From North Carolina, it took us four plane hops and a taxi ride to finally arrive in our destination of Hopkins, Belize: Raleigh-Durham to National in DC; DC to Miami FL; Miami to Belize City; Belize City to Dangriga. That was an adventure in itself, not to mention our first bout of bravery: getting on the 14-seater Tropic Air Cessna in Belize City.
Unlike the big American Airlines birds that took 45 minutes to board, then wait in line to taxi down a long runway, the Tropic Air crew walked into the small Belize City airport and called out, “If you’re on Tropic Air flight 541, come on.” We followed them out onto the tarmac, walked up three tiny stairs, hooked our seatbelts and before we could put our sunglasses back on the pilot was going. No time to panic or worry about the gerbils running the engine or the plane being held together with chewing gum and rubber bands. We were airborne, and on our way to adventure. Our landing was nothing less than exciting. With the short double-driveway length runway, the wheels touched down and the pilot drifted us. The mini me thought it was as awesome as the drifting in The Fast and the Furious. In this case, I agree.
But it was spectacular. The small airplane flew low so we could see the countryside during our 15 minute flight that would’ve taken two hours by taxi. Belize has a tropical rainforest, and the jungle extends from the mountains in the west all the way to the Caribbean in the east. Sort of like here in North Carolina, if you follow the highways from Murphy to Manteo, you’ve gone from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the serene sands of the Crystal Coast of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a stretch of about three miles of natural savannah between Silk Grass and Hopkins, but the tropical jungle picks back up again on the coastline with the palm, coconut and mangrove trees.
Hopkins, our operations center
In the Lonely Planet’s guide for Belize, Hopkins is listed as one of the Top 25 Experiences. I agree. It’s a “low-key Garifuna town where life hasn’t changed much in decades.” Located in the Stann Creek District, Hopkins is a town we’d go back to again and again. It’s small (about 1.5 mile stretch), rustic nature spoke to us, and over the eight days of our vacation, we were as familiar with many of the locals as they were with us. The beaches are beautiful, though the cove where we stayed (Parrot’s Cove Lodge) had lots of sea grass washing up on the shoreline and dangling in the waist-high water.
We traveled on Holy Friday, which was very low-key. The streets of Hopkins were blocked for a time while the different church congregations congregated down the main street following a man carrying a cross. It was quite a lovely reenactment. Saturday morning we used the Lodge’s bright yellow bicycles to ride two miles into town to have breakfast at Thongs Café. Since I’m not a dairy/cheese eater, I decided the bacon and eggs would be a great way to get protein during the day. The eggs were fresh, from the chickens we could see running around the yards in front of us. The bacon was uncured, and seemed more like a slice of ham. The mini me had French toast every day, and the mister had the Thongs French Toast (same as our son’s, but with sliced bananas and toasted coconut). We all had the fruit salad everyday, which was thick slabs of fresh, local pineapple, papaya, Valencia oranges, and bananas.
We used Saturday to acclimate to the humidity (though it was no hotter than May in NC, it was still rather chilly when we left home) and to get used to the two time-change. Belize is in Central time, but they don’t observe daylight savings time. We found a grocery store and bought a loaf of bread, oatmeal, Ovaltine biscuits, peanut butter, grape jelly, chips, Oreos, local Guatemalan coffee, and dry creamer. The eggs were in loose crates, so there was no way we could transport them, and the dairy was unpasteurized, which meant that lingering in town and riding the 35 minutes down the bumpiest road I have ever been on would spoil it. By the way, the local grocery stores are owned by Chinese residents, an interesting little bit of information. I was going to buy fruit at the local fruit stand, but everything looked different. I had to ask somebody at the Lodge how to select fruit. The Valencia oranges were green and bumpy, and covered in mold. Yet, that meant they were ready. The papayas were truly ugly, and the pineapple had a finer pattern than the broader Dole diamond shapes in our NC groceries.
Now we were armed with a way to reduce our meal costs. We only ate lunch out once, where I had the best grouper sandwich in the history of ever. Otherwise, we packed lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dried fruit and nabs (which we packed in from the states), water, chips, and Ovaltine biscuits. Four of our days, we had adventures that departed between 7:30 – 8:00 am, so we didn’t have time to ride down to Thongs Café, so we had oatmeal.
We had dinner at four different restaurants: Chef Robs (always wonderful), Barracudas Bar and Grill (I do not recommend it … the boys enjoyed their meals, and my very expensive grouper was rubbery like calamari and just, bad), Jaguar Reef (the only restaurant open on Easter Sunday, and while very “Americanized,” it was perfect for a nice Easter dinner when we were starving), and Love on the Rocks (the mister’s favorite meal) our last evening. The concept of Love on the Rocks is not unlike The Melting Pot in the states, where you cook your meal at your table. LotR uses lava rocks cut into squares, and heated to 700 degrees F. The meat is seasoned wonderfully, and you cook it at your table in like 5 minutes. I had shrimp kabobs and the mister had red snapper and shrimp. But holy hell, the food is HOT. You know, like hot like lava.
Breakfast, as I mentioned earlier, was either in the kitchenette in our suite, or at Thongs. When I reflect back on our trip in the years to come, I will always smile when remembering Thongs Café. It was our grounding point; we could sit on the porch under the palm-thatched roof, with the mild breezes cooling us after our hot bike rides, talking and laughing and planning the day, synching our technology so we could touch base with home. It was our one luxury, and one I cannot recommend highly enough. Once we figured out how to buy the fruit, we added big chunks of fruit to our oatmeal.
Lunches were on the go and were mostly tried and true PBJs. You can’t go wrong with that. Though, we ate at Thongs one day (grouper sandwich for me, papaya smoothie for the mister, French toast for our son), and at Benny’s Kitchen another. Benny’s kitchen was in San Jose Succotz, and we ate a late lunch there after visiting the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. That was actually my favorite meal, and it was a simple rice and beans (cooked together; beans and rice are cooked separately, we learned) and stewed chicken with fried plantains. I had a fruit punch Fanta and the mister had a Biliken Beer. Our mini me had water, and finished off my Fanta. OMG.
I’m posting photos with this post of the countryside in Belize, with images taken from our treks between Belize City to Dangriga; the city of Hopkins; along the Southern Highway from Dangriga to Hopkins; along the Hummingbird Highway on the way from Hopkins to San Jose Succotz; and points in between.
– – > Stay tuned for jaunts into the jungle and out to the Cayes.
THIS JUST IN
So, we just read that the areas where we stayed (Stann Creek District) are at high risk for malaria and Dengue fever … and river blindness for swimming in natural streams and ponds, according to the CDC. Shit. Our doctors said no, you don’t need any special shots for Belize. Do we go now, after the fact, to get shots?