Aaron and I landed in the tiny Belize City airport around 11 a.m. on June 28. We spent around half an hour collecting our bags and clearing customs, and then met Marlon, our driver, outside. The first thing we noticed was the humidity... the Ohio Valley has nothing on Belize, which regularly sees levels of 80-90%.
Marlon of Belize Shuttles & Transfers was very friendly and told us about Belize as we drove the nearly three hours south to Hopkins. Although the distance is less than 90 miles, the roads aren't great and the speed bumps, which seem to be randomly placed along the road, are rather vicious. That's one way to keep speedometers in check.
We passed through Belize's capital of Belmopam, which was gone in nearly the blink of an eye. With less than 400,000 people in the entire country, there is no such thing as a big city here. After Belmopam, the landscape became more scenic, with dense jungle vegetation, citrus orchards, mountains, and even a glimpse of Mennonite farmers on a horse-drawn wagon, wearing the same conservative dress as they do in the U.S.
Hopkins is 4 miles off the main highway, and consists of only one real street (a pothole and puddle-ridden dirt road), running north to south along Hopkins Bay. The Garifuna, descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak people, are the majority population of this village.
All Seasons Guest House, our home for the next week, is located near the edge of the south side of town. We were greeted by Becky, All Seasons' owner, who is from northern Indiana. She and her husband Gary packed up and moved down here just four months ago, and are almost constantly painting, power washing, sweeping, and fixing.
It was 3 p.m. Belize time (5 p.m. Eastern), and most restaurants were closed. We hadn't really eaten much at all, and dinner the night before had been gas station food in Indianapolis. Mango and cantaloupe smoothies and Guinness chocolate cake at the coffee shop down the street were a good way to tide ourselves over.
Lorraine, who was working at the coffee shop, made us feel right at home. After preparing our food, she followed us out to the porch and sat down with us to chat. She spent several years working on cruise ships, and her favorite location was, of all places, Alaska! Hopkins is home, though, and she recently returned with hopes of finishing her associate's degree in accounting.
The friendly faces in Hopkins certainly aren't limited to Lorraine's. As you walk down the street, most everyone greets you. Alex, who sells his creations at a shop near our guest house, is no exception. One morning he told me that he gets up every day at 5 a.m., rides his bike for an hour, swims in the ocean and is often joined by manatees, takes a shower, and starts his workday. Each time we walked by, he greeted us with a smile. Aaron had Alex make some custom guitar pics for him, and he was excited to try his hand at a new challenge. They were done in less than two hours, and the quality was fantastic.
There was a Garifuna holiday during our time at Hopkins. I didn't get the name of it, but the people drummed off and on for three days. They are known for their drum making and playing here and it was a beautiful and exotic sound. The holiday's final evening, I'm pretty sure the drumming lasted until daybreak. Apparently the occasion celebrates the dead, and takes place every three years. During that time, many of the women dressed in what looked like traditional African clothing, the fabric adorned with bright colors and patterns.
There are several businesses run by the Chinese in this town of 1,500 people, including pretty much all the grocery stores. As we waited on Chinese food one night, a four-year-old boy came up to our table, took my bottle cap, and began playing with it. He and Aaron began a game of "hockey" on the table with the cap, and he was more than happy to tell Aaron "You lose!" each time he failed to hit the goal he made between his two tiny hands.
Walking back to the room that night, we encountered a group of kids, all of whom were probably under age 7. They were "shooting" each other with sticks and boards, and we became part of the game. We became victims of a "holdup" and they loved that we played right along. After being released, we got excited fist bumps from the kids. I really wish we'd had room in our luggage to bring a few treats for them. They are so sweet.
We tried to eat at restaurants only once a day to stretch our budget, which was challenging since we had no kitchen. Between the grocery stores, fruit stand, and the back of a guy's truck, we purchased plenty of mangoes (the hugest you've ever seen), tangerines (which have a green peel here), avocados, plantain chips, tortilla chips, Marie Sharp's hot sauce, and fruit juices (soursop juice is pretty awesome). Restaurant meals consisted of mostly beans and rice for me. Aaron enjoyed chicken fried rice and one night he was served a whole fried fish, complete with head. Oh, and I can't forget the fry jacks, which are a breakfast delight - big pieces of puffed fried bread you can fill with beans, eggs, and lots of other fillings. Delicious!
We didn't go on any fishing or snorkeling excursions in Hopkins, instead spending our time walking the street, riding bicycles, sitting on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and trying to get used to the humidity. I'm not sure I have ever sweated so much in my entire life. It's been a nice place to get acclimated to Belize and to get some clue as to how things work here, although we still have a long way to go before we have it figured out.
Next up, further south to Placencia!