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Tropical Trip

Part 1 - Belize

Getting There...


Fly from Miami, cross over Havana, land in Belize City. The flight takes a little over 2 hours, so it is probably about 850 miles.

It is possible to drive overland to Belize City from Cancun, I am told. So, I may try that next time. Driving time is about 5 hours to the Northern border of Belize.



The red line shows my travels in Belize. I had two overnights in Belize City, and two overnights in a lodge near the Guatemala border just outside a little town named San Ignacio... population about 8,000.


The Radisson Fort George.

 This is the view towards the dock from the Bar and Terrace at the Fort George Radisson Hotel. (There are two schools of thought about the origin of the name Fort George; one says there was such a Fort; the other group says there was not.) Note the yachts off the end of the dock. I'd estimate a million plus each. Belize used to be British Honduras, and there is a large - and well off - expatriate community here.

There is also a small British military training garrison on the same block as the Radisson. They are there, I am told by a local Belizean, to train the small Belizean army, and to help the Guatemalans on the other side of the western border of Belize remember that Belize is now an independent country and former British colony, and not part of Guatemala.


 This shot is off the balcony of my room on the third floor of the Radisson. I'm looking south toward the mouth of the Belize River.

Here, its sunset, and I'm on the Hotel dock looking past the lighthouse, and past the mouth of the Belize River toward downtown Belize City.


Downtown Belize City

This is a bus stop in downtown Belize. This bus stop is about a 10 minute walk from the Radisson Hotel, but in time and space its on another planet. The curb is painted red so people will not accidentally step into the open sewer that runs along the sidewalk. These people waiting for the bus are the service staff to the Radisson, to the nearby embassies and consulates, and to the other hotels in the immediate area. After taking this shot, a black woman approached me and said she recognized me from the hotel where she is a cleaning lady. First, she suggested I get out of the area before dark because it was a dangerous place after dark, then she asked if I could spare any money so she could fill a prescription for a sick child. I gave her some money, though not as much as she asked for. At first I felt guilty about giving her anything, since I was sure she was giving me a line.

Later, I felt guilty about giving her less than she asked for because she probably really did have a sick child. I imagine most people in third world countries like Belize have perpetually sick children. Here I am, just visiting with a pocket full of money, and a plane ticket back to a stable western democracy in just a few days. Most of these people, on the other hand, can never escape these places, and can never even hope to get a break from their poverty, let alone take a trip on an airplane, and stay at a hotel like the Radisson.

Jeez. Belize City is one of those kinds of places that forces all us liberals and ex-peace corps volunteers re-visit and re-check our life-long biases about people who live in these underdeveloped countries, and to wonder about the real differences between them and us.


This is one of the local waterborne taxis. They go really fast, and they haul a lot of people around the various "Cays." I didn't check the prices, nor take a ride, but they are cheap and fast, and all the locals ride them.

Belize City is about 1 and a half feet below sea level, and is built up on swamp and mangrove forests. The main problem with this is that, during the dry season which precedes the hurricane season, the smell from the open sewers gets pretty bad. Just before I arrived, fortunately, there had been two weeks of heavy rain - not to mention hurricane Lenny which passed nearby - and I was told that I was very lucky because the rain had the effect of flushing the sewers. "Everything smells sweet now," according to Lyndon, the black bell captain at the Radisson.


These guys are fishing in the mouth of the Belize River about a half mile from the city center of downtown Belize City.


There is a national holiday going on the day I took this picture, and all of the black population of Belize City have left town to go to a city south of Belize City named Dangriga. On a regular work day, these boats are hives of activity among the local fishermen.


This is the center of the commercial center of downtown Belize City. On the left is a rotating bridge which can be turned around to allow boats on the Belize River access to the ocean. I'm shooting upriver from the bridge. The boats in the previous image are downstream from the rotating bridge, as are the boats in the following image.


This is a more typical scene at the beginning of a day of commercial fishing for local Belizeans. It took about 30 minutes to get the boats untangled.


This shot is upriver from the rotating bridge at sunset... it is the end of the fishing day for this fellow.



Here is a pick up game of soccer. On the day I was scheduled to travel from Belize City west to the Windy Hills resort near San Ignacio, I hired a cab to take me around to some of the sights of the city. He took me to the west end of the city near several schools and a university.


On this same day, the country was almost completely shut down for the purpose of celebrating a national holiday named... (I'll look it up). Almost the entire black (called, in demographic jargon, "Carib Black.") population of Belize went down to a town about 75 miles south of Belize City named Dangriga. These blacks who remained in the city are celebrating with music, games, dancing, and eats. It looked like fun. I wish I could have stayed.


Touring the Waterways around Belize City

This is Eduardo, our guide for a day-long tour of the waterways. There were three of us, two retired english people from southern england, and me. It turned out that a mistake had been made, and Eduardo was not supposed to be my guide. This all got cleared up eventually. In the meantime, Eduardo, here, is taking us away from the Radisson (in the background) to a limestone sinkhole about 3 miles off shore where the Manatees cavort. Manatees need brackish water, and that occurs wherever these sinkholes occur, and they occur kind of all over this area.

