Belize Barrier Reef – Part III: Beach BBQ

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BBC Grill 2.jpg

When we left off, we had fished the morning, catching our lunch, so Medz and Beru navigated us to a little island in the distance, Bread and Butter Caye (pronounced KEY).

BBC Sign

We could hardly believe it as we pulled up.  It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous – like from a movie.

BBC Arrival

Bread and Butter Caye is a private island owned by a family from Minnesota. Dwayne, a retired firefighter, bought the island (he says for a good price) several years ago and developed it.  He spends half the year in Minnesota working his farm and spends the winter on Bread and Butter Caye.

BBC Pelicans 2

He has a deal with Happy Go Luckie tours to let guests visit and cook up their catch, so we had the place to ourselves.

BBC 2

Beru cut up a fresh pineapple for us, and Frank and I explored with big grins on our faces – while pineapple juice dribbled down our chins.

But it was time to get down to work.   There was a make-shift table set right in the water, where Medz sliced and diced the fish, pulled conch meat out of the big shells and broke apart the crab.

BBC Dinner

BBC Fish Cleaning

The pelicans waited eagerly in the water for any scraps. (We also spied stingray and a nurse shark swimming around waiting for left-overs.)

BBC Fish Cleaning (Pelicans)

Medz wrapped the catch in foil packets with some seasoning and turned them over to Beru to grill.

BBC Grill

We set the table and all ate together – a feast of snapper, tuna, conch, and crab – just pulled out of the ocean.  (They saved the barracuda to take home –- we didn’t object!)

BBC Lunch 2

After our amazing lunch, the four of us headed to the hammocks that were scattered around and just soaked in the views.

BBC Hammock

I briefly considered a little snorkeling, but laid my head back down in the hammock, very content to just be there.

BBC Hammock 4

Eventually, we lazily packed up, boarded the boat, did a little sightseeing around a few more cayes, and set off back for the mainland.

What a truly remarkable day!

When we return home, Frank will have hip replacement surgery. When we have tough days at the hospital or in recovery, we will look back on this day and remember the spray on our faces as we pounded through the waves, lying in the hammock watching the turquoise sea, and the taste of just-caught buttery conch.

THIS is what travel is all about.

BBC View 2

Belize Barrier Reef – Part II: Fishing the Reef!

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Snapper 2

We were off to fish the Belize Barrier Reef!

After about a half hour of running through the waves, with the mainland growing smaller behind us, we spied a cluster of cayes (islands) and waves – marking the very shallow water of the Belize Barrier Reef.

Our guide, Medz, explained that before we could fish, we had to catch our bait. So we slowly motored close to the mangroves and among the coral until he spied a school of smallish (3-4 inch) fish.  He instructed or other guide, Beru, to slow down and then, with a flick of his wrist, cast the net.  It all happened so fast – I was amazed.  He did this a few times, catching a couple dozen little fish.  Wow.

With that work out of the way, it was time to troll. The boat had two heavy-duty rods off the back.  He baited them and we started moving toward our next spot, hoping to catch something on the way.

Trolling

Well, it didn’t take long before he yelled, “Stop the boat!” We had hooked something big.  He gave the rod to Frank to reel it in.  Frank slowly and adeptly maneuvered the line, gently pulling in his catch.  Once the fish broke the surface, they yelled “Barracuda!”

Barracuda 1

Barracuda 2

The big fish was at least 2 feet and not happy about his situation. He was thrashing all about with razor-sharp teeth bared.  I jumped up on the seat and out of the way while the men wrangled him onto the floor of the boat.

Beru got it into a bucket , but it still kept raising up and almost jumping out until he knocked it on the head. I just stood there (still on top of the seat) with very wide eyes.  All the men high-fived each other.

Barracuda 3

Whew!  We went back to trolling, and a couple minutes later – another sharp tug.

Frank the fearless fisherman was back at it, pulling and easing this new catch into the boat.  This time it was 14-inch snapper – perfect for our BBQ.  He was easier to subdue, thank goodness.

Snapper 4

Frank has a tradition of kissing his first fish of the day – he decided to count the snapper as the first fish, rather than the barracuda. Smart move!

