Belize Mainland Trip, Days 1-3
We had an uneventful trip through IAH and BZE. Upon leaving the airport, our friends (and hosts for this trip) picked us up, and we ran some errands in Belize City before heading west to Belmopan. We enjoyed the scenery on the way to Belmopan and drove around the town before heading to our friend's house. Once out of Belmopan on the highway, we turned onto a gravel path that led to our friend's dad's home. We took the path for about 15 minutes, winding around curves, across a stream and through the jungle. We reached a clearing where they have horses and run a citrus business and saw lights at the top of the hill. That is where we would be staying! We grilled out that evening and enjoyed catching up with our friends and their family. We ended the evening with an explanation of how things ran at their home. There is no electricity high in the hills where they live, so they run a diesel generator for electricity. At night, they shut the generator off, but they have back-up batteries that supply power to a few key items like refrigerator, freezer and ceiling fans. We were given the 30 minute warning and hurried to shower before the electricity went out.
The next morning, we were awakened by the sound of dogs barking and monkeys chattering. We promptly went outside, and the view was fantastic. The house is perched upon a hillside, overlooking orange groves. The fog rolled in and out as we drank our morning coffee and chatted about what to do that day. The kids enjoyed seeing the resident animals - a black howler monkey, a spider monkey, a puma, an ocelot and seven dogs. We had a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, fry jacks, mangos and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
We decided to drive to San Ignacio and visit one of the ruins. On the way, we checked out Spanish Lookout, where we visited Belize's only drive-thru! The Western Dairies ice cream in small cups was only $1.25BZ! We joked that we can't even get ice cream in the states for 65 cents! The scenery there was interesting, in that the Mennonites had cleared much of the jungle for pasture land. There were places along the side of the road that people had tied up their cows and horses. I guess that is an easy way to keep the ditches clear of tall grass! We passed through various towns and villages and ended up for lunch at the San Ignacio Hotel. The hotel looked very nice, with lots of marble tile and beautiful paintings throughout the lobby, restaurant and hallways. We had grilled snapper sandwiches, chicken quesadillas, chicken strips and a dish called the Mayan burrito, or something similar-sounding. After eating, we pressed on towards a ruin, either Cahal Pech or Xunantunich. Between the 7 of us, we couldn't agree on which one to go to, so we just let the driver pick.
We ended up boarding a ferry to cross the river to Xunantunich. We were told that we could either park and walk or drive up to the parking lot. It was clouding up, so we decided to drive. Thankfully we did! We drove up a steep hill, parked in the lot, paid our entrance fees, and walked up more to get to the visitor's center and then up more to the ruins themselves! I would not have minded the exercise of walking the whole way myself, but the 3 kids were complaining the whole walk up! When they got to the open space and saw the ruins, they immediately ceased their groaning and were enthralled with the sight! For kids ages 4, 7 and 8 to be so taken back is saying a lot! I wasn't sure how they would react or how long it would hold their attention, but they had a blast! They ran around the open spaces, picked flowers in the grassy areas and carted around sticks, pretending to be ancient warriors! They especially liked climbing to the top of the ruin and seeing everything from a different view. Luckily, we had just made it back down when it started to sprinkle. We packed up in the vehicle and continued on with our journey.
We drove to Benque Viejo as a side trip just to see the scenery but ended up on an adventure to find some anti-itch cream. The kids had played too much in the grass and had some bug bites. The pharmacy had apparently moved a few times because it took us a few different tries asking people to actually locate a storefront that wasn't vacant. Unfortunately, it was a Saturday afternoon of a holiday weekend, and it ended up being closed! The kids survived after applying some antibiotic cream I had in my purse.
