Leaving Belize

Part Nine // Final Days

The sun returns

The following days unfolded to the fury of a Category 4 hurricane. We managed well enough with our accommodations despite being moved several times to different rooms at the Great House due to invading water and high winds. Eventually we are moved by Steve to The Radisson Fort George across the street for safety reasons. We spent a total of four unplanned nights in Belize City, but although this hurricane had scared the wits out of us, we were well taken care of by others in various kind ways. The Radisson offered us half price meals as well as lodging while we stayed with them. They ran a backup generator from the time we lost electrical power until 6 days after Hurricane Keith had lost most of his steam. Dining by candle light is very romantic during a hurricane, we laughed. We enjoyed a great 4 piece band from Guatemala who happened to be performing that week at the hotel and like us, did not escape the storms path, so they performed each night in the dining room playing beautiful pan flute and guitar music. It crazily brought to mind the sinking of the Titanic …… music before all is lost. Our families went five days with no news from us, but thankfully they never fully realized the danger we were in.

Eventually we made our way to Houston, rented a very small U-Haul truck, picked up our Belizean wood crates and pointed ourselves North to no where in particular after flipping a coin. It felt different being back on native soil, yet somewhere in our hearts Belize remained.

It was many months later that word reached us that the Yachter’s were both arrested by the FBI late one dark and sultry night as they slept on their yacht the “Emerald Isle”. The story played out they were tracked down and charged with crimes of extortion, fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, to a sum of over $160 million dollars. Jim was sentenced to 40 years in a Federal prison and Marni was handed a 3 year visit to a womens prison somewhere in Tennessee. We never received notice to appear before the FBI or anyone else. But we know our names are on paper somewhere, someplace. I got a call one day from a reporter with the St. Louis Dispatcher asking us for a phone interview. Somehow along the way he found our names. He was very willing to share information with us, having written all the newspaper stories on these two convicts from the beginning of their history nearly 10 years before we met them. It always rang in the back of my mind of the comment Marni had said to me, that they were from Maine. But where was the Eastern accent, I always wondered. It turned out they were from St. Louis, Missiouri, just a few hundred miles from our launch pad in Kansas.

It was ironic how our paths crossed and what tied us together at the end. The two parcels of land we had sold to the now convicted felons, were eventually sold and a lovely island home was built. I was glad to know the house was never given the name of Sea Joy. So there you have it Readers. A near thrilling ending of what began as a dream but was never caught; in a way, for both us as well as Jim and Marni. It’s possible this story holds all the right ingredients for a best seller …. danger, crime, money and greed. So remember dear Readers, always ….  Be Careful What You Wish For.


A few Hurricane Keith statistics

September 28 – October 6, 2000

Catagory 4 Hurricane

137 mph winds

Extensive damage to Mexico and Belize (including costal islands of Belize)

68 fatalities

$135 million in damages

Leaving Belize

Part Eight // A Safe Haven

The Great House

Our taxi driver Collette has assured us this is a good place to stay despite being in the older part of the city. It is by now early afternoon yet the sun is so dim that it feels like early evening. There is light rain beginning as well. We pull up to the front of the hotel and see this is a large and well maintained British Colonial era home, turned Inn. As we climb the winged stair steps I can sense Collette didn’t plan to be our porter as well, but he’s a trooper and off he goes with luggage. He stays with us to make sure we have a room and all is well for us. We pay our fare to him and tip him generously for his help and guidance. He has a well worn business card that he hands us and says to call him when the hurricane passes and we need a ride.

We are given the key to room #5 which is down the hall a short ways. The floor boards look original to this lovely home and they creak and squeak with age as we walk to our room. It’s a beautiful room decorated in British Belizean fashion. We are drained, defeated and exhausted with all that’s taken place in the past hours. But we are safe. There are doors opened to the outside verenda of our room and the view has a real WOW factor. We can see the water, the park and it’s still working lighthouse from the outdoor seating. Waves are crashing over the seawall from the angry ocean while sea birds flap about in search of food despite windy conditions. The tall palm tree fronds rustle loudly.

The proprietor comes to our open door and shares the news of hurricane predictions for the entirety of Belize as well as neighboring Central America countries. He loans us a small radio that he tunes for us to NEMO to hear the latest. All US citizens are asked to report to the US Embassy to register their names; and the Steve, the proprietor, says this is standard protocol. He agrees to drive Jerry to the Embassy not far away and then to stop at a small grocery for provisions if wanted. There is an outdoor restaurant that is part of The Great House and it will be opening soon if the weather holds.

Later in the evening and after a fine meal of Caribbean stew fish we head to our room for the night. Steve and his help are busily boarding up windows and setting out kerosene lanterns on the veranda in front. He states the power will fail in the coming hours and if we need to make calls anywhere we should do it now. I am able to reach family in the States and they are so relived to hear my voice . I don’t talk long other than to state the current situation and what may be happening in the coming days. I will try to call again if it’s possible. We say our goodbyes tearfully, not knowing what we’ll encounter before our next call. From our room veranda we can see the Baron Bliss Lighthouses’ blinking beacon, guiding any boats who remain on the waters, to safety.

