Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sailing On!

Hoo Dat
Tomorrow morning we leave Belize for the Greater Antilles; Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and finally Puerto Rico. No new posts for the next 6 weeks as we sail to where time has stood still for 50 years. For us no internet, no email, no Viber for text and talk, only the Sat phone and the SSB. Can I stand it, yikes - no WiFi.
However, for you -  thanks to the satellite phone and our good friend, Greg, you can keep up with our travels via the Map Tab on the top of the blog. But you will have to sign in "all by yourself" -
(make it easy on yourself and bookmark it!)

If you haven't tried it - here's how. Click on the tab that says "Map". Our Google Map will appear. The sailboat emblem is where we are; the anchors are where we've been.
That's it, IF you already have a Google Account (maybe via your gmail account).
 If not you'll need to sign into Google and create an account. (Its free!) The deal is its a Google map.

 Belize has been great. Music on the dock.

 Dinners with friends.

We finally have our SSB working and can talk as well as listen.

We caught our first fish and renamed the dingy.


And, of course, We Saw Beautiful Sunsets
While all you New Orleans friends are celebrating, think of us.  We'll be celebrating too. I'll bake a King Cake and we have a bag of beads to hand out. Plus its Roy's birthday March 6th!!

We'll be right back here once we make landfall In Jamaica. Until then. Do what we do and Have Fun!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Project - Solar Panels

What a Valentine Day - We received a box of parts and goodies from John Edward and our 3 solar panels from E Marine. All delivered to us at Cucumber Beach Marina near Belize City. We are so impressed with the ease of getting things shipped and cleared through Customs by Dylan and his company Belize Freight.

After much discussion of our power consumption, fuel cost, generator wear and tear  and the difficulty of getting fuel for Wahoo we found that the cost of Solar panels would be repaid in about a year. Sun light is free and free is good! Roy felt that 3 panels each generating 140 watts of electricity would help tremendously. The idea being to reduce the time we need to run the generator to keep things working while we are on the hook. Things like lights, fans, microwave, refrig, freezer, ice maker, computers,  and girlie tools all need power and that power needs to come from somewhere. We are rarely at a marina and plugged in to shore power so all of our power needs to be generated on board. The engine does some when we are motoring or motor sailing but other than that we've been depending on our 8kw Kohler genset.

The panels arrived and even I helped get them installed. One is now living on top of the dingy davits and two are on either side of the boom, on the Bimini top.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cayo District

While January weather stayed too bad for caye hopping it didn't deter a little inland visit. Spurred by the need to go to the the US Embassy in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, we decided to spend a little time in Cayo District. Belize is small (170 miles long, 68 miles at its widest; 8,967 sq miles) and the country is divided into six districts. To the North, bordering on Mexico, are Corozal and Orange Walk districts. Orange Walk Town is where Walter, Roy's dad, was from. South and East, bordering the Caribbean, is Belize District. Belize City is on the coast. Roy's mom, Buffy, was from there. It's due to the dangers and damage from hurricanes to Belize City that the capital was moved inland to Belmopan. Belmopan and San Ignacio Town are in Cayo District which is in the centre of the country to the West and borders Guatemala. 
To continue the geography lesson - Along the coast South of Belize District is Stann Creek District and 3 towns Dangriga, Hopkins and Placencia all face the Caribbean. Farthest South, is Toledo District and its main town, Punta Gorda or PG as its affectionately called. Guatemala wraps around to border Toledo District to the South. Its this area particularly that Guatemala claims as its own.

Cayo District is visually striking. The Maya Mountains with its plateaus and rivers make this district very different from the coastal plains and cayes we see from Wahoo's decks. Here you find jungle, rain forest, hidden caves and water falls. It is especially beautiful along Mountain Pine Ridge. My first visit to Belize in 1972 included a visit to Mountain Pine Ridge and I've never been sure if I fell in love with Roy or his country first. Thinking back on that trip I'm astounded at all we did! Thanks to Walter and Buffy I saw my first Mayan ruin at Altun Ha, had a private visit with Prime Minister George Price in the new capital of Belmopan, swam in the inland Blue Hole before it was a tourist destination, saw crystal blue water for the first time in my life, took a dory from Mango Creek to Placencia and decided to move in with Roy. Wow!!

Skyflower Hotel, Belmopan
Our first night had to be in Belmopan. We needed to be at the US Embassy for an 8am appointment to get some papers notarized "on US soil" so John Edward can continue handling our finances as we sail.

US embassy, from afar. (I couldn't resist)
We stayed in a small hotel run by a British - Belizean couple. He'd grown up traveling with his parents to British colonies and she was from Belmopan. The hotel was clean, breakfast was delicious and most important, it was near the embassy. I have to admit to some unease about my country here. The US embassy is overkill. Its BY FAR the largest building in the entire country and, word is, its even bigger underground. It dwarfs the Belize government buildings and the other embassies. Not by a little, you could expect that, but by a whole lot! (It's the second largest in the world. Why?) Of course, you can't park in the parking lot but must park several blocks away. Of course, you can't take pictures inside the embassy but you also can't take pictures outside! (Guess they never heard of Google Earth)

But all in all it was an interesting experience. I've never been in any Embassy though I used to love walking by the old colonial building that housed our Consulate in Belize City (now torn down).  Inside the heavy, (did I say HEAVY) massive doors everyone was polite and helpful, even the "walk of shame" through the metal detectors was fine. We only waited about an hour along with 3 other couples who had 8am appointments and were on our way much sooner than we expected.

