Stann Creek District of Belize
In keeping with our quest to spend time seeing different areas of Belize, we decided to take a short trip to the village of Hopkins in the Stann Creek district during the last week in June. Since rainy season is officially here, and actually began early this year (May instead of June), we weren't sure if we'd end up getting to do all we wanted to, but as it turned out, we ended up lucking out with a perfect week to travel and only a brief sprinkle of rain the entire time we were away from home.
Hopkins is a small Garifuna fishing village on the coast of the Stann Creek district of Belize, south of Dangriga and north of the Placencia peninsula. This map
shows where we live on Ambergris Caye (just south of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico) in relation to Stann Creek and Hopkins.
Most Belizeans who live in Hopkins were born and raised here, and there is a strong and proud tradition of making music involving drumming, dancing, and rattles. There are local crafts created in Hopkins such as wood carving, and small restaurants offering traditional Garifuna food. There are small guest houses, beach cabanas, and upscale resorts catering to tourists. There aren't any chains -- stores, restaurants, or lodging, which is typical of Belize.
But let's back up a bit -- first we gotta get there. Since we try to travel frugally, this journey took a lot longer than the mileage from Ambergris Caye to Hopkins Village would indicate. We started with the 9:50 am water taxi from Grand Caribe to San Pedro, loaded down with our backpacks and with Paisley and her gear in tow. After dropping Paisley at Pampered Paws for boarding, we had a little free time before catching the 11:30 ferry to Belize City, so we walked to Lily's Treasure Chest on the beach for a late breakfast. This is only the second time we've eaten breakfast at Lily's, but we have gotten great meals both times. Their Huevos Rancheros
are the best I've had anywhere. Yum!
Barry's veggie omelet
After breakfast, we headed over to the ferry dock and were pleased to see that they were offering a June Special. $10 BZD ($5 US) off the normal round-trip fare. Worked for us!
My Huevos Rancheros
While waiting for the ferry, a huge stingray appeared in the crystal-clear water beside the dock. It was fun to hear the local children excitedly checking it out. We big kids enjoyed it as well!
Barry walking to the bus station
We ferried to Belize City and since we didn't have a really tight connection, we decided to walk to the bus station. We've been to the city enough now that we've gotten much more comfortable walking around there than we were on our first visit, and Barry remembered the way to the station. This saved us the $10 BZD taxi fare, and we knew we'd be sitting so much that we appreciated the exercise. We didn't even get hassled by panhandlers this time!
We had planned to take a James bus leaving about 30 minutes after we arrived at the terminal, but when we arrived, there was a G-Line bus just about to leave for Dangriga, so we hopped on that one instead. This worked out just fine. It's a long journey, stopping in the capital city of Belmopan, then continuing on the scenic Hummingbird Highway over the very pretty Maya Mountains. This is the same route we took to go south to Placencia in the winter.
This bus kept us entertained with plenty of music and even a video screen -- that was a first for us. The bus ride cost us just $10 BZD each ($5 US).
Most Belize buses are old US-made Blue Bird school buses. Not very luxurious, but cheap!
Videos provided entertainment for the travelers
This bus wasn't overly crowded
In Dangriga, we had to catch a different bus to Hopkins. The Hopkins bus only runs twice a day, once in the morning, and once at 5:15 pm. We met a nice couple in the bus terminal who were staying in Hopkins as well and chatted with them for awhile -- we ended up seeing them later in the week as we biked around the village.
Bus to Hopkins
The bus ride to Hopkins cost $5 BZD each and took under an hour. The last four miles into Hopkins Village on a mostly unpaved road were quite an adventure. This road has definitely seen better days, and between potholes, big rocks, and washboarding, took a long time to traverse. I can only imagine how muddy it is when it is raining.
After entering the village, the bus driver took a circuitous route dropping locals all over the small Garifuna town, some right at their modest clapboard homes. What a difference from San Pedro. Hopkins has nearly all unpaved roads and very little commercialism. There were a couple of other backpacking tourists getting off at some inexpensive lodging in the north part of town as well.
