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Flower on wall at Beaches & Dreams
This was our third full day in Hopkins and supposed to be a rest day after two tough days of hiking in the heat and humidity, but it didn't turn out to be very restful!  Still, it was a fun day and gave us a chance to see more of Hopkins, finally.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog (because we forgot to take a photo) that Angela made us some absolutely melt-in-your-mouth blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Thursday.  We hadn't had pancakes in an awfully long time, so they went down really, really easy.  And she served them with real -- yes real -- maple syrup.  Don't see that too often in Belize. Yum!  

Today we were back to scrambled eggs, English muffins, and fruit, which was excellent as well.  We were delighted to see mango and kiwi on the fruit plate for the first time.  She also served us yogurt every day.  These were really excellent breakfasts, especially for being included in our room rate.  
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Loads of fresh fruit
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A lovely plate
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This guy loves a big breakfast
After breakfast we headed down the road south a bit doing some casual bird-watching.  
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Walking like a local in bare feet
We were joined by a couple of dogs who seemed fierce at first -- a Rottie and a Pittie -- but ended up being friendly and just wanted to walk along with us.
We spotted some excellent birds including this Black-Headed Trogan and a while bunch of chatty Olive-Breasted Parakeets.  We'd seen both before, but we never mind seeing them again.
We also met one of the cutest puppies you'd ever hope to see.  Just tell me this little guy isn't adorable?
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Isn't he precious?
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Flirty puppy
We did relax after our walk -- but only for a few minutes.
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Hanging with the owner's pooch in front of our room -- he LOVED this frisbee!
We knew we wanted to try the pizza at Driftwood Pizza Shack, after reading how good it was on Sharon Hiebing's blog.  Our taxi driver from the previous day, Julian, had given us an idea -- why not take a kayak up?  It seemed like a pretty long way, but the Caribbean was nice and calm in the late morning, so we figured we'd give it a try.  One of the kayaks available at Beaches & Dreams was a tandem, so we grabbed that bad boy and took off.
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View of resorts at False Sittee Point -- so peaceful
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Once we got to Hopkins Village, local boys on a surfboard paddled over to say hi and have their photo taken
When we got north of the village, where we knew the pizza place was, I started looking at any possible places along the shore through my binoculars.  Before too long we spotted the sign and surfed in to the sand.  The wind was up a bit from when we left, and thus the waves were starting to kick up a bit.
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Here 'tis!
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And here we are!
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Driftwood Pizza Shack
It only took us 55 minutes to paddle up there, so we were a little early for lunch.  There were two local ladies working at the shack, and they didn't seem to mind that we arrived before their advertised opening time of noon.  They were happy to take our order and serve us a cold drink.  We had a great place to sit under a palapa.
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Our view
Here's the menu (all prices in Belize dollars, divide by 2 for US dollars):
And here's what we ordered (medium size):
Here are some of the interesting sights around us as we waited for our pizza.
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Belizean version of air hockey, I guess!
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Canoe with stick drive
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LOVED this sign!
It took awhile, but our pizza was worth waiting for.  It had a crispy thin crust and was really, really good.  Thanks, Sharon, for the recommendation!
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Doesn't get much better than this!
As I mentioned, the wind had started kicking up a bit as we finished up our paddle.  During the time we were waiting for and then eating our pizza, it kicked up even more.  By the time we got ready to leave, it was seriously choppy out there.  Even worse, the wind direction was southeast, so we'd be paddling into the wind the entire way back.  I was not looking forward to it.
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The sea was angry that day, my friend...
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Barry snapping photos of the surf with a new friend
I won't lie, it was a TOUGH paddle back.  Very tough.  It's not like we've been paddling a lot lately, though we have been lifting some home-made milk jug & sand weights (mostly Barry) and doing yoga (me).  Still, nothing makes you a stronger paddler than actually paddling, and we just haven't done that much since arriving in Belize.  We actually had to resort to tacking so we wouldn't get buffeted by the swells coming directly abeam (like our sailorly term?!)  So we paddled a lot farther on the way back in addition to fighting the wind and waves.  My shoulders were screaming, and by the end, even Barry was hurting and getting cranky.  

We thought that Beaches & Dreams had the very last dock and palapa in False Sittee Point and had been aiming for that from a long way north.  Just when we thought we couldn't possibly paddle another stroke, Barry looked over and realized we were THERE.  It was the third palapa up from the end, not the last one!  Whew!  Never have I been so glad to be "home".  We wasted no time in making a hard right turn and surfing FAST (no paddling needed in these waves) to the sandy shore.  It had taken about twice as long getting back as it had getting to the pizza place, and I think I'd burned off all the pizza I'd eaten (two slices) by the time we pulled up on the sand.

But we were on a roll now, so why stop and take it easy?  Instead, we decided to walk up the beach a bit on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a place for dinner.  We had read in a Hopkins tourism brochure that the restaurant at Belizean Dreams resort had quesadillas and burritos, which are two of our favorites, so we decided to check it out.  Turns out it was the northernmost resort on False Sittee Point, but still only a short walk for us.
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It was a nice stretch of beach to walk on
We talked with the bartender out by the pool at Belizean Dreams, who told us that the restaurant didn't open until 6:30.  Huh?  That's pretty late for a beach-front restaurant.  We were going to leave, but he insisted on running into the restaurant to see if they could accommodate us earlier.  Since we had an early lunch and so much exercise, we knew we'd be starving well before 6:30.  Sure enough, they could take us at 5:30.  When he told us what they were serving that night, though, lobster pasta, we again were about to pass.  We'd just had seafood pasta the night before, so we were really hoping for a little Tex-Mex.  But once again he insisted on running inside to ask the chef if they could accommodate us with some quesadillas.  The bartender came back out with the news that they could do that.  Very accommodating, that's for sure!  So, we decided to come back later for dinner.

