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Coastal/Central Belize

We spent last night at the Old Belize Marina where they offer RV parking with power, Wi-Fi and do it yourself laundry and Doug did a few touch up’s on Tigger including washing off the mud from our “jungle dump” a week ago. It was a quiet spot at night and busier than we expected during the day; we thought “old” meant not used but there was plenty of activity, though no bothersome.

So around 9:30 Tuesday morning we headed south to the Belize Zoo. While not big “zoo going people” ourselves, we’d read/heard that this zoo was good, mostly to see the native animals/birds of this country and we thought our chances of seeing a jaguar in the wild were pretty slim so we’d get to see one there.  We were actually given a map of the zoo here; this was new – no site/attraction in Mexico except one museum ever gave us a map!

jaguar hiding

The zoo was a nice surprise; exceeded our low expectations. The animals are in their “natural habit” in the central corridor of Belize where most wildlife is and other than the big cats, we felt that they had adequate space. Belize actually as more species of trees, plants and birds that almost any other country in the world. Many of the residents at this zoo are rescues or orphaned and at least this way they have a chance to survive and the locals can see their fauna. It’s not large and has just over 3 dozen enclosures with plenty of shade trees as you walk around. We saw jaguar, both regular and black, a puma (cougar/mountain lion), an ocelot, tapirs (the national animal of Belize), monkeys (both howler and spider), lots of birds including, keel billed toucans (so beautiful), the jabiru stork we’d not see at Crooked Tree, Harpy Eagle, and many others. It was worth the visit in our opinion.

female harpy eagle

We carried on further south and took the short cut/dirt road to Hopkins. It was a slow drive as the road changes between potholed, graded and large rocks; took us three hours to travel about forty miles. About a third of the way down the road, a red Jeep Cherokee passed us; no biggie, we get passed a lot. Then about 15 minutes later there it was coming back towards us and stopped to flag us down. We could see “gringos” inside and Fran rolled down the driver’s window. “Hi” they said, “we believe we don’t know where we are!” Too funny! They were Americans in Belize on holiday and wanted to get to Placencia but had no map. They had followed the road signs off the highway but were confused why the road was so bad and there was no sign of civilization. We explained that they had taken the shortcut and if they kept going they’d hit pavement again and could carry on south.

Hopkins is a former fishing village which is touted as the friendliest town in Belize. iOverlander lead us to a camping spot at a bar/restaurant right on the sand. They don’t charge for camping but asked for a “donation” if we wanted power – no problem – and they had Wi-Fi at the restaurant. We pulled out our extension cord and plugged in so we could use our air conditioner at night.

DSCN1115 outside the bar

After setting up (which really only takes five minutes), we grabbed some beer and went to chat with some people sitting at the restaurant at a picnic table under a palapa. They were Americans and some of them live here. As it was Tuesday, it was “drum” night at the bar so after dinner we joined the crowd outside the bar to listen to the “punta rock” that the Garifuna men played. It was quite enjoyable. We also met a friendly couple, Warren & Denise from Jacksonville, FL, who were vacationing here and were considering joining the overlanding movement in a few years so were interested in our experiences, Tigger and any tips.

We spent another day/night here Hopkins as the location on the beach was so nice and the price was practically free. We walked the beach, swam, walked into the village and met some locals and tourists. Dea and Ned from Virginia and they live here full time now, whom we’d met Tuesday night at the bar, own a small duplex that they rent out at times and help out with an after school program twice a week as well as a literacy program.

Sidebar: we have been told there are three seasons in Belize – who knew! There’s Hot, Hotter and Wet! J At the present time, we are in between the first two. Temperature highs are currently in the high 80’s/low 90’s with lows at night in the mid to high 70’s – not much respite. The humidity seems to start when the sun comes up and begins to dissipate in the late afternoon and is greatly reduced by dark but never completely gone.

Thursday, we decided to take a day trip down to Placencia which is supposed to be Belize’s mainland tourist beach destination. We were expecting big resorts and the like but were happily surprised to see it was mostly ex-pat homes, small hotels/resorts and the types of businesses that go along with that. The beaches were no better than what we had in Hopkins and that day is was super, super hot. The town of Placencia has one main street and a main “sidewalk” that runs parallel to it and is said to be the world’s narrowest street but that’s a stretch as it’s really just a boardwalk. It is quite an enjoyable walk, if you can tolerate the beating sun, as it’s lined with shops, hotels, restaurants and bars but NO shade. We took it all the way to the municipal pier where that actually is a lovely little beach. We enquired about boat tours to the local cayes but still have not decided to do another one. We’ve spend a lot in this country already and there are a few more things to do inland that won’t be very cheap.

