Captain Morgan’s Retreat

A Fabulous Getaway

As mentioned elsewhere. we were having dinner, we both agreed we needed to get out of the house. Barbara Jean is master of this sort of thing, and a couple of hours later she had us booked at Captain Morgan’s Retreat in Belize—also American Airlines round trip—two weeks from the day. And finally we were here.

The resort is on Ambergris Kaye, an island up the coast from Belize City. We took the water taxi to get there, about an hour and a half ride. It was worth the trip.

Although nobody around wants to mention the word timeshare, most of the units seem to be marketed that way. The soul mate obtained the listing through Timeshare User’s Group (TUG) and found an owner wanting to rent out his week. We got it for a bargain. The owner had the entire upstairs of one unit, consisting of two units with a connecting door. One unit has a kitchen, a large living area, and a sumptuous bedroom and bath. The other side is more like a hotel room with a microwave oven. Still, the bed is king-size and most relaxing.

Wi-Fi is outstanding. We obtained pass codes for four devices. Download speed is 5 MBPS, and it is rock solid, except that something cut power to the resort for a few seconds, and we lost the link during the interval.

The grounds and all facilities are well-maintained—we observed workers constantly busy making sure the sand was kept clean and brushed flat. It’s 17 degrees from the equator, and the temperature is pleasingly mild. The big side has two air conditioning units, and the other has one. They turned out to be seldom needed.

All manner of activities are available. There is a reef visible off in the distance, and some were out there for snorkeling. Expeditions by boat are offered. There is a water taxi that can take you into San Pedro, the main town on the island. We didn’t do any of that. Our aim was to kick back and do nothing for a week. We did avail ourselves of the pool—there are three, and they are sparkling and well-kept.

A walk on the pier was rewarded by the opportunity to see how fish are prepared. One of the items on the restaurant menu is the whole fish, which is available in three sizes and three prices. This guy seemed to be cutting up some small groupers.

The restaurant food is most satisfactory. A favorite of mine is what amounts to a chicken salad. We had that a couple of times. We had the nacho plate, as well. But, warning, you want to share one of these. It is a large plate of food.

Drawbacks are:

  • The place is remote. You will need a vehicle or else take the water taxi to go into town. Golf carts are for rent. There is another resort nearby with an excellent restaurant, and we were over to visit a couple of times for lunch. It’s accessible by a path along the beach.
  • No other civilization is close. If you need something you have to visit the resort’s own store. Prices are resort store prices, and I have no idea how they compare to in-town prices. Selection is limited.
  • The water supply has much to be desired. You purchase a 5-gallon jug of Crystal and install it on a dispenser in the kitchen. If you don’t do a bunch of cooking that will last a week.
  • As mentioned, getting there is a battle. After catching a taxi from the airport and then the water taxi and then a cab for the 3.5 mile ride to the resort, I was beginning to wish the airline would just fly over and allow us to parachute in.

Accessibility is my main complaint. We would possibly go back another time, but nobody is looking forward to the hassle of getting there and back.

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Coco Beach Lunch

The Great Lunch Expedition

The night we arrived at Captain Morgan’s Retreat we had dinner at their restaurant, and it was most grand. For lunch the next day we figured there must be something besides. The literature we had showed other places close by. “Close by” is a relative term. It’s apparent that Ambergris Kaye in Belize is not completely built out. Captain Morgan’s turns out to be hung out on a long stretch of road leading north up the coast, and there is not much close around. Evidence is that only recently a concrete road was poured up past the resort, and exploring additional options required a trek along this strip. Here is Barbara Jean exploring new territory.

Here’s what to expect on the island. There is not much in the way of real automobile traffic, nor is there the need. Motorized (not electric) go-carts are the dominant mode of transportation. You often see them chugging along in formation.

On our trek we came upon a place called Coco Beach Resort, but more had been promised farther on. We arrived at Belizean Shores Resort and invited ourselves in. There was no doubt this is a first class operation, and we prowled the grounds looking for the restaurant. We kept asking people, and they kept pointing in this direction. Finally somebody by the pool said the restaurant was in the main building, upstairs. It was upstairs. On the third floor. And it was not open.

But by the stairwell there was a restroom, so the trip may have been worth it. I took this photo from the stairs.

