I had just spent the last couple weeks by my lonesome, driving ~1000 miles from Mexico City to Belize, and it was amazing. The solo traveling was very fulfilling, and now it was time to meet back up with Linds, the destination was Belize City. I was up early for the border crossing which turned out to be a breeze. The entire ordeal, if you can even call it an ordeal, took an hour, which included a stop at customs on both sides to handle the proper paperwork for tourism, and a couple different stops to take care of the vehicle. It only cost me $50 or so for a month tourist visa along with the proper documents and insurance for the truck, so all said and done, not a bad border crossing at all. Once I got through, I shot straight to Belize City and reunited with Linds. If you have been to Belize City, you know that it doesn’t really have much to offer, and that being the case, we got on the road and headed inland. Our first stop on our travels through Belize was the small city of San Ignacio.
San Ignacio is in the heart of the Cayo District of Northern Belize. The town is fairly basic with lots of accommodation option, plenty of restaurants & bars, and a decent central market. While the town itself may not provide all that much appeal, it’s the surrounding Cayo District that is the true draw to the area. Tourists flock in by the dozens to stay at one of the many jungle resorts. It’s the perfect location to access a slew of outdoor adventures such as cave tubing, hiking in the nature reserves, or exploring some of the many Mayan ruins. With all the options for activity around, it was the perfect place for us to spend some time with Lindsey’s family, who had flown in to Belize for a good old fashion family vacation.
Patrick and Claire, Lindsey’s brother and sister-in-law, were staying at one of the jungle resorts with their two daughters, Hannah & Sydney. One of the hardest things about long term travel for us is being away from our family and friends for so long, so we love it when we can meet up with some of them out in the world. So far, we had met our friend Mandy in Puerto Vallarta, and Stopa in Mexico City. This time around we got lucky and had a 4-pack of family, which we got to spend almost two weeks with. To add to that excitement, it also happened to be Super bowl weekend and the Daley’s are big Patriots fans. We found ourselves a perfect Belizean sports bar and preceded to take major advantage of their 4 beers for $5 deal. What a game it was. Whether you are a fan of either team, or a fan of football in general for that matter, that Super bowl was one of the most exciting, entertaining sporting events I have ever seen. Its right up there with those other games a few years back when the NY Giants charged downfield and buried Brady and the Pats to win the Super bowl…twice.
As for our excursions around the Cayo district, first we decided to take the truck deep into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and explore some caves and swimmable waterfalls. Rio Frio Pools was our first stop and it was a pleasant place for an afternoon picnic and swim. The river was wide and flowed down a series of large boulders forming an array of pools that varied in size and depth. After dipping in the pools for a bit, we continued south into the park towards the Rio Frio Cave. The surrounding area consisted of a series of caverns and caves you could explore if you were interested in hiking, but the Rio Frio Cave was just off the road and was impressive. It had a massive entrance with long vines dangling down that looked like huge stalactites. Inside the ceilings were ~100 ft. high and loaded with bats hanging down taking their daily rest. It was one of the more unique caves I have seen, and coupled with the pools, it was a wonderful way to spend a day exploring the Belize wilderness on our own.
Another day we made an excursion to one of the nearby Mayan sites. There are many that are close to the town of San Ignacio, we chose to check out the Xunantunich ruins. To get to the site, you travel just west of San Ignacio to the town of San Jose Succotz and take a cable bridge across a small river. It’s a little hike up the hill to the site, but well worth the walk. At this point I have seen many ruins, but the main temple here is one of the most impressive. It’s massive, and unlike other sites throughout Mexico, they let you climb to the top. Being that the city itself was built on the top of hill, the view from the top of this temple was amazing, you could see clear to the coast.
Aside from the temple, one of the highlights of our day was the lunch spot we found in the tiny town. One of the locals turned their back yard into an outdoor seating area covered by a pavilion. It was true Belizean home cooking; dishes like rice and beans with stewed chicken or fried rice with stewed beans, along with fresh fruit smoothies. While I’m on the topic, I must say, food throughout Belize was fantastic. There was one restaurant in center of San Ignacio called Ko-Ox Han Nah that blew our minds. Their rice and beans was the best we had throughout the entire stay in Belize. Beyond that, they made a club sandwich that I still salivate over. Three layers of toasted grain bread, generously filled with seasoned and grilled chicken breast on the top half, sliced roasted pork on the bottom, and topped with pickled red onions, homemade pickles, lettuce & tomato, and homemade mustard dressing. Not sure if it was the fact that I hadn’t had a decent sandwich in months, but it was amazing! I think any trip to Belize would be incomplete without a stop in San Ignacio to get one.