Tony and Angela, proprietors of Beaches and Dreams
, where we were going to be staying, had told us to have the driver let us off at Innie's Restaurant, where they would come pick us up. Innie's is a small local restaurant serving up authentic Garifuna cooking, and I was excited to try the hudut
, which I'd read about beforehand. This traditional dish consists of a whole fresh red snapper cooked in a delicious homemade coconut milk broth, traditionally served with a soft green plantain dumpling for dipping.
As we were getting a drink and relaxing at our table, Tony and Angela stopped by our table to let us know they were there, but would be taking a walk and picking us up after dinner. Right after they left, two van loads of high school students and teachers rolled up. So much for our quiet dinner! Actually, they were quite well-behaved considering how many of them there were.
Barry tried the Belizean stewed chicken with stewed beans and rice, which he loved, and I enjoyed the hudut. It would be nice to have a few veggies with this meal, but that was all that was missing. Otherwise, it was delicious!
Barry's stew chicken w/stew beans, rice, & salad
Traditional Garifuna Hudut served with Plantain dumpling
After we finished our dinner, Tony and Angela drove us down to Beaches and Dreams, a couple of miles south of Hopkins Village at False Sittee Point. It is located in the same area as several upscale, expensive resorts but is a more laid-back, casual place and proved to be a perfect choice for we frugal travelers who didn't want to spend $200 a night for lodging. There is an excellent restaurant on site, Barracuda Bar & Grill (#1 rated in Hopkins on tripadvisor.com), where Tony is the head chef and Angela bakes all the wonderful desserts, but they told us that it was closing this week for a couple of months during low season. We were disappointed with this news; however, Tony said we were welcome to attend a Tapas fundraiser the following night (Wednesday) and also offered to cook for us on Thursday night. That would work!
It was already pitch dark by the time we arrived, so we couldn't see too much of the grounds or the beautiful ocean very well, but here are a few shots of our room, the "Scarlet Macaw" (Room #3 of only five rooms at the inn). Since we weren't able to see actual Scarlet Macaws when we visited Red Bank
, the many brightly colored, painted birds in this room were the next best thing!
Comfy king-sized bed
Neat ceiling and very high made the room feel even larger
Nice large tile bathroom and a ceiling fan!
The room was quite large and comfortable, with a decent-sized bathroom. The clothing armoire, water dispenser, and sofa were great additions, as were multiple hooks on the walls for hanging damp clothes. There was no TV nor A/C, but three fans and lots of slatted windows for ventilation kept it comfortable. The only addition that would have made it totally perfect would have been a dorm-sized fridge to keep beverages cold, but Angela kindly brought us a small cooler of ice. I drank about six glasses of ice water that night after all our travel on a warm day!
We hit the hay early as we were exhausted after our day of travel. Our reasonable low-season room rate of $75 US included breakfast cooked by Angela, so we looked forward to that in the morning before heading out to Bocawina Mayflower National Park for some hiking and bird-watching.
[To be continued...]
Armoire for hanging clothes and more macaws
Large tile shower
Yesterday we took our second day trip off-island for some shopping and a change of pace. On our hike into town to the ferry, we were offered a ride in a golf cart at Reef Village, which we gladly accepted since we were running a bit late (as usual), and were having to keep up a very brisk pace in order to make the 10am ferry. The driver turned out to be Dale, who owns the Funky Monkey restaurant/bar at the Cloister's, along with his wife. Since he is from Ohio, he and Barry had something in common (aside from living in San Pedro!) and were able to have a nice chat. We were very appreciative for the ride, as it got us to the ferry dock 20 minutes early instead of barely on time.
This time, instead of the large ferry we were on on our first trip to Belize City, we were on a much smaller boat; I guess the 10am leaving time is not as popular as the 11:30 we took last time.
Wished I'd remembered a book for our wait for the ferry!
The skies looked threatening, but we never got more than a brief sprinkle all day.