We figured Coco Beach Resort would be our next option, and we hiked back there. Interesting place. There was a barrier across the entrance, and we had to inform the security guy we were not staying at the resort—we only wanted to eat at the restaurant. He noted our arrival in his book and waived us through.

And this was the place.

There were tables out by the pool, and a barbecue serving station had been set up. We went for the barbecued chicken with rice, and it was outstanding. The flies thought so, as well, because as soon as our food arrived they pounced. We had to continually fight them off, and I finished off mine before they could get at it.

Barbara thinks we may have better luck next time, and we will give it another go. It didn’t appear other guests were having to fight the flies, so the plan is to sit farther from the serving stations. Details to follow. Or not.

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Captain Morgan’s Revenge

Also remembered as Gulliver’s Travails

I remember Captain Morgan as a notorious pirate from the 17th century:

Sir Henry Morgan (WelshHarri Morganc. 1635 – 25 August 1688) was a Welsh privateer, landowner and, later, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. From his base in Port Royal, Jamaica, he raided settlements and shipping on the Spanish Main, becoming wealthy as he did so. With the prize money from the raids he purchased three large sugar plantations on the island.

Anyhow, I’m feeling he has, after all these years, had his go at me. Long after he was dead somebody named a resort after him on Ambergris Kaye, off the coast of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras). Came one evening Barbara Jean and I were having a quiet dinner at home, and she must have been feeling a bit edgy. We needed to take a vacation. Less than two weeks later I was getting up at 2:00 in the morning to prepare for a drive to the airport. That’s when the fun really got going.

The airline experience was better than we sometimes experienced. But first we had to go to Miami. You see, even though Belize is about three hours south of San Antonio by jet liner, no jet liner takes you directly from San Antonio to Belize City. You have to go to Miami first, and that flight leaves about 5:55 in the morning. And no problems in Miami. The flight took off on time, and minutes later I was filling out Belize customs and immigration forms somewhere over Cuba. Yeah, customs and immigration at the Belize City airport is an experience.

We snaked into the terminal building and piled up behind a mass of people inching their way around a winding corridor, where they eventually confronted a bank of immigration stations. Fortunately all were manned, and presently the lady stamped our passports and told us, “Welcome Belize.” Then to get our luggage and take it to customs. But first to get our luggage.

By the time we arrived at the baggage claim the hoard that had preceded us had picked through the incoming stream and had piled it to one side of the room. After poking through, examining pile after pile, we encountered a helpful soul who informed us that stuff over there was all United. We were looking for American Airlines baggage from Miami. Still no luck, and things began to look grim. People were gathered around an American Airlines window, and one of the crowd told us her bags never made it to Belize. She was going to have to wait for the next flight, much later in the day.

We presented our claim checks to the AA woman in charge, and the modern miracle of computer automation informed us our bags had, indeed, arrived. We just had to find them. They were over by a concrete pillar, all by themselves. The customs officer waved at us and said, “Welcome to Belize.” We had to get to the ferry port.

Heading for the exit we encountered a psychic who asked if we needed a taxi to the ferry port. We said yes, and shortly we were winding through narrow Belize City streets, finally arriving at the ferry, due to depart in 30 minutes. Is that timing or what?

And we were off on a sea voyage, up the coast to the magical island of Ambergris Kaye—an hour and a half of open water sailing, sitting shoulder to shoulder with any number of souls who could not wait to get to Ambergris Kaye.

Fortunately the trip was broken by a stop at another island to let off some people and to pick up some more. And then were there—Ambergris Kaye.

All we had to do now was board the van that Captain Morgan told us would be there at 3:00 p.m. But first we had to get our baggage. A load of baggage was wheeled out on a large hand truck and deposited in a roped-off area, and, yes, ours was on the bottom.

But, no, Captain Morgan’s van was not there to pick us up. After 30 minutes of waiting we took a cab driver’s offer to cart us up to Captain Morgan’s Retreat for $25 (U.S.), about 3.5 miles away, along dusty Ambergris Kaye streets.

And we there, and our accommodations were absolutely splendid, and I will get into that in another posting. In the meantime Captain Morgan has been chuckling in his grave in Port Royal.

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Flat Out

This is from 1969—49 years ago.

Back when I lived in Austin there was a lot of motorcycle activity going on. Near Manor, Texas, a horse race track named Manor Downs doubled as a flat track venue. One of the good things about flat track racing, for photographers, was you could get down close to the action. Here are a bunch of photos from April 1969.

