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Trip Report Back from Belize--Ambergris Caye and Cayo District

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Well, the shillmacs ventured out from Costa Rica for a foray into Belized as a surprise to Mr. Shillmac. It was fun watching him walk toward the gate at DFW with his eyes peeled for the destination sign. He was surprised (I worked hard to keep it that way for almost a year!) and delighted. That began a really nice adventure that I must say was one of our best vacations ever! Can you believe I just said that? Me, Mrs. Costa Rica?

Our flight to Belize was uneventful, and we were thrilled upon arrival to learn that we could catch an earlier Tropic Air flight to Amberbris Caye than was reserved. Our hotel, Ramon's Village, had booked our transfer for us. So we spent almost no time at BZE and arrived very quickly in San Pedro, Ambergris. 45 min. ahead of schedule. The flight was beautiful over the gorgeous turquoise water and other cayes. There is a water taxi as well, takes about 1.5 hour as opposed to 15 minutes by air.

We had a beachfront cottage at Ramon's. The price was $225 each night--we were there 3 nights. The rooms were a bit outdated and had dark wood, but were clean and comfortable. During our stay we noticed lots of properties on the beach that were surely less dinero, but Ramon's had virtually the ONLY nice little stretch of beachfront to be had--for laying out with a nice view (comfortable beach chairs, too). Most of the other places had concrete retainers at water's edge or pier and boat view in front of them. Also Ramon's had deliciously powerful hot water showers that felt wonderful after a day of snorkeling or just being out and about in the sun. The one thing I didn't like was that the restaurant charged in US dollars. No one else on the island did. The rate is $2 BZ to $1 US. So everywhere we went, we halved the price to know how much US. Not at Ramon's. If it said $10 for breakfast, that's what it was. And the breakfast we had was nothing to write home about. We only ate there that first morning. I thought the practice was a bit deceitful. We'd stay there again, but there were a LOT better options for dining.

North from Ramon's just a few steps is a funky little bar called BC's. We met Jean (jeanH on Fodors) and her husband here that first night. They own a condo on the beach south of town and, like us, will soon be retiring and spending about half their time there. BC's is more of a locals bar; I don't remember seeing many tourists there. Jean and her husband knew a lot of the folks who stopped by for drinks in the evening, many of the ex-pats.

Through previous conversations and Jean's goodwill, she had booked a fishing trip for the guys that very first morning. They went out to the reef to catch a few snappers and she and I took a little walk before going our separate ways for the day--she to do some shopping for the fish cookout that evening and me to rest on the beach, use the internet, and select some wine to take to the "party". Fishing was over by noon, and sure enough, the guys returned with lots of fish. That night we met at their place for delicious grilled fish. It was out of this world and if I remember correctly (the wine was good) DH and I ate way too much. Jean and Bruce seemed to show more restraint! And we didn't put a dent in it. She had prepared delicious fried potatoes with green pepper and a salad. It was a perfect meal eaten out on their balcony. The whole evening was a real tribute to the Fodor community and the friendships formed on this board!

Before dinner, DH and I took rented bikes at Ramon's and rode northward through town, across the bridge and over the cut to do a little sightseeing north of San Pedro. It was a fun afternoon as we saw a couple of new birds on the way and ended up at the Palapa Bar, at the end of a pier, where we sat looking out to the sea for a couple of drinks.

That sums up the first of many perfect days. Everything about everyday was just right. The planning had been a little haphazard, so the turn out was a real blessing!

About San Pedro--it's a fun little town with lots of very good restaurant from the Sunset Grill where they feed the tarpon by the pier to a little place called Caramba's, where Jean and Bruce took us the night we arrived for a great meal. I had the jerk shrimp with coconut milk rice and beans. Delicious! We enjoyed breakfast at Estel's, a popular breakfast all day place (and other stuff as well) and also at the Blue Grill. We had a great lunch at the Wild Mango (probably our favorite--would like to have tried everything on the menu there as it all looked fabulous!). That first day, when the guys got back from fishing, DH and I went to the square (Central Park, Bruce called it) on the oceanfront and bought chicken and beans and rice from a vendor for $5 US. We split it. Lots of typical little tourist shops, internet cafes, grocery stores, wine shops, etc. Transporation is primarily by golf cart as the streets are quite narrow. There were a few cars. And bicycles. I would like to have had a couple of more days to explore some of the side streets. The further one got from the ocean and more toward the lagoon, the more one was in local territory. Everyone was quite friendly, and we liked the Carribean vibe, mixed with a bit of Latino vibe.

The language--don't go expecting to practice your Spanish. No one wants to help you with that! English is the official language, so Spanish is pretty much spoken only between the locals. That is why Jean and Bruce chose Belize. We are choosing Costa Rica for the opposite reason.

We loved Ambergris Caye. There was always a gentle, cool tradewind blowing on the beach. One block behind the beach, in town, it was probably 10 degrees warmer. The second day, our last, was beautifully calm--perfect for a snorkel day. Hot on the beach, though, with no breeze. We were glad to be on the water. We had debated about whether to do the all day catamaran tour over to Caye Caulker, stopping at Hol Chan on the way over and Shark Ray Alley on the way back. Instead we decided to just do a half day Hol Chan/Shark Ray Alley trip so we would have the afternoon free.

The snorkeling was lots of fun, so much to see. I wish the reef were in better shape, but it was what it was--a few pretty colors, but mostly not the vibrant reef it had once been. The fish, though, were magnificent. Can't even begin to name all of them--lots of barracuda, though; parrot fish, angel fish, jack, tarpon, rays, etc. There were 7 of us on the tour and we stayed right with our guide as there is a break in the reef with a current that was flowing out on that day at that time. I'd read that one had to be a strong swimmer to do Hol Chan. Well, I'm not, but it wasn't a problem as his instructions were excellent before we got in and he guided us across the current and pulled a life saver ring along with him. We could feel it, though, in places. From there, it was over to Shark Ray Alley, which was really cool as well, although not so many sharks. Our guide said they have been "skittish" lately, perhaps because some people manhandle them too much, too many people. There were several around our boat as it came to a stop, one very large. We saw a couple after getting in the water, but they were soon outta there. Lots of beautiful rays, though; they didn't seem to mind our attention, and we all got to pet them. The spotted eagle ray that was cruising around was gorgeous.

That afternoon, when we returned, DH went to bed to catch up on some sleep (we'd had one of those 3 hour sleep nights before we flew down there) and I rested on the beach with a book before renting a bike and touring around by myself. I went back north to the Palapa Bar with the intention of taking some photos inside as we'd not had our camera the day before. It was too crowded, so i was content to photograph it from the shore. That night we met Jean and Bruce at BC's again before having dinner together, then saying our farewells.

Next morning, we had a 10:00 flight back to Belize City, this time to the municipal airport which, by the way, is a cheaper route than BZE. We chose municipal because we were taking the public bus to the Cayo District and it was only 10 minutes by taxi from the municipal airport. We had the pleasure of flying in a smaller Tropic Air plane--this one a four seater, including the pilot. We and one other passenger got in and away we went. I asked the pilot how long before beverage service would begin, and was informed that it would begin at the end of our 17 minute flight when we landed and could buy our own drinks! He was a very professional guy, and I was grateful. Again, the views were magnificent from the air. The passenger in front with the pilot pointed out dolphins and a manatee from the air. That was neat.

Next installment: Riding the public bus to Cayo District and 4 nights at Chaa Creek. I'll soon have some photos uploaded to go along with the report. Waiting for my snorkel photos and hoping there are some good ones.

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