Here are photos of many of the birds we saw on our recent trip to Hopkins. Most of these birds we saw while hiking in Bocawina Mayflower National Park or Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, but a few we sighted right near the place we stayed, Beaches and Dreams, technically in False Sittee Point, just south of Hopkins Village. We added quite a few new birds to our life lists and only wish we could have identified all the birds we saw and/or heard. Some we only got a fleeting glance of and not even a photo.
We are fairly confident of all the identifications below, but if you disagree, please let us know in the comments section -- we are certainly not infallible!
Note: New birds for our life lists are identified with an asterisk (*).
American Pygmy Kingfisher * (we saw a pair hanging out by the water for a good long time -- so pretty!)
Black-Headed Trogan (love his blue eye!)
Crested Guan* (these are HUGE -- we saw a lot of them)
Groove-Billed Ani (think this funny fellow was a juvenile)
Another view of the Ani -- couldn't pick just one
House Wren with a yummy morsel -- s/he was jumping all over the place at our inn
Long-Billed Hermit* (not the best photo but got great looks through the binoculars -- neat bird)
Flock of Olive-Throated Parakeets
Had to include this photo of the Parakeet taking flight with wide-open beak!
Pale-Billed Woodpecker* (not a great resolution photo, but a thrill to see)
Pale-Billed Woodpecker yet again -- loved this photo so wanted to include it
Pale-Vented Pigeon* (not exciting, but one for our life lists!)
Plain Chachalaca with young
Red-Throated Ant Tanager*
Red-Throated Ant Tanager* (female)
Red Throated Ant Tanager* male (another specimen)
Violaceous Trogan* singing brightly
We saw other species we were unable to identify or get photos of, as they moved away too quickly. We missed getting photos of the White-Breasted Wood Wren*
, but we did identify it for our life lists with binoculars and our Birds of Belize
The following photos are obviously not birds, but we thought they were particularly interesting:
Find the huge Damselfly
I thought the photos that Barry took of this interesting fly were particularly attractive -- and I'm certainly no fan of flies!
If you read our last blog post
, you'll know that I'd written a note to Angela and Tony explaining how early we needed to leave in the morning and that we wouldn't have time for breakfast but would like some coffee. I also asked them to please call us a taxi to get us to the bus stop in the village by 7 am (the only other bus is in the afternoon). And Barry planted the note in the gate to their apartment upstairs from their restaurant as they were out to eat in town when we went to bed, early.
Fortunately, they did find the note. When we got up on Saturday morning and ventured out, I saw Angela, and the first thing she said was "we got your note". Relief! She also said that Tony would run us up to the bus stop, which was great. We finished our last-minute packing, enjoyed some good coffee, and I signed their guest book before we left.
Tony was on the phone, so Angela ended up giving us a ride to the bus stop, which was much appreciated. Actually, we ran into the bus on its route so got on before the stop, which was good as it ended up being packed. Who knew this bus would be one of the most crowded ones we'd been on here?
All caffeined-up and ready for a day of travel
We made a really bone-headed move on this bus trip, however. Where the road split to go to Dangriga, the bus driver announced that people wanting to go to Belize City could get off at the intersection and catch another bus (instead of taking the bus all the way to Dangriga, then catching another bus and backtracking down the road to Belmopan and ultimately Belize City). We decided, like lemmings, to follow a bunch of locals who were getting off there, thinking we could just catch a bus to Belize City at the intersection to save time.
Getting off the Hopkins-Dangriga bus
Waiting for an elusive bus to Belize City
It was a good idea in theory, but not so good in practice. Every bus that passed was either heading south towards Placencia and Punta Gorda, or was already full and wouldn't even stop for us. We finally realized that catching a bus after it left the Dangriga stop, if it wasn't too crowded to stop for us, would actually make us later than if we'd just stayed aboard the first bus all the way to the station. And we might end up missing the water taxi we intended to take from Belize City to San Pedro and have to take a later one.
