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It Wasn’t The BEST Year Ever But I Was Very Glad to Live in Belize: My 2020 Recap

2020:  A New Dog and Her 12 Puppies, A Russian Spacecraft, The Sahara Dust Plume, Hurricane Eta, Hurricane Iota and…oh yeah…a Global Pandemic

Let’s face it.  This year has been HARD.  And for some of it – especially the beginning of the COVID pandemic…I’m talking March and April and May…the ENTIRE Spring…I was not my best self.

I think I spent a month napping and obsessing over the dogs…and then a month baking banana breads and tending a sourdough starter named Beverly (she sends Christmas greetings!).  I think I’ve found out that in the face of uncertainty?  It’s all flight.  I’m pretty useless.  I am SOOOO grateful for Jeff.  For so many reasons.

As I sat blankly in front of an endless CNN/Fox News BREAKING NEWS ALERTS…or went on 6 hour podcast binges between naps…Jeff could hardly sleep at all.  And was planning our future…or doing the very best he could with the information available to us.  It was way more productive than what I was doing.

Time went by.  I learned not to watch so much TV news (in fact, our TV just melted down a few weeks ago…probably in response to over use) – there is direct correlation between hours in front of the news and depression.  I learned that it’s okay to not be okay.   I learned to make bagels and worked to perfect my banana bread recipe.  We made homemade potato gnocchi and conch pizza.  I collected seabeans on the beach by the bushel.

We are not out of this yet but it feels good to see a light (a vaccine) on the horizon. My mother, at a Senior Living Facility in NJ gets her first shot next week.  It will most certainly take at least a few more months to get down to Belize.  I’m thankful.

Most of all I’m thankful for Jeff and for my dogs – even the one who brought 12 newborn puppies (and non-stop pooping) to our house in March and April.  I’m SO thankful for this blog!  And for everyone who reads it and nudged me to get writing again when I took almost a full month off when all of this started.  It’s not often that I am stunned into silence.

You know all that self-help talk about Gratitude Journals?  Here’s the thing.  Every single quote about gratitude, suggestion to give weekly, daily, hourly thanks, mantra to start the day?  It’s all true.  Annoyingly so.

“The More Grateful I am, the More Beauty I see” – Mary Davis

That’s what blogging is for me – I just realized this in 2020, 9 years into my blogging career.  I live a bunch of my life looking for cool, interesting, pretty stuff because I’m curious…I do love to know everything but also to share with you guys.  And…it works.  I mean it REALLY does.

Deep thoughts by Rebecca Coutant. 🙂

SO here’s my favorite quote about Gratitude.  The internet has about 14 billion of them by this one hits me just right.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough”.

So here are some of the highlights and lowlights of 2020.  Thank you all so much for the notes and the gifts and the donations and for reading my blog and sometimes my blather.  And sharing with me what’s going on with you.

To a better 2021!

A quick look at my Top Instagram posts this year.  No banana bread or me laying around in sweats here (I save that for the Instagram stories).

JANUARY

I started the year with purpose.  Remember purpose?  I’d published the softcopy of my book in October – the e-book went live in June – and as of the end of 2019.  I’d sold just over 1000 books.  I was shocked and pumped.  Next book!  Next book!  I was ready to tackle Caye Caulker…

New businesses were opening – here is Kelly McGuire playing at the opening of the Salty Anchor Marina Bar in San Pedrito – or getting ready to open – Ishmael’s gorgeous new project at the Barrel Bar location.  Jeff was having his busiest season at the camp…ever.  It was less than one year ago!

My most popular post of the month was about a piece of a Russian Spacecraft – a BIG piece- washing up on our shores.

Later in the month, I overnighted in Caye Caulker in a simple guesthouse and realized 1. how much I love it and 2.  how much I have to learn!  This tiny island is PACKED with great shops, restaurants, my new favorite breakfast spot, and…charm.  I LOVE CAYE CAULKER!

Part One:  Just BEAUTY and Part Two:  Realizing How Much I Need to DO!

