Because the sun rises early over the lagoon, the birds start singing, and the dogs start barking, it is easy to get up early at Crooked Tree Lodge.  We rolled out of bed at exactly 5:42 am, having just missed the sunrise by a few lazy minutes.  This is at least an hour or more earlier than we usually rise.  We were excited to start what we expected would be an excellent full day of birding.

After grabbing a cup of coffee in the lodge, we took a morning walk before breakfast and checked out the birds along the road. Of course we saw many, as birds are most active in the morning and again at dusk.  It was a beautiful morning, and the sun was already getting hot -- it gets hot early in Belize.   
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A morning cuppa joe in a lovely setting
Breakfast was served at 7, and what a spread it was -- scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, johnny cakes, toast, homemade jam, and freshly squeezed orange juice.  The perfect way to start a big day.  

After breakfast, we took the two touring kayaks out on the lagoon to try to find some Jabiru Storks.  We had seen them on the far side of the lagoon through our binoculars in the late afternoon of the day before, but they were too far off to photograph.  It was a gorgeous day for paddling, and so much fun to be out on the water again.  We used to own touring kayaks but sold them on Craigslist before we sold our house in 2010, and hadn't paddled for a long time.  The water was very shallow in the lagoon.  By the end of May, it might be dried up totally until the rains come again.  We were glad we made it here while we could still enjoy a paddle.
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The water was very glassy as we started out as there was very little wind, so the paddling was easy
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Observation deck at Crooked Tree lodge
Paddling towards the far bank of the lagoon, we spotted many Snail Kites in bushes and on tree branches.  We'd first seen one of these large birds on our trip to Lamanai Maya site back in January, but there were so many here on the lagoon bank it was astonishing.  There were also some large bulls along the banks checking us out.  I was hoping they wouldn't come charging into the shallow water to get a closer look, but of course, they did not.  I do have an active imagination!
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Snail Kite
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Cattle along the lagoon bank -- those horns look, uh, SHARP!
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From the far side of the lagoon -- the lodge is just visible across the glassy water
As we traveled farther up the lagoon, we eventually came upon a bank of large shorebirds in HUGE numbers.  Huge!  It took quite awhile to paddle closer to the "bird convention", but on the way there, we were rewarded by seeing a couple of Jabirus in flight, so we knew there were likely more along the bank, mixed in among the many egrets, herons, terns, and others.   
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Jabiru Storks
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A magnificent sight
Much to our delight, our suspicions were confirmed as we drew closer to the bank of birds.  There were Jabiru Storks here and there, just a few, mixed in with the many Wood Storks and other shorebirds.  We couldn't have been more delighted at seeing these massive, odd-looking birds so close.  Some of the other guests at the lodge had paid a guide to take them out in a motorboat earlier that morning, but we were hoping that we could see the same birds for free under kayak power.  And we did!
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Shorebirds a-plenty
The White Pelican is very rare for Belize, so we were excited to see this flock here.
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White Pelicans
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Egrets and Wood Storks, drying their wings
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Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and bull
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Mostly Caspian Terns
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Barry is happy at seeing so many birds
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Barry photographing a lone Jabiru Stork along the lagoon bank
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Here's the Jabiru he was photographing
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Takeoff!
After we'd satisfied our birding urges on the lagoon, we headed back to the lodge so that we'd be back in time for lunch.  We definitely didn't want to miss one of the wonderful meals here! 
Not long after pulling the kayaks back up on shore, it was time for lunch.  Angie served us a delicious baked tilapia with fresh vegetables, a green salad, wheat rolls, a banana (which we saved for an afternoon snack), and the leftover bread pudding from the night before.  It was as delicious as it looked!
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Lunch
After lunch we spent some time relaxing on our cabana's veranda.  I mentioned before that there were a lot of dogs on the property.  A lovely Doberman belonged to a young couple from the UK vacationing at the lodge (after adopting the dog in Louisiana and driving from Texas through Mexico to Belize -- now that's adventurous!), and many other dogs apparently belonging to Mick and Angie.  All the dogs were sweet and friendly, and we had fun watching them romp and play on the grounds.  One even had puppies under the lodge stairs.  They were 2.5 weeks old and just adorable!  Check out all these cute pooches (and this isn't even all of 'em)....
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A sweet little female who took a liking to me -- never did find out her name
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Friendly boy on our veranda
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Mama and her five pups
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Two precious pups
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Nursing puppies
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Another with this friendly girl
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Gentle Dolly the Dobie (with uncut ears, so she looks a bit different)
In the afternoon we took another walk up the road.  The original reason for the walk was to determine how long it would take us to walk to the bus stop the next morning, but we were having so much fun we walked all the way into the village (which is tiny, consisting of only a fruit stand and a couple of other small buildings).  Barry was interested in this hurricane shelter because the Occupancy level hadn't even been filled in.  He surmised that in Belize, the right answer is "as many as can be packed in"...
We saw quite a few loose cattle along the way...
And more cashew trees....
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Cashew nut
When we returned to the lodge, we continued bird-watching around in the back.  We discovered couple of pigs in a pen and some additional short trails we hadn't known were back there.  Turns out our friend David, who lives just up the beach from us on Ambergris Caye, stayed here with the cast and crew while filming a movie he was in, and the movie was mostly filmed right in this part of the lodge's property!  We had no idea until after we returned home and Barry told David about our stay.  Pretty incredible!
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This cutie lives at the lodge
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Pig pen
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Dog, meet Pig
After the mosquitoes drove us from the trails, we retreated back to the lodge.  We discovered this cache of drying cashew nuts in back.  Very cool!
I decided a cold Belikin would taste really good, so we hit the honor bar, then watched the beautiful sunset from the lodge deck.
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In Belize, it's not Miller time, it's Belikin time -- very few other beers are allowed in the country
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Lovely sunset in a perfect pastoral setting
Dinner was once again delicious and bountiful.  On the menu was tomato soup, shepherd's pie, sauteed fruits and vegetables, salad, beans and rice, and cheese bread.  Dessert was coconut turnovers and mini chocolate cakes.  Needless to say, we ate until we were stuffed.  Good thing we got so much exercise during the day!
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Healthy and delicious
To be continued...
 
