Friday, February 01, 2008

Back in Belize, with high hopes and empty pockets. Came early intending to work on the new Manadi, but can't do any work until I gt some money, so I am enjoying playing tourist. Went camping for ten with a friend from Tucson. Here are some highlights...

Sailing a double kayak in a lovely NE breeze, we spy a dolphin clearing the water about 100m ahead. So I scratch the hull of the kayak to get his attention. and soon he appears below us in the clear green water. He swims alongside, underneath us for a few seconds, then crosses under us and disappears. We take this as an auspicious start to our trip.

Day 3 Tobacco Range. A cold front has come in and strong NW winds are keeping us on the beach. A fishing boat from the north coast is using our island as shelter from the wind, so the crew come ashore. The Skipper teaches me how to weave a net. We use his net needle and I make a net bag. This is a great skill to have. Later we get some bamboo and carve net needles. Several of us are at work carving these needles, and one suggests a contest to see who can make the nicest one. I have the sharpest knife and so win the contest, not by any skill of my own.

Day 6: We are entering Sittee River after crossing several miles from Billyhawk Cay. Right at the mouth are three manatees, which we watch only briefly before they spot us and disappear. We enter the river, and about a mile in there is a narrow side channel which connects to a lagoon. We pass into the channel and are swallowed up by the forest. The scene about us is magical. We are surrounding by tall tangles of mangrove roots, and enclosed by the forest. Tiny birds flit by so swiftly we can't identify them, and all is still and silent. The silence rings in our ears after so many days of constant wind and waves. We drift with the current and marvel at our surroundings before we burst forth into a large round lagoon and the spell is broken.

Day 7: We are camped on a beautiful sandy beach, with our own dock and picnic area. Through the sparse woods behind us is a lagoon, and a new-built road. In the bush we find a pair of narrow-gauge locomotive wheels, and there is evidence of dredging in the lagoon. We later discover that there is a big marina and housing devlopment planned for this area, but for now we have it to ourselves. Ourselves and millions of nasty biting sandflies. For now the breeze is blowing and we are content to hang our hammocks and make our dinner in peace. But in the morning, after a rain followed by a windless day, we are driven away as fast as we can flee.

Day 9: We are on the Sittee River, at the Riverview Lodge, which for now is just a restaurant and dock, but we are very pleased with the people and the location. We have slung our hammocks under a big thatch, and we have a place to cook our meals and hang our clothes, along with a shower and toilets. This place is perfect for us. The owners are friendly and helpful and plan to build some cabins on the grounds. And camping is only $10 BZE ($5US) per night.

From the dock we watch tiger herons and little blue herons stalk the shoreline. A small black opossum steals by in the night. He is headed to a small channel to drink where he is reasonably safe from crocodiles. Later we see one glide by, about a 10-footer.

In the trees around our campsite we see and hear oropendulas, melodious blackbirds, red-lored parrots, a huge, orange and black iguana, and two keel-billed toucans. The toucans are a real highlight, being such an unusual bird and are a big attraction to the Sittee River area.

We get a couple of bikes and ride up the road, looking for the old sugar mill. A Salvadorian citrus worker helps us find it, and we discover huge wheels and gears buried in the jungle vegetation. By the size of the trees that have grown up in this site, it has been abandoned for a long time. We later learn it was the first sugar mill in Belize, built in the 1830's. We also learn that from here was built a railway to take the sugar to the sea, where it was loaded on schooners. The point of loading was that very beach where we had camped among the locomotive wheels and sandflies. Another mystery solved and a trip worth the effort.

A word about campsites. Much of the coast of this tiny country is privately owned, but we found welcoming people and affordable sites. One such place is Billyhawk Cay, which has a small fledgling resort. For $10bze a night you can camp there and live among Garifuna fishermen. If you don't catch any fish, they will sell you some, and there are nice coral reefs nearby to explore. They also have small rooms available and a bar.

Another spot we found was Castillo's Beach, on the north end of Hopkins. Mr. Castillo let us stay on his beach for $10 bze for the both of us. The beach is very nice for swimming, there is a picnic table and flat ground for a tent or some nice tres to sling a jungle hammock. He also let us use his shower and toilet, in an outbuilding near his house. Right beside his house is Sew Much Hemp, where you can buy natural insect repellent and a variety of hemp-based clothing and other products (not weed). I didn't try the insect repellent, but it sure smells better than DEET.

The last day was a 14 mile paddle from Sittee River to Dangriga against the wind. It was a long day but we enjoyed the challenge and certainly felt we had earned a cold Belikin beer at the end of that day.

See you soon. Cheers