We'd had a wonderful time on our first trip to the Toledo District of Belize and re-visiting the Stann Creek District we'd previously enjoyed, but a week had flown by, and it was now time to head back north to Ambergris Caye.
We had to get up quite early to catch the Hokey Pokey water taxi from Placencia to Independence as we wanted to catch the 7:30 am Express bus to Belize City. The Hokey Pokey leaves at 6:45 am, and we had to walk to the dock. That left us no time for breakfast -- or even coffee -- before leaving. Fortunately we'd bought some fiber cookies at the grocery store the day before, and I lucked out -- an enterprising local was selling cups of steaming hot coffee as we got onto the bus for just $1.50 BZ (75 cents US). Sold! Yes, it had sugar, which I usually don't take, but I didn't care. It tasted good, and the caffeine was what I was after anyway.
It had rained quite a bit overnight, but fortunately had stopped in time for our walk to the dock and ride on the ferry. We met up with the traveling Canadian girls, Heather and Lauren, at the dock, and traded experiences. We find we have more in common with travelers their age than our own in many ways.
Walking the Placencia sidewalk
Heather, Lauren, and me
Hokey Pokey dock
Walking the very potholed road in Independence towards the bus stop
We just barely made it to the stop in time to catch the James Express bus, and it was so crowded we didn't get to sit together until it stopped in Dangriga. Like our previous experience in Independence, this bus actually leaves well before the scheduled departure time of 7:30 am. I guess they are trying to make up time on the route, because we still didn't make it back to Belize City early; in fact, we got there a bit later than the scheduled time.
Nicer seats on the Express - and A/C!
We liked this t-shirt on a fellow bus rider
The scenery on the trip north is gorgeous. We managed to get a few decent shots out the windows of the bus (and a lot of bad ones, but won't subject you to 'em, of course!)
Your intrepid travelers
We'd told Heather and Lauren that we'd lead them through the streets of Belize City if they wanted to walk to the water taxi terminal with us rather than taking a taxi, and they did. We'd all be taking the same ferry even though they were getting off at Caye Caulker, and we'd be staying on until the San Pedro terminus.
Their packs were quite a bit bigger than ours
Ready to walk -- tired of sitting on my butt!
Walking in Belize City
Emily and Lauren
San Pedro Waterjets Express
Waiting in line
The ferry was especially crowded today with locals traveling since school is out and folks from all over Belize and other Central American countries coming to San Pedro for the annual Costa Maya festival
. There was a big group from El Salvador, judging from their t-shirts. We had to ride right in the front since we were one of the last on. We normally don't ride in front as it's a bouncier, less comfortable ride, but we had no choice this time.
Heather and Lauren
Back in San Pedro
After the ferry pulled into the dock at San Pedro, we walked over to pick up Paisley at Pampered Paws. She was happy to see us and knows the drill now of walking back through the busy streets on her leash to wait at the Coastal Xpress water taxi dock to take us back north of town to our condo. It was a hot day, but some shade and water helped. She loves her time at Pampered Paws but is always happy to be back with us and at home.
Paisley giving her mom some love
Here are a couple of photos the staff took of Paisley hanging out at Pampered Paws. She really seems to enjoy herself there, and as I've said before (several times), we're so glad they are there so we can leave her in a safe and fun place. We can tell that she's become a lot more sociable with other dogs since she's been going there regularly.
High energy play mode -- full on!
Relaxing in the garden
Stay tuned for birds and bug bites, still to come! (You can see a preview of the latter in the photo of me with Paisley above.)
It was very difficult to leave after only two and a half days at the lovely Hickatee Cottages just outside of Punta Gorda. On the positive side, we would be stopping for a night in Placencia to break up the trip home to Ambergris Caye, a place we loved when we visited back in January.
Ian gave us a lift into town, saving us the long hike. We picked up a couple of things we needed, including a muffin at the Driftwood Cafe for Barry for the bus ride (I still had my PB&J muffin saved from the day before!) We were plenty early so had some time to hang around the PG bus terminal -- and to get a choice seat on the bus, since this is where the bus north originates.
James bus terminal and bus
Nice painted map of Belize in bus terminal
We got off the bus in Independence on the mainland and hiked 1/2 mile down the road to catch the ten minute Hokey Pokey ferry over to the Placencia Peninsula. Our last and only time on this boat
, it had been pouring rain, so we'd been under a tarp for the entire ride and unable to see a thing. Today was much improved!
Heading into the Hokey Pokey terminal
Our ferry awaits
Our soon-to-be new friends, Heather and Lauren, in the front row as we approach Placencia
Placencia IS just as nice on a second look.
We liked it before, and we liked it just as much this time around. Placencia is a charming and quaint village and never seems to be very busy, unlike San Pedro; however, there were a lot more folks on the beach now that school's out than when we were here in January. Back then we felt like we were the only ones there!
When we debarked the Hokey Pokey, we took a short walk through the village to our hotel for the night.
The "sidewalk" was empty
Colorful signs pointing the way
Loved this sign -- think this place was new since our last visit
We chose to stay right on the beach in the Sea Spray Hotel
, which was basic but clean and perfectly fine for a night. This location made it very easy to get anywhere in the village on foot. The price was around $45 US for the night. No air-conditioning, but we had two fans, cable TV, a fridge, and a coffee pot, and the side of our room ("Seabreeze" -- room 13 -- eek!) faced the beach.
Our room was the one on the first floor on the end, a great location for catching breezes
Right on the beach
View from veranda
Since we hadn't had lunch, only some snacks on the bus, we hit the Tuttifrutti Gelateria even before the beach. We'd only made it here only once on our previous visit to Placencia. That wouldn't happen again -- even though we had only one afternoon and evening here. Barry had a three-scooper with cappuccino, Bailey's, and mixed berry. I had two scoops: peanut butter and cappuccino. The gelato was even better than we remembered, if that is possible!
