"THE NUMBER 1 MAGAZINE ON TRAVEL, LIFE, AND RETIREMENT ON THE CARIBBEAN COAST"
Volume II, No. 4
ON-LINE TEXT EDITION
COPYRIGHT 1995 BY LAN SLUDER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Traditional magazine edition with maps and photos also available. Contact Belize First for details.
IN THIS ISSUE:
AMBERGRIS CAYE- Best Hotels & Restaurants
Electronic text-only edition.
Full hard-copy edition available with maps, photographs, art, additional features.
Lan Sluder, Editor and Publisher
BELIZE FIRST is published quarterly in Asheville, North Carolina, by Equator Travel Publications, Inc., 280 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA. E-mail address: BZEFIRST@aol.com.
Mail subscription rates US$29 a year in the U.S., Belize, Canada and Mexico, US$39 a year in other countries.
© Copyright 1995. All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conventions.
Information contained in BELIZE FIRST is believed to be accurate. However, hotel owners change, cooks leave, and prices vary. BELIZE FIRST will make every effort to correct errors. Corrections and amplifications will appear in the next issue published. Opinions of contributors and readers expressed herein are not necessarily the opinions of BELIZE FIRST or its editor and publisher.
BELIZE'S TOMORROW: EDITORIAL OPINION
One-half of all Belizeans are under age 16.
What is the future of these children? Will they learn enough, from people, books and nature? Will they be able to find work in jobs with dignity, value and decent pay? Or will they turn angry and hopeless, adding to Belize's soaring crime rate? Will they leave Belize, or will they stay and make it better?
The children of Belize: Creole, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo, Indian, North American, European. They are both the country's greatest challenge, and its greatest resource.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM BELIZE FIRST MAGAZINE
As a reader of BELIZE FIRST, you have a right to know what we stand for:
1. To put you, the reader, first. Not advertisers, not the subjects of our stories. But YOU.
2. To cover the entire spectrum of travel and life in Belize and the Caribbean Coast, that hard-to-define but unique region of Central America and Mexico, and beyond, stretching along the tropical edges of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Some say it goes as far north as New Orleans, and as far south as Venezuela.
3. To promote the region as a desirable place to live.
4. To publish the best writing about Belize and the Caribbean Coast.
5. To work for the economic betterment of Belize and the other areas of the Caribbean Coast.
6. To promote sustainable, responsible, ecologically sensitive tourism in this wonderful and still little-known region.
7. To work to make the region safer for both citizens and travelers alike.
8. To provide candid, independent reporting without any hidden agenda - we have no connection with any political party or ideology, or to any business or other group.
9. To avoid any interference with the internal affairs of Belize or any other country in the region.
10. To work to provide more opportunity for Belizeans, and the citizens of other countries in the region, to manage their own affairs and to benefit from the investment of their own time and money.
Volume II, No. 4
IN THIS ISSUE: FOCUS ON AMBERGRIS CAYE
1) Belize's Tomorrow: Editorial Opinion
2) Corozal, by Phil Lanier
3) The Pooches of Belize, by Laura French
4) Driving to Belize
* Coastal Marathon to Belize, by Rafael Stumbo
* Lynn Williams' Five Weeks in Mexico and Belize, by Lan Sluder
5) In Case You Missed It
6) Real Estate Listings
7) Hotel Update: Opinions on Hotels from Readers and Friends
8) Hotels Recommended by BELIZE FIRST
SPECIAL SECTION: Ambergris Caye
9) Guide to the Island, by Harry S. Pariser
10) Diving, Snorkeling, Touring by Alex Bradbury
11) Eating Around the Island, by Phil Lanier
12) Tips for San Pedro Travelers
13) Living in San Pedro, by Lin Sutherland
14) Recommended Books and Maps on Belize and the Caribbean Coast
15) Quik Guide to Belize
Low-Key and Subtle Charms
By PHIL LANIER
When you round the bend headed into Corozal Town, the sun plays off the water, the breeze moves the palms gently, and the air smells good. It's small things like these you notice in Corozal. And while it may not be the tourist mecca some other parts of Belize have become, Corozal does have its charms. These, along with a low cost of living, have attracted a goodly number of expat Americans.
