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Yesterday we returned from a five-day trip to San Ignacio, which is a town in the Cayo District in the western part of Belize.  We had never visited this part of the mainland before and were looking to do some hiking, birdwatching, and escape some of the traffic and general busy-ness of high season in San Pedro.  San Ignacio does get tourists (especially eco-tourists, adventure-seekers, and backpackers), but it is not the big tourist destination that Ambergris Caye is, and we were craving some recharge time away from crowds. 

As usual, we planned to do this trip on a fairly tight budget, so we chose to take the ferry to Belize City, then a "chicken bus" to San Ignacio.  This is not the most luxurious or fastest way to travel around the country, but it is very budget-friendly.  So, on Monday morning, we caught a ride to town from Mr. Raymond here at Grand Caribe.  We dropped Paisley off at Pampered Paws for boarding, where she was happy to see her friend Bess the Doberman in doggie day care.  She trotted right off and never looked back -- she really seems to enjoy her stays at Pampered Paws as she gets to play all the time.  She returns home completely exhausted!

We then hoofed it over to the ferry terminal, just a block or so away.  We were traveling with backpacks again, and Barry was able to carry more this time thanks to our friend Paula, who gifted him with a Vaude backpack she no longer needed, before leaving San Pedro to head back to the US.  He had only a smallish backpack here, so this was a big help for a trip of this length.  (Thank you so much, Paula!)  

The ferry ride to Belize City ($50 BZD round trip for each of us with a 10% off coupon) takes about an hour and a half, then we caught a quick taxi to the bus terminal ($10 BZD).  As we were entering the terminal, a female taxi driver asked if we were looking to go to San Ignacio, and indicated that the bus had just left.  Of course she offered us a taxi ride for a "good price", but we told her we'd wait for the next bus, as they leave frequently, and we knew the bus would be much cheaper than a taxi all that way.  
When we got to the departure area, there was a west-bound bus just loading up, so we realized she had probably misled us about "just missing" the bus in order to get a taxi fare from us.  You really have to be on your toes here and not believe everything you are told.  Most people are honest, but there are definitely some out to make a buck at the tourist's expense.  

When we boarded the bus, we realized that we were the only non-locals aboard, which is pretty typical.  Most tourists either fly, rent a car, or take a taxi or private shuttle when traveling the country.  It's true that the buses are not very comfortable; they were previously US school buses, and the seats are sized for kids, not larger adults, which works fine for me, but certainly not for taller folk. They are not air-conditioned; they stop often to let off and pick up locals; and they can be crowded; but for $7 BZD ($3.50 US) each from Belize City to San Ignacio, we were left with a lot more in our pockets for meals and tours than if we'd chosen another transportation option.  And what better way to experience the local culture?
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Chicken bus to western Cayo
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Sign in front of bus with fares -- nice because most buses don't have this helpful chart
We had a five-minute break at Belmopan, the capital of Belize, to let quite a few passengers off and on, and I ran into the terminal take a quick bathroom break.  For $1 BZD I was actually given toilet paper to take in with me this time!
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Now I can make it to San Ignacio!
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Getting back on the bus
After a ride with many stops, we arrived at the bus terminal in San Ignacio at around 2:30 pm.  Since it's dry season here in Belize, the parking lot was very dusty.  Many of the streets in town are unpaved or having construction done, so there was quite a bit of dust wherever we walked, actually.  Better than rainy-season mud, I suppose!
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San Ignacio bus stop
Our lodging was a short walk from the bus terminal, and we were able to find it relatively quickly, despite a dearth of street signs.  We were greeted many, many times each time we walked in town with the question "Taxi?"  There were obviously many more taxi drivers than tourists in town, which is usually the case in San Pedro as well.  This really drives me batty.  If we want a taxi, we know where to look for one, and if we are just walking around, it gets annoying to have to say "no thank you" over and over, but there is much competition for paying customers, so I guess this will not change.  What a difference from a place like New York City, where you have to step out into the street to flag down an available cab as "taken" cabs whiz by.

