The trip across the gulf stream was overnight and took 23 hours , winds 15 mph sea’s 4-6 feet , just as perfect as you could ever had got. We took our DRUGS (dramamine) and went to sleep. There was an alcohol ban on this stretch ,because if anyone did go over board at night , they would definitely be lost at sea. The trip went without a hitch and we arrived in Hemming way marina 10 miles north of Havana. The customs process was fast and efficient . We had a medical check and boat , inspection then were free to leave and explore Cuba .. we had a quick breakfast ..said our farewells to the crew.
We left the marina and tried to get some Cuban money , there was none to be had at the local hotel . I got chatting with a staff member and before you could say CASTRO .. i was changing money on the black market ..with a friend of a friend 🙂 We jumped in to a cab and headed for Havana . Will was a little anxious about arriving with no accommodation , but i assured everyone if we couldn’t get a room , i’d buy everyone blankets at my cost 🙂 . We headed to the Nacional Hotel to use their Wifi , We were struggling to get a connection and to complete booking process for airbnb . So we walked out of the 500 dollar a night hotel across the road to a lovely building where a guy was sat outside ,asking if we needed a room. We bagged a 2 bedroom apartment for 70 usd per night ..BARGAIN!!!
The staircase to the building was quite interesting and proved to be a good photo opportunity.
and then later that night.
We headed out into old Havana and walked along the Malecon towards a restaurant near the fort that had been recommended to us. The food was so so but we got a balcony seat at sunset , which made up for it …
Havana is a safe place to wander through the streets in the day time , like any city it changes at night , so you have to stick close to the main arteries. keep your wits about you and you’ll be just fine. We got back to our accommodation and dropped into a cafe bar ..which was actually a haunt for ” Local sex workers” … a very chilled and relaxed place …becoming an instant favourite of ours .. we visited nightly in the early hours 🙂
The next night we went to a place called El Gato ( the cat) and they had an opera recital which was quite impressive.
On our final full day we hired a 1952 Buick and cruised the streets of old Havana. What a blast that was , 4 hombres lording it up. all for 30 usd an hour.
Cuba was such a surprise not run down like everyone had said ..Old Havana was of course old and in the long process of renovation , but has a warm rustic feel to it. People were super friendly and always smiling , in difficult economic situations. If you are thinking of going just book and go ..and look for the up turned blue anchor symbol above doorways and go inside and ask for a room. Use the nacional hotel to lounge around when you want a bit of luxury , reasonably priced food and drinks.
IMMERSE ….. RELAX …….. ENJOY 🙂
We cleared customs at about 10am and set sail for Boca Grande ,which lies in a chain of lslands about 15 miles from keywest , the waters are shallow and protected , due to the fact we had a 5 feet draft we had to stay in the deeper water outside the channel but had calm smooth waters as we made our way to our first nights destination. Incredibly no one was hung over just a little tired . Dramamine the sea sickness tablet , seconds as a sedative , so we all got our heads down for a little shut eye and arrived about 3pm at Boca Grande. By this time we were well rested aided by the NON DROWSEY dramamine sea sickness tablets ( disputed by Will and Sheila). We crawled out our beds to see the the last few boats heading back to keywest and virtually had the place to ourselves. The girls went straight to the beach ,Will and I headed for a sunken sugar barge wreck , to do some snorkelling. True to form the girls were having white wine spritzers on the beach , when we joined them. The sun sunk lazily over the calm waters and we all turned in early to get some much needed rest.
Next morning we sailed the short hop over to The Marquesas keys . They were formed by a meteorite impact, which made an atoll a few years before we got there 😉 . This was another great day relaxing on the beach , the boys went off fishing in the mangroves and were trying to catch this large fish. The fish proved to be a better fisherman than us as it took all our bait and lived to fight another day. Just before we got into the boat i spied 3 sea sponges washed up on the beach , an excellent photo opportunity. I said to Jim the captain lets take a photo , but props are involved , do you want small ,medium or large. Instantly he picked small and Will said i’ll have large and the photo was snapped 🙂
We spent the night in the marquesas then sailed to Dry tortugas the next day. H was a little nervous about the sail, but the weather forecast was just perfect for the whole week ,82 degrees light winds and clear blue skies. We had been so lucky as we’ve made the crossing in 12 foot seas before ,which isn’t fun at all. After 9 hours and a 45 mile sail the fort came into view and we entered garden key harbour .It was nice to be back and on schedule for my birthday on the 10th tomorrow.
