Lighthouse Reef, Belize
We landed in Cozumel, Mexico this afternoon. Imigration was closed so we´re illegal…
Lighthouse Reef, Belize
We landed in Cozumel, Mexico this afternoon. Imigration was closed so we´re illegal…
A rare picture of TimeMachine under sail taken by Velella as we were overtaking them out of Isla Providencia. We are making about 7 knots into 15-20 knots of wind. Notice the triple reefed main.
We stopped at Isla Barbareta, Honduras to work on the rudder some more. The old tie in system from the kickup rudder just wasn’t working so we drilled some holes and bolted it on. It seems much sturdier now, but it will probably rip the transom off if we go aground since the rudder sticks down below the keel. We had this in mind today as we wove our way through the many coral heads in Lighthouse Reef. We anchored SW of The Blue Hole and did some snorkeling. Snorkeling at The Blue Hole is like Boogie Boarding at Ollie’s Point. Luckily the real divers didn’t show up to chase us off. Actually, we didn’t spend too much time in the hole itself. Cheyenne didn’t care for deep blue abyss. I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned the hammerheads until after we saw them… We didn’t see them, but there were some large barracuda stalking us. Back on the boat, we’re anchored in 20 feet of calm clear water but can’t see land in any direction. Just waves crashing on the reef a couple miles to the east.
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.)
This precious gem was found lying around on a table in Punta Gorda (Belize); we desperately wanted it for our very own but feared it belonged to someone. Someone with a colorful sense of spelling and a raging appetite for whodyt. Such a person might just be dangerous.
(You can click the photo to see a larger image.)
A basic translation and discussion follows:
The WhoDyt ReSip
A strong statement is made immediately with the piece’s title boldly written across the top in black lettering over a scarlet border: The WhoDyt ReSip. Arguments can be made as to why the author chose to highlight certain letters (namely, the D in WhoDyt and the S in ReSip) with capitalization, and further arguments may be made as to whether the S is even capitalized at all. Or what the bloody hell is a Whodyt anyway.
Counat Interpretative spelling of the word ‘coconut’ (or currant)? My guess is coconut because I have a feeling the author might have chosen to spell ‘currant’ with a K.
3 green 1 ripe plante[n?] Plantain? Note different color chosen for the second ingredient, a clear indication that the second ingredient is distinct and separate from the first. Also, that the author has recently obtained a new box of colored markers. (And, have you ever actually tried to eat an unripe plantain? This resip calls for three.)
3 Leaft of Kulant[?]o Some indecision occurred when drawing the initial L in Leaft. The author may have begun the word with a very small circle or squiggly glyph before reconsidering and covering the error with a thick snakey tail on the L. A possible translation: 3 leaves of cilantro (or currant). Again, a color change.
½ of a onion No spelling anomalies nor random capitalizations; clearly, an unimportant ingredient. Note color change.
counat milk It is unclear whether the initial C is capitalized, actually. It is presumed that this item refers to the first ingredient although the color is distinct. Repetition of already-used colors is evident; other markers have already been lost or eaten by younger siblings.
[??] of basans This ingredient leaves a considerable amount open to interpretation. A blank of basans. Bassoons? Currants? Hopefully this is not a key ingredient requiring precise preparation. If I had to make this dish, I might substitute the word “salt” for the lot.
2 or 3 fish Simple. Definitive.
[Instructions for preparation:]
Bolb the green planten first for a pout 5 mints or 15 mints (probably depending upon whether you used 2 or 3 fish)
The putthe ripe one in
Actually, I think this is all fairly self-explanatory. Bolb the green planten.
Of course, there were a lot of consumables in this town and we found and consumed our share.
Our favorite was the woman (possibly named Teresa) who set up a stand to the right of the Havana grocery store across from the bus station. She made flour-tortilla tacos (soft small tortillas folded over; we might call them burritos but they were called tacos) using stewed chicken, some sort of marinated cabbage, and hot sauce and they were great. She is there daily but only in the mornings and there typically was a crowd. Her tacos are 50 cents Belize apiece (that’s 25 cents US); three of them makes an excellent breakfast.