Let's get something straight, though: To many folks Corozal is the town, unless you add "District" behind it. That's because there hasn't been much for travelers to get all that excited about in this smallest and northernmost district of Belize. Oh, there are ruins around, but nothing on the scale of Xunantunich in the Cayo or even Lamanai next door in Orange Walk District. There's nearby Shipstern Wildlife Reserve with more than 20,000 pristine acres and zillions of butterflies flitting around. But, all those brilliant wings pale before the likes of a rainbow over the jagged, dripping jungle in the mountains of the Cockscomb Basin. And true, there is sea. But who would compare this greenish water to that clear elixir off Ambergris Caye, a simple 20-minute flight to the east?
So, as one traveler put it to me, why bother? And the answer is, because Corozal is like one of those little movies you stumble upon quite by accident, which has no "name actors" and no exploding cars or extravagant special effects, but which makes you feel good -- about people, about life. It's got heart. That's Corozal.
Let me explain. My favorite bar in Corozal, Your Place, is not a bar at all, but little more than a thatched palapa roof in a park by the bay. Corozal Bay. The one you cross to see the small Mayan ruins of Cerros, brooding like a wrinkled brow on the horizon. The same bay in which you stalk steely-scaled tarpon with hook and line.
Anyway, there's a kid there with a cooler full of soft drinks and beer behind a cement bar top. He'll sell you something cold for less than a buck. I like to hang out there after a swim on a sultry afternoon, with the grass and the palms and the sea grapes for company, sipping a Belikin, taking in the sunshine, talking with the fishermen. It's not raw excitement; it's simple pleasure.
There's a strong Mexican influence, here, in Corozal. No surprise with the Rio Hondo flowing between Belize and Mexico less than ten miles away. Many Corozal natives are descended from Mexican refugees who fled Quintana Roo over a century ago during the bloody Caste Wars.
In 1955, the town was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Janet and had to be rebuilt, but you'd never know it. There's an ancient air about the place. The worn clapboard houses raised on stilts, the stolid cement buildings with their faded gaudy colors, the dusty streets that form a grid through this town of around 9,000, they all feel aged.
Nestor's Hotel is right in the thick of things on Fifth Avenue, one of the two main streets running the length of town; the other being Fourth Avenue. Together, they straddle the town square, ground zero on the map of Corozal.
Nestor's is the kind of place where you can't go wrong. They serve one of the best T-Bones in the whole country with baked potato and salad for US$9; it's huge. Vegetarian fare, too. Great atmosphere and inexpensive rooms; just US$12.50 for a basic double with private bath and cold water.
But you needn't go basic when there's Tony's Inn at the south end of town. With 24 rooms, it's the biggest, most attractive and most comfortable place around. A deluxe double costs US$70 and includes AC, hot and cold water, private bath, telephone and cable TV. There's a nice beach to relax on and jet skis for rent. Fishing excursions leave from the pier. Fine outdoor bar, too. Great place to hang out of an evening with expats and locals.
One night I watched a East Coast sales manager from the U.S., who had ended up here by mistake, I'm sure, battling it out with an expat from Texas over a game of dominoes. It was the only game in town. I amused myself, meanwhile, arguing politics with Tony, the owner.
After a week in the area you may long for something other than Belizean food. Want to try some local Chinese cooking? Don't. You're wasting your time and taste buds; it's similar to the worst American take-out variety. It's odd, though, Chinese restaurants abound, as elsewhere in Belize. Better choices are numerous small places that serve fried chicken, hamburgers and such. Or, tuck into some very tasty Mexican cuisine at the Hotel Maya. The escabeche, a spicy soup with chicken, onions and white peppers, is very good and will only set you back US$3.75.
When in Corozal, though, I make a point of visiting Hailey's Restaurant at the Caribbean Hotel for a meal. I might get lucky and find stewed gibnut, a large rodent tasting like rabbit. Seems Queen Elizabeth had it a few years back on one of her rare appearances in Belize. The London press, wags that they be, dubbed the dish "The Royal Rat." What's fit for a queen is fine by me.