Pelicans at Caye Cualker

FEBRUARY

In a city I’d never heard of in China, Wuhan (population 11 MILLION!), everything was shut down to contain the spread of a new virus.  But here in Belize? It was like watching a science fiction show taking place on another planet. Here, it was business as usual.  Booming business.

I visited San Pedro’s Amazing Iguana Sanctuary – and couldn’t believe I’d never been there before!

I headed over the Caye Caulker again – this time to the North Side of the island for the very first time.  It’s gorgeous over there…rural Caye Caulker.  Exploring (this blog) and then staying at GORGEOUS modern Blue Zen.

Looking across to the Split.

North Side of Caye Caulker
Blue Zen Caye Cauker

MARCH

“They” say that March comes in like a Lion and out like a Lamb.  This year was the COMPLETE opposite.

The first Monday in March I headed to town for the usual errands and ran into a kids’ school parade.  Hooray!

Kids Parade

I took a long weekend trip to GORGEOUS Crooked Tree, Belize – halfway between Belize City and Orange Walk (on the mainland).  I loved it there.  Idyllic beautiful peaceful village filled with birds and flowers and fresh water lagoons and cashew trees.

I updated my yearly post:  Why YOU Should Visit Belize in April and May.  Fairs, festivals, fun!

And then?  The CORONA VIRUS SPREAD.  China…and then Italy and then they realized it was in the US and had been for a little while.  Information was SO spotty at this time…cruise ships were stranded at sea…the virus was causing terrible death tolls in Northern Italy…and

Tourism Stopped.  Completely.

The first case in Belize was here in San Pedro – around March 23rd and we, the island, were put on a SHELTER in place.

The weather and the beach were as beautiful as ever but I was frozen.  What is going to happen in 6 months…2 months…tomorrow?  I took to watching WAY too much cable news.

Beach Boca Del Rio

I’d JUST purchased a new camera – an older model but I love it.  I’m also SO GLAD I purchased it before your income stopped….

A good way to snap into action?  PUPPIES!  A dog named Mocha – who was living by the docks on the backside of San Pedro town…one that I’d been wanting for months gave birth in the shell of a golf cart…and…we had to help her.  13 puppies to a dog that was just a puppy herself.  When we first saw them and decided that we had to find help for her and the pup, one had passed away.  We boxed up 12 blind helpless puppies and a very grateful mom and our friend Tammy took them in…

2 weeks later, as they started moving about…and the mom, Mocha started getting restless.  They came to stay at our house.

Holy shit.  Literally.  Here they are in a stampede to the food bowl.

And then the drone view.

Luckily for me – you could nap and wear sweat pants with a truck load of puppies in the other room.  Their schedule actually made napping a necessity!

APRIL

We started the month with our annual joint blog – Jeff and I try to trick people into believing that say…that the nearby island of Caye Chapel is going to be an oil refinery.

2015’s classic:  Plans For Caye Chapel Could Push Belize, Our Jewel, to the Next Level

This year…I’d been talking SO MUCH about our puppies that I may have suggested that at 6 weeks old…it was time to crop their ears.

Puppies from Mocha

I got MANY angry emails – perhaps peoples’ sense of humor are dulled a bit during a global pandemic.  I get it!  But come on…these fake pictures are hilarious – that puppy was yawning!

QUARANTINE.  The International AIrport closed as of March 23rd, we were asked/ordered to stay in our homes with limited time out for grocery shopping and essential needs.  I wrote a handful of blog…basically outlining some of the rules, the government mandates and regulations and re-iterating that I knew nothing.  There were 100001 opinions swirling about but when it came to predictions about how this would turn out?  I knew (and still know) very little.

It’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

We were getting frequent updates from the Prime Minister and the wonderful doctor Marvin Manzanero (who just emerged from the hospital last week, 18lbs lighter – he’s a small man to begin with – after a horrible fight with the disease).  As of April 28th, there were not many cases of the virus in Belize – really just a handful – but, as many countries were doing at the time, the lockdown was extended.