But first, it was now or never if we were going to explore Hopkins Village.  So, it was time to grab a beach bike and go for a ride.  See, I told you this "rest" day wasn't very restful!
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Eat your heart out, bike club friends -- you could be riding this fine steed!
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I was lucky to snag one of the newer -- not yet rusted -- members of the fleet
We rode from False Sittee Point all the way to the north end of Hopkins Village (as far as the road went).  We ran into the couple we'd met at the bus station on Tuesday in the village and stopped to chat with them for a few minutes.  The road was bumpy in places, and my upper body was feeling really fatigued after the tough paddle earlier.  I was kinda glad when the bike ride came to an end and we could truly just relax.  This had certainly been one active vacation.
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The end of the line in north Hopkins Village
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Hopkins Belize Humane Society in False Sittee Point
After the bike ride it was time to clean up and get ready to walk up the beach for our old folks' "early bird special".  But first, a little swing in the hammock.
When we got to the restaurant, they weren't actually ready for us at 5:30.  They said they just needed to sweep the floor, so we ended up going to the bar for a Happy Hour rum punch.  They weren't actually ready for us until nearly 6pm.  That was some thorough floor sweeping!  But, it was okay because there was live music at the pool and bar area, and the weather was great.
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Musician singing and playing keyboard
When we were called into the restaurant, they were already serving our chicken quesadillas, and we were the only ones eating dinner.  There were plenty of guests at the resort, but they were busy drinking and hanging out in the pool.  So we had the restaurant to ourselves.  The food was delicious, but the air-conditioning was way too cold, detracting from the meal a bit.  Service was excellent -- I guess it would be, since we were the only ones there.  Our server even went out to the bar to check on our much-delayed second rum punches.  I guess the bartender had gotten busy and forgotten, but she managed to fetch them up for us!
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Can you tell I'm shivering? Brrrrrrrrrrr....
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Delish quesadillas
They were offering carrot cake as the nightly dessert, so of course we had to indulge.  The cake was warm, moist, and delicious.   Notice the amount of icing compared to what you'd get in the US.  I missed the icing, but I realize this was much better for me!
While we were finishing up dinner, a local Garifuna drumming and dancing group started playing.  These guys were great and very representative of the traditional culture in Hopkins Village, home of the Lebeha Drumming Center, where new generations of village children learn the traditional skills.  We really enjoyed listening to them and were glad we decided to dine at Belizean Dreams, definitely the place to be on a Friday night!
After an easy stroll back down the beach and some good conversation in the Beaches & Dreams palapa over the water, we went back to the room to pack up for our early trip home the next morning.  We'd have to catch the 7 am bus to Dangriga in Hopkins Village, and since we'd missed Tony and Angela, who were heading out to eat right as we got back from our dinner, we left them a note on their gate about morning arrangements and crossed our fingers that they'd find it when they arrived home....

[To be continued]
 
When we arose to bright sunshine the next morning, we were able to see Beaches and Dreams, where we had arrived in darkness the night before, in a whole new light.  It is a perfectly charming place on the beach, set far enough from neighboring homes and resorts to be private, and with tropical foliage all around, including a large mango tree we could see out our bathroom window.  
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Our room on the right
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Mango tree
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Beaches & Dreams rooms (left) and restaurant with Tony & Angela's home above (right)
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The palapa at end of the dock was one of our favorite places to hang out in the evenings
Angela made us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, English muffins, and a huge plate of fruit.  The big breakfasts here were a really nice treat and stoked us for long days of hiking and other activities.
Our plan was to go to Mayflower Bocawina National Park today for hiking and birdwatching, so Tony called us a taxi.  I have to give credit to Sharon Hiebing's Wealthships blog for alerting me to the existence of this park; I'd never even heard of it until this month, but after reading her description of hiking the super strenuous Antelope Falls, I knew it was a place Barry and I simply couldn't miss, and our entire trip to Hopkins evolved from the desire to visit this park.  Yes, you could say we are a bit masochistic to even think about doing such a hike in the summer in the tropics, but hey, that's just how we roll!

Our driver, Kaleem, would drop us at the park in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon for a cost of $70 US.  Traveling by taxi in Belize is not inexpensive, but the rates are understandable as gas prices are high, and once you get off the paved highway, side roads are typically unpaved, rocky, steep in places, and slow-going. The roads really do a number on the suspensions of the vehicles -- mostly older vehicles -- in Belize.  Kaleem would have to travel from our inn, about two miles south of Hopkins Village (unpaved), then the bad four-mile road to and from Hopkins, then the Southern Highway for four more miles, followed by a 4.5-mile unpaved access road to and from the park. Twice.  Definitely not a job I would want.

The views along the access road to the park were gorgeous, as was the day.  What rainy season?!
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Access road to Mayflower Bocawina National Park
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Our taxi, an older Rav 4
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Barry ready to hike
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Park map
We decided to start out by doing an easier hike to Bocawina Falls to warm up before we attacked the strenuous Antelope Falls trail.  Most of this hike was along an unpaved road and was quite sunny, so we were soon dripping wet with sweat.  We saw no other people after passing the zip-line area along the way.  I'd love to try zip-lining one day, but today was all about hiking and birding.  

We saved money by not hiring a guide to take us through the park -- we prefer to hike and bird-watch independently anyway, so we don't feel like we're holding anyone up when we stop numerous times to check out and photograph various birds.  Entry fee to the park was only $10 BZD ($5 US) each.
Barry happened to look down and notice this tiny thumb-sized turtle along the path.  How cute is he?
Finally we got to the end of the "road" and continued on a more typical trail through the jungle and up to the falls.  It was absolutely gorgeous and nice to have some more shade, though the humidity was intense.

