While Belize is certainly geographically very Central American, its long history as a British colony gives it a feel that we found more similar to some Caribbean islands than its Latin neighbors. The Creole tinged English was a familiar sound to our ears after the years we spent on St. Croix, but it would fit right in on any of the Virgin Islands, Barbados, Antigua, or Jamaica.
The history of Belize, known as British Honduras from 1862 until 1964, has a lot in common with those islands. The main difference being that harvesting mahogany trees was the driving economic factor, as opposed to sugar cane.
Belize City sits right on the Caribbean coast, so looking out over the beautiful blue water definitely added to our perception of an island feel. As we usually do, we tried to stay away from the overtly touristy spots and wade in to the town. This required fighting our way through numerous barkers and hawkers near the harbor, around what is aptly named The Tourist Village.
The offers and invitations to braid hair, give a tour, or help us find whatever we may have been looking for continued for several blocks while we walked toward the famous Belize City Swing Bridge. Brought over from Liverpool in 1922, the span swings open to let tall masted sailboats up Haulover Creek, and has to be cranked by four men.
As the oldest swing bridge in Central America and one of the last working manually operated ones in the world, it was worth a look. It's also the best way to get across the river into the main part of the city.
Once we crossed over to The South Side the onslaught of "helpers" diminished and we could explore without constantly declining offers. Their inquiries were never a problem, nothing more than a nuisance, and we can't blame folks for trying to make a living, so no problem. Besides, we got some interesting stories out of several people.
As we came into the heart of the city, the first building that caught our eyes was a classic example of colonial Caribbean architecture, The High Court. Home to the Belize Supreme Court, it was reconstructed after a fire, but kept the look of the 1880 original. The court being in Belize City is a holdover from when it was the capital city of British Honduras. When the town was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the capital was moved inland to Belmopan.
As we walked further into the heart of the city we were drawn to Albert Street and Battlefield Park by our noses. The park has a long history as the meeting place for political gatherings and rallies, but on this day it was home to a bunch of booths serving up authentic local fare.
The women cooking at the first tent were so friendly and more than happy to show us the contents of their pots that we didn't see the need to go any farther. They offered us a sample of their Boil Up (pronounced bile up) a stew of eggs, fish, and a number of vegetables like cassava, green plantains, yams and sweet potatoes.
Good as it all looked, we went with some good ol' rice and beans with the added Belize touch of pig tails accompanied by a habanero - onion relish and the local version of tamales (wrapped in banana leaves). Parking it at a little folding table set up next to the outdoor kitchen, we proceeded to chow down, and chat up the ladies.
After our late afternoon face stuffing, we headed for the water. Once we hit the shore we couldn't miss the towering lighthouse off in the distance, so we went back over to The North Side to take a look. Officially called The Fort George Light, the red and white tower is best known to locals as the Baron Bliss Lighthouse.
When we arrived we found more of a monument than a navigation beacon. It seems that Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, a great benefactor to Belize and a bit of an eccentric, had a final request to be buried in a tomb at the base of a lighthouse. Got to admit he ended up with a pretty primo final resting spot, R. I. P. Baron.
All of our walking had worked up a mighty thirst but, before we knew it, there was another lighthouse was in our future. We found a funky little bar right by the Swing Bridge, ordered a couple beers and got two Lighthouses.
Lighthouse Lager that is. Brewed right in Belize City by Belikin, which is self proclaimed as "The Beer of Belize." It's hard to dispute that claim, since Belikin is the only brand available in almost every establishment. Just in case that didn't seal the deal, their ads told us that Belikin is "The only beer worth drinking." Considering the malt beverage monopoly they had, how could we argue?
Truth is it went down mighty fine after a day of walking in the tropical sun, definitely worth drinking. It also struck us as kind of cool that Belikin incorporated some of the country's Mayan history into their brand. The name means "Road to the East" in the Mayan language, and the label features a picture of the Temple of the Masonry Altars at the Altun Ha ruins.
So we hung around for a while and struck up some conversations with the patrons, who all fit right in with everybody we met in Belize, incredibly welcoming, friendly and cordial, many inviting us to come back and offering to open their homes. We were touched.
And it wasn't just the sun and Belikin.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com