If there’s one thing we can say about Belize after having spent a little more than a week there, it’s that the people are, as a whole, some of the happiest and friendliest we’ve come across in our travels thus far. When we arrived in the coastal town of Placencia on our second day, we asked a group of locals where we might find a camping spot.
“Yeah mon! You could prob’y camp in ya van at my gromma’s house! Hey Priscilla, take these two ova to my gromma’s house and ask if dey can camp ova der. When ya get ya van situated, come on back an’ we can drink an’ smoke togetha!”
When we were unable to navigate Nacho into the guy’s grandmother’s yard due to low tree branches we tried two other locals. One said we could camp in his front yard for free, although we kindly declined because it didn’t offer much privacy, and another engaged us in an hour long conversation about Belizean national pride, although he didn’t have a place for us to camp. In the end we opted to stay closer to the town of Seine Bight where we had seen an actual campground. All the while, everyone we passed on the roadside flashed a huge grin at us and waved.
Placencia is a small village at the tip of a long, skinny peninsula with equal parts indigenous Garifuna culture and foreign tourism. We had a good time hopping between restaurants and bars and hanging out with our campground brethren, but soon had our fill and headed off to Hopkins.
Hopkins seemed to better fit our style; to get there it required navigation of a rough dirt road, and the main street in town was mostly dirt. These obstacles have kept it slightly less discovered by tourism, and hence it seemed to retain its Garifuna culture slightly more so than Placencia. Still, it had been outfitted with enough decent bars and eateries to keep us entertained for a few days.
One evening we had hoped to try some Indian food at what would have been our first Indian restaurant since leaving home. Unfortunately it was closed, so we opted to try one of the only places open that night: a foreign-owned place called Love on the Rocks. The idea is that you order an expensive fish dinner and then they bring it out to you uncooked along with a really hot ass rock. You then put your uncooked fish on the hot ass rock, where it proceeds to get stuck to the rock and burn the hell out of itself while you desperately try to get it unstuck with your fork. All the while the waitress stands there staring at you while you struggle. Finally, you eat your overcooked rubbery fish while the stuck fishy bits that remain on the rock turn into a smoldering black mess. Sheena thought it was awesome, as did several others we met in Hopkins, but I found it all very asinine. If I wanted to cook my own fish, I would have stayed home. And I certainly wouldn’t have cooked it on a really hot ass rock.
The good part about the rock ordeal was that a Garifuna drumming group was playing. The Garifuna are an indigenous group in the area who are known for, among other things, their hand drumming. They’re also known for a really tasty fish curry called hudut. Instead of incinerating the fish on a really hot ass rock, they make a curry out of coconut milk (which they make by hand) and pureed plantains, and then stew fish in it. It’s served with cassava bread and mashed plantains, and it’s absolutely transcendent. I know this because we tried it the following night at a local place called Innie’s. But I digress. Click the button below the picture to listen to a bit of the drumming, which I recorded at the hot ass rock place.
[audio:http://www.drivenachodrive.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Garifuna-Drummers-Hopkins-Belize.mp3|titles=Garifuna Drummers – Hopkins Belize]
Finally on our last day, after having waited out some rainy weather for a couple of days, we tagged along with a boat that was headed out for a day of snorkeling and fishing. We both knew that if I was going to catch a fish at all on this continent, I was going to need some professional help. Our group included Patrick the Belizean boat captain, and two other couples. We would go several miles out to the barrier reef (the second largest in the world) where there would be more to look at than in the murky water closer to shore.
As we made our way out of the Sittee River into the Caribbean, the weather wasn’t looking promising. Storm clouds still filled the sky, and rain could be seen falling into the sea in the distance. Several miles offshore, as we approached the first barrier islands, it started to rain. Patrick steered the boat to one of the islands where we disembarked and took shelter under the thatched eve of a vacant hut. Once the rain passed we boarded the boat and headed into a shallow cove to net some sardines. If I was going to break my bad luck fishing streak, we were going to need some serious bait.
Patrick’s magic bait worked wonders. Within half an hour we had reeled in several barracudas. Later we pulled in a couple of triggerfish (which are protected, so we released them), and a couple of red snappers. As our friend James from Home on the Highway was quick to point out, fishing from a boat is cheating. I would tend to agree, but we have to remember that I’ve discovered through nearly three months of field research that it’s impossible to catch a fish from the shore. This indicates that I’ve been fighting a war in a place where my adversaries don’t even live. Through the miracle of internal combustion I was able to bring my fight to the battlefield. We won’t call it cheating, we’ll call it mechanical assistance.
Oh, and the snorkeling? The name “snorkeling” sounds ludicrous. Swimming around with fake webbed feet and an oversized drinking straw mouth extension is ludicrous. But once you get over the ludicrousness of the whole affair, it’s really pretty awesome. We swam around, cheating evolution, for hours checking out coral and fish. We also stumbled across a couple of giant sting rays, which Sheena and I followed around at what we considered to be a safe distance.
On the boat we befriended a couple of professional hair designers from Connecticut who were preparing to retire to Belize. Raymond, an energetic fellow originally from Hong Kong, and his wife Michelene invited us back to their hotel to barbecue our red snappers. However, before we could eat Raymond insisted on giving both Sheena and me haircuts. He also taught me how to properly layer a woman’s hair, so I no longer have an excuse not to cut Sheena’s hair (we’ve been cutting each other’s hair for years, but recently she’s been asking for layering, which I’ve been able to dodge on the grounds of ignorance).
After haircuts and a delicious snapper barbecue, Raymond and Michelene were kind enough to offer us their room’s extra bed for the night. In the morning they treated us to breakfast before heading back to the airport. I guess the locals aren’t the only generous ones. We followed their lead and moseyed our way inland, to the west, toward the Guatemalan border.