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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Bougainvillea in Tulum, Mexico
After sixteen days of travel to five cities, our last day in Mexico had arrived.  It was December 20.  We figured if the world was going to end on December 21, we would just as soon be back home with Paisley.  (And of course I'm just joking; we never for a minute expected the world to end, but it was fun that we were traveling during the peak of interest in the Maya world and right around such an anticipated date!)

We started with a wonderful breakfast in our favorite Tulum breakfast eatery, Azafran.  Despite some mosquitoes in the garden, we had a delicious meal, excellent service, and some of the best coffee that we had on our entire trip.  This is the only place we got whole-wheat bread in Mexico, and the freshly squeezed OJ was great too.  We can't recommend this place enough if you are in Tulum.  Barry ordered the same loaded omelet as before, and I tried the fruit crepes.  Delish!
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Barry's delicious omelet
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My fruit crepes
Here's a friendly fellow we met on our walk back to the hotel from breakfast, hanging out in front of his owner's home courtyard.
We'd be heading south on this road to Chetumal to catch the ferry back to San Pedro.  We got another beautiful day for travel.
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Waiting in the Tulum ADO station
As I may have mentioned in a previous post, while Mexican cities can have a ton of traffic at times, like this:
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Morning traffic in Merida
In contrast, the highways are typically practically deserted by US standards.  Most people seem to travel by bus.  Love the lack of traffic jams!  We had another great view from the front row in the ADO bus.
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Belize is "Belice" (pronounced Bell-ees-ay) in Spanish
But this day was not to be without drama and a bit of panic.  We had "open date" water taxi tickets back to Belize that we'd paid for as part of the round trip.  When we arrived at the San Pedro Water Jets terminal (via taxi from the Chetumal ADO bus station) at 2:15 for the 3 pm water taxi, we were informed that the boat was already full and that we should have made a reservation the day before.  Although there are two water taxi companies, and since we last visited Mexico, they have changed to an alternating day schedule, so there was no other boat to take back to San Pedro that day.  I strongly question the the alternating schedule since they could certainly fill both boats during high tourist season; though the schedule makes perfect sense during slow season.  This was not slow season.

We tried to explain that we had tried to get reservations for a particular return date when we bought our tickets but were told that we couldn't do that, and that we had a dog boarding in San Pedro whom we needed to pick up.  We were never advised back in San Pedro to confirm our return reservations a day ahead, probably because there were many fewer people traveling back in early December.  The attendant put us on the waiting list but said that they could not guarantee us seats as the boat was full.  She had a long list of travelers with confirmed reservations, but we could see that not all of them had been marked off as having checked in.  We had some hope since we weren't turned away immediately.

While we sat and waited, more and more confirmed passengers checked in.  Several other people without reservations came in trying to get on the boat, same as us.  One party of four was turned away because they were even lower down the "waiting" list than us.  A couple of other young men traveling alone were hanging around like we were, hoping for a spot to open up.  We had purposely spent most of our pesos other than those needed for the $300 MX (approximately $24 US) per-person exit fee.  If we'd had to stay in Chetumal, we'd have to find an ATM for more cash, get a hotel, contact Pampered Paws online (our cellphone did not work in Mexico), lose the money we'd prepaid for the tickets, and try to get tickets on the other boat the following day.  NOT something we wanted to contemplate.  Another far-fetched alternative would have been to take a bus or taxi to the Belize border, check out of Mexico and into Belize there, take another taxi to the Corozal airstrip, and try to catch the last flight of the day back to San Pedro on Tropic Air.  This possibility seemed fraught with problems because we were already tight on time, and there was no guarantee of any available seats on the plane without reservations, and no easy way to call without trying to locate and figure out a payphone.  Yes, I was inwardly panicking!

The clock kept ticking, and we kept watching the passenger list on the attendant's desk.  As it got closer and closer to 3pm, there were still a few people with reserved slots who had not checked in.  Finally, it became apparent that they weren't going to make it in time, so the attendant crossed out their names and put ours on the manifest in their places.  One other single man made it on the same way.  We breathed the hugest sighs of relief!

