I simply have not given myself enough time in San Ignacio. I love it and I want to stay longer but this is the last week of my trip and beach and snorkel beckon me.
Besides, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve had enough of “Visiting Old Shit”- a term my brother and I affectionately gave to our many archaeological excursions during our trip to Luxor in Egypt a few years ago.
Here in Belize I’ve visited three Maya sites in two days and five in total. That has been a lot of crawling on all fours up steep stone steps and a punishing torment to my vertigo! I feel I have paid fitting homage to the ancient Mayan Civilisation and their Gods and it is now time to move on.
On my last morning in San Ignacio I enjoy yet another incredibly delicious breakfast at the Ko Ox Han Nah, the little shack I found yesterday during the power cut. Nellyree is the Manager and is visibly touched when I tell her with true conviction that she serves the best breakfast in Belize. The ingredients they use, including the meat products is organically grown on their own land. Everything is homemade and the quality of the flavours supports this.
I ask Nellyree about the jam she serves with breakfast. I particularly like its taste which I think is a blend of mango and honey and I am completely surprised when she tells me it is cashew. Subsequent “googling” confirms that the cashew tree produces a fruit as well as the nuts and presumably this is used to make the jam.
Today I am heading to Placencia on the coast and in the south of the country. I’ve read that Placencia has lovely beaches and is another great snorkelling destination and I think this might be a good place to spend the last few days of my trip. Monkey River, the little village that my American acquaintances had told me about on my first night in Belize City is also near Placencia and I still want to visit there.
The trip to Placencia will take three bus journeys, changing at Belmopan and Dangriga. As I head towards the bus terminal I don’t know what time the buses leave or how long it will take and am prepared to stop overnight somewhere on the way if I need to. However, I stumble upon a Tourist Office near the terminal and an extremely helpful young man gives me useful information on bus schedules, which indicates, subject to “Belize Time,” that I should get to my destination today.
At Belmapon the bus I want to get on arrives from Belize City and with many passengers already on it fills quickly while I am at the rear putting my backpack in the luggage section. By the time I climb on there is mayhem and people are pushing and shoving and appear to be squabbling over seats. Very quickly it is apparent there is no seat for me and I have to get back off, collect my backpack and retreat to the waiting room to wait for the next bus which will arrive in an hour.
I’m so relaxed by the Belizean way by now that I don’t care about the delay.
To pass the time I talk to a fellow backpacker; a young man from Germany who also had to leave the bus, and a couple of young chaps, a German and a fellow Brit, who are working on a farm outside San Ignacio and are in Belmopan to extend their visas. They are using the bus terminal as shelter from the midday heat while they wait for the Immigration office to open at 2pm.
The next bus is going via Dangriga where I want to get off, then onwards to Punta Gorda in the very south of the country and looks equally as full as the previous one as it pulls in.
I am determined to get a seat on this one and as it arrives I am already standing in the queue, prepared to fight for my space! But just as I am about to embark another bus pulls in next to it and it is only going as far as Dangriga. It is almost empty and I promptly board it settling in to watch the seat jostling mayhem break out once more on the other bus. Everyone else on my bus are local Belizeans so when another backpacker gets on and takes a seat somewhere behind me we nod to each other as he passes in acknowledgement of being kindred spirits.
At Dangriga I have a little while to wait at the terminal for my next bus and use the “rest room.” I pay $1Belize to use the facilities and am handed a generous strip of toilet paper by a friendly cloakroom attendant who happily minds my backpack while I go. I chuckle as I wash my hands using the soggy soap powder provided as hand wash and check my appearance in the car rear view mirror which someone has rather thoughtfully rigged up above the handbasin.
While I wait for my next bus I chat with my kindred spirit backpacker who is waiting for a connecting bus to Punta Gorda having also been a victim of the seat jostling mayhem and subsequent eviction from the other bus in Belmopan. He is on his way to Panama to meet up with friends and has already travelled through Mexico. He plans to take a month or so to travel through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to Panama. I envy him and wish I didn’t have a return ticket home so I could do the same.
One of the best things about backpacking is that you can change your mind about where you are going in a moment and after chatting with me about Placencia my new friend, John, suddenly decides on a whim to stop off there for a couple of days, instead of going straight to Punta Gorda.
Now journeying together we arrive in Placencia in the late afternoon and go in search of accommodation. We quickly ascertain that finding accommodation is going to be difficult as we walk from hotel to hotel carrying our heavy backpacks, just to be told that it is high season and we will be lucky to find somewhere to stay!
I am concerned as I’ve found it very easy thus far to find accommodation and hadn’t considered the prospect that I might be in a situation where I can’t get any. I am grateful that John is with me and I am not alone in this situation. However the big attraction about Placencia is that it is by the sea and there are many “Cabana’s” along the beach front. John and I decide it will make sense to share the cost of a two room Cabana and after a bit of a hunt we eventually find the ideal place.
Julia’s Rooms and Guest House is a small cluster of rustic, brightly painted wooden Cabana’s, situated right on the beach front with simple but excellent facilities and each Cabana has its own private balcony complete with hammock.
A path leads through a gate from the Cabanas directly onto the lovely white sandy beach and the welcoming Caribbean Sea beyond . We are delighted with our find and praise each other for our teamwork in finding just the right place.
Hot and hungry we quickly freshen up and head out to explore the little village and find something to eat. We immediately like Placencia and are drawn to a lively bar packed with American’s singing and dancing along with some musicians, who we later discover are here on holiday and have just decided to get together for a bit of a jamming session. John explains that the music is typically American as they play a range of country, bluegrass, rock and rhythm and blues.
It is certainly not an authentic Belizean bar and John laughs at the irony of coming all the way to Belize from America only to be surrounded by Americans, some of who appear to be “Willy Nelson look alikes” listening to American music. Meanwhile I am enjoying observing the American holiday culture!
Placencia is a favourite American holiday destination. It is located on the south end of a long narrow sandy peninsula which has a lagoon in the middle and I had noticed many modern resorts dotted along the peninsula on the drive into the village.
Nonetheless I am delighted that despite being a favourite tourist destination, Placencia village still retains its innocent Belizean charm with one main street running the length of it and a simple boardwalk running parallel to this where small shacks filled with souvenirs and local artwork and crafts can be found. There are a few cafés, bars and restaurants, but everything is understated and the overall atmosphere is of tranquillity.
As John and I explore the length and breadth of the village the following day we decide it is a small piece of paradise and I am so pleased that I have given myself a few days to spend here.
I enjoy John’s companionship and we talk easily on a huge range of topics as we explore, but soon enough he is restless to get back on the road and I have my snorkelling and Monkey River Trip to organise. And so as he leaves to catch an early morning bus we bid each other a fond farewell and l look forward to hearing about the rest of my new friend’s Central America Trip upon his return to America.