MasterChef final comes to the Americas - You better Belize it!!

Published: October 19th 2018
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We arrived in Belize albeit a day later than the original itinerary. So, where or what is Belize? It wouldn’t exactly jump out at you on the shelf of a travel agent as an alternative for Benidorm or Ibiza!! Belize, formerly British Honduras, is an independent Commonwealth country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. Its mainland is about one hundred and eighty miles long and sixty eight miles wide. Belize has a population of 387,879. To put it in to perspective, the country is smaller than Djibouti but bigger than El Salvador. It is ranked 151st biggest in the world!! (or 33rdsmallest depending if you’re a glass half empty sort of a person!!!)

The surrounding waters of Belize City, which incidentally in not the capital city – that honour goes to Belmopan, is scattered with coral reefs and small atolls making the waters too shallow for cruise ships to sail within two kilometres of the shore. For this reason, tender boats were deployed. These can be a white-knuckle experience (and free of charge!!) especially in choppy seas. Usually the life boats are used to move all passengers from ship to shore. These small craft can accommodate about one hundred and twenty persons when full, and when they catch the swell they tend to bobble about like a cork in a jacuzzi!! Today, however, the Port of Belize City had provided their own tenders. These were larger twin hulled vessels that glided through the water cancelling out any noticeable pitching or reeling by the use of the boats stabiliser system, a mechanism that is not present on ship’s lifeboats.

We arrived in Belize at 07:00 so by the time we were ready for breakfast at 09:00, many people had already left the ship with an organised excursion or just those who wanted to make the most of the ten hours we were moored. Although the buffet area covers aft to midships, port and starboard side of deck 11, Breakfast time can be a bit of a free for all with indoor seating at a premium. This morning, though, we arrived at an almost empty buffet where we took a leisurely breakfast without the usual bun fight at the Special K Coral! Shortly after 10:00 we were sat on the tender craft for the twenty minute crossing to the mainland.

The quayside was awash with the usual array of souvenir and jewellery stores they refer to as a tourist village. Having been starved of wi-fi access to our phone for almost a week, we sat down at a vacant bench in order to take advantage of the free wi-fi the tourist village had to offer After many unsuccessful attempts to log on, passers by were becoming aware of the increased number of expletives coming from both Roisin and my directions!! It was time to move on. We picked up a map of the city to get our bearings and decided to head down past the marina, over the swing bridge and on in to the downtown area. The central square with its cathedral was a good enough place to start.

On leaving the shopping area, the usual cry of ‘taxi’ was repeated every few yards. The rate seemed to be $20 each for an hour. A few yards up from the exit was an empty miniature road train. We had read about these but couldn’t quite understand if they were chartered for the cruise line or for general use. There were no queues or operative in the vicinity. There was however a pushy taxi driver. He thrust a board under my nose. His English was impeccable as were most Belizeans, due to once being a British Colony (it is still part of the Commonwealth) therefore English is compulsory in schools from a very early age.

‘Show you all there is to see. The fort, the Governors House…..I take you through the run down shitty hovels that we call suburbs and other crap that probably isn’t worth the effort for the time you’ll be stuck in my taxi with no air condition wishing you were back in the luxury of the ship’. (he didn’t actually say that last bit but that’s how it translated in my brain!!)

What I did hear loud and clear was: ‘You don’t want to take the train. They charge $39 per person. I only ask $20 for an hour’.

‘Thanks mate,’ I said. ‘We’re just going to go for a stroll and maybe if we like what we see well come back’

‘I’ll be waiting for you’, he replied in an almost menacing sort of tone!!

We continued on our way and although we were accosted on several occasions, a firm ‘No, thanks!’ and they didn’t follow up. At the swing bridge we headed away from down town towards the Belize National Museum. On crossing the road, we became conscious of another person, who had just pegged it across the road and was now walking beside us, stride for stride.

‘Hello, my friends where are you from? Welcome to Belize. Is this your first time here?’ So many questions for an opening line!!

‘England. Thanks and Yes’, I said

Our new acquaintance was not exactly doing himself any favours by his appearance. He was of Afro Caribbean appearance, probably in is late forties but looked twenty years older due to his long matted Rastafarian hair together with his three remaining teeth!!

‘Ah, England. We used to be part of your Empire. That’s why we all speak Queenies English’. At this point I was trying to engage Roisin in conversation hoping our unwelcome guest would take the hint….He didn’t!!!