Beautiful weather continued…and for the first time in decades, it was just the residents of the island here.  And due to the fact that movement was limited – it was tough to enjoy it.  We were very glad to live 7 miles north.  Those who lived in town were really contained to their homes.

April beach

I was posting daily updates on Facebook and I’m not sure exactly why.  To motivate myself to start blogging again…

AND, we adopted ALL 12 puppies out to new homes.  A GOOD things about lockdown – people have time to take care of puppies!

MAY

Mid-May regulations started to loosen.  We had to wear masks – we had to be careful…and social distance but the virus seemed to be under control in Belize.  And things were looking up…

I wrote about my “lockdown perimeter” – my “outside area”.  And as you can see, it could be WAY worse!

I was invited to my first lunch OUT in months!  A few restaurants were opening…not many.  Open-air only.  Lunch and a view at Ramon’s Village.

Ramon's Village Dock

Life was feeling a bit more…free but not much.  I still…for the most part…sheltered at home and found comfort in simple things.

Find Joy in Quarantine in Honey Bunches of Oats = the TV we were enjoying, the books I was reading, the podcasts I couldn’t get enough of, and the foods we were eating.  Comfort.

Things seemed so much better that I accepted an offer of a trip!  To the mainland!  I went solo – Jeff was still too concerned that the island might get shut down again.

JUNE

I spent an AMAZING weekend at dreamy Gaia Lodge in the Cayo District.  A bit of hiking, sunning and hammocking and just…relaxing.  But with a very VERY cool view.

Things were looking up!  I was getting out!  I had a great SUSHI dinner at the re-opening of Rain Restaurant at Grand Caribe.

And then…just as we were experiencing a very strange Sahara Dust Plume…

Afternoon view of a dock on a normal day on Ambergris Caye.  Afternoon view of same dock, mid-day with the air full of dust from the Sahara Desert!

…there was talk of the airport re-opening.  A “regulated re-opening” of the International Airport was announced on June 23 for August 15th!  Tourism would begin again August 15!

JULY

We watched as a few countries – like the Bahamas – opened borders and then closed back down again.  Things here were looking good.

We fretted about the re-opening – it seemed like more than half the people I knew were NOT for re-opening at all.  Case numbers in Mexico and countries around us were getting worse…the US had been SO bad (particularly the East coast) in the Spring…people were nervous.

I tried to answer questions on how it would work.

Was it going to work?  I wrote again on how I was staying sane during all this – again baking bagels and scones, podcasts, Netflix, books, books, books.  And the new warehouse that was going up right in front of us.

Jeff and I drove north – at least 10 miles north – to Robles Point on a gorgeous day.  It was good to get out!

AUGUST

And then…COVID came to Belize…in a much more real way.  Sure it may have been lingering here and there…maybe undetected for months.  But in the first few days of August, the Prime Minister announced that the Airport Re-Opening was CANCELLED.  Indefinitely.

Community spread was detected on Ambergris Caye, 2 cases confirmed but many tests waiting to be processed and many feared to be positive – multiple cases that needed to be contained.  The island went into 14-day lockdown.

Lockdown AND we were reaching the time in the hurricane season when storms are most likely in this part of the world – the western Caribbean’s water were at record high temperatures.

We all joked at 2020…what else could it bring?  Central America found out the hard way that it could be much much more.

Everything at the camp was brought inside when a potential storm missed us completely.

Lockdown ended – and though COVID cases were slowly rising, the Prime Minister made the decision that the airport needed to re-open.  The economy needed to get moving…very slowly to start but it would be a start.  October 1st was announced.  NO MATTER WHAT!

SEPTEMBER

Usually, the month filled with parades and pageant and Independence parties…none.  Instead, the next two months were a storm watch.  September was HOT, hot hot and then October was good and then… we watched as two of the most intense Hurricanes this area has ever seen headed to the Central American coast.

But first – Hurricane Nana hit southern Belize as a weak Category One.

I wrote a blog post about How To Be A Good Expat.  Trust me…I don’t have it exactly right…no one does but these are some ideas I’ve come up with over the last 13 years.