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Crooked Tree on map of Belize -- we live on Ambergris Caye
In researching various destinations in Belize, we knew we'd have to pay a visit to the village of Crooked Tree, because it is known as a birding hot spot, particularly in April, during spring migration.  We love watching, identifying (or attempting to identify), and photographing birds, so we didn't want to let this month go by without a visit.  We were particularly excited about the possibility of seeing the Jabiru Stork, the tallest bird in the Americas.  Jabirus arrive in the late fall to nest in Crooked Tree, and we were excited by the possibility of viewing some before they migrated to their summer grounds in June.

Crooked Tree is said to be named for its many cashew trees (which do have a rather crooked, multi-branched habit) by early logwood cutters boating on the Belize River and Black Creek to what is now the Crooked Tree Lagoon (source: Lonely Planet).  It's a small, sleepy village with a sparse full-time population, but fortunately, one of the "chicken bus" lines in Belize, Jex, runs a daily bus to the village.  Since we are traveling on a budget in order to see as much of Belize as possible, this sounded perfect to us.  We'd take the ferry to Belize City, then grab the bus to Crooked Tree and avoid car rental and taxi charges.  

We made reservations at the Crooked Tree Lodge, a charming family-run place right on the Crooked Tree Lagoon.  Mick and Angie run the lodge and live there with their two young sons and a menagerie of dogs.  There are a handful of simple casitas of various sizes (starting at $60 US per night) with lovely water views; and delicious, colorful, healthy meals are cooked and served in the timberframe lodge.  There is also an honor bar, where guests can grab a Belikin, a soda, or mix a drink on their own, listing their purchases in a notebook.  

Getting there - always an adventure...

We planned to start our journey to Crooked Tree on the Wednesday 7:40 am water taxi to San Pedro town with our backpacks and Paisley.  However, when the southbound boat arrived at the Grand Caribe dock, it was packed to the gills with people, mostly children, as this particular taxi serves as the "school bus" for the island.  There was no room for us or another Grand Caribe owner-couple waiting with us, but the driver assured us that an additional boat would be along in a couple of minutes.  Since normally the taxi runs only hourly (if that), we all thought that he was just telling us what we wanted to hear, a frequent occurrence in Belize.  Barry and I were worried that our entire day could be messed up since we had multiple connections to make, and were already thinking of what our Plan B would be if another boat did not show up, and fast.  Much to our surprise, within five minutes, another boat did pull up to the dock after all!  And this time it was just Barry, Paisley, the other couple, and me in the boat.  It was much more comfortable than the first one would have been! 
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Paisley and me waiting for the water taxi
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It was already a warm morning
Once we got to San Pedro, we had adequate time to drop Paisley off at Pampered Paws for boarding and catch the 8:30 ferry to Belize City without having to run, as is sometimes the case.  The 75-minute boat ride was uneventful, and we arrived in Belize City with time to spare before catching the Jex Bus to Crooked Tree at 10:50 am.  

Finding the bus was another matter.  From our research, we knew that the bus "terminal" should be on the other side of the famous swing bridge, but once we walked across, we saw no sign of it.  We did see some other buses there, and upon asking some men standing around, learned that we had to walk a bit farther to find the Jex Bus.  So it wasn't "just" on the other side of the bridge after all.  We continued walking down the road, but all we saw was an old broken down bus a ways down, and it didn't even look like it was in running order.  So we backtracked to a small hotel we'd just walked by and asked a nice lady inside the lobby if she knew where the Jex Bus terminal was.  Turns out the "broken down" bus we'd seen down the road was indeed the Jex Bus!  Yep, sometimes it's hard to "belize" things here!

The bus looked a bit sketchy, as did the building next door, and we had a bit of a wait, but it was all fine.  Since there was nowhere else to sit, we went ahead and boarded the bus and waited the 45 minutes or so until departure, watching people come and go from the building next door.  At some point they opened up the door, and it looked like some sort of a Lion's Club building or something similar, nothing as illicit as what my active imagination had conjured up!  
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Does this look like a bus terminal to you? It didn't to us!
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Barry, Jex Bus to Crooked Tree, and mystery building beside it
The bus ride to Crooked Tree took about an hour and fifteen minutes and was interesting, as locals got onto and off of the bus frequently all along the way, though it was never very crowded.  For once, we each had a seat to ourselves, helpful since we had to share our seats with our backpacks.  At one point a large number of adorable little children got on, going home from school.  Naturally they had incredible amounts of energy, running, laughing, and shrieking, but finally the bus attendant got them settled down and into separate seats to calm them.  The bus made frequent stops after that to let them off.  The bus ride from Belize City to Crooked Tree set us back a whopping $3.50 BZD ($1.75 US) each! 
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This cute little boy kept peeking at me -- he had such soulful eyes
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Kids riding bus home from school

Crooked Tree Village

Finally, we were let off in the village of Crooked Tree, and hiked down the unpaved road to the Crooked Tree Lodge.  As soon as we stepped off the bus, we began seeing (and hearing) numerous birds, so it took a lot longer to get there than we expected, as we kept stopping to view birds with our binoculars.  It would have been about a twelve minute walk had we just walked without stopping to bird watch.
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On the road to Crooked Tree Lodge
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The road to the lodge was well-marked with directional signs. Trees behind sign are cashew ("crooked") trees....