We still had to make it through Immigration, though this time the officer was very pleasant and friendly to us.  (This was the same man who'd been so rude when we'd come to Chetumal for the day and had been forced to pay the exit fee even though it is not required for visits of less than seven days.)
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Whew -- we're on! I'm making the long walk down the pier to the boat we thought we wouldn't get to take
There was a lengthy holdup on the dock as the Mexican police and drug-sniffing dogs went over everyone's bags and searched the boat.  This surprised us since there was no luggage check on the way out of Mexico last time. I'm not sure why they would care about drugs being taken out of the country!  When we were finally able to board, we were packed in like sardines, but we were so happy to be ON the boat we weren't complaining!

With the long delay to get everyone and their luggage onboard, the boat was over thirty minutes late leaving the dock.  When we arrived in San Pedro, we'd have to go through customs and immigration, then run (literally) over to Pampered Paws to pick Paisley up before they closed at 6 pm.  It was going to be a tight connection, to say the least.  

We were sweating it out on the boat as it seemed like the longest ride of our lives.  The minutes kept ticking by, and when we finally pulled into the dock in San Pedro, we had less than 45 minutes before Pampered Paws closed.  I immediately called Kathy there and told her that we would be cutting it very close but were on our way to pick up Paisley just as soon as we made it through the lines.  She assured me they would be waiting for us, but I didn't want anyone to have to work late, so we hustled as close as we could to the front of the line for immigration.  

If we'd been at the back of the line, I don't think we would have made it, but we were lucky enough to make it through pretty quickly, and the custom's official didn't choose us for a luggage search; probably because we were carrying such small bags compared to a lot of folks.  She was in a jovial mood, and that set us at ease.  

Fortunately, Pampered Paws is not too far from the Water Jets building, so we were able to make it with a few minutes to spare.  Paisley was beside herself with joy and jumped up and down at least a hundred times behind the glass door when she saw us.  She always has a great time at Pampered Paws, and we feel totally comfortable leaving her there when we travel.  And they're so nice about keeping her a little longer if we decide to extend our trip by a day or two, as we have done a couple of times now.  

All that was left to do now was to catch a taxi back to our condo, never a difficult thing to do in San Pedro.  We were so thankful that we made it home and did not have to scramble for another day in Chetumal.  And what do you know, the world didn't end the next day after all!
El Fin...thanks for (virtually) joining us on this long journey!
 
Just a few photos from another typical day here on Ambergris Caye -- and a gorgeous day it is!  We are back to the normal easterly trade winds after about a week of cooler, less humid breezes from the northwest.  
Barry lubed my bike chain since I've been having to do all the rides to town for groceries while he's had his pinched nerve.  I had just returned with my full backpack of goodies.
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Nice place to work!
A large "jungle beetle" hanging out on the tropical plant behind our building.  Barry's thumb for size comparison:
View alongside our building looking east:
Paisley lounging on the pool deck while I cooled off after my sweaty bike ride to town.
The bright sun was hurting her eyes, poor baby!
View from our veranda:
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Another nice day on the island. Temp is 81.5 in the shade, but about 87 in the sun!
 
During Paisley's play time on the beach a couple of days ago, Barry started throwing a small coconut for her to retrieve.  She loves to chase these and tear them up.  But before she got going on that, she sniffed something under our dock and made a bee-line underneath to retrieve it.  We laughed out loud when we saw the treasure she hauled out.  A full-sized coconut, almost as big as she is!  She never fails to make us laugh with her silly antics.
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Paisley's new treasure
She actually managed to carry it over the sea wall, where Barry rolled it for her a few times, and she ran after and chomped on it.  I guess there was enough coconut meat in it to provide some delicious flavor as she tore it apart.  She just loves to deconstruct coconuts, I know not why.  It's a dog thing.
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MUST TEAR UP...NOW!
Soon the retrieval game moved to the water, where Barry would toss the coconut from the dock, and she'd rush in after it.  We were amazed that she was able to retrieve it once it filled with water.  It was pretty heavy, but she was able to "swim it in".
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Tough little pup
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Mine...all mine!
 
