Last week Bill asked if I would like to go to Belize or Bogota, Columbia while we have several days between volunteering atinas at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. Copa had good prices so, of course, I said “Yes!” Not having been to Belize I chose the hot tropics for a few fun days.
We would have to fly via Panama which meant heading south to go north! On the plane from SJO I sat next to a gentleman who was going to Peru for some serious mountain climbing. He is Costa Rican but fluent in English, and was in fact, reading a thick biography in English! He had spent time in Maryland as a foreign exchange student in high school and has since revisited the US numerous times.
When I researched the weather I noted that August is a good time for hurricanes. Naturally, right after we purchased tickets a hurricane was predicted for a day or two before our arrival. Yes, it hit, and although it was a category 1 there was river flooding and trees down. The car rental company hadn’t been smart enough to move the cars so many were wet inside. Fortunately, there was one car remaining which we could have for the same price though he claimed it would be an upgrade. The RAV4 is doing fine though we would have had a Honda CRV. A couple waiting to rent a car for a day had been out on an island when the storm hit and had been stranded there an extra day. Hearing that we were glad we decided not to spend our time there but go west where there would be more to do which we would enjoy. Gong to an island would have meant traveling by water taxi which was a 45 minute crossing. That would have been tiresome to do multiple times to see sights on the mainland.
While Bill was doing car business I went to the store at the end of the strip to get a SIM card. Internet was down but we decided to get the card anyway as it was only about $11 US and 400mb of data. We really only wanted to use it for Waze so decided to be judicious in its application. As the Internet wasn’t yet working we had to try to find our way out of the airport and the right road to San Ignacio in the west. After a few missteps we were on our way. About two hours later and still no internet I got a text saying there was an error and to call customer service. They were actually able to remedy the situation after just a few minutes of waiting and listening to a repetive message about all agents being busy. Success! Data was being used quickly so I turned it off and only accessed it when we got close to San Ignacio so we could find our way to the hotel.
The drive across the country was hot hot hot which made the AC so welcome! As we approached San Ignacio I noticed off the right side that the river nearby was seriously flooded! That foreshadowed the effects of the hurricane on our brief stay in this humid tropical country. Closer to town Waze said to take a right….wrong! Further down we could see the river had flooded the road and the bridge was completely under water! Later we were told it had split in half. We had to continue straight which normally would not be a problem for Waze, but this time it caused confusion. I was pretty sure how to get to the San Ignacio Resort Hotel but stopped at a Shell station just to be sure. Yup, take the next left and go up the hill. As everyone else was trying to go right at the traffic circle we had to sneak through and creep around. I noticed later that there were flood evacuation route signs pointing up the hill. We were mighty glad we decided to splurge and stay at the resort as the one on the river we thought about might not have worked out too well for us!
Our room with a king bed has a balcony with a hammock and two chairs. The AC and refrigerator are great additions. Guests are given a bottle of water daily which we put in the fridge to chill. There is a pool, an iguana conservancy tour, and another tour through the woods to learn about medicinal plants. We were given a free welcome drink which was very welcome in this hot hot country! Bill had his with rum while I opted for the plain.
After settling in, dinner was calling us so we walked down the hill to town to find a restaurant. On the way we passed the fire department, which we hoped had another newer truck! On the left was a hostel in the upper floor of an old house while the first floor supports a rustic art gallery. Down on the corner is the police department which is for locals, tourists, and houses a prison van.
One restaurant we had read about with great reviews, Ko-Ox Han-Nah which means “let’s eat out”, was just on this side of town and we came across it quite readily. It serves organic farm meats and lots of curry dishes. Bill chose pork and I, lamb. The menu said the curry was mild but medium is more what my mouth analyzed. Coconut rice was a great accompaniment along with a few steamed vegetables. Flan, baked by a local woman, cooled my zinging palate. By the way, my wine glass was really really full!
Day one was done, after trudging back up the hill to the hotel. We slept well with no noises in or around the room!