One thing fans like about the sport is the racing is typically very close. The races are short, not giving riders much opportunity to get spread out. Wheel-to-wheel is the norm.

What some may not have noticed is these bikes do not have brakes. Brakes were considered a liability in those days. Somebody applying the brakes in the middle of such close racing would likely result in a pile-up. The way you stop one of these bikes is to throw it sideways on the loose dirt track and scrub off speed.

Manor Downs was a 1/2-mile track. The next size up for flat track is the one-mile course. On the longer track race speeds peaked over 120 miler per hour. As Bruce Brown noted in his documentary film On Any Sunday, it took some kind of balls to charge into a turn at 120 mph and throw the bike sideways.

With flat track it’s all about dirt. The surface is may be hard but always loose enough to allow riders to corner in a controlled slide.

And of course it was dusty. I would have been thankful if the promoters had seen fit to roll out the watering truck, but that seldom was the case.

During those days the national championship season included numerous flat track events. To have a chance at the championship a rider had to compete in these events. Many of our flat-trackers were also good road racers and went on to successful careers on the national circuit.

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Fifty Years

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Fifty years ago we all went to Houston for the first indoor national championship race. The venue was the Astrodome, opened just three years before as the first ever indoor field for Major League Baseball. The American Motorcyclist Association was the sanctioning body for major races at the time, and this was the largest attendance at any national event up to the time.

I had never been to a national, and I was seeing some famous riders for the first time. Note, please, number 20, Gene Romero.

One rider I had seen previously was Bentley Hardwick, number 44, from Dallas. I first met Bennie in 1964 on the occasion of my first ever motorcycle race. By “meeting” him, I mean I had the experience of having him blow by me on his Harley 74 at the airport course in Wall, Texas, his rear tire blowing track debris in my face as he accelerated out of a turn. He was 15.

This was Bennie’s first national race, and he made it to the finals. The championship race started, and on the first lap, Bennie jumped into the lead, pulling into the first turn ahead of everybody else. And that was that for the day.

I continued to meet Bennie Hardwick for several years afterward at various motorcycle races. Some time after this photo was taken he was in a motorcycle shop in Peoria, Illinois, when a random person walked in and shot him in the back. We thought that might be the end of his racing career, but he recovered after months of therapy and continued racing, appearing at least once at Austin Raceway Park. Sadly, he was killed in a flat track race at Alameda Speedway in Houston on 27 March 1971.

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Rounding Out 2017

The good news is we made it (nearly) through another year. The bad news is we didn’t get to see all our great friends during 2017. People have gone to the many winds, and we haven’t been keeping up. Hopefully that will change in 2018. Here’s what happened.

Come last January, and we were done with the cold weather. We took a few days and went to Florida. We stayed a few days in Miami Beach, which we had never visited before. Big mistake was staying right on the ocean front. Learned too late that place is for the party crowd, which we are not. But we did take the bus out to Key West to stay a few days.

Sister Betty turned 80 in April, and John traveled up to Ohio to participate in a surprise party. Got to meet more descendants of John Freeman Blanton than we have seen in decades. She’s doing well.

By then it was time to do some home repairs. The house now has a new coat of paint, and also a new lintel over the garage door. Barbara has been critical about the original wood work since a year after we moved in.

Still in April it was the 70th anniversary of the horrendous Texas City disaster, and John had a hankering to take some photos. We spent a few days in Galveston after getting the photos. And that was about it for the year.

Until September.

John previously worked for a French company, and we went over to Paris a few times. We decided it was time to see something besides Paris, so Barbara worked out a plan to stay a few days in Paris and more days in some distant towns. We got to know the France train system quite well.

Back home in October, and we found neighbors on both sides had their houses up for sale. Both homes sold this autumn, and the first week in December families moved in on both sides of us.

Came early December, and San Antonio got some overnight snow. That was cool. Not so cool for the 20 vehicles involved in a pileup on I-410. The snow needs to come on a weekly basis or else stay away completely.

The grandson (the only one) is growing huge. He’s going to vote in the next presidential election.

We look forward to seeing everybody next year. Happy holidays!

Read the full story on the blog site.

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Southern Exposure

John Grisham conceived his first novel after watching the testimony of a 12-year-old girl who had been raped. A Time to Kill was a long time finding a publisher and was not initially successful. Other of his works found greater acceptance, some being made into hit motion pictures before this became a movie of the same name.

