Why was I not so fussed about this place?!
And off to Belize we go! Felix and I took a boat from Livingston to Punta Gorda (Belize) at about 7.30am. Our Captain, Jose, and his first mate, "Big Boy" took us there on quite a large boat despite the fact that Felix and I were the only ones on it. They clearly were not going to make any profit on this run! Jose and his first mate were certainly quite the characters for the journey. Jose first introduced "Big Boy" to us as Big Boy, and subsequently erupted into laughter. We of course laughed too, as Big Boy was very small (muy pequeno), and as we also have similar jokes like this in English, it made sense to us. A few moments later, they then turned to me and asked (this is all done in Spanish by the way, neither of them spoke English) what big meant. Hmmmm, clearly what we thought was the play on "big" was clearly lost on them! I then translated it for them and then they started laughing.
About an hour later, we arrived into Punta Gorda. It must have been a slow morning for Belize as were the only ones in immigration and I politely had to interrupt one of the officials from the latest episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" to come and stamp us through. The folks in immigration were quite possibly the nicest people that I have come across while travelling. Very helpful, offering us tourist advice, advising on the best places to change our money and even offering to escort us to where the best breakfast spot was. Most definitely a complete change from my experiences in Bermuda, where I felt like I was some kind of criminal being interrogated as to where I was, what I was doing and why I am trying to come back to Bermuda...and then there was the hefty surcharge that was levied on all my newly purchased goods abroad...ouch!
On the advice of our new friends at immigration, Felix and I headed to Grace's for a hearty breakfast that included "fried jacks" (a local delicacy), and is essentially a fried piece of dough that is quite fluffy. It's a little bit sweet, but surprisingly when paired with an omelette, quite delicious!
Now that I am in an English speaking country, after weeks and weeks on end of wishing that people could at least understand some English (I'm very proficient at Spanglish now, I might even dare to say fluent!), I cannot seem to stop speaking Spanish. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been reminded by the locals, "excuse me ma'am, remember that we speak English here in Belize!¨. Quite funny, but I suppose in a way, it's progress on my part. It's also very strange to see the Mayan-looking descendants and have them come out and speak English to you right off the bat. Especially when you are used to them speaking the "clicks" of the Mayan languages.
Not long after breakfast, we boarded a local bus, which is not far off being reminiscent of a chicken bus in Guatemala, for Placencia, where we were going to be staying one night. It was a smooth enough ride, with many stops and lots of people but definitely an entertaining ride as the Garifuna tunes were pumping (or perhaps blaring is a more accurate description). About an hour and a half later, we arrived at Indepencia.
Placencia is a very small village that is only accessible via a water taxi that leaves from the coast of Indepencia. When the sun is out, it's incredibly hot in Placencia. We arrived in the mid afternoon and the sun was strong. It was certainly quite a mission trying to lug our bags around while we found some accommodation for the night. There are a lot of American expats that live here. Some are retired, and others are here working in various industries. It was a nice spot, and the locals are very friendly. One local told me that the Main Street in Placencia is in the Guinness World Records for the narrowest Main Street in the world (yet to be confirmed on my part).
Once we had checked into our new digs, we went for a walk along the beach and not long later, low and behold, we ran into Chang and Sabrina! Small world on the backpackers route. We spent the afternoon and evening with them drinking the local brew (Belikin). Belikin is quite a nice beer and in my opinion, and a hell of a lot better than the Brahva that we were sometimes forced to drink in Guatemala when there was no Gallo, Victoria or Moza on offer (Brahva tastes like water). I also had a crack at the local Garifuna drink called "Bittaz". I believe that Bittaz is a local rum that is mixed with herbs. To put it mildly, Bittaz was foul. I hate wasting a drink, so in an attempt to salvage the better part of a full bottle of Bittaz, I mixed it with the the best mixer that I know, Coke. And even after mixing it with the best masking agent on the market, I still couldn't get it down! Rough.
