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Archive for the ‘Belize’ Category

Gunshots in Punta Gorda

Posted by Peder on 22 July 2009

I wasn’t sleeping well anyway so the racket didn’t wake me up. In fact, among the various crashes, loud noises and blaring car stereos along Main St. this particular rumble wasn’t really that loud. But it was distinctive. Something had crashed into the metal garage-style security door that the shop owner rolls down each night to close off the main entrance to his store. Some glass shattered. I rolled over and peeked my head up to look out the second story window behind my bed that looked out onto the street. I picked my glasses off the night stand. Footsteps hurried as a gunshot rang out. Two figures came flying by my frame of reference as another shot rang out. They were running left to right. Near the right (south) side of my building one of them ducked between it and the building next door presumably disappearing into the yard behind our house and the store beneath us. The other runner kept running down the street. A police officer appeared next to the left as he followed the two young men who had just past. He carried a small pistol in his right hand. As he approached the point were the two had split up, he gave a wary glance into the small alleyway but ultimately continued down the street.

Moments passed. They may have been minutes. By this point the other guy sleeping the room, Harry, was awake and watching the scene unfold with me. He had been woken by the gunshots. A police car came in from the right side, lights spinning but without a siren. Didn’t seem like he had seen that second runner. A police officer appeared from the left. He looked an awful lot like the first cop that gave chase, but by reappearing so quickly where he did, he must have circled the block awfully quickly. Maybe he found a little alleyway too. In any case, he hadn’t seen either of the two men he was chasing. (The houses and shops in this area of town are packed relatively close together, but the fences don’t always match or completely encircle each property. Meanwhile there are a bunch of trees and houses, and half-built and half-fallen down buildings. There are a lot of places to hide.) By this point the two new officers had gotten out of their car and joined the first officer on the street directly under my window. One carried a shotgun and the other had a pistol. They split up to search.

As it turns out, I would be the first person to find one of the burglars. I stepped out of my room to check the locks on the front and back doors. There’s a large balcony/veranda surrounding the house which is accessed by these two doors and the stairs to one section extend down to near where the first man ran. As I approached the front door I saw him. I stopped dead in my tracks. He was lying on the cement floor staring out toward the street through the pillars of the railing. Hardly more than the top of his head would be visible from the street, but I saw all of him. He was watching the officer patrolling the lot across the way. I quickly went back into my room and told Harry what I saw. We decided to flick the bedroom lights on and off to get the cop’s attention. Meanwhile I snuck back toward the front door and yelled in my loudest, deepest voice, “GET OUTTA HERE! JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!”

Actually I couldn’t see the guy any more which spooked me further. I went back to the home owner’s bedroom to wake him. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t up already with all the noise, but it turned out I needed to give him a pretty good shake to get him up. He was sleeping a lot better than I had been.

“Jerry,” I said, “we have a situation. There were gunshots, I think there was a robbery next door and one of the guys in on the front veranda.”

He got right up and walked toward the front door. He picked up the machete he kept by the front door.

“That’s what this is for,” he remarked.

He picked it up and walked right up to the window that looked onto the veranda. The window where I had first seen the man. Turns out he had moved to right underneath the window such that you had be standing right next to it to see him.

“Get the f*** off my porch,” demanded Jerry.

“There are guys shooting at me,” said the intruder, who turned out to be a young man around 18-20 years old.

“I don’t care,” responded Jerry, “go tell that cop down there.”

So the boy stood up, raised his hands and told the officer he was coming down. I followed out onto the balcony and saw him kneeling while the cop put handcuffs on him.

The other officers returned and they interrogated the boy. They brought him back to the police station which was only a block away. Then they returned and continued the search for the other suspect in our backyard, presumably based on info from the first guy. Yikes. The three of us watched from various points on the veranda for another 20 minutes or so, but that was the last of the action. Couple of flashlight beams here and there, a random dog barking, and eventually the police car carrying a couple officers back to the neighborhoods behind us said the search was still on, but I’m not sure how it ended. I hope they caught the other runner.

This would be spooky enough in isolation, but unfortunately there’s been an increasing number of recent burglaries. A few weeks back a tour operator managed by a friend was broken into. They lost a laptop and cash. On Monday some other friends’ house was robbed as the two were out to dinner around 8pm. That was spooky because the assailants came in through the front door which is very exposed to the street. At 8pm. Word on the street was there were a lot of robberies that night. A helicopter with a large search light was even brought in to comb the area. And just today that very same Harry I mentioned was assaulted by a masked teenager who threatened like he had a gun in his belt while Harry was teaching a classroom full of summer camp kids learning about the environment. That happened about 15 miles out of town in one of the many Mayan villages nearby. It’s safe to say crime is on the rise in Punta Gorda.