We had reservations for four nights at the Casa Blanca Guesthouse, right on the main street of San Ignacio, Burns Avenue.  (I liked this street before I even saw it because my maiden name is Burns!) And it was a very convenient place to stay; we could walk to all the restaurants in town easily and down to the river nearby as well.  It was not a fancy place, but it was scrupulously clean, safe, air-conditioned (which kept the road noise down), and non-smoking; and had cable TV, daily maid service, and private baths.  And the price was right at $49 US per night.  From what we could see as we walked around, it was the nicest place to stay if you wished to be right in the heart of town, and we did, so we were pleased with our choice.
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Casa Blanca
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Burns Ave. outside Casa Blanca
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Our room -- not fancy, but very clean, with nice white cotton sheets
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Our bathroom with large tile shower
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Our closet area
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View from Casa Blanca balcony of snack shops across the street
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Me on balcony
We ran into a touring cyclist who had just arrived in San Ignacio.  He was doing a fully loaded solo bike tour from Mexico! 
After unpacking a bit and settling in, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around town and getting our bearings. In addition to shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, there's a great fruit and vegetable market square where vendors sell their wares.  Both the variety and cost of produce is noticeably better than in San Pedro since Cayo is where many of the farms in the country are located and produce doesn't have to be shipped so far, or on a ferry, to get to this market.   
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Barry in front of Police Station and welcome sign
There are two bridges in San Ignacio Town, both one-way.  The "New Bridge" leads into town, and the other, a suspension bridge called the "Hawkesworth Bridge", is older and leads out of town.  Both bridges span the Eastern Branch of the Belize River, also known as the Macal River.  The river is absolutely gorgeous, and the lush green banks form a park of sorts that attract locals and tourists.  What a lovely place for a picnic it would be!  We wandered around there for quite awhile enjoying the beautiful view of the river and the huge trees on the banks.  Some locals were swimming and splashing in the water, and a large group of frolicking grackles were enjoying it as well.
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This wooden bridge is actually the "New Bridge", much to my surprise. Loved it!
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Brightly colored "chicken" bus coming over New Bridge into San Ignacio Town
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Beautiful banks of Macal River with Hawkesworth Bridge in distance
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Grackles enjoying their nightly bathing ritual
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Huge trees on river bank
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Lovely clear water of the Macal River
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The Hawkesworth Bridge leading out of town into Santa Elena
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Lovely view from Hawkesworth Bridge
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Funny sign
We had only had snacks for lunch while traveling so decided on an early dinner at Ko-Ox Han-Nah restaurant, just catty-corner across the street from Casa Blanca.  We were both in the mood to try their curry, and it was delicious.  I had a milder chicken curry, and Barry had a spicier one.  It was delicious, and we both cleaned our plates!
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Barry's spicy chicken curry
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My milder chicken curry with yogurt
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Dining at Ko-Ox Han-Nah ("Let's Go Eat")
Stay tuned for "Our Sojourn in San Ignacio - Day 2:  Uphill to Cahal Pech and Lost in Benque"
3/31/2012 10:16:11 am

Glad you are back blogging!

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BeBelize Emily
3/31/2012 10:32:15 am

Thanks! We didn't really take a break on purpose, but we don't want to take the time to blog during our trips...we'd rather fully experience the time away and write it up when we get back to our normal day-to-day life.

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Paula
3/31/2012 12:23:43 pm

LOVE it as usual! I know you missed your computer a lil bit but it's good to take a break from it, isn't it? GOOD FOR YOU! I'm glad you two had a GREAT trip and happy to see the backpack workin for y'all. : ) It has a 'good home' now! LOL!

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4/1/2012 06:19:43 am

What a lovely report and I appreciated seeing pictures of you two in them so I can recognize you when you get back home on AC.

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