(Click here for corresponding map of Belize)
Been a busy few days! I arrived to the hot and dusty airport right on time on July 2 and got to my first hotel just fine. I stayed at the cutest guest house that used to be run by Quakers, now owned by some New Yorker. Met some people on the plane who knew the city quite well. After settling in I met up with them and a local guy they knew and had a first hand walking tour! I think I expected a more developed place. Belize City (1) definitely look like a city in the developing world. Then I started noticing some contrasts like the brand spankin' new ACE hardware store that looks like it could be anywhere in America, and the Mailboxes Etc. store among the smaller local cement structures. Very friendly people there too.
My guesthouse was right on the waterfront with good breezes. In the morning I left to catch the ferry to Caye Caulker (2). (This is where I tell you to get out your maps and atlases for easy reference.) As expected I was approached by every taxi driver and child and offered assistance during my 4 block walk. The terminal was mass chaos with people loading on to all different boats and I barely made mine!
It was a 45 minute boat ride later in choppy water when we arrived. What a place!! There were bright pink, purple, and blue houses on stilts all along the water! No paved roads, and only 3 streets--Front, Middle and Back. The island used to be about 4 miles long, but was split in 2 by a hurricane about 20 years ago, so now one end is called the "split". After I settled in, I went for a walk to explore the island. Many guesthouses, restaurants and bars, but also saw locals fishing, washing their clothing under their houses, and cooking outside.
I basically spent the 2 days in a hammock, at the "beach" (no real beaches here, but some nice patches of sand) or walking around. No cars here, everyone walks or drives a golf cart. I had drinks with some new friends at a great place with swings instead of seats, and wonderful views of the entire island.
After 2 nights I decided to leave--I had had too much sun already. Decided to go to a village called Hopkins (4) on some travelers' advice. (Refer to maps again!) This is a small fishing village on the south coast where many of the residents are decedents of escaped slaves. I had to take 2 busses to get there. On the way we went form Belmpan to Dangriga (3) along a stretch of highway called the Hummingbird Highway. Very beautiful!! Lush green hills, small hillside villages that came right down to roadside, and twisty highway. I changed busses at Dangriga for a short trip on a washboard dirt road at Hopkins. The busses here are old US school busses that have been painted either orange or green.
Hopkins is right along the sea, and again all the house were stilted, although none as nice as on Caye Caulker. Few other tourists here. I was let off in the middle of the road and had no idea with way to go. Luckily a kid on a bike pointed to a guesthouse a few yards away. There are quite a few guesthouse I later discovered, but most cater to a different type of traveler. I checked into a small plywood room no bigger than the bed itself. Clean bathroom in the hall, though! In the backyard the beach was beautiful!! Palms, driftwood, benches, all sorts of lower trees. I sat out there for a quite awhile in the evening.
The owner of the guesthouse loaned me her bike (yes, I said that right. Bike. No falls this time!) and I biked the village. It basically consisted of 2 roads parallel to the sea. Found a cute restaurant for lunch, and I managed to attract the attention of a few kids. When they found out I am a teacher, they decided to sit with me while I eat and do their math facts aloud. The lady that ran the place was friendly as well and told me all about her past trips to Queens NY.
Biked some more and took pictures if allowed, although very few people would let me take a picture of them or whatever I wanted to take. The residents of this village are decedents of escaped slaves and are darker than most Belizeans.
In the evening I helped the owner of the guesthouse, Janette, and her grandkids sort bottles for recycling. The kids were adorable and wanted to know all about my family. I felt as though I were back in the village in Peace Corps again and realized how much I really miss that experience! The village is not very big, and the poverty shows. I could smell the familiar smell of cooking fires and saw laundry strung up under houses. The houses are small, maybe 6' by 8' and an entire family sleeps there.
After being told that there were no mosquitoes in that village I woke up with tons of bites all over my legs in spite of using repellent! Even more wonderful reminders of Peace Corps! I got up early--roosters--and caught the early bus back to Dangriga to go on to San Ignacio yesterday. Went back over the twisty Hummingbird Highway like a bat out of hell and I am thankful I missed most of it. Made a 3 hour trip in 1 1/2 hours!! The on to San Ignacio (5) through lush green farmland inhabited by mostly German Mennonites.
San Ignacio is a great mountain town right near some ruins and a mountainous area with falls and caves. I went to 4 hotels before I found a room--show how popular this place is. Last night I ran into a German woman whom I met in Caye Caulker. She's also traveling alone, so we decided to share a room to save on costs. We have a great view of the city up the hillside from our balcony. I will be here couple more days as I want to explore the nearby ruins and do a cave tour. From there Martina and I will travel together to Tikal, the famous Guatemalan site and then go our separate ways.
I love this town! Walked all up and down the hills exploring yesterday, picking up things I needed (more shorts--mine got ripped). The main tourist hangout here is called Eva's--had dinner there. Went to a bar called Coco Nutz for a Belikin, the local beer. There's also a beer here called Lighthouse Lager.
The money here is basically 2 Belize dollars for 1 US. Both are used interchangeably and I have received US back for change when buying with Belizean. It's a bit expensive here on a backpacker's budget, one of the reason's I cut my time here shorter than planned.
That's about it for now. Please feel free to send me e-mails--I'd love to read stuff when I sign on next!!