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.
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Walking the Placencia sidewalk
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Heather, Lauren, and me
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Hokey Pokey dock
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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.
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Nicer seats on the Express - and A/C!
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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!)
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Your intrepid travelers

Belize City

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.
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Their packs were quite a bit bigger than ours
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Ready to walk -- tired of sitting on my butt!
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Walking in Belize City
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Emily and Lauren
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San Pedro Waterjets Express
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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.
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Crowded ferry
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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.
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Happy Paisley
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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.
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High energy play mode -- full on!
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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.)
 
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?
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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.  
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Getting off the Hopkins-Dangriga bus
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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.   
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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. 
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Mine...all mine!
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!
 
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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! 

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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!
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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!
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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).

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Most Belize buses are old US-made Blue Bird school buses. Not very luxurious, but cheap!
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Videos provided entertainment for the travelers
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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. 
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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! 
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Barry's stew chicken w/stew beans, rice, & salad
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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! 
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Comfy king-sized bed
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Neat ceiling and very high made the room feel even larger
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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...]
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Armoire for hanging clothes and more macaws
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Large tile shower
 
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The beautiful birthday girl!
Last night we were dinner guests of Bernie and Doris at Blue Water Grill to celebrate Doris' birthday.  Also in attendance were Doug from Grand Caribe, a very funny and colorful guy from Montana, usually seen sporting a cowboy hat; and Rene and Caroline, other friends of Bernie and Doris.  Rene and Caroline run Sundancer Properties in San Pedro and were married on the beach at Grand Caribe the very day we arrived in town (August 27th).  We had a delightful dinner with plenty of good conversation, many laughs, and an abundance of Merlot.  Since some of you will remember my lamenting not having any wine since our arrival, you will know that I enjoyed this! 
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L to R: Caroline, Rene, Doug, Doris, Bernie, and me
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Barry got into this shot, and Doug's hat makes an appearance!
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Delicious flourless chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert...yum!
Barry and I had walked into town for the dinner (approx. 2.5 miles, so we earned our dinner!), but took Coastal Express home since it was well after dark (9:30 to be exact, what party animals we are!)  It was our first time on the water taxi, and we thoroughly enjoyed the fast ride to the Grand Caribe dock.  Only wish it could have lasted longer. 
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Pulling away from the Coastal Express dock in the boat with our driver
In other news, our shipment of belongings from the US has arrived on the island!  We are anxiously anticipating its delivery to our home tomorrow morning.  We were hoping for this afternoon, but the container didn't get unpacked in time.  We are so ready to have our bicycles as our feet are getting really tired from the walk into town each day!