. It was a nice shop filled with cruiser bikes and a variety of parts and accessories. Very different from the high-end bike shops back in Chapel Hill, it was still a perfect oasis for us as there are no real bike shops on Ambergris Caye, just a small selection of very basic parts in a couple of hardware stores.
This shop felt like an oasis in the desert to me!
We purchased a flat handlebar for Barry to swap out his cruiser handlebars, and a saddle with a cutout for me. They only had low-end saddles, so it remains to be seen if this is an improvement on my big cushy cruiser saddle. I kinda need the cush, with all the bumps on the beach paths and unpaved and cobblestone roads here, but I also want a cutout to prevent chafing. I know that Serfas makes saddles that have both, so I may ultimately end up needing to buy a new saddle in the US, but I will give this one a try. It was only $19.95 Belize (around $10 US), so I'm not out much at all if it proves to be too firm for the type of riding we do here.
After leaving Hop Sing, we beat a hasty retreat (at my request!) back to the ferry terminal and were offered several cab rides along the way, even just a block away. Once inside, I could let down my guard and relax after our foray into the gritty city, and the Belikin I had from this little snack bar/gift shop went down really nicely and left me feeling nicely tranquilo.
We had a bit of a wait before catching the 3 o'clock ferry back to Ambergris Caye, so took a few more photos of the area while we waited.
Our ferry (nice UNC colors!) and tourist village
Another view from ferry terminal
Yep, those colors are deserving of a closeup!
The ferry back was packed! It was people-watching heaven. One young local gal seated near us was playing loud music on her iPod (or equivalent) without earbuds, much to the chagrin of all of the rest of the passengers near her, who were rolling their eyes at each each other. I guess she was completely oblivious that this was rude, but since she was built like a linebacker (in fact, Barry thought she was a dude!), no one dared to say anything to her. She wouldn't have heard anyway, over her music and the drone of the three mighty outboards off the stern.
Linebacker girl with iPod "boombox" on right
Back in San Pedro!
Once back in San Pedro, we had to quickly walk up the beach to the nearby water taxi dock as we were within a few minutes of the next run north; if we'd missed that boat, we'd have had to wait an hour, and we were too pooped to schlep our backpacks full of heavy groceries back home. Plus we knew Paisley would be missing us and wanting some exercise.
Coastal Express water taxi
Buying our tickets
We made it with only a couple of minutes to spare and packed into a very crowded boat. On the ride north, we talked to a couple from Florida next to us who are considering a condo purchase on Ambergris Caye and gave them our card in case we could help answer any questions they might have. It's amazing how almost everyone who vacations here ends up wanting to buy property here, or so it seems, anyway! Guess we aren't that crazy after all.
Today Barry installed our new bike parts. And, we are eight for eight. It didn't rain overnight, but we had a brief shower in the afternoon, a perfect record in October so far.
New flat handlebars replacing cruiser bars
My new saddle. The angle of the photo makes it look much bigger than it actually is -- it's much smaller than the huge one it replaced.