Cashews, a very interesting "nut"

We were fascinated by the many cashew trees we saw along the way to the lodge.  The scent of the fruit was in the air, and it was easy to see the cashew shell itself hanging below the fruits.  Inside the shell is the seed, which is what we think of as the actual cashew "nut" that we eat. In order to extract these "nuts", the shells have to be roasted first.  I now realize why cashews are so expensive.  Can you imagine how many of these fruits with shells have to be picked to make a can of shelled cashews?
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The cashew seed in its shell hangs below the fruits on the cashew tree
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Cashew tree

Crooked Tree Lodge

Finally, we arrived at the lodge, and it was an absolutely stunning setting.  I knew I had picked the right place the minute I laid eyes on it.  It was the perfect place to get away from it all, with birds everywhere, a shady canopy of beautiful trees; lush, green lawn, flowers, and shrubs.  See for yourself...
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Entering the lodge grounds with Crooked Tree Lagoon in the background
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This place is gorgeous -- but note the dark clouds overhead!
We checked in, and Angie showed us to our cabana.  It was quite small and simply built but charming and perfectly fine for a short stay, with a nice tiled bath.  There was no TV or air-conditioning (though there was a fan), so this is not the place for someone who requires those amenities.  There is wi-fi, but we took a "laptop break" and didn't bring a computer since we were only staying for two nights. 
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Checking in
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Simple and rustic decor
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Plenty of windows caught the breezes
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Our little cabana
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"Home Sweet Home" for two nights
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Four pillows on the queen bed was a nice touch
After getting settled in our cabana, we walked around the grounds and did more birding.  We were amazed at the number and variety of both shore and field/woodland birds we saw and were already adding to our life lists.  I looked them up in the Birds of Belize book and jotted down the species we identified, and Barry snapped photos.  We'll have a separate blog entry with bird photos as there are too many to include here.  
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We were told that the lagoon waters come up to the level of the tree behind me during rainy season!
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Local paddling canoe down lagoon
Although we hadn't made reservations since we didn't realize we should have, we asked Angie if we could have some lunch.  She kindly obliged, serving up some yummy cold pasta salad, tossed salad, and fresh pineapple slices in the lodge.  It looked beautiful and tasted delicious after our busy morning of travel.   
Not too long after lunch, the wind kicked up, and we realized those dark clouds meant business.  
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Rain's a comin'
We sat on the porch of our cabana as a nice rain came down for quite some time.  Once it stopped, the birds wasted little time coming out from their hiding places again, and we continued to watch them until almost dinnertime.  We also took a walk back down the road to look for more birds. (Yes, we are rather obsessive, can't you tell?)  In addition to birds, we saw several locals out and about on their bikes, especially kids riding after school.  Everyone was super friendly, one of the things we love about Belize.
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Birding before the rain came
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Cute local boy riding his bike after the rainstorm
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Had to put on my windbreaker during the rain!
We grabbed a Belikin from the honor bar and sat outside with some of the other lodge guests until 7pm, when dinner was served in the lodge.  
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The bar
Dinner is served family-style, and there were two tables of guests eating.  We sat with an interesting family from Seattle with two boys and enjoyed chatting with them about Seattle and Belize while we dined on vegetable soup, two pastas, and salad.  Dessert was a piping hot bread pudding right from the oven.  (Sadly, we neglected to take photos; I guess we were really starving!)  Everything was homemade and delicious.  After showers and some reading, we hit the hay early in order to be ready for an early morning and full day of birding the next day.

To be continued...
 

Happy Earth Day!

If you've been reading our blog for awhile, you know that we usually do some bird-watching on Sunday morning.  Sometimes we walk, sometimes we ride our bikes.  We'd been mostly walking lately, so this morning we decided to ride, since we can get farther north past more of the golf-cart traffic that way.  Although we didn't see many new birds, we ended up riding farther north than we ever have before and had a great time doing it.  

