But first, breakfast! We once again ate at Ko-Ox Han-Nah across Burns Avenue from where we were staying, Casa Blanca, because we'd read their breakfast menu the night before, and it sounded good. We were not disappointed. Barry had a massive breakfast burrito, and I had banana pancakes with a side of vegetarian "sausage". I didn't care much for the "sausage", but I ate most of it because I wanted some protein for the long day ahead. Breakfast came with a steaming mug of coffee, and we also ordered freshly squeezed orange juice -- delicious.
Along the way, we came across this "super store". All the groceries in the Cayo District seem to be owned by the Chinese, who have immigrated to Belize in large numbers. They are called "Chiny Markets" by the locals, which seems rather racist, but no one seems to think anything of it here. Belize is a true melting pot of cultures, and all races seem to get along quite well. The US could definitely learn some lessons here.
Upon leaving the museum, we entered the most glorious jungle with huge trees, beautiful foliage, birds singing, and a cooling breeze. The temperature dropped at least ten degrees as we escaped under the tree canopy. We felt as if we'd been transported to a completely different world from the dusty city so close by.
The site itself was much more modest in scale than Lamanai, but it was still impressive. It was originally the home of a single Maya family, not an entire village. Pretty nice digs for one family, right on top of a huge hill, where they certainly had amazing views of the valley below. We enjoyed exploring the excavated ruins and scrambling up high for better viewing, but we always kept our eyes open for birds in the many overhanging trees. The temperature in the shade was absolutely perfect.
While we were eating, Barry asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of the afternoon. I figured we'd just wander around town more and maybe back down to the river. He suggested that instead, we hop on a bus to Benque, a border town not too far from San Ignacio, to check it out. He wanted to eat dinner at a good Mexican restaurant he'd read about in our Lonely Planet guide. Of course, we didn't actually have the guide with us, as we'd printed out only the pertinent pages from the pdf file to carry with us on the trip. So we didn't actually remember the name of the restaurant, just that it was Mexican, supposed to be good, and in Benque. Well sure, why not? It was a small town, so we could certainly find it. What did we possibly have to lose?!
We walked down to the bus terminal and hopped on a bus to Benque (full name Benque Viejo del Carmen), a mestizo village just two miles shy of the Guatemalan border. The bus ride over only set us back $1.50 BZD each. On the way, we passed the hand-crank ferry over the Mopan river to the great Maya ruin Xunatunich.
We walked up the Boulevard without a sign of the elusive Mexican restaurant and got to the very top of the hill overlooking the valley and town below. We'd now walked from one end of town, where we got off the bus, to the other, where we saw this welcome sign. Even though it's not a large town, it's not a tiny village either. We had done some walking!
There are very few street signs in town (Burns Street being one of the exceptions), so we asked a local man on a corner in our very rudimentary Spanish if he could point to Arenal Road. Luckily, it was the dirt road right behind him, but there was no sign of the restaurant. We asked him about it ("Comida Mexicana?"), and he pointed off in a couple of directions, said a few words in Spanish, and shook his head. We still aren't quite sure what that was about, so I told him "No entiendo" (I don't understand), but we thanked him and headed into a grocery store right there to ask further.
We headed up Arenal Road, and when another unmarked, unpaved road branched off to the left, we saw this sign. Yippee! I could taste that margarita already.
Barry was determined to get to the bottom of it, though, so he poked his head into the Bargain Center and asked. The proprietor said that yes, the restaurant was there and was still in business. But where?!? We even asked a little boy riding a bike, and he seemed to think it was there as well.
Finally, we figured out that the back of the house where the Bargain Center was located was where the restaurant was located. When it was open, that is. It was after 5pm by now, and there was no sign that it would be opening anytime soon.
We didn't know if any other restaurants in town were good, and we weren't really in the mood for Chinese food anyway, so we made the long walk back to the bus terminal. At least it was downhill! On the way we ran into the lady who had told us where to find the restaurant. She asked if we'd found it, and we had to tell her the sad news that it was closed for the night. She very generously said "Are you hungry? Do you need some food?" How sweet! We thanked her but told her we'd be fine; we were headed back to San Ignacio for dinner. It wasn't even that late yet. We grabbed a water from a little store right next door, and waited 15 minutes for the 5:30 bus back to San Ignacio.