Finally, a bus from down south heading towards Dangriga showed up at the intersection, and we all ended up running across the street to board -- only to go exactly where we would have gone on the first bus, and later, to boot. D'oh! We learned a valuable lesson about sticking to our plans rather than "following the crowd". We felt like even bigger fools when we arrived at the bus station only to realize that the bus we were supposed to switch to was an Express to Belize City so was much nicer (and air-conditioned!) than the one we were on and had just paid for. Double d'oh!
Quite a few additional passengers boarded the bus in Dangriga, and it stopped to pick up multiple people along the way. Soon the bus was standing room only. When we got near the Belmopan bus terminal, all the standing people had to crouch down in the aisle so the terminal authorities wouldn't see that we were pulling into the station carrying excess passengers.
Enroute to Belmopan, before the "big crouchdown"
They must really be cracking down at the Belmopan terminal as our bus was delayed leaving the station due to too many people on board, and the authorities would not let us leave with three adults in any seats. Three (or even four) in a seat are allowed, but only if the third (and fourth) are children. There were two seats in our bus with three adults, ours being one of them when a local perched on the very end of our seat. The terminal authorities entered the bus and and said that the two excess people would have to leave. Normally, pretty much anything goes here in Belize, so when the authorities start to enforce some unpopular regulations, the citizens don't like it one bit. Lots of angry yelling from the peanut gallery ensued, in Creole, so we couldn't understand all of it, but we certainly got the gist, along with plenty of cursing. We definitely agreed with the sentiment we heard expressed that there should be more buses if they weren't going to let people stand in the aisles or ride three-abreast. So few locals in Belize have cars that public transportation is heavily used, and it seems like the buses and the water taxis are both fuller than they should be at times. The folks running these have gotta be making money!
Finally, with a little creative seat rearrangement of some of the children and the two adults in question, the bus was allowed to leave the station en route to Belize City, but we still weren't sure if we'd manage to make the noon ferry back to San Pedro, much less stop at Brodie's for a few groceries to save money over San Pedro prices as we'd planned. We had only ourselves to blame for getting off the bus when we did.
Fortunately, all's well that ended well. Our bus driver must have really made tracks to make up time, as we got to Belize City in time to make a VERY quick Brodie's run and to make the noon ferry. We had a list for Brodie's and were in and out in five minutes, a record.
When we got to the ferry terminal, they were already boarding the boat. When we got up to the ticket taker, he told us and the others behind us that the boat was full and that they were going to have a second boat to take the overflow. We got on a second smaller boat, which looked like would be almost empty, but it took so long to leave that more and more people kept coming up and boarding, so it ended up packed to the gills as well. And when we got to Caye Caulker, we had to switch to the original larger boat after it unloaded its Caulker-bound passengers. It was very crowded, and we had to sit on top of the hot engines, slightly melting the chocolate chips we'd purchased at Brodie's. But we made it back to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro.
Once in San Pedro, we had to walk over to Pampered Paws
to pick up Paisley, who jumped up and down behind the doggie fence when she saw us -- boingy, boingy, boingy -- without making a peep, just jumping. Wish I had video of that! Fortunately, Pampered Paws did post these cute photos of her playing while she was there on their Facebook page. It always looks like she has a great time there.
We had to wait the obligatory half hour before the water taxi north took us home to Grand Caribe, and it was packed, as usual. A very uncomfortable ride with our backpacks, groceries, Paisley's luggage, and Paisley; but we made it home in one piece, exhausted but happy. We also vowed not to travel again on the first day after school lets out for the summer, as it seemed like every Belizean in the country was traveling that day.
We can definitely recommend Hopkins as a relaxing, beautiful place to visit if you're in Belize, and Beaches & Dreams
as a wonderful place to stay. We hope to get back one day to try to hike the trails we missed (or didn't quite finish) this time. Antelope Falls will continue to haunt us until we summit the waterfall!
Flower on wall at Beaches & Dreams
This was our third full day in Hopkins and supposed to be a rest day after two tough days of hiking in the heat and humidity, but it didn't turn out to be very restful! Still, it was a fun day and gave us a chance to see more of Hopkins, finally.
I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog (because we forgot to take a photo) that Angela made us some absolutely melt-in-your-mouth blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Thursday. We hadn't had pancakes in an awfully long time, so they went down really, really easy. And she served them with real -- yes real -- maple syrup. Don't see that too often in Belize. Yum!