That evening, the Awesome Foursome stumbled across possibly the best meal restaurant in Belize; a very understated shack called ¨Mary´s¨. Mary, the Head Chef and Owner, is a woman that is larger than life itself but is an absolute delight and puts so much love and passion into her cooking. The four of us feasted on all kinds of local delicacies, ranging from shrimp coconut curries, to fried conch. Bloody sensational, and the perfect way to close out Placencia (and I am ignoring Mary´s empty promise to open early for us for breakfast...rejection is harsh!).
The following morning, on the cuff of being stood up by Mary for our final Placencia breakfast, Sabrina, Chang and I sombrely headed to the bus station to catch the next bus to the Hopkins Junction. Felix had decided to hang back for an extra night for some reason. I personally believed that he wasn´t quite ready to say goodbye to Mary just yet. In my experience, one meal feels just so unfinished! The ride to the Junction was relatively uneventful. We met a really nice Danish bloke who was also going to Hopkins and also planning to stay at the Funky Dodo. It is customary (per the Lonely Planet and all the locals that we spoke to), that once you get the bus to the Hopkins Junction, you then hitch the 4km it is to the town itself as the buses are highly irregular going into the town from the Junction. After almost an hour and a half of waiting, and feeling a little hopeless as cars kept ripping past us and leaving us cloaked in a thick wave of dust, we finally caught out lucky break with two lovely expats in a giant truck. We loaded our gear and ourselves in the tray, and we were off!
I absolutely adored Hopkins, it was very raw and just felt real. There was no glitz or glamour to the place. What you saw was what you got. The town itself is quite random, very spread out long dirt road that stretches for about two kilometres. The shops and restaurants are not concentrated in one main area, just small clusters in various chunks down the road. It certainly is not the smartest lay-out, but was great exercise and going for a stroll on my first morning was the best way to discover all the hidden gems this funny little town had to offer. There were some great local eats (we got to taste more Garifuna delicacies, although none topped the Tapado soup!), with my personal favourite being my discovery of Caitlin´s Bakery on my first morning. Talk about striking gold!
The Funky Dodo Hostel itself is quite funky (clearly suitably named). It´s a stones throw away from the intersection of the Junction Road and the Main Street, and about a block from the beach. It was self catering and even had a pool (blow-up! But it still worked!). Marlon, the manager, who was originally from Guatemala but had lived in Belize for a number of years, was an invaluable resource and always made sure we were comfortable.
We met all kinds of great fellow travellers here. So many interesting stories and random travel plans. First, there was Marcus from Sweden (who we later christened Sven, appropriate!), who had been in Belize for quite a while on an extended travel plan. He likes to travel very slowly (I am talking years in one country), you could say the man is thorough! Anyway, he was in Belize at a nearby community that some of his friends have started up, sort of a sustainable living community in the Belizian jungle. Then there was Mauro, he was an Italian that had been motorbiking through Central America on his way down to South America. His photos and stories of the places he visited were amazing. I was particularly enthralled with his tales of Cuba, a destination I was going to in November. Then there was Mel and Joel, two Aussie mates who were also making their way south on an extended trip. They both grew up together in Albury and were absolutely lovely (also the people that I would later spend Christmas and New Years with! It´s never Xmas without a few Aussies). And finally, an Argentinian, Gabriel, who had also travelled on his motorbike from Alaska all the way down the West Coast. The stories that Gabriel and Mauro told were amazing and certainly made me envious...motorbike license next maybe?! You´ve got to be ok with being alone with your thoughts for long stretches, ey?!
Needless to say, not only was it an absolute pleasure to be in such a great little village, it was also the tremendous company. So many days and nights filled with some really interesting and rich conversation, and lots of great tales of travel. This is what I love!
It was from Hopkins that Sven, Chang, Felix and I ventured to an island called Glover´s Atoll for a week in paradise. But that story is for the next post! Stay tuned.
Following our stint in paradise, we returned to Hopkins for a few nights before we got a case of the itchy feet again and made the executive decision to head to Caye Caulker (but sadly without Sven, who had to go and meet up with a friend, but would later see him down the line).
Caye Caulker is a party town. Period. It was nice to see, but if you are looking for a tranquil and beautiful island, you certainly won´t get that (harsh, yes, but I think a huge part of my judgement is due to being completely spoiled the week prior on Glover´s Atoll - see my separate post for that amazing week!). Having said that, I did have a great time and met some fantastic fellow travellers, I just got to the point where I felt as though I had overstayed my welcome (after Bermuda, there is only so much of being cooped up on a small island filled with booze that I can take!). It was certainly a very booze-ladened adventure, which isn´t always bad, just wasn´t what I was after at that point in time.