Hawksworth Bridge into San Ignacio

Maya Mountain Lodge
We stayed at Maya Mountain Lodge right outside of San Ignacio. It was on a dirt road, as is so much of Cayo district. We spent a few hours strolling around San Ignacio eating ice cream and talking to the tour companies. They were offering horseback riding through the mountains, cave tubing, hiking tours to rivers and waterfalls and trips to the several Mayan sites that are in Cayo, like Caracol and Xunantunich. We've done much of that way before Belize was the major tourist spot it is today. It was interesting seeing how much has been developed yet all in a low key, fairly eco-friendly way.

The lodge was a perfect jungle hideaway with a large palapa overlooking gardens filled with tropical plants where guests met for breakfast and dinner. All delicious, or was it just the mountain air? We enjoyed meeting the other guests who filled each day with the tours we had seen on sale and returned each evening tired but happy and excited about their day.

We opted to go it alone and found plenty -
Our attempt to drive up to Mountain Pine Ridge could have been a disappointment as the roads were in terrible shape after two months of rain. Our rental car protested, we had no choice but listen. The road led us past a butterfly farm and so, to oblige the car, we turned in to see what was there. The grounds showed off the natural beauty of croton, hibiscus, large tree ferns and more with hummingbirds swarming around flowers and feeders. Inside the butterfly pavilion we got a tour of the operation from feeding to hatching to fluttering about.

Another day we followed the road up past the lodge to search for a coconut oil operation we'd been told about. What we found was amazing -

Mayan Ceremonial Site 

A Mayan family was building their own Mayan ceremonial site. The father, the eldest son from a long line of Mayan healers, his brother and son have been creating this site for 28 years! The whole area is on the side of a hill in the mountains. They have carved Mayan gods, small stelae, stone steps, exposed and hidden altars; a wonder to behold. But what sticks with me is the 16 year old son who was happily cutting stone steps with an ax and a machete when he wasn't hauling limestone rocks in a wheelbarrow. The father and healer told us about the healing ceremony that had been held for a young girl that morning at dawn. He insisted that it was foolish for the world to think the Mayan had disappeared as here he was doing what his family had always done. We were led around the site on our extensive private tour, $4 Belize per person, and experienced the excitement that this man feels about his life's work.

Hard at work

Eventually we did find the coconut oil production site and here was another person following a life dream. This was a young man who, as a child, had helped his mother make coconut oil for the family. He believes coconut oil offers health benefits, loves the way every part of the coconut can be used and so figured out a way to make a living from this passion. He has a wife and two small children and now may have a sponsor. A lady from Canada is looking for markets. We discussed ways to ship the oil other than airfreight which is ruinously expensive for such a small operation.

 Here's the process: After husking you have to use your machete to open the coconut. Next you have to grate the meat of the coconut.

On the left is the grater most people use.

On the right is an ingenious grater that our coconut man devised using parts of a washing machine for power. He fabricated the spinner and grater.

It takes a lot of coconuts to get to the boiling stage. He has two coconut farms that he harvests coconuts from. He boils the grated coconut for 36 hours to refine and purify the oil. So don't be confused, there's no "first press" in coconut oil refining. He's able to bottle it, in used Caribbean Rum bottles of course. It'll keep for 2 years without refrigeration.

Our final stop was a visit to one of our most loved spots in Belize, the Inland Blue Hole.

This is a magical place with a cave, but right off of the Hummingbird Highway between Belmopan and Dangriga. On my first visit we just pulled off the road and hunted in the bushes until we found the steps which led down and down through the jungle to this serenely beautiful river, cave and blue hole. The water was icy and so blue. Today its part of Belize's National Park system so you pay a fee and buses stop in the parking lot. We were thrilled and surprised to find that Belize together with the Audubon Society have done a superb job of preserving the feel of this wondrous spot. There's a limit on how many people can be there, no picnicking is allowed and even though they have made the descent safer and more gradual the old steps are still there and the new doesn't disturb the serenity of the spot. Other caves have been discovered in the vicinity, all linked and this takes the pressure of too many people from this most idyllic place.

We soon arrived back in Placencia to find other friends had arrived from Rio Dulce and the weather had finally turned warm and settled. All boats were headed for a few days on the cayes and Wahoo soon followed. 

The Sapodilla Cayes have some of the clearest water in Belize

We spent 3 days in the very Southern part of the reef in the Sapodilla cayes. A night at Hunting Caye, where the Belize Defence Force keeps an eye on Guatemala. Then a night at Tom Owens Caye, named for the British Commander who conducted the first survey of the coastal area for the British Admiralty between 1820 and 1830. Too bad it hasn't been updated. Our chart plotter had us running across the caye to get to the anchorage. Luckily we've become pretty good at eyeball navigation. Our last night out had us back at Ranguana Caye for what looked like another lovely evening but by 2am the wind had shifted to the southwest and 20 kts of wind never felt so rough. There was a long fetch and the waves had plenty of time to build up. At daybreak we were hauling anchor and heading back to Placencia and safe harbour.

28 sailboats were in Placencia Harbour - we weren't alone in running from the weather!

And one last picture for my Belizean relatives

Belizean home along the shore in Seine Bight Village

Ranguana Caye 16 19.840N  88 19.186W
Tom Owens Caye 16 11.244N 88 13.803W
Hunting Caye 16 06.540N  88 16.180W