Sitting outside enjoying our gelato, we had a nice conversation with two young women we ran into there, Heather and Lauren from Canada. They had been traveling up from Guatemala through Belize and were on the Hokey Pokey with us. We'd end up seeing them a lot the next day as well. They were heading to medical and law school in the fall so were intelligent and interesting fellow travelers. We were able to share some of our "local knowledge" with them about Placencia, Caye Caulker (where they were headed), and San Pedro, where they planned to spend a day.
Tuttifrutti -- where the magic happens
After filling our bellies, we walked back to the hotel and hit the beach. Barry took a cooling swim, while I sat and enjoyed the breezes and my book.
Enjoying some R&R on the beach
Lots of folks enjoying the beach down a ways
The restaurant "Detatch", which we'd enjoyed on our last trip here, is right next door to the Sea Spray Hotel so was a natural choice for dinner. Though the food is not on par with some of the fine restaurants in San Pedro, it's perfectly adequate, and the setting can't be beat. They also have $4 rum punches all the time. Nice!
Sea Breeze Hotel on left, Detatch on right
I had the Spicy Cilantro Snapper Fillet -- tasty!
Perfect setting for a rum punch
Barry's mango chicken
Friendly dogs outside
Since we knew it might be a long time before we could indulge in the wonderful gelato again, a return trip to Tutti-Frutti was in order -- yep, we'd just been here a few hours earlier! But just look at all these flavors, and you'll understand why.
I mean, come on!
This time I restrained myself and had only one scoop -- chocolate. Barry went for three scoops AGAIN! This time his choices were coconut, lime, and kiwi. I did have a small taste of his lime and regretted that I hadn't gotten that as well (along with my chocolate, of course)!
Yes, this was definitely one of those trips where you come back heavier than you left -- but it was so worth it.
Stay tuned for our trip home from Placencia, the beautiful birds we saw, and bug bites in upcoming posts...
It seems like we just got to Placencia, and it was already time to head back to Ambergris Caye. It was another early morning as the alarm rang at 5:45 am. We made coffee and ate oatmeal cookies for a quick breakfast. We had decided to go back a slightly different way, so we could experience two different ways of traveling between the same points. We would take the Hokey Pokey water taxi from the lagoon side of Placencia over to Independence and catch an express bus to Belize City there, avoiding the bus change in Dangriga and all the extra stops of the non-express bus.
Jacki kindly gave us a ride to the water taxi dock. This turned out to be a very good thing because the dock was not where our map put it, and we might have missed the boat if we'd been walking. We said our goodbyes and waited for the boat to pull up to the dock.
Emily waiting for the Hokey Pokey
Hokey Pokey water taxi dock
Boat from Independence that we would board to go back there
Right as the boat got going, it started raining HARD. There was a large piece of plastic beside my seat that all the passengers pulled over ourselves to keep from getting soaked. Barry and I were sitting in the front row, so along with another couple, had to form boat's "windshield" by holding the plastic down in front. Because of this, we didn't get to see anything along what was presumably a very pretty boat ride. Disappointing, but yet another reason to go back for another visit! By the end of the twelve-minute boat ride I also ended up sitting in a puddle of water that leaked in, so the butt of my skirt was soaked and looked like I'd peed myself. Classy!
I tried to peek out, but once the boat got going fast, I had to pull the plastic down completely.
Our boat after docking - hard to tell, but it was raining hard
It was still pouring when we got to Independence, so we waited awhile in the covered ferry shelter as we had plenty of time, or so we thought, before the 7:30 am James bus. Finally, we could wait no longer and shared a taxi with a couple from Madison, WI we'd been talking to ($2 BZD per person). Unfortunately, when we got to the stop, the bus had just left -- 15 minutes BEFORE the posted time of 7:30 am! I didn't realize anything was ever early in Belize! Our cab driver was great, though; he sped off after the bus honking his horn and finally got the bus driver to stop and pick us up. We were lucky as this was an "express" bus, so the driver could have refused, but fortunately he wanted our fares.
This bus would take us all the way to Belize City for $22 BZD each ($11 US) with a minimum of stops (only in the cities of Dangriga and Belmopan, not all along the way), so it would be faster than our trip down. Also, the bus was air conditioned and the seats were nicer than the buses we took down. The A/C was set to sub-arctic temperatures, though, though, so I was glad for my wind jacket, and Barry wore his rain jacket the entire bus ride to stay warm. One time we dared to open our window to try to let some warm air in, and the attendant came by and promptly shut it!
This bus driver didn't have the radio tuned to the terrible "mash-up" station we'd been subjected to on the the Ritchie's bus on the trip south, though he kept changing the station for the entire ride. He was also "horn happy" and gave long blasts of the horn at just about everyone we passed along the way, whether car, truck, pedestrian, or cyclist. I guess he was just being a bit overzealous in his safety warnings, but it was really annoying. We even saw locals outside turn and give him dirty looks. If I were biking on the road and heard that kind of a blast from behind, I would jump out of my skin!
Definitely the nicest bus we took on the entire trip, and the least crowded
We stopped at two different bus terminals along the way, and Barry and I each had to use the facilities at one of them. The bathrooms in Belize bus terminals are not free -- Dangriga charges $1 BZD, and Belmopan charges $.50 BZD. This fee doesn't buy you any toilet paper, hot water, or a paper towel, just a toilet and cold water to wash your hands. The money is obviously lining someone's pockets b/c it sure isn't put to use maintaining the rest rooms!