We transferred all our “GEAR” to the island and went back and ate on the boat , the food was superb, every meal we had the entire time was bistro quality. The sun set behind the fort and gave us a lovely light show, Jim thought he saw the green flash , but i’m sure it was just H in the bathroom 🙂
The next day ,cautiously opened my eyes and i had made 50 , being in a pristine natural setting as the dry tortugas made it even more special.
We spent the day on loggerhead key and had birthday lunch on the beach , and then snorkelled little africa , a wonderful section of coral reef . A great day was had by everyone.
Our time was done in the dry tortugas , we left a day earlier than expected as the winds were favourable and we set off on the 100 mile night sail across the gulf stream to Cuba. See you on the other side AMIGO ‘S 🙂
I wanted to remember turning 50 by doing something out of the ordinary, so i made contact with Jim whom i’d met in the Dry Tortugas about 8 years , when he gave us a day sail on his boat to loggerhead key. He was excited to take us and two scallywags ,Sheila from Canada ( boat name Cockswain) and Will from Georgia U.S.A ( boat name Craptin Sorely). Our boat names being H – Naughtycal Newton and mine bilge pumper, the plan was to get to T-shirts printed with the names on and go around keywest ..on reflection mine might have given the WRONG signal so I decided against it.
We all met up in Miami and stayed the night in the clarion suites. I asked Sheila to organise the room preferably close to the airport room with a view. We arrived before her and were over joyed with her excellent pick.
Now when planning the trip Will had a few reservations about what were the sleeping arrangements on the boat and privacy. We also planned to camp on the dry Tortugas ,i reckoned we needed an air mattress ,sleeping bag and tent . As we had a fully equipped boat, he started to make plans to ship his GEAR down and camp in his own “2 man” tent. A little strange but we just let him get on with it, to make him feel at home and the fact he had never met Sheila before we set up a improvised tent in the hotel room so give him a little “privacy” , it was fashioned out of an ironing board and a bed spread and proved to be quite a hit with Will. Even though there was a spare queen bed sized !!!!
We hired a car and drove down the through the keys arriving in keywest as the boat sailed into the marina next to Duval street. We dumped our gear on the boat and headed for a drink and quick bite in keywest …… this turned into a 24 hour bender ,Sheila being the main instigator of the debaucherous antics that followed. She wanted to experience the tastes, sights and ” smells” of Duval Street ..and boy she SMASHED IT !!!!!!!
We started of in BO’s fish wagon with grilled mahi mahi to line our stomachs. This place is a keywest tradition rustic and great to hang out and watch the hoards of tourists passing on the sight seeing trams
After a few drinks we decided to let Will and Sheila hang out a bit and get to know each other … Sheila has an eye for a photo and decided on this as an ice breaker. Will was unaware of what was written on the board below as he posed next to the large rooster.
We drank sensibly one every one drink every 30 mins and fitted another meal in at the hard rock cafe before having some more drinks as the sun was setting …at this point we were WELL GREASED and decided that it was time to PASS THE CLOCK . The clock in keywest denotes straight bars on Duval , after that the gay bars start .
Before we knew it we were in the bourbon 801 heading for the drag show upstairs .
Inside i met this tall lady who said she’d be gentle with me , after taking this photo i realised she had been lying … !!!!!!!
squeal piggy squeal
The night was coming to a close so we headed for the “garden of eden ” we have a photo somewhere which says strictly NO SEX on premises ..it felt a bit strange stood on the roof top garden listening to high energy dance tunes looking at the stars ,with the random guy stood in the corner bollock naked … BUT we were in keywest. Next Will looked at me with a glint in his eye and said lets go to the OTHER dance club ..so we headed off quite wobbly and before we knew it was in the RED GARTER gentlemans club unbeknowing to Sheila . No cameras are allowed inside so when i put the sign above her head TRAINEE PAWN STAR it got quite a laugh from everyone ..unfortunately no photo . We made it safely back to the boat and went to bed at 5am … rising at 7am for breakfast … swaggered over to harpoon harrys diner smashed a breakfast and set sail for t Boca grande ..aboard the regal Gitana.