Today we were back to scrambled eggs, English muffins, and fruit, which was excellent as well. We were delighted to see mango and kiwi on the fruit plate for the first time. She also served us yogurt every day. These were really excellent breakfasts, especially for being included in our room rate.
Loads of fresh fruit
A lovely plate
This guy loves a big breakfast
After breakfast we headed down the road south a bit doing some casual bird-watching.
Walking like a local in bare feet
We were joined by a couple of dogs who seemed fierce at first -- a Rottie and a Pittie -- but ended up being friendly and just wanted to walk along with us.
We spotted some excellent birds including this Black-Headed Trogan and a while bunch of chatty Olive-Breasted Parakeets. We'd seen both before, but we never mind seeing them again.
We also met one of the cutest puppies you'd ever hope to see. Just tell me this little guy isn't adorable?
Isn't he precious?
We did relax after our walk -- but only for a few minutes.
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Hanging with the owner's pooch in front of our room -- he LOVED this frisbee!
We knew we wanted to try the pizza at Driftwood Pizza Shack, after reading how good it was on Sharon Hiebing's blog
. Our taxi driver from the previous day, Julian, had given us an idea -- why not take a kayak up? It seemed like a pretty long way, but the Caribbean was nice and calm in the late morning, so we figured we'd give it a try. One of the kayaks available at Beaches & Dreams was a tandem, so we grabbed that bad boy and took off.
View of resorts at False Sittee Point -- so peaceful
Once we got to Hopkins Village, local boys on a surfboard paddled over to say hi and have their photo taken
When we got north of the village, where we knew the pizza place was, I started looking at any possible places along the shore through my binoculars. Before too long we spotted the sign and surfed in to the sand. The wind was up a bit from when we left, and thus the waves were starting to kick up a bit.
And here we are!
Driftwood Pizza Shack
It only took us 55 minutes to paddle up there, so we were a little early for lunch. There were two local ladies working at the shack, and they didn't seem to mind that we arrived before their advertised opening time of noon. They were happy to take our order and serve us a cold drink. We had a great place to sit under a palapa.
Here's the menu (all prices in Belize dollars, divide by 2 for US dollars):
And here's what we ordered (medium size):
Here are some of the interesting sights around us as we waited for our pizza.
Belizean version of air hockey, I guess!
Canoe with stick drive
LOVED this sign!
It took awhile, but our pizza was worth waiting for. It had a crispy thin crust and was really, really good. Thanks, Sharon, for the recommendation!
Doesn't get much better than this!
As I mentioned, the wind had started kicking up a bit as we finished up our paddle. During the time we were waiting for and then eating our pizza, it kicked up even more. By the time we got ready to leave, it was seriously choppy out there. Even worse, the wind direction was southeast, so we'd be paddling into the wind the entire way back. I was not looking forward to it.
The sea was angry that day, my friend...
Barry snapping photos of the surf with a new friend
I won't lie, it was a TOUGH paddle back. Very tough. It's not like we've been paddling a lot lately, though we have been lifting some home-made milk jug & sand weights (mostly Barry) and doing yoga (me). Still, nothing makes you a stronger paddler than actually paddling, and we just haven't done that much since arriving in Belize. We actually had to resort to tacking so we wouldn't get buffeted by the swells coming directly abeam (like our sailorly term?!) So we paddled a lot farther on the way back in addition to fighting the wind and waves. My shoulders were screaming, and by the end, even Barry was hurting and getting cranky.
We thought that Beaches & Dreams had the very last dock and palapa in False Sittee Point and had been aiming for that from a long way north. Just when we thought we couldn't possibly paddle another stroke, Barry looked over and realized we were THERE. It was the third palapa up from the end, not the last one! Whew! Never have I been so glad to be "home". We wasted no time in making a hard right turn and surfing FAST (no paddling needed in these waves) to the sandy shore. It had taken about twice as long getting back as it had getting to the pizza place, and I think I'd burned off all the pizza I'd eaten (two slices) by the time we pulled up on the sand.
