Stonington, ME

Requisite waterfront shot
Arriving in Stonington, we had clear skies.  Since fog and rain were in the forecast for the week, after dropping off our luggage, we headed to the waterfront to take advantage of the sun and the free kayaks that came with our rental.  The busy and picturesque waterfront makes this our number one spot for kayaking.

Nellieville is always on our agenda.  We had to check out the latest creations by sculptor Peter Beerits.  His whimsical, creative works and the tasty jams, sold on site, are both reason to visit.

On Sunday evening we met for a get together dinner with watercolor instructor, Fred Graff, his wife, Jan, and the other workshop participants and spouses.  Feeling something like a family reunion, it quickly became clear that Fred has a strong following, some for 10, 20, even 30 years.  Over the coming week Alan discovered why Fred has such a devoted group of students.  As an instructor extraordinaire he goes above and beyond to help each attendee.  Starting at 9 AM each morning, the day ended with evening critiques of the works produced.

Since Alan needed the car, he would drop me in town each day so I could walk along the waterfront taking dozens of photos I've doubtless taken many times before (and tried not to repeat here).  Walking back to our rental west of town, my day was spent experimenting in the kitchen or working on a new project.  All in all it was a great week, and time to return home.  We'll be working on a renovation job over the coming months, but hope to be back on the road by early 2019.

At Nellieville

Gouldsboro, ME

Through the years we have made numerous trips, to Maine--some of them recounted elsewhere on this blog.   Last January, Alan saw an ad for a workshop with accomplished watercolorist Fred Graff in our favorite little town, Stonington, and making the decision to return there again took only a few moments.  Even though it seemed we should have plenty time to secure accommodations, the places we had rented in the past were not available and I found only one rental for the time, size and price point that worked for us.  However, it was only available for the week of the workshop.  Hating to fly up for only one week we found an airbnb about an hour away in Gouldsboro, so we locked in reservations for that property as well. 

On prior trips we had explored this laid back area and this is what we had in mind.  The southern coastal portion of Maine can be pretty intense during their short summer season and we didn't want that.  Prior to our arrival our airbnb hostess had let us know that her boyfriend was a lobster man, and would deliver lobsters to the house if we would like.  It took no time at all to consider that offer! 

The delivery of 5 live Maine lobsters our first afternoon was the beginning of two weeks of seriously good eating.  Steamed lobster, lobster stew, Lobster Benedict, lobster quiche, plus steamed clams, crab cakes (made from Jonah crab), fresh blueberries and raspberries, yum!  With evening temps around 60 and day time highs in the mid-70's, we couldn't have asked for better weather.  Most days started out with a heavy fog, but that didn't interfere with our exploring.  Checking for things to do in the area, we came upon a few quality galleries, the five and dime store in Winter Harbor (yes, really), bike trips for Schoodic Peninsula and a Puffin boat tour.  One day trip took us to Bar Harbor and then up to Cadillac Mountain.  It was indeed the laid back stay we were looking for, and next on to Stonington.

Near Winter Harbor

Near Winter Harbor
Gouldsboro waterfront at library

Bar Island Path in Bar Harbor is open 3 hours a day at low tide to walk out to Bar Island.

View from Cadillac Mountain

On Cadillac Mountain

One of the many Atlantic Puffins seen during our Puffin Tour with Robertson Tours of Milbridge, ME

Waterfront Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor restaurant on waterfront

Wonsqueak Harbor

Petit Manan Lighthouse 

Near Winter Harbor
Prospect Harbor Lighthouse

Lobster men at work 

Mascot on tour

Along the Schoodic Peninsula

Interior of our airbnb rental--funky older place but just right. 

Caye Caulker, Belize

80 pesos equals roughly $4 for
a Shrimp Michelada. 
Though we had traveled to Cancun using air miles, "free" flights to Belize City weren't available.  One-way tickets go for $300+ pp, so we opted to travel by bus.  Returning
our rental car in Playa we caught the first leg of our trip, traveling on the ADO Mexican bus line to Chetumal.  ADO bus line offers travel that is first-class and cheap.  The four-hour trip ran us $23 pp, purchased at a discount thru Click Bus while still at home.  

One slight miscalculation had us arriving in Chetumal on a Sunday.  In resort areas that is not a problem--in this non-tourist oriented city almost everything was closed down for the day.  Luckily, the hostess at our hostel was able to direct us to an open restaurant, Marisqueria Mi Viejo, roughly a one-mile walk away, though taxis are dirt cheap as well. The restaurant was packed and we were definitely the only gringos on hand.  The generous dinner was tasty and inexpensive, and the meal was enhanced by a live band with a talented vocalist, so it was an authentic Mexican experience.

The following morning we boarded a 20-passenger bus offered by Marlin Espades to Belize City, where we changed buses and traveled on to our final destination San Ignacio at $35 pp total.  Visiting Alan's sister, Diane and her husband, David, in nearby Bullet Tree Falls was the reason for our trip.  We spent our time hanging out, eating, talking, and more eating.  Diane had stocked up on local seafood brought in from the coast, so we indulged in conch, lobster, hog snapper and yellow tail, and we visited the produce market to load up on fresh veggies and fruit.  Gourmet dining every evening!