Watch out for boca grande to dry tortugas shortly !!!!!
When my brother visited we tried to guess each others weight , it turned out he was a stone lighter and it made me think. Am i over weight ? so i consulted the online NHS chart and realized i was starting to become one fat B*stard. It kind of creeps on and you don’t notice , until i had a comment on a photo i’d posted on facebook . Jokingly it said i’d put weight on. At some point you have to start the fight …yes the fight … sweets ,cakes ,buns they all take their toll. In one respect we are rather lucky that there are no processed foods here , no supermarket aisles full of chocolate… BUT there is sugar ladened cheap rum (our Nemisis) readily available. We were on the look out for an excercise bike to burn calories ,and were lucky to find two that a local gym had for sale 30quid each BARGAIN . So we started on a high protein diet ( in Belize that means chicken ) and cut our carb daily intake to less than 500 per day …. yes that mean’t that the rum went on hold for a couple of months to maximise results. We started on 10 mins daily and increased 5 mins extra evey week . The goal being able to spin flat out for and hour. Then we rode an hour one day and 3omins the next. BOOM the weight fell of us ,i lost 26 pounds and H 22 so far. We now have a mandatory dry month ( no alcohol ) every 3 months. It’s funny when the shorts that were very tight fitting before , now fall straight off to the floor.
H wanted a sunroom ,somewhere to relax and lie out , without the annoying mosquitoes or flies that can be around at certain times of year. As a rule if you live in the sun , you hide from the sun .. we literally get 350 days of 12 hours a day sunshine . Her wish is my command and i knocked up this sun room fully screened in . We can just walk down off the back porch into it. It turned out great and we really do enjoy mid mornings in there until the sun gets to hot.Not one fly in your drink …. pretty hard in these parts 🙂
When Paul was over in febuary we bought a papaya fruit from the market and had rum cocktails. He took the seeds out and planted some in the garden . 10 months later we have an healthy loaded with fruit papaya plant. No effort at all ..this place is like Jurrasic park plant it leave it and it grows. We have just picked a couple and have started to ripen them ,so by new year we will be eating Pauls Papaya. One interesting fact is that papaya seeds contain cyanide ,that can get rid of intestinal worms naturally.
Living outside of town away from roads and people ,nature is all around us ….. we can sit for hours watching birds squabble and play from the roof top lounge. Over here there are two types of wood pecker . The common woodpecker and the F*ckin DADDY woodpecker also known as the pileated woodpecker 🙂 The F/DADDY is as big as a crow and has a brillant crimson crown. They are very skittish and can normally be seen in the inkish dark of day break and on very few days of the year. The other day to my surpise whilst building the sun room , the F/DADDY flew onto a tree and started hammering right next to the house in the middle of the afternoon. Probably had heard about the blog and wanted to make an appearance ( like so many ) 🙂
To all our friends far and wide,we hope it’s been a good year for you and your family. We look foward to seeing you all soon again ……sometime in the distant future 🙂
So my brother Trev made the trip over recently , he had just split from his long time girlfriend and it seemed that the time was right to lift his spirits. To help him out he brought some coins over for us that he’d found with his metal detector and we paid for his flight. I’m not sure who got the better deal . I got a few chunks of metal and he got to lord it up in Belize. The day before he arrived a hurricane had formed and was directly over Cancun airport …not to worry him we said nothing and it had passed by the time he stepped off the plane in Mexico. H and I travelled up to meet him at the airport and we planned to go to Cozumel if the weather cleared to calm and sunny , but alas it was still a little cloudy. We opted for the one night stay in playa del Carmen at the ONE HOTEL next to the alternative bus station , which turned out to be nice .. the further away from 5th avenue in playa del Carmen the better ,if you want any chance of sleep. In Belize you don’t eat steak , it’s just not as tender as you’d want. But when in Mexico you eat steak and we did big fat succulent T-Bones and was really the reason we travelled up to meet him 🙂