"But what about the birds?", perhaps you are asking.  As we often do, we took so many photos we'll save the bird photos from our trip for a bonus blog post at the end to avoid making the daily entries even longer than they already are.  I will say that we did indeed see some great new and exotic birds for our life lists in the park, so stay tuned.
The falls themselves were really pretty, and the temperature may have even gone down a degree or two right by them.  It was nice having them all to ourselves.
From the falls, the trail continued up, up, up to the upper falls area.  We couldn't resist going just a bit higher through the lush jungle.
There wasn't too much of a view from the "upper falls", but there were additional trails that branched off to the Peck Falls and Big Drop Falls.  These trails didn't look like they'd seen much use lately, and we knew we'd run out of time to see Antelope Falls if we continued on, so we backtracked down the way we'd come.  
    
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Exotic flora along the trail back
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Bananas growing wild
When we got back to our starting point, we realized that we probably had not left enough time to complete the Antelope Falls hike.  We had asked Kaleem to pick us up at 2 pm, giving us five hours in the park, but time really flies when we're birding as we stop often to peer through our binoculars and take multiple photos, so our bird-watching hikes are not nearly as quick as regular hiking.  It was 12:20 already, so we needed to turn around after about 50 minutes of hiking to be able to get back at 2 pm.  We took off at a quick clip, unsure if we'd make it to the top of the falls or not.  It was only two miles to the top, but we knew that it would be very steep and slow-going.

First we crossed the Mayflower Bridge.
I guess the trail used to be called "Tind's Trail", per this sign.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous.  It started out easy to moderate, but didn't waste much time in getting fairly strenuous.  Still, we had no idea what was soon to come.
First we got to the stairs. There were ropes along the banks to assist, but we didn't use the ropes on the stairs.  We thought we were in good enough shape that we wouldn't need ropes at all.  Haha!  No, we may not have needed them on the stairs, but once we hit the roots and rocks and even steeper terrain on the upper half of the falls, we definitely needed the ropes.  Some of the rocks were slippery, and it was difficult enough even with ropes.  We were just hoping they wouldn't break.
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Stairs with ropes to right
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Okay, I give in -- time to use the rope!
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View of falls mid-way up
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Time for a brief rest!
Since we haven't been able to do much hill training on the flat island of Ambergris Caye, our hearts were really pounding, and I started feeling a little woozy from all this climbing in the heat and humidity.  We've done some really tough things over the years, like century bike rides (100 miles) and hiking rim to the river and back in a day at the Grand Canyon, but this was actually a more strenuous effort, probably in part because we were just not well-trained for it.  And they don't seem to understand the concept of switchbacks when building trails in Belize; they pretty much go straight up the mountain.  I'm sure it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that we're a few years older now!
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I wish you could see how soaking wet with sweat I was here!
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I think I know how Tarzan must have felt!
Finally, we realized we weren't going to be able to make it all the way to the top.  It was a combination of not having enough time and being absolutely wiped out from the heat, humidity, and climbing.  We could look up and see the top about 10 minutes away, but we just didn't have the energy to go for it at that moment.  What a disappointment!  We will definitely have to return and try again, perhaps on a slightly cooler day, and we'll do this trail FIRST next time, while we're still fresh.  Sharon's blog says there's a lovely pool to swim in at the top, so I'll pack my swimsuit next time too!

As it turned out, going down was faster than going up, though my progressive glasses were making it a little weird since I kept looking through the reading part at the bottom and slightly misjudging distance, but we made it with no mishaps.
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Coming back down
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Whew -- back on flat land
Since the trail down went faster than anticipated, we made it back to the visitor's center before Kaleem arrived to pick us up, so we got to look around a bit.  There were some ornamental peppers growing and some unexcavated Maya mounds nearby.  There was also a sign to a so-called "Bird Trail" we would have loved to have checked out.  Wish we'd had a few more minutes to walk around more, but Kaleem arrived right on time.
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Hate that we missed this!
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Maya Temple mound (unexcavated)
After we arrived back at the inn, Barry decided to head out in one of the kayaks (complimentary).  I was too worn out from our day, so I just watched and took photos after a quick dip in the ocean to cool off.  
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This was more my speed at this point
After cooling off, we realized we needed to find a grocery store for a few small items, so we grabbed a couple of the complimentary bikes to ride into the village.  After my little dip in the ocean, I had more energy than I expected.
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Bikes at Beaches & Dreams
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Weeeeeeeee!
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Riding past resorts
We stopped at this little store for a few things, which we had to stuff in our pockets on the way home after the bag broke.
When we got back to the inn, it was finally time to relax.  I sat out in the palapa over the water and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset to the west.  
The lovely Tapas dinner we enjoyed at the Barracuda Bar and Grill onsite as a fundraiser for the Hopkins Humane Society will have to wait for a later blog post.  It deserves a bit of space as Tony's food was lovely, and we took plenty of photos.
 
Today we had the pleasure of attending a very special celebration for Jana and CJ, who are visiting San Pedro from Texas for a month of vacation.  They both recently celebrated a milestone birthday (we won't say which one!) and invited a group of folks to join them for a day on the Lady Leslie catamaran to snorkel and sail to Caye Caulker.  We were lucky enough to be included, and we had a blast!  

After all the rain we've been getting lately on the island, it was touch-and-go up until the last minute, and Jana had warned us they might have to postpone the trip.  When I woke up just before 6 am to a heavy downpour, I feared the worst, but it passed over quickly, and Jana informed us on Facebook that the sail was on.  Fortunately, no more rain fell, and the day turned out to be just right -- mostly sunny but with enough shade to keep us from getting completely fried.