We were surprised to look over at the Grand Caribe dock today and see the unmistakable Optimist dinghies of the San Pedro Sailing Club moored on the water.  Stepping further out onto our veranda, I saw another moored boat with a bright jib, and a Hobie Cat with its brightly striped, tall mainsail up on the beach.  Of course I had to head out immediately with my camera to snap a few shots.
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Optimist Dinghies on a mooring ball
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Optimist Dinghies off Grand Caribe dock
Cowboy Doug saw me taking photos and came out to ask me if I would post them on his Facebook page.  I wasn't sure how they would even turn out because I couldn't even see my viewfinder in the bright sun, but I got pretty lucky.  He said the sailors had brought their own hot dogs to put on the grill, and some of their parents had met them there for some food and beverages.  I am sure they enjoyed a dip in the Grand Caribe pool as well since the day was plenty warm.

After lunch, they headed back to their home base at Caribbean Villas, I'm guessing.  What a perfect day for sail they had, with moderate easterly breezes.  We would have enjoyed sailing south with them on a comfortable beam reach.
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Off they go!
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Need any crew, guys?
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These folks had a bit more work to get going
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The lagging boat heading out now -- wonder if they could catch the Optimists?
Paisley enjoyed some sandy fun on the beach while I was snapping photos!
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Paisley with a sand beard
 

We'd had a wonderful time on our first trip to the Toledo District of Belize and re-visiting the Stann Creek District we'd previously enjoyed, but a week had flown by, and it was now time to head back north to Ambergris Caye.  

We had to get up quite early to catch the Hokey Pokey water taxi from Placencia to Independence as we wanted to catch the 7:30 am Express bus to Belize City.  The Hokey Pokey leaves at 6:45 am, and we had to walk to the dock.  That left us no time for breakfast -- or even coffee -- before leaving.  Fortunately we'd bought some fiber cookies at the grocery store the day before, and I lucked out -- an enterprising local was selling cups of steaming hot coffee as we got onto the bus for just $1.50 BZ (75 cents US).  Sold!  Yes, it had sugar, which I usually don't take, but I didn't care.  It tasted good, and the caffeine was what I was after anyway.  

It had rained quite a bit overnight, but fortunately had stopped in time for our walk to the dock and ride on the ferry.  We met up with the traveling Canadian girls, Heather and Lauren, at the dock, and traded experiences.  We find we have more in common with travelers their age than our own in many ways.
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Walking the Placencia sidewalk
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Heather, Lauren, and me
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Hokey Pokey dock
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Walking the very potholed road in Independence towards the bus stop
We just barely made it to the stop in time to catch the James Express bus, and it was so crowded we didn't get to sit together until it stopped in Dangriga.  Like our previous experience in Independence, this bus actually leaves well before the scheduled departure time of 7:30 am.  I guess they are trying to make up time on the route, because we still didn't make it back to Belize City early; in fact, we got there a bit later than the scheduled time.
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Nicer seats on the Express - and A/C!
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We liked this t-shirt on a fellow bus rider
The scenery on the trip north is gorgeous.  We managed to get a few decent shots out the windows of the bus (and a lot of bad ones, but won't subject you to 'em, of course!)
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Your intrepid travelers

Belize City

We'd told Heather and Lauren that we'd lead them through the streets of Belize City if they wanted to walk to the water taxi terminal with us rather than taking a taxi, and they did.  We'd all be taking the same ferry even though they were getting off at Caye Caulker, and we'd be staying on until the San Pedro terminus.
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Their packs were quite a bit bigger than ours
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Ready to walk -- tired of sitting on my butt!
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Walking in Belize City
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Emily and Lauren
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San Pedro Waterjets Express
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Waiting in line
The ferry was especially crowded today with locals traveling since school is out and folks from all over Belize and other Central American countries coming to San Pedro for the annual Costa Maya festival.  There was a big group from El Salvador, judging from their t-shirts.  We had to ride right in the front since we were one of the last on.  We normally don't ride in front as it's a bouncier, less comfortable ride, but we had no choice this time.
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Crowded ferry
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Heather and Lauren