The next day we headed off through Mexico on the ADO bus and in no time we arrived in Chetumal the city just 5 miles away from where we live. Always be wary of a taxi from the bus station it’s like arriving at an international airport …you are going to get fleeced and there is usually an argument over price when you get out …even if you agreed it before you set off. Well surprise surprise after telling me that all the chicken buses had left for the day to Belize from the neuvo mercardo , I told him I lived in Corozal and to take me to the new market anyway , he shrugged his shoulders and smiled . As we turned the corner 5 chicken buses neatly lined up and 40 pesos for the ride ( 2 quid) the agreed price … seems like Trev had brought us some luck ….. we passed through both borders with no trouble and arrived in Corozal for 3pm . I rang my friend who had just finished making two benches and a coffee table for us and he gave us a lift in his pick up truck. Trev and I rode in the back along the sea front with a stout in our hands …it was nice to return to the laid back life 🙂
Just before he arrived we had the pool table assembled and reclothed , Sean at lennons snooker centre had helped me buy some simonis tournament cloth which I brought back with me from the UK . Sibling rivalry over who was best ,there had to be a tournament so we kept score. He actually did a lot better than I expected and it was very close right at the end. Dave the WINNER , H second and Trev third .
We headed off to caye caulker when the weather was just perfect , rode down on the bus to Belize City and arrived at the bus station . NEVER I repeat NEVER walk from the bus station to the water taxi ,it costs 10 bz (3 quid) and is not worth the risk. When we arrived at the water taxi , they said they had a deal on 50 usd return .. not bad for 3 of us BUT WAIT that was each . I looked at her and said I paid 9 usd each way 3 months ago , we will go to the next place , she called me back saying next time tells us you are locals and you get the GOOD price. So we got the GOOD price and before we knew it we were drinking Belikin beer at the lazy lizard on caye caulker. We stayed at the WORLD FAMOUS … Popeye’s beach resort and were treated to a nice large room on the ground floor ..steps and one barrel rum are not a good mix 🙂 We took fishing reels with us and borrowed poles from Popeye’s ,Trev and I fished at the split some small fry were caught but not the huge monsters we were after. So that night we went to Rosie’s Grill and had a whole fish each with veg and wedges for 30bz BARGAIN 😛
Whilst at Popeye’s we asked Gilbert the manager where he had his haircut , and the guy who cuts it was sat right in front of us , he nipped off on his bicycle and was back in 5 mins with his clippers. A chair was produced outside in the court yard and he had his haircut under a palm tree , how impromptu was that , a mighty fine job 10 bz.
We did some more fishing back in Corozal and caught two decent size cat fish which Trev and our neighbour Pat cooked on the BBQ. We sailed over to Cerros the Mayan temple across the bay and were ravaged by mosquito’s as it had just rained after a 7 month dry spell. We went to the Corozal bay sailing club regatta and Trev was a big hit with the ladies … it’s a small town and ” fresh meat” is always devoured by the local expats 🙂 … and before we knew it the time had come for us to part . Belize gave Trev one parting farewell as he crossed the border , he was ripped off for an additional 50 bz ..I gave him the exact money to leave 37.50 bz and they said it wasn’t enough and saw another 50 bz and said he needed to pay more .. well they you have to take the rough with the smooth.
We purchased two spin bikes and have gradually been building ourselves up to an hour a day. Weight loss results in the next blog !!!!!!!!