Snapper Kiss

With two large fish snared, we set about fishing by hand – called hand-lining. This involves a sponge spooled with fishing line and a weight and hook on the end.  You bait the hook (Beru baited mine for me), cast your line until it hits the bottom, and reel in your catch.  It is much less dramatic than trolling – you have to yank when you feel the slightest nibble.

Hand Lining

I caught several fish, but most were too small and had to go back. But still fun.  Frank and the guys caught bigger fish – including tuna – that we added to our BBQ bucket.

Christy Fish

Finally, it was snorkel time. Medz and I jumped in.  He was off to catch a conch and crab for us, while I snorkeled the reef.  The bottom was so vibrant – one group of coral head after another.  I could have swum around all day.

Christy Snorkeling

Medz had incredible luck and picked up 2 giant conch shells and a big crab – free-diving.

(If you look closely, you can see the crab scrambling to get away in the bottom of the boat!)

Conch Fishing

We set off for lunch at Bread and Butter Caye – where we would cook our catch!

Stay tuned for Part III.

BBC 2

 

 

 

 

The Belize Barrier Reef – Part I

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Underway - Frank

We had quite a weekend and finally made it out on the water to visit the Belize barrier reef and local cayes (islands). This blog entry will be three parts because there is so much to show and tell.

Part I – Happy Go Luckie Tours

Belize has a Great Barrier Reef that runs from Mexico down to Honduras. It is the second largest reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and runs over 580 miles.  It sits about 30 miles off of Hopkins and famous for diving and snorkeling.  The Smithsonian even has a research station on one of the islands right off of Hopkins.

There are a number of boat operators that will take guests diving, fishing, or snorkeling. We asked around, and everyone kept recommending Happy Go Luckie Tours.

They were fabulous! They are owned by a local Garifuna man named Luckie (hence the name) and his Canadian wife, Cheryl.  They met when she visited, fell in love, and eventually she moved down here.  They run their office out of a shipping container – which we thought was very clever.

HGL Office

We hired a boat to ourselves for a full day of fishing, snorkeling and even a beach BBQ.

We met up with our guides – Medz and Beru – both who grew up in Hopkins. They loaded the boat, told us our options, and said we could help plan what to do – it was our day.

Fishing Crew

Then we took off down the Sitttee River to the Caribbean Sea. This is going to be fun!

Sittee River

Underway - Me

 

 

Hamanasi

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Hamanasi.jpg

One of the nicest resorts in Hopkins is called Hamanasi (which means “almond” in the Garifuna language). It is the “Greenbrier” of local resorts, and it seems like people talk about it in hushed tones.  We decided to check it out for lunch today.

So off we went in our little golf cart – and turned into a wonderland.

As I’ve said before, the Hopkins roads are a little rustic. So we went from this:

Our Street

To this:

Hamanasi Road

We started to get a little nervous – would they even let us in?

As well continued down this very well-manicured path, we spied signs that even warned of crocodiles!

Hamanasi Crocs

But we putt-putted on. Eventually, we came to a guardhouse.  We told the security guard we were there for lunch and half expected him to turn us away, but he waved us through.  We looked at each other with raised eyebrows and smiled.

We parked our little golf cart next to a fancy looking Range Rover and packed up our gear. It rains a lot here – and very suddenly – so when we travel by golf cart, we carry a recycle grocery bag with a towel (wrapped in a garbage bag so it doesn’t get wet), bug spray, and our rain jackets.  So we definitely looked like “country come to city” when we set off down the path.

Bag

I have to say, Hamanasi lives up to its reputation. It really is gorgeous.

Hamanasi Veranda

The gardens are beautiful, with signs explaining the plants, the main house is scattered with deep chairs that look perfect for relaxing on the veranda, and the pool sits next to the ocean, with large dive boats docked and ready to whisk guests to the Blue Hole.

Hamanasi Grounds

We tip-toed through – trying to look like we belonged and hiding our grocery bag the best we could.

We found the restaurant – a lovely open-air space upstairs overlooking it all – and to our relief, they seated us.

Hamanasi Lunch

Hamanasi Lunch 2

We thought we looked pretty normal compared to everyone else.  The food was delicious – we had fresh pineapple salsa, fish tacos, and white wine.