Chang, Felix and I, at the recommendation of Joel and Mel, stayed at Dirty McNasty´s Hostel. Contrary to the name, the hostel was a far cry from being dirty, or nasty for that matter. It offered a fantastic cooked breakfast in the morning and free rum punch in the evening after 7pm. As far as I was concerned, it was a win, win. The first few days we stayed in Caye Caulker were a wash out (and also was the result of us staying much longer than originally anticipated). As such, we spent the majority of the time lazing around the hostel, playing pool, and of course all kinds of drinking games. In brief moments of sunshine, we were able to go and have a few beers and some ceviche down at the Split. The Split is famous in Caye Caulker and is appropriately named after a hurricane came through and literally split the island into two pieces. There is now one completely inhabited part, and one habited part. The Split is the go to place for sunning yourself and drinking in the sunshine. There really isn´t another place on Caye Caulker to just soak up the sun!
Along with ensuring that we stayed well hydrated at the Split, the three of us also were sure to take full advantage in using the hostel´s free kayak and went on several adventures out at sea. Chang wasn´t nearly as enthralled in the kayak as Felix and I. I think a pivotal moment in his distaste for it was when Felix capsized it on purpose, right off the shore of The Split. Of course stuff went everywhere, and I was for the better part almost drowning as a result of being in fits of laughter. Chang was quite displeased with the whole production and stormed off in a huff, leaving Felix and I to de-capsize the boat. The next day, Chang left (but I assure you it had nothing to do with the capsizing incident as he explained later, he just had some personal things that he needed to attend to).
And then there were two. Well, even though Chang left us, it didn´t put too much of a damper on our good time. Felix and I still continued to have all kinds of fun-filled adventures. We made the very foolish decision to kayak around the entire island, not fully appreciating the size of the island and also the fact that over the half of the journey would be done in a savage head wind. It was definitely one of those ridiculous moments where you feel so helpless and feel so dumb for even attempting it (I am going to die at sea!), but at the same time are completely cracking up with laughter at how absurd it all was and that it´s fun! We were at it for the better part of about three hours and I cannot even begin to describe the faces that the locals pulled at us while we were paddling with all of our force into a gale forced wind by the ferry dock and going absolutely nowhere. Soul destroying! But made for a great story, and certainly quite a few well deserved beers.
The following morning, we finally got around to planning the snorkel trip that we had been talking about all week (I tell ya, times were lazy, lazy, lazy in Caye Caulker...but mostly because of the weather!). On the advice of some Canadians that I briefly met in Hopkins, we were to find a Belizian man called Stan (ok his name wasn´t Stan, it slips my mind right now but I´ll update when I remember) and he would hook us up with an all day adventure of snorkelling, fishing and then a barbecue later in the evening where we got to eat what we caught (fingers crossed we caught something or it would be a very sad barbecue!). We had an amazing day at sea where we got to see heaps of fish, have a crack at spear fishing, regular rod fishing and I even got to meet a random lobster diver out at sea...underwater! Quite unexpected when you think it´s a member of your group! But he let me dive down with him to catch lobster, awesome! Felix and I were also joined by three lovely German fellas who were out in Belize and Mexico on a quick three week jaunt. Sometimes you get envious of people on these quick stint trips, they can travel so differently, and drop cash without thinking or weighing up a variety of alternatives. Perils of longterm travel! Always weighing up the alternatives, and deciding what you will forfeit in the future to do this one thing that you are desperate to do. It´s hard work!