And to finish off we were watching criminal minds on the tv and heard something at the window , and there peering in watching the people watching the people was a tree frog getting his FREE VIEW quota 🙂
It’s been a while since I last posted lethargy is a terrible disease 🙂 . So we spent the last 3 weeks before we left on our trip putting in the foundations pouring the floor slab , building the walls and finally casting the roof. Then we went on an 7 month trip , it should actually have been longer ,but we did get travel weary and half way through the month in Greece we decided that we would save S.E. Asia for another trip ,otherwise we would have just been going through the motions of travelling. So we came back early and spent the December and January the project of a house build never really finishes and evolves after all the messy stuff is out of the way. In Belize is actually finding things to go inside the house , like furniture and the such as it doesn’t exist here . Bed sheets are a prime example they only have a few sizes of cheap thin material covered in gaudy patterns so these need to be sourced outside of the country. I was responsible for the build and H kitted it out and picked the coloured scheme and furnishings. When we planned the house I drew all the plans and then sent them to an architect to put into the official format so they could go to the Central Building Authority for approval. This went really smooth ,not the hassle we were expecting. When I showed the plans there was a column in the front room that it was suggested could be moved and hidden in a wall . This would have moved us away from the 13 foot rule from beam to beam and building down here things are different so I wanted to keep as strong a structure as possible . So I hatched a plan of encasing the concrete pillar with a tree trunk. I hadn’t seen one done down here only in magazines in the states ,but thought what the hell. It was only a chance meeting of some Mennonites at the wood yard that resulted in the tree trunk idea becoming reality. Very little English and no proper German or Spanish is spoken its a horrible mixture of blurb so I sent them away with an idea of what I wanted and waited not knowing what i’d really get. The tree was cut in the deep jungle probably where no one had ever set foot. It was trimmed in the jungle down to a 40 foot log then dragged out by a tractor to a saw mill they had built. It was cut and I got the bottom 10 feet. They then cut it in half right along it’s length using a 54 inch blade and the cut the heart out ,so when the two pieces were put back together they would fit around the concrete pillar. It was then loaded on to a truck that had to be dragged 15 miles by a tractor to reach a road. then driven another 60 miles to my house. It arrived and was far better than what I had been expecting. It took 7 men to drag it into the house and hoist it up. It was a risk that paid off and it joined perfectly around the concrete pillar .
The house was built with the maximum airflow possible , aircon is not needed if you plan right at the beginning . Being near the sea there is always a lovely onshore breeze , and although we put ceiling fans in we never have them on as there is so much breeze. everything you see furniture wise in the house is custom made ,there aren’t any home depots or DFS furniture stores to go pick from. August -Nov can get humid and sticky so we put in a plunge pool on the back porch , this works perfectly for cooling down when it’s hot. I’m just perfecting a sand filter so I can fill it directly from the well.
The house is two bedroomed ,each with en-suite our bathrom has a steel safe room door on it ,that H can look herself in when she wants to get away from me :). The upstairs roof top lounge is taking shape now ,although I still have to put the pool table up , something that right now is at the top of my list. The upstairs has a fantastic palapa roof done by a guy who builds all the fancy resort palapas and he sure did a great job on this one. The up stairs is a 1000 square foot and gives a lovely breeze . We bought the dining set from Mexico , but as you know I just love to lounge around in my hammock.
H isn’t really into hammocks so WE ( she made me put that) designed and put together these hard wood seat ,6foot long and furnished with custom made cushions from our friend. it took about a week to do on an off due to varnishing and sanding ,complimented by general lazing about, but they turned out exactly as we wanted and will out live us.
Other news our good friend Gwyn proprietor of the Sea Breeze passed away in Jan ,he will be surely missed by us and many others.
So Casa Verde is open for visitors book your bed early to avoid disappointment , a bottle of rum will cover all lodging fee’s 🙂
Towards the end of our month long trip island hopping in Greece , it became apparent that we were both travel weary after moving about for 6 months. We had a one way ticket booked to Sri Lanka and then planned to travel to the Philippines , Cambodia and Thailand . We should have been really excited , but really it was exactly the opposite. Living out of a carry on back pack had taken it’s toll. So we ditched the tickets lost most of the money and headed back to blighty . Fate sometimes deals you an ACE and it just so happened that Earl the Pearl Strickland was doing an exhibition match at Lennons Snooker and Pool hall where we used to hang out in the day time. What a great night and Sean the owner gave me a slot to play One of the greatest pool players of all time … I broke ..took one shot at a quarter ball and it was over he ran the rack …. The weather was awful so we decided to book a last minute deal to Marrakech before we flew home. We stayed in a large hotel with expansive gardens right in the medina. We were looking for the old world and certainly found it in Marrakech.