Unfortunately the cops can’t seem to do anything about it. Of course, watching the way they handled any of these situations would lead you to believe they really don’t know what they’re doing — or don’t care. The refrigerator in that tour operator was left open by the burglars, but the cops didn’t even go near it as they dusted the office for finger prints. The case on my friend’s house is hung up because the officers don’t know how to fill out some of the reports that need to be filed. The case is being transferred to a precinct in the capital city for that very reason and none of us are holding our breath for it to be resolved. And even though the cops have three eyewitnesses to the incident that required two rounds to be fired from a gun, none of us have been asked to give a report.

Welcome to Punta Gorda, the wild wild South of Belize. Come armed.


Posted in Belize | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Sapodilla Cayes, the String of Pearls and Swimming with Whale Sharks

Posted by Peder on 19 June 2009

Last week I went on a dive trip to the Sapodilla Cayes (Hunting Caye) with some friends. A late night, nearly last minute decision that lead to one of the coolest experiences of my life. (Similar to my decision to move to Shanghai.)

Dive Prep

Dive Prep

Our first dive was to be an easier affair and a chance for us to re-acclimate ourselves with diving. There were a few divers who hadn’t been in the water in a while. Not me though, I recently got certified. I saw a very large green moray eel and a spiny lobster on the dive. There was also a section of rock with large coral colonies that had fallen off during the recent earthquake (7.3 mW off Bay Islands, Honduras, June 2009). I swam in a couple crevices and regained some proficiency with my buoyancy.

When we came in from the dive we cleaned up and immediately started on some dinner that our host was making. It wasn’t just for us. An upscale time-share group called Tradewinds had moored two large catamarans off the caye and brought about 20 guests onto the island. Our host had a weekly contract with them to provide a few dinners and a presentation on wildlife around the reef, and provided us our opportunity to dive. Because our departure from shore had been delayed a bit and because of the length of our afternoon dive, we had precious little time to get the four courses ready for the guests. Everyone helped prepare the dinner. Meanwhile, we prepared for our night dive.


Sunset on the Caye

Sundown was a beautiful vision on the caye. Looking west where paradise eventually reconnected with land, the sun touched down on the Caribbean lagoon with a bath of reds and oranges, magentas and yellows. Once the sun was below the horizon we were ready to look for the “String of Pearls” phenomenon. This is one of the more rare sites for any diver to encounter. In select few places around the globe around the time of the full moon, if one were to venture onto the water in the period after sunset and before the moonrise, they would see one of the most peculiar displays of bioluminescence on this Earth. Once we were underwater and accounted for, we gathered together and shut off our lights. Slowly and all around us, new young star constellations began appearing in the water. Some were close, and some were far away. After just a few minutes the water was transformed into a young Milky Way galaxy as thousands of small lights surrounded us. But these three-dimensional constellations were actually small critters. (Here’s one explanation I found for it.) The effect was amazing. The lights seemed to cascade down – newer dots lit below older ones – as the whole array appeared to move upward. It was difficult to tell if the upward movement was real or just a visual effect caused by the wriggling shimmer of the light bearers, but seeing this behavior – this String of Pearls – was awe inspiring, utterly poetic in an underwater universe.

The String of Pearls wasn’t the only amazing visual that evening. Water, or perhaps saltwater, is inherently phosphorescent and small air bubbles produced by regulators, fin kicks or a hand being swept side to side produces small, glowing orbs which you can watch float to the surface. Light from our flashlights attracted small one-inch worms ranging in color from tan to blue which would swirl around in our light beams. Benign as they were, those little creatures were spooky in their voracious swimming and we had fun moving our lights onto each others’ arms to bring the swarming masses ever closer to our dive buddies.

That evening, when the diving was done we sat down to enjoy some of the dinner we helped prepare and shared our stories with some of the Tradewinds guests. We relaxed and enjoyed a peaceful night on a tropical paradise. I slept outside in a hammock that night and had a wonderfully restful night.

Let's go diving!

Let's go diving!

