We spent our first days in Belize in the town of San Ignacio. This was a relatively short stay but the highlights for us were a fabulous vegetable market and a wonderful French Bakery (with great cinnamon buns!).
From there, we headed south and ended up at the Mariposa, a small hotel and restaurant in Placencia. It was owned and run by Sharon and Bruce, a friendly couple from Calgary who made us feel at home immediately. The location was perfect (gorgeous beach right on the ocean) and the price was right (we agreed to have at least one meal a day at the restaurant). We ended up staying 5 days, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and getting to know the owners, some of the guests, and Sue and Carlos (friends that lived across the road and helped with the restaurant when staff was short). In short, it was fabulous. Not only were we able to find new friends to converse with in English (it had been some time) but we had so much fun that Sober January only made it till day 25.
Our next stop was a campground at the Tropical Education Center, a unique organization associated with the Belize Zoo. We had only intended to stay one night but we were so impressed that we stayed a couple of nights and took in a guided canoe trip and a night tour of the zoo. The canoe trip was a wonderful float with a father-son team as guides that featured a lot of birdlife, a weird fish pedicure, a couple coatis. Our guide was also a wealth of information on local orange farming. The night tour of the zoo was really unique as all the nocturnal animals were very active. The black jaguar was incredible but we especially enjoyed meeting the kinkajou and the many owls.
We spent a short day in Belize City before heading to the coastal town of Hopkins. This was the part of our Belize adventure that we were really looking forward to. My sister Anne-Marie and her husband Terry were coming to visit us and we had an apartment in town where we could stay with them for 10 days. We decided to arrive a couple of days early to check out the town. We camped at a hostel that could best be described as rustic (Kristel’s edit: by rustic, Dave means that the bathroom was “semi-private”. We could hear everything said in the budget room next door and can only assume that they heard us. Also, the septic tank was shot and the toilet didn’t flush. It was a new low.) Needless to say, we were thrilled when we met the apartment manager in town and she invited us to check in the evening before.
The next day, we diligently tracked Anne and Terry’s flights and were pleased to see that they were actually going to arrive early. As their last leg was an internal flight on a small Cessna, it looked like they would be able to arrive close to an hour sooner than expected! We rushed to the airstrip to meet them, excitedly photographing the next plane coming in. Only, it wasn’t theirs…nor were any of the next three. Finally, Anne and Terry arrived fashionable late, about an hour after the originally scheduled time. Apparently there was an issue finding the plane…then the plane had no fuel…oh well – we were just excited to see that they’d made it just in time before the sun went down. (Kristel’s edit: we’ve since attributed such delays to “Belizean Time”. One local explained that, just as there are two Belizean dollars to one American dollar, you can usually count on two Belizean minutes to a standard American minute). We all crammed into the cab of our little truck for what was to one of many “cosy” rides over the next ten days (Kristel’s edit: I have firmly decided that only amputee children could be comfortable in the back seat of our Toyota).
Having spent a couple of days around the laid back town of Hopkins we were a little concerned that we would not be able to find enough to keep us occupied. But as I look back at all we did during their visit, it seems silly to have been worried. Here a list in no particular order:
• The beach. We enjoyed swimming in the ocean and tanning (ok, burning) in the sun.
• Games. We played countless games of canasta before grudgingly switching to dominos when the girls got frustrated with our dominance. We finally returned to canasta on the last night so Anne & Kristel could thrash us three games in a row.
• Zipline! The longest zipline in Belize at Bocawina produced some thrills and a couple of screams.
• Chocolate. The chocolate farm visit included a demonstration on traditional chocolate making with some hands-on experience, a great chocolate chicken lunch, and some tasting of their wares. We left with a good sampling of their chocolate and T-shirts. Anne & Terry have forgotten their chocolate in our camper fridge and although we have good intentions of bringing it home to them, we can make no guarantees that a crisis won’t arise that can only be solved by a chocolate fix.
