This year Thanksgiving "went to the dogs" as Fido's, an ever-popular San Pedro restaurant, bar, and live music venue, teamed up with Saga Humane Society for a fundraiser featuring singer-songwriter Kelly McGuire. Fido's and Kelly are both such Ambergris Caye traditions that I am embarrassed to admit we've never experienced either, so we were looking forward to a good time for a good cause, and we were amply rewarded with a unique and fun Thanksgiving evening. I'd been asked to take photos for the Saga website, so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone by doing our own blog of the event as well.
We left home on our bikes a bit early so we could eat dinner before the Saga event really got cranking at 6pm. Barry got our steeds safely locked to one of the huge anchors right outside Fido's on the ocean front. Fortunately, his pinched nerve and upper back issue has finally healed up, or most of the way, and he can ride his bike again. We're both very happy about that!
We got a table right by the sea and started with a special drink of the evening -- vodka with watermelon juice. Yum!
Here's the menu for the special Thanksgiving dinner. The Cochinita Pibil was tempting, but we both ordered the traditional turkey dinner, which was $40 BZ ($20 US) and also included dessert (and a rum punch, as it turned out) -- neither of which were mentioned on the menu. So it was quite a good deal.
The dinner was delicious. The Candied Plantains tasted very similar to candied sweet potatoes, which I love. It was also nice to get real mashed potatoes with lumps!
These two cute felines were making the rounds and became our best friends while we were eating our dinner. I gave them a small taste of turkey. Some kids at the next table gave them quite a nice portion of turkey a little later, so I think they made out pretty well for the night!
As I mentioned above, the menu didn't say that a rum punch was included with our Thanksgiving special, so we drank it between the entree and dessert. Not a problem!
Dessert was a version of Key Lime Pie that had the texture of frozen Cool Whip with added lime juice and green food coloring. Not our favorite interpretation of the traditional island dessert, but we managed to choke it down!
After dinner, I spoke to the Saga board members and volunteers at the event, and Barry and I both started taking more photos.
Kelly McGuire was great! Although his music had a lot of country in it (and I'm not normally a country music fan), it had an islandy flare I really liked, reminiscent of Jimmy Buffet. Lots of songs of sailing and boats, which we appreciated given our past (we used to own a 30' sailboat), and songs mentioning Belize. Kelly lives in Texas but is much loved here and comes to the island frequently enough that a lot of the folks in the audience knew all the words to his songs. It's obvious that he loves Ambergris Caye as much as it loves him. Some of his songs were upbeat and fun, and some were more touching. The one about daddies and daughters definitely wet my eyes -- and his too, he said. He did two great sets and spent plenty of time talking to the audience, promoting Saga, and drawing raffle tickets for great prizes.
A lot of Kelly CDs and merchandise was being sold to audience members, with a portion of the proceeds going to Saga!
Ari was working the crowd and selling lots of Saga raffle tickets.
Kelly auctioned off one of his "Boats in Belize" bags with CDs and a Boats in Belize shirt to the highest bidder. There were several bidders, and the bag brought a high bid of $140 US, all of which Kelly donated to Saga. Awesome!
Here are the winning bidders in the auction with Kelly!
Kelly invited all the dads with daughters in the house to get up and dance when he sang his sentimental daddies and daughters song. Not all of these are daddies with daughters, but a few were. There was one really young girl dancing with her mom and dad, but they were just to the right of this photo. Really sweet!
Two of our building neighbors put in an appearance, which is pretty impressive considering that they are the only others from our building on the island right now!
And just a few more random shots from the night...
As Kelly was finishing up his second set, we took off. It was almost 9pm after all, and these two old farts have to get their beauty sleep! But first, a bike ride back to our condo (with our headlamps). The taxi and golf cart traffic north of the bridge was the worst we've ever experienced heading home after a dinner out. Maybe because it was Thanksgiving, or maybe the whole Mayan calendar fascination brought extra folks to the island, but it wasn't as much fun a ride home as usual. Oh well, we still had a fine Thanksgiving night on the island, and Saga raised a lot of money to help the dogs and cats of San Pedro. It's all good!
Hope all our friends and family in the US had a very Happy Thanksgiving. We miss you!
Last Thursday night in San Pedro, Karen Waldrup, an up-and-coming country singer/songwriter, performed at Wet Willies as a fundraiser for the Mama Vilma's family home charity. We missed it, but San Pedro Scoop and Tacogirl both did excellent write-ups. Fortunately, for me and for Mama Vilma's House, Cowboy Doug came to the the rescue and quickly set up a second fundraiser at Grand Caribe for Sunday afternoon. I wouldn't miss this one -- it was right next door, and Cowboy always throws a great party in the perfect setting that Grand Caribe offers. Check it out:
Everyone was right -- Karen is a real talent! Country music is not my favorite genre, but I would classify her as more of a folk musician than what I think of as "country". And actually, reading her bio, she considers herself an eclectic mix of "folk, rock, country and blues". Yes, much more my taste! Karen has a sweet, soulful voice, and is one of those singers who could sing the phone book and make it sound good. When she's mega-famous one day, I can say that I actually shook her hand (thanks to Laurie for introducing me to her!) I have no photo evidence, but let me tell you -- this sweet, feminine, southern charmer has a firm handshake. She means business!
Thanks to "Carbunkle/Scoop Productions" for encouraging Karen to come to our little island of Ambergris Caye -- it was a real treat for all who had the opportunity to hear her play and sing. And it was very generous of her to give her time for this fundraiser.
In addition to music, there was plenty of time for fun at the pool. The kids, canines, and big kids too, were all having a blast on a gorgeous day with wall-to-wall sunshine. The little taste of rainy season/autumn I blogged about last week was very short-lived.