It’s a good thing I got a good meal and an even better rest because the next day would prove to be one of the most memorable days of my life. We planned to make one dive that morning and then head back to town around midday. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon and homemade tortillas we got our gear ready and headed back to the reef.

Lime Caye Wall (link, scroll down to “Sapodilla Cayes”) was a fantastic dive site. About 20 feet below the surface was the reef, full of corals, trigger fish, parrot fish and small to medium snappers. As you swam to the east the reef wall dropped around 100 feet as the continental shelf started to drop into the open ocean. Two of the divers immediately took off down that wall with their cameras. Of their various photos, one of my favorites was a video of a green moray eel who was sharing a small cave with a spiny lobster. (Seen below.) The rest of us stayed closer to the top of the wall, but as far as we ever were from the other two, we could always see their bubble streams. Visibility must have been over 100 feet.

Actually I didn’t really stay on top of the reef wall the whole time. I was anxious to see the side of the wall so I swam down along side of it. That’s where some of the larger fish were hanging out. I swam over a coral head through the middle of a school of dog snapper and explored under some of the ridges in the wall. Meanwhile off to my left was the open ocean – any matter of creature could have been out in that blue abyss, including the largest fish in the world.

My depth gauge was apparently malfunctioning. My whole time along the wall it never recorded a depth lower than 25 feet, though our dive master said we were closer to 60’. Around the midway point of the dive my equipment had another malfunction. My secondary second stage – affectionately referred to as “the octopus” and used as an emergency air supply if a buddy runs out of air or if the primary mouthpiece malfunctions – began to “free flow,” uncontrollably spewing air upward. The dive master and I both looked at it underwater, and after exhausting the PADI-approved techniques as well as the “hit it until it behaves” broken TV technique, we agreed the only solution was to hold it mouthpiece-down through the rest of the dive, as if I was navigating with an underwater compass. That stopped most of the leak, though it continued to expunge air whenever I exhaled. As a result, the deeper portion of my dive was over, as I stayed closer to the surface so as not to run through my remaining air at too fast a clip.

Due to the lost air from the octopus free-flow, I had to end my dive earlier than the rest of the group. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with the dive’s result. It was a beautiful location and it was my last dive in the foreseeable future. To have it shortened by malfunctioning gear was a bit hard to take. So fun is diving that anything that takes it away from you equates to a major buzzkill.

After the rest of the group surfaced we headed back to the island. En route the captain saw a congregation of birds over the open sea. As we approached we also saw the “boil” that indicates tuna feeding. According to the more experienced naturalists on board these were telltale signs of whale sharks feeding and we maneuvered the boat closer to look for the fins that would confirm their presence.

Whale Shark

Whale Shark

I was told to put on my mask and fins in anticipation of finding the gentle giants. Once they were confirmed we immediately dropped into the water. I entered on the port side of the boat looking past the bow and immediately saw a whale shark vertical in the water. To the right was another animal in a horizontal position. When I came up for air I yelled, “There’s two of them!” Someone else yelled, “There’s a third!” When I went back under I looked to the starboard side of the boat to see the additional shark. I was amazed. The water was littered with chum – the bits of baitfish that had been shred by the sharks and tuna. Both bonita and the larger yellow fin were present. I spent a minute or so sitting under water, surfacing for air and watching the mêlée in front of me. I looked down. Below me was only unfettered blue, streaked by the occasional tuna tens of meters below. Light streaked upward from some unknown horizon point in the depths. As I would later think about the experience, I was surprised by my lack of fear for swimming in the open ocean next to a feeding frenzy. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins.

At one point one of the sharks started swimming toward the stern of the boat on the opposite side of the boat from me. I shadowed it from the port side and eventually found myself behind the boat with the beast a mere ten feet from me. For one reason or another it made a hard, right hand turn and aimed itself directly at my position. I froze. What should I do, I wondered. I decided I wasn’t going to move, I was going to let the animal dictate the situation. So I went up for one more breath and re-submerged my face in the water in the classic “dead man’s” float. The whale shark – a juvenile at around 20 feet in length – swam toward me. I could see its small beady eyes fix their gaze on me. And then I remained motionless as it coolly swam directly underneath me. I was paralyzed in excitement. As its head passed underneath I reached out my right hand and grazed the top inch of its dorsal fin as it passed. I touched the whale shark!!

Say "Cheese!"

Say "Cheese!"