Bus terminal in Belmopan, the capital city of Belize
Our express bus from Independence to Belize City
Belize City bus terminal
We finally got to Belize City (called "Belize" by the locals and those in the know) and grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal for $10 BZD. It was lunchtime, and we had an hour to kill before the next ferry to San Pedro, so had a nice lunch of Belizean stew chicken, stew beans and rice, and veggies and shared a huge Michelada at one of the small eateries in the ferry terminal. Unlike in a US airport, where food prices are inflated, the restaurants in the ferry terminal are quite reasonable. Our lunches cost just $8 BZD ($4 US) each. The Michelada was a bit pricey at $10 BZD, but it was huge.
We ate at Anna's Lunch Box in the ferry terminal
An $8 BZD lunch - tasty and plenty of it, with homemade hot sauce
We thought we were going to be on the same large ferry boat back to the Caye that we came over on several days earlier, but the number of passengers waiting to board was on the small side, so we all had to pile onto a boat not much larger than a Coastal Express water taxi. If it had poured rain, we would have gotten wet as there were no more seats inside. Fortunately, there were only a few spits of light rain on the boat ride, despite the ominous looking sky.
Our little green boat back to San Pedro
When we arrived in San Pedro, we walked over to Pampered Paws to pick Paisley up. She was in the play area when I got there and started jumping over and over when she heard me come in. She had made a friend, "Biggie", who was super cute. He appeared to be some sort of bulldog mix. Kathy told us that they had a blast playing together and posted this funny photo on Facebook earlier that day. He looked really sad to see her go.
Paisley and Biggie playing tug-o-war
While I was paying, Paisley found a large rawhide bone in one of the bins of merchandise for sale in the storefront and carried it over to us proudly. We couldn't take it away from her; after all, it was her fourth birthday on this Groundhog's Day! So, that was her birthday gift. She carried it all the way through town on the walk to the Coastal Express water taxi terminal.
We got a lot of comments and smiles from people as we paraded her through town on her leash with her bone. We could tell she wanted to find a place to "bury" it. Sure enough, when we got home, she quickly located a nice hiding place in our shower, and then crashed to sleep off her exciting visit to Pampered Paws. Glad we've found a place to take her where she is safe and well-treated, and can find new friends to play with too!
Paisley showing her new bone to "Biggie"
Okay, time to go home, and me with my bad new bone!
Leaving Pampered Paws -- so glad they are here in San Pedro!
Not long after arriving back at our condo in Chico Caribe, the heavens broke loose again and we got a heavy rain. People here said it had been raining every evening as well (though not as much during the day as in Placencia). We are still waiting for dry season to kick in!
All in all, even with the disappointing Scarlet Macaw hunt, it was a great trip, and we loved Placencia. For those who are interested, here's a summary of our trip expenses:
Transportation (ferries, buses, taxis to/from Placencia): $278 BZD ($139 US)
Lodging (3 nights): $392 BZD ($196 US)
All meals out: $337 BZD ($168.50 US)
Car rental, gas, and tour guide + tip (Red Bank trip): $290 BZD ($145 US)
Miscellaneous (snacks): $8.50 BZD ($4.25 US)
Pampered Paws (boarding + food): $100 BZD ($50 US)
TOTAL: $1405.50 BZD ($702.75 US)
Our cell phone alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am so that we could hit the road around 5 o'clock for the drive to Red Bank to see (hopefully) the Scarlet Macaws
. We normally shower at night, so all we had to do was dress, hit the "on" switch on the in-room coffeemaker, quickly drink a cuppa with an oatmeal bar, brush teeth, and gather up our gear. We made it out the door at 5:09, a little behind schedule, but it turned out to be fine as we made great time getting to Red Bank, since there was almost no traffic (and more bikes than cars and trucks) on the drive.
As you can see from the map, to drive to Red Bank from Placencia, you have to go all the way north up the peninsula almost to Riversdale, hang a left, then drive west and south, ending up just a bit north of due west from Placencia. It would be quicker to take the Hokey Pokey ferry to Independence, then drive west, but there's no easy way to do that driving yourself.
It was dark for most of the drive and only started getting light at around 6 am. We arrived at Red Bank village by 6:15 and followed Jacki's directions to meet our guide, Selso Sho (son of well-known Geronimo Sho), at his home. We paid him the requested $70 BZD ($35 US) to be our guide. He told us we would need to drive about 15 more minutes, then hike up the mountain to the lookout to see the Scarlet Macaws.
He hopped in the back seat of our rented Dihatsu, and we headed down the road. It started out okay, but as we turned off the main road through the village, Selso suggested we shift into 4WD. I don't know that we would have made it in a 2WD vehicle, as there had been plenty of rain the day before, and the narrow, rough "road" (more like two tire tracks in the mud) was filled with large puddles and a couple of ponds. Selso suggested which side to drive on when we hit the worst areas, and we made it through.
Finally, the road opened up into a lovely, grassy meadow, with a river rushing down below. We could have lingered there awhile, but we had no time to waste as birds are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, so we started hiking up the mountain trail that quickly became steep. Southern Belize has red clay soil just like North Carolina, which is a real mess to walk in when it is wet and muddy. It was still wet from the rains the day before, and now the rain started again.
Light at first, it soon was coming down hard. Barry and Selso had rain jackets, but I only had a water-resistant windbreaker that didn't provide a lot of protection, and my non-waterproof trail running shoes were soon soaked through as well. The narrow trail got slippery, so we were thankful for the walking sticks Selso had found for us so we didn't slip and get covered in mud. He didn't use one himself. It was a lovely mountain trail and hike through the jungle that would have been seriously fun if not for the drenching rain.
