Monthly Archives: August 2012

Just beneath the surface


We haven’t tried the scuba diving yet but snorkeling right off of our dock is like Disney World for the aspiring reef junkie.  The water is warm and clear and marine life is plentiful. It is especially interesting to go with Jim who is a passionate and knowledgeable salt water enthusiast.

I had no idea there was such a bounty of colorful life right under the surface in shore water.  We have seen blue tangs, blenny’s, bassets, and barracudas, cuddle fish and corals. The list goes on. Sargent Major damsels, sea urchins, anemones and puffer fish flourish.  Fist-sized hermit crabs crawl along undulating sea grass. On supporting dock posts there is a whole microsystem of life; sea sponges in purple, brown, blue and yellow, schools of ultra-tiny fish, red and white striped banded coral shrimp, and sea fans.

We gently floated into an enormous school of sparkly small bluish green fish that encircled us as they darted about. Then some bigger ones swooped in chasing them and they swam for their life.  I was in King Triton’s kingdom with the possibility of seeing anything. Jim saw a big nurse shark and an eel right off the dock.  As we were wrapping up our swim, a three foot long sting ray swam right past us. None of these wonderful sea creatures are interested in us; we are the lucky observers in their world.   

Soon we will go on a scuba trip but snorkeling off the shore is great practice (and free). Even though the reef is only a few hundred meters away, we don’t swim out there as the area between us is a marine highway. The risk of getting smoked by a boat is real and many swimmers have not lived to tell the tale.  


The Sharp Edge of Local Economy


Max got a haircut yesterday. Here in San Pedro almost every second house is a small store that sells bananas, cabbage, tortillas or something. It’s not unusual for a place to sell unrelated bits and pieces. For instance, the barber cut hair in a shop that sold new and used shoes and clothing and the entire store measured, in my generous estimation, approximately 8’ x12’.

The barber had a chair and a mirror but no scissors. He used clippers and an actual (new) razor blade that he carefully took out of a brown paper wrapper. He was quiet and did meticulous job.  While he worked, the enchanting young owner, a 21 year old from Dubai, eagerly chatted.

The youngest of a poor family with 5 brothers and 4 sisters, he moved to Belize City two years ago because of the bad economy in India. He bought some used clothing and peddled it door to door, and then he bought a bike. His name is Lucky (I wonder if it’s an anglicised version of his Indian name or whether he chose it when he moved here). Six months ago he opened his store here in San Pedro (Belize City was too dangerous) and slept and cooked in the large closet of his store until he met the barber.  Now the barber works there on commission, they share a house and with the barber’s wife and brother in law, divide the $800.00 ($400.00 U.S.) rent per month between them. Lucky said he is happy to have a kitchen because he cooks very good Indian food and would like to open a little restaurant when he can. He is trying to learn Spanish and cheerfully showed me a ragged little paperback where he was writing in the Spanish translation beside conversational sentences translating Hindi to English.

Dev Patel, (the actor that starred as the enthusiastic hotel host in The most Exotic Marigold Hotel and Lucky resemble each other in manner, attitude, and even looks. And if you’ve seen The most Exotic Marigold Hotel you may be smiling with delight. When the barber finished Max’s haircut, Lucky told him to stay in his chair and rushed to give him “an Indian head massage” which apparently is always given after a haircut in India. Max said it was “strangely relaxing”.

And I got bought a pair of flip flops from him that was exactly what I was looking for. Happy happy, Joy joy! The ones I got in San Ignacio (after breaking mine while climbing up the medicine trail on our river trip) gave me multiple blisters almost immediately so I have been traipsing around barefoot since then.

The Road less Travelled


The road travelling to the north end of the island isn’t a viable road; it’s a bumpy, often swampy track. Riding our bikes today, with civilization far behind us, we didn’t pass much other than the odd resort that is only accessed by boat. But then on the lagoon side we came to an abandoned overgrown resort. Naturally, we explored.

Walking through debris in a small ground floor room, suddenly a Belizean man appeared coming in from a balcony overhanging the water.  I think we surprised him as much as he surprised us. We all smiled. He was looking at the fish, he said. We went to the balcony where he pointed out the fish and told us how he would feed them and then catch them. He didn’t have a fishing rod but he’d rigged up something with a pail and a line. Half a pail full in half an hour, he told us. I was excited. I find fish unexpectedly expensive here and eagerly anticipate catching our own dinner (and by that I mean mostly Jim and Max catching our dinner). He also told us about how there were lots of big crocs in the lagoon, one small one (only a few feet long) lived right under where we were standing.

