Not quite a year ago we met a future Belizean expat, Debbie, and her family for a nice lunch at Aji.  They are building a condo on north Ambergris, which due to some initial problems with the development that is now back on track, has been in progress for several years.  This month she and her family were visiting Ambergris Caye again, and they were kind enough to invite us out for lunch.  This time we chose Blue Water Grill and had an absolutely beautiful day for it.  Joining us were Debbie's husband Tom, son Justin, and friend JW.
The food was almost as good as the conversation.  We all shared this gorgeous coconut shrimp appetizer that Justin ordered.
I got the delicious shrimp po-boy, and Barry tried the jerk chicken wrap.  Excellent!
It was great to catch up with the "Wags", and since I know Debbie will be reading the blog at some point, I'll say thank you once again for your generosity.  We truly enjoyed spending time with all of you!  
 
The town has been widening parts of the unpaved road in the Tres Cocos area of Ambergris Caye this past week, as we showed in some photos in a previous blog entry (Ch-ch-changes north of the bridge).  In some areas, this involved plowing down vegetation and relocating fences that were apparently encroaching into the town right-of-way.  In other areas, it is swampy or low near the road on the lagoon side, so fill had to be brought in.  The fill consisted of a mixture of tree branches, stumps, vegetation, and dirt (probably gleaned from early-week plowing).  Yesterday, the dozer was at work again flattening it all out.  This is the area right across the road from Lazy Croc BBQ.
Looks like the low concrete walls that demarcate the driveway for this home/bed & breakfast (to right in photo above) are going to have to be torn out as they extend into the right of way, which I believe runs right up to the power pole.
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It will take some more work to make this mess a road
We snapped the photos above on our way to Lazy Croc with Chunky and Ruthie.  We had barely seen them since they arrived back on the island in November as they've been having nearly continuous visits from family or friends.  It was great to catch up with them again.  They are always so much fun to hang out with and full of laughs.
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Ruthie and Chunky on the left and Barry at right. We shared our table with a few folks we didn't know as the 'Croc was busy!
And speaking of crocs, there was the obligatory sighting in the pond below.
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Don't feed the crocs!
We had a great meal as always, but must haven been distracted by the lively conversation as we totally forgot the traditional food photos.  Sorry about that!

After lunch as Ruthie and Chunky prepared to head back south on their bicycles, Paisley brought a toy over as she was sure that they couldn't resist playing.  She knows as well as we do that they are good peeps!
It worked out to be very good timing having our lunch yesterday, as it was the last in a series of beautiful days.  A cold front passed through last night bringing overnight rain, cool weather (72 this morning - brrrr!) and a general gloom to the island.  Sounds like it will be quite windy and cool for the next few days, a real bummer for the tourists.
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Not as pretty as yesterday's view
 
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We attended Bob and Helaine's (which I probably spelled wrong -- my apologies) annual Christmas potluck yesterday afternoon, and it was a great time!  I had gone last year as well, but Barry had a bad cold and had to stay home.  I was glad that he could attend this year and enjoy the food, friends, and festivities.

I transported the casserole I'd made down the beach in my bike basket.  It was a fun way to get to a party on a warm, breezy Christmas Day on the island.

There was a great crowd and lots of new people (and several pooches!) to meet, plus some familiar faces.  The second floor porch catches wonderful breezes and is a great place to hang out and chat.  The chicken wing I'm chowing down on here was made by Cheri of Lazy Croc, so you know it had to be good!

There were plenty of appetizers to munch on while the final dinner preparations were being made indoors.  I was saving my appetite for the meal so only tried the one chicken wing.

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The beautiful view from the porch
Jean made some excellent "Island Sangria" which of course I had to try.  I love sangria, and this was fruity and delicious!
Here's the dish I made -- my own creation. I was inspired by a recipe for a similar dish with spinach and bulgur wheat.  I substituted chaya leaves (which I'd never heard of until moving to Belize) for the spinach, brown rice for the bulgur, and added feta, oregano, and the tomatoes on top for a "Christmasy" look. 
The entire spread was awe-inspiring!  Plenty of a variety of delicious homemade treats to go around, including turkey, stuffing, gravy, and plenty of side dishes.  There was also a huge crockpot full of mashed potatoes (not shown in this photo).
Our groaning plates...
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Barry's
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Mine
Almost identical.  I think we we both tried a little bit of just about everything.  It was all yummy, but I could have eaten the challah bread (baked by Scott) all day long!
It got strangely quiet about this time.  I do believe that everyone was enjoying their Christmas dinner!  
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The outdoor crew
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The indoor crew, including Bob & Helaine's Dobie, Bess
Just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, the desserts came out.  My favorite part!
Not pictured -- a gorgeous glazed pound cake came out late, so I cut a thin slice to take home and try later.  It will be my treat for today.
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Yum.
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Barry's plate -- he is thorough with his desserts!
Here I am with Helaine, a tiny and incredibly fit lady who can kick my butt in yoga...she's amazing.  We really appreciated the invitation to this excellent potluck.  Gatherings like this help so much when you're far from family during the the holidays.
Time to head home and get Paisley out on a walk!
 