Raffle tickets were sold to benefit Mama Vilma's House, with several local businesses donating bar tabs and other goodies. I bought some tickets but, as usual, did not win anything. Jean bought a ton of tickets and won two raffles. All for a great cause, of course!
One of the unexpected surprises of the day was a performance by Barrett Schmidt. This adorable twelve-year old has the sweetest voice and can really play the guitar! He took the stage after Karen finished her set, and the minute he started strumming and crooning, everyone looked up and started whispering "Wow, this kid is GOOD." He really is. Listening to his angelic voice took me back to my childhood, swooning over Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman.
I chatted with his dad for a couple of minutes and found out that Barrett has his own web site (I guess everyone does these days): Barrett Acoustic. His family lives in San Pedro, and he is currently performing at Fido's on Friday nights at 8pm. So check him out if you are visiting. And seriously, this kid needs to enter American Idol when he's old enough if the family happens to be living in the US at that time. He's also got two younger brothers, I hear, so perhaps a modern-day version of the Osmonds or the Jacksons could be coming along in the future if they share his gift for music!
Cowboy suggested I accompany him up to the third floor of the "H" building for some photo-ops, so I was able to get some views of the entire scene from up high.
It was a fine party planned on only a couple of days notice, and I feel so fortunate that I got to enjoy the music of two talented musicians. It's a special treat when music and fundraising come together with sunshine and a festive setting. Win-win-win!
For more on Karen Waldrup, check out her website and Bravo TV's Platinum Hit.
Taking a break from our frenetic pace of activities, I wanted to do a post highlighting the wonderful dinners we had at the Barracuda Bar & Grill right at Beaches & Dreams where we were staying near Hopkins Village, Belize. As I mentioned in the first post about this trip, we found out that the restaurant was officially closing this week so the proprietors and chefs, Tony and Angela, could take a break (they will re-open in October). However, we weren't too late to attend a tapas party at the restaurant on Wednesday night, their last official night open before their break. It was a fundraiser for the Hopkins Belize Humane Society. Tapas would be even better than a regular dinner in some ways as we'd get to try 12 different dishes, and all food proceeds would go directly to the HBHS. Perfect!
We got a great table with stunning view of the beach. Seated with us were Doug and Jeanette. Doug, who lives in Florida, is a frequent visitor to Hopkins, where he's developing some vacation cabins along the Sittee River. Jeanette, a British expat, is a Hopkins resident and owns a cute little shop in False Sittee Point that seems to offer everything from tours to Belikins. They were fun to talk to as we noshed on some delicious and creative cuisine.
The tapas were brought out in courses -- what a fun way to eat and enjoy so many different dishes. There was one serving for each person at the table; that's why some of the photos show four portions of each.
My favorites of the savory tapas were the fried calamari (loved the crunchy cornmeal in the batter) and the Beef Wellington bites. I am a sucker for anything in pastry!
Next came Angela's amazing dessert trilogy. They were all delicious, but the Chocolate Pecan Caramel Squares were the favorite at our table. Also served were a creamy Coconut Flan and a lip-smacking White Chocolate Grand Marnier Cheesecake with cherries.
It was plenty of food, and for just $35 BZD ($17.50 US) per person, a great deal too!
The next night, Thursday, Tony had promised to cook for Barry and me since the restaurant was closed, and I'd been so disappointed when I found out we wouldn't be able to order off the menu. So, we had a private meal -- what a treat!
We started with an avocado/rice appetizer that was really tasty and beautifully presented.
In addition to the great food, the view wasn't bad either. The wind had really kicked up this afternoon, so the sea was quite choppy.
Our entree was mixed seafood pasta (fish, shrimp, and lobster) with a side of cauliflower and carrots. It was absolutely delicious, especially when paired with a glass of Pinot Grigio. We hadn't had many vegetables since getting to Hopkins, so we were happy to get some. Tony and Angela grow their own herbs for use in cooking and for garnishes, and this basil was just beautiful.
We asked Angela if there were any of the delicious chocolate squares from the tapas dinner left over that we could have for dessert. There wasn't much, she said, but she was able serve us a small square each with a bit of vanilla ice cream. It was a wonderful way to top off a great meal.
We certainly appreciate Tony and Angela's time and trouble in serving us when the restaurant was actually closed. We hope to get back during their regular season sometime as the menu looked great, and we already know that they are both very talented chefs!
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 rode into town for a fundraiser lunch for Uziel Meza, a baby needing medical care after being born prematurely to an employee at Belize Bank. We had bought the tickets earlier in the week while we were doing our banking and had been looking forward to some authentic Belizean rice and beans and stew chicken. So after my morning yoga at Ak'Bol, we pulled out the bikes. Fortunately, the wind had died down some from the morning's peak, when it was gusting to 39 mph(!), so we enjoyed our ride into town. This is the peak tourist season in San Pedro, so town was really hopping today!
We didn't realize there would also be delicious cakes available as well. Of course we had to purchase a couple of slices of the chocolate cake with caramel icing, but they all looked great. Slices were just $3 BZD ($1.50 US) each, and for such a good cause.
We were really not hungry when we got the food and there weren't any tables or chairs there, so we wrapped it up and brought it back home. After a dip in the pool to cool off, we were ready to eat lunch. It was delicious! I had enough of my rice and beans left over for Barry to eat with his dinner, and even so, I've been full ever since.
It's wonderful the way so many people are able to get a helping hand by utilitizing community fundraisers here in Belize. It's kind of like small-town America was a few decades ago. Thanks to the wonderful ladies who made and donated the delicious food to help baby Uziel Meza!