A survey of Grisham’s popular works discloses a master builder of plots laced with intense drama, intrigue, and also humanity. His initial work, however, is structured as the narrative of a criminal case. There is the initial crime. There is the crime that answers that crime. There is the defense of the second crime. There is the drama and the tragedy that dogs participants, and there is an ending in vindication, also also a final miscarriage of justice.

The key to the plot is the rape of a 10-year-old girl in rural Mississippi. Beyond that there may be no connection between this plot and the testimony Grisham witnessed in  1984. In this story the rape and attempted murder are inflicted by two pieces of white trash upon a black child. That sets in motion the chain of events that consumes the remainder of the book. When the perpetrators are arrested and brought before court in a small town, the girl’s father ambushes and murders them both. He is subsequently arrested, and the result is a trial, defended by a local lawyer and against impossible odds. Racial tensions in the rural South are the fabric that hangs the pieces of the remainder of the story together.

Presumably the setting is post civil rights South, could be the 1980s. Even so, it is obvious this is not the South of the 1950s. Fictional Ford County is predominantly white, but it has a black sheriff, and a popular one at that. People observe that he ensures justice is served evenly. But the red is strong in the neck in  Ford County, and it will be most difficult to obtain a favorable verdict for the avenging father, especially when there is never any question of guilt. Lawyer Jake Brigance must obtain a verdict based on diminished capacity. The deck is stacked against him.

His client cannot pay the $50,000 required for such a defense. His client cannot pay the $1000 Jake hopes for. Jake casts his lot with the defendant, a long-time friend, his only hope being ultimate redemption and the financial prospects that come with winning a high-profile case. Salvation comes in the form of a legal mentor with deep pockets and a zeal for the cause. It’s the civil rights campaign of the 1960s replayed in stereotype. All the elements are there, and they are played out under a magnifying glass.

Despite the supposed victories of 50 years ago, a dichotomy simmers beneath the surface. White southerners harbor a deep distrust of their black neighbors. The word “nigger” passes without effort from their lips, only now seldom in mixed company. The Klan makes a deadly resurgence, crosses are burned, jurors are intimidated, people are murdered. The National Guard is brought in to enforce order as tensions boil over. There is a sniper attack on Jake that ends with a soldier paralyzed. Parading klansmen are attacked, one burned to death. Jake’s house is torched. Multiple Klan attacks are thwarted by a Klan mole. The informer is ultimately tied to a cross and burned to death. A cultured, glamorous, and brilliant law student gives inestimable aid in preparing Jake’s case before she is kidnapped and brutalized by the Klan. Black civil rights leaders are exposed as caring more for the movement than for Jake’s client. They are prepared to martyr him for the cause.

I watched the movie before reading the book and am satisfied the movie is a close rendition. The movie shows an unholy lack of situational awareness on the part of Jake’s legal team. When the threats come, and the physical assaults begin, their recourse seems to be an enormous reliance on recreational alcohol. At a time when people should be keeping their wits about them they are seen dulling  their judgment with drink and invoking mindless exposure to the danger that lurks close by in the shadows. By all accounts this has the appearance of a team that deserves to lose.

The central theme is of a man so taken by the injustice about to be inflicted on his family by the uneven treatment his daughter’s attackers will obtain, that he must seek retribution up close and personal. Lacking the racial core of the initial crime, there should have been a straight forward conviction, likely followed by execution of the father. In the end, vindication is achieved, but at the cost of enormous injury to the principle of law.

Numerous anomalies are manifest throughout. Multiple crimes, including homicide, are perpetrated, and the story follows neither their investigation nor any resolution. We witness a massive resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, but no federal response that would ordinarily follow. The Klan is shown as murderously vengeful over what they see as white privilege being trampled, and the commit unspeakable sins in their campaign of intimidation. However, after killing the informant and with none of their number in jeopardy, they slink out of town and melt back into human society. A real-life story would see Klan determination and resolve rebounding after Jake’s client is set free and returned to his family. Nothing in the book adequately explains the Klan’s collapse at the end.

The story has timely significance with the rise of white nationalism following last year’s election. The tragedy of Charlottesville earlier this year highlights the existence of a society that has simmered beneath the surface through human history. In America this social layer is starting to once again feel empowered, and we will possible see events from this book replayed on the evening news.

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