Leaving Belize

Part Seven // Finding Shelter

The Eye of Keith is Near

We’ve spoken with an airport porter who tells us the storm has quickly advanced and it will be hurricane status by the end of the day. The airport will be shutting down within the hour with doors locked and everyone gone. We were fortunate to get off the island as we were the one of two flights that were able to depart. His suggestion is to quickly find a taxi and seek shelter for the coming days to wait out the hurricane. We hail a taxi which just pulled in and explain our need to find a hotel, if possible. Everyone is scattering in other taxi’s and we know there will be competition for lodging. Our drivers lapel tag reads Collette and I’m not certain if it’s his first or last name. Being British settled, Belize has an oddity of first and last names and many hold the female suggestion. Like Pat or Pat. Who is what? Mix in some Garifuna, Mennonite and Mayan culture names, and we all get a surprise. He’s a cautious driver yet understands the urgency at hand. We try first the Biltmore Hotel, just a mile or two from the airport. Do not let the name fool you, it’s not the Biltmore in the US. The clerk at the desk tells us they are full and knows of no other nearby places. Really? We rush back out the door to shout for Collette to STOP! He hears as well as see’s our flagging arms and stops and gets out. “Yes, Mon?”, he asks. We quickly tell him our dilemma and ask if he can take us to another hotel. There are many hotels to try he says but he favors one especially, as he knows the proprietor.

It’s nearby the Caribbean waters edge right at Kings Park and it’s named The Great House .…. and indeed it’s a Great House.

Leaving Belize

Part Six // An Attempted Departure

We are up early this morning in anticipation for the short flight hop to Belize City. It feels eerie outdoors when we step outside, with darkening skies and gusts of wind. Waves are crashing out over the reef so we know the water is very rough for this to happen. The shore birds are gone as well. It’s a rather sad way to say goodbye to San Pedro. We board a Cessna Grand Caravan and Jerry is thrilled to sit right seat with the pilot, as he himself is a private pilot. My seat mate is a chatter box and he begins giving me the weather report of a strong tropical depression bearing down on Belize in the coming days. The word hurricane is mentioned but at the moment my attention is focused on a sudden lurching of our aircraft and we are off and running. We jump into the sky swaying back and forth with the gusting air. I’m in awe of the waves crashing over the reef and how the view below us looks from my lofty seat. We are half way to the International airport when we fly into dark and rough clouds and our ride becomes a rodeo. The windshield wipers are slapping lickety-split and my seatmate has finally grown quiet. Within seconds our pilot drops us lower and curves more to the south and I realize our destination is no longer the International airport. I look downward out the window and we are about 40 ft above the water and my heart is racing. I know where we are going but not why. We will land on the little strip of asphalt that parallel’s the sea at Belize City Municipal airport. I tighten my seat belt as we touch down smoothly and race to the end of the short runway. I’m glad to be down and my seatmate is as well; he looks pale.

The winds are buffetting the plane as we climb out and run to the small ticket office. We are told weather conditions were not good for our flight into International with this smaller aircraft. We can taxi out to the bigger airport as it’s a 30 minute drive. I’m grateful our flight doesn’t depart to Houston for a few hours yet. Surprisingly the closer we get to the airport it becomes sunny and the winds calm. Pockets of good and bad. The airport terminal is crowded and noisey with so many people wanting to depart. We are told by the ticket agent the storm will probably be upgraded to hurricane status in the coming hours and the airport will shut down. They are trying to get a few flights on their way and our Houston bound flight is one of them. Our flight is called and we make no hesitation to get moving outside and up the steps to the aircraft.

We get seated and belted in and the plane is loaded within 10 minutes yet we’ve not heard the engines running. Security personel are in and out of the pilots cabin and I begin to feel uneasy as to what the delay is. It’s announced that the aircraft is having problems and they “must correct the problem” before we can depart. Yes, yes, please correct the problem pronto, I say under my breath. After 30 minutes we are told the flight is cancelled. Either due to the sliver of time limit to get gone or there was technical problems they could not address.

We are ushered off the plane and back into the airport lobby, passing through the same doors we walked out an hour ago. It is announced that ALL flights are cancelled and the airport will be closing down due to the coming hurricane which now has a name, Keith. He’s here, and he’s knocking on Belizes’ door.

Leaving Belize

Part Five // The Winds are Changing

The transaction is completed. Our US bank has notified us of the funds being deposited into our account. Arrangements are made for remaining large items to sold by good friends here. They will retain 40% of whatever they can sell and mail us the remainder. We trust them fully. I’ve made a hotel reservation at the Sun Breeze across from Tropic Air for our next morning 7 a.m. departure to Goldson International. I’ve cleaned the apartment the best I can and have returned the key to our landlord upstairs. He is sad to see us go and I will miss his beautiful baritone voice singing at all hours of the day, as well as the fresh bread he would bake and share with us. He mentions casually there is a storm brewing about 100 miles out to sea and to be watchful. We’ve been so preoccupied with last minute things that we’ve paid little heed to the weather or the news. This is prime hurricane season still. But for now, the sun is shining and the trade winds still blow. We take one more look around and say farewell to our little abode and once again it’s the Clampett routine but this time we are booking down Coconut Drive.

We plan to have dinner with our friends who will be tending to selling are large belongings which we can’t take with us. We reminisce about our time here, both the good and the bad and things we will never forget about this experience. There is small talk about pending bad weather not too far away but they both seem unconcerned about anything. We say our goodbyes after a memorable meal and turn the golf cart over to them. We are once again homeless and but now without a vehicle. We turn in early; it’s very breezy and humid but typical for evening weather. Tomorrow will be a long day for us. But what we don’t realize is that a tropical depression has developed over the Caribbean and is moving at a fast clip towards this little plot of sand.