We started off riding north on the beach from our condo.  It was a gorgeous day after a cold front came through last night, whisking the humidity away (so rare for here) and bringing a great breeze and cooler temperatures along with it.  
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Blue sky as far as the eye could see
Once we got up to Indigo condominiums, we shifted onto the road since we have some favorite birding spots up in that area.  The beach offers mainly shorebirds, where the road provides a better variety, from various wood-warblers to flycatchers to Plain Chacalacas.  We stopped a few times along the way to check out birds, like these:
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Orange Oriole singing high in a tree
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White Ibis
Near Matachica resort, we ran into a huge puddle in the road. This area has had more rain than farther south lately, and there had been a very high tide not long ago as well, so high water from the lagoon just to the left certainly didn't help matters. We wouldn't be able to travel this way any further as I wasn't willing to ride through this puddle.  We did watch a local man do it, but it didn't look easy or pleasant and was quite deep.
So we back-tracked to Rojo Lounge, which is closed in the morning, and cut through to the beach.
We rode north on the beach for awhile until we found another cut-through to go back to the road, which was passable once the big puddle had been avoided.  
We continued to stop occasionally to check out birds we'd see or hear along the way, but this was fast becoming more of a bike ride than a birding ride.  We had only been as far as Blue Reef Island Resort before, but today we decided to try heading a bit farther north.  Surprisingly, the road was dried up (except for a few muddy areas), and we were able to go quite a bit farther north.  We didn't see another soul.  I always get a little nervous when we get into "uncharted territory", but fortunately, it was fine.  We felt like real adventurers, though, since we'd never been up this far.
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Road north of Blue Reef Island resort
Note that there are still power lines way up here -- someday we'll figure out where they end, perhaps!
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Official road sign :)
The shift of the wind to northwest off the lagoon brought with it a ton of mosquitoes.  Here I am dancing and dodging them, despite wearing insect repellent: 
The road got a bit sketchier, and we finally came upon a muddy area I didn't really want to cross after watching Barry fishtail across it.  So he continued up just a bit farther to take a photo of this resort (can anyone identify it?) while I waited, then he turned around and met back up with me.
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Mystery Resort
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Sketchy road to mystery resort -- suspect most people get here by boat!
We were getting hungry and thirsty (we'd brought water but had gone through it already), so it was definitely time to head back.  
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It's super peaceful riding up here
As we got closer to the big cell tower, we saw lots of smoke.  We had seen small fires along here on the way north, but they had really whipped up with the windy, dry conditions by the time we headed back.  We still don't know whether these were intentionally set to burn brush or whether an errant cigarette or even a lightning strike in the wee hours sparked the flames.  Unfortunately, we knew that the small and ill-equipped fire department would not be able to do anything about them in this remote area.  They reminded me of wildfires we'd seen along the highway in Florida and North Carolina during hot, dry summers.  We just hope they burned themselves out and were glad that they would be unable to cross the sandy road.  Quite a wide area was covered, making for a hot, smoky, and unpleasant ride along this section.
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Smoke and cell tower up ahead
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Hard to see me up ahead through the smoke
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Flames
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Lots of smoke and charred ground
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I hightailed it outta here as fast as possible, while Barry sacrificed to take the photos!
Finally we left the fire behind and were able to breathe clean air again.  In order to avoid the nasty puddle near Matachica, we cut over to the beach on a small trail we found alongside the wall at Canary Cove.  I heard a dog that sounded like Kujo snarling and growling behind the wall, but he didn't come running out onto the beach to bite our ankles, thankfully.
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Trail to beach by Canary Cove
We rode down the beach until we reached Rojo Lounge again.
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Riding in front of Canary Cove with an eye and ear out for "Kujo"
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This stretch of beach was covered with palm fronds and not very cyclist-friendly
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Another area where we had to "portage" the bikes
Unfortunately, there are a lot of seawalls in this area, some of which come near the beach path.  Being the klutz that I am, I clipped my pedal on one of them and went down.  It wasn't a hard fall, and initially I thought I'd just bruised my right knee a bit.  But when I got home, it turns out I must have hit the pointy bone on the inside of my left ankle pretty hard on a rock, and it's now tender and painful when I walk.  Doesn't look like I'll be able to do my Monday beach run, which is too bad since the weather is finally much nicer for running than it has been.  Sigh...

Fortunately, it didn't hurt much on the rest of the ride home.  We cut back through the road by Rojo Lounge and made our way back to our condo.  There is a nice little hill on this cut-through road which felt almost like mountain biking back in North Carolina.  Fun!  
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Sometimes I miss jamming over a hill!
After all that riding, we actually had the best bird sighting of the day right next to our condo, of all things.  This cute Dickcissel hung around for quite some time eating something in the grass.  He was incredibly tame, and I got within two feet of him even with Paisley on the leash.  Our Belize bird book says they are transients and appear here during migration season, so what a treat to happen upon this little fellow -- a new bird for our life lists!
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Cute little Dickcissel
 
Originally, we hadn't thought of purchasing a dehumidifier for our condo here, figuring we'd just use the air-conditioning when the humidity became too oppressive.  We'd never needed a dehumidifier in other places we lived and just hadn't given the possibility any thought.  But a very smart neighbor who had been living in San Pedro for a couple of years recommended we bring one, so we took note.  After some research, Barry realized that we wouldn't be able to keep the A/C cycling on frequently enough to get the humidity to a reasonable level without living in a very frigid condo -- and busting our budget in the process, since electricity (called "current" here) is a lot pricier than back in North Carolina.  Since we don't even like overly air-conditioned spaces and didn't want to live in the cold even if the budget allowed, a portable dehumidifier started looking like a very smart option.  

When doing our research, the main negatives of using a dehumidifier mentioned by reviewers were the heat and noise the unit generates in use.  We figured the noise wouldn't bother us too much, as we've always preferred to sleep with a white-noise machine rather than hear the various things that go bump in the night, including our first Boston Terrier, Pepper, who snored like a truck driver due to her little squashed face, bless her heart.  Paisley has more of a snout and is much quieter, but the white-noise habit has persisted.  We always turn on the A/C or fan when we stay in hotels to keep the noise from the hall and surrounding rooms down as well.  

