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]
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.
Because the sun rises early over the lagoon, the birds start singing, and the dogs start barking, it is easy to get up early at Crooked Tree Lodge. We rolled out of bed at exactly 5:42 am, having just missed the sunrise by a few lazy minutes. This is at least an hour or more earlier than we usually rise. We were excited to start what we expected would be an excellent full day of birding.
After grabbing a cup of coffee in the lodge, we took a morning walk before breakfast and checked out the birds along the road. Of course we saw many, as birds are most active in the morning and again at dusk. It was a beautiful morning, and the sun was already getting hot -- it gets hot early in Belize.
A morning cuppa joe in a lovely setting
Breakfast was served at 7, and what a spread it was -- scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, johnny cakes, toast, homemade jam, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The perfect way to start a big day.
After breakfast, we took the two touring kayaks out on the lagoon to try to find some Jabiru Storks. We had seen them on the far side of the lagoon through our binoculars in the late afternoon of the day before, but they were too far off to photograph. It was a gorgeous day for paddling, and so much fun to be out on the water again. We used to own touring kayaks but sold them on Craigslist before we sold our house in 2010, and hadn't paddled for a long time. The water was very shallow in the lagoon. By the end of May, it might be dried up totally until the rains come again. We were glad we made it here while we could still enjoy a paddle.
The water was very glassy as we started out as there was very little wind, so the paddling was easy
Observation deck at Crooked Tree lodge
Paddling towards the far bank of the lagoon, we spotted many Snail Kites in bushes and on tree branches. We'd first seen one of these large birds on our trip to Lamanai Maya site back in January, but there were so many here on the lagoon bank it was astonishing. There were also some large bulls along the banks checking us out. I was hoping they wouldn't come charging into the shallow water to get a closer look, but of course, they did not. I do have an active imagination!
Cattle along the lagoon bank -- those horns look, uh, SHARP!
From the far side of the lagoon -- the lodge is just visible across the glassy water
As we traveled farther up the lagoon, we eventually came upon a bank of large shorebirds in HUGE numbers. Huge! It took quite awhile to paddle closer to the "bird convention", but on the way there, we were rewarded by seeing a couple of Jabirus in flight, so we knew there were likely more along the bank, mixed in among the many egrets, herons, terns, and others.
A magnificent sight
Much to our delight, our suspicions were confirmed as we drew closer to the bank of birds. There were Jabiru Storks here and there, just a few, mixed in with the many Wood Storks and other shorebirds. We couldn't have been more delighted at seeing these massive, odd-looking birds so close. Some of the other guests at the lodge had paid a guide to take them out in a motorboat earlier that morning, but we were hoping that we could see the same birds for free under kayak power. And we did!
The White Pelican is very rare for Belize, so we were excited to see this flock here.
Egrets and Wood Storks, drying their wings
Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and bull
Mostly Caspian Terns
Barry is happy at seeing so many birds
Barry photographing a lone Jabiru Stork along the lagoon bank
Here's the Jabiru he was photographing
After we'd satisfied our birding urges on the lagoon, we headed back to the lodge so that we'd be back in time for lunch. We definitely didn't want to miss one of the wonderful meals here!
Not long after pulling the kayaks back up on shore, it was time for lunch. Angie served us a delicious baked tilapia with fresh vegetables, a green salad, wheat rolls, a banana (which we saved for an afternoon snack), and the leftover bread pudding from the night before. It was as delicious as it looked!
After lunch we spent some time relaxing on our cabana's veranda. I mentioned before that there were a lot of dogs on the property. A lovely Doberman belonged to a young couple from the UK vacationing at the lodge (after adopting the dog in Louisiana and driving from Texas through Mexico to Belize -- now that's adventurous!), and many other dogs apparently belonging to Mick and Angie. All the dogs were sweet and friendly, and we had fun watching them romp and play on the grounds. One even had puppies under the lodge stairs. They were 2.5 weeks old and just adorable! Check out all these cute pooches (and this isn't even all of 'em)....
A sweet little female who took a liking to me -- never did find out her name
Friendly boy on our veranda
Mama and her five pups
Two precious pups
Another with this friendly girl
Gentle Dolly the Dobie (with uncut ears, so she looks a bit different)
In the afternoon we took another walk up the road. The original reason for the walk was to determine how long it would take us to walk to the bus stop the next morning, but we were having so much fun we walked all the way into the village (which is tiny, consisting of only a fruit stand and a couple of other small buildings). Barry was interested in this hurricane shelter because the Occupancy level hadn't even been filled in. He surmised that in Belize, the right answer is "as many as can be packed in"...
We saw quite a few loose cattle along the way...
And more cashew trees....
When we returned to the lodge, we continued bird-watching around in the back. We discovered couple of pigs in a pen and some additional short trails we hadn't known were back there. Turns out our friend David, who lives just up the beach from us on Ambergris Caye, stayed here with the cast and crew while filming a movie he was in, and the movie was mostly filmed right in this part of the lodge's property! We had no idea until after we returned home and Barry told David about our stay. Pretty incredible!
This cutie lives at the lodge
Dog, meet Pig
After the mosquitoes drove us from the trails, we retreated back to the lodge. We discovered this cache of drying cashew nuts in back. Very cool!
I decided a cold Belikin would taste really good, so we hit the honor bar, then watched the beautiful sunset from the lodge deck.
In Belize, it's not Miller time, it's Belikin time -- very few other beers are allowed in the country
Lovely sunset in a perfect pastoral setting
Dinner was once again delicious and bountiful. On the menu was tomato soup, shepherd's pie, sauteed fruits and vegetables, salad, beans and rice, and cheese bread. Dessert was coconut turnovers and mini chocolate cakes. Needless to say, we ate until we were stuffed. Good thing we got so much exercise during the day!
Healthy and delicious
To be continued...
After the third rainy morning in a row, by lunchtime it was breezy, sunny and absolutely perfect. High in the low 80s, a perfect day for a paddle. Barry checked out one of the Grand Caribe kayaks and even persuaded Paisley to come along for the ride. She's had pretty much experience in boats from our days of owning a sailboat and dinghy, so she managed just fine.
Dinner was mystery fish fillets with jerk seasoning and fresh pineapple salsa on a bed of black beans and rice, accompanied by sauteed chayote squash (called "chow chow" here in Belize). Not bad!