March 14, 2003. Nicolas Cay, Belize.
|N 16 deg. 07′ 21″
|W 88 deg. 15′ 46″
Ten days ago, as off last email, we were at Castillo San Felipe in the Rio Dulce. We stayed there a couple of days to do laundry and work on the boat. It was great to be able to do laundry with an unlimited source of fresh water from lake Izabel. We were able to use more soap, since we had plenty of rinse water, and the laundry smelled fresher and cleaner at the end. Clark replaced the engine oil again and cleaned the oil filter to remove the last traces of water. We updated the website.
We returned for one day to the town of Rio Dulce/Fronteras to provision on our way to Belize as we had been told that prices were generally higher in Belize, particularly for beer. However, since the cash machine was not functioning, we were somewhat limited by our few remaining quetzals. Then we motored back towards lake El Golfete where we anchored a couple of nights near the mouth of a river, between small islands surrounded by water lilies. Many colorful water birds were foraging or fishing in the shallow water, some light enough to run over the water lily pads. I really enjoyed observing their antics, watching one steal a tasty morsel from another, listening to their songs, spying on the spying hawk, admiring the graceful movements of the egrets and laughing at the awkward moor hens.
I did more laundry while Clark fixed a leak in the head gasket of our 7.5 HP outboard engine so we can use it again. He also had to rebuild again our washdown pump (the one used on foredeck to spray water on the anchor chain to remove bottom mud). I was using it to fill my laundry tubs with lake water and overheating it in the process. Since its bearing are in bad shape, it does not last long before overheating. Another item to fix in the US where it will be easier to find a new bearing.
Monday we moved down the Rio Dulce, and anchored against the shore of a smaller river with tree branches entering the cockpit! We took a nice little hike at the head of the river, inhaling the rich humus smell of the jungle as we went along. We saw lime green parakets and a few toucans at dusk and listened to frogs and crickets at night.
Many Mayan families lived on the river shore and it was interesting to observe their community. We could almost feel part of it as we did our laundry at the same time with river water. Employees of a community development project near the end of the river arrived together in a large motor launch at 6:30 AM, which then came back to pick up kids to go to school at 6:45 AM. Half the kids were barefoot but all laughing and happy looking. Other adults went to work with white shirts and dark pants, precariously seated in their dugout canoe, which barely has any freeboard, and paddling gracefully. After the early morning departures, the women came out to the shore to do dishes, laundry and take a bath. Many boys and men were also fishing in the river. Clark went up the mast to re-fasten the radar reflector which was threatening to fall down. He also changed our alternator to a smaller one which suits better the primitive backup regulator we are currently using.
One thing that surprised me was the number of signs advertising Pepsi. Blue Pepsi signs indicated which houses were grocery stores and they were literally covered with them. Signs were also hung in trees or on navigational marks in the river, and the school kiosk was painted with the same logo. They appear to have a monopoly in the Rio Dulce. I hope they give money to preservation of the ecosystem.
Tuesday, we motored back through the gorgeous canyon at the entrance of the Rio Dulce. This time we saw it in full light, the rich green forest gleaming in the sun. We anchored near Livingston to get our zarpe to leave for Belize. The paperwork was easy and straightforward, the cash machine more willing than in Rio Dulce, but finding flour was more arduous. After asking in numerous stores and two bakeries, we were finally directed to a sort of everything store (from toys to men’s underwear and flour), where I was able to buy flour by the pound.
We finished eating our last fruits as no fruits can enter Belize which is fighting an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly.
Wednesday morning, we crossed the shallow bar at the entrance to the Rio Dulce and sailed to Punta Gorda, a port of entry in Belize, just 3 hours away. The entry paperwork was easy with officials speaking English, and the agriculture inspector was satisfied we had no fruits. Then came the big disappointment. Punta Gorda sells fresh fruits and vegetables only on market days in the morning. We had missed the Wednesday market and the next one was on Friday! Since the anchorage was very rolly and unprotected, we were not going to stay and wait. The lone supermarket in town had onions, potatoes, a few tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, carrots and one single watermelon. Watermelon is not one of my favorite fruit but I did buy it. So I have one watermelon for nearly four weeks before we stop at another town in Belize! And not as much vegetables as I would have liked to have. The most beautiful diving spots are on the Belizean reef which is mostly uninhabited. From Punta Gorda on the mainland coast, we are going east to the southern tip of the main barrier reef and then working our way north along the reef and visiting also some of the offshore atoll reefs.
After a rolly and uncomfortable night at Punta Gorda, we motor-sailed to Nicolas Cay in the Sapodillas which are a group of cays in the southern portion of the barrier reef. The anchorage here is smooth, in beautiful deep turquoise water, and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs to explore. We went snorkeling in the afternoon and saw a Lemon shark, another one on our list of dangerous shark. Today, we went back in the water to explore another reef and spent a long time meandering through a beautiful garden of coral, part rock garden, part soft coral (looking like real plants), part sponges. The soft coral was particularly graceful swaying in the water. My current favorite lilac-colored. We saw a couple of new fish to add to our list also.
The Queen Angel fish, first seen in Honduras
A butterfly fish, pretty and very common
We plan to move north slowly, with one important stop in Gladden cays on the day of full moon. We heard that traditionally whale-sharks feed on snappers near the Gladden entrance on that date and we would like to see more of them, and maybe even swim with them.