But we were on a roll now, so why stop and take it easy? Instead, we decided to walk up the beach a bit on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a place for dinner. We had read in a Hopkins tourism brochure that the restaurant at Belizean Dreams resort had quesadillas and burritos, which are two of our favorites, so we decided to check it out. Turns out it was the northernmost resort on False Sittee Point, but still only a short walk for us.
It was a nice stretch of beach to walk on
We talked with the bartender out by the pool at Belizean Dreams, who told us that the restaurant didn't open until 6:30. Huh? That's pretty late for a beach-front restaurant. We were going to leave, but he insisted on running into the restaurant to see if they could accommodate us earlier. Since we had an early lunch and so much exercise, we knew we'd be starving well before 6:30. Sure enough, they could take us at 5:30. When he told us what they were serving that night, though, lobster pasta, we again were about to pass. We'd just had seafood pasta the night before
, so we were really hoping for a little Tex-Mex. But once again he insisted on running inside to ask the chef if they could accommodate us with some quesadillas. The bartender came back out with the news that they could do that. Very accommodating, that's for sure! So, we decided to come back later for dinner.
But first, it was now or never if we were going to explore Hopkins Village. So, it was time to grab a beach bike and go for a ride. See, I told you this "rest" day wasn't very restful!
Eat your heart out, bike club friends -- you could be riding this fine steed!
I was lucky to snag one of the newer -- not yet rusted -- members of the fleet
We rode from False Sittee Point all the way to the north end of Hopkins Village (as far as the road went). We ran into the couple we'd met at the bus station on Tuesday in the village and stopped to chat with them for a few minutes. The road was bumpy in places, and my upper body was feeling really fatigued after the tough paddle earlier. I was kinda glad when the bike ride came to an end and we could truly just relax. This had certainly been one active vacation.
The end of the line in north Hopkins Village
Hopkins Belize Humane Society in False Sittee Point
After the bike ride it was time to clean up and get ready to walk up the beach for our old folks' "early bird special". But first, a little swing in the hammock.
When we got to the restaurant, they weren't actually ready for us at 5:30. They said they just needed to sweep the floor, so we ended up going to the bar for a Happy Hour rum punch. They weren't actually ready for us until nearly 6pm. That was some thorough floor sweeping! But, it was okay because there was live music at the pool and bar area, and the weather was great.
Musician singing and playing keyboard
When we were called into the restaurant, they were already serving our chicken quesadillas, and we were the only ones eating dinner. There were plenty of guests at the resort, but they were busy drinking and hanging out in the pool. So we had the restaurant to ourselves. The food was delicious, but the air-conditioning was way too cold, detracting from the meal a bit. Service was excellent -- I guess it would be, since we were the only ones there. Our server even went out to the bar to check on our much-delayed second rum punches. I guess the bartender had gotten busy and forgotten, but she managed to fetch them up for us!
Can you tell I'm shivering? Brrrrrrrrrrr....
They were offering carrot cake as the nightly dessert, so of course we had to indulge. The cake was warm, moist, and delicious. Notice the amount of icing compared to what you'd get in the US. I missed the icing, but I realize this was much better for me!
While we were finishing up dinner, a local Garifuna drumming and dancing group started playing. These guys were great and very representative of the traditional culture in Hopkins Village, home of the Lebeha Drumming Center
, where new generations of village children learn the traditional skills. We really enjoyed listening to them and were glad we decided to dine at Belizean Dreams, definitely the place to be on a Friday night!
After an easy stroll back down the beach and some good conversation in the Beaches & Dreams palapa over the water, we went back to the room to pack up for our early trip home the next morning. We'd have to catch the 7 am bus to Dangriga in Hopkins Village, and since we'd missed Tony and Angela, who were heading out to eat right as we got back from our dinner, we left them a note on their gate about morning arrangements and crossed our fingers that they'd find it when they arrived home....
[To be continued]
We traveled to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve today from where we were staying in False Sittee Point
Thursday morning dawned warm and sunny yet again. This morning we had arranged with Kaleem to pick us up again to take us to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
for some more hiking and birding. We had read that the trails here were easier than we'd encountered in our previous day's hiking an Mayflower Bocawina National Park
, so we were looking forward to that. We knew we had another sweaty day ahead, but hoped the hiking and birding would make it all worth while.