OCTOBER

Let’s start with the good.  The airport opened and some ex-pats returned, Belizeans who had been stuck abroad came back and a tiny trickle of tourists started coming in…it has been a success so far.

Conch season opened!  And man do I love conch.  Jeff and I have been making conch pizzas at home in our table top oven and they. are. divine.

And then Jeff and I made a big decision – a really really hard one – to sell the camp.  And that post – read by 10s of thousands led to lots of emails and long conversations and Zoom calls and now the decision was been revised…and reversed!  Cayo Frances Farm and Fly will open again this spring!  With some pretty great upgrades.

It’s a pretty amazing spot.

We all kept an eye on the hurricane maps…it was a VERY busy season but things seemed ok.  I mean…it was getting to be mid…even late October?  Storms this late would be madness!

The winds stopped – the “October Calms”.  The ocean was like a warm pond.

I asked you guys about Nostalgia…Things You Miss from Home (For me, the USA)…it was pumpkins that set me off!  $50 imported pumpkins for Halloween.

We got ready for Elections in Belize on November 11th.  Lots of canvasing, flags flying in town…ultimately a new Prime Minister was elected (the previous one, Dean Barrow had served three terms) and a new party was in power.  The PUP.

6 Interesting Facts About Elections in Belize

And then…just as we thought it was SURELY the end of storm season.

NOVEMBER

We watched Eta with a pit in our collective stomach as she approached the coast.  Here was the prediction as of November 3.  Hitting south of US as a powerful Cat 5 and scarily reminiscent of Hurricane Mitch.

Eta hit Nicaragua but looped up and brought flooding rain to Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.  The mainland saw the worst of it for sure but Ambergris Caye saw over 25 inches in just a few days and we saw…flooding.

US elections were happening too and I woke up after Election day in the USA to post:  If Trump Wins, I’m Moving to Belize!

It was tongue in cheek…I thought very funny in places.  But I got quite a few emails asking me to stay in my own lane (don’t they know US elections influence everything?  Belize and travel for sure)  or to suggest they were “canceling me”.

Sigh…on the plus side, it was a VERY popular post.

Eta moved our way as ONLY a tropical depression and dumped a SERIOUS amount of rain.

The weather was PERFECTION for about a week and then…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Iota was approaching.

Storm shutters were already up…the boat was secured…and our yard had JUST dried up.

Iota hit (in almost the EXACT same spot as Eta – in Nicaragua) and devasted an already devastated coastline.  This time the POWERFUL storm died out in the mountains rather than looping up thru Central America.

We saw some winds, rain and menacing clouds but we got very very lucky.

The storm season was declared OVER by Crown Weather Service.  THANK GOD.  And Jeff and I spent about 2 weeks planning and plotting for a thanksgiving feast for two.  

And then…

DECEMBER

Since I moved to Belize, I’ve hard a hard time tracking the days of the week.  It takes more than a moment to remember if it is Monday or Wednesday.  And I don’t mind that one bit.  But in 2020 – it’s been hard to remember what MONTH it is.  When the normal things that herald a new month or a new season…like school starting or holiday decorations going up…don’t happen at all…it’s way too easy to loose track of time.

SO I was VERY happy to see all of the Christmas decorations going up in San Pedro.

Here are a bunch of my favorite decorations over the years.

I got out…a bit.  Lounging and lunching at beautiful Matachica Resort on their day pass.

I picked my 24 favorite books of 2020 – out of the 92 I’d read this year.  (I’m on 96 right now….a great one called Such a Fun Age – VERY good and very surprising so far…)

Phew…I’ll leave it there.  What a CRAZY year.  And I have no idea what the next will bring.  I think I’ve learned that predictions are…mostly useless!

I can say this one with convictions: 2021 will be better…I know it!

Thank you guys so much for following me on social media, for reading my blog, for helping me out this year…it’s all been incredible.  I’m also pretty certain that I could NOT do this without you.

See you soon in Belize!

 





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