Don't worry, we haven't fallen off the face of the earth, but we have fallen off the face of Belize and landed here, peacefully cossetted in the arms of the Rio Dulce, Guatemala...
Although we've been in Guatemala for over a week now, I feel we should do a little sum up of our time in Belize. I don't like having to make myself think back so hopefully we've learned our lesson and we'll try to keep more up to date in future.
Why haven't we kept up to date? The main reasons would be poor wifi internet connections and maybe just not having much to say. Belize was our holiday so we tootled around in no particular hurry with no particular goal in mind. The one specific hope that I had was to visit the 'blue hole' at lighthouse reef which looked so beautiful in our guide book, but that wasn't to be this time as the weather was inclement while we were nearby. Otherwise our hopes were to have a nice time and enjoy our boat.
This is what we did and how couldn't we? We have been in holiday mode spending plenty of time lounging about, reading, swimming, fishing and sailing whenever we could. The boat looks beautiful but surprising to me there was no-one there to appreciate it. When I say no-one, we met the odd fisherman or lighthouse keeper who were all delightful but in general we had the places we visited and all the space in between all to ourselves.
I hope this continues on our voyages because peace and space is what we crave. Belize gave it hand over fist.
I was surprised by Belize as all I had heard about was her beautiful, threatened and at least partially preserved rain-forests. As we were necessarily on the coast we saw only the tips of the jungle in Southern Belize but cruising Belize was all about the 'Cay' or 'Caye's. These are tiny islands dotted about on her coral reef. Belize has a huge area of reef, the second longest in the world. As these were all a little bit like tropical desert islands we got slightly distracted trying to find the perfect one...
What do you require from a desert island?
What do you require from a desert island?
For us it was no-one around, plenty of sand, coconut trees and a sheltered spot for the boat. Though we found all these things they were never all together and several times we were disappointed to approach an island described as such by our guide book either to find that concrete development and sea walls were being built (Rendezvous and South Long Cocoa Cays) or too numerous times, that all the coconut palms had died out; a very sorry sight.
Ranguana Cay, a contender but a very nervous place to anchor with it's uncharted boulders and rocks.
I've been reading up online about what is troubling the coconut trees. It seems there are two main problems; the rhinoceros beetle and a disease called 'lethal yellowing'. The Asiatic rhinoceros beetle is actually an endangered species but has been thriving in some areas of Belize much to the dismay of farmers and tourism businesses. During it's reproductive cycle the beetle both kills the tree by eating it's growing part then plants it's larvae which feed on the decaying wood, once they hatch they can go on to kill many neighbouring trees.
Perhaps a bigger culprit seems to be 'lethal yellowing' disease which is caused by a phytoplasma type of bacteria which kills the trees quickly and spreads easily but can be stemmed but not cured by antibiotic treatment of the palms. This is why we saw healthy palms on many of the carefully run islands and around villages and towns where people go to the trouble of protecting their trees by frequent treatment. However many remote islands like this one had no such guardian angels.
There are no words for this.
In colonial times Belize was called 'British Honduras', though it has been self governing since 1964, Belize only became completely independent in 1981. With a complicated history involving piracy, slavery and trade in logged timber; notably highly sought after Mahogany, Belize now sustains its high standard of living for the area by exporting crude oil, sugar and bananas. Belize is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with several different indigenous Mayan populations, black Caribbean cultures originating from Africa and many other immigrant populations such as whites from North America, Indians and Asians from Korea and China. Every single general store we went in seemed to be owned and run by these Koreans or Chinese and yet we never saw evidence of them or their cultures anywhere else.
The people or Belize were, excepting the odd customs and immigration officer, incredibly outgoing, friendly and positive in attitude. We were told by a friendly Q'eqchi guy that the interior is empty, they only have a population of less than 320,000 and plenty of space. Another of our highlights of the visit was meeting 'Harry' whilst anchored off his home in 'blue ground range'. He flopped out of the ocean into our cockpit when invited and proceeded to show us the new skill of harvesting a conch from it's shell. This is not a task for the squeamish as they have very cute snail like faces; if it's the food you have available, you learn not to give them time to look at you. His knowledge, company and catch were traded for a snip of rum and a bag of flour, everyone went away happy. Ceviche, a salad we weren't familiar with is very delicious made with conch, lime juice, onion and whatever else you have in; in our case corriander leaves and a red chilli.
One problem we had in Belize was staying afloat. For navigation we were using our cmap computer charts but found them to be at times way off. We also had Freya Rauscher's cruising guide to Belize and Mexico's Caribbean coast. Though this pilot guide was the newest edition available reprinted in 2010 there were several times we found it to be out of date or the charts to be just plain wrong. This meant our navigating was at times tricky to say the least and we're told that the most up to date paper charts are no better. The area just hasn't been thoroughly resurveyed since technology has made things so much more accurate.
It is agreed that a careful bow watch is a must in many of the shallow areas we travelled. Despite this we found ourselves aground a lot. Even when we knew it was going to be shallow and that we were going to be close; it was still a surprise when on the chart and the sketch in the book we should have had 8 feet, we ended up with less than our needed 5ft 7. Seeing it getting shallower whilst keeping careful lookout is not helpful if you have no way of knowing where the deeper water is. Duncan got pretty bored with rowing the anchor out to kedge our way off. This is not something I've mustered up enthusiasm to try as yet but it worked well, as did surveying a way out by snorkel!
The next post will find us up to date, in deep water and amongst mountains again; we hadn't realised we'd been missing hills so much!