When the taxi arrived, it turned out to be another driver, Julian, instead of Kaleem. He told us that the Rav4 was actually his and that the previous day had been his day off, so Kaleem was using his vehicle. He took us on a different route since he needed to fuel up at the Sittee River Marina. So, he drove us from False Sittee Point along the Sittee River, through Sittee Village, and out to the Southern Highway. It was a really scenic drive, but the rocky road (until we reached the paved portion at Sittee Village) was pretty slow-going. Julian said it can be impassable at times during rainy season.
After a seven-mile access road into the park (again, unpaved, bumpy, and slow-going), Julian dropped us at the park at 9:30 am, and we agreed for him to pick us up at 3:30 pm. We wanted to allow an hour longer than the day before since we basically ran out of time then. We hoped it would be enough time.
First we checked out the visitor center. We knew these would be the only jaguars we'd be seeing today as they are seldom seen by humans and are mainly nocturnal.
Here's some information about how the preserve was developed. Interesting to see that it is the first jaguar preserve established in the world -- and it's here in little Belize!
We started our hike on the easy Green Knowledge Trail. It was quite muddy, not my favorite hiking condition, but it was beautiful, and as usual, we had it all to ourselves, as we did all the trails today. There were frequent creeks alongside the trails as well as creek/stream crossings.
The leaves on the trail were hiding some very sticky mud
We saw many of these giant grasshoppers hopping and flying around. They grow 'em big in the tropics! Interestingly, the inside of their wings are bright fuschia, so they look really pretty, and almost like birds, when they fly. But it was impossible to get a photo of them in flight.
Belizean grasshopper -- at least 5" long
There were informational signs along the way on this trail. We found this one interesting and joked that we'd have a water source should we get lost in the jungle. Of course, there were all those creeks too.
Here's the "water bottle" vine. We had plenty of water with us so didn't try it this time.
Here's another sign about the roots on the kaway tree -- these were massive and so interesting.
Kaway "Tarantula" tree
There were lots and lots of leafcutter ants on the trails here. We tried very hard to look out for them (as we were already watching the ground for snakes). I find these little creatures fascinating. They work so hard!
I thought these blueberry-like fruits in the center of the red wildflowers were interesting and beautiful.
In addition to many exotic birds (which we'll save for a special post), there were many different butterflies flitting about. They rarely posed for photos, though!
Note the giant grasshopper on this sign
Time for a little snack break before continuing on
After completing the Green Knowledge Trail, leading to the Gibnut Loop, which we also hiked, our intention was to hike the 5K Antelope Trail. However, it wasn't obvious that we were supposed to cross a creek to get to the Antelope Trail so ended up on the Tinnamou Trail instead. We didn't know this until we got all the way out to the access road to the sanctuary and saw the sign at the other end. We ended up having to double back to figure out our mistake. However, it was actually worth it as towards the end of the Tinnamou, we encountered large animal tracks in the mud. We found out from a park employee later that these three-toed prints were made by the tapir
See the teeny-tiny hand-scratched arrow on the sign? That was the only clue to cross the creek to take the Antelope Trail. Continuing straight was the Tinnamou Trail.
This is where we should have crossed. Oops!
Hiking the Antelope...er...Tinnamou Trail
Crossing one of many creeks
Tapir tracks -- one of the few good things about mud
This guy has some large feet!
When we got to the access road and saw this sign, we realized that we were on the wrong trail. Time to backtrack!
After backtracking about half a mile, we crossed the creek we were supposed to cross. This is probably much dryer during dry season, but it was one of the few creek crossings without a bridge, so very easy to miss. We had to take our shoes off and wade. The cool water felt great on such a hot day!
On the Antelope Trail, we didn't see any antelopes, but we did come across this fascinating leaf-cutter village. Looked like they had built temples and apartment houses!
I loved the gothic-style entry on this one. Who knew leaf-cutters were such brilliant architects?
An obstacle along the way
And a pretty little waterfall
I was determined to make it across this creek without taking off my shoes. The rocks were slick, but I did it.