And then our waitress asked very nicely and with a twinkle in her eye, “Shall I put this on your room – or are you guests?”  We confessed that we were guests, but were so excited to be there, they seemed happy to have us.

We may even go back for dinner this week! (But we may leave the rain bag in the golf cart this time!)

Hamanasi Us

Love On The Rocks

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Rocks 2.jpg

Tonight we went to a very cool (or I guess I should say HOT!) place for supper – Love on the Rocks – where we cooked our dinner on lava rocks. How brilliant is that?

The restaurant is owned by Chef Rob, who has a sister restaurant in the same place that is widely known as one of the best restaurants in Belize. They serve a 4-course menu for $59 Belize (about $30 US) that includes soup, salad, entrée, and dessert – very gourmet with lovely presentation.  It is open-air and right on the water with a gorgeous view.  We ate there last week and did the regular 4-course menu, with pork tenderloin in tamarind sauce as our entrée.

This week we were up for the adventure of cooking our own dinner. We selected surf and turf – freshly caught Caribbean shrimp and steak from Amish-raised cattle.

Out came a sizzling black lava stone – 700 degrees!

Along with our shrimp and steak, there were vegetables, potatoes, and a trio of sauces (curry, sweet and sour, and garlic butter).

Rocks 3

Our server taught us how to cook our fare – experimenting with the different sauces.

Rocks

We cooked our shrimp and steak to perfection – and then added the veggies and garlic butter for a spectacular stir-fry.  I had so much fun cooking that I forgot to even drink my wine!

One of our favorite experiences so far.

Making Mayan Chocolate

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Chocolate Factory

From Weekend:

Did you know that all chocolate originates from this region? The Mayans were the first to discover the benefits of the cacao tree.  Christopher Columbus brought back this wonderful treat after visiting Central America – and eventually cacao trees were exported to other places.

Today we learned their ancient secrets and even made our own candy bar!

We first visited a cacao farm. This is a small-batch organic farm that produces about 5,000 pounds of cacao beans a year.  They pride themselves on doing everything by hand – the original way – with no outside influences or pesticides.  The farmer says his dog is his best tool – chasing the squirrels and woodpeckers that feast on the cacao fruit.

Cacao Farm

Above is what the cacao fruit looks like to start.

The farmer then opened the fruit and showed us the beans inside – they are surrounded by a pulp that tastes like citrus. We each pulled one out and sucked on it to find out.

We next moved to the “factory” – really a family’s compound, where the leader of the chocolate-making uses the same techniques his mother taught him when he was 13 years old.

Chocolate Factory 2

First, they harvest these pulp-covered beans and let them ferment (the pulp helps with that). Then they roast them over a fire pit.

Then, they break them open and separate the shells from the “nibs” inside. He saves the shells to make tea.

Cacao Nibs.jpg

The nibs are essentially chocolate. Under the Mayan technique, they grind the nibs to create a liquid.  Our teacher still uses the same lava stone that was passed down from his mother.

Chocolate Grinding

We each took our turn at grinding.

Chocolate FAV

Chocolate CAT

When ground, the nibs release cacao oil, which is what creates the liquid form. This cacao oil also is saved to make “white” chocolate – which is just cacao oil and sugar.

Next, as a group – we decided what percentage of dark chocolate we wanted. We decided 80% – so he added about 2 tablespoons of cane sugar, and we ground some more.

Then he poured the liquid chocolate into molds and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Chocolate Bars

And the best part – we got to taste the result of all that grinding! It was amazing.

Chocolate Bars 2

Most commercial chocolate also includes some type of paraffin so it doesn’t melt and has a longer shelf life, but you can’t beat this rich Mayan chocolate made by hand with organic cacao beans. Yum!

Cacao to Chocolate

Happy Birthday Frank!

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Fisherman

Today we are celebrating Frank’s birthday!

He started the day with his favorite pastime – fishing.  In the picture above, he’s showing me how big his catch was.

And even more exciting – it was a barracuda!  (He says about 16 inches.)

Barracuda Fishing

To continue our celebration, we golf carted over to the marina for a delicious lunch overlooking the Sittee River.

Bday 2

Happy Birthday to my favorite fisherman!

 

Garifuna Drumming

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Drums

Our little village of Hopkins is the home to the Garifuna people – and tonight we got to share some of their culture.