Day two was one of relaxing and trying to decide what to do for the rest of our short stay. We had tours reserved for The third and fourth days, but due to the hurricane they were cancelled. Flooding and downed trees prevented all sites to be closed. The agency suggested we go with them to Tikal in Guatemala as it was still open. Despite the cost and the fact I was there over thirty years ago, we opted to go for it.
Meanwhile we wondered into town for breakfast. Pop’s was reviewed as being the place to go, but after eating there we decided not to rate as favorably. The staff were friendly and attentive, but the food was just ok. My bowl of fresh fruit was the best part as the pancakes were dry and sweet. Bill liked his eggs, sausage, etc. pretty well.
Deciding to explore the town and see what other tour agencies had to say we meandered around. It seems below average in wealth. The agencies all said sites were closed. A questionable man said he was the person to go to for weed and things. Uh huh. The local outdoor market was open so we checked it out. It certainly is a popular gathering area to eat! Bill bought a hammock from a Belizean woman who wouldn’t haggle. One produce vendor displayed a sign saying to know your farmer and to know your vendor equals safer food yet was selling fruits and vegetables which clearly came from a distributor. Hmmmm.
We returned to the hotel to cool off and then joined the green iguana conservancy tour. We were taken to an enclosure with numerous iguanas where the friendly ones were given to us to hold. I did it just to do it though I felt a bit cautious holding the sharp-clawed rough scaly guy. A young one suffered from a bone ailment due to a history of lack of vitamin D from sun and nutrition. The guide went off to gather elephant ear leaves for us to feed them which were very appreciated by these reptiles. The young ones are emerald green and as they age they lighten considerably. Females lay 25-90 eggs which are white and with the feel and hardness resembling marshmallows. They lay them after two months and then after another three months in the nest they hatch. The nests could be underground to protect them from predators such as snakes and hawks.
After cooling off, again, in the AC of our room and just as a storm was approaching we decided to drive to the local ruins in hopes they were open. Not. Trees were being cleared and there wouldn’t be access for two days at least. Just as we got back to the room the thunder and lightning started and was pretty close! I felt badly for the flood victims and heavy rain would not be appreciated.
Once the storm passed it was time to jump in the pool, which we had all to ourselves. Once refreshed it was time to stop by Ajaw for a lesson on making chocolate if there was space for us. One group was just finishing and then we were to join four others for the last tour. They didn’t show so we had the full attention of the owners! He showed us the inside of a cocoa pod with beans already sprouting. The white filmy matter around them is made into a wine which we didn’t try. We tasted the roasted bits of beans which had a bit a peanut butter taste, sort of a Reese’s peanut butter cup pleasure! Then came the demonstration of grinding the cocoa beans on the volcanic rock platform with the stone. The man did it for a bit to show us how it becomes a paste. Next was our turn. He seemed surprised I looked as though I knew what I was doing, but that’s because the rhythm is similar to kneading bread dough. I could quickly tell how tiring this process was and how calloused one’s hands likely become. After about a minute I smiled at the owner and stated, “OK. I’m tired now.” He and his wife finished it off after Bill gave it a turn. The paste became somewhat liquid in nature. Some was put in gourd bowls and mixed with hot water, then stirred with small wooden spoons. I preferred to drink it without honey, though that was good as well. Bill opted for the habanero and cinnamon spices to be added. For me, cinnamon and allspice were great. The tour was in a one room building so we asked them about their factory. That is in their house as they have to have special sanitary requirements met for the inspectors. Surprisingly, they don’t sell candies at the tour building, just the wine and liquor they get from another guy. The bits of candy they had us taste were wonderfully dark.
Then it was time for dinner (life is uncertain so we ate dessert first) so we walked further down into town to see which appealing restaurant we would find first. We were looking for a different place but either they were closed, expensive, or wasn’t to my liking. Ko-Ox Han-Nah waitresses remembered us and we all laughed about choosing the same table. Bill chose curry chicken while I opted for vegetable soup made with coconut milk. The vegetables were fresh and barely cooked. I had been eyeing the quesadillas and was able to order just a half. Even at that we took half back to the room for breakfast. The walk back up the hill to the hotel was welcome after so much food!
Next up, Tikal!