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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.
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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!
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Boarding the ferry - I am in the line with backpack and baseball cap
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A very relieved couple of travelers
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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.  
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James bus and a pretty day - the last one we would have in Belize for days
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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. 
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Orange grove
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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.
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Nice little trip down Nostalgia Lane in Dangriga... they still have Esso stations in Belize!
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Dangriga bus station
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Waiting at the bus station
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Obviously the fee does not go to cleaning up the restroom or stocking toilet paper!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Darling kid showing us a huge starfish -- Barry held it too before they put it back in the water
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I am sure a lot of men have made their wives pose here before me!
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Placencia anchorage
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Placencia no wanna cruise ships - love this sign!
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De Tatch ... what a setting!
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View of the Caribbean Sea from our table
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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.
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Casa Placencia at night
Stay tuned for Part 2: Exploring the peninsula
2/3/2012 05:13:19 am

How much fun can two people have? This was just wonderful to read and the pictures are just fantastic. I look forward to reading about more of your adventures. (Now I'm going to have to go read previous posts!)

Rob

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 09:59:18 pm

Thanks Rob -- glad you enjoyed it! If you liked this one, you should check out the blog posts about our trip to the Lamanai Maya ruins earlier in January. It will take awhile for all the photos to load, but just scroll down and you should find it.

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Paula
2/3/2012 05:34:32 am

WOW!!! I just looooooooove this ... I appreciate how you truly 'paint a picture in my mind' as I read. Thanks for all the pain-staking details. I adore the photos and I'm now VERY interested in traveling to Placencia. Thanks you guys! FANSTASTIC BLOG!! P.S. Do you now want to move?

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 10:00:09 pm

You should definitely plan a visit to Placencia, Paula. It's a great place. If we had looked there first, we might just be living there now instead of in San Pedro!

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2/3/2012 06:17:51 am

Excellent trip report. We will be exploring Placencia and Punta Gorda on our next trip. Recommendations?

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 10:05:19 pm

Stay tuned for future days' postings and you'll see where we ate and visited. There are other choices too, of course. Tripadvisor is always my friend when planning a trip like this! Have not been to PG.

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Michael
2/3/2012 06:36:25 am

Thank you so much for posting about your travels. I don't know when I'll get back to Belize, but until I do, your blog sure helps. Thanks again!

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 10:06:01 pm

Thanks, Michael!

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I'm so glad that you made it down there. It's beautiful isn't it. So much more laid back than San Pedro.
You could have also took the bus to Independence and then taking a quick $6 bz (8 minute) water taxi ride over to Placencia.

We also visited Da Tatch...perfect location right on the beach.

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 10:08:27 pm

Hi Kings! We took the Hokey Pokey water taxi on the way home (as you'll see in later postings). We had thought about doing that on the way down, but the way the bus schedules run, we would have had a long layover in Independence. We also thought it would be more interesting to do the trip two different ways!

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Deb Chaney
2/3/2012 02:36:49 pm

Em & Bear, thanks again for the opportunity to armchair travel. Thanks for the time you take to post your blog and photos that really share the Belize experience so expressively!
deb

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BeBelize Emily
2/3/2012 10:08:55 pm

Thanks Deb, glad you enjoy it!

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2/3/2012 11:34:21 pm

Ahhh, love Placencia. I almost moved there at one time. De Tatch, eaten there more times than I can count, and has the best location for a restaurant in Placencia, in my opinion. Great pics! Do have to say tho, $1 bze to go to the bathroom won't break your budget, lol! I'd pay $5 bze if I really had to go :)

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BeBelize Emily
2/4/2012 09:13:12 am

Heheh, I was mostly just kidding about the bathroom fee, Sharon. We both had to break down and pay it at least once. It was more just a matter of principle to have to pay ANYTHING to attendants with an attitude to use a dirty bathroom with no TP. Blech.

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6/21/2012 12:12:23 pm

Found this blog from Weebly's index, nice!

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Juanita Moss
9/28/2016 04:46:42 pm

I am soooo happy you enjoyed my Southern Belize. I always tell my American colleagues to venture out; go on a cruise but make sure you get off those cruise ships; go visit the local villages so that the trip is more rewarding with other NATURAL beauties.

For me, I am always home-sick, therefore, I have submitted my retirement request from the County of Los Angeles and increased my retirement deductions from my paychecks, so that my retirement package will fully support me when I move back to my home in Dangriga, Belize. I plan on giving back to the Belizean academic arena without having to depend on that Belizean teaching income.

I wish more people would join me in living a prosperous Belizean life by retiring outside the United States. But, to each his own. As for me, I pray for good health so that I can enjoy my life when I go back home. AMEN.

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