This Christmas morning there was a knock on our door.  A Grand Caribe worker stood at the door with an envelope marked "B & E".  I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas, wondering what this mystery envelope could possibly be.  An invitation?  A note from someone?  

When I opened it, this is what I found inside:
Wow!  My jaw dropped as I showed Barry what was in the envelope -- something completely unexpected.  We were taken aback at this gift certificate from blog readers Glenn and Candy, whom we have not even met.  What a sweet and generous surprise!

We're delighted that they found our blog inspiring and hope that their visit to Belize is all they hoped for.  They certainly picked a beautiful time of year to visit, with perfect Christmas weather -- sunny and warm (cool to people who live here, but that's a good thing in my book!)

Glenn and Candy, if you are reading this, a heartfelt thanks to both of you for this thoughtful gift.  As I've mentioned on this blog from time to time, I love wine and rarely get to enjoy it here on the island due to the much higher prices than in the US.  The only time I've even been into Wine de Vine was to buy a gift bottle for someone else.  So this will be a real treat.  And if you are still at Grand Caribe, please stop by our veranda at Chico Caribe before you leave the island so that we can meet you and say thank you in person.  If the curtains are opened up, we're home.   We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
 
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You know you've been in a place for awhile when you start repeating yourselves!  Like this time last year, we enjoyed a fine opening day lunch at Aji, one of our neighborhood restaurants, but since we forgot our camera last year, this time we came prepared to snap some photos of the great setting and delicious food prepared by Chef Hugo.  

Unlike last year, when heavy rain forced us to eat at the bar, this time around we had a lovely table outside in the trees, with a beautiful beach-side view.  

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Our tabletop decor
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The special menu
Like last year, they offered a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert for a very reasonable $25 BZ ($12.50 US) and drink specials as well.  I rarely get to indulge in wine here because of the high prices, but at $10 BZ ($5 US) a glass, this Sauvignon Blanc was a welcome treat!
We decided to order different things for each course so we could taste as many dishes as possible.  For our appetizers, I ordered the Seafood Fritters, while Barry ordered the Hummus with veggies and chips.  Both were fresh and delicious, and the fritters were HOT.  Perfect!
For our entrees, I got the grouper and Barry the vegetable pasta.  Again, delish!  As I told Barry, I wish folks down here didn't make that high-carb white rice taste SO delicious by cooking it so perfectly in coconut milk, because I know it's not good for me...but I can't resist it cooked Belizean style!  Mmmmmmmm.... And the fish was perfectly cooked.
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My Grouper Caribeno with steamed veggies and that addictive coconut rice
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Barry's Pasta Arrabiata
We ordered one of each dessert, the Chocolate Rum Cake and the Caye Lime Pie.  Both were yummy and attractive, but I think we both agreed that the tartness of the pie with its delicious lime glaze was the top choice.  I wanted to lick the beautiful plate and would have if I'd been at home!  
Right before our desserts arrived, our good friends and snowbirds Ruthie and Chunky, just back on the island from their six months in Minnesota, arrived on Forrest Jones' Hobie Cat from south of town.  It was funny because I'd noticed the Hobie sailing up and wondered how they had enough wind as we could feel almost none from our table, sheltered by trees.  Apparently they had plenty of wind out on the water.  We were surprised to discover that the very boat we'd been watching was "crewed" by our friends.  We greeted them with hugs and were truly delighted to see them!
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Ruthie, Barry, and Chunky
After meeting Forrest and saying our goodbyes to Ruthie and Chunky, who should we run onto on our way out but Ben and Joanna Popik, island friends who run Island Films here on Ambergris Caye.  We hadn't even seen them in the foliage of the restaurant.  We all noticed that an extremely large black cloud was forming behind us to the north, and since they had farther to walk than we did, Joanna suggested that they better walk fast once they passed our building.  