As you walk through the pictured square above you pass a long line of horse drawn buggies vying for tourist dollars. Billions of flies descend on you and soon you work out to find an alternative route the next day. It sounds funny but this was exactly the experience I was looking for. The square is full of hawkers trying to get your photo taken with apes wearing fez’s and snake charmers with wailing flutes. Do not EVER have your photo taken with animals like this on your travels. They are mistreated , beaten , pitiful shells of their former selves , but this is the culture that exists in this surviving old corner of the world . Who am I to say what is right and what is wrong. Groups of men sit around under umbrella’s smoking , spitting and playing instruments without a care in the world. We walk by a small table set up with what appears to be white stones . On closer inspection it’s the local dentist … he has a some false teeth palettes and large variety of teeth he has wrestled from peoples mouths. I spy the silver tooth pulling grips and imagine the horror of the screams accompanied by the flute playing snake charmers … it would make a great scene in a movie. There is a small wooden box , I didn’t even dare to ask what was inside.. we move on quickly before he catches our perfect white smiles ..may be he is missing a few rare specimens for his ” COLLECTION”
The souks are famous here, a rat run maze of narrow covered alley ways , no street names ,no maps ,you walk in and are consumed by it. Rays of sunlight stream through small holes in the roof as you are jostled along with the flow of thousands of people. There is a sign no Motorcycles hanging ..obviously no one would ever try to ride through so many packed people in such a small narrow space. The first one nearly clips us as it hurtles down the narrow alley we jump into a shop door to avoid it.. the owner smiles and welcomes in… it’s a lamp shop with over 1000 lamps in ….. selling exactly the same lamps as the other 1000 lamp shops we pass. Out of 5000 shops we pass in the souks ..there seem to be only 5 different types . Lamps , rugs , spices , jewellery, and clothes. How do they all make a living , this is the old world where just a little tourist dollar is enough to get by on for the whole week. There is something to be said for living a ” simple life” .
We find a little Riad down a back street that serves mint tea and food. It is a sanctuary from the madness of the street outside as soon as we walked in through the door down a passage and out into the sunlit garden the noise magically disappeared. We went there everyday just for a rest from the hustle and bustle. We went back at night to find they are closed …such a shame as the tagines we saw looked amazing.
We went on a trip to the Ourika valley in the Atlas mountains to visit a traditional Berber village and climb up to the 7 waterfalls. It didn’t say in the glossy brochure that you needed to be a mountain goat to get up there. As we drove in a taxi uphill along the valley ..there are thousands of sofas by the river for people to sit and eat at … not covered up but just there where the sun breaks over the top of a steep mountain. People come here on the weekend to enjoy the river as the sea is to far away .. I suppose their version of Skegness or Blackpool. We hire a guide and start up the path to the waterfalls . We cross rickety old wooden bridges and start our ascent upwards after 1/2 an hour we are clambering over large boulders and scaling rock faces the guide pulling us up . The rock is granite but has been polished smooth by millions of visitors , luckily we got there early ,so are the first ones to go up .. Eventually we get to a place where you have to leap across the river on to a polished angled rock on the other side . We decide against it …. as we walked around Marrakech there were lots of tourist with plaster casts on their feet .. there had to be a connection to this place. We start to make our way down and are nearly at the rickety bridge and I see a woman in flip flops hobbling with a walking stick. I stop her and ask if she speaks English.. She does …. I tell her to turn right around cos she ain’t going no where .. she looks relieved and said thanks for telling me… guides will do anything for a dollar!!!!!!!
The old city was vibrant and the square at night was something to be seen. Every local that we met was friendly and we didn’t get hassled half as much as we thought we would. We found the out of the way old world we were searching for …… now back to Belize to finish the house off we started before we left … Parrots and palm trees … WE HAVE MISSED YOU !!!!!