I’ve loved reliving Belize through blog posts over the past month, and hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt, too. As with most trips, though, ours had to come to an end, and it’s time for me to wrap up our Belize tour and bring us all back to real life, in real time.
When last I posted, Shon and I were on Ambergris Caye getting fat on seafood burritos and spoiled by air-conditioning and a king-sized bed. Lest you think our vacation ended on such an indulgent note, though, I thought it wise to give you a snapshot of our less luxurious but still colorful return home, along Belize’s southern coast to Guatemala.
From Ambergris, we boarded a ferry—sopping wet and sticky due to warm, torrential rains—and headed to bustling Belize City to catch a local bus for the town of Dangriga, about two hours away heading south.
En route, we followed the postcard-perfect Hummingbird Highway, considered one of Belize’s four major thoroughfares, though it has just two lanes and seemingly little traffic. We cut through citrus fields and tumbling jungles as the rolling Maya Mountains loomed in the distance. The New Jersey Turnpike it was not.
Dangriga is the capital of Belize’s Stann Creek District and is known for being a Garífuna hub. Descendants of African slaves and Amerindians, the Garífuna people have a language, music, and dance form that’s all their own—one that UNESCO has even deemed one of the world’s “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” That wording totally confuses me, but I’m sharing it with you, in case you don’t get lost in the language and are suitably impressed.
I had high hopes for Dangriga but did zilch in terms of planning, so our short overnight stay was a bit dull. There was no music, no dancing, no marveling at foreign tongues. Instead, there was roaming. We wandered down hot, rundown streets, most of which were eerily empty and lined with clapboard houses in varying states of ruin. The North Stann Creek River empties at Dangriga, and the Caribbean coastline was the color of orange mud. We struggled to find restaurants that were open—only one mentioned in our guidebook was up and running—and hotel options across the board seemed basic at best.
The highlight of our Dangriga stop was a visit to the Marie Sharp’s hot sauce factory, located just a short cab ride outside of town. Bottles of Marie Sharp’s hot sauce are ubiquitous in Belize, adorning every table everywhere, and range heat-wise from mild to “no wimps allowed.” Even this experience was anticlimactic, though, as despite what we had been told in town at the Marie Sharp’s store, no tours were happening. As a consolation prize, we were offered a taste test of the company’s various products. Shon ended up buying a jar of “exotic” steak sauce, while I couldn’t stop “testing” Marie’s green habanero pepper jelly.
For all the disappointment that was Dangriga, our next stop, Punta Gorda (Belize’s southernmost town, also just known as PG) was a big surprise. We had only a few hours to kill in the small community before our ferry back to Guatemala departed, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. Fresh-looking and far less shabby than Dangriga, PG sits on the Caribbean (the water here was clear) and offers a tidy mix of restaurants, stores, and a miniature but busy market. At the shop for Cotton Tree Chocolate, we learned how local Belizean farmers make the sweet stuff from bean to bar and enjoyed a complimentary chocolate tasting, too.
Our ferry to Guatemala left PG in the early afternoon, and it was with reluctance that I stood in line to have my passport stamped for our return trip home. A speedboat would take us and a handful of other passengers to Guatemala’s Livingston town. There we would board another boat, follow the Rio Dulce (“sweet river”) to the port town of Rio Dulce, and hop on a bus to Guatemala City and then to Panajachel.
I wasn’t ready to go back. The wilds of Belize’s western Cayo District called to me much more than my bed at home. I’d choose Belize’s seafood and fry jacks over Guatemala’s tortillas and tamales any day. And I was already longing to learn more about the country’s insanely colorful mix of cultures and people–and fish, too. Belize is a tiny country that I knew I would miss in a big way. Fortunately, I also knew that it would always be just next door.