'98 trip to Belize
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
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 immediately. 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.
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
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.
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.
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 Long
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Island Expeditions Co. (offer
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
Marsha in the lagoon with Lomont Caye in
the background. Off to the left is the sailing ship
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
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,
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
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
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 Caye
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.
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
every evening we'd do a sunset kayak trip.
Middle Caye is off in the distance, left center.
to "Home Page"
Neil A. Robin