One of the features of Belize is its barrier reef which extends for over 100 miles; inside the reef is shallow shoal water with lots of coral heads which make for challenging navigation especially with a 7ft draft. We ran aground many times in our travels through Belize but somehow always managed to get off unscathed. For this reason and strong winds to boot, we were unable to get into Belize City to clear in through customs and immigration and had to anchor off Dangriga, the next town going south, in an exposed roadstead where the anchor dragged one night – it all keeps life interesting and us on our toes!
The harbour in Dangriga, The market on the beach
Dangriga is an unpretentious one street town and was a favourite with Gill probably because of a wonderful little café we found which not only served excellent food but also the most delicious homemade soursop ice-cream. A meal for two here including fresh fruit drinks and ice-cream cost us £7.00.
The Dangriga café. The Garafuno drums – part of their culture
There were also seven hardware stores in this little town and we were able to get much needed boat stuff at a fraction of the cost of a chandlery.
The local butcher at work on his band saw
Oranges on their way to the juicer holding up the Belize city bus
One of the key items was finding a future means of cooking, as filling our European gas bottles which we had last managed to do in Haiti was impossible in either Mexico or Belize and our on-board experiment with a charcoal barbeque was not to be repeated. Belizeans use a US propane system with completely different fittings and gas bottles. However, in one of these little stores we found a little one ring gas cooker and the matching gas cylinders in another – problem solved for £25.00. We have cooked our meals and made our tea on this little one ring stove for the last month. When we get to the Rio Dulce where there are extensive yachting facilities we will change our gas system to the US propane standard and should have no further problems.
– Gill’s account “Six hours on a hot, rickety old bus, sharing (or trying to) a torn plastic seat with an often very large person is probably not everyone’s idea of a good day out, but it was fun and interesting. I knew that Belize City wasn’t the great metropolis but I’d read that the scenery between Dangriga and Belmopan (the uninspiring purpose-built capital) was stunning – and it was – towering mountains, statuesque trees, rivers and vast orange orchards and pineapple plantations. We were slowed many times by the road trains of oranges (just imagine an orange juice accident – very sticky!) The journey from Belmopan down to the coast and Belize City became less interesting by the mile until the land was virtually reclaimed swamp. One sight I shall not forget though was the old cemetery which we drove through the middle of – and I mean through the middle – with the road at one point encircling a central reservation of gravestones – very bizarre! Belize City was all I expected – hot, dusty and fairly nondescript, full of the usual backstreet sellers of all sorts (many Chinese) and hundreds of aimlessly wandering tourists off of the cruise ships anchored offshore with little to interest them once they have been led through the usual assortment of local arts and crafts. I went in search of Fort George but disappointingly only found a new Radisson Hotel. Whilst in search of a bookshop, I was kindly assisted by a helpful young Rastafarian called Will who insisted on being my guide and taking me to the Library (well I did say I was looking for a book!) We parted as firm friends and he returned to his street corner with enough for the day’s lunch and I collapsed in an air conditioned café. After a further three hours of shake, rattle and roll, I ended up on the beach back in Dangriga trying to attract Mike’s attention back on the boat – short of swimming, I thought I was going to be spending the night ashore, but a local fisherman came to my rescue and transported me amongst his nets and anchors back to Romano – adventures all the way!
Nicer parts of Belize City
From Dangriga we set off for the reef and the Cays (pronounced keys) stopping off at a number of these tiny islands (some no more than 400 yards long and 100 yards wide), where we could get in close enough to anchor. These islands were a pleasant change from the mangrove covered islands we had visited in Cuba and Mexico and were more like everyone’s idea of a desert island, complete with coconut palms and white sandy beaches. What the guide books don’t tell you is that you share them with mosquitoes and tiny midges that eat you alive if you are not covered in insect repellent.
Tobacco Cays and the lodges
A birds eye view of Romano at anchor Gill in paradise
We booked into a restaurant in South Water Cay through a lady we met on the beach and duly turned up to eat at 6.30 as requested, ordered drinks and sat at a table. The waiter came over and told us we had to pre-order to eat, we explained we had arranged it with “Barbara”. He politely informed us we were in the wrong place and her restaurant was at the other end of the island so we sheepishly finished our drinks and got back in the dinghy to drive the 300 yards to Barbara’s place. She was there to meet us off the jetty, concerned that our meal was cooked and having seen us go over to the “competition”, who we later found out were not on speaking terms and that they had divided the island with a 10ft wire fence to keep the two apart, very strange! We enjoyed our prawns in garlic but we were the only people in the restaurant, so got lots of attention from Barbara and the staff.
We also visited a lovely little private island called Moho and anchored off the beach. We could see a man raking the beach and went ashore in the dinghy to ask if we could look around.