The fish he feeds are barracuda’s and sometimes the big ones come and eat the little ones, he said. He tries to shoot the big ones but they always get away. Apparently they are good eating. We will see. I suggested we come back another day and fish together. We will bring the rods and he will bring the feed and expertize. It’s a long laborious ride back made all the more so by my broken bike seat but if we score a saddle bag full of fish, it will be worth it.

School orientation day in Belize


This morning, when Max left for school,  it was reminiscent of his first day starting (grade 7) in the public system after years in a small private school in Perth. He set out for grade ten (or should I say 2nd form) boldly,  facing similar challenges.

I was getting ready when he said, “Mom, please don’t come with me”.

“No problem Maxie,” I replied.

“Please don’t call me Maxie,” he responded back with a long suffering look.

I saluted smartly. After he left I followed using my evade and duck surveillance technique. The open auditorium of the school is right on the beach and I thought about scaling a palm tree me Jane modus for my stake out but opted for huddling behind a group of 4 mothers watching their 1st form (grade 9) students instead.

As the white-clad kids arrived, I noticed some universal similarities.  Groups of girls gathered and giggled and hugged after summer holidays and groups of boys watched the girls gathering, giggling and hugging. Promptly at 7:50 am the assembly started. I watched until they were divided into classes and sent off to homeroom. Today is orientation, tomorrow is games and classes start Monday.

When Max arrived home, he smiled his bright smile and said in a surprised voice, “Well, that might not be so bad. Everybody in my class already knows my name. I’m popular “.

A little Island hiccup


We had our first island glitch today. Sheila flies out tomorrow at 1:00 pm from Cancun. So today she needs to take the midnight bus from Corozol (on the mainland) to the Cancun airport which takes about 6 hours. The boat from San Pedro to Corozol leaves at 3:00 pm every day. It all works! Except there is no boat when there is engine trouble – as in today! Soooo…plan B. Take a different boat down to Belize City. Unfortunately it’s the wrong direction and an additional 4 hours on the bus, costs more money, and involves braving the lean, mean streets of Belize City again.  Jim is escorting his mom and will see her safely settled on the right bus. He will catch a boat back tomorrow.

Max and I are staying here and preparing for him to start school tomorrow.

We have bought his school uniform of long white pants, white shirt, black belt and shoes. I am sewing the school crest on the left pocket (that says San Pedro High, anchored in success) of his shirt as required. We have purchased his books (at a whopping $400.00).

Max feels a combination of nervous, excited, and wondering how “they will accept the gringo”. I feel like I did when he started kindergarten. I am sure that he will be fine and am gratified that he is giving it a go. Adults can appreciate the experience of attending school in a Central American country but for a 15 year old there is nothing fun about leaving the life you love and your friends. Even living by the sea and having the option to home school using Ontario distance online learning, he is constantly trying to negotiate a return home. We will see what the next week brings.

Finding a “critically endangered species”


(click on the picture if you want to make it bigger. (Thanks to Sabrina, I know this now)


When we finally got the (possibly) brown recluse spiders good and killed the two sets of mother and son started down the river, Max and I in the kayak and Jim and Sheila in the canoe. Water is way outside of Sheila’s comfort zone so this river trip was quite the quest for her. Our plan was to ride the gentle current a couple of hours back to San Ignacio.

Floating through Tarzan vines listening to all manner of birds, insects, monkeys and other rainforest creatures was magical and we reveled in the isolation. We passed a chunk of a termite nest that had fallen off a tree and was crawling with hundreds, if not thousands of termites not at all pleased with their new waterfront property. A couple of spiders dropped out of a tree into Jim and Sheila’s canoe. Max spotted a Basilisk Lizard (commonly called a Jesus Lizard) running across the water and when we stopped for a swim he stumbled across a largish turtle with a pointy mouth that kept opening when he (carefully) picked it up to show us. Turns out it is a nocturnal and very rare South American river turtle that is listed as “critically endangered”, the only species of its family that is not a fossil. SO COOL!

