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Experience Punta Gorda PDF Print

(and get your passport stamped!)
Story and photos by encor

Punta Gorda. Pay attention, Jennifer!
Making chocolate in Punta Gorda. Pay attention, Jennifer!
Dear reader, if you, as a visitor to Guatemala, have been here more than a couple of months, you most likely realize that you need to do something about your passport when your 90 days are up.

For those who care to stay legal in this beautiful country, there are strictly limited options.  Here is one:  go to Punta Gorda, Belize.

If you came by boat, perhaps you passed PG by, as it is an open roadstead.   There are 3 daily  water taxi trips from Puerto Barrios, very accessible by bus from the
Rio.  Departure times are 10 am, 1 pm, and 2 pm. (may vary, depending on traffic)  

Be at the municipal dock about a half hour early, the driver will do your passport stamp, as he needs to put you on his passenger list.  You can also see Olga at the nearby Marisol Tour office for help in booking.  Call her at 5516-0745.  The ride takes about an hour from PB to PG, cost is Q175, plus your exit fee of $10.

Recently, we (traveling crone companion Jennifer and this writer) did it the water way, choosing to leave from
Livingston rather than Barrios.  

The glitch with this trip is that the departure time is 7 a.m., available only on Tuesday or Friday, and your passport needs to be stamped the day before, prior to the 5 p.m. Immigration Office closing.  Which means spending a night in L'ston if you've taken a collectivo.  (rooms Q50) 

 If you take your own boat, or dinghy, get into Texan Bay after your passport stamp and taxi ticket, arrange with Mike & Sherrie to drive you to L'ston in the morning. Easy, cheesy, you're on vacation, have a good time and some Tex-Mex.  

The water taxi trip to PG from Livingston is the same fare as from Puerto Barrios, Q175, and it takes about an hour.  Exit stamp was $10/Q80 if you are legal.  If they see a false stamp, you will be charged Q10/per day since your last legal 90 days entry.  THEY SCAN.
Our ride through the canyon was totally rainy, the ride to PG was bumpy, no cushions or life preservers.  But being crone troopers, we made it.

Unfortunately, the new Customs and Immigrations building has done nothing to improve spirit and attitude of the officials in PG.  There is no entry fee, but they may want to look through your bags. 

At this point, you may request an exit stamp, and return on the same boat, departing 10 amBelize charges you $50 US for this burden upon their valuable time if you plan on returning the same day.  Still cheaper than 3 nights in a hotel, which fulfills the 72 hour clause in the Guatemalan law. If you stay for the 72 hour limit, you'll pay a departure tax of $37.50 Belizean ($18.75 USD).

New Customs and Immigration building at Punta Gorda
New Customs and Immigration building at Punta Gorda

Across the street behind the building, look for a bright green Snack Shack, while you decide your next move. 

You will most likely encounter lots of ex-pats there, willing to pass out advice.  We were fortunate to be met by my friend Dita, who took us under her wing, giving a truly interesting and intimate look into life in southern Belize, what is known as Toledo District.

Departure fees
Departure fees
The highlights, while staying in the marvelous home Dita and Zach built, included seeing the resorts and lodges that are owned by some of their friends.

The one closest in, although on the southern edge of town, is the Coral House Inn.  Darla and Rick resurrected an abandoned, rundown old house, turning it into a lush and welcoming hotel with a magnificent view of the sea. 

We spent a lovely afternoon there, enjoying the breezes, drinks, and good conversation from a dozen or so of our new acquaintances.    www.coralhouseinn.net  

Bedroom at Dita's with big waterbed
Bedroom at Dita's with big waterbed

A bit more remote and exclusive is The Lodge at Big Falls.  Yes, there are falls, as well as excellent birding, hanging out at the pool, or just doing nothing in your private cabin, surrounded by tropical flowers and nicely landscaped grounds.  At the time of our visit, we were privileged to see a fairy ring of mushrooms ... cool, very magical, from a crones point of view.  
Home of Dita and Zach
Home of Dita and Zach

Rob and Marta, the owners,  also have a most remarkable resource library available to their guests, all the info you could want about the area.   Rob puts out a local newspaper for the Toledo District, loaded with all the details a tourist might need.  www.thelodgeatbigfalls.com 

A fairy ring of mushrooms
A fairy ring of mushrooms

Yet another choice is the Sun Creek Lodge, owned and managed by Bruno and his beautiful Belizean wife, Melissa. 

They have separate, private cabins just off the main road out of town, and Bruno, as a tour operator and guide, can make sure your getaway is just what you want.  He makes you believe, as his card reads."TOLEDO ... God's own destination."   This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
(I refrain from thinking Holy Toledo)

A huge mushroom
A huge mushroom

Don't stop reading, I'm getting to the good parts soon, I promise.

