Our February '98 trip to Belize

Audio in efficient MIDI sound format. Must have drivers-audio card to hear music


For a number of years, Marsha and I had been looking for a warm tropical destination to get away from northwest weather and enjoy our hobbies; Sea Kayaking, SCUBA diving, Skin Diving, Orienteering and Camping. It had to be a location that is far removed from the popular resorts but must be safe. The more primitive the better. There's something about going to a desert island that sort of brings the "kid" out in you. We wanted to be close to nature and live easy for a few days.......sort of run away and act a little like Robinson Crusoe!


About six years previous, we visited Belize....a little country in Central America and thought it would be a great escape. Since many of our interests center around water sports, the world's second longest barrier reef caught our attention immediatelyBelize map They're nearly one thousand islands off the Belizian coast. Many are uninhabited, several are privately owned and a few have resorts. We selected one which was a grade up from camping.

Belize was once known as British Honduras but became fully independent in 1981. Most people enter the country through the International Airport at Belize City . It doesn't have the best of  reputations with crime running high and unemployment at about 13%. It has a decidedly colonial appearance from the days of British occupation.

Belize City
The city has about 75,000 residents with a country total  of 200,000. Some years ago a hurricane nearly leveled Belize City so the government moved operations inland to Belmopan which is now the capitol.

Belize is typical third world while the rural areas are beautiful.  The country has a very innocent side; only three stop lights and no freeways. Despite this, the future looks bright.... It's just being discovered as an eco-tourism hot spot and get away from all the "fluff" of traditional tourist locations.  This is a great place to go back to nature and enjoy the simple things.

The real jewels are the people. They're descendants from throughout the world. Main population is Carib Creole, Garufina, Mennonite's, Chinese, Myan and others from Spanish speaking countries of Central America. The official language is English. A great reference book is the "Belize Handbook" by Chicki Mallan.

Cost of goods remain high with people going to Chetumal, Mexico to find bargains. A number of Canadians and Americans have retired in Belize. Public television is almost entirely US satellite programming.


Belize is located at 16 degrees north latitude and is considered Sub-Tropical. Probably would be better to classify as tropical on the coast. High temperatures range from 82 to 97 degrees most of the year. The problem is, so does the humidity. It's not uncommon to have a 90 and 90 day; that is 90 degrees and 90% humidity. The trick to staying comfortable is keeping the air moving and stay in the shade. Fortunately, you can go to the mountains if needed. The offshore islands are less of a problem as long as the wind is blowing....but watch out if it stops!

Mainland Sights

Belize is for the most part, very rural with few good roads. It has its share of nasty critters often found in tropical climates. Included are Crocodiles, Malaria infected mosquitoes, poisonous frogs, twenty poisonous snakes including the deadly Fer de Lance. On the positive side, the jungle is pristine with  tremendous exploration potential. It contains the only Jaguar refuge in the world. Belizians recognized early that eco-tourism can be an important industry. In the past, they relied on exporting hardwoods, bananas and citrus fruit. Today they're protecting their eco-system and encouraging visitors from all over the world. The little Belize Zoo was started almost by accident and has become highly respected worldwide for its efforts. It contains only animals found in Belize.

Belize is part of what is referred to as the "Mosquito Coast".  Harrison Ford's movie by the same name was filmed on the Belize river and shows what the terrain is like.

There are many things to do on the mainland. Most center around exploring the jungle, wildlife reserves, Myan ruins and aquatic areas. We spent 2 days and covered the Baboon Sanctuary; the Belize Zoo, and downtown Belize City. Hiring a taxi for a day is the only way to go.

To the barrier reef and beyond--------

The main reef runs about 18 miles offshore and includes nearly 1,000 islands. Most of the resort and fishing activity are on this reef. Some lovely places such as Chapel Caye ("Caye" is pronounced "Key"), South Water Caye and Tabacco Caye can provide a great vacation with many water sports to choose from. Diving is the most popular while Golf is rare. Remember, this is a third world country and activities are frequently changed because things break down or someone fails to show up. You should try to accept the Belizian lifestyle and "flow with the tide".

Our adventure took us further out in the Caribbean to an island on Glover's Reef.

Glover's Reef

This is one of only three atolls in the Caribbean and was named after John Glover a 17th century pirate who used it as a hideout and base camp. It has a lively and colorful past.........including to present day. It rests about 35 miles off the mainland but is a 50 mile boat trip if you leave from Belize City. It takes 2 1/2-3 hours on a fast boat.

