Friday, March 27, 2020

Back in the U.S.A.

Scott and I, masked, in line at the Guatemala airport.
A view of our American Airlines Flight from Dallas to Boston from the front row of
the main cabin where we sat.

Last Sunday we had a video conference call with old friends. We assured them that we planned to stay in Guatemala for some time, probably a month or more. We told our concerned family the same thing. There are very few cases in Guatemala and the President, a doctor, has instituted draconian measures to see that it continues. As I mentioned before he closed the borders early and there were medical check points at the border crossings and ports. Then he closed all businesses but essential ones. Restaurants became take out only. The curfew was at first 6 PM to 4 AM and then 4 PM to 4 AM. 
But starting on Monday the American and Canadian Embassies instituted "repatriation" flights. Several of our friends here at the Marina applied for them: three we are very close to - Rick & Marsha on She Wolf'  Renate & Jim on Emerald Seas and Pat & Dave on Ten Year's After. Rick and Marsha got their confirmation early and it got us thinking. What if things went south here and we were stuck for many months and it didn't look as if the situation in the US was getting better soon. If something happened we'd be away from our family and unable to be with them. So we applied for the flights. A notification that they'd received our request and were being considered came quite quickly. Then on Monday, we got a preliminary assignment to the last of 6 flights going out, Wednesday at 11:38 AM. That was the only one we could make as we needed Tuesday to get the boat ready to leave. We arranged a driver to take us to the airport on Wednesday morning. But when the confirming email came it was for Tuesday at 9:28 AM. There was no way we could make that. We sent emails to everyone we had an address for Monday night. We hadn't heard anything the next morning so Scott made a call to a woman Rick & Marsha had talked to and she promised to look into it. Meanwhile, we worked non stop to get the boat ready. In one day we did what we normally we take many days to do. Tuesday night we got our confirmation! Happily, Rick & Marsha were on the same flight.
We were up at 3:00 AM the next morning and at 4:00 AM our guard at the marina motored us down the river to the public boat dock to meet our driver. There is a curfew here in Guatemala from 4 PM to 4 AM - no vehicles (except safety etc) or people are allowed on the streets or on the water. We have used Otto before and he's great. He delivered us to the airport by 9 AM - a little later than the 3 hour advance we were told we had to make. We had a longish wait at an awful truck accident. Happily, we were greeted by an Embassy person and taken through the large crowd of people waiting outside the airport to the only door in. There our names were checked against a list with our passports. Now here's the only scary and I'll say, really scary event. Marsha and Rick were on the list but they said we were only on a stand by list. They started to move us out into the crowd to "wait". Then Scott remembered the woman he talked to yesterday that said she thought they'd messed up our names out of order. He asked them to check and we were listed as Shay Heather and Garren Scott!!! Thank GOD! At that point, we had no way to get back to our boat.
So we were let into the almost empty airport to a set of checkpoints where our information was checked carefully and we signed a promissory note to pay whatever it cost. One person thought it would be about $600 but time will tell. Meanwhile, a private charter was taking other American citizens home for $1,000 each. That was the situation for the big crowds outside. We hadn't heard anything about those flights to Miami.
Our luggage was checked in and we made our way through an eerie quiet closed airport to our gate. There every seat was taken and many families were on the floor - all trying to keep social distance. Now I haven't mentioned our "masks". Everyone is wearing them but they are quite a funny motley assortment. I have our "regular" mask that the fellow who did our varnishing used! Scott was wearing a paper towel held around his head by a string. Rick had a quite jaunty bandana and Marsha had cunningly sewed half of a bra - looked better than you'd think! 
A long time later (but on time) we were called to board - from the back of the plane to the front. Here's where the best surprise of the day occurred. We looked at our boarding pass and all four of us were seated in first class. Scott and I had the first two seats - marvelous. I think our scary moment earlier and Marsha's numerous calls and emails to Michelle and talking to a wonderful woman Wendy paid off. Several people coming in said "You're the ones Wendy mentioned". Thank you, Wendy. (we'll be sending commendations to both she and Michelle later).
But first class didn't mean first class service. We were given coffee and soft drinks and a choice of sandwich or hummus platter. Unfortunately, the food ran out before they got to the back of the plane - sorry guys!. And we had comfortable and pretty private seating. Once landed (on time) we had an easy time through immigration and customs. Unlike us normally, we booked the expensive Hyatt at the airport. We showed up at the wrong one - who knew there were two Hyatt's there? Because of the virus, the hotel was mostly shut down. There was one nice man at the lobby take out place and that's it. But we got two half bottles of wine and went back down later to pick up a sandwich and salad - all to enjoy in our room. Life was good that evening.
The next day was so much easier than we had ever imagined. Actually empty airports - empty gates and airplanes. We were alone at check-in and got the whole row to ourselves right behind first class (and everyone on the plane could sit alone). We never stood in a crowd but felt always spaced out. We had hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes which I used everywhere but there were signs that they were trying to do a thorough cleaning job. I usually had the ladies' room to myself. 
In Boston, we picked up our one way rental car and there was NO traffic. Imagine. 4 pm on a work day and hardly any cars leaving the city. It was an easy drive home and our youngest son Sean & his husband Will had dinner ready for us. They have been living up here for several weeks, working "from home". So we're here and safe for now. The next two weeks will be a bit scary. Every time you cough, you worry. But at least we could get health care here and in English. Hopefully, we won't need it!!!
Rick & Marsha stayed one night in Dallas and then drove home to Arizona. After we left, Emerald Seas was confirmed on the Canadian flight Friday, 3/27 to Montreal. They flew home to Vancouver Island the next day. Pat and Dave decided not to go (although they could have). Kathy unfortunately, didn't get a confirmation. Hopefully, she will on a later flight. Dave and Ellen are planning to stay until the first of May. They are waiting for Ellen's new insurance to take effect. The rest of the boaters are planning to stay for now.
Marsha celebrated her birthday at the Marina. We all sat around the perimeter of the large veranda and helped ourselves to the food in the center on our own plates. We did get together for this photo however, the "masks" were a joke as none of us had real ones (well, Rick had his gas mask). Heather far left, then Rick - Marsh is in the turquoise shirt at center. Pat and Dave are to her right. 