The first (of many) rapids weren’t class 5, but it was fast moving, albeit shallow, water nonetheless. The best way down was close to the shore through low hanging vines and branches. Max and I went first. After being thrashed by the brush I turned to watch Jim and his Mom go down. I could see Sheila holding tightly to both sides of the canoe. Before she knew what had happened, the branches had knocked her backwards flat onto her back, feet in the air. Jim was trying to make sure she was OK and navigate the canoe at the same time. Sheila came up thumbs up, laughing hard. That got us laughing and throughout the day whenever I would think of her feet in the air, I would burst out laughing.

It soon became apparent that we needed to paddle… and paddle…and paddle. Under one low hanging canopy I had a near miss with a hornet’s nest covered with hornets. And still we paddled. Under a large overhanging rock we were treated to the sight of dozens and dozens of fruit bats flying all around us. (Very cool!) And still we paddled. We found the stairs to the medicine trail, slipped in the mud getting to shore, climbed up the hill (with my now broken thong), were tired and getting slightly concerned about time so we went back to the canoe… and still we paddled. When we started passing small pockets of children cooling off and playing in the water and women washing clothes in the river, we knew civilization was near.

David of David’s Adventures was casual. There was no making sure that we had food and water (which we did) or questions about whether we knew how to paddle (some people might find it too challenging to paddle for six hours) or waivers or forms of any kind. His instructions consisted of “If you want to walk the medicine trail go past Shaw Creek a short piece and look for a fallen tree trunk in the water, then start looking for stairs up the hill on your left”. Then he gave us a gold toothed smile and “have a good day”, walked across the river, dreadlocks hanging to his waist, and disappeared. All part of the experience! We don’t need or want to be handheld; but a little bit of handholding usually comes with a guide. It reminded me about how different life is here. Simplicity and adventure abounds. I love it. And Sheila did amazing.

As far as David’s place

David getting us some of his bananas

David has been a guide for twenty years and lives deep in the jungle with his wife and youngest daughter. His land sits on an unexcavated Mayan ruin and was passed down to him from this great grandfather to his is grandfather who was a Mayan Shaman down the line to David who is a grandfather himself. He looks like the original medicine man. We hired him (truly, how could we not) for our paddle trip down the Mopan River. The plan was – he would drive us to his home about an hour away from our hotel in San Ignacio where we would launch the canoe and double kayak into the river, then Jim, Sheila, Max and I would proceed to paddle downstream back to San Ignacio on our own and meet him there. What we didn’t know was that it would be quite the adventure that it was.

At 8:30 we climbed into his SUV, slammed the door shut and a small part fell off. I don’t know what the part was but he picked it up, muttered that he would have to fix that, and we were on our way. En route he pointed out the estate of “the toilet paper king”. Clearly a flourishing business! When we finally arrived, we avoided the head sized poison ivy leaves that he pointed out, dragged the canoe down to the river (the kayak was already there), paddled across, then walked up the almost vertical steps to his place.

Shaded by giant palms, his thatched outdoor kitchen had a row of Mayan tools and artifacts on a sideboard beside a large eating table. A large clump of fresh apple bananas hung from a string and he passed us some to eat. They were sweet and delicious. A bench overlooked the Mayan mountains. They built everything themselves. It was a small secluded paradise.

We walked back down to the river with David. He wished us a good day, waded across the river and disappeared. Our first order of business was to deal with the spider in our Kayak that crossed paths with Max’s baby toe. It looked exactly like the brown recluse. (We have since looked it up and can’t for the life of us decide. It may be too big). In any case – THERE WERE TWO. Jim’s fear of spider’s isn’t a phobia, but close, so trying to kill what we assumed were potentially lethal fast moving arachnids in our kayak was nail-biting to say the least. But he did it.

Oops, time to go, more later.

A note on technical difficulties


Hello loyal and illustrious blog-followers,

First, I would like to commend you for picking such a wonderful blog to follow. You must be really smart. And pretty.

Second, you should know that this is Arlene’s daughter Sabrina writing. I serve as manager, middle(wo)man and menial pencil-pusher for mom’s blog’s IT division. As such, I feel it is my duty to inform you that we are experiencing some technical difficulties with the sidebar and pictures. So if things start changing around a lot or disappearing, you may send your complaints to the company email:

We hope to have this all sorted soon and we thank you for your continued readership during these times. As a token of our appreciation, please enjoy the comic below.



TheFlipSideOfFifty tech support

some pics of the ruins


Jim and Sheila