As for excess heat put off by the unit, that could certainly be a problem since Belize isn't really known for cold temperatures (!!), but we figured we'd give it a try and could certainly switch to air conditioning when it was unbearable.  And we didn't plan to use the dehumidifier during the heat of the day anyway, only in the evenings.  Since we live oceanfront where there is typically a nice breeze, we prefer to open our windows and let the sea breeze blow through all day long, then close up at night for security reasons.  This would be a perfect time to suck the water out of the air and dry the place out.  So, it was decided; we'd give a dehumidifier a try.

We determined that a 50-pint unit would be appropriate for our approximately 1000 square foot condo and purchased a portable Energy Star-certified Frigidaire model for $200 in North Carolina last summer.  We kept it in the original box and included it in our shipment (on a pallet) to Belize.  We figured that wasn't a huge amount to spend if it would keep our clothes, wood, and other items from molding, and keep us feeling a bit drier and more comfortable in our island home.
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Our dehumidifier
The unit includes a built-in collection bin for water, or you can attach a hose and run it to any drain.  It has wheels for easily moving it around on the tile floor.  We have a floor drain in our shower and another in our bathroom, but neither had an electrical outlet close without running the cord in front of the sinks; not very convenient.  And having the unit in the bathroom would not have been a good location for it anyway as it needs to be centrally located.  Alternatively, we could have put it on the kitchen counter and let it drain into the sink, but it's a fairly heavy unit to lift up and down twice a day, and Barry's back didn't need the extra strain.

So, we chose to put it in the middle of the great room each night, then wheel it over to the wall, out of the way, during the day.  And for months, we used only the built-in collection bin and didn't attach a hose.  This worked okay; but the bin would often fill up before we were ready to get up in the morning and wake us up with an annoying series of five beeps to alert us of the full bucket.  Barry got really tired of this.

Finally, his "MacGyver" side came out, as it always does, given long enough.  He'd found a five-gallon utility bucket that washed up in the sea (very well seasoned!) and cut a hole in it.  He then cut a short length of hose and attached it to the dehumidifier unit, then through the hole into the bucket, to hold it in place.  This worked much better, and we weren't awakened by the annoying alarm beeps, which could not be deactivated.
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Barry's "MacGyverism"
But it still wasn't perfect.  There was a "drip drip drip" sound as the unit ran and water dripped from the hose into the bucket.  We could just hear the dripping from our bedroom, and it was annoying.  "MacGyver" came to the rescue once again.  A plastic ruler inside the bucket allowed the water to run down into the bucket without dripping.  Brilliant, right?! 
As for the noise issue, that is just as we thought, not a problem at all.  The white noise helps to drown out any other noise coming from the condo units around us.  The unit does put out some heat and raises the temperature in the great room a degree or two, but our bedroom stays pleasant with just a ceiling fan for now, especially since the humidity gradually falls through the night as we sleep, offsetting any small increase in temperature.  As you often hear, "It's not the heat; it's the humidity" (that makes a person feel miserable), and we've found that to be true.  Thanks to our dehumidifier, we have not had to use the air-conditioning since October.  Then again, we are more heat-tolerant than folks from cooler areas in the US or from Canada.  And living here since August has only served to increase this heat tolerance.  Typically, the dehumidifier drops the humidity in our condo from the 70-79% range to 50-55%, depending on how we set it.  This makes a huge difference in our comfort level as well and also prevents mold.

The only thing we may need to work on is finding a more attractive bucket, since it tends to sit around our condo during the day -- and it definitely doesn't add to the ambiance!  Other than that, we're very happy with our decision to buy a dehumidifier and ship it down.  It really has been worth every penny we spent.  
 
Just some of the pretty flowers I saw blooming around our building and our side of Grand Caribe yesterday morning...
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Pretty little mystery bush
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Bougainvillea
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Double Hibiscus
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Single Hibiscus
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Bougainvillea above, Hibiscus below
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My favorite Hibiscus
 
Last night we rode our bikes into town and met our friend David for taco night and half-price margarita night at Caliente.  We got a great table on the deck and enjoyed the breezes, company, fantastic food, and potent margaritas.  
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Getting ready to take off on this lovely early evening
On our ride into town, we passed a few golf carts.  Some friendly folks on one of them yelled out "We read your blog!"  They also said that they really liked our food photos, so we've made sure to include plenty in this posting.
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Barry securing our bikes

There is a wonderful view from Caliente's deck, and the clouds over the sea had a pink glow from the sunset over the lagoon side of the island.  There was a great breeze as well.  Ahhhhhhh....
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The view
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Enjoying a margarita and chips
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Chips with homemade salsa - yum
Just when we were wondering if David missed the Coastal Express water taxi to town, he showed up.  Turns out they did almost miss stopping at the dock near his house north of the bridge and had to double back around to pick him up, as he furiously waved his arms!
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David and Emily
I got my favorite dish here -- fish tacos.  These are only available at lunchtime normally, but also on Friday nights.  Barry and David both got chicken dishes.  Everything looked really nice and tasted great too!
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Barry's Jalisco chicken, served with rice and plantain
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David's coconut chicken (he'd already eaten one piece), served with dipping sauce, rice, and plantain
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My fish tacos and refried beans
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Barry about to chow down -- no wonder he's smiling!
David decided to splurge with some dessert -- he tried the flan, which looked really good.  I am definitely getting it next time.  Barry and I split a bowl of coconut ice cream that was delicious.  So good we forgot to take a photo -- or was that the margaritas talking?  
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Flan -- yum!
We sipped margaritas and chatted it up until about 9:15, much to my surprise as this is quite late for us, but David has a lot of funny stories to tell.  He then had to skedaddle to catch the 9:30 water taxi, so Barry and I hit the road on our bikes.