After Jim & Renate brought Emerald Seas back to the Marina on Monday we stayed on the boat at "Happy
Hour". They sat on the side of their boat and we and Dave & Ellen from Cordelia joined us on our boat. Dave sang and played the guitar. It was a magical night. Jim took these two photos from Emerald Seas. That's Ellen
center under the light.

Anotehr shot. You can see Scott and I far left and Dave in the Captain's chair with his guitar.

The owner of Tortugal, Dapne, has two new puppies - 6 weeks old - named
Patron and Odon. They had their morning walk past our boat.

The cook at Tortugal learned how to make bagels! These were as good as any NY
bagels we've had. As you can see, they are "Everthing".

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Change of Plans!

Well, lots of news. On Wednesday March 11 we heard that Guatemala was restricting access into the country. And the situation throughout the world seemed to be escalating. Plus if the virus spread to Belize, they wouldn't be able to handle it. There are few and mostly basic medical services there. We thought hard and had a sleepless night over the options.
On Thursday, March 12, we checked the boat and ourselves out of Belize and motored all day down to an anchorage off of Livingston, Guatemala, where we enter the Rio Dulce. We were able to anchor just after sundown with several other boats (always a relief).  On Friday we crossed the bar and entered the country. We were extremely lucky because the twice a month high tides allowed us to cross the shallow bar without too much trouble. We still always have to hire a boat to pull us over on our side to get across, but it didn't take long.
We weren't allowed to leave Scott Free until the officials came out on their own boat (with masks and gloves) to check our papers, passports and take our temperatures. We were allowed in because we had only visited Belize after leaving Guatemala in January. (If Belize gets the virus, they'd shut down entry from there too). Guatemala closed their borders to Europeans last week and have added the ban to US and Canadian citizens at midnight on Monday, March 16.  So after one night anchored on the river at Cayo Quemado, we're back at our marina tied up and safe for now. The next question is when to fly home. Our son Joshua, a doctor,  thinks we're better off here. So we're staying put for now. On March 13 the first person to be diagnosed with Oovid 19 in Guatemala was an 85 year old Guatemalan citizen who had returned from a visit to Northern Italy. He later died.
Our friends Emerald Seas and Cordelia were out at South Water Cay, Belize expecting us to join them. We felt awful deserting them, but we have a deeper draft and more need of a high tide, so we felt we had to take off without them. Happily, they crossed the bar on Monday the 16th and will be with us here at Tortugal Marina in a few days. Yeh! Ten Year's After made it back on Saturday the 14th from Roatan and She Wolf and Capraia canceled their plans to go to Belize. So - lots of company here.
Update: Guatemala closed all their borders and the airport two days after Emerald Seas and Cordelia made it in. Many of our friends were stuck in Belize: Lapis, Firefly and My Jo left their boats at Roberts Grove in Placencia and flew home just before Belize closed it's airport.  Fandango, Chickcharne, My Island Queen, Canel, and Kookie Dance are still in Belize as of April 21. And Wahoo and Lianda are still trapped in Honduras. 
Update Dec 2, 2020 - Everyone but Chickcharne, Lapis, My Jo, Firefly, and My Island Queen made it back to the Rio Dulce. Everyone but My Island Queen left their boats in Belize and flew home. My Island Queen never left the boat and continued cruising all year - they had a scary time avoiding the hurricane that hit Belize around Sapadilla Lagoon. Kathleen and Kevin flew back to Belize on 11/25 and are preparing My Jo and Sea Dragon to bring back to the river. Only Scott and Tamara are still at Tortugal, which has been flooded by the two hurricanes that devastated Guatemala this fall. Don and Rosie plan to fly to Belize in a few days but Woody & Judy think they'll leave Lapis in Belize and pay the temporary import duty.
Scott Free at peace tied up at Tortugal Marina in Guatemala.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Land Trip Belize Part II