I'm afraid they didn't make it home without getting wet, because not long after we got safely inside our condo, the rain came fast and hard.  Wow!  We were imagining the folks at the restaurant having to scramble to get everyone sitting outside the palapa, and their food, safely under cover.  We were so lucky that we had had perfect timing today!
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Forrest's Hobie at the Aji dock
Here is what it looked like just five minutes after we got home:
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Storm! Forrest's Hobie visible just north of our condo
Once the storm had passed, we saw the Hobie heading south right outside our windows.  With wind out of the north, they should be pushed right home.   We waved from our dock, but I don't think they ever saw us.
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Forrest, Chunky, and Ruthie heading home
 
Today I had the opportunity to meet a fellow expat and blogger who lives on Caye Caulker for lunch in San Pedro.  I'm not saying her name or including any photos of her as her employer doesn't know she lives in Belize.  As long as she is still able to do her job effectively, I can't imagine they'd even care, but I completely respect her desire to keep her identity private.  So mum's the word from me!

She'd come to town to have her hair done at one of my favorite funky, dual-identity spots on the island, the Aquarius book shop and hair salon.  I've exchanged books at Aquarius several times and always enjoy going in to see what I can find.  I had several books to exchange, so while my friend sat in the stylist's chair, I had time to check all the shelves for juicy murder mysteries, one of my favorite genres and one of the easiest to find wherever I go.  
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Books, books, book (aka heaven!)
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My haul
We decided to eat at Hemingway's on Middle Street, in keeping with the bookish theme.  I don't know how this restaurant got its name, because it seems a bit unlikely for a locally owned spot.  But local it is, and during slow season, I know how hard it can be for businesses to keep their doors open, so I like to give my business to places less frequented by tourists.  I'd never eaten here before, but our friends Debra and Bill liked it, so I was looking forward to checking it out.  
Our waiter was good.  And the food was tasty as well.  I only regret that I didn't ask for or receive any salsa with my chicken huaraches, as specified on the menu.  They were very mild, so a bit of spicy red salsa would have been the perfect touch.  Still, I enjoyed them, and the buttery avocado on top was the perfect touch.  They were undoubtedly the best sandals I ever ate!  ;-)
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Note that all prices are in Belize dollars (divide by 2 for USD)
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The best sandals I ever ate!
My friend and I had an excellent conversation about our respective islands -- things we liked, things that concerned us, and the many changes we'd seen over just the past year.  All in all, a great time, and well worth a trip to town on this very hot day.  I hope we can do it again one of these days!
 
From the moment that I saw the quirky trailer for The Exquisite Corpse Project, a film directed by Ben Popik, I couldn't wait to see the entire movie.  Ben and his wife Joanna, who produced the film, live here in San Pedro not far down the beach from us, and we frequently see them walking their dogs, Sharkbait and Parker, or having a meal at Ak'Bol.  Joanna is often in yoga practice with me as well.  They are, in short, just normal young folks -- well, if you can call anyone in San Pedro "normal"!  In actuality, this is a really talented, clever, and funny pair that I am proud to know. 

The film had already won several awards in the US before premiering in Belize at the Belize International Film Festival 2012.  Last night, it premiered here in San Pedro at our one and only movie theater.   
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Note "e" dropped from "Corpse" -- this was later corrected
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Paradise Theater in San Pedro
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Our tickets
We decided to walk to the theater since we didn't want to leave our bikes outside where we couldn't keep an eye on them.  We were lucky enough to get a ride in our neighbor Ens' cart for the last part of the walk as he was on his way to the theater as well.  We were a bit early, but there was already a crowd gathering outside, and a long row of parked golf carts.
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Joanna and Ben -- caught him blinking!
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Joanna looking extremely glamorous tonight
I think they're getting more and more used to publicity shots as I didn't even have to ask to get this great shot of the two of them.  Someday, maybe we'll be able to say that we knew them when....  
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Joanna and Ben Popik -- all smiles for the camera
Unfortunately I neglected to bring the back-up battery for my camera, and after the outside shots, it started to run very low, so the shots I took inside are bad.  I didn't dare use the flash, so I wasn't able to get much more than a few blurry shots inside the theater, but there were several professional and other amateur photographers there, so I am sure there will be plenty of good photos of the crowd on various other web sites.  

