Since failing to reach the top of Antelope Falls
in June due to a tight time schedule, we were determined to get back to Mayflower Bocawina National Park
, near the villages of Silk Grass and Hopkins in the Stann Creek District, as soon as possible to finish the hike. We also wanted to visit the town of Punta Gorda in the Toledo District of southern Belize for the first time. So we decided to combine both goals into a week-long adventure.
On our first trip to the park, which we got to via taxi from Hopkins, we'd discovered an eco-resort right within the confines of the park, Mama Noot's
. We hadn't read about it in any of our resources prior to visiting the park, but once we found it, we knew it would be a much more convenient place to stay to hike the falls as well as indulge in our passion for birding. So, we booked three nights to allow plenty of time for hiking, birding, exploring, and relaxing. There is also a new zip-line onsite, but we didn't take advantage of it. It looked like fun, but would have been an additional expense, and we really preferred the hiking and birdwatching.
We took off from Ambergris Caye on Tuesday, July 24. We caught an early-morning water taxi into San Pedro, dropped Paisley off at Pampered Paws to board for the week, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Lily's Treasure Chest, since we had some time before the ferry to Belize City departed.
We've learned while traveling this summer that while the summer months are slow season in Belize for tourists from the US, Canada, and Europe; this is the time when Belizeans as well as other Central Americans travel, since the children are out of school and bargains are plentiful. As a result, the transportation options most-used by locals, ferries and buses, are packed. Today was no exception. Both the ferry and buses were very crowded, and our final leg, a bus from the town of Dangriga to the park turnoff was standing room only. We were not able to sit together, and Barry was forced to stand way in the back. Practically the entire aisle was filled with standing passengers.
When we approached a police checkpoint along the highway, all those passengers standing in the aisle had to be seated, as apparently standing passengers are not allowed (even though it happens all the time). So these additional passengers had to scrunch onto the very edges of the tiny seats originally intended for two children (the buses in Belize are former US school buses) but now occupied by two adults, in most cases. Barry ended up perching on the edge of one of these seats as a third person. There was also a third person squeezed onto the edge of the seat I was in, and many crouched in the aisle so they wouldn't be seen standing. Apparently it's pretty routine here for the buses to exceed their designated maximum passenger capacity -- and to hide that fact when they pass through checkpoints.
The park is not a usual bus stop, though local buses will stop pretty much anywhere a passenger requests, so I had to let the conductor know that we needed to get off there. The Belizean man I was seated next to was chatting me up the entire time (only about half of which I could understand) as I tried to watch for the stop. Since the park is only six miles south on the Southern Highway outside of Dangriga, we would be the first stop, so the conductor had to make his way down the crowded aisle to let Barry know to start working his way to the front of the bus to be ready for the stop. Fortunately, the driver did stop, and we got off at the appropriate place. It was really nice to be out of that crowded bus and enjoy the fresh air again.
Mile 6 of Belize's Southern Highway
As you can see on the sign for Mama Noot's, it is 4.2 miles in on the unpaved road, and the bus doesn't go in. We could have hired a taxi in Dangriga, but we figured the hike in wouldn't kill us after so much time seated in ferries and buses, and we're trying to keep our travel as frugal as possible. Times like these are why we travel with backpacks rather than rolling suitcases in Belize! It was a beautiful hike with no houses at all along the road, just green as far as the eyes could see.
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Our shoulders got a little tired, but it was mostly flat and not a difficult hike.
As we walked down the road, we met the manager of Mama Noot's, Liz, as she was heading the other way into town in an SUV. She offered us a ride, but we were within a mile at that point, so decided to forge onwards. Before reaching Mama Noot's, we entered park land.
As we neared Mama Noot's, one of the workers met us on the road and walked us the rest of the way in to the resort, and Ms. Marci, who does all the cooking in the restaurant there, showed us our cabana. We had requested a regular "Longhouse" room since the summer rate was only $39US, but since those rooms were currently under renovation, we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a larger cabana. Since it is low season for tourism, we were the only guests at the resort for the three nights we were here, although there were zip-line workers staying in the larger cabana close to ours.
Can't beat this gorgeous setting
Our authentic Belizean cabana
The cabana was very Belizean with tiled floors, a thatch roof, and screened windows all around. It was definitely more rustic than most places we've stayed, but charming. Inside there were two sleeping areas, each with a queen bed, a large entry area, and a bathroom with tiled shower. The sleeping area had a screened porch feel; there were curtains for the windows but not all had slats to close. The heavy overhanging thatch roof kept rain from coming in, however.
Side view of our cabana
Sleeping area we used - note mosquito netting over the bed, a first for us!
Second sleeping area we didn't use
Entry area between sleeping areas
Interior of thatched roof, as seen from our bed
Meals were served in a large dining hall (photos later). Before our first dinner, we chatted with Liz, who brought us a beer, salad, and some of Ms. Marci's delicious home-baked bread. We were starved by this time, since we'd had only snacks for lunch, so it sure went down easy.
We had Belizean pork chops, rice, and veggies for dinner, followed by a slice of key lime pie. Yum! We definitely did not leave hungry, and the food made the long hike (and day of sometimes uncomfortable travel) all worthwhile.
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Barry's favorite -- no meringue!
Stay tuned to future days' blog posts for hike reports and photos (see whether we made it to the top of Antelope Falls this time!) and more on Mama Noot's. Also coming up: Visiting Punta Gorda and the Toledo District, Hickatee Cottages, and a brief return to Placencia....