I gave a light kick so as to get out of the way of the animal’s massive tail fin which I hoped wouldn’t hit me. The animal must have been diving because we missed each other as I remained on the surface. I popped up and screamed my excitement to the group. Two of them had been nearly as close themselves. Neither had touched an animal, which is the appropriate protocol around these passive creatures. In fact, it’s illegal to touch them and molestation of the animals can come with a BZ$10,000 fine. But as I explained, the animal swam toward me and I simple extended a hand to see how close it truly was to me. (Diving masks magnify underwater visuals and it can often be difficult to accurately gauge size and distance below the surface.)

The Beast Approaches!

The Beast Approaches!

I swam over toward the rest of the group on the starboard side of the boat. As I looked back at my whale shark I saw a silhouette of a more traditional shark in the distance. Swimming at a depth of perhaps 15-20 meters, it had a rounded body around 10-12 feet long, an extended top pectoral fin and it was swimming away from me. In later conversations, others would speculate it was a lemon shark, though it could have also been one of the more common reef sharks found in the area. The other two whale sharks were still off the starboard side of the boat and I joined my companions to watch them. Immediately off to our right we saw a large manta ray gently gyrating its wings through the water about a meter below the surface. What a menagerie!

As the feeding frenzy moved away from us we boarded the boat and recounted what we had seen. We then waited about 20 minutes and set out for another swim with the pelagic predators. The second time we entered the water we only swam with one whale shark, but it was a true behemoth and was clearly a full-grown adult. It was hard to say whether that was the fourth animal we had seen or part of the original three, as it had been hard to track each animal as the bait ball dissipated and moved away from us. I used my fins and a freestyle swim stroke to come up to the animal at an approximate 7 o’clock position a few meters off its tail. It was swimming fast and quickly eluded us. But it was of little matter … the experience was set. We swam with whale sharks!

Posted in Belize | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Saga of the Red Truck

Posted by Peder on 3 June 2009


Back in January an acquaintance of mine, let’s call her “Kacy,” had a red truck and a boyfriend, and all was right with the world.  The truck was beat up and scruffy looking, but it never broke down and the four-wheel drive got Kacy out of any muddy trouble she could get herself into.

The boyfriend was equally endearing, though significantly easier on the eyes.  He dressed well and always had a snappy compliment for whomever he was speaking with.  Trained as an electrician, he scored major “boyfriend points” by fixing Kacy’s mom’s refrigerator and anything else that would go on the fritz.  And in muggy Belize, there’s no shortage of electrical equipment acting up.

Who's scruffy looking?

Who's scruffy looking?

As was the custom, Kacy and Mr. Right lived together.  Though it’s common for unmarried couples to live together in many parts of the world, the phenomenon reaches new heights here.  Truth is many couples choose to never get married even after years of cohabitation and multiple children together.  It’s hard to say why this happens, but the fondness both genders have for affairs outside of their main relationships certainly must add to the trend.  There’s no shortage of this.  Both women and men will openly talk about new flings they have with people who are not their “baby mama” or “husband.”  More to the point of how loose these relationships are, the words “husband” and “wife” are used loosely and frequently attributed to common law arrangements, or even boyfriends and girlfriends who have been dating for, say, more than six months.  Clearly the laid back indifference of the Caribbean extends to Belizean relationship labels.  But I digress.

Kacy and Mr. Right were living together at her home.  Many of his clothes hung in her closet, his tools were there and his car sat outside next to her truck.  All was right with the world.  But this all changed one April day when Mr. Right borrowed Kacy’s beat up red truck to run an errand that required the 4×4 capability his sedan couldn’t provide.  And he never returned.

No note, no phone call, no nothing.  Mr. Right was Mr. Gone.  He vanished, and he took that reliable pickup truck with him.  Kacy’s reaction was equally amazing/perplexing as she didn’t complain or do anything (substantial) about the disappearance for two months.  Sure, she tried calling him, but he never answered her calls and she never persisted any further.  She simply lived her life and drove his car around town in his absence.  He couldn’t be gone for long if he left his car and belongings at her house, could he?

Fish needing a monger

Fish needing a monger

Well after two months it started looking like he could.  Kacy started to worry so she put in a call to his mother.  She said he had two days to check in with her or she would call the police.  In the meantime she checked with the company he claimed to work for and learned he had been employed there … three years earlier.  A little more investigation found that he had not just the two kids he admitted to, but six.  With three mothers.  Things started stinking worse than the Saturday fish market.