Since there was no water taxi at the appropriate time this morning, Barry and I loaded up our backpacks with towels, sunscreen, and other necessary items, and hiked into town after our breakfast.  We'd worked up a good sweat by the time we made it to the dock near Wet Willy's, but with all the food we ended up eating during the day, we were very glad we'd gotten our exercise in early.
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Lady Leslie
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Captain Martin
Barry and I had taken this same trip on the Lady Leslie on our first visit to San Pedro in May 2010, and we had great memories of it.  In addition to Captain Martin and his son Jody, another crew member, Ricky, was aboard today.  These guys are the best and really know their stuff.  We have recommended them to a lot of people.  Jody's sister Jessie also cuts my hair at Leslie's Salon in town.  They're just a super nice local family.
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Jody Leslie
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Barry on board
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Jody briefing the whole gang on where we'd be going and the rules onboard
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A perfect day for a sail after so much rain
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This is the life
After leaving San Pedro, our first stop was Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  Snorkeling was optional, but I wouldn't have missed it.  There were a ton of fish of all sizes, a couple of sea turtles, a moray eel, and much beautiful coral.  It was the best snorkeling experience I've ever had, in part because my mask stayed on and didn't keep filling with water as I've had problems with in the past.  It was a nice long snorkel as well, with Ricky as the guide for our part of the group, and we got to see so much.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite a few foot cramps and turning into a prune by the end!  Barry is not as crazy about snorkeling as I am so stayed behind along with some of the others to take some photos and just enjoy hanging out on the deck of the Lady Leslie.  I do wish he'd joined me, but he has problems with foot cramps as well, so he might not have enjoyed himself too much.
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The water looked like a swimming pool today
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Our group with Ricky before heading out
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Lots of other groups were in the reserve as well
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Here we are snorkeling close to the reef
When we got back to the boat, we were swimming among a school of large horse-eye jacks, and a couple of HUGE groupers were right in there too.  You can see the dark gray forms of the fish in this photo.  It was surreal!
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Huge grouper to the right and forward of me
I wish I had taken my waterproof camera along for some underwater shots, but I was too afraid of dropping it.  I am hoping that Debra (Taking Belize blog) got some good shots of the many sights we saw as she was snapping away under water.

After drying off, we enjoyed fresh pineapple slices Jody brought around.  Nothing like snorkeling to help you work up an appetite.  A bit more sunscreen was in order as well.
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Very refreshing!


Our next stop, much briefer, was Shark Ray Alley.  I didn't get in this time, but we enjoyed watching the nurse sharks come eat the chum behind the stern of the boat.  I never get tired of watching them go after it.  Ricky also held a sting ray up for a few brave folks to touch.  
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Nurse sharks at Shark Ray Alley
Finally it was full-steam ahead to Caye Caulker.
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Caye Caulker
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Debra, me, Laurie, Bill, and Tim on the dock at Caye Caulker
A few of us misunderstood and thought our lunch was at the Lazy Lizard at the Split, so we headed down there. 
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The sandy streets of Caye Caulker
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A Caye Caulker character with a very creative headdress
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But where is the rest of our party?
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A few lost souls...
About this time, Laurie got a text that we were supposed to be at Wish Willy's!  Not sure how we got confused, but perhaps it was the rum punches and panty rippas we had after snorkeling....  Fortunately, it was only a short walk back down the road.
It was right across the way from the Humane Society, where this sweet pooch took a liking to Barry.  Wish we could have played with him and his bone!
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Our table at Wish Willy's
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Veggies fresh off the grill
Our meal was wonderful -- a lobster tail (my first of the newly opened season), shrimp skewer, chicken, veggies, rice and beans.  Yum!
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Our hosts with the most...CJ and Jana flashing some serious Belize dinero
After the fine lunch, we had a bit of extra time before we had to be back on the boat, so we wandered around, and I bought a beaded ankle bracelet from a lady Debra liked.  Debra had one on one ankle already but bought another for her second ankle!
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This one seems to fit just right...sold!
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Laurie and me
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Laurie took this funny photo of Barry and me
At last we had to board the boat again and make our way back to Ambergris Caye.  But not without a bit more food.  The crew made us fresh sushi, which was absolutely delicious, and we had melt-in-your-mouth orange cake (aka "crack cake" said Jana) made by Casa Pan Dulce.  Could we possible eat any more today!?  
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Birthday cake
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Like I really need this...but did I eat it? But of course!
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Barry took so many photos of me I felt bad and took this one of him
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Girls gone wild
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Chillin' on the Lady Leslie on the way back to San Pedro
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An attractive ketch at anchor - the color of the sea
Sadly, all too soon we were pulling into the dock and saying goodbye to everyone.  What a wonderful day it was, though. Many thanks to Jana and CJ for their generosity in arranging such a memorable event and for inviting us along!
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What a great day
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Thanks Jana and CJ -- you guys rock!
 
Due to the large number of photos, this day is divided into two parts.  Part 1 includes up through our morning trip to the Castillo de San Felipe, and Part 2 will cover our trip to town, lunch, and dinner.
We got up early(ish) on this beautiful, bright Monday morning so that we could have breakfast, wash dishes, and be off the boat by 7 am as Simon had requested.  It turned out that our space on the dock was a great place to watch the local boats come and go in the morning at the complex of buildings and boat ramp next door to the boat yard.
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View from s/v Hope
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Boats coming...
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...and going
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Morning men's club, Guatemala style
Our spot was also a good place to do some birding.  There was a lot of action in a bank of trees across the water, though we wish it had been just a bit closer so we could have identified more, but our binoculars did help a lot. Bruce and Chunky joined Barry and me in the bird watching while Ruthie prepared the daily eggs and sausage for the crew. (Barry and I made our usual oatmeal.)  

We were particularly impressed with this "oriole morning meeting" we witnessed.  The one male with orange breast was glowing so brightly it looked like neon through the binoculars.  I suspect he's "top bird" in this flock.
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Orioles and friends
We were excited to add a new bird to our life list, the Montezuma Oropendola.   We got a better photo of one later, at the park.
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Montezuma Oropendola
Promptly at 7 am, the boatyard workers splashed the Moorings catamaran, as promised, so that s/v Hope could take its place on the hard.
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Worker under the Moorings cat
After everyone had eaten and the dishes were washed (a rotating duty among the crew, although Captain Clive often beat us to it and did it so fast we hardly realized he'd already done it), we debarked s/v Hope to begin our day of sightseeing in Rio Dulce.
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Cap't Simon bidding (L) bidding farewell to the motley crew
We happened to see this boat with bleating cargo nearby as we were leaving.  Somehow I don't think these cuties were destined to be someone's pets, but perhaps at least "mama" will be kept for wool and milk.  
Barry and I led Bruce, Chunky, and Ruthie to the park we had found the previous day.   Here are some of the sights we saw on our walk along the way.
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Chickens alongside the road
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Cute Guatemalan making tortillas for sale
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The pool hall from the night before, in the light of day

Castillo de San Felipe

The park that Barry and I had discovered by chance on the walk the day before turned out to be a national park, much to our surprise.  It was the site of the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, a Spanish colonial fort located at the entrance to Lake Izabal, just beyond where s/v Hope was docked.  According to WikipediaKing Philip II of Spain ordered the fort to be erected in an attempt to reduce pirate activity in the area. 