Back in San Pedro

After the ferry pulled into the dock at San Pedro, we walked over to pick up Paisley at Pampered Paws.  She was happy to see us and knows the drill now of walking back through the busy streets on her leash to wait at the Coastal Xpress water taxi dock to take us back north of town to our condo.  It was a hot day, but some shade and water helped.  She loves her time at Pampered Paws but is always happy to be back with us and at home.
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Happy Paisley
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Paisley giving her mom some love
Here are a couple of photos the staff took of Paisley hanging out at Pampered Paws.  She really seems to enjoy herself there, and as I've said before (several times), we're so glad they are there so we can leave her in a safe and fun place.  We can tell that she's become a lot more sociable with other dogs since she's been going there regularly.
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High energy play mode -- full on!
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Relaxing in the garden
Stay tuned for birds and bug bites, still to come!  (You can see a preview of the latter in the photo of me with Paisley above.)
 
If you read our last blog post, you'll know that I'd written a note to Angela and Tony explaining how early we needed to leave in the morning and that we wouldn't have time for breakfast but would like some coffee.  I also asked them to please call us a taxi to get us to the bus stop in the village by 7 am (the only other bus is in the afternoon).  And Barry planted the note in the gate to their apartment upstairs from their restaurant as they were out to eat in town when we went to bed, early.

Fortunately, they did find the note.  When we got up on Saturday morning and ventured out, I saw Angela, and the first thing she said was "we got your note".  Relief!  She also said that Tony would run us up to the bus stop, which was great.  We finished our last-minute packing, enjoyed some good coffee, and I signed their guest book before we left.
Tony was on the phone, so Angela ended up giving us a ride to the bus stop, which was much appreciated.  Actually, we ran into the bus on its route so got on before the stop, which was good as it ended up being packed.  Who knew this bus would be one of the most crowded ones we'd been on here?
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All caffeined-up and ready for a day of travel
We made a really bone-headed move on this bus trip, however.  Where the road split to go to Dangriga, the bus driver announced that people wanting to go to Belize City could get off at the intersection and catch another bus (instead of taking the bus all the way to Dangriga, then catching another bus and backtracking down the road to Belmopan and ultimately Belize City).  We decided, like lemmings, to follow a bunch of locals who were getting off there, thinking we could just catch a bus to Belize City at the intersection to save time.  
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Getting off the Hopkins-Dangriga bus
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Waiting for an elusive bus to Belize City
It was a good idea in theory, but not so good in practice. Every bus that passed was either heading south towards Placencia and Punta Gorda, or was already full and wouldn't even stop for us.  We finally realized that catching a bus after it left the Dangriga stop, if it wasn't too crowded to stop for us, would actually make us later than if we'd just stayed aboard the first bus all the way to the station.  And we might end up missing the water taxi we intended to take from Belize City to San Pedro and have to take a later one.

Finally, a bus from down south heading towards Dangriga showed up at the intersection, and we all ended up running across the street to board -- only to go exactly where we would have gone on the first bus, and later, to boot.  D'oh!  We learned a valuable lesson about sticking to our plans rather than "following the crowd".  We felt like even bigger fools when we arrived at the bus station only to realize that the bus we were supposed to switch to was an Express to Belize City so was much nicer (and air-conditioned!) than the one we were on and had just paid for.  Double d'oh!

Quite a few additional passengers boarded the bus in Dangriga, and it stopped to pick up multiple people along the way.  Soon the bus was standing room only. When we got near the Belmopan bus terminal, all the standing people had to crouch down in the aisle so the terminal authorities wouldn't see that we were pulling into the station carrying excess passengers.   
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Enroute to Belmopan, before the "big crouchdown"
They must really be cracking down at the Belmopan terminal as our bus was delayed leaving the station due to  too many people on board, and the authorities would not let us leave with three adults in any seats. Three (or even four) in a seat are allowed, but only if the third (and fourth) are children.  There were two seats in our bus with three adults, ours being one of them when a local perched on the very end of our seat.  The terminal authorities entered the bus and and said that the two excess people would have to leave.  Normally, pretty much anything goes here in Belize, so when the authorities start to enforce some unpopular regulations, the citizens don't like it one bit. Lots of angry yelling from the peanut gallery ensued, in Creole, so we couldn't understand all of it, but we certainly got the gist, along with plenty of cursing. We definitely agreed with the sentiment we heard expressed that there should be more buses if they weren't going to let people stand in the aisles or ride three-abreast.  So few locals in Belize have cars that public transportation is heavily used, and it seems like the buses and the water taxis are both fuller than they should be at times.  The folks running these have gotta be making money!