After our visit to Cahal Pech we walked down to the Iguana Sanctuary at the St. Ignacio Hotel. Iguana eggs and meat are highly prized here in Belize (and fairly easy to come by). This facility provides education to the Belize people and tourists re iguanas. They have numerous females and two lucky males (kept separate) that provide lots of baby iguanas to release into the wild safely. Our guide showed us around the facility and we got to get as close to the iguanas as we wished.
Next, we walked down to Ko-Ox Han Nah restaurant in "downtown" San Ignacio to meet Jim and Renate for lunch. They have meat raised on their own farm and all four of us opted for lamb - lamb liver for Scott and Renate and lamb burgers for Jim and me - all excellent.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing at our Maya Mountain Resort. Scott and I enjoyed the pool and we all enjoyed our dinner with new friends we met there who were celebrating a birthday.
The next morning we were off for our cave tubing adventure. Scott and I did this with Sean & Will last year and were able to find the facility without having to go through a secondary agency. Our guide was fun and there was more water than last year. The three-hour trip was over all too quickly! But it was time to eat again. We stopped at the same local place for lunch as last year and again, enjoyed it. Afterward, it was only a short half-hour to the Belize Zoo and then on to our rooms at the Tropical Education Center nearby. We stayed in the Pine Cabin with 5 rooms with private baths and a shared veranda - very comfortable. The rate of $100 US per couple per night included dinner and breakfast. We had booked in advance for the night tour at the Zoo and that rate was $100 US for 1 to 5 persons. After a typical Belizean dinner of stewed chicken, rice & beans and coleslaw, we were shuttled over to the Zoo and met our guide. We spent about 1 and 1/2 hours wandering around the Zoo at night meeting and feeding the nocturnal animals - which included all the 5 big wild cats here in Belize. They are jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, and margay. The Belize Zoo only has rescue animals that are native to Belize. The zoo was founded in 1983 by Sharon Motola (we saw her several times during our stay). The excellent book "The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, written by Bruce Barcott, documents her fight to save this beautiful bird's only habitat it Belize. Unfortunately, she lost and the Chalillo Dam was built.
Our last morning after a good breakfast we paid a daytime visit to the Zoo before driving back on the Hummingbird Highway to Dangriga. Every month if you are not a resident, you need to recheck with Customs, Immigration and the Port Captain and pay various fees to stay another 30 days. The maximum stay is 3 months. This was accomplished as well as various stops shopping for provisions and hardware, along with an excellent lunch at the beachfront Pelican Resort. We met the taxi driver who rented us the car and he drove us back to the Sanctuary Resort and our waiting boats. Great land trip!
You can get up close and personal at the Iguana Reserve

One of the iguanas climbed up our guide to get
some tasty chaya leaves.

Scott opted for a more distant approach.

The baby iguanas huddle together

Heather kept a bit more distance

Our veranda at the Mayan Mountain Resort

They have a beautiful garden where they grow many of the vegetables for the restaurant next to the pool.

Scott, Jim, Heather and Renate before we start out on our hike up to the place where we begin our tube adventure.

Our guide posing with our tubes.

We crossed the river several times on our hike

We opted for the longer hike which brough us through
a dry cave system.

There were pretty glimpses of the river along the way
and our guide was very knowledgeable about the
vegetation and history of this area.

Our tubes are tied together for the trip

Jim had a waterproof camera so managed a few shots
along the way.