Another reason I visit Hailey's is to talk to owner, Henry Menzies, who besides renting out a few basic cabins in the palms for about US$20 a double, also happens to be one heck of a guide. He's great at whisking visitors almost anywhere in the country. He'll whisk you out of it, too, frequently going as far away as Cancun. The trick with Henry is to book into an existing group going someplace special. Or create your own group, about three other like-minded people. For instance, he gives a tour to Shipstern Nature Reserve, including the Butterfly Breeding Center for US$115 for one to four people. Similarly, he takes shopping trips across the border to Mexican shopping shrine of Chetumal, just US$100. The more the merrier, and in this case, the cheaper.
One of the tours visitors enjoy most is the trip up the New River to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai ("submerged crocodile" is a common translation), situated along a wide lagoon. Cost is US$250 for one to four people, extra persons just US$60. An audience of jungle birds and animals chart your progress upstream. Approaching the Mayan site by water, you'll be impressed by its sudden appearance as you enter the lagoon.
After a land tour of the ruins there's a cruise of the lagoon which brings you eyeball to eyeball with some of its denizens. Suddenly you see it, a crocodile basking on a sunny bank or suspended in water with only its eyes above the surface, showing that cold crocodile smile! What's the joke? A move for the camera and -- splash -- it's gone. Very funny.
But enough sheer excitement for one day. Time to unwind a little. Time to head for the park. And the kid. And the beer. And the bay. And the trees.
^^Phil Lanier has traveled extensively in Belize, helping update the new edition of Belize Handbook by Chicki Mallan, Moon Publications.
IF YOU GO
123 Fifth Avenue, Corozal Town, Belize; tel./fax 501-4-22354
Tony's Inn & Beach Resort
South End, Corozal Town, Belize; tel. 501-4-23555, fax 501-4-22829
South End, Corozal Town, Belize; tel. 501-4-22082 fax 501-4-22827
South End, Corozal Town, Belize; tel. 501-4-22045, fax 501-4-23414
Box 210, Corozal Town, Belize; tel 501-4-22725, fax 501-4-23414
A new campground on Four Mile Lagoon, 1 1/2 miles from the Mexico border on the Santa Elena Hiway. Nine shaded sites, 24-hour security, breakfast and lunch available. Rates: US$10 per night for RVs, tents US$5 per night. Contact: Rosalie and William Dixon, Lagoon Campground, General Delivery, Corozal, Belize.
Barking in Belize:
Pooches in Paradise
By LAURA FRENCH
Tropical dogs are like northern snowflakes: No two are alike. Belizean pooches tend to be small and thin and short-haired, but they otherwise have as varied a background as Belizeans themselves.
Natural history buffs come to Belize with bird books in hand, looking to identify the 200+ species of birds that can be found here. It would be more of a challenge to study any single Belize dog, to identify the dozen or so breeds that have mingled to produce him or her.
Black and tan markings hint at Doberman antecedents. Traces of German Shepherd are fairly common. On a Mayan farmstead five miles by canoe upriver from absolutely anything, a sleeping gray dog roused himself to look up at me with the pale eyes of a Weimeraner.
Somebody should offer a "Dogs of Belize" tour: There's Figgy, who was one of my tour guides at Maya Mountain Lodge near San Ignacio. The Lodge has a self-guided nature trail, and the first day I was there, Bart Mickler told Figgy to go along. Figgy waited patiently while I stopped to read the entries in the guidebook. He skipped the side-trip to the Mayan ruin. A couple of times he forgot himself and bounded off into the bush after a hot scent, then recovered himself and ran past me to take his place in the lead.
The second day I was there, stretched out in a hammock on my front porch, recovering from a day of climbing ruins, Figgy came and insisted on another walk. Eventually I complied. I headed up a paved path in the direction I remembered the day before, and Figgy suddenly stopped and looked at me balefully.
I stopped and said, "Come on, Figgy." He didn't budge. I asked him what was wrong, but he wouldn't say. He started back to the lodge, and I called him back. He turned around, but wouldn't come up the path with me.
Of course, he was right and I was wrong. I was standing on the walkway to one of the cottages. He was standing on the path that led to the nature trail. When I finally realized my mistake, he rushed off ahead of me again.