DSCN1133 THE sidewalk in Placencia

We thought about staying here the night but iOverlander did not have much listed. We did check out one place that sounded promising: a hotel that allowed one camper to plug in. The office was closed for a few hours and the maintenance guy said he wasn’t sure what they charged. A cleaning lady (we think that’s what she was) came up and she said it was 75BZD a night! Ridiculous – we’ve never paid that anywhere. The maintenance man said, no he thought that might be the weekly price, but was not sure. So we left and Doug went to the police “precinct” and inquired about options; they did not know of any place that would allow us to park and we could get electricity too.

While he was in there, an American couple overheard the conversation and approached us; they had a home about 16 miles north in the small town of Riverdale and have two RV sites on the property. He owns a fourplex that he is calling Spearfish Inn and has a swimming pool on the property and it’s right across the street from the beach. He said the reef was not far off shore and snorkeling was good. We both heard him say he offered power, water and dump and were darn sure he said internet as well. This sounded great. He said he’d charge $20USD! We said we had not paid that much for camping since we left the US and it was too rich for our blood so we’d have to pass. He then said “okay 20BZD” and we made a deal. They were not going to be home for a few hours but told us to go ahead any time and feel free to use the pool. They gave us directions and after walking a bit more, doing some supply replenishing, we went there.

While Doug was configuring to get us to Riverdale, he found an alternate route that seemed to follow the shoreline more than the highway so we thought we’d take that as we’d already driven south on the highway. Well, that proved interesting; it started out as a dirt road with a few homes on it and then became a two tire track through the bush along the shore. We were 95% of the way there when we encountered some low hanging trees. No problem, Doug got out our handy little saw and up on the hood of Tigger he got and cut the branches that were going to cause a problem down – he had to do that three different times in about 100 metres. Sure glad we had that saw!

DSCN1143 DOug cutting the low hanging Branches We got to Steve & Rhoda’s house in the early afternoon and spent a frustrating hour or so looking for the right power adapter for our electricity (which we never found – it’s in a really good hiding place it seems) only to discover the socket was not even the one we thought it was. There was no power socket anywhere else outside so we gave up and went for a swim. It was a tiny pool but it was wet, clean and somewhat cool. After lunch we did some Spanish homework and got back in the pool just as they returned. Steve got us set up with power from a small building behind the pool and we were good to go. Unfortunately, the internet they mentioned was a block down the road at a resort called the Lost Reef. After chatting for a while we decided to go have a beer at the bar and get online. The internet was quite slow and almost useless. After one beer, we went back to the house and made dinner.

The pool at Spearfish Inn

IMG_20160414_153931702 pool at house in RiversdaleFriday morning, we decided to leave as Doug had his first work of this week to do which meant he needed internet so we were going to head back to Hopkins. Before leaving, we checked out the ocean to see if we should come back and try and snorkel but the surf was a little rough and the water seemed quite murky. Steve said that there is a river nearby and if there’d been a storm inland, the crud runs downstream to the ocean and today would not be good visibility. So that cinched it, we were heading back to our nicer beach in Hopkins that was also cheaper with wifi.

We settled in on the beach, Doug did his one hour of work (call and WebEx meeting) and we enjoyed the rest of the day. It was not so hot today but the water here was a little grungy at the shoreline until later in the afternoon. We spent a couple of hours planning our route for the next few weeks.

In the middle of the afternoon, a young man approached us asking if we had a tow chain; a motorhome had gotten stuck in the ditch just up the lane from us and they were trying to move it. An American fellow was coming into Hopkins for a few months with a big Class A motorhome and for some reason wanted to go across this ditch!? We have steel cable that hooks to our winch so Doug dragged that out and took it over. They had a back hoe there but nothing to tie the motor home to it with. That was our excitement for the day. Took a very short while but they had him out and he got parked where he was supposed to.

DSCN1147 motor home stuck in the ditch

Before dinner we walked over to Dea & Ned’s house to inquire about their after school program wondering if we could help out or donate some school supplies (we brought a box of pens, pencils, markers, pads of paper and little “prizes” in our storage bin for just such a purpose). They said they run their program on Tuesday and Thursdays and would greatly appreciate anything we could give them. They invited us to join them on Tuesday, but we don’t think we have enough time on our visa to hang around here that long. We’ll see. We did walk over and give them a load of pencils and things to help them out.

