Left from DIA on January 22nd. Nice direct flight to Belize City. Directs are only Saturdays. Here’s my quick and dirty review
** I don’t have a real gallery plug in on this site and was too lazy to do it. Click each picture individually to view…
Grabbed an island hopper for a 15 min flight over to San Pedro. It was about $200 round trip from Belize City to the big island off the coast.
Ambergris Caye doesn’t have much going on. Locals. Ex-pats. Diving, fishing, snorkeling and drinking seem to be the main themes. Beaches are not like Hawaii – never saw anyone just lying in the sun and soaking up the rays or swimming on the beach.
My cousin has lived in San Pedro for two years. $1,500 a month plus about $350 in utilities to live in a one bedroom on the beach. Same time zone as Chicago, meaning his girlfriend can work remote. The pictures all look beautiful and like paradise but the reality is that there is quite a bit of poverty. Falling down buildings and trash are all just out of view from the tourist area. COVID hit local income very hard. I can’t imagine how the island will survive rising sea levels. Below is the view from his deck, the bar at the end of the pier and looking back to the south. Yes, the bar is Colorado themed.
Did some snorkeling on a “booze cruise”. Definitely not something that would have flown in the US. Waiting on photos from the host company but have some here with the Nurse Sharks.
Hit up another island Caye Caulker on the snorkel trip. Got some good rain and clouds too. Fed some tarpon fish bits of sardine.
Got one to pretty much try to eat my hand. No teeth but sandpaper like mouths. Beautiful fish and rays off the dock.
After soaking up all the sun and booze we could, we flew back to Belize City and got a ride to Santa Elena, near San Ignacio. About 20 min from the Guatemalan border, which is still closed due to COVID. Pretty drive past an array of half-built or abandoned buildings and fields. Mostly falling down wood frame or concrete block and precast construction. Seventy-five percent of concrete buildings all have rebar sticking out of the top as they continually build up on the buildings over time.
My friend Andrew has been wanting to move down to Belize and retire. He’s in his mid 40s and made his money cleaning carpets. Mostly at strip clubs. He’s stoked to be out of that business. They picked up this 25 acre property for about $150k US. The property is gorgeous and has a fully off-grid main house built of solid mahogany. There are several other structures, including a small unit where a full-time care taker lives. The care taker is 17 years old and his family lives at the next property over. He’s well-paid at $400 a month – enough so that his family bought their first car and no longer ride the horse into town.
Full solar with a battery bank. Cistern water collected from the rains. Propane tanks for the stove and water heater. The school bus was driven down from the states in 1995 or so by the original buyers of the property. They hand built the house. Now in their 70s, they sold to move to another property and build a new home.
After a night getting prepped, we headed out on the road. Ninety percent of the bikes on the road seem to be these 150cc Chinese Honda knock offs called Lifan. Andrew scooped up 4 of them for about $1,300 each (out the door with insurance, etc…). He was only going to buy 3 but we needed 4… I now own a Lifan in Santa Elena…
Our fleet of Chinese bikes. Note the recommended “comfort zone” on the speedo… and that it is KPH. Warranty recommended staying under 40 KPH for the first 1k kilometers. We voided the warranties… The four of us hitting the road. We are at the bottom of Andrew’s 4 mile, 20 minute, long dusty and bumpy driveway.
Hummingbird Highway to Hopkins
Short ride down to the southern coast of the mainland brought us to Hopkins. Hopkins is very small and very “local” with few tourists. We stayed in a nice hostel for the night. In the evening we ended up eating on the beach at Mel’s Diner. Fun fact – everywhere we take my cousin, someone knows him. When we got to Mel’s, the new owner came out to greet “Belize Greg” also known as “Shirtless Greg”. They knew each other from the main island.
We met several friendly locals. Friendly enough to be sure to let us buy them drinks… Mel’s also offers a nice grilled lobster.
Over night accommodations and some delicious street tamales. Note that one of the coconuts has started to sprout a new tree. Conch shells are pretty common, as is conch ceviche.
Next day we had to head back northeast and get ready to head home. We took the long way and hit two Mayan ruins sites right near San Ignacio.
There aren’t a whole lot of main roads in Belize. We ended up going back the way we’d come, then adding on to it a bit for the ruins. The Hummingbird Highway, part of our route, had only been paved in the past few years.
Our rugged crew of grey haired and balding rough necks. Food in Belize is delicious everywhere we went. And when you eat where real Belizeans do, dirt cheap. The four of us stopped at this roadside place (one of a hundred) and had hand-made chicken burritos and fresh watermelon juice. The grand total for all of us was $7 US.
Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve
I don’t have the energy to write up Mayan history but Wikipedia has some good info. One cool thing was that you have to take a ferry to get across to the site of the ruins. The river must be 50 feet wide or so and the ferry is hand-cranked by an attendant.
Some photos of the site. Very quiet as tourism is still very much below typical levels.
The carving above in the last photo is actually a cast of the original. The originals are removed and protected in museums and replaced with glass/concrete reproductions.
And some wildlife including an impressive termite nest.
Cahal Pech Archeological Reserve
Same for this second site. We did get a tour this time and got some really interesting information.
The last few photos include the King’s seat in the main courtyard, some details of carvings in the “arm rests” and his private bedroom. Not luxurious but they did make cotton mattresses back in their day.
You never know what you’ll find on a dirt road in the jungle. In this case it was steaks. There is a large community of Mennonites in Belize as well as a community of ex Mennonites. The Mennonites are a pretty key part of the community and grow produce, sheep, cattle and more. They also provide internet! Andrew will be able to get satellite based internet from them when he returns later this year. Connection speeds of 40MB will make working remote possible for his wife.
In this case, one of the ex Mennonites opened a steak and burger joint on his cattle ranch. Absolutely incredibly delicious. I had a rib eye cap that I could have eaten two of. Main regret was not taking a photo of it! Fun fact… the bartender saw my cousin and, of course, knew him from the island. Even funner fact, she’s in the John McAfee documentary. Apparently, she was one of his “special friends”.
Here we are. Wherever we are in the middle of nowhere.
And that was that. Got a ride back to the airport (2+ hours) and headed back to the states. Had a bit of a traffic jam coming down the driveway.
There is a ton more to do and see there and I have a pretty good reason to go back – I’ve got a bike that needs riding! Now that I know the ropes, I could do a trip pretty affordably. Ideally, I’d be able to stay a bit longer and help out on the property and steal a bit of that satellite Internet and do a bit of work too… at least until I retire.