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#128976 - 11/02/06 01:31 PM article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,653
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline
A treasure trove for fortune hunters
Lush island lures nature lovers
Huge coral reef mecca for divers

Nov. 2, 2006. 10:19 AM

AMBERGRIS CAYE, Belize—A little over two years ago, Paul and Heather Claus left their full-time jobs and comfortable home in Victoria, B.C., to resettle on a subtropical island off the coast of Belize that few of their friends and relatives even knew existed.

They had visited Ambergris Caye, a 40-kilometre-long island, twice before on vacation and were captivated by its natural beauty, sandy beaches, plentiful sunshine and treasure trove of underwater sea life.

The Clauses finally decided to take the plunge. They bought a plot of land on Ambergris Caye, spent $250,000 to build a small store with coffee-roasting equipment and opened Caye Coffee.

"We like Ambergris Caye because it's English-speaking, and has English laws," says Paul, who worked as a mechanic for Chrysler. "Most important, the weather is nice and warm."

For good luck, a pair of snowshoes leans against the wall in the shop, where morning visitors are met by Coffee the dog and served steaming cups of arabica coffee by Heather, a former management consultant.

The Clauses are not the first to seek their fortune in Belize, which was originally part of the extensive Maya empire.

Shipwrecked English sailors settled the area in the 16th century while it was under Spanish rule and harvested large quantities of precious mahogany and logwood.

Ambergris Caye served as a trading centre and provided fish and other foodstuffs to the northern Belize logging camps. During the 17th century, the island became a hideaway for marauding pirates who attacked the Spanish fleets and hid their bounty on land. Over the centuries, settlers developed Ambergris Caye's fishing fleet, coconut plantations and chicle (tree gum) production, which now have given way to a growing tourism industry.

La Isla Bonita (the pretty island) is south of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, just a 20-minute flight or 75-minute island ferry ride from Belize City. It lies along the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef, which rivals its Australian counterpart as a natural wonder of tropical coral and sea life.

Recently, Ambergris Caye — the largest of Belize's 200-plus islands — has become a mecca for diving and fishing enthusiasts, bird-watchers and naturalists and family vacationers.

The warm, protected, 2.4-metre-deep waters inside the reef offer a perfect setting for snorkelling, kayaking, swimming and boating. Parasailing and glass-bottom boat excursions are also popular. Neatly manicured beaches invite sunbathers to settle into a lounge chair with a good book. Outside the reef, scuba divers can explore vast grottos, sheer walls and canyons, including the world-famous coral atoll, the Great Blue Hole. Many dive shops on the island offer lessons and certification programs for novice divers.

Bird-watchers are drawn to Boca Bacalar Chico, a national park at the north end of Ambergris Caye. In this protected sanctuary, it is possible to spot many of the 260 species of birds that make their home on the island.

Fishermen come to here to angle for bonefish, tarpon, snook, king barracuda and other tropical trophies.

During our week on Ambergris Caye, we took a water taxi one morning to Caye Caulker where we poked around in small art galleries, natural-food stores, reggae shops and seaside bars, including the Lazy Lizard.

At Caye Caulker Condos, manager Barbara McIntyre told us she moved 12 years ago from London, Ont., to the island, where she has raised her two daughters. Friendly people, beautiful weather and a lush tropical setting were the main attractions.

"Belize is not for everyone, but if you have an easy-going type of personality, it will be for you," says Barbara. "This lifestyle is very interesting compared to my life in London. Simple things, such as shopping before every meal, deciding what to cook and having no hot water in your house, have made it a challenge in every way.

"But good friends and a good sense of humour have saved me. I have enjoyed every minute of my stay. I am almost a `local' now."

One of the best ways to explore Ambergris Caye is by rented golf cart. Locally owned taxis and water taxis are also available, but car rentals to tourists are prohibited. The island is divided by the San Pedro River into a more commercialized south end and a less developed north end. To get from one end to the other, you have to traverse the "Cut." A rusty steel barge hand-pulled by several men on shore is used to transport vehicles, passengers and goods across the narrow channel

San Pedro Town, once a coconut plantation and slow-paced fishing village, nestles on the south end of Ambergris Caye. Its hard-packed sand streets and wooden-frame houses are home to between 5,000 and 10,000 Sanpedranos (no one seems to agree on an exact number).

The three main streets, Front, Middle and Back, are lined with beachwear and gift shops, open-air seafood restaurants and funky bars blasting rock-and-roll songs and local "punta" music, a unique African drumbeat from the Garifuna culture.

We spent an afternoon browsing through a large selection of black-coral jewellery and carved mahogany figures at the Little Old Craft Shop and admired Belizean scenes painted by local artist Eduardo "Papo" Alamilla on display at the second-floor Tropical Arts Gallery.

The San Pedro area has a number of attractive restaurants, ranging from inexpensive hole-in-the-wall to upscale casual but found ourselves returning to Rico's restaurant at the Villas at Banyan Bay to dine on fresh snook, barbecued pork ribs and shrimp kebabs while we sipped frozen margaritas at sunset.

Seated at a white-linen covered table lit by a flickering lamp, we savoured the sound of rustling palms, Latin music and lapping waves. That's Ambergris Caye at its very best.

Claudia Capos is a freelance writer based in Brighton, Mich.

#128977 - 11/02/06 07:39 PM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Mar 2003
Posts: 1,123
indygal Offline
indygal  Offline
Gee they didn't mention the wonderful bumpy lumpy roads. :rolleyes:

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.
#128978 - 11/02/06 07:53 PM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,273
Kra-Z-K Offline
Kra-Z-K  Offline
lolllllllllll ha, ha, ha. I will mention it.
Life is good on the island, but we have bumpy roads. wink

#128979 - 11/04/06 05:47 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Feb 2001
Posts: 1,205
Axeman Offline
Axeman  Offline
Those bumpy roads are actually an implant test.

Jessica Simpson failed the test as did Pammy Lee.

Another goverment plot?

I think the bumpy roads add to the fun..and keeps people from going too fast. This way they see all makes sense to me.

Life May Be a Beach...I prefer Reefs...
#128980 - 11/04/06 10:04 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,273
Kra-Z-K Offline
Kra-Z-K  Offline
after very long hard rains it is really hard on the body. Makes sense what you said though about going too fast smile

#128981 - 11/04/06 11:49 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 455
Grace Offline
Grace  Offline
Good thoughts Axeman....I agree!!!

Grace DeVita
#128982 - 11/05/06 01:19 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Oct 2006
Posts: 21
Deanne Offline
Deanne  Offline
wow...great reading...i was excited before with all the stories from my gorgeous axeman but reading that has just made me clap my hands and jump up and down...i cant wait to get there and i sure cant wait to experience it with a gorgeous guy at my side.

#128983 - 11/05/06 09:05 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Mar 2006
Posts: 655
LaraTravelBelize Offline
LaraTravelBelize  Offline
jumping up and down is a good idea...will get you used to what you will be feeling when you drive to town.

as an aside, i decided that they should rent out golf carts or cabs at a discounted price to any overdue pregnant women...those bumps will surely help get that baby out!

#128984 - 11/05/06 11:51 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 59
Sirena Offline
Sirena  Offline
BAM! BAM! BAM! That's the sound of me banging my head against the wall because I can't retire yet....

#128985 - 11/05/06 11:52 AM Re: article on Ambergris Caye  
Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 59
Sirena Offline
Sirena  Offline's ALSO the sound of Pammy and Jessica's implants...

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