Huge hornet nest up in a tree -- fortunately we did not see any of its inhabitants
Sadly, even allowing an extra hour, once again we just barely made it back to the visitor's center at the designated time to meet our taxi. There was just so much to see, and we did stop many times to photograph and watch birds as we were hiking.
The very end of the Antelope Trail hooked up with a more open, grassy path back to the visitor's center, where there were a whole different variety of birds than what we'd seen in the jungle -- and so many of them. We wish we'd had more time to spend in this area, but we had to keep moving.
Julian arrived right at the designated time. On the way back down the access road, he stopped the car to let us check out a small plane wreck. I looked from afar since another stream crossing was involved, but Barry just walked on through -- leather hiking boots and all. He was able to get some good close-up shots of the wreck, as well as of the sign explaining it. Fortunately the pilot of the plane sustained only minor injuries.
Barry before dinner
Enjoying some well-earned relaxation in the palapa after dinner
We had decided the day before that we were going to need another day in Hopkins. We had originally planned to leave Friday morning. But we had only seen the village while riding the bus into town on Tuesday, then briefly when visiting the grocery store on Wednesday, so we wanted to explore more and try a couple of different restaurants. We needed a slower-paced day to rest up after all the hiking as well. We had already confirmed with Angela that we could stay Friday night, so after a couple of phone calls back home to extend Paisley's stay at the Pampered Paws and cancel our housekeepers for Saturday (since we wouldn't get home in time to let them in), we were all set for one more day in this lovely paradise!
[To be continued...]
Taking a break from our frenetic pace of activities, I wanted to do a post highlighting the wonderful dinners we had at the Barracuda Bar & Grill right at Beaches & Dreams
where we were staying near Hopkins Village, Belize. As I mentioned in the first post
about this trip, we found out that the restaurant was officially closing this week so the proprietors and chefs, Tony and Angela, could take a break (they will re-open in October). However, we weren't too late to attend a tapas party at the restaurant on Wednesday night, their last official night open before their break. It was a fundraiser for the Hopkins Belize Humane Society
. Tapas would be even better than a regular dinner in some ways as we'd get to try 12 different dishes, and all food proceeds would go directly to the HBHS. Perfect!
We got a great table with stunning view of the beach. Seated with us were Doug and Jeanette. Doug, who lives in Florida, is a frequent visitor to Hopkins, where he's developing some vacation cabins along the Sittee River. Jeanette, a British expat, is a Hopkins resident and owns a cute little shop in False Sittee Point that seems to offer everything from tours to Belikins. They were fun to talk to as we noshed on some delicious and creative cuisine.
Our menu for the evening:
Rum drinks at Happy Hour prices!
The tapas were brought out in courses -- what a fun way to eat and enjoy so many different dishes. There was one serving for each person at the table; that's why some of the photos show four portions of each.
Four-cheese focaccia & Shrimp in Procuitto with melon
Lobster-avocado spring rolls
Barry and me
We enjoyed talking with Jeanette and Doug
Pork Loin Adobo & Polenta & vegetables with Gorgonzola
Fried Calamari with dipping sauce
Beef Wellington Bites & Lemon Grouper Bites
My favorites of the savory tapas were the fried calamari (loved the crunchy cornmeal in the batter) and the Beef Wellington bites. I am a sucker for anything in pastry!
Next came Angela's amazing dessert trilogy. They were all delicious, but the Chocolate Pecan Caramel Squares were the favorite at our table. Also served were a creamy Coconut Flan and a lip-smacking White Chocolate Grand Marnier Cheesecake with cherries.
Yum, yum, and yum!
It was plenty of food, and for just $35 BZD ($17.50 US) per person, a great deal too!
The next night, Thursday, Tony had promised to cook for Barry and me since the restaurant was closed, and I'd been so disappointed when I found out we wouldn't be able to order off the menu. So, we had a private meal -- what a treat!
We started with an avocado/rice appetizer that was really tasty and beautifully presented.
In addition to the great food, the view wasn't bad either. The wind had really kicked up this afternoon, so the sea was quite choppy.