The park proved to be a super interesting and beautiful spot, whether your tastes ran to history or flora and fauna.  The entry fee of 20 Quetzales per person, or a little less than $3, was a ridiculous bargain (for a national park?!)  We had a brief conversation in our very best "Spanglish" with the two friendly government workers who took our fee.  Since were the only tourists there at that time, I am sure they were glad to see us.

The park was surrounded by water on three sides, and there were beautiful trees, foliage, and greenery on the walk to the fort, which lay at the end of the road.  
There were a ton of leafcutter ants in the park.  I'd never seen these interesting creatures before and found them fascinating. 
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Leafcutter ants bringing leaf pieces down tree trunk
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Lovely road to fort through the lush, tropical foliage
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Ruthie and Bruce
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There was a graveyard in the park
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We thought the lace drapings on the graves were interesting
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Huge tree with snake cacti and orchids growing all over the branches
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Park gift shop
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Orchids were even growing on the wires
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Approaching the fort -- these cannons meant business in their day
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Castillo de San Felipe looks small from this shot, but inside, it's HUGE
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The first tower of the fort was built in 1595
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The fort was rebuilt for the second time in 1651
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Moat around fort
After signing in, we were free to roam at will all over the fort.  I only saw one guard on the second level.  We had tons of fun exploring it at our own pace.  We were the only people in it the entire time!  When we left, we finally saw some other folks signing in.
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Emily signing in
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There were many rooms and passageways all over the fort. Easy to get lost in!
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This room had a large, old wood dining table in it
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Artifacts
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Courtyard
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Chunky on the stairs
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Bruce and me
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The view was stunning!
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Chunky and Ruthie on the "rooftop terrace"
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Barry got this view from a high tower
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Barry is a bit too tall for this doorway
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Chunky, Bruce, Ruthie, and Emily
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The drawbridge over the moat
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These are the cranks and chains used to raise and lower the drawbridge
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Barry bravely ventured down into some dark, dungeon-like rooms that he lit up with only his camera's flash
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Emily up in the tower
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Boom!
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Steep steps to the tower with no hand rail -- this would certainly be roped off in the US, but no one stopped us from climbing them here!
On our way back through the park after thoroughly scoping out the fort, we heard the most interesting bird song.  We finally found the singer up high in a tree above us -- the same species as we'd seen in the morning from the boat:  the Montezuma Oropendola.  What an exotic bird!
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Montezuma Oropendola
We spent even more time watching the leafcutter ants on the way out.  We were amazed to see the trails they had created in the forest, like miniature hiking trails.  And the mound they were going to and from was absolutely huge!  I could have watched these industrious little guys all day long.  One thing I wondered about is all the ants going along with the ones carrying leaves that weren't appearing to do any work themselves.  Are those the "manager ants", barking orders to the workers?!  Some things are universal, I guess....
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Army of leafcutters
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Leafcutter ant mound
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A leafcutter ant trail -- just imagine the thousands of trips back and forth it must have taken to create this path.
After leaving the park, Ruthie wanted a cold drink, so she stopped at a little shop on the roadside.  She was also trying to explain that she wanted some ice to put in her water bottle, but found it hard to do with hand gestures, since the woman running the shop spoke only Spanish.  Fortunately, Barry and I had brought along our Spanish for Cruisers book, so we were able to come up with the term hielo (ice).  The woman immediately understood and went over to chip her off some ice from a block -- not cubes, as we would have expected.  
After leaving the little shop, we were all standing around discussing what to do next, when a young boy (likely the son of the woman running the shop) came running over to us. Ruthie had left her camera on the counter, and he was returning it.  What a wonderful thing, and not something we'd necessarily have expected in a third-world country.  Ruthie went over to thank him again and took him a US dollar as a reward, which I am sure made his day.  His simple act of honesty brought a smile to us all.

Stay tuned for Guatemala Cruise Day 3, Part 2:  A Long Day in Rio Dulce
 
When we left off last time, we were just about to arrive at Abelle's boatyard on the Rio Dulce (and near the town of Fronteras, also known as Rio Dulce), Guatemala.  And whaddaya know?  Here it is, our ultimate destination straight ahead!  We arrived there just a little after noon.
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Abelle's
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We tied up to the dock since all three of the "big boat" spaces were already in use
We docked right next to some buildings and homes (top of photo above), and locals were bathing and washing dishes in the water very close to our boat.
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The shore power connection was a bit primitive, but it gave us the current we needed
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Looking back towards the bridge, we got lucky and caught the sight of a sailboat flying its spinnaker
Barry and I decided to take a walk to check out the boatyard and local area.  Before we'd even gotten off the dock, we met a friendly couple cruising on s/v Mistral, the large catamaran on the far left in the photo below, and had a nice chat with them before they took off in their dinghy for a late lunch.  They had been stuck at Abelle's waiting for a part for longer than they expected and were more than ready to continue their cruise up to Belize as soon as possible.  