Anyway, the Germans were great company but our day was far from complete without our fearless captain, a man who rocked an ombre hairstyle better than Khloe Kardashian and was not far from being fluorescent orange (he was so tan), Ninja. Ninja was a legend and one of the funniest blokes that I have come across in my travels to date. He had a free flowing blonde ombre´d mane with long and lustrous curls. He was incredibly skinny, leathery, didn´t have too many teeth left and wore his bright blue Speedo with authority. My biggest regret of Belize was that I didn't get a photo with Ninja, the man had presence! Most of the time I found him inaudible, his accent was so thick. But on the brief moments where I actually understood what he was saying, I was always laughing. He was a funny bugger! I think my favourite Ninja moment of the day, was right after he brought us out to his boat (it was really just a rickety old punter boat with an engine) was in the beginning of the trip as we were patiently waiting on the jetty with all of our stuff. The five of us were politely engaged in some general ¨get to know you¨chat until we could´t ignore what was happening a few boats down any longer. Ninja had been a few boats down for quite sometime and there had been a repeated banging. When asked if everything was ok, he responded in a thick Belizian accent, ¨Nah...alright man...forgot me keys so breakin open de lock¨. I couldn´t hide my giggles. I knew it was going to be a great day. And great (and fruitful!) it was. Even I caught a fish (and a real one!).
We closed out our time in Caye Caulker with the local Halloween Party down at The Split. It was a great way to finish it off, there was a dance floor with some crazy disco lights and all the cool Halloween-esque hits that you would expect. I made a point of drinking my fair share of a drinking known as the Lazy Lizard, which was a local drink at The Split and eerily reminiscent of a drink concoction that I made during Schoolies when I was 17. And here I thought my days of pounding back Midori (yes, I know, vile) were over?! Safe to say, at 30, I am almost 95% sure I will never have a drink with Midori in it again. Revolting...but hey, was good at the time!
At around 6am the following morning we boarded the ferry to Chetumal, Mexico. Catch ya round Belize...and Hola Mexico!!!!!!!! Looking forward to these Day of the Dead celebrations!
Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.
Captain Felix...assisted by first mate Juan...enroute to Belize! Love that moustache!
The Belize version of Chicken Bus...good times. Especially with the Garifuna tunes blaring. And no, the bus´s name is not James...name of the company!
The tranquil shores of Placencia, and shortly before we randomly ran into Sabrina & Chang.
Felix attempting to give Sabrina, Chang and I a demonstration of how to crack a coconut (something that he allegedly learned during his travels through Asia). I´ll give him an A for effort (he was at it for a longgggg timeeeee), but that coconut remained uncracked (and I believe may have even been thrown into the ocean in a fit of rage). Coconut 1, Felix 0.
Wall art in Placencia
John the Bakerman...
If you are ever in Placencia...do yourself a favour and go and seek out Mary...she runs a hut called "Mary's"...go figure. Sensational food! So flavoursome...delicious!!! Best coconut curry of my life. And if she tells you that she will open early for breakfast for you, don´t believe her! We boarded our bus to the Hopkins Junction, slightly broken hearted!
Hopkins. Didn't come overly "rated" by other tourists, but I loved it. I was supposed to spend a night here, ended up spending four in total. Very relaxed. Lovely people and very local. Perfect combo, if you ask me...
Hopkins beach...not the nicest beach I've been to but decent enough. Except for the slaughtering I took by the sand flies. Beware, they are LETHAL all throughout Belize. I thought I had bedbugs at one point! I´ve never been so itchy in my life. Word on the street is that if you coat your legs in baby oil, it makes it impossible for them to bite you. Sadly, I didn´t find this out until the evening before I left. Hindsight.
Hopkins and my pal, Bella. Most beautiful dog ever. She escorted me everywhere from the hostel. Loved her.
The ladies of Hopkins. Beautiful people.
On the recommendation of Caitlin, of Caitlin's Bakery, an establishment that I discovered early on that sells amazing fruit smoothies and the best chocolate zucchini muffins you have ever tasted, we went to this "Keep Hopkins Clean" barbecue fundraiser. Best barbecued chicken of my life...these Belizians really know their way around a barbecue...delish.
Sunset in Hopkins.
Love this place.
The Split at Caye Caulker. Where all the cool kids hangout...lots of sun, booze and sandflies!
More of The Split.
Wandering the streets of Caye Caulker...on a photographic mission.
Just for laughs...the Caye Caulker Fire Department...legit!
Strolling the local neighbourhood in Caye Caulker.
Boat at the Split in Caye Caulker.