Part 1: Leaving Caye Caulker
We were ready to move on after a week in Caye Caulker. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘go slow’ vibe, the palm trees, sunshine and tropical waters were all just what we had wanted, it’s just that for an island made entirely of sand…there’s precious little beach to enjoy. Most of the island has piers running from the mainland over the underwater seagrass and out into slightly deeper water, unfortunately most of these piers are accessible only to guests of the affiliated hotel next to them. The only public swimming area is located at the end of the island called ‘the split’ which has been encased in a large concrete retaining wall; you can still access the water from it, but it’s not the same as a proper beach.
Random side note: I had verbal offers to buy weed and cocaine at least twice a day in Caye Caulker. They’re generally quite friendly offers so long as you remember to acknowledge the question, return eye contact and say no thanks with a polite smile.
We’d eaten out for our last breakfast on the island before jumping on the 10:30am water taxi back to Belize City, unluckily for me I‘d started to feel very queasy not long after eating. Combine that with the multiple, weeping bed bug bites I had from our stay at the Vista Del Mar and I was dreading the hour’s bumpy sea voyage.
It took some serious meditative concentration on my part to convince my bowels that I could hold on for the entire journey, and to extinguish any thoughts of puking. I basically repeated this mantra in my head for the entire hour: “summon up your self-control, play like a champion!” It sounds ridiculous, but it worked.
Part 2: The Bus from Belize City to Hopkins
After an emergency visit to the bathroom at the water taxi docking area, a medicinal bottle of Sprite, and 10 minutes to re-orientate myself to the mainland, we were ready to find the bus to Hopkins. There are numerous bus ticket outlets at the water taxi docking area but they’re all for long distance private buses to tourist spots in Mexico and Guatemala. The local Belize City bus station is a 20-minute walk away. I wasn’t really feeling up to a fully laden walk with backpacks in the midday sun without really knowing how to get there, so we jumped in a taxi with a local driver called Jan and paid $5 USD (about £3 GBP) for the 5-minute journey. Jan had dreads down to his calves and listened to bass-heavy reggae in his car, it was an awesome little trip.
The bus station looks a bit sketchy when you first rock up but everyone is friendly and we were sat on the bus to Dangriga within a few minutes.
Inside the bus: note cracks in the windscreen
Ready to roll
There were several cracks in the windscreen, no seatbelts, and the driver had a fresh can of Red Bull when he sat down to begin the 2.5-hour journey, such are the elements of Central American adventures. But it wasn’t until after we’d left the city limits that the real fun started:
- a car at the side of the road that had its driver door open sticking out into the road…so the bus had to swerve at high speed (whilst blasting the horn) to avoid a collision
- a roadside car insurance billboard with an actual car perched on top of it…complete with scores of bullet holes and serious crash damage
- a guy waving crazily on the opposite side of the road to flag down another bus…which just stuck its hazards on, sped up, and swerved to avoid him
- an Amish man riding a horse and trap complete with 19th century clothing and Amish beard (the man, not the horse)
- a succession of increasingly sketchy single lane bridges with big pot holes, giving us passengers plenty of time to fully appreciate just how rickety the bridge was and to contemplate how far the drop was below the thick vegetation underneath the bridge
The bus made one official stop in the town of Belmopan where most passengers disembarked and a whole host of new ones jumped on; this gave us about 90 seconds each to run to the bathroom and pay $1 BZD (about £0.35 GBP) for a jimmy riddle.
The stretch of road from Belmopan to Dangriga is known as The Hummingbird Highway and is dubbed the most scenic road in Belize. I can definitely agree with that; lush, tropical jungle stretches back from the road in all directions with palm-covered hills and small mountains dense with vegetation visible in the distance.
Arriving in Dangriga we were greeted by a host of guys offering everything from homemade pasties to weed to taxis. After realising that the next bus to Hopkins wasn’t for another 2 hours we decided to share a taxi with a Norwegian girl heading to the same hostel as us, so we jumped in a car with some bloke with massive dreads called Alfred (#notarealtaxi) and spent a very cruisy 35 minutes travelling in his beat up Toyota people-carrier which didn’t seem to be capable of speeds exceeding 40mph, listening to the local radio station which only seemed to play reggae. Alfred told us a little bit about the local wildlife in his lilting caribbelizian accent (I might have just made that word up but I like it; a mix of Caribbean and Belizian) and how just this morning he’d watched an epic 2-hour battle between an alligator and a pelican in the small river at the end of his garden…unsurprisingly the pelican lost, but fair play to him, I wouldn’t fancy my odds against an alligator either.
Alfred kindly dropped us directly outside our hostel (The Funky Dodo) for the agreed $30 USD (about £21 GBP).
Arrival at the DoDo
Checking in with our host Anna
Luckily we’d pre-booked otherwise I would have taken this as
“No vacancy, so kiss my ass”
Part 3: First impressions of Hopkins
After all the great things we’d heard and read about Hopkins I’m afraid to say that the reality simply didn’t match the hype. Dubbed as a small fishing village with a laid back, bohemian vibe and a stunning beach I would say that yes, that may be an ample description…at certain times of the year…it seems that our visit was spectacularly badly timed however. According to the various locals we’ve chatted to throughout Belize the whole country had a very rough January with 22 days of rain in some parts, that’s not normal for the dry season and February has been only slightly better.
As Brits we’re used to dark clouds, but the most disheartening element was the state of the beach. Nearly every single inch of the huge stretch of coastline was clogged in a 1-metre-wide, 10cm-deep carpet of stinky seaweed complete with plastic bottles, hundreds of bottle caps, and every other type of garbage you can imagine.
Note the thick layer of seaweed on the beach
Given that we’d been travelling all day, we were tired, and we’d already booked 6 nights in a place with a crappy beach and not much else, we decided to go for a meal and have a cheeky rum-based-beverage or two to lighten the mood. The Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack helped us tick those off the list.
Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack backed on to the beach
But with the best will in the world even though it was a decent little pizza place, the prices were ridiculous, we might as well have been in central London; Pizza Express is cheaper. We’re talking $22 BZD (about £8 GBP) for a small cheese pizza with no other toppings, going up to $43 BZD (about £15 for a large pizza with decent toppings).
I know I shouldn’t complain but I will. The rest of the clientele appeared to be white Americans ranging from the ages of 50 to 70 years old, and yes they have just as much right to enjoy Belize as we do, but I can’t help thinking that this thriving expat community is the cause of the London prices. But you know what, the restaurant is half-decent and it’s probably only there exactly because the local expat community creates demand for it…so I guess I’ll just stuff some more pizza in my gob and shut the hell up.
The sun sets over the road into Hopkins
Tune in next week to hear more about Hopkins and our river tubing adventure in the Cockscomb Wildlife Reserve.