The trip over was uneventful, and soon we were in the city. This time we knew exactly where to go, so we didn't look or feel as clueless as on our first trip over. Some of you may remember my trepidation about our first visit
to Belize City, but I felt more relaxed this time. Yes, there were still a few beggars and the ubiquitous taxi drivers offering us their services, but there did seem to be more police presence and security guards around, so I never felt threatened. I still had no desire to spend any extra time there than it took to buy groceries at Brodie's (10% off on Fridays!) and several items in Hop Sing bicycle shop for Barry as you don't dare dawdle anywhere because of the panhandlers. As a result, we were back at the ferry terminal quite early to buy tickets for Caye Caulker (which is a stop right on the way back to San Pedro), and eat the snack bars we'd brought along.
Big boat, little boat. We took the little boat on each leg except from Caye Caulker back to San Pedro.
We caught the 1pm ferry over to Caye Caulker, and as usual, it looked like rain. It always seems to be raining when we go to Caye Caulker or just make a quick stop on the ferry, but this time it did not rain on our parade. Yay!
We love Caye Caulker. It is the way they tell us San Pedro used to be, with all sand steets, almost no vehicles, and very little traffic. Sure, there were a couple of golf-cart taxis and the ubiquitous bottle truck (here all sodas and beers come in recyclable bottles that are returned for deposit, just like in the old days in the US), but most of the vehicles were bicycles, along with folks just walking in bare feet or sandals.
Ferry we took
Barry on the ferry...has a certain ring to it, no?
Caye Caulker. Not much traffic!
Our mission here was to visit Debbie Cooper's gallery for some artwork, as we had seen her work online and thought it would be perfect for our condo. It's colorful, with tropical themes, and reasonably priced to boot. We met Debbie there and picked out a few pieces. We bought two of her framed prints, including our favorite bicycle by palm tree scene. She told us that the frames, which are wooden and painted in bright colors, are made by local Mennonites, of which there is a relatively large population in Belize. The larger print of two toucans will be shipped to us via Tropic Air next week as she did not have the appropriate-sized frame in stock. We also chose a small canvas from another artist, showing sailboats and palm trees. I just loved the soothing blue and green colors on that one. We still need a few more things for the walls, but this is a good start. It was a lot of fun to meet Debbie and see her cute shop.
I bought the sailboat and palm trees canvas to the left of the credit card sign!
By the time we finished shopping, it was about 2:30, and we were starved, so we stopped in at a local restaurant called Bambooze for a bite of lunch. I loved this place because it was open air, and the chairs were swings! Such a unique concept, and transported me back to my childhood love of swing sets. We had delicious grilled fish sandwiches with mango-lime sauce and a couple of drinks.
Yes, I'm a kid at heart. This was FUN!
After lunch we walked around a bit before catching our 3:45 ferry back to San Pedro. Unfortunately, we were lugging heavy backpacks full of groceries, so we weren't able to go as far as we would have liked. We'll just have to go back!
The "Convenient Store" LOL!
Very different traffic scene from San Pedro
It would be fun to ride a bike on these roads. No potholes!
It's the bottle truck, but not much else on these roads....sweet!
Love the Caribbean colors!
The ferry from Caye Caulker was the bigger boat like we'd been on before and was packed with passengers who were coming from Belize City. Poor Barry drew the short straw and was stuck sitting on the unpadded bench in the middle, as there were no more seats around the perimeter. Thankfully this was the shorter leg of the trip.
Since the ferry was 10 minutes late leaving Caye Caulker, we were cutting it very close to make the 4:30 pm northbound water taxi in San Pedro, and then the ticket clerk did not have change for a $50 BZD (equivalent to $25 US), so I had to charge the tickets. We were the last people on the VERY crowded taxi boat (and the first off at the Grand Caribe dock), with full backpacks and our art work, so that was not very comfortable, and we were very happy to be back home. Paisley was happy too, as she'd somehow gotten the door to her kennel closed behind her (and didn't realize she could just push it open, as it wasn't locked) so was "stuck" in there when we arrived after our day away. Hopefully she hadn't been in there for too long without water, but she seemed no worse for the wear!
