06 July, 2007

Bright Lights, Big City

We finally made it all the way down to Belize City, or just "Belize" as the locals say it.

The day started with a nice breakfast at Mrs. June's, who had been on vacation in the States for the past two or three weeks. She told us about going shopping in the States - not for clothes, but restaurant tools and accessories. It's nice to see her back and in business again. We missed her.

After finishing breakfast, we drove down to Belize on the Northern Highway. It was so nice to run on a paved road with no potholes, just dodging the occasional sugar cane truck and remembering to slow down (and I mean SLOW DOWN) for speed bumps.

As we were approaching Belize, we came up behind a large pickup truck fully laden with cinder blocks and towing a trailer also loaded with blocks. As we passed them, Dianna hollered that it was Franz (our contractor for the Mennonite house) driving the truck. We waved like crazy and kept on going.

We had talked earlier in the week with Franz about meeting him in Belize at Benny's (more later) since he was working on some new office spaces next to the Radisson Fort George Hotel, in Belize.

After a couple of hours, we got into the outskirts of Belize. Our first mission was to stop at Brodie's - the first US-style store we've seen here. Complete with paved and marked parking lot - of course, many people still couldn't quite master the art of parking between the lines, managing a sort of willy-nilly attempt all the way down the line.

Brodie's sells cat litter - one of those every-day products in the States that seem near impossible to find down here. They have it. We bought 75 pounds of dry litter - three huge bags, and two smaller bags of a new (to us anyway) crystal absorption-type litter. The dry litter (Litter Guard) was selling for $7.50BZ for a 25 lb. bag, and the crystal stuff (Fresh Step) was selling for $23.59BZ per bag. The crystals are supposed to last five times as long as the other... We'll see.

Our next task was to find Duke's Marine, which we did, just a little bit further down the highway. We pulled in and one of Duke's employees laughed at us because we pulled so far into their yard that we had to drive back toward the store, that he had pointed out to us.

Of course, we still didn't understand the directions and overshot it the other way. After parking, he pointed up some stairs to get to the actual store. He still found our ineptitude hilarious. It certainly would have been easier if they'd had a bit larger sign pointing up the stairs... but, who's complaining?

Anyway, we stopped at Duke's to get twenty snaps for British Paul for his boat. Turns out, there's single or double snaps - depending on your fabric thickness. We tried calling Paul on the cell phones, but couldn't get through. Oh well, we decided to bag it and try at the hotel to contact him and maybe make the purchase on the way back to Corozal.

So, we headed back out onto the road to Belize. Thank God I've had a few weeks of experience driving in Corozal. I couldn't imagine being a tourist, fresh off the plane and picking up a rental car to head into Belize City. Narrow streets, pot holes, crazy drivers, crazy bicyclists and motorcyclists, crazy pedestrians, crazy dogs, and traffic signs that may or may not indicate anything, all create an interesting driving experience, to say the least. We did see the first stop lights we've seen since moving here - exciting.

After cruising around downtown for a bit - lost, of course (we wanted to be on the west side of the river and we weren't) we finally found a bridge (not the famous Swing Bridge) to get us across and to the Hotel Mopan. The hotel is a nice, quiet, inexpensive hotel in the southwest side of the city. From there, we walked to Bird's Island for lunch.
Sign on the Way to Bird's Island
Bird's Island seems to be sort of a small, island used as a cultural, educational, and recreational center for tourists and schools. We walked into the island area surrounded by a bunch of kids from the State's who were going to the island for something official connected with their visit. Just not sure what that was.

There's an outdoor restaurant there, with cans of Off strategically placed for patrons use. There were a few mosquitoes there. The place was surrounded by several large pools of stagnant
water. But, we had a good lunch anyway.

During lunch, we managed to call Paul and figured out what size snaps he needed. We'd handle that when we left Belize.