Finally, with a little creative seat rearrangement of some of the children and the two adults in question, the bus was allowed to leave the station en route to Belize City, but we still weren't sure if we'd manage to make the noon ferry back to San Pedro, much less stop at Brodie's for a few groceries to save money over San Pedro prices as we'd planned.  We had only ourselves to blame for getting off the bus when we did.

Fortunately, all's well that ended well.  Our bus driver must have really made tracks to make up time, as we got to Belize City in time to make a VERY quick Brodie's run and to make the noon ferry.  We had a list for Brodie's and were in and out in five minutes, a record.  

When we got to the ferry terminal, they were already boarding the boat. When we got up to the ticket taker, he told us and the others behind us that the boat was full and that they were going to have a second boat to take the overflow.  We got on a second smaller boat, which looked like would be almost empty, but it took so long to leave that more and more people kept coming up and boarding, so it ended up packed to the gills as well.  And when we got to Caye Caulker, we had to switch to the original larger boat after it unloaded its Caulker-bound passengers.  It was very crowded, and we had to sit on top of the hot engines, slightly melting the chocolate chips we'd purchased at Brodie's.  But we made it back to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro.

Once in San Pedro, we had to walk over to Pampered Paws to pick up Paisley, who jumped up and down behind the doggie fence when she saw us -- boingy, boingy, boingy -- without making a peep, just jumping.  Wish I had video of that!  Fortunately, Pampered Paws did post these cute photos of her playing while she was there on their Facebook page. It always looks like she has a great time there. 
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Mine...all mine!
We had to wait the obligatory half hour before the water taxi north took us home to Grand Caribe, and it was packed, as usual.  A very uncomfortable ride with our backpacks, groceries, Paisley's luggage, and Paisley; but we made it home in one piece, exhausted but happy.  We also vowed not to travel again on the first day after school lets out for the summer, as it seemed like every Belizean in the country was traveling that day.

We can definitely recommend Hopkins as a relaxing, beautiful place to visit if you're in Belize, and Beaches & Dreams as a wonderful place to stay.  We hope to get back one day to try to hike the trails we missed (or didn't quite finish) this time.  Antelope Falls will continue to haunt us until we summit the waterfall!
 
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!
 
As I mentioned at the end of yesterday's post, I nabbed the 4:30 am night watch shift, which meant I'd get to see the sun rise.  Even though I hit the hay early and got everything ready to go the night before (binoculars, camera, windbreaker, hat, etc.), the alarm on my cell phone startled me when it rang at 4:25.  It was pitch dark, and as I struggled up into the galley, I was relieved to see Ruthie just getting off her shift.  She very kindly made me coffee before retreating to her cabin.  Nothing had ever tasted better.

I took the helm with Simon, and it was eerie not being able to see anything in front of us.  To the port side, I saw a city and asked him if it was Caye Caulker or San Pedro.  "Belize City", he replied.  Duh...I really was sleepy.  Obviously we weren't far enough along for either of the Cayes.

The sunrise was as dramatically beautiful as I'd hoped thanks to the low cloud banks, so I was sure I had nabbed the best watch time.  Only Simon and I got to witness this amazing sequence.
I was glad I'd brought my binoculars as Simon needed help seeing some markers of shoals and later, lobster areas.  These were mostly just sticks coming out of the water or milk jugs and difficult to see.  We actually saw the depth sounder read .1 foot (yes, that's "point one"!) of water under the keels for a short while.  Scary!  He reminded me that we didn't even have a depth sounder on the way down.  He had been nervous when we passed this same way heading south, while most of us laid around oblivious on the trampoline! 