Sidebar: Hopkins beach – we have been in the ocean swimming at least once a day. While Fran has no problem snorkeling will fish all around here, there’s one (she thinks it’s always the same one!) little white/silver fish that loves to poke around her swimming area. It’s pretty funny; she gets annoyed at first and if he keeps coming near here, she gets out! She also was stung by something near her right shoulder one time – maybe a jellyfish tentacle.

our beach at Hopkins:  DSCN1153 beach and bar at Driftwood Bar

Speaking of daily excitement, Doug wanted to share that he was pretty excited today: he put on clean undies! 🙂  The second, not quite as big, excitement was a big green unimog type vehicle pulled into the Driftwood Bar and parked beside us. It was a small German family with an almost three year old girl and a 7 WEEK old baby! He was born in Cancun. Torban and Michaela shipped their rig to New York last year and visited five Canadian provinces, the Yukon and Alaska before hitting the west side of the lower 48, then five months in Mexico and now are spending only one week in Belize as they are behind schedule. What an adventure – really beyond an adventure. Then later on this afternoon a Land Rover drove up with another very young German couple, Hannes & Bina. They toured a lot of northern Europe including taking a ferry from Denmark to Iceland (who knew!) and then shipping to Halifax and beginning their Pan Am journey.

enhance2OL32NWBWe actually decided to “eat out” tonight and tried the pizza at this bar; it was very good; we just did take out though and drank our own beer to make it a little cheaper.

The next day, just before dinner, Jeanny (a German girl) and Chad (Canadian) from Prince George showed up. This Driftwood Bar has become very popular this weekend! All three of these couples are overlanders like us headed to Argentina but travelling much faster than we are; all three of them only got 7 days’ insurance for Belize so not exploring the country to the extent we are.

We are still in Hopkins for the weekend, and enjoying that hard life of walking the beach, swimming, blogging, reading, practicing Spanish, chillin’, walking some more, contemplating how much longer to hang out. We highly recommend this lifestyle; we sleep better, eat pretty healthy since most of the time we do not eat out, exercise, maybe drink a bit too much beer but generally are stress free. Tigger gives us a headache at times but so far no “migraines”.

Monday, we took a “day trip” from Hopkins to the city of Dangriga, a little north of us. This is the third largest city in the country and it has a museum about the Garifuna people aka the Black Caribes. Their culture is a combination of native African (as they originated from western African brought over during the slave trade in the 18th century), Caribean with a little Mayan and Christianity thrown in to make it unique. The museum is not large but it was informative. There was a Garifuna primary school next door so we donated bunch of pens for the children as well as a Frisbee that says “Canada”.

Dangriga central roundaboutWe stocked up on supplies here as there are larger grocery stores and checked out the beach which is pretty nice before returning to the Driftwood Bar in Hopkins for one more night. Tonight we were the only campers.

Tuesday, we were up early and closed up camp to hit the road and try and make it to the No Hoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve for some cave tubing.   It was hard to leave the coast and say goodbye to the beach as we knew it was going to be quite some time before we see an ocean again.

No Hoh Che’en is located between Belize City and the capital of Belize, Belmopan. We drove the Hummingbird Highway northwest to Belmopan and then east about 12 miles to the turn off. The further inland we got, the blacker the sky got.   We actually began gaining elevation and at around 300 feet (yes feet!) the rain began. At first it only sprinkled and we thought “hey if it rains hard and long enough we may not need a car wash to get the salt of a week at the ocean off Tigger”. Well, our wish was granted and it began to rain harder and harder. After about a half hour it stopped and started but it was a pretty good rain.

At the turn off, we stopped to ask if we were at the right spot as well as whether a guide is mandatory. We were told guides are required in the caves and the guy introduced us to a freelance guide who said he’d take us for 2-2.5 hours for $40US each. We read that $45 was good prices so we thought we’d rather have our money go to a local than a tour company used by the cruise ships (this is a day excursion for ships that come into Belize City).   We followed him to the end of the road – Doug made breakfast in the back while Fran drove – and we changed into swimsuits and shorts and our Keene sandals. The rain had stopped for a bit but began again before we left the truck. Fernando gave us helmets with headlamps, life jackets, and comfy tubes. We hiked about a half hour up a trail in light showers and got to the put in point. Fernando spoke to us about the plants and trees along the way and we asked about his life and family.

Upon entering the river (Caves Branch River) we were tied together and Fernando got into his tube and hooked a rope from Fran’s tube to his foot. He sat facing us and began using his arms as oars to take us down the river – there is not much current here at all. We entered the first large cave and it quickly became necessary to use our headlamps. We were so fortunate to get here before the cruise ship mini bus loads as we had the caves to ourselves so it was very peaceful, quiet and a much more enjoyable experience. Fernando pointed out interesting shapes, stalactites and stalagmites and explained that the Maya believed in the Underworld which consists of 9 layers. They believed that all souls went to this Maya Hell aka Xibalba and that these caves were the entrance to this place.

cave exitIt was a wonderful “float” with a pass by a mini waterfall into a cave then a couple of really tame “rapids” where we had to put our “butts up”, finishing with a float down the river outside the caves back to where we began our hike. It pretty much finished raining by the time we were done and after drying off and changing, we met back up with Fernando, paid him and checked out the vendor booths set up in the parking lot. The Belizeans are nowhere as aggressive in selling their wares as the Mexicans in similar tourist spots nor were there as many of them.

We decided to make a push for San Ignacio about 15km from the border and off we went.