Once we got north of the bridge, we fired up our headlamps.  The headlamp I brought to Belize had died on me, so I recently got a new one and was trying it out for the first time.  The new one (Black Diamond Sprinter) is really cool as it has a red blinky light in back, and the front LED is seriously bright.  No one will miss seeing us when I'm using it!
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Blinded by the light
It was a nice quiet ride back to our condo on a dark, starry night.  We are happy that the "high season" here on Ambergris Caye is now behind us.  It makes going into town so much more pleasant! 
 
I started making these Veggie Bean Soft Tacos when we were visiting Belize prior to moving here, because they are healthy, easy to whip up, and use many fresh ingredients easily found at the fruit and vegetable stands around town.  We also ate a lot of these when we first moved into our new condo last August before we'd finished stocking up our pantry, since we didn't have a lot of dinner options until we got the "larder" filled up with basics like condiments, spices, baking essentials, and so on.  I don't make them quite as often now since we have more options, but they are still one of my favorite easy things to make, taking only about 30 minutes from start to finish, and we both enjoy them, so I thought I'd share them with our friends and families.

There are a lot of different vegetable options for these, but I always use onions, bell peppers (any color, 1-2 peppers total depending on size), beans, tomato, and chipotle chile in adobo sauce, which gives them a nice smoky flavor (plus some heat!)  If I have a zucchini, which I often do, I add that, and normally I'll add grated cheddar or jack cheese, but neither are required. The cheese does help the other ingredients meld together so they don't fall out of the tortilla, though; plus, cheese just plain tastes good; but if you're avoiding dairy, feel free to leave it out. Cilantro is an optional ingredient as well.

For the beans, you can use canned, but since Barry cooks dried beans for us in the crockpot, a small Tupperware container's worth works for this recipe. I'd guesstimate that this is equivalent to a typical (15.5 oz?) can of beans.  Any beans will work -- black, pinto, kidney, or a blend.  This is the ultimate in made-up, flexible recipe!

I use whole wheat tortillas, but you can use regular flour ones if whole wheat are not available.  We usually eat two of these apiece.  If you have the plate-sized tortillas typically found in the US, one per person will suffice, but the tortillas here in Belize are typically smaller.  We've been buying these in large batches from Domingo's Popular Tortilla on Back Street, but I've recently seen them in Marina's and Casa Pan Dulce up on the front counter as well, if you only want a four-pack.
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whole-wheat tortillas
This recipe serves two people generously, with some of the filling left over.  If you're serving more than two, you'll need to adjust the quantities accordingly.
I usually start with these veggies, chopped fairly fine. 
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Zucchini (1), onion (1/2), bell pepper (1-2)
First, I saute onion in 2 T. olive oil over medium heat until it is fairly soft and translucent, then I add the peppers and zucchini to the pan and turn the heat down a bit, to medium-low.  The veggies will only need occasional stirring at this temperature.  You can use higher heat, but keep a much closer eye on the pan and stir frequently.
While those are cooking (about 5-7 minutes), I chop the next group of veggies.  I always use one tomato, and this time I used two small chipotle chiles from an original can, plus just a little of the adobo sauce that comes in the can with the chiles.  This stuff is hot, so don't go overboard unless you really like to sweat!  If you don't have chipotle chiles or don't want any heat, add maybe 1/4 c. of mild salsa instead.  And if you like things super hot, feel free to add a minced habanero pepper, or whatever makes you -- and your dinner companion -- happy!

I had lovely fresh cilantro this time, so chopped up about 1/4 c. of it -- but I didn't add it until the very end.
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chopped tomato (1), cilantro (1/4 c.), and chipotle chiles (2 small)
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Add the tomato & chipotle chiles to the pan
Give everything a good stir and continue sauteeing for another five minutes or so.  You can put a lid on the pan now and check/stir every couple of minutes until the veggies are the way you like 'em -- from fairly crisp to quite soft.  I like mine kind of in the middle -- not mushy, but definitely cooked.
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Let 'em cook for a few minutes
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Just right!
Once the vegetables are done to your liking, add the already cooked beans, salt to taste, and give everything in the pan a stir.  This time I had pinto beans on hand so used those.  Put the lid on the pan on again for a couple of minutes, just to heat the beans through.
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This was about the equivalent of one can of beans
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Add beans to the pan and stir
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Lid back on until beans are heated through
Once the beans have heated through, I sprinkle the cheese over top of the entire pan.  I usually use about 1/2 c. grated cheese here, but since I only had about 1 T. this time, that had to suffice.  I then sprinkle the cilantro, when I'm using it, over the cheese.
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It's almost done!
I then replace the lid over the pan for about another minute or two, just until the cheese gets nice and gooey.  While that's happening, I get the tortillas ready to go.  I use a damp paper towel on top of them and microwave 'em for 30 seconds.   

Once the cheese has melted, fill half of each tortilla with a goodly amount of the bean-veggie mix, fold over, and chow down.  These are meant to be eaten with the hands, but you'll probably need a fork as well to catch any fallout! Oh, and these go really well with an ice-cold Belikin (the national beer of Belize), chips, and salsa.  Enjoy!
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One last time to let the cheese melt
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Heat the tortillas under a damp paper towel or microwave cover
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The finished product before folding
 
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My birthday was yesterday, and I chose one of my very favorite places to go for dinner here on Ambergris Caye, Aji.  Neither Barry nor I had any desire to go into town, since we knew it would be packed with tourists and locals partying like crazy for Easter weekend.  Every now and then we enjoy that type of atmosphere, but those times are few and far between as we've gotten older.  Normally we prefer quiet and peaceful to noisy and rowdy -- maybe we get that from living in the woods on acreage for so many years.  