Waiting for the ferry back to San Pedro
We'd been wanting to go to Belize City for awhile to do a little shopping, since availability and prices of goods are reputed to be better than on Ambergris Caye. We'd also been wanting to try the ferry, as we've always taken Tropic Air to and from the airport on our trips here, so Friday seemed like a good day to have a little adventure. I was a bit wary of the city (often called simply "Belize" by locals), having read about the crime there, but we got some good recommendations online. These included this highly informative blog entry entitled "How to Survive in Belize City" (http://www.sinnvollereise.de/?p=1368
) and this commercial site, which is refreshingly honest about some of the less desirable sides of the city: http://www.belize.com/belize-city.html
. Seems if we stayed on certain streets during the day, we would be okay. Still, I insisted on preparing a "give-away wallet" (recommended in the blog above) with an expired credit card, some other expired/unusable cards, and a small amount of money, just in case.
Although we'd planned to go Friday, we kept wavering as the weather looked dark and threatening down south, but after watching the online Doppler radar for a bit, it appeared that most of the rain would have passed through already by the time we got there, so we decided to go for it. We grabbed our backpacks, water, rain jackets, and camera, and walked the roughly two miles to town to the ferry terminal. We were running a little late due to some neighborly socializing outside our building, so we had to make tracks, and it was awfully hot in the bright sunshine on the way, but we made it in time and paid our $55 BZD ($27.50 US) per person for round-trip tickets.
Pretty sparse crowd today
The ferry over was not too crowded, and the sea was glassy most of the way, making for a nice, smooth ride. But as we closed in on Caye Caulker, the only stop along the way, the skies turned dark, and we hit some fairly heavy rain. It was kind of neat to watch the sky and sea change from the comfort of the covered ferry.
Approaching Caye Caulker
Leaving Caye Caulker after dropping off a few and picking up a few passengers
By the time we arrived in Belize City, the rain had stopped, and we were fortunate in that we never had a drop of rain while we were there. It was overcast, keeping the temperature moderate, so really ended up being the perfect day to go.
As we pulled into the ferry dock, we noticed the row of brightly colored buildings, a part of "tourist village" for cruise-ship visitors. Love the Caribbean colors! However, this was not a cruise ship day, so tourist village was closed, with just some renovation work going on. The ferry terminal and small restaurants/gift shops there were clean and secure, so I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable.
Tourist Village in Belize City
I can only imagine how busy this ghost town would be if a cruise ship were docked
Belize Express ferry dock
And then we emerged from the safety and quiet of the ferry terminal onto the streets. Wow, what a change. The closest I can come to describing it is like New York City, a seedy part of New York City. There were taxis lined up everywhere and drivers offering their services. There were a lot of men loitering around, sitting on the curbs, and since this was not a cruise-ship day, and most of the folks who disembarked the ferry with us appeared to be locals, Barry and I definitely stood out like sore thumbs or fresh meat! There was a lot of traffic, and no stoplights in this area, only stop signs, so the traffic movement seemed pretty chaotic, and it was not easy to find a good place to cross even at pedestrian crosswalks, since there were no "Walk" signals. No, Dorothy, we were not in Chapel Hill any more!
We knew which streets to stay on downtown once we exited the ferry terminal and crossed the nearby swing bridge, but finding the swing bridge was more difficult than we expected. A city at street level looks just a bit different than satellite view on Google maps! Fortunately a taxi driving by (with a full load already) pointed us towards the bridge, and we were on our way. We had to wait for what seemed to be an entire school's worth of kids coming the other way on the narrow pedestrian walkway over the bridge, but we finally made our way across.
The view of the sailboats in the harbor was really pretty, I thought. Again, loved the colors.
Once we came off the bridge into the city, it was once again a bit of a disoriented feeling, but we figured out which street we needed to be on to get down to Brodie's, a large supermarket, only a couple of blocks down. We were happy to see a sign stating that Fri-Sat-Sun were 10% off days. Score! They definitely had a larger quantity and variety of goods than in San Pedro, but not all prices were better. Fortunately we've been shopping at various groceries on the island long enough now that we had a good idea of which items were good deals and which were not. We picked up some peanuts, olive oil, cereal, and a few other items. I was hoping that wine prices would be lower than in San Pedro, but alas, they were not, so I am still wine-free. I was also sorry to see that the price on the box of 100 bags of green tea I had just bought the day before on the island was less than half the price at Brodie's -- wish I'd waited!