Taking advantage of the fact we were already in Belize, we decided to travel to Caye Caulker.  Traveling back to Belize City, we then caught a 45-minute ferry over to the island.  Two ferry companies run several trip a day at $25 for a round-trip ticket.  Though seats are generally available, it's a good idea to purchase tickets prior to your travel date to insure a seat especially on weekends or holidays (and note Belizean celebrate different holidays, so research that before your travel).

Having located a room on airbnb, we were located near the ferry, the center of town and with a waterfront view.  We also had a partial kitchen and AC.  Air conditioning is something which cannot be taken for granted.  Most accommodations on the island do not offer it, saying you won't need it because of the prevailing onshore winds.  But when it is 90 plus degrees with a heat index of 100 (as it was during our visit), you will be grateful to have upgraded to a property that offers the AC.  Caye Caulker is a relatively tiny island, roughly 5 miles long and less than 1 mile wide.  Walking around the island is fairly easy, if centrally located, but bike and golf cart rentals are also available.  Deciding to splurge on a cart rental, we enjoyed buzzing around the island and at the same time creating our own breeze.  We spotted a handful of commercial vehicles but no cars are allowed on the dirt roads.  A few blocks along Main Street are closed during the evenings to reduce dust, created by the carts, from flying into restaurants.

Our first evening, we followed the recommendation of some folks we met, and ordered beef and cabbage tacos with
salsa offered a a street stand along Main Street.  Three hearty tacos sold for $5 Belize (or $2.50 US).  Throughout the country US dollars are widely accepted, in fact it is generally preferred.  The street exchange rate is 1 USD equals 2 BZD, but if you pay in US dollars you will receive Belizean money in change, just something to keep in mind as your trip is drawing to a close--unless you want to take some foreign monies back home as a souvenir.

Since the island is known for snorkeling, we scheduled a half-day tour with Caveman Tours, though there are at least a dozen companies offering snorkel/dive, land tours or fishing trips.  Traveling out to the Hoi Chan Marine Reserve, we had brief stops to hand feed sardines to tarpon and then to a seahorse sanctuary.  Unfortunately the constant 15-20 mph winds which had preceded our visit created cloudy conditions with silt covering the coral at the Coral Gardens. Moving next to clear, relatively shallow waters where, according to our guide Ronnie, fisherman have historically stopped to clean their fish.  Because of this activity, rays and nurse sharks are attracted when they hear boat engines.  Swarms of both sharks and rays surrounded the boat on our approach.  While both are, for the most part, harmless the sharks do have thousands of tiny serrated teeth and they will bite if aggravated, so Ronnie recommended we not get too close.  Feeding sardines to the throngs kept them near the boat as we snorkeled over, under and through them.  Finally, the boat moved closer to the outer reef.  Ronnie swam ahead of us diving down periodically to identify the variety of corals and fishes.  During our visit their were few tropical fish seen but numerous snappers and a nice variety of coral.  Diving is popular in the Reserve, so perhaps that offers a more colorful experience.

The Split, located at the north end, divides the island in two.  The property at the tip is managed by the Lazy Lizard Bar and Grill, a popular tourist haven, with loud music, cocktails, beer and a bar menu.  But, the waters at the Split offers visitors an opportunity to snorkel free rather than pay for an offshore tour.  Coral is non-existent here but an assortment of fish can be seen, especially near the mangroves on the bay side.  Snorkeling earlier in the day is recommended, particularly on weekends, when the Lizard starts drawing a crowd.  Currents can be strong though and boats moving through the Split offer another possible danger, so caution needs to be used if swimming/snorkeling across to the island and mangroves on the opposite side.  The only two public beaches we found were located near the Split.  One was on the ocean side along the sea wall, with entry via metal steps or a diving platform.  Currents on the oceanside were very strong during our swim here, so we weren't tempted to explore.  The other location was a small sandy beach on the bay front, crowded with locals on the day we stopped for a swim to cool off.  Finding a few palm trees to provide shade, we listened to the reggae music being played by the DJ and enjoyed the breeze.  Lizard customers have access to wooden boardwalks offering entry to the water, and even a few tables with palm thatched covers located down inside a cove.

Over the next few days we explored the island multiple times, tooling around in our cart.  Locating the bakery (for Alan),
multiple grocery and convenience stores, the produce market, and a tortilleria (where fresh tacos are made).  The tacos were made in a little wooden shack located not far off Main Street.  If the wooden window was propped up, she was open for business, 6 hot, fresh off the grill tacos went for 1BZD.  Though we wound up eating most of our meals at the local restaurants, and there are plenty of places to choose from, we also prepared red snapper with a garlic, lime butter sauce, that competed with anything we ate out.

Returning to Belize City on an early morning ferry, we were able to easily score a taxi for the ride to the International airport, a 30-minute drive away and a flat-rate $25 USD fare.  It was a long but uneventful travel day, and we are now back home, at least for a bit.

At the outer reef 

Laundry day in Bullet Tree Falls

Along Main Street

Along Front Street

Produce market in San Ignacio
Laundry day on Caye Caulker

Bay side

Volleyball tournament at the Lizard