Brackish water, by the way, is sea water mixed with fresh water.


Half way through our waterways trip we had a lunch at the Orchid Café, in Gales Point Village.


This is Deborah T. Callender, owner/Manager of the Orchid Café.


Here's Eduardo again with my earlier english travel mates, whose names I did not, unfortunately, record. The fellow on the left is Mario, who was supposed to have been my guide for this tour from the start, but we all had a mix up early on in the day. It all got straightened out, though, and Mario was my personal guide for all of the day, except for the first hour with Eduardo, and the two english. Mario spoke excellent english, and like all superior tour guides, never left me with an unanswered question.

Thanks a lot, Mario. It was a great day.


After lunch, Mario and I took the boat back through the northern and southern lagoon to the Belize River, and the Belize City by way of the Mangrove swamps. Mario had a great eye for spotting crocodiles from many, many yards away. I couldn't see anything until we were practically on top of them. We were able to creep up on this fellow, and I got a decent picture of him (her?) before he (she?) took off like a rocket into the swamp. This fellow was maybe four feet long. Probably not life-threatening, but probably not a creature you'd want to be in the water with either.


This is a typical scene in the mangrove swamps of the southern and northern lagoons south of Belize City. Occasionally the mangrove gets so overgrown that the canopy covers the waterway. It was too dark to get a picture of these overgrown waterways.

Thinking of snakes, particularly the super aggressive, super poisonous tommy-goff, I asked Mario if any snakes ever got up into these mangrove canopies, and then fell into the boats passing underneath. Mario said it did not happen often.


The Belize Zoo

Part of the waterways tour included a trip to the Belize Zoo. The Zoo is inland about 30 miles west of Belize City in the uplands. It is a few miles south of the capital city of Belize named Belmopan. Belmopan is a kind of a fake city designed in the same manner as Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. The idea of these two capitals is to take a piece of wilderness, and build a city from scratch to house the national government. I have no idea why they would want to isolate the government from a natural community. We almost did the same thing in Alaska in the mid-seventies when a bunch of Mat-Su valley real estate developers tried to finance the move and construction of a brand new capital to a wilderness site 30 miles from the nearest town.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the people of Alaska, by statewide vote, told the real estate developers to go back to building strip malls in the Palmer- Willow - Wasilla corridor. They have carried out this alternative assignment with great success for almost 30 years. Palmer, Willow, and Wasilla are now no longer visible from the road because of all the neon signs and tacky commercial structures in that corridor.


Here's a couple of Macaws. Beautiful birds.


Here's a Toucan. This fellow took some coaxing to get this close, but once he was next to us, he seemed very interested in performing for us, in exchange for eating nuts that Mario fed him.


Here is a black Jaguar, obviously starved for some attention because he sat next to the screen for several minutes while all kinds of people tried to get him to do tricks. Jaguars are precious animals in Belize, and they are under severe threat from native hunters who sometimes kill them to protect their herds of domestic animals like cows and sheep. Like any underdeveloped small country, Belize must also try to protect the scarce jaguars from poachers who want to sell their hides to an ever lustful fur-coat market in the developed countries.

There is an excellent book titled: "Jaguar," written by a fellow named Alan Rabinowitz who created the first (and only) Jaguar preserve in Belize during the 1980s. The preserve is in the Coxcomb valley south and west of Belize City, and south of the area I traveled in. I read Rabinowitz' book before traveling to Belize, and it was a major eye-opener about many things.

In addition to Jaguars, one animal Rabinowitz had a lot to say about was the fer-de-lance. The fer-de-lance is a member of the viper family, and is one of the two or three most poisonous snakes in the world. Another member of that family is the black mamba.

One of Rabinowitz' guides was killed by a fer-de-lance - known as a "tommy-goff" by the local Maya tribes and Belizean farmers - and Rabinowitz himself was chased by a fer-de-lance that had had almost all of its body cut off by a misguided attempt to behead it. The fer-de-lance is so aggressive that it can bite through the usual snake boot leather uppers. One of the ways suggested by Belizean snake doctors (these are not medical doctors) to discourage a bite from a fer-de-lance, is to rub tobacco around your ankles.


Here's a puma. Another example of a big cat indigenous to Belize. This zoo, by the way, is as good an example of a well managed zoo, as I have ever seen... the only exception being zoos where each species has a habitat acres in size instead of yards. These animals seemed well-fed and well managed, and they had enough room in their pens to cruise, and to fly.


San Ignacio

We left from the Radisson in Belize City late in the afternoon, and drove west to the Windy Hill Resort near San Ignacio. San Ignacio is about 10 miles from the Guatemalan border. This is a shot of the sunset about 20 miles from the Guatemalan border.


It's a Saturday, and therefore, a market day in San Ignacio. People come in from all over this part of Belize to sell their stuff. This image shows one of the three main market lanes. The goods on this lane are mostly clothes, and handicrafts, though watermelons are always in style.


There are some very attractive people in Belize. This woman gave me permission to shoot then turned away, and I only had one shot left on that roll. By the time I had re-loaded she had left. Darn!


