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Day Three: Corozal and Little Airplanes
The Marines say: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
Sadly, I cannot include a lot of pictures in this feature or my piece about Punta Gorda. On the final day of my trip to Belize I left my computer and memory sticks in my cabin. I recovered the computer, but the sticks and all my pictures from Corozal and PG are gone. I only have the few I took with my phone.
On Day 2 I returned to Captain Morgan’s to find that happy hour ends at 1800. Poop! With the schedule I had set for the week it looked as if I would never see happy hours at the pavilion. Oh, well. I had an early morning ahead of me so a couple Belikins would have to do.
Just before turning in I went to the desk to find out what time the resort’s boat headed out. I had a 0630 flight out of San Pedro and was hoping I could convince the boat to make an early run. It was at that point I found out their boat only goes out to drop guests for activities the resort provides or arranges. The first water taxi takes on passengers at 0630. Oops.
That left me in quite a bind. I chatted up to one of the security guards who patrols the beach. He said he would try to help me out. I told him I’d be up at around 0500.
Sure enough, at exactly 0500, I got a knock at the door. The guard had found a taxi willing to make the run to San Pedro before 0530, but he was going to charge $70BZ. That’s $35 USD for a three-mile ride! At any rate, I was not in a strong bargaining position. The guards waited for the cab with me. A few minutes later a car rolled up the road behind the resort. It was a rickety, road-weary minivan that didn’t seem to want to keep running. Getting the RPMs up enough just to turn the car back to the south was only the beginning of the adventure.
The roads on Ambergris and in many other areas of Belize are…how do I say this kindly...pre-Roman. You could house a family of five in some of the more common potholes. The roads are compressed sand, rather interesting until rainwater hits a low point, then the hole starts and grows daily. The puddles kept killing the engine. The driver had to PRAY the vehicle across these little lakes in the hopes of drifting to the other side so he could restart the engine each time it stalled.
I started the trip thinking that I had gotten too early a start and would have to sit around the airfield for a long time. Not so. I took over an hour to reach the hard macadam of the San Pedro main street. I paid the driver the $70BZ and added another ten for his effort.
Snorkeling in Belize
Flying to Corozal
Tropic Air – This is serious fun.
Still having a few minutes, I had the driver drop me at the town clock and walked to the airfield. The terminal was buzzing and there were pilots everywhere as they prepared to fan out all over the little country. The early flights were leaving at quite a clip. Getting my ticket was a snap. I grabbed some coffee and my kindle and settled in for a few minutes.
Running up and down the coast of Belize in a small plane can be quite a bit of fun. If you fly Tropic Air you'll find a few domestic flights a day to just about anywhere you want to go. Ambergris to Corozal is $47.00 each way. You can purchase tickets online. If you are within a day or two of your flight it is best to email or call for tickets.
When called, the passengers leave the terminal and are escorted to their plane, a small twin-engine with maroon trim. The flight to Corozal takes about 25 minutes.
I arrived in Corozal just after dawn. The sun was just starting to warm the air. Everything had a gold early morning hue. This intensified the greens of the grasses and palm trees - a perfect day for exploring. I was to meet my friend Lincoln at the gate of the tiny air terminal. From plane to gate was a 20 second walk, tops.
He hadn’t arrived so I took in the area and breathed in the air. Everything was quiet and peaceful. I spoke to a contractor that provides services for the two little airlines here. Like nearly all the people I had met in my first two days, he was pleasant and friendly. I asked him about real estate, the local economy, anything that popped into my head. He was only too glad to talk.
After a few minutes, Lincoln Eiley arrived. He is a real estate agent for Re/Max. I had gotten his name from a Re/Max agent in Ambergris Caye who I would never meet in person. But that’s for another story. Lincoln and I had corresponded quite a bit. He knew what I was looking for. He, along with his business partner, Adrian would act as my guides and mentors for the day.
We exchanged pleasantries and set about making a very basic plan. We had a lot to do and see before the last plane left eleven hours later. What were my price parameters? How many places do I want to see? What sites am I interested in? We filled in some tentative numbers and decided take a furthest to nearest approach so we’d end the day close to the airport. Then Lincoln hit on the most important question of the day: Have you eaten yet?
The answer was – no. And I was famished but I knew where I wanted to go. “Take me to June’s Kitchen”. Lincoln only knew of the place but had never been there. He had to look it up to find it (That would be #26 3rd Street South for anyone wanting the best breakfast in Corozal.) and off we went.
June's Kitchen and Early Day
June’s Kitchen is a little-known Corozal gem. It seems as many tourists know of it as local people. This is enough to keep five tables on her front porch busy every morning and have people line up every Sunday for breakfast and lunch. That’s correct I said porch. Her serving area is the porch of her house, now enclosed. Her kitchen is an upgraded and bustling family kitchen. Meals are carried right through her living room where June’s husband, now retired, may be watching TV or reading. June is also a gem. She has indulged a love of cooking, instilled by her grandmother since early childhood. She’s prepared food for just about every soul in Corozal, though most don’t even know it. She’s worked for restaurants and even cooked for the school districts for some years. With this little restaurant, one suspects, June is able to create the food she knows best in the way only she can do it. She even makes her own coconut oil. Her reward is a brisk business and customers who fuss over the quality of the food. I was one of those people. I ordered three eggs and bacon. There was lots of fruit. We were treated to a tour of her kitchen and spent a few minutes chatting with our host.
Adrian, Lincoln's partner, met us over breakfast. We discussed economics and politics. Lincoln is tuned in to the economy and the people. I believe he writes articles for the local paper and has a blog. He told me of the early days of the tourist and housing boom, and how quickly it turned down with the trouble in foreign economies. Lincoln had to meet another client so we made plans to regroup after lunch and Adrian and I headed for the outlying areas.