As part of a well rounded vacation, we needed ACTION, THRILLS, EXPLOSIONS, and were not disappointed. 

Melissa from Sun Creek Lodge .. pretty ladies here
Melissa from Sun Creek Lodge .. pretty ladies here
We were invited to the nearby dolomite quarry, which fulfilled all that, and exercise, as well, having to climb up  and inspect the fuses and primer cords prior to scampering down and taking cover. 

Brian, the Belize minerals expert, had all the answers for my traveling companion, who needs dolomite as a fertilizer for her plants.  Bringing back a couple of hundred pounds was a challenge, we had to cut way back on our ropas shopping! (thanks, Jen)  Dita's little friend, Marco, found all the samples he could carry away.   www.belizeminerals.com 

Dolomite quarry
Dolomite quarry

After all that excitement, we needed the calming tour through the nearby ruins at Lubaantun, "Place of the Fallen Rocks", as our guide, Santiago told us.  

Marco with dolomite samples
Marco with dolomite samples
What this reporter found particularly interesting were the curved corners and the notched stones used in construction....and no mortar.  We were the only tourists ... so unlike Tikal.    Lots of good reading Here.  

Ruins of "Place of the Fallen Rocks"
Ruins of "Place of the Fallen Rocks"
Yes, of course you've all been patiently waiting for the best......Wilma Wonka's Chocolate Factory!  (Personally, I only went in because I could see purple paint on the inside walls.) 

Our very thorough tour guide and chocoholic, Juli, gave us the entire scoop on the process. 

Note the curved corners and notched stones
Note the curved corners and notched stones
  This was of particular interest to Jennifer, who has cacao on her property and has tried, unsuccessfully, to produce a consistently edible product.  Now we know why ... MACHINES!  (or dolomite?)  The Cotton Tree Chocolate factory in PG was disgustingly wonderful.
Jennifer's taste test .. yumm!
Jennifer's taste test .. yumm!

But only from the viewpoint that we couldn't take enough back without major meltdowns.   Well, we dealt with it. Crone power!

Maybe you read in the Chisme Vindicator a couple of months ago about the Cacao Festival they hold every year?  Maybe next year we should organize a flotilla.
If you are interested, this link shows all the steps. However you won't get samples like we did.....   www.cottontreechocolate.com

After that sugar/chocolate rush, we were in need of more calming influences, so off to Dem Dats Doin.   Alfredo and Yvonne, originally from the Phillipines, and after many years in
Hawaii, have been "doin" some unique eco-farming, and their grounds are more than an eyeful. 

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

 It was impossible to absorb all the info while tasting and smelling the samples they pressed on us.  This couple, no spring chickens, have the energy and enthusiasm of people half their ages.  What an inspiration, just absorbing and appreciating their love of life and sharing what they've learned.

Back at Dita's, not quite calmed enough, had to have a walk through her orange groves and grounds, what a marvelous property also. 

A plumeria (frangipani) flower for making perfume at "Dems Dat Doin"
A plumeria (frangipani) flower for making perfume at "Dems Dat Doin"
Ended our day (again) with a ferociously competitive Scrabble game, which includes wine, of course. 

Whew, being a travel writer is not what it's cracked up to be.  Goodnight, Chet.

Before checking out, we had to hit the PG tortilla factory, as we had a big order to fill for
Texan Bay ... keep this in mind if you make the trip.  Of course, I had to get my fix in, also. 

Relaxing with Scrabble
Relaxing with Scrabble

 The return, departing again with Rigo on Azucena, was scheduled for 10 am.   We're there after our stop for tortillas and the Snack Shack by 9:30, but these officious officials wouldn't deal with us until the boats to Puerto Barrios had left. 

Not an issue, we're rolling with the flow, ya know?There are two boats heading back to L'ston, one with cushions, one without.  Here's where we have to laugh ... the one with cushions gets all our luggage, backpacks, etc.   The one with the HARD seats gets the 11 passengers, one being at least 400#.  (who wants to sit on the outside and we feel threatened.)   My cronely companion sweetly tells him to move his fat a$$ over .... and we are in balance once again. 

A few miles out of town, we pull up to the lancha that has our luggage, 4 passengers relocate, and we head for L'ston.   Seems this other boat is not licensed for passengers, only cargo.   Ya gotta love it.  Flat seas, unlike the ride over.  

In the Livingston Migracion office we are pleasantly surprised to find that we don't pay for our entry stamp.  Funny, we have to pay $10 if we come in on our own vessels ... but Yippee, this makes our return fare seem like a real deal. 
No one cares that we're bringing in plants, dolomite, brandy, tortillas, etc.  

 We're happy campers, glad to be *home* and have wonderful memories of our adventure.

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