Barry had thought he might get up with me, but he didn't quite make it.  He did finally stagger out of bed around 6 am or so and grabbed a couple of photos of Simon and me at the helm. 
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It was a bit chilly in the early morning hours
Eventually everyone else groggily emerged from their berths and greeted the day.  I am sure Chunky and Ruthie were very tired as it sounded like they both stayed up for at least part of the other's watches.  From what I heard, Chunky and Clive were so busy chatting it up at the helm that they went a bit off course and got a stern talking to from Simon.  I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that one!  And when Ruthie and Clive were at the helm, sounds like Ruthie's electronic tablet "Tabby" got quite a workout.  Simon and I were both too tired for that kind of frivolity.
When Ruthie got up, she scrambled up all the remaining eggs.  She even got creative and fried all the leftover lunch meat (ham and salami), since the breakfast sausage was gone. I broke down and ate eggs and meat to help out the cause -- I hate wasting food.  It was truly delicious.
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Barry cut all the mangoes up for breakfast
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Nice big breakfast for one and all on our last morning aboard
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Chunky enjoying his breakfast
After breakfast, we started getting close to our final destination, San Pedro. Barry commented that it felt strange to be returning to San Pedro as "home" rather than coming here on vacation.  True, true.  It's a great place to come home to, and we had a gorgeous day for a homecoming.
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San Pedro comes into view
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Colorful San Pedro waterfront
Simon docked the boat to get fuel, then left the dock and anchored a bit away.  S/v Hope had to stay at anchor until we all checked in with Belize Customs and Immigration.
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Clive tosses a line to a helper on the fuel dock
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Simon gassing up the boat
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Belize flag and yellow Quarantine flag flying until we clear customs and immigration
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Ruthie filling out her immigration form for entry into Belize
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It's hard to believe our journey is almost over
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Barry casting off the line as we leave the dock
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Clive setting the anchor
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Emily filling out immigration form
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Bruce and Clive checking that the anchor is set
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The crew setting off in the dinghy
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Simon secures the dinghy as the crew hits the dock
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We all walk to customs & immigration to check back into Belize
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Crew waiting as Simon checks us in
I learned a valuable lesson about checking back into Belize.  Always verify the date they write on your passport for your "length of visit" while you are there.  I had filled out both Barry and my forms indicating we would be staying 30 days, the longest you can stay on a tourist visa without a renewal.  We didn't check our passports when we got them back from Simon nor until the next day at home.  When I finally did check them, I was given the full 30 days, but Barry was only given 7 days!  We went to Immigration the next day to try to get it corrected, but they refused to budge.  I don't know if they don't keep copies of the form or they just won't pull them, but the officer insisted that we asked for 7 days, we got 7 days.  It made no difference that I filled out both the forms or that we live here, so asking for 7 days would have made no sense.  It was her word against ours.  Very frustrating, but there's nothing we can do about it now.  Lesson learned.  

After we checked in, Simon and Clive had to accompany the customs officers onto s/v Hope for customs inspection, so they headed out in the dinghy.  This is where they verify that you don't have any prohibited items onboard, like Mexican beer (sob).  They also checked the duty-free quantity of rum that we had declared.  We had to leave all our bags and luggage aboard for this inspection.
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Customs officers heading out to s/v Hope with Simon and Clive
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s/v Hope cleared to return to the dock
Once Hope was safely tied up at the dock, it was time to climb back aboard one last time and grab our luggage.  Barry and I had planned to ride back to our condo on the Coastal Xpress water taxi, drop our gear, grab our bikes, and pedal back to town to pick up Paisley at Pampered Paws.  Unfortunately, when we got to the taxi dock, we found out that we were smack dab in the middle of northbound runs that were two hours apart.  It was too early for lunch, and neither of us wanted to wait an hour, so we made a quick decision to splurge on a land taxi.  We walked down to Pampered Paws to pick up Paisley, then grabbed a taxi to take all of us home.  I confess that I was kind of happy not to have to ride my bike as I was really tired and a bit off-balance from the boat travel and really wanted a restful afternoon.
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Picking up Paisley at Pampered Paws -- she is at the bottom of photo on leash, and her new friend Tyler is behind the puppy fence
The good folks at Pampered Paws posted the photos below on Facebook.  The one of Paisley and Biggy playing tug-o-war was posted while we were on the trip, and Ruthie actually brought it up on her tablet, Tabby, while we were out at sea.  It was great to see that Paisley was having fun and had been reunited with her friend Biggy from her first visit there.  The second photo was posted the day she left and is one of the sweetest pictures I've ever had of her.  Thanks Pampered Paws!
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Biggy and Paisley playing
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Paisley at Pampered Paws
What an adventure!  All in all we sailed/motored approximately 400 miles.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chunky and Ruthie for telling us about this amazing opportunity, and to TMM Yacht Charters and Captains Simon Backley and Clive Forman for letting us join the makeshift crew on s/v Hope's  voyage.  As Simon said on Facebook after the fact, to him, this trip was just work, but to some of us, he now realized it was the trip of a lifetime.  Yes it was, Simon, yes it was!