Selso and I heading into the start of the mountain hiking trail as the light rain began
We finally arrived at the lookout up high after a relatively short but strenuous hike and waited for the rain to stop. Gradually it eased up, and birds started coming out. We could hear and then see quite a few interesting birds, while waiting for the elusive Scarlet Macaws. Selso said that it would be awhile before they would come out to feed after the rain. He told us that they were very noisy, so we would definitely hear them coming.
Our lookout post over the rainforest
Me with Selso in the background
In search of the elusive Scarlet Macaws...
While we were waiting, we heard what sounded like a frog, which Selso said was a toucan. We finally spotted the Keel-Billed Toucan across the chasm below us at the top of a tree, eating and looking around. He looked like a banana periscope coming up from the tree, looking every which way. Really cool. We had seen one briefly at Lamanai, but this guy hung around for a LONG time eating and chirping, so we really got a chance to check him out. Unfortunately, he was a lot clearer and brighter yellow in our binoculars than in this photo, but we did the best we could -- he was quite a ways off, so this picture has been seriously cropped.
Keel-Billed Toucan, the national bird of Belize
We also got to see parakeets, like we'd seen before on Ambergris Caye; parrots, and a variety of other small birds. Barry took photos so we could identify as many as possible later.
We waited as patiently as possible for the macaws for almost two hours. As time ticked by, it seemed less and less likely that they would be feeding in this particular area this morning. Selso said that there had been fewer this year than in the past and that the fruits they eat were late to ripen. We thought this a bit unusual since it has been a very warm winter.
Sadly, we finally came to the decision to give up on the macaws. It just didn't look like it was going to happen this time, and we didn't want to keep our guide there all day. No other tour groups or individuals came looking for macaws while we were there that morning -- I guess the rain kept them away.
So, we started hiking back down the trail, which was even slicker after the heavy rain. Our shoes were caked in slippery red mud, and if not for the walking sticks and small trees along the way to grab onto, I am sure I would have fallen on my butt a few times!
Still smiling despite the disappointment of no Scarlet Macaw sightings
Gorgeous rainforest, muddy trail
Out of the forest and towards the meadow
We were super disappointed, as you can imagine. Seeing the Scarlet Macaws was the reason Barry had planned this trip, and I felt so bad that it wasn't going to happen this time. But it will give us an excuse to go back!
Fortunately, there was a silver lining. When we got back to the meadow where we had parked, it was absolutely teeming with birds. We hung out there for quite awhile checking out the river and watching birds, and Barry took lots of photos for us to ID later. One was definitely a Cuckoo. Unfortunately, very few of the photos turned out good as the birds were flitting this way and that, but we did have some nice sightings.
Our rental car in the meadow - nice color coordination, eh?
River below meadow
Trying to wash some of the red clay off my shoes -- shades of North Carolina!
On the way out, the road, if it can be called that, was even worse thanks to the heavy rain we'd had on the way up the mountain. We plowed through deep, mucky puddles, and slid around some, but made it out okay, thanks to the 4WD.
The "good part" of the road back to Red Bank Village
And the "bad part" -- messy!
We dropped Selso off and gave him a tip for his efforts, since he too got wet and muddy, and had to spend probably longer than usual as we waited in vain for the Scarlet Macaws to show up.
On the way out of Red Bank village, we were not in any hurry, and it was much brighter than on the way in, so we were able to take some photos. This Maya village is absolutely charming. There is also a campground that Selso gave us some brochures on, Hummingbird Paradise. His father Geronimo runs the place, and the prices are incredibly cheap. A one-time fee of $10 BZD ($5 US) gives unlimited use of the hiking trails, and camping is only $5 BZD ($2.50 US) per person per night.
The Sho household
Typical Maya hut in Red Bank Village
Contact numbers for campground: 668-1724 or 662-8340
Red Bank Village huts
There is also a bed and breakfast in a large palapa
There was nearly no traffic driving back; it sure beat driving in the US! In the middle of nowhere, seemingly, we picked up two young local ladies (early 20s?) hitchhiking. We never do this, but they were nicely dressed, and we felt the risk was small. Turns out they just wanted to go down the road a ways to a construction site at Maya Beach -- we presume they were visiting their boyfriends or husbands there.
Traffic was practically non-existent on this drive...so nice!
Road back down the peninsula to Placencia
When we got back to Casa Placencia, we changed into dry clothes and hung up the wet. By this time, the sun had come out, and it was hot. But things can change on a dime in Belize, because during our walk, the sky turned black again, and the rain started back up. We ducked into the Cozy Corner restaurant just before the heavens opened up. They had to pull down all their rain tarps since the restaurant is open-air. We were very thankful to be under a roof this time! We each got a huge burrito (Barry - chicken, Me - fish) for lunch, but we forgot to take photos until they were too far gone to look anything but messy. They were delicious, though.
Placencia Village mural, and I'm happy to be warm and dry
By the time we had finished eating, the rain had stopped, so we walked on the beach before heading back to our room. It started raining yet again right before we got back, so we jogged the rest of the way. Since this is supposed to be dry season, we were surprised by all the rain.
Cute cabanas on the beach
We dried off and changed shirts again, then drove the rental car up north a bit to refill the tank with gas. We paid $35 BZD ($17.50 US) for just a little over 3 gallons. We then turned in the rental car. Winston wasn't there, but the younger guy who took it back first said that he would need to run my credit card again. Huh? Fortunately, I didn't even have it with me, and I was able to show him the receipt from when it was run yesterday. Not sure if it was some sort of potential scam or an honest mistake, but I wouldn't have let him do it either way.