We also noted that the well-known buyboat Winnie Estelle was at the yard having repairs.  We had no idea of this boat's illustrious history until we got home and did some googling, but it is quite fascinating.  We later got to meet her owner, Captain Robert(o), who told us that he has sold her and will be delivering her to Key West later in the season.  Sounds like she will eventually be taken back home to Annapolis, where she was built in 1920, as these folks were hoping.  What a great story!
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(L to R): Mistral, Winnie Estelle, and a Moorings catamaran whose spot we'd be taking the next morning
It was interesting to see how this Guatemalan boatyard compared to Sailcraft in Oriental, NC.  When we'd purchased our Catalina 30, Logos, in 2007, we'd taken delivery of her at Sailcraft.  In 2009, we had her hauled out there and did our own bottom painting.  Abelle's was a bit different: hillier, muddier, smaller, and the unisex bathroom wasn't nearly as nice as the large bath house with separate facilities for men and women at Sailcraft.  But Abelle's did have wi-fi, so Simon and Ruthie were happy as they could play with their gadgets.  
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Monohulls in the boatyard
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This car was dead in the boat yard. I didn't happen to notice if the license plates had changed since 2004 when we walked around the local roads.
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Local road in this rural area -- quiet with little traffic
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Pig in someone's yard -- yep, I mentioned it was rural!
We discovered a beautiful park on our walk, but since there was an entry fee, we decided to wait and tell the others about it so that we could all go the next day, since we'd have a day of freedom while the work was being done on s/v Hope.  We also tried to find some paper plates at a couple of local stores, both to save water and dish-washing labor on the boat, but all they had were huge stacks of styrofoam plates for sale, so we passed.

After our walk, I elected to take a shower in the boatyard restroom to save water on s/v Hope.  When I got into the stall, I realized there was only one handle and immediately knew what that meant:  no hot water.  Fortunately,  it was a warm afternoon with temperature around 86F and heat index of 93.  Not much breeze once you got off the water, either.  So, a cold shower, while a bit brisk for my usual taste, was actually tolerable and very refreshing.   
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Sign on bathroom: "Only customers please"
After the shower, we hung out on the boat for awhile before leaving for dinner.  Bruce, Barry, and I did some bird watching in nearby trees with our binoculars, and a few adult beverages may have been consumed.  
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Cap't Simon telling Chunky, Ruthie, and me something important, I'm sure. Barry was showering so missed whatever it was.
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Clive, Bruce, and Barry all showered and relaxing
Simon suggested we walk over to a nearby hotel and restaurant for dinner.  It was a nice walk over and great setting, save for the mosquitoes, who came after us with a vengeance once we sat down.
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Where we ate
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Nice outdoor setting, but the mozzies found us
The menu was entirely in Spanish.  Fortunately we had Clive to help, plus our rudimentary skills, but Barry gave up and ordered chicken soup (sopa de pollo) since he could tell what it was, and he claimed not to be very hungry.  I ordered curried chicken.
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Example menu page in Spanish and currency in Quetzales
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My curried chicken

The parmesan cheese incident.

Barry started eating his chicken soup and proclaimed it delicious.  He noticed a small plate next to his soup bowl, and exclaiming "hey, cheese!", proceeded to scrape most of the contents into his soup.  At the same moment, Chunky was looking around for the salt he'd ordered for his burger.  You can definitely see where this one is going.  Apparently, they serve salt on plates in this restaurant since humidity that would cause it to be sticky in a shaker.  Chunky was sitting right next to Barry, and when the waiter delivered his salt, Barry mistook it for parmesan.  An honest mistake, especially considering the yellow lighting over our table.  This incident, while unfortunate, provided a lot of fodder for jokes and laughs for the remainder of our trip, but I am not sure it was worth it for Barry.  Fortunately the chicken and veggies in the soup were still edible, but the lovely broth was a no go after the dousing with el sal.
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Barry's chicken soup and Chunky's plate close by to the right, which caused the salty confusion.
Since Barry didn't have much to eat, he was able to snap this photo of the rest of us.
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(L to R): Emily, Clive, Simon, Bruce, Ruthie, Chunky
After dinner, we were pretty tired and ready to head back to the boat to get some sleep, but Simon (aka party animal) was hankering for a bit of pool and a couple more beers, so we walked over to the local pool hall.  It was closed, probably because it was Sunday, but there was a young woman bartender inside.  Simon called to her through the windows, and asked her if she would open up if we'd drink a bunch of beers.  She called her manager and agreed to open up.   

Simon suggested a tournament, and since most of the folks hadn't played since high school, we all figured he was a shoe-in to win.  Since we had an odd number of people, and since I have deep-seated grade school anxiety involving any game involving a ball, I sat out of the fun, which meant that I could snap a few photos.  

Much to his surprise, Barry came in second only to Simon, due to a few lucky breaks (and a few good shots).  I think he was as surprised as I was because he was one of the ones who hadn't played in decades.
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Barry had better luck with pool than with soup!
After the tournament, we walked back to the boat to crash.  Simon told us that we needed to have our breakfast and be ready to get off the boat at 7 am the next morning, as the Moorings catamaran would be splashing then, and s/v Hope going up onto the hard in her place.  

Stay tuned for Guatemala Cruise Day 3:  A long day in Rio Dulce 
 
Because of the length of this day and the large number of photos, it is split it into two parts.  Part 1 documents our midnight departure from Placencia and cruise down the Rio Dulce, prior to arriving at Abelle's boatyard in Guatemala, near Fronteras on the map below (near the bottom).  Part 2 will document the afternoon and evening hours spent on land after arriving at the dock.
Hope's engines roared to life again just a couple of hours after we'd hit the hay for a little fitful sleep (for me at least) prior to our midnight launch from the anchorage in Placencia.  I'd jokingly suggested to Simon that we just stay the night in this calm and beautiful spot, but he had a schedule to keep so of course would hear nothing of it. Clive weighed the anchor at midnight, and we were on the move again.

Although I stayed in our berth, I can't recall now if I slept any at all between the time we departed and about 1:30 am; but I do remember that I was hot and sweaty as there was very little breeze, and it was humid, of course.  Chunky and Ruthie had decided to sleep out on the trampoline, so around 1:30 I thought I might join them for awhile and see what it was like out there.  I snuck out onto the bow and laid down on on my damp beach towel.  It was definitely cooler and very damp.  The stars were absolutely breathtaking out in the middle of the sea with no light pollution.    