Thank you!

 
It seems like we just got to Placencia, and it was already time to head back to Ambergris Caye.  It was another early morning as the alarm rang at 5:45 am.  We made coffee and ate oatmeal cookies for a quick breakfast.  We had decided to go back a slightly different way, so we could experience two different ways of traveling between the same points.  We would take the Hokey Pokey water taxi from the lagoon side of Placencia over to Independence and catch an express bus to Belize City there, avoiding the bus change in Dangriga and all the extra stops of the non-express bus.  

Jacki kindly gave us a ride to the water taxi dock.  This turned out to be a very good thing because the dock was not where our map put it, and we might have missed the boat if we'd been walking.  We said our goodbyes and waited for the boat to pull up to the dock.
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Cute sign!
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Emily waiting for the Hokey Pokey
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Hokey Pokey water taxi dock
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Boat from Independence that we would board to go back there
Right as the boat got going, it started raining HARD.  There was a large piece of plastic beside my seat that all the passengers pulled over ourselves to keep from getting soaked.  Barry and I were sitting in the front row, so along with another couple, had to form boat's "windshield" by holding the plastic down in front.  Because of this, we didn't get to see anything along what was presumably a very pretty boat ride.  Disappointing, but yet another reason to go back for another visit!  By the end of the twelve-minute boat ride I also ended up sitting in a puddle of water that leaked in, so the butt of my skirt was soaked and looked like I'd peed myself.  Classy!
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I tried to peek out, but once the boat got going fast, I had to pull the plastic down completely.
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Our boat after docking - hard to tell, but it was raining hard
It was still pouring when we got to Independence, so we waited awhile in the covered ferry shelter as we had plenty of time, or so we thought, before the 7:30 am James bus.  Finally, we could wait no longer and shared a taxi with a couple from Madison, WI we'd been talking to ($2 BZD per person).  Unfortunately, when we got to the stop, the bus had just left -- 15 minutes BEFORE the posted time of 7:30 am!  I didn't realize anything was ever early in Belize!  Our cab driver was great, though; he sped off after the bus honking his horn and finally got the bus driver to stop and pick us up.  We were lucky as this was an "express" bus, so the driver could have refused, but fortunately he wanted our fares. 

This bus would take us all the way to Belize City for $22 BZD each ($11 US) with a minimum of stops (only in the cities of Dangriga and Belmopan, not all along the way), so it would be faster than our trip down.  Also, the bus was air conditioned and the seats were nicer than the buses we took down.  The A/C was set to sub-arctic temperatures, though, though, so I was glad for my wind jacket, and Barry wore his rain jacket the entire bus ride to stay warm. One time we dared to open our window to try to let some warm air in, and the attendant came by and promptly shut it! 