We'd never been inside the theater before, and it was surprisingly nice, with a bar area, nice lounge, and concession stand.  Again, I apologize for the quality of these images, but they will give you some idea of the place.
There was a really large crowd of San Pedro's finest folks, many dressed to the nines.  We only knew a handful of people personally, but recognized a lot of faces.  This was definitely the place to see and be seen in San Pedro tonight!   Even Mayor Danny was in the house to introduce the movie.  
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San Pedro Mayor Danny Guerrero
The seating area of the theater was huge, and the seats were very comfortable.  It was much more impressive than we expected and a perfect venue for movie viewing.  We settled back to enjoy the show -- and enjoy it we did.  We also learned a lot more about it than we knew ahead of time, since it is part-documentary.

Why "Exquisite Corpse"?

Before moving to San Pedro from the US, Ben wanted to make a movie, but had only six months to do it.  So he had five of his real-life friends each write a fifth of the film's script.  The title of the film comes from the concept of "exquisite corpse", which refers to a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled by a number of different collaborators.  Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed (source: Wikipedia).

Ben's idea for the film was that each friend would write one fifth of the movie, but each writer would only get to see the previous five pages of the part of the script that came immediately before his.  As you might imagine, the potential for chaotic plot and schizophrenic character development was huge with this kind of ground rule, and the film delivered on that potential.  But in a very good, humorous way.

Interspersed throughout, between actual movie scenes, is real-life documentary footage of the writers discussing the movie, both individually and together, as well as providing snippets into their lives and quirks.  On the Facebook page for the film, it is billed as a "comedy, drama, documentary, thriller, action movie, buddy picture, heist flick".  It is definitely all that and more.  And it is laugh-out-loud funny.  I totally want to see it again and share it with my family, who love quirky-but-smart humor as well.  In short, this film rocks!  

Of course we loved the brief documentary scenes of "Ben in Belize", showing the Ben we know on the beach, riding in a golf cart, or up in a coconut palm.   

After the viewing, Ben and Joanna took a few audience questions up on the stage.  One question was whether their next project might be made in Belize.  Ben stated that it might very well, and if so, there would certainly be an open casting call.  We'll probably pass on that, but it would certainly be fun to watch some of the "island characters" putting their best out there.

We skipped the after party at Caprice, which I am sure was well-attended, but it was a bit too late for we old farts, so we gratefully accepted a ride back up north with Ens and made our way home.

Find out more:  Ben said the film will eventually be available for purchase or download from amazon, netflix, etc., so in the meantime, like their Facebook Page to stay in the loop for announcements.  
 
Today after loading up on fruits and veggies at two fruit stands, we met a group of friends at Wild Mango's for lunch.  Shelby, who lives in Maya Beach, is visiting San Pedro this week; so we were looking forward to meeting her. Bill and Debra, who live here in San Pedro and write the Taking Belize blog; and Jana and CJ, who are here for a month from Texas, also joined in the fun.  

Barry and I finished our errands a little early so were able to take a few photos before others arrived.  It was spitting rain off and on and dreary the entire time we were out and about, but never got too bad.
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Bike baskets and our backpacks were loaded with produce
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Wild Mango's
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Always a tough decision
Barry started with a tropical fruit smoothie, while I went with the island favorite, Panty Ripper (pineapple juice & coconut rum).
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Smoothie with umbrella
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Panty Ripper
Next to arrive were Jana and CJ, who have been thoroughly enjoying their time here on the island.
Somehow I missed getting a photo of Shelby until the full-table shots, but there's just a bit of her in this photo of Debra and Bill.
Shelby had heard that it was National Pina Colada Day so decided to celebrate with one.  Great plan!  It looked amazing.
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Shelby's Pina Colada
And look who else was in the house, much to my surprise (since I'd warned her there'd be two other bloggers at Mango's today)!
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Scooping, or just having lunch? Only time will tell...
Everyone's food looked delish!  My Tacos al Pastor (with pork and pineapple) sure hit the spot.  Yum!
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My Tacos al Pastor
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Jerk chicken sandwich (Jana)
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Pulled pork sandwich (CJ)
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Quesadillas (shared between Bill & Debra)
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Fish taco wrap (Shelby)
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More Quesadillas (Barry) -- he ate the whole plate PLUS one of my tacos!
I think it goes without saying that we all left with full bellies and smiles on our faces.  Rain was still spitting as Barry and I rode off on our bikes.  We ended up following CJ and Jana in their golf cart for a bit after we stopped in at Greenhouse for a few groceries before heading home.