‘I’m an old man, just like you’, he continued. Whoa! What did he just say?? At least I have all my own teeth. OK, there are a few I pop out at night and keep in a glass beside my bed but they still belong to me!!!

He then went on to explain about the national museum we were approaching. This was becoming awkward. Roisin and I then did a U-turn. I just said, ‘We’ve changed our mind’ and started to walk back the way we came. Then came the punch line: ‘Can’t you help me out for showing you some of our city?’

Before I could reply, Roisin said: ‘Oh, what’s that building over there, then? Pointing to quite a modern brick building with several Police cars and a row of Police motor bikes parked outside. I’m sure the question was rhetorical but it did the trick. Our man Friday disappeared as stealthily as he had appeared. We had reached the swing bridge once more. The centre of the city was still a ten-minute walk away, it was hot and humid and Man Friday had reappeared and was lurking on the other side of the road. Roisin only wanted to head back in one direction and that was toward the ship. It is a shame that people of these and similar shores make it so uncomfortable for visitors to enjoy what these places have to offer. Even though most are sincerely friendly and have a genuine curiosity from whence we came, we can’t help but remain suspicious of their motives as we have been stung several times before being lulled in to a false sense of security!! Reluctantly, we agreed it would be better to head back to the ship.

Roisin started to walk over the swing bridge in the direction of downtown and away from the cruise terminal. Oh, she’s changed her mind, I thought as I started to snap away at colonial style structure that was the Supreme Court Building of Belize City. She hadn’t!!!

‘This isn’t the way back to the cruise terminal is it?’ she asked

‘No’, I replied. ‘It’s back over the swing bridge and turn left?’

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’, she said scathingly

‘I don’t know. I thought
The blue hole of Belize The blue hole of Belize The blue hole of Belize

you’d suddenly taken an interest in classic British colonial architecture or something!!’

We crossed back over the swing bridge and turned right, blanking our stalker in the process.

We never got to see any Belize City Centre with its churches, cathedral and museums (the more I think about it though…!!!)

There is one attraction that I would have liked to have seen. I never saw it on the official excursion list as it can only be viewed by air or explored only if you own a pair of flippers and are good at holding your breath!! This unique phenomenon is known as the Great Blue Hole. It is a 1,000ft wide sink hole, forty three miles off the coast of Belize City. It is near the centre of Lighthouse Reef which is a small atoll that forms part of the Belize Barrier Reef. It is just over four hundred feet deep and is a major tourist attraction for snorkellers and divers alike. (see photo: source -

Back on board, the scene was set. The six finalists we’re paired in to three teams, the rules were explained in English then in French, then in German, then in Spanish. Candice, our multi-multi lingual hostess had done a remarkable job in building up the tension (in four different languages) for the modestly small crowd gathered in La Fenice (the Phoenix), the theatre on board the Armonia. It was the final of MasterChef at Sea and our contestants had taken up their positions in front the mystery box. ‘3-2-1 Lets cook’, Candice said mimicking the catchphrase from the world popular show. The lid of the mystery box was revealed. There was boiled ham, cheese, a loaf of bread and some butter. A cucumber, a head of lettuce, a tomato, seasoning and a variety of salad dressings. Due to health and safety, the show was not allowed to have electric hobs or naked flames on stage. Boiling water was also on the forbidden list. Yes! Our contestants had the ingredients to make a ham and cheese salad sandwich!!

The finalists had ten minutes to construct a culinary work of art. I’ve never seen so much concentration on the stage with everyone immersed in their attempt at the ultimate sarnie. All except the lone Belgian contestant who seemed to have a stupid cheesy grin throughout this gastronomic test of excellence. Candice kept the audience alive by chatting to the finalists and describing the progress of each of the teams. Time was up, the three judges were in place. These were the Sou Chef and two other galley chefs. The first sandwich was brought up. It was the Belgian contestant with his French partner.

‘Presentation looks good but a little too cheesy,’ was the agreed comment by the panel.

Just like the Belgian’s stupid grin!! I thought.

The second sandwich was well seasoned and had a good balance of flavour although not the best presentation. The final plate of food was described as a garlic sandwich with some ham and cheese flavouring!! And the winner was….(drum roll!!)……. Sandwich number two. The runners up received a ball cap with the winner receiving a couple of t-shirts, a backpack a bottle of prosecco AND a ball cap!! More practical than a Perspex MasterChef trophy, I suppose!!

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