Deciding I needed a bit more than shorts and a t-shirt on, I lowered myself back down into our cabin through the top hatch (surprisingly, this awkward gyration did not wake Barry up), changed into long pants, threw on my wind breaker, then tried going out to the bow again.  It was good at first, and quieter than being right on top of the engine in the berth, but soon I got too chilly even in that outfit and had to bail on sleeping under the stars.  

Chunky and Ruthie had the right idea, bringing the most unlikely of garments for the tropics along with them, the cult phenomon Snuggie, basically a blanket with sleeves.  With those, they managed to stay warm enough to sleep out on the bow all night, while I had to retreat back to our cabin to sweat.  I actually had even warmer clothes in my duffel, including a fleece jacket, but it was way at the bottom, and I didn't want to risk waking Barry or others up with all my comings and goings, so I just stuck it out and managed to grab a few hours of sleep after all.  

In the morning, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise as the motley crew started cracking open our eyes.  In contrast to the completely clear, starry sky of earlier, the sky was now thick with clouds, but at least it wasn't raining.
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Sunrise...somewhere!
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Snuggies -- silly but effective
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Bruce, Chunky, and Simon
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Cap't Simon swabbing the decks
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Yes, I look and was sleepy!
Since we had entered Guatemalan waters, our captains had raised the Guatemala courtesy flag (blue and white vertical stripes) and a yellow Quarantine flag. The 'Q' flag would be in place until we checked in with immigration authorities in Livingston.
The crew hung out and watched for signs of Livingston in the distance.  When Simon requested it, we helped him look for markers that would lead us safely into the mouth of the Rio Dulce and away from shoals.  The markers in Central America aren't up to US standards so were often very hard to see.  Some were sticks and some were bottles or floats of various types.  Good thing there were plenty of pairs of binoculars and (bleary) eyes aboard s/v Hope!
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A Guatemalan marker
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Not hard to see was this huge Chiquita banana barge
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Bruce and me looking for markers in our nearly identical uniforms
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Land Ho!

Livingston, Guatemala

We soon arrived in Livingston, where we'd check in so as to be in Guatemala legally.  Our passports would be stamped, and off we'd go on the rest of our journey.
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The colors of Livingston
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Approaching the dock to check in -- and the sky is now blue!
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local fisherman
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Clive awaits as Simon guides s/v Hope to the dock
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Barry helped by throwing a dock line to a dockhand.
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s/v Hope on the docks of the colorful town of Livingston
After s/v Hope was safely docked, the customs and immigration officers arrived.  They greeted us all with a Buenos Dias (good morning), then sat around the cockpit table with Simon to go over the paperwork and stamp our passports.  There was also a doctor and a fourth officer of some sort who came aboard.  It was all fairly formal, but they were friendly.  The officers asked Simon if there were weapons, drugs, or pets onboard, or if anyone was sick.  No, no, no, and no.  A few stamps and signatures later, and we were able to get out and walk around and sightsee for awhile.  Livingston was quite hilly, very different from what we have become accustomed to in San Pedro.  And it was warm, very warm.
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Welcome to Livingston
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Emily, Bruce, and Chunky climbing the hill
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Barry
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Fruit stand
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Emily (far left)
Everything was in Spanish, so we wished we'd gotten a little farther with our lessons, but calculating the exchange rate from the local currency, Quetzales, to US dollars (approximately 7.5 Q per $1 USD) was probably our biggest challenge.  Fortunately, shops accepted our US money as we'd read they would, so we were able to make some very important purchases -- adult beverages.  Since Belize tightly regulates beer imports, you drink Belikin unless you want to pay a mint, and bringing in or selling beers from many countries, including Mexico and Guatemala, is strictly illegal in Belize.  So, we felt a bit like kids in a candy store grabbing local and Mexican brews.  Simon had placed his order for local Gallo beer, not to be confused with the California wine of the same name, so Chunky and Bruce picked that up for him as well. 

While available, wine is very expensive in Belize, so I was happy to get a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for just $11 USD -- it would have been at least double in San Pedro (which is why I almost never drink wine in Belize).  Barry and my total came to $35 USD for 10 single beers (there's no such thing as a "sixer" in Central America) and the bottle of wine.  Not as inexpensive as I'd expected in Guatemala, but worth every penny for the chance to drink something besides Belikin!
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Bruce and me in store where we bought beer and wine
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Chunky with his "loot" in bag
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Heading back to s/v Hope
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Barry was happy to get some of his favorite beer, Corona. The others are local brews we wanted to try.

Rio Dulce ("Sweet River") cruising

The next part of our trip was quite different than the ocean sailing we'd done so far and involved motoring down the Rio Dulce.  We had checked some web sites about this in advance so were prepared for it to be beautiful, and we were not disappointed.  The foliage and bird life were fantastic, and the occasional hut or rustic resort along the river's banks perfectly suited the environment.  This would be an absolutely wonderful place to kayak or canoe.  If you ever get a chance to visit this beautiful area, do not hesitate!  We were still pinching ourselves at our good fortune.
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The river narrowed here and got even more beautiful
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The water turned emerald green to match the trees
Barry was right in his element watching for birds and other interesting sights off the bow.  Couldn't wipe that smile off his face!
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High rocky cliffs along the banks
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Wouldn't you love to stay here on vacation?
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A beauty of a boat and a blood pressure lowering scene
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The mountains were gorgeous
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This pair of Mangrove Swallows hitched a ride on our lifelines for awhile
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Pelicans on stilts
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Emily and Ruthie having a bite of lunch