Our entree was mixed seafood pasta (fish, shrimp, and lobster) with a side of cauliflower and carrots. It was absolutely delicious, especially when paired with a glass of Pinot Grigio. We hadn't had many vegetables since getting to Hopkins, so we were happy to get some. Tony and Angela grow their own herbs for use in cooking and for garnishes, and this basil was just beautiful.
We asked Angela if there were any of the delicious chocolate squares from the tapas dinner left over that we could have for dessert. There wasn't much, she said, but she was able serve us a small square each with a bit of vanilla ice cream. It was a wonderful way to top off a great meal.
We certainly appreciate Tony and Angela's time and trouble in serving us when the restaurant was actually closed. We hope to get back during their regular season sometime as the menu looked great, and we already know that they are both very talented chefs!
When we arose to bright sunshine the next morning, we were able to see Beaches and Dreams
, where we had arrived in darkness the night before, in a whole new light. It is a perfectly charming place on the beach, set far enough from neighboring homes and resorts to be private, and with tropical foliage all around, including a large mango tree we could see out our bathroom window.
Our room on the right
Beaches & Dreams rooms (left) and restaurant with Tony & Angela's home above (right)
The palapa at end of the dock was one of our favorite places to hang out in the evenings
Angela made us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, English muffins, and a huge plate of fruit. The big breakfasts here were a really nice treat and stoked us for long days of hiking and other activities.
Our plan was to go to Mayflower Bocawina National Park
today for hiking and birdwatching, so Tony called us a taxi. I have to give credit to Sharon Hiebing's Wealthships blog for alerting me to the existence of this park; I'd never even heard of it until this month, but after reading her description of hiking the super strenuous Antelope Falls
, I knew it was a place Barry and I simply couldn't miss, and our entire trip to Hopkins evolved from the desire to visit this park. Yes, you could say we are a bit masochistic to even think about doing such a hike in the summer in the tropics, but hey, that's just how we roll!
Our driver, Kaleem, would drop us at the park in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon for a cost of $70 US. Traveling by taxi in Belize is not inexpensive, but the rates are understandable as gas prices are high, and once you get off the paved highway, side roads are typically unpaved, rocky, steep in places, and slow-going. The roads really do a number on the suspensions of the vehicles -- mostly older vehicles -- in Belize. Kaleem would have to travel from our inn, about two miles south of Hopkins Village (unpaved), then the bad four-mile road to and from Hopkins, then the Southern Highway for four more miles, followed by a 4.5-mile unpaved access road to and from the park. Twice. Definitely not a job I would want.
The views along the access road to the park were gorgeous, as was the day. What rainy season?!
Access road to Mayflower Bocawina National Park
Our taxi, an older Rav 4
Barry ready to hike
We decided to start out by doing an easier hike to Bocawina Falls to warm up before we attacked the strenuous Antelope Falls trail. Most of this hike was along an unpaved road and was quite sunny, so we were soon dripping wet with sweat. We saw no other people after passing the zip-line area along the way. I'd love to try zip-lining one day, but today was all about hiking and birding.
We saved money by not hiring a guide to take us through the park -- we prefer to hike and bird-watch independently anyway, so we don't feel like we're holding anyone up when we stop numerous times to check out and photograph various birds. Entry fee to the park was only $10 BZD ($5 US) each.
Barry happened to look down and notice this tiny thumb-sized turtle along the path. How cute is he?
Finally we got to the end of the "road" and continued on a more typical trail through the jungle and up to the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous and nice to have some more shade, though the humidity was intense.
"But what about the birds?", perhaps you are asking. As we often do, we took so many photos we'll save the bird photos from our trip for a bonus blog post at the end to avoid making the daily entries even longer than they already are. I will say that we did indeed see some great new and exotic birds for our life lists in the park, so stay tuned.
The falls themselves were really pretty, and the temperature may have even gone down a degree or two right by them. It was nice having them all to ourselves.
From the falls, the trail continued up, up, up to the upper falls area. We couldn't resist going just a bit higher through the lush jungle.
There wasn't too much of a view from the "upper falls", but there were additional trails that branched off to the Peck Falls and Big Drop Falls. These trails didn't look like they'd seen much use lately, and we knew we'd run out of time to see Antelope Falls if we continued on, so we backtracked down the way we'd come.