A camera flash briefly illuminated the cave. We all had flashlights attached to our helmets and sometimes we could see the twinkling lights far behind us of another group. It was fun to shut them off at times and experience the total dark.

A coral snake crossed our path during our night tour at the
Zoo. It was not in a cage! They are deadly poisonous and
 there is no known antidote but our guide assured us that
because of their small head, it is difficult to get bitten
by them. Still, it gave us shivers!
All the cats come right up to the edge of their
habitats to visit with us and get fed.
We were able to feed the tapirs but no one
wanted to get real close to the cats.
But they are such beautiful animals.
And so are the birds. We saw wild toucans at the Iguana
They had tons of parrots of all kinds...
But I'd never seen a turkey vulture and they are
fascinating. The mission of the Zoo is to educate
Belizeans about these native birds and animals
as in the past they were killed due to superstition.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Land Trip Belize!

We've been plagued by a series of cold fronts coming down from the north. Every week so far we've had to duck into a safe anchorage while it passes through - either Placencia or Sapadilla Lagoon. As a particularly strong front was coming our way and lasting for several days, Jim & Renate on Emerald Seas and ourselves decided to take a 4 day land trip inland here in Belize and see some new sites. We left our boats in The Reserve Marina and headed off in our rental car. Our first stop was the Blue Hole National Park for a refreshing swim and hike. It's a lovely spot as you can see from the photos.
Next we headed for lunch in Belmopan. Scott and I love to pick a place after reading the reviews on TripAdvisor and we hit a winner this time. We weren't sure at first however as it was very hard to find - being down a pedestrian-only local street with very modest eateries. But the Everest Indian Restaurant was a terrific surprise. It's really not more than a shack but the food and service was unusual. Raj, the owner, convinced us to order "the full boat" and when the bill came to $35 US each we didn't complain (although that was a lot of money here in Belize for lunch at such a place). First, he painted our faces with colorful stripes, then we had an assortment of Appetizers followed by our choices of main dishes, which we could all share. Then a big plate of green leaves with a variety of spices like fennel seeds, coconut and honey were arranged (see the photo). Raj bundled each one up and fed us individually. It took a while to chew and swallow them - but it was fun and cleared the palate. Lastly, we had delicious cups of chai.
There are two "Blue Holes" here in Belize. One is at
Lighthouse Reef and is one of the top 10 dive sites in the
world. The other is a sink hole in a National Park with that
name. We entered at the turquoise blue hole and then
walked up the stream and into the cave. That's Renate on
the stairs leading down.

Jim has a waterproof camera and several of the shots
throughout this blog entry are his. This from's Scott's cell

These artistic cairns were balanced on
several of the rocks.

A charming family joined us and we had fun with their

Here's the four of us on our trip - Heather, Scott, Renate and Jim

Renate and Heather framed by the cave entrance.
Jim getting fed!
We were painted on the forehead, cheeks and
chin with colorful stripes.
Raj with his after dinner "packages"
After our long lunch, we drove north to our hotel for the next two nights in St. Ignacio, near the border with Guatemala. The Maya Mountain Resort was set in a beautifully landscaped garden. Individual bungalows lined the paths and one larger house with 7 rooms. Renate & Jim got upgraded to a big bungalow as their original room was already occupied. We had one of the comfortable rooms in the larger building - all with private baths and airconditioning (if necessary). After drinks on our porch meeting fellow guests, we had dinner at the resort's restaurant.
The next morning we parted ways after breakfast. Jim and Renate took the car to see Xunantunich (which we visited last year with Sean & Will) and dropped us off "near" Cahal Pech. I say near because we couldn't find the entrance and the road was marginal - so we said we'd ask a fellow nearby so "go ahead". After several requests for directions, we finally found the big parking lot and visitor's center. Here's a case where Google Maps had an old location for the entrance on the other side of the property. Scott sent an email with photos to correct it. We were the only visitors that morning and it was rather magical to explore the grounds and ruins by ourselves. There is also a small but nice museum at the entrance with lots of history and information in English.
More info on our trip in my next post.
May of the site.
The small but perfect "ball court"
The site was probably the home for an Elite Maya family
and although most construction dates to the Classic Period
evidence of continuous occupation has been dated back to
1200 BC.
These roofs were reconstructed but represent
 what archeologists believe existed then.

The site is a collection of 34 structures.
The tallest structure is 25 meters high
We walked up and down a lot of steps!
The narrow rooms were due to their not developing
more advance arch technology.
It was truly a beautiful and peaceful spot but sure would
have been different when occupied.