There are two dogs at the luxurious Blancaneaux, Francis Ford Coppola's Belizean resort in the Mountain Pine Ridge. They were pets of the British Army, who are now being pulled out of the country. Anne, the co-manager, wanted one of the dogs, but the two were a package deal, having been raised together.
Max is the star of Lamanai Outpost Lodge near Lamanai. He's a two-year-old German Shepherd cross, not a native Belizean but an immigrant from Grenada. He keeps to his spot on the sofa, while looking longingly at the people in the adjoining dining room. Sometimes this low-key begging techniques pays off in bacon.
And then there was the dog who came to mass at St. Peter's on Ambergris Caye. She was long and low to the ground, a little shaggier than the usual, and even harder to identify than most.
At the beginning of the mass she was up near the altar, giving herself an extended scratch behind the ear. During the scripture readings she discovered the cool breeze flowing through the side doors of the church and she sprawled herself out on the tile. She left briefly for a while during the offertory, I noticed. But she was back for the passing of the peace, smack in the center of the aisle, and the priests who had made their way to the back of the church shaking hands had to arc slightly around her on their way back to the altar.
I suppose that someone who didn't love animals might have seen it as a sign that Belize was going to the dogs. For me, with a Golden Retriever and a Border Collie back home, it was a sign that Belize isn't an artificially created tourist haven but a real place, with real people--two-legged and four-legged--who have ways of doing things that are uniquely and charmingly their own.
^^Laura French is a writer in Minnesota.
SO YOU'RE THINKING OF ... DRIVING TO BELIZE?
Here are the stories of two recent trips to Belize by car. Read'em and learn.
By RAFAEL STUMBO
The agenda for our November 1994 trans-Central America Trek included blasting across Mexico to make Belize in three days or less.
The intentional marathon pace, almost twice as fast as most people would make the trip, was set to gauge the potential cost- effectiveness of transporting building materials by land to Belize City. If you have looked into building your dream home or rental cabinas in Belize out of anything but indigenous material you are aware that the availability of such items as metal studs, plywood, kitchen and bathroom fixtures and appliances are limited and expensive by U.S. standards. When shipping by container you face freight cost (approximately US$1,200 for a 40 cubic foot container F.O.B. Galveston, Texas), tariffs at the Port of Belize (which are usually greater than at a land frontier), and then getting your material to your final location within Belize.
We had estimated that enough material to trim out four 15 foot x 20 foot cabinas could be loaded in a school bus, or 20-foot trailer pulled behind a one-ton pick-up truck. One of the obvious advantages of driving to Belize is having a work vehicle once you are in country.
To be sure, an excursion of this sort is by no means for the delicate or other wise faint of heart. It involves quite a bit of night time driving which at very best is dangerous and at worst shear lunacy. My partner and I witnessed numerous collisions on this trip, one of which involved flying cows. Everything you have heard about driving in Mexico is true, and the route to Belize takes you straight through troubled Chiapas. We took the Atlantic coastal route crossing at McAllen, Texas, then down the length of Mexico to the Yucatan, with scheduled stops only at Tampico (234 miles), Veracruz (485 miles), and Villahermosa (783 miles); a good rest stop before Chetumal (1,123 miles).
From Villahermosa you can leave at dawn to facilitate a daylight crossing of Tabasco and that historic piece of Chiapas, which is the gateway to the 267-mile, desolate stretch of Route 186 that leads to Chetumal.
Our scheduled stops were by no means our only ones. Despite our preparation and planning, we were plagued with mechanical problems related to the hydraulic clutch mechanism in our Ford Bronco. Parts for American late model vehicles are difficult to come by in Mexico, and all but the most basic items used or new are simply unavailable. Be forewarned: Unexpected breakdowns are the rule, not the exception on this type of trip.
We crossed the border at McAllen around 9 a.m. We were just north of San Fernando de Presas, not 100 miles from the U.S. border on Highway 101, when we had our first mechanical mishap. Luckily, a Green Angel was right behind us when it happened and towed us to a mechanic he knew. He later told us he only patrolled that stretch of road twice daily.
By 10:30 p.m. this first night on the road we had our problem solved and we were on our way, heading due south now on Highway 180. At Soto La Marina we stopped to catch a few hours of sleep. There is a big truck stop here and caravans of transmigrantes