• Ruins. The small Maya ruin site of Num Li Punit was fun to wander around.
• A hike in Mayflower Bocawina National Park described by the caretaker as having “steep sections”, included many rope assisted climbs but proved well worth it when we reached the swimming pool above the 150 foot waterfall.
• Kayaking. We rented kayaks and paddled around the lagoon, birdwatching and maneuvering our way through a tunnel of mangroves.
• Drumming. The drumming course at the Lebeha Drumming Center was a lot of fun and I didn’t let my lack of rhythm hold me back, although I did notice the instructor cringing at me a couple of times. Terry, on the other hand, seemed to be in his element, although his exuberance did cause a blood vessel to break in his finger. Who knew drumming was a contact sport?
• Snorkeling. Twice we went snorkeling among the Cayes off the coast. It was a first for Kristel & I and we were blown away with all the fish, rays and even dolphins! The vibrant colors of the fish and the corral were amazing. We lunched the first day on Bread and Butter Caye and on the second trip stopped for a tour of Tobacco Caye. The snorkeling trips also included Bird Caye were we watched a colony of Frigate Birds and their fascinating courtship rituals.
• Fishing. We decided to try our hand at fishing when our guides, Luckie and Beaver, spotted birds diving and said it must be a school of tuna. We raced over and on our first pass I hooked a tuna and brought it to within a few feet of the boat before, in my excitement, I set it “free”. We thought we were in for some amazing fishing based on that initial success but, almost surprisingly, we could not muster so much as another bite. (Kristel’s edit: we blamed Dave for this as his escapee must have warned the other fish about our lunch plans)
• Good food and good music. We enjoyed an evening of pizza, drinks and live Garifuna drumming at the Driftwood Bar & Restaurant.
• A bicycle tour of historic Hopkins capped one evening. We expected to hear about the long history of the village but were surprised to learn that it was only established in 1961 after a hurricane destroyed the older settlement located further north.
• At Cockscomb National Park we rented inner tubes and floated down the Stann River and ended near a waterfall were we had a pleasant dip in the cool water at the base. It was one of those perfect afternoons and everyone enjoyed it so much we hiked back and floated down again.
I guess we found enough to do after all. After 10 days, it was sad to see Anne & Terry off but we were really glad to have had this time together.
After they left it was nearly time for us to leave Belize but before we did we stopped in at the Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary where we enjoyed a nice campground and some wonderful birdwatching. We saw Wood Storks, Northern Jacanas, Groove Billed Ani, Yucatan Nightjar, Vermilion Flycatchers, Hepatic Tanagers and many more.
There was also one other issue plaguing us. We had been losing air in the used tire we had bought in Guatemala and it seemed to be getting worse. None of our other tires were in great shape, either. We had stopped the previous day to fill the tire at a shop after our latest bicycle pump failed but we were trying to limp the tires along at least till Mexico. Then, fate struck. The morning that we were leaving Belize I came to traffic circle on the outskirts of Orange Walk and I thought the sign said that Mexico was straight through… Kristel said she thought we had to go right. As she scrambled to bring the map up on the GPS I drove right around the circle intending to go back to re-read the signs. Just as I exited the circle Kristel found the map and confirmed that we needed to go right. I pulled over to turn around and there we were, staring at a Caribbean Tire Store. Kristel had previously seen a man wearing a Caribbean Tire hat and thought it was so close to our familiar Canadian Tire that she wanted one. This was too much of a coincidence, I said. We had to check them out. They had a set of 10 ply Hankook all-season tires to fit the truck, they would give us a 10% discount, could mount them right way, and would try and find us two Caribbean Tire hats. We had to go for it. In the end, no hats could be found. The salesman did offer drive home and get a used one that he thought he had, but we settled for two sad little calendars and a discount on a new 12V air compressor. We left Belize a little poorer but feeling much better about our wheels!
On to Mexico, the land of cheap Kraken and fresh avacados!