belize it!

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i had no intention of going to belize.  i resisted, and persisted to stand by other travelers’ claims that’ belize is just too expensive.’  i always am very money conscious when i travel and try to stick to a predetermined daily allowance.  while in central america, i figured $30/day was a reasonable amount (which accounts for food, room, transportation and fun!).  everyone assured me that there was no way to spend that little in belize…nor was it worth it, they claimed.  “belize city is dirty.  and dangerous. and expensive.” it wasn’t exactly the kind of information that gets you packing and on your way to a destination.  yes, i’d heard it was pretty too, but that wasn’t enough.

i persisted to resist… until i sat down and had drinks at the hostel los amigos in flores, guatemala.  the couple i had been traveling with for the past several weeks were on their way to belize the next day.  i was going to head towards san pedro and freshen up my espagnol.  a few drinks later and some new friends in, i was convinced that of course i should go to belize!  why not check it out for myself? and that is where i made a delightful detour through belize…

to be honest, i almost turned around shortly after the border crossing.  we had tagged along with a local belize guy who won us over with promises of private islands and bottomless barbecues of lobster. he spoke to my heart.  my love for lobster clouded my good judgement.  after traveling with him for a few hours (me, the couple, and a lovely swiss girl named cathy) and witnessing a few near-fighting situations, we decided it was best to part ways.  so instead of tropical islands, we headed to dangriga.

upon arrival, dangriga appears to be worn.  well, well worn.  the houses, once vibrant with beachy tones, are now faded hues of blues and greens.  many wooden houses are perched on stilts–their legs look like they need a good rest.  but it’s a charming, small town.  it seems everyone knows everyone.  kids run in and out of the local convenience stores (every one is chinese owned…it seemed so funny, yet not totally surprising, in this caribbean  coastal town) and older people chat you up while in line at the ATM. dangriga is the capital of the garifuna people (descendants of shipwrecked slaves and native Caribs) which translates into awesome nighttime music!

cathy and i dropped our bags in val’s backpacker hostel and immediately went for a stroll.  people nodded their welcomes as we walked along.  we bought coconut juices from the market and proceeded on until we found a little shack of a restaurant called king burger. everything was fried and served with fries (my grilled fish was fried!), so the food wasn’t by any means outstanding.  but the watermelon juices were.  that kinda set the tone for most meals in belize.  the food wasn’t exceptional, but the service always was.

we spent the evening at a local bar drinking the local beer, belikin, sipping the local rum and playing cards.  drumming and dancing was going on all around us, and eventually we got pulled in for a dance lesson.  apparently i don’t know how to dance with just my hips.  the men were putting me to shame, all in good fun…i think!

cathy and i got a recommendation from the hostel owner to head out to tobacco caye.  she assured us that we would stay within our budgets there and that it wasn’t as expensive as everyone else was claiming.  so we hired a boat and sped our way out to tropical life.  but when we got there, right off the bat everyone was quoting us $50 a night, or $60.  cathy and i were a bit distressed.  and then a man came up to us and said “let me bring you somewhere.” and he guided us only a few hundred feet to the most wonderful bed and breakfast.  Lana gave us her last double room ($30 plus all meals.  perfection!), fussed over our comfort for a bit and then told us to come back in an hour for lunch.

tobacco caye is really tiny.  but it’s perfect.  the sand is white, the waters blue and there are many docks available for lounging.  i borrowed a mask and snorkel from a guy staying with lana too, and made for the waters.  i mostly snoozed on the warm wood planks over the water, but occasionally dipped in for a quick refresher. a sailboat rocked my dock late in the afternoon with a dozen tourists.  i chatted for a bit but then excused myself for the lobster dinner lana had promised earlier that afternoon.

lana’s homestyle cooking and story telling made for a memorable meal. the canned corn was a bit out of place on this tropical paradise, but the rum cake wasn’t.  lana told me that just that day she was making a rum cake for easter (i was in belize in february).  i was kinda blown away that you would make a rum cake a few months in advance, but apparently the taste only gets better the longer it soaks.  whacky, but after tasting her cake, i couldn’t disagree.

after dinner, i followed the reggae tunes down to a little bar near the dock and ended up hanging out with the tour group.  i made friends with the crew and landed an invitation to board the boat the next day and sail up to caye caulker with them. obviously having no set plans, i jumped at the opportunity.  cathy joined and we sailed overnight.  i practiced navigating and driving the boat while ellis, one of the crew guys, pointed out all the constellations.  we caught lobsters for dinner and sipped rum out of plastic cups. i was loving everything about belize by this point…

then caye caulker stole my heart. another tiny island with friendly people, great music (lots of karaoke) and the split.  at the split,the makeshift beach, a ravaged sea wall provides a lounging area perfect for sunning or a launch pad for snorkeling. hop off the wall into clear waters and you can spot barracuda, sharks, and sting rays.  i had planned to stay one this island for only a few days before heading back to guatemala to enroll in that spanish class.  as it turns out, my espangnol is muey malo because i stayed on that island for nearly two weeks…

how much? $1=$2 BZD

lobster burrito in caye caulker: $7 BZD

coconuts: free, if you can figure out how to hack them open!

hostels: $20-$24 BZD

bike rental for the day: $10 BZD

belikin beer: $3 BZD in a mini mart, $4 in a bar

no fee crossing the border into belize, but there is a $35 US exit fee

stock up on tunes at the shop that sells cd’s: $5 BZD

bottle of marie sharp’s (ubiquitous hot sauce in every restaurant and house): $6 BZD

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