Another man there, who worked for the airport, was able to give us a lift back to Casa Placencia. We talked to Jacki a bit, and she said that she'd give us a ride to the Hokey Pokey dock in the morning as we had to be there to catch a 6:45 ferry. We could have walked, but with our packs and the early hour, plus not being completely sure where the dock was, we were grateful for the ride. After our chat, Barry laid down and grabbed a nap while I caught up on the computer. I could hear rain starting and stopping a couple of times while we were in the room.
Flower at Casa Placencia
I finally had to wake Barry up at 5 pm, lest he not be able to sleep at night. We changed again and headed into town for dinner. We'd been wanting to try "The Shak", so this was our last chance. They're known for their fresh fruit smoothies, curries, and Asian specialties. Barry got Indian veggie curry, and I got an Asian veggie/shrimp stuffed fry jack. The place wasn't busy at all (it does more of a lunch business), but the food was delicious and very reasonably priced. The view out to the anchorage was beautiful, and we were protected from the strong north winds so were not too cool. Will wonders never cease; we didn't get rained on before, during, or after this meal!
Nice view of anchorage
Asian Fry Jack stuffed with shrimp and veggies, with pineapple slaw
Barry's curry and fruit smoothie
After dinner we walked back to Casa Placencia, packed everything we wouldn't need in the morning, set the alarm for 5:45 am, read a bit, and turned lights out early (before 9:30 pm!) We are really the party animals, no?
Stay tuned for Day 4...our trip back to San Pedro
We woke up to a cloudy morning and headed into Placencia village on foot. We saw lots of birds along the way, so the walk was leisurely, with many photos taken -- stay tuned for a "Birds of Placencia" post to come later. We took in more sights of the town, which was very quiet at this time of day. Wish we'd had sunshine for better photos.
Saw these interesting fan palms all over Placencia
There are many walkways and walls decorated with broken tile here -- so pretty
Friendly pooches greeted me on the village "sidewalk"
Pretty flowered tree in front of a colorful house
We ate breakfast at De Tatch, since we'd enjoyed it the night before. We had excellent veggie omelets and toast served with delicious local guava jam. The coffee was excellent and half the price of many San Pedro restaurants ($2.50 BZD vs. $5 in San Pedro). We must have been hungry since we forgot to take any photos! A squall passed through while we were eating, so we were glad to be under a roof. The rain had stopped by the time we left.
After breakfast, we walked around some more and stopped in at one of the local groceries. We checked prices on a few of the items we purchase frequently and found them to be much better than in San Pedro in all cases and better than Brodies in Belize City in many cases as well. Too bad we couldn't bring a suitcase of groceries back to San Pedro with us!
What it lacks in charm, it makes up for in low prices...at least compared to San Pedro!
When we got back to Casa Placencia, we ran into the couple staying in the one-bedroom apartment there. They were from the St. Louis area and had been in Placencia for the month of January. They own land in Maya Beach and plan to build eventually. We ended up chatting with them for close to an hour, sharing experiences and information.
We were looking forward to taking a bike ride up north and planned to ride to the Maya Beach Bistro for lunch as Jacki had given this restaurant her highest recommendation. Our room came with two nice (new!) beach cruiser bicycles, so we had one of the workers doing some construction at Casa Placencia adjust the saddle and handlebar height for us, then we took off.
We stopped in at the car rental place next to the Placencia airstrip and made arrangements with Winston to rent a car later that day so we'd have it early in the morning, as we were planning to drive up to Red Bank to see the Scarlet Macaws
that typically feed in the area from January through March. Winston said he'd come pick us up at 4 pm to come do the paperwork, then we could drive the car back. Nice!
At Casa Placencia - one more cuppa for the road
Our bikes in front of Casa Placencia, and a super large fan palm
As we pedaled away, we noticed incredibly dark clouds over the sea and knew we'd be caught in a squall very soon. Keep in mind that January through May is "dry season" in Belize, so we were surprised by a day like this. We heard from many people here that the weather during our visit was highly unusual for this time of year, and turns out that San Pedro was also getting unusual amounts of rain. Sure enough, it started to rain as we got just a little ways up the road, so we took cover under the overhang at the Maya Island Air terminal. A couple from England was doing the same. The rain came down in sheets for a short while, but stopped within ten minutes (very typical for rainstorms in the tropics).
Hiding from the rain
We continued riding north through Seine Bight, where many locals live. We were enjoying the paved road, which wasn't totally smooth but beat the cobblestones and sand of many San Pedro roads. I was wishing for my bike helmet since we were on a higher-speed road than anything in San Pedro, but everyone was very courteous and gave us a wide berth when they passed, and the road had a nice shoulder, so we were able to stay far to the right.
It started looking like rain again, so we stopped along the way at Blue Crab Beach
just south of Maya Beach. This is a small beachfront resort run by the couple who make the Goss Chocolate we enjoy so much. We'd hoped to say hello to Linn, but another couple who had also stopped for cover there said that there was a note on the door that she would be back around 2 pm. This time, the rain only amounted to a light shower with heavy winds, so we only waited for a few minutes, then hit the road again.
Riding north of Placencia - pretty roadside and great road
Taking shelter at Blue Crab Beach -- love this chair!