For some time now, it’s been said that gringos moving to Belize might consider Corozal as their destination. The primary reason is its proximity to conveniences that Canadians and American are used to right across the border in Chetmal, Mexico. I respectfully disagree. Corozal should be considered in its own right. After all, there is far more to life than conveniences. Most people don’t dream of life in the tropics and say: Wow! I can’t wait to move to the bay in the North of Belize and have access to a good shoe outlet.
As important as these things can be for the average retiree, I would suggest you remain focused on your dream, life in a warm environment, blue water, a friendly town and jungles to explore. Not to mention an inexpensive jumping off point to the Yucatan and the islands.
Our progress was difficult that morning. I had heard repeatedly how the north had gotten far more rain than usual during the latter part of the wet season and the roads were suffering. We had to take a few detours because the roads were washed out. By the time Adrian got us to the first property I was quite turned around.
This house was at the top of my budget limit. It was a two story, concrete house with a fenced in yard. It was well maintained by an American ex-pat. There was closet space and a very nice deck. The inside was small by modern American standards, but it made very good use of space.
Interestingly, next to the deck is a poisonwood tree, which is a very appropriate name. Rub against it and you’ll quickly get a nasty, burning, rash. Fortunately for folks living here, there is a gumbo limbo tree in the front yard. This tree’s bark is a very effective antidote to the poisonwood. Indeed, the present owner has had two run-ins with the poisonwood while gardening. By the time he got to the front yard his arm was burning, but with a quick slice of the bark on the gumbo limbo and a quick rub, presto, no rash. But I digress.
The house was on the market for $180,000.
Next, Adrian took me to a newer development, on one street that dead-ended right on the bay. We got out and walked around a bit and spoke to some of the neighbors. One even let us tour his house. He had it built and did a lot of the work himself. He sent me away with lots of tips.
First, when building, use concrete. Drive your footers as deep as possible. His went 70 feet to bedrock. The house is settling very little, if at all, and in the event of a hurricane, it’s not going anywhere. To that end, he keeps a small office downstairs. It isn’t fancy. Should a storm score a bull’s eye here, nothing of real value is destroyed.
Keep up maintenance of your water system. Some folks have water delivered, some capture rainwater. But keep your pump and pipes in good condition.
You can live well in Corozal on $1200 per month plus rent, sometimes less.
Your clothing storage shouldn’t be enclosed. But if you MUST have closet doors and drawers, make sure they are well perforated. Air must circulate. In this climate, your stuff can go moldy very easily.
There were still lots for sale on the street. If you are interested in a small neighborhood with friendly helpful neighbors, contact Lincoln or Adrian.
Afternoon: Learning More About the Town
After getting some fuel and dropping Adrian’s wife home from the local college, we grabbed some lunch in town. I had chicken, beans and fries. I don’t recall what Adrian had but we ate a big meal for about $12US total. The town is not fancy. There are nice places to stay if visiting, but it ain’t Time Square. But the neighborhoods are friendly.
This was a bit of a boomtown with the sugar industry. But lately with the price fixing…ahem…sugar subsidies in the US and elsewhere, Northern Belize couldn’t compete. They still produce sugar, but it is a hard slog. But hey, at least our guys back here don’t have to invest and compete. They have big government to keep them in the money and convince people that without their tax dollars going to guys who are already rich, the price of sugar would go up to $50 dollars per pound. In reality, the price of sugar would “go up” to the price it is now plus the cost of the subsidy we are paying anyway. And have you priced sugar lately? How’s that workin’ for ya? Fact is, when you throw tax money at something, surprise, it doesn’t get cheaper for the end user. This isn’t a sop about poor Belize. It’s just an example of the government and business community “working together” to no one’s benefit but their own. Check out “Economics in one Lesson”.
After lunch, we were off to Consejo. This was as interesting place. It is a development next to a golf course, my siren call. The houses are not cookie cutter. They were built, mostly, by Barefoot Properties. The owner of the company builds houses where he intends to live. Nobody does that. He can because his work is top notch. He never has to worry about neighbors calling him day and night with problems. That’s confidence. He has an amazing house on the market for $300,000 US. It is worth every penny. Sadly, I don’t have every penny. But I can afford the lot next to that house in the event I decide to build. And I do have ideas.
Of note: At the northwest corner of this neighborhood is a small customs station and a ferry that will get you to Chetmal, Mexico in just a few minutes for shopping. Remember, duties will be paid. So, only get what you need or REALLY, REALLY want.
This is the House I Want!
On our way back to the city, we stopped on the main road to look at a place called Oasis Phase II. Here, I found a house I really like. Barefoot set out to build a house to prove to the codes and permit people that a wooden structure can survive a hurricane. The secret is in the wall design. But the layout of the house was very cool and included a soaker pool, sort of an indoor swimming pool in the living room. The owner gave me a REALLY good price. I was not I a position to take it, as I own a house in Virginia. But I promise you, if I had it, I’d have taken the house. From the looks of his latest ad, it has been sold. If it hasn’t sold, He’ll make you a good deal too, I am sure.
The Day is Winding Down
Our shadows were lengthening and my plane was about to turn into a pumpkin. Adrian and I headed into town, had coffee with Lincoln and said our goodbyes.
As of this writing, I have not settled on where to retire. But with its low crime, low cost of living and good people, Corozal is on the short list.
Matt Jordan is a travel writer living in Thornbug, Virginia. Like, follow and share us on Facebook.