After we were done exploring San Ignacio and the Cayo District, we headed out to explore the island side of Belize, first stop; San Pedro. The kids flew back home with Pat and Claire’s friends, so it was just the 4 of us out on the island for a few days of fun. It was an hour and a half ferry ride from Belize City, where we stored the truck in the backyard of a guest house near the port. We were surprised at the dingy, brown color of the water that surrounded Belize City, but as we ventured further and further from shore, the water began to get increasingly blue vibrant.
San Pedro is a small island with a full-fledged Caribbean vibe. The downtown area is about 4 blocks wide and maybe 15 blocks long. In that space, there were a total of 176 active bars, or so we were told. Drinking, eating, diving, snorkeling, and more drinking, that’s what it’s all about. A perfect place for us to cut loose with some family for a few days.
Patrick and Claire bought a dive package and were in the water every day. I joined them for one of the days and it was incredible. I’ve been diving many times, but I had yet to do Caribbean reef dives so I was psyched to get in the water. I seemed to luck out with the weather, as the previous day was too windy to even dive past the barrier reef. We did a two-tank dive, first stopping at dive site “Esmeralda”, then to “Tackle Box”. Esmeralda was beautiful. Located just offshore and outside of the barrier reef, the spot was 70-80 ft. deep and featured a handful of small tight canyons and tunnels to swim through. The water was clear and blue, with a visibility of about 60-70 ft. The coral was an array of vibrant purples, greens, and reds, and the fish covered all the colors in the rainbow. There were lots of nurse sharks, ranging in size from 3 ft. to 8 ft. long, which were very cool, but the reef sharks were the real site to see. They had big, round bodies and long, thrasher like tails, swimming only 20 ft. or so from me. They were graceful yet extremely intense. We were told they aren’t aggressive, but I wouldn’t want to mess with them! It was fantastic getting back under water, but it’s definitely an addiction. As soon as I was done, I couldn’t wait to get back under. Luckily there will be many more opportunities on this adventure, and what’s better than that, it gets cheaper and cheaper as I move along my route.
Aside from the diving, our days of island life consisted of exactly what you would expect; drinking and relaxing. The drinking on San Pedro is especially fun if you are a fan of bar hopping. As I had previously mentioned, there are ~175 bars on this small island, and nothing but time to kill. One of my favorite spots was the Palapa Bar, which was a big bar built on a dock over the water. On the back side they have a handful of inner tubes in the water tied to ropes for patrons to hang out in. Above the tubes they have a bucket on a pulley system used to send out cold beers when you are ready for your next round. Another cool spot is called Dive Bar, this one features an array of games in the sand, along with kayaks and paddle boards that are free for patrons to use. This is especially nice since its one of, if not the only place on the island that doesn’t charge extra to use that sort of stuff.
We had an especially enjoyable time at a placed called the Truck Stop. This spot was made up of 5 individual shipping containers converted into food stands, along with a single bar, and a slew of picnic tables in the center. Behind the containers there were some games like giant Jenga, giant Connect Four, cornhole, ect. Behind that was a great little swimming pool, outdoor screen for movie nights, and a deck jetting out over the water with a beautiful sunset view over the bay. It was the perfect place for us to enjoy a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate Claire’s 40th birthday along with some fine cigars while watching the sunset. That night also happened to be Family Feud night at the Truck Stop, where they pull groups of 4 out of the crowd to play the Feud. As you can imagine, Lindsey was the first in line to get us signed up. There were eight teams called up, and the highest two scores from those first 4 games got to play in the final round. Wouldn’t ya know it, we rocked and got the second highest score and got into the finals. Unfortunately, we hit a little cold streak and didn’t do so well in that last round, but luck was on our side. Our opponents, the Griswold’s, were too intoxicated to steal the points on the final play and we came out on top! We ended up winning $250 BLZ, or $125 U.S., which was just about the amount of our tab from the previous 4 hours of fun at the Truck Stop. In the end, we had a great night of drinking and kicking ass, and it was all on the house!
We parted ways with Patrick & Claire who were flying back to the states after our jaunt around San Pedro, so it was just the two of us again. The next stop on our island-hopping tour was Caye Caulker, which was only a short 30 min. boat ride south of San Pedro. The island is very small, only a fraction of the size of San Pedro, and is not very developed. There are only 2 main roads running north to south on this island with about 8-10 blocks. No roads are paved, and golf carts are the only vehicles on the island. Caulker is really the epitome of Caribbean islands, complete with their own island moto; “Go slow”, which was a very apparent vibe throughout the place.
