Down near the Southern border of Belize lies Punta Gorda, an interesting little town. It has a very Caribbean vibe. But many people speak Spanish, as it shares a jungle border with Guatemala. In PG (as the locals call it) this strange house towers over all the others with its multi-story growth. And we found this cute little shop selling coffins. They look so good, U wish U were DEAD
Driving North across Belize took us back up the Hummingbird Highway. This is a fun drive, as there are well-spaced tourist stops along the route.
We stopped at a small-scale cassava bread making shop. This is located in the midst of some sugar cane fields, one mile down a bumpy dirt road. The production takes place in an open-air barn using a blazing hot fire to bake the thin sheets. Cassava bread is similar to an unleavened cracker made from the finely ground flour of the cassava or yuca root. Here is a photo of the mother and daughter team that run the place. On baking or grinding days they have other family members assisting. As we drove away from this family business, we spotted this little cemetery in the front yard. She had mentioned that this farm has been in the family for many years and they are training the children to take over the business!
The next stop was Marie Sharps Hot Sauce Factory (but they were closed for lunch) This is one of national treasures of Belize, as the sauces win prizes around the world. They are similar to Tabasco Sauce or Sonora Sauce, but all are made with habaneros! Too bad we missed it.
After that we stopped at the juice factory outlet, Kropfs German Bakery, The Farm Store for fresh yogurt, cheese and real ice cream and then a quirky little living room cafe and had a burger. One of the languages of Belize is Kriol (pronounced Creole, and very similar sounding) The language is primarily phonetic. Here is an example of a Kriol word. COCONUT WATA One morning the young man at our campsite brought out his Garifuna drum and taught Mike a few native beats on this beautiful instrument. One aspect of Belize that has been unexpected is the food. We really thought it would be unusual, spicy and delicious. But it has been pretty bland most of the time. Here is an unusual meal we ordered at a fast food shop. It is the “Mac and Cheese Waffle with Chicken Nuggets” and yes, it is exactly that! But a typical meal in Belize is meat, rice, beans and plantains served with a fruit water. This photo shows tamarind and watermelon juice and a place of meatballs, beans & rice, pasta salad and plantains. Yummy stuff when it is seasoned well and served hot! There are a lot of delicious fruits and vegetables available in Belize. Many people grow them on their land, as the soil is good and the rain is ample. The fruit market is a beautiful place filled with colors and smells of tropical fruits and fresh vegetables.
And they are really, really good at growing Habanero peppers in a variety of beautiful colors with varying degrees of heat. Much of this crop is sold to Marie Sharps for salsa production. But many people make their own homestyle salsa, so you can buy Habanero at the market, also.
But the title of this post has left you expecting something about rising rivers, so here is the information. A few times in the past we have shared photos with you of our campsite friends “Go Big Emma” (clicking there will open link in a new window). We camped with them and hung out with them a few times during this visit to Belize. But one of the nights we had gone to different campsites ended in sadness. Big Emma took her people to a beautiful, riverside camping location. The big shade trees, tumbling river and flickering fireflies seemed perfect. But once her people were tucked away, sleeping safely inside, the rains from the mountains caused the river the swell. The river banks overflowed and water began rising VERY QUICKLY. When Big Emma’s people woke up, the bus was already filling with water and they had to grab a few things and wade away, leaving Big Emma in the river. Within hours the water had pushed the VW bus over and risen up to her highest point. She was hanging on as best she could! About 8 hours later the water receded enough to take a look and begin a rescue. With a tractor from a local farmer and a tow strap and a chain and a bunch of helpers, the bus was liberated from the river and hauled to the nearest city. Now the owners are working diligently to clean her up sufficiently to ship her to the USA where the restoration can begin again. It has been quite an ordeal for our friends, and we wish them the best as they move forward. But mostly we are thankful that they woke up when they did and got out of there in time to save themselves from the rising river. Here are a few photos and a movie of the incident.
It was an exhausting day and we all shed a tear or two at some point. We are also sad to say goodbye to our traveling friends, as we were hoping to spend more time with them along our route to the south. Adios Big Emma and your people. Come back strong and proud!
After the rising river incident we found ourselves in the high country of Belize. That is about 3,000 feet elevation and the temps drop to 85F with 80% humidity. It is still hot and sticky, but a relief nonetheless. We had a great time exploring San Ignacio. And we stopped by the post office to experimentally mail a couple of postcards back to the USA. One interesting thing to note about the post office, there is no flag flying any barely any signage at all. (Also note the big pothole, the roads in Belize are pretty bad everywhere!) While shopping for groceries we found a “pet thing” in a package. Clearly this thing is a quality product. We almost bought it, but we already have enough pets and pet things, so we will do without this one pet thing. While we were in San Ignacio we stopped by the Green Iguana Project. This is an iguana rescue and education program. They have over 40 iguanas that they care for. Although iguanas are not endangered, they are actively and illegally hunted as a source of meat. So the numbers are dwindling and the healthy males seldom make it to maturity in the wild. This group tries to help support the breeding stock by releasing healthy males into the jungle. But some are not healthy and will stay in the program forever. Meet Ziggy- she has severe spinal scoliosis. (her name comes from her zig-zag spine). She will live out her life here. The iguanas associate visitors with feeding time, so they all gather around for a handful of leafy plants gathered from the nearby jungle. The have strong jaws and sharp teeth to rip through the leaves easily. But they do not eat the stems. But the real iguana treat is due to the fact that they are cold-blooded. The day we visited was overcast, not sunny. The temps were slightly cooler to us humans, and down-right cold to these scaly creatures. So being petted felt good and being held was a welcome opportunity to warm up a bit! Let the iguana hugs begin! And as if the iguana fun wasn’t enough, we also walked through the jungle a little ways and encountered a termite nest. Our guide offered us a taste and we both sampled some delicious, fresh, jungle termites! They tasted like jicama, or dirt!
It has been an interesting country for us to explore. The unique combination of English speakers in a humid jungle setting provided a perfect backdrop for a few weeks of exploration. We did not do much of the eco-touristy stuff that many people come here to experience: cave tubing, archeological sites, river rafting, scuba diving and jungle trekking. But we had a good time and we met some amazing people. The hosts at each of our iOverlander campsites were kind, friendly and had intriguing life stories to share.
Before we left, we did a little geocaching and met a few more amazing folks. We camped in some gorgeous locations and shared meals with some of downright nice people. We left Belize with some friendships that we hope to maintain even as the miles separate us.
Goodbye Belize, we are crossing into Guatemala.