Our second favorite was the night burrito lady in the green stand in the middle of town on the main street. She was on the same side of the street and about two or three doors down to the left from the “Garden Shop” mini-market (which is across the street from the big hardware store). She is closed up during the day but opens at night and you can barely see in her window due to the massive refrigerator that hogs all the space. She also makes burritos and hers are $2 Belize apiece (you could eat two maybe). Then you can get some beer at the Garden Shop and eat a nice picnic dinner at the beachfront park down the street. Note that there is a prominent green food stand on the corner directly across the street from the hardware store advertising tacos and burritos and while she is open pretty much all day, her burritos are not as good as either Teresa’s or the other green stall.
Incidentally, if you are self-catering, the Garden Shop sells shilling (25-cent) bags of frozen water, which you can bash up for iced drinks.
Many restaurants and bars also had excellent hand-painted signs.
We serves breakfast! We were told that the place used to be called Burger King until the owner received a cease and desist notice in the mail from Burger King ™. He has diner style food and makes his own ice cream (and has sour sop flavor!). The conch soup came recommended but Joshua was not too into it (I thought it was all right).
King Burger had a series of groovy menu signs.
That meat pie illustration is super awesome.
New Place, Old Sign.
This was outside one of the bars in town. (You can view a larger photo by clicking the image.)
We didn’t actually go to this bar but we did go to a place called “Bleachers” (bleaching means, apparently, getting wasted). They are just up the street from the bridge in the center of town and they make their own bitters. Bitter drinks seem to be popular in Belize and theirs is a gnarly concoction that is scooped out of a five-gallon bucket into small plastic cups; you order it by $1, $2, $3, etc. amounts. We ordered $1 bitters and beers (you typically need a beer chaser if you drink this stuff). I kind of liked it but then I’m all over bitter things generally. (Brad—it tasted sort of like the un-refined version of your absinthe, but in a more drinkable way. I *suspect* Shanti would not like it..)
Seaweed drink is a gelatinous drink made of seaweed obviously, and flavored with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut milk, and perhaps a tiny bit of rum. The one we tried was actually off the main square in Orange Walk Town and was served in recycled Guiness beer bottles.
BOOZE: Beer by the way is Belikan Belize and it’s quite good in my opinion (after Mexican and other Central American fare). They have one bottle and you can get both regular or stout (different bottlecaps to tell which one). There is also a light version but honestly, who drinks light beer? Guiness is also widely available but it is made either in Belize or possibly Jamaica and is probably a little different than the Irish version most are familiar with.
You can also get Campari (they call it Bitters) in Belize; it is made in Jamaica, is wonderfully cheap (~$7 US per bottle), and tastes almost exactly like the Italian version. The color is only a little bit off, maybe they don’t use carmine bugs to dye it the beautiful red they do in Italy.
Belize makes several different “wines,” such as ginger wine, cashew wine, blackberry wine, etc. We tried the ginger wine (there are two brands that appear to be widely available: Fandango and some other one; the other one is better). It’s pretty good as is (I recommend chilled), intensely gingery but strong and very sweet and it is much better, in fact VERY much better, if served over ice with a splash of soda water. Mmm. We were intensely curious about the cashew wine but never tried this due to the elaborate cautions we received by every single Belizian we mentioned cashew wine to. “That stuff is dangerous mon.” “Your grandma drink that stuff, she go dancing in the street naked!” “You drink one bottle of that stuff and you are drunk for three days. So I guess it’s economical. Of course you don’t remember any of it!” So we stayed away from the cashew wine; we got enough shit from people for drinking the ginger wine.
MISCELLANEOUS: Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce!! Almost my favorite thing ever. I threw a colossal fit when Joshua proposed a return to El Salvador via Mexico/Guatemala and not via Belize (where I could stock up). We returned via Belize and I am the proud owner of about fifty gerjillion bottles of hot sauce. She makes the traditional carrot orange habanero sauce (in mild, hot, fiery hot, and novelty—has capsum oil in it and a warning label about feeding it to the elderly). She also makes an orange/habanero and a grapefruit/habanero version and various jellies and chutneys. We’ve only tried the habanero jelly so far because the jar smashed in transit but I salvaged the majority by slicing the glassy bits off the outside (ala moldy cheese). It’s pretty good I think; it has very few ingredients but you can taste each one but the habanero heat is very mild. I’ll report back later on the Green Mango Chutney, which must be just awesome.
Fresh juices: At most of the grocery stores (there are two big ones near the main bridge and the Havana market across from the bus station) you can buy fresh juice in squarish plastic bottles (like what Odwalla comes in). The grapefruit in particular is very good.
Coffee: None. Bad, vile. Drink coke.