This bus driver didn't have the radio tuned to the terrible "mash-up" station we'd been subjected to on the the Ritchie's bus on the trip south, though he kept changing the station for the entire ride.  He was also "horn happy" and gave long blasts of the horn at just about everyone we passed along the way, whether car, truck, pedestrian, or cyclist. I guess he was just being a bit overzealous in his safety warnings, but it was really annoying.  We even saw locals outside turn and give him dirty looks.  If I were biking on the road and heard that kind of a blast from behind, I would jump out of my skin! 
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Definitely the nicest bus we took on the entire trip, and the least crowded
We stopped at two different bus terminals along the way, and Barry and I each had to use the facilities at one of them.  The bathrooms in Belize bus terminals are not free -- Dangriga charges $1 BZD, and Belmopan charges $.50 BZD.  This fee doesn't buy you any toilet paper, hot water, or a paper towel, just a toilet and cold water to wash your hands.  The money is obviously lining someone's pockets b/c it sure isn't put to use maintaining the rest rooms!  
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Bus terminal in Belmopan, the capital city of Belize
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Our express bus from Independence to Belize City
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Belize City bus terminal
We finally got to Belize City (called "Belize" by the locals and those in the know) and grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal for $10 BZD.  It was lunchtime, and we had an hour to kill before the next ferry to San Pedro, so had a nice lunch of Belizean stew chicken, stew beans and rice, and veggies and shared a huge Michelada at one of the small eateries in the ferry terminal.  Unlike in a US airport, where food prices are inflated, the restaurants in the ferry terminal are quite reasonable.  Our lunches cost just $8 BZD ($4 US) each.  The Michelada was a bit pricey at $10 BZD, but it was huge.
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We ate at Anna's Lunch Box in the ferry terminal
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An $8 BZD lunch - tasty and plenty of it, with homemade hot sauce
We thought we were going to be on the same large ferry boat back to the Caye that we came over on several days earlier, but the number of passengers waiting to board was on the small side, so we all had to pile onto a boat not much larger than a Coastal Express water taxi.  If it had poured rain, we would have gotten wet as there were no more seats inside.  Fortunately, there were only a few spits of light rain on the boat ride, despite the ominous looking sky.
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Our little green boat back to San Pedro
When we arrived in San Pedro, we walked over to Pampered Paws to pick Paisley up.  She was in the play area when I got there and started jumping over and over when she heard me come in. She had made a friend, "Biggie", who was super cute.  He appeared to be some sort of bulldog mix.  Kathy told us that they had a blast playing together and posted this funny photo on Facebook earlier that day.  He looked really sad to see her go. 
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Paisley and Biggie playing tug-o-war
While I was paying, Paisley found a large rawhide bone in one of the bins of merchandise for sale in the storefront and carried it over to us proudly.  We couldn't take it away from her; after all, it was her fourth birthday on this Groundhog's Day!  So, that was her birthday gift.  She carried it all the way through town on the walk to the Coastal Express water taxi terminal.  

We got a lot of comments and smiles from people as we paraded her through town on her leash with her bone.  We could tell she wanted to find a place to "bury" it.  Sure enough, when we got home, she quickly located a nice hiding place in our shower, and then crashed to sleep off her exciting visit to Pampered Paws.  Glad we've found a place to take her where she is safe and well-treated, and can find new friends to play with too!
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Paisley showing her new bone to "Biggie"
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Okay, time to go home, and me with my bad new bone!
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Leaving Pampered Paws -- so glad they are here in San Pedro!
Not long after arriving back at our condo in Chico Caribe, the heavens broke loose again and we got a heavy rain.  People here said it had been raining every evening as well (though not as much during the day as in Placencia).  We are still waiting for dry season to kick in!

All in all, even with the disappointing Scarlet Macaw hunt, it was a great trip, and we loved Placencia.  For those who are interested, here's a summary of our trip expenses:

Transportation (ferries, buses, taxis to/from Placencia):   $278 BZD ($139 US)
Lodging (3 nights):                                                        $392 BZD ($196 US)
All meals out:                                                               $337 BZD  ($168.50 US)
Car rental, gas, and tour guide + tip (Red Bank trip):        $290 BZD  ($145 US)
Miscellaneous (snacks):                                                 $8.50 BZD ($4.25 US)
Pampered Paws (boarding + food):                                 $100 BZD ($50 US)
                                                                                ======================
TOTAL:                                                                       $1405.50 BZD  ($702.75 US)