Friday, 8 March 2013

Better Belize It!

After much anticipation we have arrived in the land of Belikin Beer, stewed chicken, rice and beans and... English!   And I can't tell you how great it feels to speak to people without the limitations and worry of our limited Spanish.  It took me a few hours before I stopped saying "gracias", "si", "Hola", etc...   For Eric the flood gates have opened!  He is like his Dad and strikes up conversations with everyone and anyone.  He is loving it!   The ease of conversing in our own language feels good for all of us.   After so many months immersed in Spanish I hadn't realize how restricted we felt until we experienced the freedom to converse here!

On the down side we are experiencing a bit of a shock over the price of everything here compared to Guatemala.  But we are adjusting to the shift and getting used to what are normal prices here and are just trying to enjoy the relaxed vibe around us.  We are in Caye Caulker now and as I write I'm siting on the deck of our upper apartment with a warm Caribbean breeze drying the swim suites on the line and whipping my hair around as Eric a gently swings in the hammock.  I can see the activity on the sand paved main street and the torquoise waters of the sea beyond. Reggae music plays in the background (compliments of the street venders) and the wind is rustling the palms.  We are loving it here!

We have the upper deck unit - De Real Macaw Guest House
But, let me step back a few days.  Our boat ride from Livingston, Guatemala to Punta Gorda, Belize was a bit of a wild ride.  When we boarded the open skiff and the captain and his helper started pulling out large plastic tarps, my vision of a gentle, pleasant boat ride started to evaporate.  The other passengers started putting on their rain jackets and pulling their hoods up.   We were all in shorts and t-shirts... expecting another fine Caribbean day.  All of our bags were stowed at the front of the boat and a tarp was pulled over them.  The morning turned overcast and a light drizzle started to fall.  We ended up with a very choppy 45 minute ride across the Bay of Honduras with white caps, hard bumps and the water spraying over the sides... and a bit of excitement and adventure.  The kids of coarse thought it was fun... as soon as those tarps started to come out the boys got very excited!  The wind, the waves, the salt spray... and the wild ride turned it into quite an adventure.  I'm not quite sure how but despite cowering behind the tarp, the incredible noise of the engine, the wind and the waves Eric managed to hold a conversation with a traveller next to him for the entire ride!

As soon as we arrived in Punta Gorda we immediately felt the lack of tourism infrastructure.  PG (as it's known) is a sleeply little Belizan town at the southern end of the country.  Most of the travellers that were on the boat with us where passing through as quick as possible and most hopped on the next bus or plane heading north that morning.  We thought we'd spend a few days exploring the area so after clearing immigration (which was very easy with just 16 passengers to process) we set off to find a hotel listed in our trusty guide book.  Our guide book didn't have a map so as it turns out we ended up picking one that was actually a bit of a ways out at the south end of town.  After trudging with our packs for a bit, I was happy to take anything they had... which in hindsight wasn't the best thing to do... but in the end it was OK and possibly the cheapest room we've had yet ($35 Belize... which is about $17 US for all four of us)!  Liam rated it the second worst room we've had on the whole trip.

See the duck tape on the ceiling? (but it was clean...)
There really isn't much in Punta Gorda (well there is... but exploring the sights all required either going with an expensive tour operator or managing rather difficult transport options) so we spent the afternoon researching our options and enjoying some of the more relaxed aspects of Belizian life.  One of the things I love about Punta Gorda (and most towns in Belize) is that every store, restaurant or service company is usually named "so and so's place"... Lydia's kitchen, Raymonds hardware.  When you get directions to find a restaurant start with "across from Amanda's" and next to "Rosie's hair salon" and references stuff like that.  Everything is very personalized here... and if the store actually has a name, then it's still referred to locally by the owners name.

In the end we decided to leave the next morning.   We caught the local bus (Jame's Bus Line) north up the road to another coastal village Hopkins.  Belize really only has two major roads, one that runs the length of the country north-south and one that runs east-west from the capital to the coast so it's pretty hard to get lost traveling around the country.  We were let off on the side of the road at the junction to Hopkins and left to find our own way down the 5 km road to the village on the coast.  There is no public transport from here to there so... after sitting for 3 hours on the bus... we heaved on our packs, tightened the belts and... started to walk!  It turns out however that our Bald Eagle (our good luck omen from way back in Thunder Bay, Ontario) is still with us.  A minute into our walk a pick up truck came along and offered us a ride!  We tossed our packs in the back beside a coil of wire, PVC tubing and the spare tires and squished in for a bumpy 20 minute ride.  Our first hitchhiking experience, though it doesn't feel right to call it hitchhiking - around here it's just"catching a lift".

At the Hopkins Junction along the Hummingbird Highway

We spent the next 3 great days in Hopkins mostly hanging out reading, playing on the beach, enjoying the hospitality at Jungle Jeanies including a few short forerays into the "village".

It was chilly and overcast when we left Punta Gorda..
when the sun came out.. HOT!

Tina's for stewed Chicken and fried jack...
love Belizean stewed Chicken... the best!

There was bit of a cold front so the wind was cool!
Hopkins is a "Garifuna" town with a rich and vibrant Afro-Carib vibe including food, dance, great drumming and music ("punta rock") traditions.  We love it here.  We didn't get to experience much of that this visit but hope to return later.  So, after a few days of "vacationing" on the beach... we took a taxi to the junction and waited for the James Line bus on the main highway to take us to Belize City... then, via water taxi we arrived on the island of Caye Caulker!  It was a long travel day and it felt so good to unload the bags and settle into the easy pace around here... their motto is "Go Slow" (like the road sign)... Better Belize we will!

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