We were returning from the wedding loaded down with fifty berjillion pounds of metal boat parts that my parents were saints for hauling to Playa from Arizona for us. Not content to let Joshua do all the carrying, I discovered some free space in my bag and was compelled to buy no less than 20 glass bottles of Marie Sharps hot sauce of varying flavors and intensities, plus chutneys, etc. Normally accustomed to light travel, our revised standards required that we find a hotel within 30 meters of the doorway of whatever bus we just exited; if more than one street had to be crossed or any stairs were involved in this 30 meters, colossal tragedy was declared and general strike threatened. So, after many hours on various busses of dubious shock absorptive and braking power we got to Punta Gorda, the southernmost town (that is easily accessible) in Belize, where one can catch a boat to Puerto Barrias, Guatemala. We decided we needed a day of rest.
Realizing that the main bus station might in fact not be located inside the very hotel we had carefully selected ahead of time (drastic measures for us indeed), we convinced the bus driver to let us off at the cross-street. The Nature’s Way Guest House was reported in our brand new Lonely Planet guidebook as “one of the better budged hotels in Belize.” (Sweet! Sign me up!) We checked in, searched around until we found a strong spot in the floor where we could be fairly certain our bags wouldn’t go crashing through, and headed out into the world to fly freely. Now, I will agree that the Nature’s Way is relatively inexpensive, but ‘one of the best,’ it is not. (I have a long list of constructive criticisms if not downright negative things to say about Lonely Planet guidebooks and this is but one example.) The room was basically functional and utterly charmless (not a crime, I realize) unless you count the Barbie pillowcase on the bunk, the floor was haphazardly swept (flip-flops kept in the ON position), we asked for towels and received the typical cut-in-half mini towel (arguably, another point for the ‘charm’ category for you adventuresome types), one of the toilets didn’t work in the shared bathrooms (but it had a toilet seat, so I guess it’s sort of a wash), and neither shower had enough water in them to produce more than a loud dribble (gaak, inexcusable). One was forced to snuggle up to the flimsy plastic shower wall in an attempt to divert some of the water if you expected to wash (and it was definitely another keep flip-flops ON affair). So, whatever, Lonely Planet and Nature’s Way. Nice location near the water though, not that you got any benefit from the sea breeze because the guest rooms were all in the lee of the wind behind the main house and blocked by dense orchidy foliage (pretty!). The owner and family, of course, are all sweethearts.
We stayed there for the night but upgraded the next day to a very nice place called Saint Charles (his son runs a similarly nice place down the street called Charlson) for about $5 more. This place had actual hotel-style sparkling clean rooms, two fans (!!), private bathroom that functioned just fine, including the shower, and TV with about 90 different channels (kind of fun when you are not used to TV; we watched some cheesy movies). I guess it depends whether you are traveling as a couple or singly and don’t mind sharing a room with other travelers, in which case, perhaps the Nature’s Way is better since you could share information, revel in the backpacker grunge, swap out your Anne Rice for a John Grisham or perhaps VC Andrews, etc.
We spent the first evening wandering about somewhat in a daze after the day’s bus journey and tried some garnachas (similar to tostadas with beans, pickled cabbage/onions, and cheese) from one of the stands near the central triangle park. They were only so-so and left Joshua wanting more dinner. Punta Gorda seems sadly lacking in street food stands but we eventually found ourselves beckoned down a small alley alongside the market where some guys were eating near the water. They turned out to be bus drivers on the Chetumal-PG route and the driver’s uncle. Have I mentioned that people in Belize are friendly? My god it boggles the mind. The food was exceedingly cheap and only so-so but we enjoyed sitting and chatting with the bus drivers about Belize, driving busses, gas prices, tourism, etc.
The next day, we smelled our way down to Sonshine Bakery (on the street next to the water, north of the market area a couple blocks) in hopes of fresh deliciousness but learned that we were a little too early; cinnamon rolls and donuts would not be ready for an hour. Previously dismayed by the coffee scene throughout most of Belize, Punta Gorda surprised us by advertising actual real coffee at no less than two different establishments. We decided to check out The Snack Shop (open 7am), which is run by a born-and-raised Belizian woman of American immigrants; she said she grew up in the bush in southern Belize. She is super friendly and happy to recommend any restaurants, hotels, things to do, etc. in the Punta Gorda area. I believe she also mentioned that she and her husband had a small car they sometimes rented out for the day. The Snack Shop also has a variety of pastries and cakes as well as cooked breakfasts, yogurt/granola, etc. We were saving ourselves for the cinnamon rolls so we stuck with coffee, which was decent and included refills (heaven). As promised, cinnamon rolls were fresh out of the oven when we returned to Sonshine and they were very good, not too sweet or too gooey to take to go; we returned about three minutes later and got some donuts as well.
Punta Gorda seemed surprisingly organized compared to Dangriga; I guess I had expected utter insanity on the Belize Frontera. The road to PG is not yet fully paved and the parts that are paved have only been so for a few years. However, roads and sidewalks are in decent repair, there are numerous hotels in all price ranges, many restaurants, and a lot of vehicles (presumably everyone needs a vehicle to connect to the outside world). There were a couple of interesting handpainted signs.
Because of the centering, I have a tendency to read this sign as ‘Triple Used Clothing.’
Dillon’s Music and Cold. We had a couple of colds here and listened to some of the pirate CD collection that Dillon has displayed on the wall behind the counter.
This sign was directly across from Dillon’s and I was amused by the detail and complexity of the hours.
Hmm. Funy Shiny. It was closed but the sign was amusing.
The owner of Nature’s Way let us borrow her daughter’s bikes for a day and we pedaled slowly for hours around and outside of town in an attempt to create some breeze on the still humid day. This butterfly had transparent panels in the wingtips.
We ate lunch at an Indian/Belizian restaurant across the street from Nature’s Way. The restaurant is on the third floor of a building right on the water and the views were awesome. We both tried the conch, which was stewed in a coconut curry sauce, and it was excellent. The sauce was flavorful without overpowering the flavor of the conch and they served it with a tasty habanero sauce (not Marie Sharps) that is made in house. (The photo above was the view straight out over the water and the image at the top of the page is looking north over the town.)