After the two day window, a call to the police provided a lot of clarification.belize-map Turns out Mr. Gone had been previously incarcerated for auto theft in Belize City, and he had a current warrant out for his arrest in Corozal.  (Charges were unspecified.)  He was due in Corozal court this past Monday, so if Kacy put in a formal complaint against him the police would extradite him back to Punta Gorda after his hearing.  And they’d bring the truck too!  Things were starting to look up.  Kacy would get her truck back and get this loser out of her life forever.  She’s been all smiles all week!

Then this morning she found out the police officer driving her truck to her – with Mr. Wrong along for the ride – flipped the vehicle in transit.  Mr. Wrong and the driver are in stable condition, and another cop who was riding in the bed is in critical condition.

The truck was totaled.

Posted in Belize, Stuff That Gave Me Pause | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Neighbor Boy

Posted by Peder on 26 May 2009

This is Khalid (aka Junior) and he’s three years old.  He lives next door to me down here in Punta Gorda.This photo was at the local laundry where I had some things washed.  It was a hot mid-morning on a Saturday and a bunch of the local kids were playing around the store where their mothers worked.  But little Khalid was all tuckered out.

khalid 2

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I’m a certified SCUBA diver

Posted by Peder on 22 May 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here but I have two new things to share that I’ve been excited about and that lead to a new post.  First off, WordPress allows you to post by email now, making posting that much easier.  Secondly, I am now a SCUBA diver.

I can’t believe how much fun it was to be out in the water the last couple days.  On each day I went for a morning and afternoon dive, exploring the waters around West Snake Caye, here in southern Belize.  The water temp was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, visibility was around 20 feet (lots of rivers dump into the area), and there are small reefs surrounding each of the small islands.

After three classroom sessions on the theory of diving, I was well ready to put my knowledge into action.  Our first boat ride was to Abalone Caye, the site of TIDE’s ranger station for the Point Honduras Marine Reserve .  From this location patrols are sent out to find illegal fishing activities and research teams are dispatched.  On the two days I was there, we shared the station with research crews logging lobster populations, noting distribution, gender and size.  Sounds like interesting work – a full day underwater seeking out the crustaceans – and hopefully I’ll have a chance to do that sometime in the future.

During each session we would start with our skills exercises.  These "confined water" dives are usually done in swimming pools, but because of the clarity of the water and the relative lack of currents from reefs, etc., we demonstrated these skills in about 15 ft of salt water.  Afterward we’d go for a little swim in deeper water.  Those would usually last around 30 mins, depending on time and air supply.  Aside from general reef life we saw a school of tarpon and a hunting squid.  Both were amazing.  The tarpons appeared huge and surprised us by swimming right next to us, and the squid stayed right were it was, allowing us to view it as close as five feet.  Amazing.

My instructor was a Czech named Karel Kuran.  He’s a very experienced diver and instructor, having earned his stripes diving and instructing in Key West (Florida), Roatan (Honduras) and Exeter (England).  He’s also a friend and I was happy to be able to learn from a disciplined instructor who I could have a beer with after the dive!

Posted in Belize | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

My Morning Coffee

Posted by Peder on 25 March 2009

I am a coffee drinker, but here in Belize getting a proper cup of coffee can be difficult. Of course, that depends on your definition of “proper.” I’m talking about the Starbucks/Caribou quality joe one gets used to living in the States. And if corporate coffee isn’t your thing — you prefer to make it at home or visit smaller coffee houses — then we’re still in the same boat.



For a Central American country, I’m pretty surprised how hard it is to find good coffee here.  First of all, there’s not much of a culture for it.  It’s not too common to walk into a Mayan or Garifuna household and see a coffee maker or be offered a cup.  What you might be offered is a cup of tea.  Maybe it’s the British colonial roots or maybe it’s that tea is less expensive than coffee, but this is a tea drinking nation — that is, when hot beverages are called for.  As I write this it’s pushing 80 degrees at 9:30 in the morning.  I myself would be more inclined for a fresh glass of lime juice than a steamy beverage at this point!

Instant Coffee

Instant Coffee

A coworker asked me yesterday to teach her how to make coffee.  You see, after a sufficient influx of English and American expats even a Belizean administration as to make some concessions.  Ours was a drip coffee maker, which arrived around 3 weeks after I did.  Anyway, our admin assistant wants to know how to use this thing.  As she put it, “I’m only used to making coffee the traditional way.”  Which way is that, I asked her.  “Instant.” A groan of exasperation left my lips even as I tried to suppress it.  So together we made her first pot of drip coffee.  Maxwell House.  Still not up to Starbucks, but it’s not a horrible place to be.