Pedro at work
Pedro’s assistant at work
The other side of the island
He turned out to be Pedro, a Guatemalan who only spoke Spanish and who lived alone full time on this remote desert island as a caretaker for the owner on the mainland. Every day he raked the beach and filled his wheelbarrow in the company of his bouncy Labrador pup, “Princess”. He loved the life and the solitude only occasionally being visited by cruisers or kayakers. With his permission we toured the island, the other side of which was covered in rubbish, plastic everywhere. He only swept the beach on the inhabited side of the island.
Coming south we visited Pelican Cays which form a ring of islands with a deep centre. We tried to anchor close to the edge of the inside circle but the ground fell away so quickly our anchor just kept dropping off into the depths. After several attempts we found a little mangrove island near the centre where it was so deep close in we could sail right up to the mangroves and tie up to them by swimming the last few yards. Having battled through the mangroves I decided the next line would be easier in the dinghy. The boat was fine and we had a very peaceful night so close in while the wind blew over the top of the island.
Tying up with the dinghy – much easier than swimming
Dramatic sunset heralding stronger winds
In most of the islands we snorkelled out on the reefs but were mostly disappointed by the lack of fish life and the best places were out on the reef itself. One such place was Carrie Bow Cay and here the water was so clear you could see 100ft around you with wonderful coral formations both soft and hard.
Another palm covered island
Another glorious sunset!
We could spend hours just swimming around watching the reef at work. We saw barracuda, grouper, snapper, stingrays, angel fish, parrot fish and many more in our daily sojourns on the reef. Our snorkelling was unfortunately confined to the inside of the reef as the waves breaking on the outside of the reef, where most of the fish life and coral was, was too dangerous unless you were diving and as a result we didn’t see any sharks at all.
Placencia from the anchorage
Wonderful fresh fruit and so cheap
Boys at the bar
Here we had a well-protected anchorage with a number of other cruising and charter boats in the bay. Everyone met up at Yoli’s Bar for live music, a few beers and an opportunity to exchange tales and information with other cruisers. It was here we met George, an American gentleman and one of life’s characters. with a love of travelling to remote parts of the world and we enjoyed his conversation, anecdotes, advice on where to visit and shared dinner together at his favourite restaurant a really nice evening.
On one of our visits ashore Gill was intrigued by a shop selling Lion fish jewellery and went to investigate she talked with the owner, Kadija and a whole story unfolded. Gill did a bit more research and wrote this interesting next piece for the blog
“The Lion Fish threat
Beautiful but deceptively deadly, the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish is terrorising and decimating native reef fish in the warm seas of the Atlantic and the Caribbean.
Following the accidental release of 6 lionfish from an aquarium in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, plus other probable less accidental releases by “enthusiasts”, the population of this non-native species has taken the Atlantic by storm and colonised the seas as far north as Cape Hatteras in the US to Venezuela in the south and throughout the Caribbean, with a devastating impact on the indigenous reef fish population in the affected areas.
The lionfish increase at a prodigious rate, females which reproduce on a monthly cycle throughout the year can tally 2 million eggs in a year. This voracious and aggressive predator can devour whole fish two thirds its own size and its stomach has the capacity to expand by thirty times its original size – obesity even in the fish world! In other words, it’s hoovering up everything in its path, with little chance of being preyed upon itself. Unfortunately, its predators in the Atlantic/Caribbean area are few and not nearly enough to combat the huge growth in numbers, although divers in Roatan marine park, Honduras, are trying to train grey reef sharks to develop a taste for the venomous pests.
In Belize with its treasured UNESCO World Heritage site – the world’s second largest barrier reef – the fight is on to ward off disaster and, if not eradicate this intrusive species which is now too well established, to at least control its growth and minimise its effect.
Divers and fishermen in Belize are collaborating to catch these pirates of the fish world and produce a solution to their control. A market for this tasty, white fish is already being developed in the US and the fishermen are being encouraged to turn their attention towards this intruder and away from the overfished conch and lobster. Their previous fear of the venomous spines is being overcome with correct training in the handling of the fish and the results are benefitting everyone.
An unusual and original cottage industry, still in its infancy but expanding fast, is being promoted by two enterprising young women – the hand production of lionfish jewellery.
Kadija with some of her Lion Fish Jewellery.
They have discovered a way to highlight an extremely serious local problem and at the same time incorporate it into the world of fashion. Kadija Assales who runs the Treasure Box jewellery shop in the pretty little tourist village of Placencia has become a certified diver so that she can spear her own lionfish and gather her materials first hand – she then designs and hand makes necklaces and earrings incorporating the treated and now harmless spines and fins of the lionfish. Her friend, Palovi Baezar in the southern town of Punta Gorda is likewise designing unique bangles and unusual earrings to add to their joint collection. The two girls are doing their bit to bring attention to the lionfish problem whilst, at the same time, bringing much needed new work and skills to their respective areas.
So lionfish of Belize watch out, the fight is on – your spines are being used against you! “
Part 2 of Belize will follow in a few days time.