Aji definitely provided the quiet and peaceful setting we craved, and it was a perfect night with gentle ocean breezes and no bugs.  An added plus is that we can so easily walk there as it's just a couple hundred yards up the beach from our condo.  And since I didn't have to ride my bike to get there, I could wear a dress. 

I started with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, one of my favorite wines.  Barry had a Panty Ripper (coconut rum and pineapple juice).  Our server then brought out a plate of lovely homemade bread with some tomato sauce and cilantro for us to enjoy while awaiting our dinners.  Yum!

For our entrees, I choose the curried coconut conch with veggies and coconut rice, and Barry had pasta with spicy tomato sauce and chicken.  Both dishes were delicious and beautifully presented.

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My curried conch, veggies, & rice
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Bread with tomato sauce & cilantro
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Barry's pasta
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I was a happy birthday girl
Since it was a special occasion, we splurged and got dessert -- not just one, but two!  We tried the chocolate rum cake and the coconut pie.  The key lime pie is amazing too, but since we'd tried that before, we wanted to try the two we hadn't had.  Both were scrumptious!  Barry liked the chocolate rum cake best.  It was deliciously moist, very rummy, and delicious.  However, the coconut pie blew me away because it was absolutely packed with fresh coconut, unlike any coconut pie I've ever had before, since they are usually made with dried, sweetened "angel flake" coconut and more "cream" than coconut.  The crust also seemed to have a lime syrup on the outside.  Manna of the gods!  Chef Hugo is truly a talent.
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We forgot to take a photo until we'd had the first bite of each delicious dessert!
After dinner as we were taking the short walk down the beach home, the full moon was rising over the ocean, amid clouds.  It was a dramatic and beautiful sight to see and a lovely ending to my birthday evening.

A birthday bash on the beach

The previous Sunday, our condo neighbor Danny threw a surprise birthday party on the beach for his wife Judy.  It was a spirited celebration with plenty of food, a band, and plenty of adult beverages.  Just the right size for a party, I thought, and a good mix of locals, snowbirds, expats, and visitors to the island.
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Party just getting started with some ceviche and the early arrivals
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Our host Danny in the purple bandanna
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Talking to Jim (the second wine glass is Barry's!)
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Plenty of ceviche and chips
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Even Zeke came to the party!
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Danny talking with our neighbors John and Caitlyn
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The band
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Our building, Jim and I still chatting it up, Sammy hoping from a handout from the birthday girl Judy (in the multi-colored top)
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Flor in pretty floral dress contemplating her beverage selection
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More food kept appearing...
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...and I kept eating!
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Someone gave Sammy a snack!
After sunset, Barry brought Paisley out but kept a tight hold on her.  She would have gone bonkers for all the finger food!
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Barry and Paisley
Turns out that Danny is quite the musician and singer and joined the band for several numbers.  Even Cowboy Doug got in on the action!  
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Danny at the mike!
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Go, Cowboy!
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Cowboy Doug and Danny collaborate
Judy, the birthday girl, was getting into the spirit of the evening by now and was bustin' a move with a friend!
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Danny with our internet guy Mr. Norman and his wife
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Emily and Leisa enjoying the music
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Judy gets some assistance with cutting the cake
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Danny, Judy, and friends
We enjoyed hanging out with our Grand Caribe friends, tapping our feet to the music; and since the party was right on the beach behind our building, the trip back home was an easy one.  
 
We added quite a few birds to our life lists on our recent trip to San Ignacio and the Cayo District of Belize.  We also saw many we'd seen before.  It is hard to get decent bird photos with a 12x zoom, but here are the ones worth sharing.  If anyone disagrees with any of our identifications, please let us know in the comment section below -- thanks!

At Cahal Pech

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Yellow-Winged Tanager
We saw both male and female Rose-Throated Becards numerous times as they were adding onto their interesting round nest in a tall tree.  Both birds would fly into the woods, then come back with nesting material to add to the top of the nest.  The nest hole is in the side.  We didn't get a photo of the male, unfortunately, but this photo of the female that Barry took is the clearest bird photo of any he took, I think.
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Rose-Throated Becard (female)
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Female on the nest
Here I am watching the nest-building.  We watched for quite awhile until it appeared that the pair were not going to come back for awhile.
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Summer Tanager
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Tropical Pewee
It was too hard to choose just one photo of the exotic Blue-Crowned Mot Mot because he hung out in the tree posing for us for so long, so I've included several different shots of him here.
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Blue-Crowned Mot Mot
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Yellow-Throated Vireo
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Dusky-Capped Flycatcher
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Black & White Warbler
Other sightings (no photos):  Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, Bright-Rumped Attila, Black-Throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, woodpeckers, kiskadees

At El Pilar

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Great Crested Flycatcher
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Yellow-Throated Euphonia
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Brown Jay
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Black-Headed Trogan
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Black-Crowned Tityra
Other sightings with no photos:  Swallow-Tailed Kite, Magnolia Warbler, Indigo or Blue Buntings (or both), Toucan, King Vulture, Cattle Egrets, Chestnut-Headed Oropendolas (possibly)