On the way home I finally remembered to snap a photo of "The Hotel" just a bit north of the bridge, next to Legend's.  There have been barricades across the entrance for a few weeks now, so I guess they had to close down during slow season.  Too bad, as they had barely just opened, and work had been going on there so diligently for quite some time.  The restaurants had opened for awhile in early spring, but they never seemed very crowded.  Hope they'll be able to make a go of it during next high tourist season.  Anyone got the scoop?
 
Today I spent most of the afternoon at Cowboy Doug's Bar and Grill here at Grand Caribe attending the "Lobstermania" closing party.  And what a fine party it was!  It was fun to see San Pedro friends and hang out chatting in the bar.  The morning clouds cleared out, and the afternoon got sunny and hot.  There was plenty of good food to go around and good music courtesy of Zac and Tanya.  I enjoyed a few rum drinks, a lobster sausage, and a few hot French fries (thanks Debra and Bill for sharing!)  Barry came by with Paisley during the afternoon to say hi, and her little nose was twitching with all the good food aromas coming from the grill!
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A beautiful afternoon after a cloudy morning
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All guests welcome -- even inflatable ones!

Party like a lob-star!

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Christine -- Miss Lobsterfest 2012
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Cowboy Doug
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Chee was working very hard to keep the orders straight
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Josh -- cool as always
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Dov had a huge plate of food -- not sure where he puts it!
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Kids enjoying the Grand Caribe pool
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Andrew worked his butt off!
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Ribs on the grill
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Some of the prizes to be won in the various games
I started with a pineapple juice and rum and a lobster sausage -- definitely a different use of lobster!
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Lobster sausage with SPICY bbq sauce
I was super happy when our good friends Debra and Bill showed up.  They don't make it up our way all that often, so it is always a treat to see them.
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Debra and Bill -- love you guys!
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Andrew's grill was busy
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Zac arrives!
The Grand Caribe folks all worked so hard today...thank you all!

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Another Lob-Star
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Debra and I were staying out of the sun and chatting it up
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Leisa and a friend "making muscles"
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Barry finally made an appearance
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Tanya with her drum
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Ribs coming out of the kitchen...mmmmm
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Tanya and Zac providing musical entertainment
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What a setting, and a beautiful afternoon
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Audience appreciating the entertainment
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Laurie, aka Tacogirl, trying to figure out her camera
Oceana also showed up with a booth, and I joined their organization and bought a cute t-shirt.  It's such a great cause for those who care about the world's oceans and marine life.
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My t-shirt
And speaking of our animal friends, there were several canine friends in attendance at the party:
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Callie
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And our Paisley
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JJ
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Our little devil dog
It was a great day and a great way to end San Pedro's Lobsterfest 2012.  Thanks, Cowboy Doug, Leisa, Tacogirl, and all the Grand Caribe folks who made this day possible!
 
So, she's not really a cousin, but her maiden name and Barry's last name are the same.  She also lives in Ohio, where he is from and still has family, so I joke that she is a cousin of his.  I'd been chatting with Debbie about Ambergris Caye on Facebook for awhile but had never met her in person.  She and her husband Tom are building a condo on north Ambergris and visit here frequently, this time for San Pedro Lobsterfest.  So she invited us to meet them for lunch yesterday at Aji.  Also joining us were our good friend Debra, who lives in San Pedro, and her visiting friend Alyssa from Mississippi, along with Debbie's sons Justin and Billy and a few family friends.  It was quite a crowd!

We were lucky to get sunshine for our lunch, though there wasn't much breeze, and it was seriously hot and humid out, around 89 degrees with humidity also in the 80s.  Whew.  Cold beverages were much appreciated (I drank two large glasses of ice water in addition to a Belikin), and let's just say that no one ordered soup today.  Well, except for Barry, but it was chilled gazpacho!
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We had Aji to ourselves on this hot day
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Debbie and Tom (on left) enjoying Tapas
Barry had the discount Tapa of the day, Quesito Frito (fried cheese), with a couple of dipping sauces but we both forgot to take a photo before he chowed down on it.  Here's his gazpacho, which came after.
And I had the grilled snapper pita -- delish!
Afterwards, Debbie's son Justin took this photo of some of us on the Aji dock before we melted.  Not sure why I didn't actually put my sunglasses ON as I was squinting like crazy!
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I think we on the front row coordinated our colors pretty nicely, don't you? Warm colors for a HOT day...
Thanks for arranging the lunch, Debbie.  It was great to meet all of you.  Say hello to Ohio for us and pull those Indians on!