We stopped by a couple of grocery stores in Belmopan on the way back to the house to pick up some things for dinner. Next door to one was a Chinese restaurant with two dogs on top of the roof. The kids got a kick out of that sight! Of course, not everything was available at the first store, so we had to keep trying different places until we got everything we needed. We continued back to the house and had a wonderful meal of tacos, garnaches, refried beans and brownies and vanilla ice cream for dessert! The tortillas were even homemade. It was a long day of driving for our friend, so he sacked out on the sofa, and we continued conversing with his family about our day. Our 7-yr-old daughter was really interested in the history and was ecstatic when told that they had actual artifacts found on their property. They brought out some display cases of broken pottery, intricate carvings and some items that looked like arrow heads. They even had a skull of a jaguar that had been killed by a nearby farmer years ago when the jaguar was attacking livestock. The boys played checkers together, but our daughter listened to the stories they told about finding the items and promptly drew pictures of our day in her journal. We retreated to our room to shower and anticipate the time the constant hum of the generator would stop, signaling to the kids it was time to go to sleep.
We were awakened by the same sounds as the day before and assumed our positions on the deck, coffee cups in hand. When it was time for breakfast, we had the typical Belizean breakfast that included fry jacks that could be stuffed with eggs, beans and cheese. We also had an assortment of fresh fruit, including the cantaloupe that we had picked up the night before in Belmopan. We chatted with the family and decided that we would drive to Hopkins but be back in time to join them for dinner. We started down the Hummingbird Highway, driving through many villages on the way. At one point, we stopped the vehicle going down a hill, put it in neutral and were shocked that we started rolling backwards, up the hill! Apparently, there is a magnetic pull of some sort; I still need to research that more. We enjoyed our views of the mountains in the distance and the green of all of the trees and plants along the way.
We took a quick drive through Dangriga. The town appeared to have a couple of main streets, with people walking around or milling about along the road. We passed a home where you could apparently call ahead and the owner would fix you a meal. The area and sea was beautiful, and it definitely had the feel of a small village, as there didn't appear to be many "touristy" things to do. We stopped at a gas station and continued on to Hopkins.
The Hummingbird Highway was a really nice road, but once we turned towards Hopkins, we were immediately reminded of the road south in San Pedro before it was paved. The potholes were terrible, but there was evidence that it was recently graded by the tracks along the side of the road. They had a lot of rain lately, and many parts of the road were covered by water. We got to Hopkins and drove through a section of modest houses lined by a grid of dirt roads where we chatted with a guy moving in a home who our friend knew. We continued on and drove by many of the resorts in the area, including Hopkins Bay, Jaguar Reef, Almond Beach, and ended up having lunch at Hamanasi.
Hamanasi is a beautiful resort, and their restaurant is located on a covered deck that overlooks their pool, beach and pier area. Two of us had the jerk chicken wraps with pineapple, and the other two adults had the snapper sandwiches. There were many options for the kids meals, but they stuck with their favorites, chicken tenders, chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese. Each plate had slices of fresh watermelon as a garnish, and everyone enjoyed their meals. The prices were about the same as we would pay in San Pedro.
We decided to stretch our legs and let the kids release some energy, so we headed to Almond Beach Resort to have a few drinks and use their pool. The bartender had lived in San Pedro for a few years and knew our friend's sister. We chatted with him throughout the afternoon about the changes in San Pedro, and the kids enjoyed the pool and felt grown-up by ordering Fantas at the swim-up bar. While two of them went in the hot tub, and one took a nap on a lounge chair, and my hubby and I went for a quiet walk along the beach. The beachfront was as beautiful as San Pedro but with hills in the northern background. It was much less crowded and more serene on the beach, but the pool at Almond Beach was busy, with families, couples and groups of friends congregating. We regretted not bringing along a change of clothes and spending the night, but we had already made plans to eat in Belmopan. We headed out and drove south towards the Sittee River. There were lots of nice beachfront homes and even a large planned subdivision.
We spent more time relaxing by the pool than we thought, and we arrived back in Belmopan later than originally anticipated. The rest of the family had already eaten, so we went straight to Chon Saan Palace. It was a really large space, with lots of granite-topped tables spread out in a large warehouse-like space. We ordered a little of everything and shared it on the large, lazy Susan-equipped table. It was all very good - sweet and sour chicken, pork fried rice, chicken chow mein and sesame chicken. We retreated home and went to bed shortly after arriving, tired from a full day of driving and being in the sun.