Near Roaring Creek/ATM Cave

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White Hawk
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Green Kingfisher
 
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and today was our day to return to San Pedro.  Not that that is such a bad place to go, by any means, but we'd been having so much fun on our various excursions in San Ignacio and the Cayo District of Belize, we hated for our time there to draw to a close.  We really love spreading our wings by visiting new places and are so fortunate our retirement is allowing us the precious time to do this!
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We saw this sign on our walk to breakfast -- wonder if the mayors from 1996 to the present feel slighted?
We tried a new place for breakfast this morning recommended by Becky and Gonzo, "Pop's".  It was the least expensive place yet and full of locals, so it had to be good -- and it was.  Barry got -- what else -- a breakfast burrito (with a choice of meat this time; he chose ham); and I got waffles with bananas and one egg on the side.  The restaurant was just a short walk around the block from the Casa Blanca, our home for the past four days.  We even got to see Pops himself serving some of the folks, though he did not wait on us. 
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"Pop's"
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Breakfast burrito with ham, Marie Sharp's, and fruit
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The coffee was great!
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Waffles with banana -- and watermelon
After heading back to the room to finish packing up, it was time to grab a bus back to Belize City.  But first we headed down to the market square to pick up some fruit to bring back to San Pedro.  Prices are much better on the mainland, as is the selection, so I wish we could have carried more.  We got a papaya, some limes, and a beautiful bag of hot peppers.  Unfortunately, there were no mangoes to be found.  It's still a little early for mangoes since Belize prohibits imports from other countries (unfortunately!)
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Emily picking out some limes -- 3 for $1 BZD vs. $1.50 in San Pedro. Love the locals smiling for the camera!
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These beauties cost us $1 BZD (50c US) for the entire bag!
Next it was time to find a bus to Belize City.  There are several different bus lines that arrive and depart at all different times, but so many of them go through San Ignacio that there's really no need to check a schedule -- if there even is one.  Just walk on over to the bus "terminal" (parking lot) and look for a bus with a "Belize" sign in the front, indicating that it's heading to Belize City.  If there's not one there when you arrive, there's pretty likely going to be one pulling in very soon.  Sure enough, when we got there, one was just loading up.  
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Note the "Belize" sign in the front window -- this indicates this bus is heading east to Belize City
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All aboard! We ended up having to check our backpacks as there was no luggage shelf inside this bus -- first time that has happened.
Our bus was delayed a bit getting into and out of the Belmopan stop due to a parade going on right outside the bus terminal.  Belize sure does love its parades!  We had planned on catching the noon ferry from Belize City back to San Pedro and hoped this delay wouldn't cost us.  Fortunately, it didn't cause us to miss the ferry, but we were in the back of the massive line, and the ferry was PACKED.  There were more passengers on this ferry than we'd ever experienced before, and we've taken the ferry quite a few times now.  The main seating area was full by the time we boarded, so we got to ride up top with the captain, which was actually a lot of fun.  
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Our view of Belize City from the upper deck of the ferry
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On the upper deck of the ferry with the captain
Since it took so long to load up the massive quantities of luggage and passengers, the ferry was late leaving Belize City and Caye Caulker.  We were on a tight schedule once again as we planned to catch the Coastal Express water taxi back to our condo north of the bridge on Ambergris Caye.  We'd thought we'd have a large time window, but being delayed by approximately 15-20 minutes cut into this window.  Also, because of the large number of ferry passengers, Barry had to check his backpack, which we normally don't do.  We prefer to stash our packs under our seats so we can make a quick exit.  But there would have been no room for a bag the size of Barry's backpack, so we knew he'd have to wait for the luggage to be unloaded from the ferry once we got to San Pedro, thus tightening our time window even more.  And we had to pick up Paisley at Pampered Paws, where she was boarding.  If we missed this water taxi, we'd have to take a land taxi back for double the price, as there is a two-hour gap between water taxis at this particular time of day.

When we debarked the ferry in San Pedro, we decided that Barry would wait for the luggage to be unloaded while I walked over to Pampered Paws to pick Paisley up.  There was so much traffic (golf cart, taxi, and bike) in the streets of San Pedro at this busy after-lunch period during high tourist season that I had a difficult time even walking the block and a half to and from Pampered Paws, especially once I had Paisley on her leash with me; but I finally made it back to where Barry was waiting, and he hadn't even retrieved his backpack yet.

Finally, he was able to grab his backpack off the luggage cart, and we hustled down the beach to the water taxi dock with Paisley.  We made it with about 15 minutes to spare, after all.  In keeping with the theme of the day, though, by the time we boarded Coastal Express, the boat was packed to the gills with people, and of course we had carrying backpacks, Paisley, and Paisley's luggage too.  This made for a very cramped ride, but we made it back to the Grand Caribe dock successfully, happy that we'd pulled off another one of our budget friendly travel adventures!

The pictures below were taken by the good folks at Pampered Paws and show the fun Paisley had playing with her friend "Biggy" while she was boarding.  Biggy is a frequent doggie day care customer there, and the two of them are the best of friends.  No wonder Paisley slept most of the next 24 hours after we got her home!
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Paisley and Biggy playing with her "Kitty" -- she's had this toy since she was a puppy!
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Paisley daring Biggy to come get the tennis ball
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Paisley LOVES to play
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Mine at last!
Stay tuned for "Our Sojourn in San Ignacio: Beautiful Birds" coming tomorrow...