Our next stop was the Maya Beach Bistro, which was in a beautiful setting right on the beach. Unfortunately the wind was so strong, they had had to put down their wind shades, thus obscuring the view. There was a large table that got their orders in right before us, so we had to wait awhile for our lunch. While we were waiting, we enjoyed a Panty Ripper (pineapple juice and coconut rum, a very popular drink in Belize). Barry had a baguette with shrimp, bacon, cheese, and banana, which he said was delicious but a bit heavy. I had the blackened fish tacos with black beans and rice. Mine was tasty, but the fish was a bit overcooked. So, this did not rate as our favorite place to eat in the Placencia area, and the prices were similar to nicer restaurants in San Pedro (i.e., higher than most Placencia eateries) but Jacki swears by the dinners there, so we would probably give them another try if we were to visit again.
Maya Beach Hotel Bistro
Barry's baguette and home fries
My fish tacos, beans, and rice
The view behind the Maya Beach Bistro
After lunch we turned our wheels southward and headed back towards Placencia. There were still no cars at Blue Crab Beach as we rolled by, so we weren't able to say hello to Linn -- hopefully on our next visit. The ride ended up being around fifteen miles, which is pretty long for a beach bike. Traffic was light and conditions pleasant, but I was wishing for my usual saddle by the end, since I wasn't wearing bike shorts. Owie!
Along the way we saw the sign for Sunsail and the Moorings, companies that charter sailboats out of Placencia, so we biked down their road and looked at the docked boats on the lagoon. It was a beautiful setting with the mountains in the distance (though they were off to the right so don't show in the photo; you'll have to take our word for it.)
The road to Placencia goes all the way around the airstrip in a hairpin-turn shape, and we got to see a small plane take off over the sea as we rode by on our way back to Casa Placencia, which is just a little over a mile south of the airstrip.
Prop plane taking off right over main road and Caribbean Sea
hairpin turn in road with airstrip in the middle!
When we got back to Casa Placencia, the sun finally came out, so we took another walk into town to grab a couple of photos, then walked back to wait for Winston to pick us up.
Casa Placencia -- really cute place
Loved the house colors in Placencia
The purple house again, in the sun -- gotta love a purple picket fence!
The sidewalk running the length of the village -- not many tourists at all!
The empty beach -- love it
Seaweed is an issue as on Ambergris Caye this month, but the beach is still beautiful!
Placencia post office and mail delivery motorbike
Ritchie's bus rolling through town
Flowers on Casa Placencia grounds
Just when we were wondering if he'd forgotten, Winston showed up around 4:15 to pick us up. We ended up with a green Dihatsu and hoped we still remembered how to drive after five months with no behind-the-wheel time! The car rental was $82.50 US for one day. We could have gone to Red Bank with a tour company, but Jacki recommended the car rental and had arranged a Mayan guide to take us up to the lookout at Red Bank, which would save a bit of money over a tour and would give us more flexibility, so we decided to go with her suggestion.
After we parked the car back at Casa Placencia, we walked into town yet again, looking for the Hokey Pokey ferry dock. We planned to take this ferry on the trip back, but our map didn't seem correct as we found only a private dock with no Hokey Pokey sign, so we figured we'd ask Jacki exactly where it was. We walked around the attractive residential area around the lagoon and looked at homes and boats. Once again, I was reminded of the Florida Keys, and was struck by the fact that Placencia seemed cleaner and tidier than San Pedro.
Walking to Placencia village
Placencia street scene
Barry on dock on lagoon side - pretty area
We ate dinner at a local Creole restaurant, Omar's. Surprisingly, they didn't have a liquor license, so I had to walk to the Barefoot Bar next door to score a Belikin, which I could bring into Omar's ("no problem"). Beers were $3.50 BZD versus the typical $5 BZD ($2.50 US) in San Pedro - nice! We honestly didn't know that liquor licenses were required to sell beer in Belize as we've never encountered an eating establishment that didn't sell Belikin!
The restaurant was packed and loud, but the food was good and cheap. We both had versions of grilled snook, rice and beans, and green salad. It was certainly the least expensive seafood dinner we've had in Belize at $50 BZD total ($25 US).
Barry's Caribbean Creole snook
My grilled snook
We'd managed to save a little bit of room for a visit to the Tutti Frutti "gelateria", and it did not disappoint. The gelato looked beautiful and tasted even better. You could get two flavors layered in a small cup or three in a medium, so I tried caramel and peanut butter flavors in my cup; and Barry went with mint chocolate, chocolate chip, and Bailey's. This stuff is seriously rich and delicious, and the price was surprisingly reasonable. We paid $10 BZD ($5 US) for both cups. Unfortunately, the shop is closed on Wednesdays or we would have been able to visit again; as it is, we will have to wait for our next trip. This place is a MUST if you visit Placencia -- don't miss it!
The flavors all looked amazing -- how to decide?
Ya gotta smile when you're eating something this good -- and staying out of the rain!
We got caught in another heavy rain squall while we were safely under the overhang eating our gelato -- it absolutely POURED. But once again, the rain was short-lived, and soon we were able to walk back to Casa Placencia in the dark.
This was to be an early night since Jacki admonished us to get on the road to Red Bank by 5 am -- ouch! We are not normally creatures of the morning, but we really wanted to see the Scarlet Macaws. Barry actually had planned this trip mostly if not solely for that reason, while I was just as interested in seeing Placencia village, but I did want to see the famous birds as well.
Before turning in, we noticed a HUGE black insect (maybe 3" long and skinny) on the wall of our room. Yikes! Barry bravely trapped it under a cup and was able to humanely relocate it outdoors. Just a little reminder that we are in the tropics! Sorry not to provide a photo of said insect, but we were scared it would fly off if we took too long in dealing with it!
We set the alarm for the ungodly hour of 4:30 am before turning the lights out at 9:30 pm.