Here's one of the other lanes in this market place. This lane emphasizes fruits and other produce.


This fellow spoke no english, but approached me to tell me about the ways of the lord. He also gave me some literature, in english, on the subject. I told him I would take the literature if he would pose for a picture. He agreed. I did not ask him if was associated with the sizeable Mennonite community who live and farm in this part of Belize.

I still have the pamphlet. It is titled: "Where are you going?" Always a good question.


More fruits and vegetables. Yummy!


These two young girls were having an animated and happy conversation in the park I was sitting in. I couldn't resist getting a shot of them.


This is the bus station adjacent to the San Ignacio market place. Travelers familiar with Belize will recognize the name "Batty Bus" on the sign across the road.


People leaving San Ignacio going east toward Belize City will cross this bridge. Looking west, the market place is across the river to the right.


This is the evening of my second day at Windy Hill. It's a nice place, well groomed, with lots of flowers and plants. That's a horse down by the fence. There are a lot of horse trails around the area, and guided trips by horse are available from the lodge.


This is me on the porch of my little cottage, crapped out after a full day.

Cahel Pech

Cahel Pech is a Mayan ruin about a 30 minute walk from the Windy Hill Lodge. Though I could have taken a day trip to a major ruin at Tikal Guatemala, I preferred to check out the remains of what was probably a pretty minor community governing center.

Cahel Pech has been abandoned since 900 AD. It was buried in the jungle until the 1930s when some tourists stumbled onto some odd and unnatural mounds in the jungle. When they started to pick away at the vegetation, these structures were underneath.

We are looking at the front of a structure that must have been used by the local political boss, king, or perhaps the regional governor, to make announcements and pronouncements to the local populace who would have assembled in the courtyard where I am standing as I take this shot. The assembly area is somewhat wider, but not quite as long as a football field.

I shot this picture looking west from about the middle of the field on the southern side.


This is an architectural detail shot at the entranceway into the front of the structure in the previous shot. Notice the carved beams that form the lintel over the doorway on the left, and the way the stones are laid to form the arch straight ahead.


I have passed through the doorway shown in the previous shot, into a more restricted courtyard for the governing members of the community (according to literature and pamphlets available in the small museum near the site), then up to the top of a structure about 30 feet tall. I am at the top shooting down toward the back entrance of the structure described in my first Cahel Pech image.

This structure is used as a platform for an astronomical clock. When the stars are properly aligned, the clock could tell the astronomers, and the governors, when to plant, and when to harvest crops.


This is the residence and private courtyard of the regional Maya governor and his family. The arched doorways both contain raised platforms used, presumably, for sleeping. To the immediate left of these structures is the astronomical platform.


These stairs are at the southeast corner of the assembly area for the general populace. They apparently form a platform for some purpose, but they do not lead anywhere. I would like to know what the circular symbols are on the front. They remind me of some of the images in the video game called Riven.


Heading back to Belize City, and then to Miami, and West Palm Beach.

I'm told by my driver that these are racers in the annual San Ignacio to Belize City bicycle race. It takes around four hours to cover the distance.


This might be Ambergris Key. At the Windy Hill resort, I shared meals with a german couple who were spending 30 days in Belize on vacation. The fellow was a judge in the Berlin court system, traveling with his wife. On the morning I was leaving to return to Miami, they were headed for Ambergris Key for a couple of weeks of scuba diving. They had been there before, and told me to be sure to visit there and spend some time diving the next time I get to Belize.

OK. I'm easy. That's what I'll do.

They were both well-traveled, so I asked about places to go in Italy. I visited there shortly after college and shortly after the 1967 flood in Florence which destroyed so many renaissance art works. I have wanted to return since. Now I am reading Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and have great curiosity about the roots of it. Based on that interest, they recommended Sicily. Sounds good to me. Watch for a few Sicily links on my web site.

This is a side note about Uwe and Irene. We first met in a van on the ride up to Windy Hill from Belize City. A week or two prior to that, Gunter Grass had won the Nobel Prize for literature. As a conversational gambit I told them that I had read "The Tin Drum," and had found it very hard going in translation. Uwe told me he found it very hard going in his - and Grass' - native german language. Now a comment like that can make your day.


Shortly after Christmas I received this nice photo from them. Thanks a lot for the photo, and for the nice card. Hopefully we will meet up again one day.


Part 2 - Back Home in Florida

Some Family shots.

This is my sister, Patricia and her husband Ralph who is about to carve thanksgiving turkey. Ralph's son Tommy, and a family friend are to the left.


This is mom and brother Jon on a ship floating just outside the three mile limit. Nothing illegal, just a little off-shore gambling.


We're ready to eat turkey and fixins'.


Looking north out the window toward one of the riding and training pens on the property. That's Pinky waiting for someone to ride her.


Jack Russell with pup. One of the many family animals.


This is an evening shot, but my favorite place - in the world - to sit in the morning with coffee, croissant, OJ, and newspaper is right where I am sitting as I shoot this picture, but with the morning sun behind me. Amen, brother.