After lunch, we strolled into downtown Belize. Approaching the Haulover Creek, which bisects the town, we were struck by the similarity of the downtown waterfront of Belize with the Carenage of St. George's, Grenada.
Colorful Caribbean Colors Show Off the Belize Waterfront
As we walked up the river toward the Swing Bridge, we passed the local fishing fleet, anchored in the creek and making a picturesque view of the waterway.
Belize Fishing Fleet at Anchor
I'm not sure how boats on the inside would get out, maybe it's not an issue if they all leave about the same time.
More of the Fleet
After a few more minutes we came to the Swing Bridge - so-called, because it swivels from the center, to open up the channel to boats. Different that the Northwest, it only opens once or twice a day for boats - no blowing your horn and having the bridge open up to allow your boat to head on its way. You just line up and wait.
The Famous Haulover Creek Swing Bridge
Nothing ever seems crowded when you're right in the middle of it. the picture below with Dianna looks like she's got the entire bridge to herself.

Dianna Dancing on the Swing Bridge
Thursday evening, we strolled into town, near the Radisson Fort George Hotel, to the Smokey Mermaid, located in the Great House, for a delicious supper. On the way there, we were accosted by a persistent street "guide" who called himself "Prince Charles" and for the longest time, refused to take "no thanks" for an answer. We finally managed to dislodge ourselves from the Prince and were able to continue on to the Smokey Mermaid in peace.

When we finished our meal, it was well after dark, so we took a taxi back to our hotel. It is a big city, after all, with the usual night creatures.

Ok, I couldn't resist one more shot of the fishing fleet. These may look like recreational sailboats, but most of them are actual, working boats. These are the boats used for Belize's fishing industry. Might not be large, but boy, does the fish ever taste good (speaking of which, Cody brought us another Barracuda from his fishermen friends right before we headed down to Belize City).
At the Head of the Fleet
Back at the hotel, Friday morning we enjoyed coffee on one of three of the Hotel Mopan's balconies - one for each floor. An added bonus was this old safe used as part of the balcony decorations.
Hotel Mopan Balcony Decorations
Here's a closeup of the safe. I know Don and Owen will enjoy this. I know nothing about it other than the location.
Closeup of the Mopan Safe
Another decorating touch there were several large coffee urns, used as planters. Probably burnt out and re-purposed into serving as planters. Man, they must have gone through some coffee - there were at least four or five coffee urn planters around the hotel.

After an enjoyable breakfast at the hotel, we strolled the opposite direction toward downtown and Benny's - a housewares and building supplies store downtown. We drifted around in their first floor area thinking that this wasn't quite what we had in mind - a few items displayed, but mostly counters for sales staff to write up tickets, and large shelves in the background. Not conducive to figuring out what sinks and tile you wanted in your house.

Finally, we saw a door with a sign above it saying Showroom upstairs. That was what we were looking for. Sinks, toilets, tile, lights, faucets, counters and more on display.

Franz finally found us and we began serious household shopping. We picked out a toilet and bathroom sink - all white, and tile for the shower, bathroom, and laundry room. After about two hours, we were done. It was time to return to the Mopan and check out.

We said goodbye to Franz, checked out of the hotel and then tried to find a Harley dealer that Elsie had remembered seeing on our way in. We wanted to buy Dianna a helmet for the scooter. We never did find the Harley dealer, but we did find a scooter dealer... naturally, with a bunch of helmets, all too large for Dianna. So we headed out of town, stopping at Duke's again to pick up Paul's snaps.

We decided to head over to Orange Walk on our return to Corozal. There was supposed to be a good-sized motorcycle shop located there.

Pulling into Orange Walk, we were hungry. But not as hungry as the mountain of fried rice, shrimp, and veggies we got at a little Chinese restaurant in Orange Walk. It was enough for lunch, supper back home, and a lunch again.

Checking out the motorcycle shop, it turned out they only had one helmet (too large) and that with a messed up face-guard.

We tried Landy's, the big hardware store in town. They sell scooters as well. No go. Why would you sell motorcycles and not helmets?

We decided a last-ditch effort would be to try Courts, kind of a discount appliance and housewares chain throughout Belize, specializing also in financing same - they also sell scooters. Well, low and behold, they had a helmet too! Of course, getting someone to show it to us was hard. We were about ready to leave when one of the sales people finally came to help.

The helmet fit well, but it's face guard had a bit of a scratch on it off to the side. The manager decided we could have it for a 10% discount. So, Dianna finally got a helmet for $50BZ. Half the price of the one I got in Corozal.

After scoring the brain bucket, we zoomed off to home. As we opened the door, Miss Blue was upset with us again... the kitties had run out of food and she was letting us know she was unhappy.

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