Map of Glover's Reef      Map of Long CayeMap-Long Caye

We selected this destination through a program that SLICKROCK Adventures offers. The Base island is called Long Caye and is about 12 acres in size. Glover's contains seven islands total. Long Caye is shown in the foreground. Northeast Caye is in the rear. Slickrock had a perfect program that fit our needs well. They have been doing Belize trips for nearly 20 years and going to the island(s) for about 12. Long Caye

Glover's is a UN World Heritage site (UNESCO). Long Caye has no phones or AC electricity. What electricity there is is provided via batteries and solar cells. Fresh water came from the mainland because of El Nino; normally, they use a rain collector. It hadn't rained in 2 1/2 months. Refrigeration is propane and emergencies are covered by a 2 way radio. Some islands have a desalinization plant. It's not easy to reach Glover's Reef  because of the distance and weather threat. To hire a small boat to the islands is expensive, usually about $400US.

Life on the island

It's the classical South Pacific image with swaying palm trees sandy beaches and enclosed Atolls. When I first saw it, I thought I was living out of the story book.
Volleyball court Life on the island follows a regular routine. Get up for breakfast at daybreak, partake in one of several activities, come back for lunch, partake in more activities, go to happy hour, have dinner, and go to bed early as lighting is limited mostly to flashlights and kerosene lanterns. Each day has different options or do your own thing. Besides water sports, it was enjoyable just to lay on the beach and listen to wind and waves.

Seaside Cabana
The living quarters are a combination of waterfront cabanas and tents. We were 30 feet from the ocean in a cabana. Neat to sleep with the tropical wind hitting you off the Ocean and watching the stars through the night. The wind blows most of the time but is usually not strong enough to disrupt activities. I kept my video camera batteries charged with a 20 watt solar panel hung off the balcony. Worked great.

Most construction wood is brought from the mainland. They use a hardwood from the Belize forest. The trees on the island are coconuts which are not native.....they were planted years ago. The kitchen is open air with a sand floor and the Toilet facilities are modern composting systems (including resident Geckoes).

Some of our skin diving buddies. Merlin Blixhavn, our guide, is second from the left, Neil (me), Lisa & Henry Harris.

Solar showers are available that use slightly saline well water. Drinking water was completely filtered and I don't believe anyone got sick. The island is managed by Jim Schofield. (affectionately known as "Lord" Jim). Jim has responsibility for upkeep of the structures, re-roofing's, etc. He's a comic and fun to be around.

There's a volleyball court, 25 Kayaks(?), 3 windsurfers, a small library and many hammocks. Sleeping outside (sometimes in the nude) seemed cooler with the tropical breeze blowing. The island is built from coral rubble and sand. It has a leeward and windward side so you can have surf or walk 100 yards and have a calm lagoon for less aggressive water sports. The plot map constantly changes because the island may be torn down and/or re-built during each storm. Buildings are low budget because of the weather threat. Highest point on the island was probably about 5 feet.  Not the place to be in a Hurricane.  The food was excellent. The cook, Celestina Nunez, did a super job. Most of the meals were very healthy and built around fish and Conch.

My rescue
Some of us just can't seem to stay in our boats! I'm being rescued by Chris Johnson, Madeline Hamilton and Bill Stuart

Part of the trip was devoted to learning new Kayaking skills. With 81 degree water, you sometimes want to capsize to cool off. A great way to learn technique that would be potentially hypothermic in colder climates.

Photo courtesy Island Expeditions Co. (offer similar trips)

What more could you ask for?

The depth ranges from 0-150 feet with over 600 patch reefs. Many just break the surface, so you have numerous shipwrecks. Navigating the atoll in larger boats is very risky.


A little island history.....the Lomont family

Marsha near Lomont Caye
Marsha in the lagoon with Lomont Caye in the background. Off to the left is the sailing ship "Rapture".

Thirty years ago the island was claimed by Gil Lomont and family under squatters rights. On some of the smaller islands it still takes place today. Long Caye's remoteness along with Belizian law contributed to a complicated web of who really controls what? It was determined that it had a registered title holder about 13 years ago but the Lomonts had been living on the island for many years without paying a lease to the real owner. It was sold to Fred Dodd, an American about 12 years ago. One of Fred's first moves was to remove the Lomont's. It took nearly 12 years in court and during this time he couldn't occupy his island but was still paying for it. Finally, a Belize court decided that Fred owned the island and had rights to it. In the meantime, the Lomont's claimed title to Northeast Caye. Slickrock was operating on Northeast Caye at the time and became part of the battle. The end result was Slickrock traded places with the Lomont's. The Lomont's now run a primitive resort on NE Caye but live on Lomont Caye (also called Long Caye North). They own two islands. Slickrock leases from Fred Dodd and occupies Long Caye. People from NE Caye and Long Caye are instructed not to trespass on each others island. The anger is tapering down but gun fire has occurred in the past. Island life over a  period of time can create some eccentrics and this part of the world is no exception.

