Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bye bye Belize...

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? 

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!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reef Passes

We're having a wonderful time at the moment; exploring all the cays that make up this tropical bliss. Cruising in the blue waters of these enchanting isles, Snorkeling amongst incredible coral's and generally relaxing.

We're also having to develop a new skill; one of making reef passes. Our first in to San Pedro was generally straight forward. The buoy that was reported to be there, was; the light from a glistening morning sun was behind us and a motor boat came out of the entrance a mile or so before we entered in to it. Nevertheless looking left and right and seeing waves break over reefs as your keel skims over the top of ever shoaling waters; an unnerving experience to say the least.

Our second pass was a little different. It was evening with a blinding setting sun, strong on shore wind and a missing mark. After a little crisis of confidence necessitating another go around we made our second reef crossing. Pin point accuracy, back bearings and transits all seems to play a crucial part in the enjoyment of these islands as do a steely nerve as the depth drops from hundreds of feet to eight in a couple of hundred yards.

The sea settled as we crossed the reef and headed up in to our evenings destination; one of the anchorages off Turneffe island. No sooner than we had crossed the entrance, were we given another big decision; do we eat the beautifully coloured dazzlingly blue fish that we had picked up on our trolling line upon our crossing of the reef? Call me sentimental but I'm just not sure about eating something that looks like an oversized pet. It was a decision resolved as it got off the hook before we got it onboard.

We have a little less than a week to enjoy these cays as we slowly make our way south towards the Rio Dulce. There are simply hundreds of cays and anchorages to explore so there is no way we have time to explore more than a fraction of them. Having worked so hard for so long, its very pleasant to be in such beautiful surroundings. We've for now nothing more pressing than having to decide what to eat for the next meal, whether we should explore the shore or the coral beds.  First, should we finish this chapter of our book, or maybe wait until we've finished the book. The added pleasure is that we seem to have the place to ourselves.  In the last week we have seen five other boats and three of those were all in one anchorage.

Snorkeling has been breathtakingly beautiful. The coral reefs and life around are many and varied. Ruth, who has already seen an eagle ray jumping in a long arc over the sea as we sailed along, saw a turtle placidly going about his way as we snorkeled around the cay in the picture; Carrie Bow Cay. We see dolphins most days and sometimes they swim along with us.

Our provisions have been replenished with a visit to the dusty town of Dangriga. Every day I try to remember my things to do list, but because we have said we're not actually going to do any boat work, I don't have to do any. I'm pushing that really far at the moment by not even writing a list of what I should do. This makes the game of remembering them every day a little like the children's memory game 'I went to the market and bought....' a game I hasten to add, I am spectacularly bad at.

However we have not so long left; in a little under a month we will be back in England and Impetuous will be tucked up safe in the Rio Dulce.  Hopefully some of the jobs will be remembered and completed. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What to eat when the cupboard is bare

Here we are at Carrie Bow Cay about half way down the islands off Belize and our supplies are running thin, so we thought we'd give you an insight into what we eat when we haven't been to the shops for a fortnight...

In England we're used to living without a fridge and as such are used to going to the shops often. Most days on our way somewhere we'll pop in to buy a little something... Of course we also keep our cupboards on both boats stocked with staples such as rice, beans, pasta and lots of canned tomatoes and so we'd never go hungry.

We're down to our last three onions, a small piece of ginger and a bulb of garlic. All the other veg are gone and fruit wise we have a couple of limes and a grapefruit. To be only left with these things is no surprise; it's what we stock up with most, as they last so well and we use them a lot. We've run out of eggs, not because they wouldn't have lasted this long but because we eat so many of them and didn't buy enough.

We haven't been putting any vegetables in the fridge since we accidentaly froze a whole bag of tomatoes! Though we still used them; not good. We also still have half a chicken frozen from Mexico but haven't been in a hurry to eat it; we actually like the vegetarian concoctions we come up with just as much.

So given our food array available we're having muffins for breakfast. Duncan's speciality and great as we don't need the oven to cook them; not a great idea in this heat. These he makes on the stove top in our cast iron skillet; the only ingredients being flour, yeast and water.  We're getting to the end of our jar of marmite but we still have jams given to us when we left Texas (thanks Terrie and Zsu Zsa!)

Last night we had a delicious vegetable satay with our homegrown beansprouts, half a can of water chestnuts and our last pepper. The sauce was made from dried chillis (our fresh ones have dried of their own accord now) onion, ginger and garlic, a pinch of sugar, a dash of fish sauce, soy and tamarind, a handful of peanuts crushed up and a spoon of peanut butter. I'm not of the recipe mindset of cooking so any of these ingredients can be left out, made much more of or other things added, depending on what we have in, or what seems like a good idea at the time; last night some corriander seeds went in too, lightly crushed.

We bought some lovely coconut oil on the last island we were at so we're making popcorn taste more interesting and mixing in shavings of coconut when we make a sweet coating treat. There have been odd scraps of vegetables available for sale at some islands but generally they weren't very fresh, certainly not grown there and very expensive so we've left them.  People here go to shop on the mainland and eat a lot of fresh fish with rice and beans.  We haven't eaten out yet as places we've seen appear to cater for the tourist dollar.  Though we're tourists we don't want to spend that kind of money.

For dinner tonight, unless we catch a fish... we'll have a tomato pasta meal or a chick pea curry.  Duncan has his sights set on a fava bean stew but without any other vegetables I have my doubts...