Exotic flora along the trail back
Bananas growing wild
When we got back to our starting point, we realized that we probably had not left enough time to complete the Antelope Falls hike. We had asked Kaleem to pick us up at 2 pm, giving us five hours in the park, but time really flies when we're birding as we stop often to peer through our binoculars and take multiple photos, so our bird-watching hikes are not nearly as quick as regular hiking. It was 12:20 already, so we needed to turn around after about 50 minutes of hiking to be able to get back at 2 pm. We took off at a quick clip, unsure if we'd make it to the top of the falls or not. It was only two miles to the top, but we knew that it would be very steep and slow-going.
First we crossed the Mayflower Bridge.
I guess the trail used to be called "Tind's Trail", per this sign.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous. It started out easy to moderate, but didn't waste much time in getting fairly strenuous. Still, we had no idea what was soon to come.
First we got to the stairs. There were ropes along the banks to assist, but we didn't use the ropes on the stairs. We thought we were in good enough shape that we wouldn't need ropes at all. Haha! No, we may not have needed them on the stairs, but once we hit the roots and rocks and even steeper terrain on the upper half of the falls, we definitely needed the ropes. Some of the rocks were slippery, and it was difficult enough even with ropes. We were just hoping they wouldn't break.
Stairs with ropes to right
Okay, I give in -- time to use the rope!
View of falls mid-way up
Time for a brief rest!
Since we haven't been able to do much hill training on the flat island of Ambergris Caye, our hearts were really pounding, and I started feeling a little woozy from all this climbing in the heat and humidity. We've done some really tough things over the years, like century bike rides (100 miles) and hiking rim to the river and back in a day at the Grand Canyon
, but this was actually a more strenuous effort, probably in part because we were just not well-trained for it. And they don't seem to understand the concept of switchbacks when building trails in Belize; they pretty much go straight up the mountain. I'm sure it couldn't have anything
to do with the fact that we're a few years older now!
I wish you could see how soaking wet with sweat I was here!
I think I know how Tarzan must have felt!
Finally, we realized we weren't going to be able to make it all the way to the top. It was a combination of not having enough time and being absolutely wiped out from the heat, humidity, and climbing. We could look up and see the top about 10 minutes away, but we just didn't have the energy to go for it at that moment. What a disappointment! We will definitely have to return and try again, perhaps on a slightly cooler day, and we'll do this trail FIRST next time, while we're still fresh. Sharon's blog says there's a lovely pool to swim in at the top, so I'll pack my swimsuit next time too!
As it turned out, going down was faster than going up, though my progressive glasses were making it a little weird since I kept looking through the reading part at the bottom and slightly misjudging distance, but we made it with no mishaps.
Coming back down
Whew -- back on flat land
Since the trail down went faster than anticipated, we made it back to the visitor's center before Kaleem arrived to pick us up, so we got to look around a bit. There were some ornamental peppers growing and some unexcavated Maya mounds nearby. There was also a sign to a so-called "Bird Trail" we would have loved to have checked out. Wish we'd had a few more minutes to walk around more, but Kaleem arrived right on time.
Hate that we missed this!
Maya Temple mound (unexcavated)
After we arrived back at the inn, Barry decided to head out in one of the kayaks (complimentary). I was too worn out from our day, so I just watched and took photos after a quick dip in the ocean to cool off.
This was more my speed at this point
After cooling off, we realized we needed to find a grocery store for a few small items, so we grabbed a couple of the complimentary bikes to ride into the village. After my little dip in the ocean, I had more energy than I expected.
Bikes at Beaches & Dreams
Riding past resorts
We stopped at this little store for a few things, which we had to stuff in our pockets on the way home after the bag broke.
When we got back to the inn, it was finally time to relax. I sat out in the palapa over the water and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset to the west.
The lovely Tapas dinner we enjoyed at the Barracuda Bar and Grill onsite as a fundraiser for the Hopkins Humane Society
will have to wait for a later blog post. It deserves a bit of space as Tony's food was lovely, and we took plenty of photos.
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