Important Office Supplies

Important Office Supplies

There are a couple places in town to get coffee, but if you don’t want instant you have to go to an establishment owned by an expat or one that caters to the tourist crowd.  One option here in PG is Tide Tours, operated by a Czech friend (who should also be teaching me SCUBA in a couple weeks).  He always has a pot burning, but similar to what we have at our office, it’s a mid-grade roast with powdered milk.  One thing I will say though is the cane sugar we have down here is delicious.  No one could have a problem with the sugar, say I.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened Condensed Milk

So, yeah. Powdered milk isn’t always that appealing, but it’s often what’s available. Liquid milk isn’t especially prevalent, though if the first store you stop at is out, the second one likely will have it. They’ll have the European-style box-o-milk which sits on the shelf at room temperature and only needs to be refrigerated once it’s been opened. What I’ve come to like is condensed milk. I never really had that much ever before, but it’s a great substitute for Half & Half, my coffee condiment of choice back home. As a bonus the condensed milk is sweetened pretty much sealing its fate as ideal demitasse diluter.  (Oh, and check out that no-moving-parts can opener I got in that picture.  It’s works surprisingly well!)

High Quality Belizean Brew

High Quality Belizean Brew

There is some proper coffee grown here.  Good stuff:  Shade grown, organic, high quality.  You see it sold at the grocery stores, but the price point is just so much higher than the other stuff; it’s hard to justify buying something like that.  Oh well, looks like I’ll be spending more time with the teas and lime juices until I return to the colder climes of the Northland.

* Bloop! *

* Bloop! *

Posted in Belize | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Market Day Saves Breakfast

Posted by Peder on 18 February 2009

I woke up early this morning.  Of course, 6am isn’t that early around here.  By that time the roosters have started crowing and you’ll hear the first rustlings of life as families wake to feed their kids and send them off to school.  But compared to when I was waking up just one short month ago, this is early.

I had to wait until ~7:30 until the shop next door opened.  I was out of milk for my cereal.  Last night I knew I was out of milk but I didn’t do anything about it.  After a day in the field, with one of our target communities at Medina Bank, I was bushwhacked.  A cold beer, a colder shower and I was in bed before prime time television was over in the States.  But when I got to the shop, the didn’t have “regular” milk.  They had condensed and powdered milk, but nothing that I wanted to put on my Corn Flakes.  Oh, that was another thing, I was sick of eating Corn Flakes so I was thinking of splurging on some Honey Bunches of Oats.  Simple pleasures down here my friends, simple pleasures.  But the shop didn’t have that either.  Boo.

Fortunately, today is market day in Punta Gorda.  Mayans travel over land from the villages and Guatemalans travel over water from the distant coast to sell their wares.  Vegetables dominate the market, and you’ll find a wide array of fruits, beans, nuts and other confectionary items.  Not too different from markets the world over.  Oh, and the fishermen were bringing in their morning’s catch.  Fishmongers can be very aggressive salesmen, but at 8:00 in the morning, it wasn’t hard to say “no” to raw fish.

Anyway, after a brief walkabout checking on the various goods, I settled on fresh papaya and a bunch of bananas for breakfast.  The papaya is almost gone as I write this, and the bananas will be shared around the office.  Not a bad deal for $1.00.

Posted via email from Peder Hanson [dot] com

Posted in Belize | 1 Comment »

Getting Settled in Belize

Posted by Peder on 13 February 2009

So it’s been a while since I’ve updated here. That’s mostly because writing on this blog requires a constant Internet connection, which I don’t always have down here in Punta Gorda. The exception would be at work, but it’s a little hard to find time for my personal blog when I’m there.

thatchThe other reason is because I’ve been updating to a new blog toy that I have. It allows me to make a post simply by sending an email, which is a lot easier to do whilst at work. I’ve put a few updates there from Belize. I talked about my first days in country, and I purged some pics of jaguars, red-eyed tree frogs and Mayan handicrafts from my office hard drive. They’re such cool pics I had to share. I’ve also taken a bunch of pictures which I posted to Flickr.

Work so far is good. I’ve spent some time writing up project concept sheets – the first step in getting a funding grant – and I’ve set up some online spaces for future broadcast use. We have a new work blog, we’re updating our website, and we have our own Flickr and Twitter accounts.

