Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rum and sun drenched in Hopkins, Belize

NOTE: I've changed to using extra-large photos. They don't fit in the frame, but I think it's worth it.

Far from the chaos of Belize City, Hopkins is the Belize that I was looking for. We headed out of BC mid morning, having made plans to meet Kristen and Andrew in the tiny village of Hopkins, two and a half hours South by bike.
If you didn't know it was there, you would almost certainly miss it; the five mile road to the town is not paved, and doesn't look like much as you pass. Sand and rocks are not the best friends of a 900+ pound motorcycle, so the trip into town was slow going on the V-Strom. Once in town we located the Lebaha Drum center, a Garifuna drumming school and group of rental cabanas on the North end of town. I knew it was the place when we pulled up to the beach and saw this...

Lebeha had it's own palm tree lined beach, and a resident vintage Land Rover to boot! It was driven here by the first Englishmen to come to the village, who fell in love with the place and never left. Just kidding! I have no idea why there was a derelict Land Rover on this beautiful beach, but for some reason it looked just right, having come all the way from the UK to retire in this tropical paradise.

We found Jabbar, who runs the drumming school, and he showed us to the perfect cabana, complete with two queen beds, a kitchenette, a bathroom, hammocks, WI-FI and... it's own 80 foot by 80 foot beach!

Our Cabana
All of this luxury came at a price, but fortunately that price was $25USD A NIGHT!

Lebeha Drumming Center and Cabanas

We settled in, got some lunch, had a few beers, went for a swim, went back to the store and got some rum...but where were Kristen and Andrew?  That day we learned the value of having your own transportation in Central America, because our two and a half hour motorcycle ride had been a 10 hour, three bus day for them. Once they got to the cabana all was forgotten, and we headed down the beach for some dinner.

After dinner we settled in for some pineapple juice and rum drinks, went for a swim and called it a night. The next day we said goodbye to Kristen and Andrew, who were headed to Caye Caulker for some Scuba diving. Just a few minutes later Tom and Alex, two other riders we met in Tulum, pulled up. They were totally into the Hopkins scene, and headed out for more rum immediately. When you go to Hopkins (after reading this) I must recommend the current year vintage "One Barrel" Belizian rum at the "Happy Shop." It is a bit steep at $7.00USD a liter, but it is outstanding. We spent the next two (or was it three?) days hanging out around the cabana, swimming, and generally reveling in this secret paradise. Tom and Alex were on the same route, at the same leisurely pace, and in tune with our travel style, so we decided to make a team effort as long as it was convenient. The next day we realized just how great traveling with a few like-minded individuals could be...

Somehow we left, and headed back North with our new partners. It was a short ride to our next stop, San Ignacio, which was on the other side of the country. Our Belize map was the same size as any other map, but because of the tiny size of the country the scale was much bigger. After what felt like years in sweltering Mexico, it was a satisfying thing to ride all the way across a map in two hours!

Lebeha was an absolute hit, Jill had done it again!

I love Belize!

Where I should have been writing this blog, but couldn't be bothered.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Razor wire in the city of brotherhood - Belize City

Spoiler Alert: I could have titled this post "We should have taken better pictures in Belize City"

I don't think that Belize City is officially known as the city of brotherhood, but our cab driver and impromptu city guide, Jimmy, had brothers and sisters all over town. When we rolled in it was about five, and about 90 degrees, so we wanted to find a safe, air conditioned place to stay as quickly as possible. With that in mind we stopped at a gas station to look at a map, in hopes of finding a part of the city which looked better than where we were at the moment.

(Insert photo of dodgy looking gas station here)

I saw a guy filling up a '60s RAF Land Rover Lightweight, so I figured he would be a decent guy to ask about a place to stay. (I don't know why I thought that) As we were talking about his Rover another guy walked up and said his brother owned a great guesthouse not far away, and he would be happy to lead us to it. Not knowing if this was some sort of scam, and a little surprised at someone approaching us volunteering help at the dodgy gas station (see photo above), I deferred to the judgement of my long-established friend (Land Rover guy) and he approved of the guesthouse and the new plan. Whew.

 So, we bid a fond farewell to Land Rover guy, and set sail on the winds of fortune with Jimmy - by following his Nissan Sentra through some more rough looking neighborhoods. It got darker as we made our way into the part of town we had previously hoped to avoid, and then we had arrived! Jimmy's "brother" (who was middle-eastern and in his early 20s, Jimmy is black and in his 50s) came out and took the padlock off of the fence so we could come in. The guesthouse was very nice, and seemed to stay that way thanks to the 10' tall iron stake perimeter fence topped by coiled razor wire.
Like this, but in color, and with a nice guesthouse.
Or this, but with Berlin Wall razor wire.

We got a room, and Jimmy waited in the lobby for us to get ready. His "sister" ran a restaurant about a half mile away, and it would not be advisable to walk there, as it had gotten dark. Luckily, Jimmy was a cab driver, so he could take us. On the way to dinner Jimmy told us which alleys to avoid, which unfortunately comprised most of the neighborhood. Oh well, we had a driver, and the city was really interesting from the backseat of a car being driven by a lifelong local. He took us by some of the old colonial mansions by the waterline, past a church built with bricks imported from England, and past the Colonial Prison, which was now the Belize history museum.

We went to his "sister's" restaurant, which, like most reputation-driven local spots, had very minimal signage and dated decor. They also had some of the best red beans and rice I've ever had, and Belikin beer, the only beer produced in Belize. Jimmy was great, and though we never really "hired" him, we were both glad he found us and gave us a far more interesting look at Belize City than we would have otherwise. We bought him dinner, tipped him $20 for the tour and the ride, and went to bed excited to see Belize City in the daylight.

Jimmy's ability as a tour guide is beyond question, because by daylight Belize City had turned back into a pumpkin. We took a walk around the area with Kristen and Andrew, a couple we met at the guesthouse. It took about 30 minutes to see that Belikin was not only the national beer, but, for some, the national pass-time as well. Every block or so a drunk guy would wander up and strike up a chat. No one was rude or threatening, but it got old quick. With half a day to burn, we decided to join in the fun, and spent the afternoon wandering from restaurant to restaurant sampling the four different Belikin products: Belikin, Belikin Stout, Belikin Premium, and Lighthouse Lager. After extensive research Jill settled on the Belikin Premium, and I stuck with classic Belikin. That was the most interesting thing we discovered that day. That, and a stand selling tacos two for a dollar. The tacos were good.

Skip Belize City, unless you can find Jimmy...

I DO have pictures of the beer.