Stay tuned for Day 3 - Red Bank and the hunt for the elusive Scarlet Macaws
Our travel day: Ambergris Caye to Belize City to Belmopan to Dangriga, and finally to Placencia
We woke up at 6 am in order to catch an early water taxi into San Pedro. We were leaving on our first trip to Placencia, in southern Belize, so this was going to be a long and busy day. We would be attempting to travel "on the cheap", using ferries and buses for transport rather than flying, and carrying only backpacks.
Our morning schedule was rather tight, since we had to catch the 7:40 water taxi, get Paisley to Pampered Paws for boarding, then take an 8:30 am ferry to Belize City. With so little room for error, I was nervously hoping everything would go smoothly and there would be no unexpected delays. It started raining soon after we got up, but thankfully had tapered off right before we locked the door on our condo to head out to the dock with Paisley.
This was how it looked at 6:15, a beautiful glow from sunrise, but some seriously dark clouds over the sea
We got out on the dock by 7:35 and began waiting for the water taxi. And waiting. And waiting. I was getting progressively more nervous with each passing minute, and was positive we were going to miss our ferry to Belize City. Barry kept saying "As long as it gets here by such-n-such a time, we'll be okay," but he had to revise his drop-dead time a couple of times as it got later and later. When 8 am came and went, I was sure there was no way we'd ever make the ferry, and our entire day's schedule was based on that. At that moment I was really hating "island time". You can plan everything perfectly, but when you're at the mercy of someone else for transportation, you have to go with the flow. That can be a challenge for computer people like us -- we expect things to happen in an orderly fashion and on schedule.
The water taxi finally arrived at around 8:05, chock full of kids. Suddenly, the delay made sense: this particular boat was obviously serving as the "school bus" for kids who lived north of the San Pedro bridge, and it had to stop at many more than the usual number of docks to pick them all up. We awkwardly squeezed into the already-full boat with our big packs, Paisley, and her gear for Pampered Paws. We hoped that we were the last pick-up stop before town, as we usually are. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Since the boat was picking kids up for school, we stopped at several additional small docks south of Grand Caribe. I don't even know how anyone else fit on the boat, but somehow we all sucked in our breath and made room. My stress level was quite high at this point, though I'd already resigned myself to missing the ferry, so I figured we were going to have a relaxing morning sitting around town for a couple of hours waiting for the next one and figuring out alternative buses to catch.
We got to the water taxi dock in San Pedro right around 8:15. I handed my 20-pound backpack to Barry, who would walk south on the beach to the ferry dock, buy our tickets, and wait for me. In the meantime, I took off at a fast clip through the town streets with Paisley on the leash towards Pampered Paws, several blocks south. Fortunately, it didn't take as long as I figured to get there, and check-in went smoothly as well. I was out of there and back on the road by 8:25. I realized there was still a chance we could make the ferry and was glad that I was in good shape from running on the beach. The ferry dock was only about a block from where I was, and I was wearing my trail-running shoes, so I jogged there. I saw that the boat had not yet left, and Barry had already purchased our tickets. We made it! We actually didn't pull away from the dock until 8:35. Whew!
Boarding the ferry - I am in the line with backpack and baseball cap
A very relieved couple of travelers
Ferry was not crowded at all but was very noisy with the huge diesel engine underneath
When we arrived in Belize City, we took advantage of the free, and relatively clean, restrooms. The restrooms at the bus terminals are rather grubby, and they actually cost money to use, despite being completely devoid of toilet paper and paper towels. Sheesh!
[Thanks to Rebecca (www.sanpedroscoop.com
) for this tip from an earlier blog post where she took a trip south by bus]. We then grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal, which cost us $10 BZD ($5 US). We made sure to agree upon the price up front (another tip from Rebecca). We later talked to some folks who were quoted a much higher "gringo" rate, so we were glad we got a fair taxi driver.
When we arrived at the bus terminal, we had very little time to spare to catch our bus, and the James bus to Dangriga was nearly full when we got on. We got the last empty double seat so we could sit together on the US school bus-style vehicle. The passengers on the bus were mostly locals. There was nothing luxurious about this ride, which cost us just $20 BZD ($10 US) total. The seats were uncomfortable, we had to keep our packs in our lap because the overhead luggage rack was full, and multiple speakers throughout the bus blasted loud music. Fortunately, our bus driver preferred American "adult contemporary" type music, which was fine with me. It could have been much, much worse, as we found out later.
James bus and a pretty day - the last one we would have in Belize for days
Interior of bus
The bus made a stop in Belmopan, Belize's capital. We were continuing on to Dangriga, but many passengers got off here, and a new bunch boarded. I had enough time to quickly get off the bus for a bathroom break in the bus terminal. I hated to have to pay for it, but the coffee had really kicked in by this point, and I had no choice. Amazingly, the attendant was off doing something else, so I didn't have to pay for the privilege of using a toilet with no toilet paper nor washing my hands in a grubby sink with no paper towels. Lucky break.
The bus continued heading south to Dangriga. The scenery on this leg of the trip down the Hummingbird Highway was breathtaking. Earlier we had seen the beautiful Maya Mountains in the distance, a lovely sight after being on a dead-flat island for months. Now we actually went through them, with glorious views and foliage all around. We wished we could have stopped to take photos along the way. We also took in the deliciously sweet scent of orange blossoms and saw many citrus groves along the way.
Maya Mountains with citrus groves below
When we arrived at the bus terminal in Dangriga, we crossed our legs to avoid the $1 BZD bathroom fee. We had a 45-minute layover there before catching our next busy, so Barry walked around taking photos, and I read my book. We had brought homemade oatmeal cookies and granola bars along, so ate those in lieu of lunch.
Nice little trip down Nostalgia Lane in Dangriga... they still have Esso stations in Belize!