To the left of where I was walking was a pretty sketchy park with a lot of men loitering...I walked by quickly!
As we walked along the street, a couple of panhandlers approached Barry wanting "a dolla, just a dolla man", and they were pretty aggressive about it. We just kept walking. Fortunately, we didn't have to surrender our give-away wallet to anyone. Barry wanted to explore more, but I was a bit wary of staying on the streets any longer than needed to do our little shopping, and most of the stores we passed were not appealing (blasting rap music, hoochy clothes, etc.), so I urged him to find the bike shop we wanted to go to so we could get going back to the ferry terminal. I was afraid we would not find the street it was on, but suddenly, there was the street, and there was the bike shop, Hop Sing! Ah, the familiar smell of rubber tires made me feel instantly at home. It was a nice shop filled with cruiser bikes and a variety of parts and accessories. Very different from the high-end bike shops back in Chapel Hill, it was still a perfect oasis for us as there are no real bike shops on Ambergris Caye, just a small selection of very basic parts in a couple of hardware stores.
This shop felt like an oasis in the desert to me!
We purchased a flat handlebar for Barry to swap out his cruiser handlebars, and a saddle with a cutout for me. They only had low-end saddles, so it remains to be seen if this is an improvement on my big cushy cruiser saddle. I kinda need the cush, with all the bumps on the beach paths and unpaved and cobblestone roads here, but I also want a cutout to prevent chafing. I know that Serfas makes saddles that have both, so I may ultimately end up needing to buy a new saddle in the US, but I will give this one a try. It was only $19.95 Belize (around $10 US), so I'm not out much at all if it proves to be too firm for the type of riding we do here.
After leaving Hop Sing, we beat a hasty retreat (at my request!) back to the ferry terminal and were offered several cab rides along the way, even just a block away. Once inside, I could let down my guard and relax after our foray into the gritty city, and the Belikin I had from this little snack bar/gift shop went down really nicely and left me feeling nicely tranquilo.
We had a bit of a wait before catching the 3 o'clock ferry back to Ambergris Caye, so took a few more photos of the area while we waited.
Our ferry (nice UNC colors!) and tourist village
Another view from ferry terminal
Yep, those colors are deserving of a closeup!
The ferry back was packed! It was people-watching heaven. One young local gal seated near us was playing loud music on her iPod (or equivalent) without earbuds, much to the chagrin of all of the rest of the passengers near her, who were rolling their eyes at each each other. I guess she was completely oblivious that this was rude, but since she was built like a linebacker (in fact, Barry thought she was a dude!), no one dared to say anything to her. She wouldn't have heard anyway, over her music and the drone of the three mighty outboards off the stern.
Linebacker girl with iPod "boombox" on right
Back in San Pedro!
Once back in San Pedro, we had to quickly walk up the beach to the nearby water taxi dock as we were within a few minutes of the next run north; if we'd missed that boat, we'd have had to wait an hour, and we were too pooped to schlep our backpacks full of heavy groceries back home. Plus we knew Paisley would be missing us and wanting some exercise.
Coastal Express water taxi
Buying our tickets
We made it with only a couple of minutes to spare and packed into a very crowded boat. On the ride north, we talked to a couple from Florida next to us who are considering a condo purchase on Ambergris Caye and gave them our card in case we could help answer any questions they might have. It's amazing how almost everyone who vacations here ends up wanting to buy property here, or so it seems, anyway! Guess we aren't that crazy after all.
Today Barry installed our new bike parts. And, we are eight for eight. It didn't rain overnight, but we had a brief shower in the afternoon, a perfect record in October so far.
New flat handlebars replacing cruiser bars
My new saddle. The angle of the photo makes it look much bigger than it actually is -- it's much smaller than the huge one it replaced.