They have a very interesting history. In 1635, two slave ships from Nigeria shipwrecked off of St. Vincent in the Caribbean.  They integrated with the people there and became known as Black Caribs.  England had its eye on St. Vincent and tried to force them out, to no avail, for over a hundred years.  The Garifuna were aided by the French, but finally the English won.  They hunted down the Garifuna, destroying their homes, killing many, and deporting the survivors eventually to Roatan, an island off of Honduras.

A few years later, the Spanish took over Roatan and sent 150 Garifuna men to Belize as laborers.  A mass migration of the remaining Garifuna from the Honduran Island to the area surrounding Hopkins, Belize occurred in 1832, known as Garifuna Settlement Day.

The Garifuna are now recognized as one of the primary ethnic groups in Belize, along with Mayan and believe it or not, Amish (more on that later). The United Nations recognized them as a World Heritage Culture in 2002.

They have worked hard to maintain their culture and pass down their religion, language, customs, and music – similar to the Gullah in South Carolina.  Most actually speak Garifuna as a first language.

They are famous for telling stories through drumming and have a drumming center in Hopkins. Their drums are locally made of mahogany or mayflower wood.

Drumming 3Drumming

We were lucky enough to see them at dinner last night. What a special chance to share a bit of their history.

Jaguar Reef Dinner

(By the way, the dinner was at the Jaguar Reef Resort, which has an excellent dining room overlooking the ocean – Franks says the best pasta so far this trip!)

Jaguar Reef

 

A Belizian Valentine

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Lucky Lobster 2

We decided to celebrate Valentine’s at a local favorite, the Lucky Lobster.

Lucky Lobster 3

It is an open-air place that is run by a couple from Maryland, believe it or not!  They hail from St. Mary’s County (around Solomon’s Island) and moved to Belize about 3 years ago to open a restaurant.  They chose Hopkins because it was so friendly.

Lucky Lobster 4

We were super lucky because Valentine’s night also coincided with the last day of lobster season – so the Lucky Lobster went all out with a 5 course menu – 4 of them featuring lobster!

We had:

  • Lobster Tart
  • Lobster Bisque (accompanied by heart shaped bread)
  • Lobster Salad
  • Lobster Mashed Potatoes
  • And Finally – grilled lobster tail with drawn butter.

It was unbelievable!

LL Bread

The only thing that could top all that was the 5th course – chocolate mousse made from locally grown organic cacao.  Wow.   (And all this for $80 BZ per person – $40 US!)

Our fabulous meal was accompanied by a jazz pianist – who happens to be a retired family doctor from Maine who lives down here now (we learned this from his wife – the lady in the red dress below). What a wonderful community!

LL Piano

We stared dreamily into each other eyes and declared our love all over again – although it could have been the lobster talking! : )

Valentines

Lucky Lobster

 

 

Chores in Paradise

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Chores

We have been here a week and a half and are settling into a routine. Even in Paradise, there are still chores.  Here are a few of ours:

  • Work –  I am working remotely from here.   I have my office set up in the guest bedroom, where I have my most-used regs (HIPAA, wellness, claims) with me.  I do have to move to the bedroom for conference calls because the reception is better.  I have already had 10 calls since we’ve come, so things seem to be working out.  You never know when you set up shop in a foreign country, so I’m greatly relieved.
  • Water – We have been warned that the water may contain parasites. We had to get all kinds of vaccines and were told to only drink bottled water (no ice cubes even).  We have these huge 5 gallon containers set up, so one of our chores is to keep up with them and periodically switch them out – which sounds easier than it is!  This involves taking the top off and turning it over as quickly as you can to go on top of the base before water spills out – definitely a two-man job.
  • Vegetables – And since the water is unreliable, we have the quandary of how to wash vegetables. The guidebook warns to not eat any salads or vegetables with skins because they have been washed in tainted water.  We do have a purification system at the house, so should be ok, but we still want to be careful.  So Frank – ever the rocket scientist – has developed a system.  We thoroughly wash vegetables in sink water (purified so should be ok) – then we soak them in a mixture of water and iodine, which is supposed to further cleanse them.  We have two drawers in the refrigerator – one for “dirty” vegetables and one for “clean.”  Pretty ingenious!

Chores - Vegetables