Dangriga bus station
Waiting at the bus station
Obviously the fee does not go to cleaning up the restroom or stocking toilet paper!
Low tech bus schedule in terminal
We took the 2 pm Richie's bus to Placencia. We got better seats this time and were able to get our packs onto the above-head luggage rack since the bus was not as crowded, but with many stops to pick up folks along the way, it did get to be standing room only over time. Some of the bus stops were in incredibly remote areas; you couldn't even tell where people would be living. But a smattering of locals kept getting on and off the bus all the way south.
This bus driver had seriously bad taste in music, and we were subjected to some kind of mash-up of American adult contemporary music with frequent bursts of video-game like syntho-sound effects and hip-hop mixed in, all in the same song. It sounded like listening to two or three stations simultaneous and made my brain hurt, especially since it was blasting so loudly. Yes, I am getting old, I guess! Note to self for next time: Bring ear plugs.
Ritchie's bus -- loved the colors, hated the music
The area north of Placencia and around Maya Beach was gorgeous, with fancy houses and beautiful water views. Obviously a lot of wealthy people have chosen to retire or build winter homes here. Placencia is on a peninsula, and at places it gets so narrow the Caribbean Sea and lagoon are both visible from the road, or from your rooftop deck if you live in one of these elegant abodes we saw along the way. The housing style (stucco) with flat road cutting through the water reminded me a lot of the Florida Keys. One big difference was the view of the Maya mountains, still visible out the lagoon side. Gorgeous!
The bus let us off just past Casa Placencia
, a guest house (similar to Bed and Breakfast but without the breakfast) where we'd booked a garden room for three nights ($60 USD nightly). We met the owner, Jacki, who was super friendly and had homemade pineapple oatmeal cookies for us. I was too full of cookies and granola bars to eat mine so saved it for the next day, but Barry wolfed his down immediately. The room was small but scrupulously clean, and the tiled bathroom was a good size. (Note: The third photo on the Casa Placencia website shows a photo of our room, since we forgot to take one before messing it up with all our stuff.) We usually stay in fancier places, but we really wanted to do this trip on a fairly strict budget, and we knew we'd be spending most of our time away from the room anyway, so we didn't book a beach-front accommodation. Besides, we live on the beach on Ambergris Caye, so that's not as much of a novelty any more.
Check out the sign - very welcoming!
Once we got settled in, we walked to Placencia Village, about a half a mile from Casa Placencia. We immediately fell in love. Although there are cars and trucks around, it's not nearly as congested with vehicles or people as San Pedro. Unlike San Pedro, you can walk by vendor's stands without them calling out to you and hitting you with the hard sell. In all our time in Placencia, only one vendor approached us as we walked down the beach; in San Pedro, you can't walk down the beach or sit in a seaside open-air restaurant without vendors coming up and trying to sell you necklaces or wood carvings. And they call to us from their bicycles as we sit on our veranda eating a meal. Placencia just felt very laid-back and relaxed to us, and the stresses of the long travel day drained away.
The ocean is different from Ambergris Caye as well. The reef is out there, but too far out to see; where it is clearly visible from our condo on Ambergris Caye. The color of the water is more subtle, without the vivid turquoise of the sea off the Caye. And there are waves. Not big waves, but not the flat water of the ocean outside our condo. The water gets deeper much faster as the beach slopes quite a bit. And the sand is coarser and softer than on Ambergris Caye. There would be no riding on beach bikes here, and running in the sand would be very challenging as well. Still, the beach is wide, and unbroken by the many piers you find all along the seaside in Ambergris Caye. In Placencia, everyone docks on the back side of the peninsula, on the lagoon.
After exploring the village for awhile, we found an open-air restaurant to try for our early dinner. We were starving after eating just snacks all day. The restaurant was called "De Tatch". We had a great view and a delicious dinner of spicy cilantro/tomato snook, coconut rice, and salad. We discovered that restaurant prices in Placencia are more reasonable than in San Pedro, as are drink prices. Our rum punches were just $4 BZD each ($2 US), and this was not during happy hour. Our entrees were $28 BZD ($14 US) -- they would have been more like $40 BZD in San Pedro at an equivalent caliber restaurant.
Darling kid showing us a huge starfish -- Barry held it too before they put it back in the water
I am sure a lot of men have made their wives pose here before me!
Placencia no wanna cruise ships - love this sign!
De Tatch ... what a setting!
View of the Caribbean Sea from our table
Delicious snook, rice, and salad, and nice presentation too! We forgot to take the photo before we'd already messed it up a bit with a fork.
After our wonderful dinner, we both looked at each other funny, as Barry thought I had brought enough money for dinner, and he hadn't brought his wallet along (unusual for him). But I was trying to keep the cash in my little purse at a minimum for safety purposes, so I didn't have quite enough. He realized he'd have to walk back to our room to get his wallet, a little over a mile round-trip. By this time, it was pitch dark, but he didn't have any problems; it just took awhile.
While he was gone, I ordered a third rum punch (not the smartest thing I've ever done -- these little drinks packed a punch!) and chatted with a friendly couple at the next table. They were from Dallas and are considering retiring to Belize, so were hoping to talk to other ex-pats on this trip. I answered a few questions, and we had a few laughs. When Barry returned, the four of us chatted for awhile longer, and we gave them our card so they could check out this blog.
We had hoped to get over to Tutti Fruitti for gelato since we'd heard it was a "don't miss" while in Placencia, but it had gotten kind of late, and we were exhausted from our travels, so we hoofed it back to Casa Placencia for some much-needed shut-eye. Gelato would have to wait until the next day.
Casa Placencia at night
Stay tuned for Part 2: Exploring the peninsula