My Bike

My Bike

Life down here is very different from in the States. I don’t have a warm shower, but I can swim in the ocean whenever I want. I don’t have a car, but it’s easy to get around on bikes. It rains a lot, but it doesn’t snow. Things are a little dingy all over, but the people are really friendly and laid back. This first week has been quite the shock to the system – we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – but that’s to be expected. Sometimes I have to remind myself that just because I’ve moved overseas before doesn’t mean this is gonna be easy-peasy. There’s still an adjustment stage that I need to give myself. It’s OK to have culture shock.

My house is good, it’s a little out of town (but still easily bikeable) in a “suburb” called Hopeville. I live at the intersection of Mangrove and Morning Glory Streets. It’s a quiet neighborhood where everyone seems to know everyone else. I like to sit out front after work and read my book waving at everybody so they get used to me being around. Sometimes I wear my hat too cuz it’s even more distinctive. The more people can remember you and even have a little laugh, the better off you are. And that hat is pretty memorable. (Some have said I look a bit like on of the local Mennonites, and that always gets a laugh. they’re a group that has seclude itself from everyone else in a little village a few miles away.) Not that not having problems would even be really possible. My landlord is from a well-known local family and his siblings and parents are scattered around in different houses in the neighborhood. He knows everyone, everyone knows him and when I say I’m living with Mr. Burton (that’s his first name, I’m Mr. Peder) I always get a positive response.

I’ve come to really like how diverse Belize is. There are significant cultural differences among the Mestizo, Kriol, Garifuna, Chinese, Mayan, East Indian and Mennonite communities, but everyone gets along pretty well. Not from the news nor from talking to people have I heard of inter-racial issues. Add to that the influx of tourists and expats from all parts of the globe and you have a model society of people getting along. In a future post I’ll talk more about these ethnic groups, their divisions and their languages.


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A Collage of Images from Ya’axche

Posted by Peder on 12 February 2009

I made this collage after work yesterday of a bunch of photos I found and liked in our organization's archive.
I used Picasa 3 to do it, which is a cool little piece of software.

Posted via email from Peder Hanson [dot] com

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Today is Moving Day

Posted by Peder on 2 February 2009

Punta Gorda Pier Punta Gorda, known locally as P.G., is the southernmost town in Belize and the capital of the Toledo District. The population is close to 6000 people, with a mixture of Mopan and Kekchi Maya, Garifuna, Creoles, Lebanese, East Indian and Chinese peoples.

Almost 210 miles by road from Belize City, it is the last sizeable settlement in Southern Belize. The road into town follows the shoreline; five main streets run parallel inland. Various fruit trees, especially mango trees, line the streets. Most small homes are made of wood on stilts. The town has one hospital, a police station, one bank, a post office, a gas station, a civic center, a number of churches and schools, and various grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and bars. Punta Gorda is a gateway to and from Guatemala with immigration and customs office near the town dock.

Aerial Of Punta GordaWith it’s cool sea breezes and friendly people, Punta Gorda is a pleasant and interesting town. The pace of life is slow and easy-going. Traffic is minimal on the streets. People hang out on street corners chatting, while school children play chase in the school yards. The town springs to life on holidays and market days-Saturday and Wednesday mornings- when the villagers and Guatemalans from across the border pour in to buy and sell hand-crafted produce and simple household goods around the clock tower.

Main Street, Punta GordaThe waterfront is great for long strolls, with light constant breezes blowing in from the Bay of Honduras. Nightlife is quiet, but there are a couple bars with pool tables and on certain nights Garifuna drummers perform for tourists (though on any given night, you can hear drumming as P.G. is considered a major center for the Garinagu people). You may run into P.G.’s own local band known as the “Coolie Rebels”, who play their own rendition of popular songs.

Punta Gorda is a perfect base from which to explore the rest of southern Belize. Many tour guides work from the town and can help you choose from a wide range of full or half day activities including fishing, kayaking, river touring, and snorkeling.

This blog may see a decrease in the number of posts it gets as I’ll now be employed and have slightly less Internet access. I’ll also have stuff posted to my other blog and Twitter – you can see the RSS feeds over to the right – and I think I may start using this space to write fewer but longer posts on broad topics. We’ll see.

Text and pics blatantly copied from the PG page on – I know it’s not cool to do, but I did it. Sorry.

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