At this point, we were getting very close to the boatyard where s/v Hope would have her transducer repaired.  We were just about to go under the bridge in the town of Fronteras, also known simply as Rio Dulce, same as the river.
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That's what I'm talking about!
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Rio Dulce is a popular cruising destination with quite a few marinas along the way
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The bird trees
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Local paddler
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Going under the bridge in Fronteras - Hope's mast came within a foot of the power lines on one side of the bridge. A hold your breath moment for sure!
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Bridge with Esso fuel dock below
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Cruising boats at nearby marinas
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Ruthie striking a pretty pose, and Bruce anxious to arrive at the boatyard
Stay tuned for Guatemala Cruise Day 2, Part 2:  Rio Dulce, Guatemala 
 
Yesterday we joined Mike and Myra from Grand Caribe on their boat for a trip around Ambergris Caye.  Jerry, who owns a unit in our building (Chico Caribe) also joined the crew.  We were delighted to be invited because it sounded like a fun and interesting trip.  A side benefit was a day out of Chico would provide a much-needed break from the constant hammering and other construction noise in the unit immediately above us, which currently seems to be stuck in change order hell.

With Mike at the helm, we took off in mid-morning south to San Pedro to pick up Marco, who would be our boat captain and guide for the day.  Since we'd have to go outside the reef to get to the cut between Belize and Mexico, having a captain with local knowledge of this area was a must, and Marco had made the trip many times.
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Mike's boat "Island Roots"
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Jerry, Mike, and Myra
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Emily
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Barry
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Marco on left
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Looking a little stormy
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Heading north
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Local fisherman
We first landed at Tranquility Bay, the northernmost resort on Ambergris Caye.  It is located approximately 12.5 miles north of San Pedro Town.  This place was absolutely adorable, with its ice-cream colors and relaxed Caribbean charm.  The delicious lunch, which Jerry generously picked up for the entire table, was most enjoyable.  I think their fresh fish tacos were the best I've ever had.
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Approaching Tranquility Bay
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Note building storm clouds as we dock
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Cute restaurant!
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Emily & Barry
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Darling place - loved the murals on every wall
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Emily, Myra, and a cute red-haired boy from Canada
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This place is just too adorable!
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Mike and Emily
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Jerry not sure if he has enough cash for lunch, after saying he'd pick up the tab.
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Myra holding up Jerry's "wad of money". He had plenty, as it turned out...even got change!
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We had the restaurant to ourselves
As we were leaving Tranquility Bay to continue heading north, a light sprinkle slowly picked up into a full-blown torrential rain.  Thank goodness Barry and I had brought our rain jackets, but everything not covered by them was soaked.  The temperature was in the 70s if not low 80s, but on the water in the rain, the air felt cooler.  We all huddled together under the bimini, though by the time it was drenched, that really made no difference.

Since the reef gets closer and closer to land as you head north, and eventually touches land at Rocky Point, it is necessary to go through a small cut in the reef to continue to the channel between Belize and Mexico.  The reef then goes farther back out to sea if you were to continue north towards Mexico.  Marco expertly guided the boat through a narrow gap in the reef.  When we were outside the reef, we were really rocking and rolling in five-foot waves during the storm.  Despite Jerry's suggestion that we turn around and head back to town (he had not brought a rain jacket), we forged onward.  Before long, as is very typical in Belize, the rain had stopped, the sun came out, and everyone warmed up again.  From this point on, we had perfect weather for the rest of the day.
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Hmmm...this cloud deck looks a wee bit ominous!
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Marco did an excellent job guiding us through the reef and storm
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Heading into the storm -- we are still inside the reef at this point so not hitting waves yet.
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We're getting wet now -- didn't get many photos of this portion of the journey
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Rocky Point to the left
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Rocky Point
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Back safely inside the reef and approaching the cut. Rain has stopped!
Soon we were heading through the Bacalar Chico channel (directly north of the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve), a totally undeveloped cut through mangroves on either side with Belize on the left and Mexico on the right.  I read online that this narrow channel between Mexico and Belize was dug by the Maya to provide a trade route from the Bay of Chetumal to the Caribbean.  It was a go-slow manatee zone, and it was interesting to see signs in English on the Belize side and Spanish on the Mexican side.  Unfortunately, we saw no manatees, but the scenery was gorgeous nonetheless.  Marco told us that there would be orchids blooming here if we came back in June.
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Mexico side of cut. Despacio means S L O W.
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Belize side of cut
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Belize on the left, Mexico on the right.
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Mangroves
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Very narrow back here, and the water is shallow. Reminded me of kayaking in NC at times!
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Thank goodness Marco knew where we were going!
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Hard to imagine it was storming hard just a little bit ago. So beautiful now!
As we rounded the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, Marco told us that we were in the largest lagoon on the Caye.  He pointed out a large mound of foliage that was an unexcavated Maya site.  I'm glad he told us as I would have never recognized it as such otherwise.  Next we reached Iguana Caye, where many birds nest.  Beautiful!
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Maya site in the foliage mound straight ahead
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Iguana Caye to the right
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Someone has their own private island
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Shorebirds near Iguana Caye
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Cormorants and a Pelican
I had hoped we would go all the way around to the southernmost point of Ambergris Caye, but I guess that would have made for too long a day (not to mention the extra fuel usage), so we came back through the western side of San Pedro and under the bridge separating the area north of San Pedro (where we live) with the San Pedro Town proper.  We have been over this bridge countless times as it is the only way to town, but we'd never been under it.
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We've seen this house on western Ambergris Caye from the other side on our bike rides
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Myra and I were having an animated conversation, apparently!
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Barge in the lagoon on western Ambergris Caye
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Western San Pedro
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More western San Pedro
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Approaching the cut just north of San Pedro Town
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Local fishermen
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The San Pedro bridge
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Just under the bridge
After dropping Marco off at a dock in town, Mike once again took the helm, and we headed back to Grand Caribe.  We thoroughly enjoyed seeing more of the island, the good company, and being out on the water.  Many thanks to Mike and Myra for inviting us along on this adventure!
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Heading back to Grand Caribe after a great day