It's been mentioned that the Lomont's have both islands up for sale. I'm told they're asking $1.7 million US for NE Caye. It's about 8 acres in size and very beautiful.

Two other islands on Glover's Atoll are:

In parts of Belize, you can rent entire islands and be by yourself if you wish.

Wildlife on Long Caye

The following were observed: Frigate Birds, Pelicans, Gulls, Iguanas, Osprey nest with newborns, Geckoes, Tropical Crows, Land Crabs and Hermit Crabs. No big spiders or snakes.

Undersea, the fish were plentiful and too numerous to mention. I would say that the fish populations were as great as anywhere I've been including Cozumel. Plenty of Barracuda. Many types of soft and hard corals. Water clarity was outstanding because you are so far from pollution.

Astronomy, Eclipse of the sun, Satellite tracking

Since I'm interested in astronomy, I wanted to use this trip to see the southern sky which is not accessible from the U.S. The constellation "CRUX" (Southern Cross) was in plain view during the early morning hours. Alpha Centauri (nearest star to sun) was another. Because of the high humidity, the sky's are never as clear as you would see from the desert, but still nice viewing over the "Bay of Honduras".

I visually tracked artificial satellites. I was able to observe MIR, HST (Hubble space telescope), and Atlas Centair by calculating their orbits ahead of time. Got three out of four.

A big event and part of the trip plan was a partial eclipse of the sun on Feb. 26th. I brought a sun filter and everyone seemed to enjoy the viewing, particularly the Belizians. The Sun was about 65% covered at this location.

Kayaking to Middle Caye

Middle Caye from distance Note the patch reefs. Their are about 600 of them in Glover's Atoll with many interesting dives.  During our stay we were able to paddle our kayaks to Middle Caye and visit the research station. It's about 2 1/2 miles over the lagoon waters. Not a difficult trip unless the wind picks up. Middle Caye is open to Scientist's doing marine research. It's protected as a preserve. They have a desalinization plant that produces 600 gallons/day plus an AC generator, radiotelephone to the mainland, wind power source and solar cells to keep batteries charged.

Caretaker's quarters on Middle CayeCaretaker Middle Caye

The "Rapture"

These islands are a popular stopping off point for world wide sailors. We had as many as 5 ships in the lagoon at one time. We got to know one of the boat families; Chris & Donna Hofstede of the "Rapture" which is a 1/2 scale design of a 17th century sailing schooner. They've been sailing for the last three years but spent a total of 6 months tied up at Long Caye. As far as they're concerned, it doesn't get much better than this. They took us sailing one day down to Southwest Caye and back. What a wonderful experience to hear and feel the wind through the sails.

Chris & Donna started out with the desire to sail around the world, but at this rate, it'll take them 15-20 years! Donna is a ham radio operator and uses an HF packet radio to stay in touch with friends. They sailed for Mexico the same day we left.

Ham Radio

I was going to take my 144/440 Mhz radio but this part of the world uses 2 meters for commercial purposes. To obtain a V31xx license you just walk-in and pay $25US. Since Amateur radio wasn't a priority this trip, I decided to just keep an eye open for a DXpedition in the future. As it turns out the cost and trouble getting to these islands far outweighs my desire to operate from Belize. On the mainland, the owner of the Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga is a "ham" and can help get you settled into housing.

Conclusion and Acknowledgment

The trip ran very close to scheduled plan. We were to travel from Dangriga to Glover's by boat but the Slickrock staff decided to go out of Belize City instead.

Marsha & I will remember this trip for a lifetime. I first heard of Glover's Atoll in 1978 when Gil Lomont was running "Lomont's Glover's Reef". I had always wanted to go there......it sounded perfect. We finally got our chance and Slickrock does it up nicely. I'd recommend it for anyone who only expects elementary accommodations and can tolerate beach front living with 81 degree water for Diving and Kayaking. :-)  We were there for 10 days and wish'd we could have stayed longer.  We had a group get together the last night in Belize City and went to one of the local bars with live music (just like this background music). A few of us were feeling no pain after drinking several "Belikan" beers!

We'd like to thank Lucy Wallingford., "Lord" Jim Schofield, Merlin Blixhavn, Celestina Nunez, & John Ariola for making our trip so successful. We plan on joining Slickrock again to some far off distant land in the next few years.

Sunset,Long CayeAlmost every evening we'd do a sunset kayak trip. Middle Caye is off in the distance, left center.

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Revised: 1/22/00
Neil A. Robin