Saturday, February 25, 2012

Belizean Celebrations

As I wrote in January, my word for 2012 is “Celebration” – of life, self and, most importantly, family and friends. Recently, Husband and I returned from a short trip to Belize which was a celebration of all those things.

We travelled with 11 others – 7 old friends (four of my college roommates and their significant others) and 4 new friends from Finland (who accompanied one of the roomies). It was a good thing the company was terrific because, as it turned, the weather wasn’t. We had only six full days in Belize and it rained mercilessly for the better part of five of them. Fortunately, everyone  in the group kept their sense of humour so we still managed to have a good time.

Our base for the trip was the small village of Hopkins (population: 1200) located on the coast several hours’ drive south of Belize City. We made the trip aboard small Cessna “hoppers” operated by Tropic Air.  (A quick aside here to note that we were very impressed with this small local carrier which offers reliable, friendly, flexible service. We’d certainly recommend Tropic Air to anyone visiting the country.)

Here’s my favourite shot from our flight to Dangriga, from where we travelled to Hopkins by taxi.  

We stayed at the very comfortable and clean All Seasons Guesthouse which is operated by a German ex-patriot, Ingrid.  The rooms were nicely decorated and well-appointed with comfortable beds, fridges, coffee makers, fans and air conditioners.

Ingrid (our host) lives upstairs so was on-hand to provide information and advice whenever we needed it. A covered patio provided a comfortable place to sit and talk and to have our breakfasts together each morning - even when it rained. (This shot was taken our last morning when - wait for it - the skies  cleared and the sun came out.)

Mirko and Annette, an entrepreneurial young German couple, provided us with guest services – including daily housekeeping, operation of a small bar, organization of day trips, and preparation of delicious homemade breakfasts.  They were great to deal with and we really appreciated all their efforts on our behalf.

The good thing about the guesthouse is that it is located in the midst of village life - just across the road from the beach and within easy walking distance of local amenities. The bad thing is that village life starts early, goes late (when it’s not raining) and can be noisy. Between roosters crowing at dawn, booming Garifuna music off and on throughout the day and trucks and cars zooming past at all hours, I didn’t get much sleep – even with earplugs. Still, I preferred the guesthouse to the swankier, cookie cutter resorts just up the road. It was interesting and fun to experience something of the real Belize.

Our plan had been to spend the week sunbathing, snorkeling and hiking. And, of course, I hoped to do some running as well. Unfortunately, because the weather was so awful, there was little opportunity to do any of those things. To make matters worse, I woke up on the second day of our trip with a miserable cold which got progressively worse as the week went on. Happily, the outings we did manage to undertake required only minimal energy so I was able to keep up.

Our first full day, a few of us put on our bathing suits and wandered up the beach until we found an open bar serving cold beer where we settled in to enjoy the warmth, sunshine and good company for a couple of hours. 

Another day, we piled into a van driven my Mirko to visit the ancient Mayan ruins at Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve.  It rained for most of the 2½ drive to the reserve, but the weather improved when we got there so we were able to climb to the top and take in the views. 

Later in the week, we planned to go hiking and swimming in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary but awoke to torrential rains which would have made hiking miserable. Instead, at Ingrid’s suggestion, we visited Miss Emma’s Garden. Our visit included a tour of Miss Emma’s impressive arboretum and fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, a delicious homemade lunch made mostly from ingredients grown on-site, and a series of challenging and hilarious party games.  Though not an outing any of us would have elected to do under normal circumstances, it turned out to be a lot of fun. 

We spent the rest of our time in Hopkins relaxing, swimming and exploring the village whenever there was a break in the weather. For example, we passed one particularly pleasant afternoon in a local bar at the far end of the village learning more about Finnish life from our new friends. Another day, Husband and I struck off on our own looking for an internet café and stopped for a cool drink at the Windschief Cocktail Bar. The tiny outdoor patio bar, squeezed between two houses, was patronized by an interesting mix of locals and ex-pats so we enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversations going on around us. 

As we finished our drinks, several of our group came wandering along the beach in front of the bar, so we joined forces for the walk back to the guesthouse. 

 En route, Pippa stopped to chat with some local children playing in a tree. 

Other high points of the trip included a group dinner at Chef Rob’s – a fabulous but still very affordable restaurant that deserves all the kudos it gets on TripAdvisor and elsewhere – and a delicious birthday barbeque prepared for us at the guesthouse by Annette and Mirko.  A bottle of fine Finnish Vodka and two bottles of excellent French champagne took some of the sting out of turning 50!

As it turned out, Husband and I didn’t get to spend as much time talking with local folks as we would have liked – mostly because of the weather (which kept the locals indoors as well), but also because we were travelling with a gregarious group of friends we don't see often and there was lots of catching up to do.  Nevertheless, the Belizeans we did meet impressed us with their friendliness and relaxed approach to life. Children appeared happy and healthy, the local dog population was friendly and well-fed, and security didn't seem to be a major concern for anyone. 

The one thing that came as an unwelcome surprise was the amount of garbage strewn throughout the village and along the beach. It was a off-putting at first but we quickly came to terms with it, recognizing that such litter is yet another by-product of our species’ unsustainable approach to inhabiting the planet.  (I hasten to add that our hosts assured us the beaches closest to us were unusually unkempt because of all the heavy rains. In any case, cleaner beaches could be found just a short walk away so this last observation shouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting Hopkins if they're so inclined. )

In summary, despite the awful weather, we enjoyed a marvellous Belizean celebration with our old and new friends. Our sincere thanks to each and everyone of them - and to Ingrid, Mirko and Annette - for turning what might have been a dreary and disappointing vacation into a relaxing, fun and interesting one. 

For a short slideshow with a few more pictures from the trip, click here.


  1. Great pics, Janice - and loved hearing a recap of your holiday. Sounds like there were a lot of memories made (as well as revived) on the trip :)

    1. Thanks, Janet. I've been getting lots of kudos on my pics lately which is nice. Hey, maybe I should be thinking about another career. ;-) Kidding.

  2. Wow Janice, Sounds great! May have to put Belize on one of our future destinations. Happy Birthday by the way!!! - Gail

    1. Thanks, Gail. Belize is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.

  3. Hi Jan - I just saw your trip account and photos now! Great shots! I must have been super busy when you sent them last year. Nice account of our trip and so many of the details - thanks for posting it! It's been fun reminiscing.