As with most Caribbean islands, drinking was the number one sport. Like San Pedro, the island was covered with waterfront bars and pubs, although with a slightly more relaxed atmosphere. Since we had been spending outside of our budget since we had got into Belize, we decided to save some money and get one of the cheapest spots on the island. We booked ourselves a hostel for the first time on our trip, and it was an interesting experience for sure. It was a big plot of land with 7 or 8 small cabanas, which were more like wooden shacks that reminded me of the tree forts we used to build when I was a kid. I wasn’t bothered at all by the accommodations, as primitive as they were, but it wasn’t the greatest spot if you were looking to get some rest. The windows to the shacks where just screens, so there was no blocking the sound. Being Saturday night on a party island in a party hostel, it was a lot like trying to sleep in a tent at a music festival. Back in my hay day, I was the one keeping the sleepers awake, but after a week of partying on island #1, I didn’t have much left in the tank, so Linds and I sucked it up and did our best to sleep through the party!
We were up and out early after our rough night of sleep and ended up booking a sailing/snorkeling excursion with one of the sailing companies on the island. It was a full day sailing trip with 3 stops at different snorkeling locations, lunch, and a late afternoon cocktail cruise. Lindsey has had reservations about snorkeling for some time, and now’s our chance to break her out of it. Turned out to be the perfect place to do it since the water was crystal clear, and the marine life was amazing! We saw a wide variety of vibrant tropical fish, spotted eagle rays, turtles, and a whole bunch of nurse sharks. By the third stop, Lindsey’s fear of snorkeling had all but faded away and she was all about it! On top of that, it was a beautiful day with perfect wind, couldn’t have asked for better conditions for sailing around islands in Belize. Livin’ the dream.
When we got back to the hostel, they were having a little birthday party for one of the guests. Lucky for us, it was the close of lobster season and there was an abundance of them around, so the party featured piles of grilled lobster tails. We were beginning to see the upside of hostel traveling. We also ended up meeting a couple new friends at the hostel that night. Holly & Sean live in Flagstaff, AZ and work as Grand Canyon river guides in the summer months. We had only planned on 2 nights on the island, but we ended up splitting an actual hotel room with our new friends and extended our stay. It’s amazing how easy it can be to have great times with people you just meet. Something about the atmosphere, mixed with the fact that anyone traveling tend have somethings in common, but it’s one of the best parts about living the vagabond lifestyle.
Between fun in the sun with new friends, and 10 days with family, our livers had been taking a beating. It’s very easy to slip into a rhythm of cocktails and what not each day when you are doing this sort of travel. Weekdays don’t really matter, and most of the time you find yourself clueless as to the day of the week anyway. Couple that with the picturesque beach bars or the extremely appealing mountainside bar/restaurants, and you find there is never really a break from the action. As we parted ways with Caye Caulker it was decided we would take a break from the sauce, giving it up for lent.
Our plan after San Pedro and Caye Caulker was to head to southern Belize and check out the coastal towns of Hopkins & Placencia, along with some jungle/wildlife reserves. We were just going to crash for a night on our journey south, but ended up finding this fantastic spot just outside of the capitol city of Belmopan and one night turned into two very quickly.
The spot was a bird sanctuary located on the outskirts of Belmopan that was opened by an English couple some 20 years ago. We found it on iOverlander, and based on the info we found, we figured it would be a quiet, safe place to park the truck for the night. It was a massive property, 20+ acres, that was filled with fruit trees, lush meadows, and a handful of large atriums filled with an array of exotic birds that they were nursing back to health. When we arrived, we were informed that the recent rains had made it impossible to pull the truck into the normal RV parking area, but to our good fortune, they didn’t have anyone staying in the 4-bedroom ranch home that was plopped in the middle of the property. They allowed us to park in the driveway of the home, and gave us access to the homes kitchen, dining room and bathrooms for our stay, or at least until the next tenants showed up.
After a heavy run of sleeping in the truck or in random party hostels, it couldn’t have been more glorious. We got to cook ourselves some fantastic meals, take hot showers, and just pick up the pieces of our run of partying. On top of all that, the house had a rap around patio complete with rocking chairs staring out into the lush meadows. As the sun went down, fireflies erupted from the fields. I grew up in the north east where fireflies were a common thing, but I have never seen nearly the amount that we saw here. There must have been thousands upon thousands putting on a light show that rivaled Chris Kuroda’s work during a fiery version of “Sparkle”.
As we watched the show, I couldn’t help but take note to the feeling I was having. It was one of those moments. They happen every now and then, but not too often. One of those moments where my mind becomes completely clear and I can see myself from a distance. When it happens, I feel more connected with my soul than ever, and I am overcome with gratitude. Maybe you are familiar, maybe not, but it’s a powerful thing. Keeping busy is in our human nature, and most of the time our focus is on everything we are dealing with from minute to minute. It’s rare that we sit back and appreciate all the good in our lives. Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “easy for him to say”, but I say that those moments have nothing to do with my particular situation. Everyone can and should make sure those moments exist in their lives. To be honest, I have not been good at this, but I am getting better at it each day. Yet another lesson I am looking forward to bringing home with me and carrying on throughout my life.