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John and Mandi

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Itchy Itchy Ya Ya Da Da, Belize Part 2

Jun 24, 2016
by John

The way of the world never ceases to amaze us. One night while getting eaten alive, Mandi and I were discussing the uselessness of midges, no-see-ums, one of our biggest enemies. While we agree mosquitoes are a nuisance, they seem to perform the function of population control or herd thinning by spreading diseases, we couldn't contemplate any need for their nearly invisible second cousins. Without an internet connection or encyclopedia on hand our suspicions of unnecessity remained unconfirmed regarding the tiny screen squeezing blood stealing vandals.

A couple days later, after entirely forgetting about our previous discussion, midges were mentioned as a necessity in chocolate production. WTF! Apparently those loathsome shitty little bastards pollinate cacao. This is probably one of the worst things we have ever learned. Chocolate, especially properly produced really dark chocolate, is one of our favorite and most cherished things, while no-see-ums are one of the most vile. Why in the world does that type of juxtaposition exist? As in all things, it's not for us to discern...sigh.

What We Did

Antelope Falls, Mayflower Bocawina, Stann Creek

While heading towards the Belizean coast we happened across Betty & Beat so we all pulled over to compare travel plans. Ours were somewhat flexible so we happily joined them on a hike to Antelope Falls in the Mayflower Bocawina park. It's a reasonably tough hike, especially when wet, that requires using ropes to make it to the swimming hole at the top. We had the place all to ourselves and enjoyed an afternoon downpour while we were swimming.

Antelope Falls, Mayflower Bocawina, Stann Creek, Belize

What time do the antelope fall?

Hopkins, Stann Creek

After our return hike from Antelope Falls we drove to Hopkins with Betty & Beat, parked at the beach near Driftwood Pizza, and commandeered a table overlooking the ocean for some much needed grub. While waiting for our food we ordered some Panty Rippers, coconut rum and fresh pineapple juice, yum. The pizza was phenomenal, not cheap by any means, and they let us spend the night in the parking area for free. Our attempt to catch the Garifuna drumming was a bust, it was not a Tuesday, but it was fun to wander around chatting with Betty & Beat before hiding from the bugs in our respective rigs.

Our original plan was to spend 10 or more days along the Belizean coast, Hopkins was the first destination we reached, but after getting our asses handed to us by the no-see-ums we decided to cut it really short and head out. Hailing from Florida there are a few things we just can't tolerate, no-see-ums are at the top of that list. Betty & Beat decided to do the same so we hugged goodbye before heading our separate ways. Mike & Tiffany (You, Me, and the Dogs) purchased property in Belize during their Central American trip so we offered to check on it when we reached Hopkins. We still need to send them a couple pictures, one day guys, but we did manage to get a fairly decent shot of the van parked in front of it.

Hopkins, Stann Creek, Belize

Squatters rights

Ixcacao, Toledo

On our way out of Hopkins we decided it was worth one more night fighting no-see-ums to check out Ixcacao, a wonderful family owed and operated cacao business. The tour with Juan was incredible. We learned a lot about the entire life cycle of producing chocolate, getting to participate in making some of our own after sampling 10 different flavors and two types of cacao alcohol. While small machines are used today to help them meet their growing demand, we had to try it the traditional way which is entirely by hand.

We started with roasted beans, removed the husk by rubbing the beans between our fingers, tossed the cleaned beans in the air from a bowl to separate out the remaining chaff, stone ground them three times increasing our speed to produce the proper viscosity, then finally added sugar to taste and ground it all again at warp speed. Fortunately, Juan finished the job or we would have ended up with just a gooey mess. Our concoction was poured into a mould and placed in the refrigerator to meld while we ate a delicious Mayan lunch Abalina, Juan's wife, prepared from scratch. She makes everything herself including the coconut milk, divine.

Juan gave us a tour of one of their properties then graciously let us camp there all alone in the jungle, minimal midges (no-see-ums) visited us that night. Before settling in for the night we joined his family and a group of Archaeology students for dinner, another remarkable meal prepared by Abalina. The tour cost $40US per person and was well worth it, they let us use their property for free. They are a wonderful Mayan family who we wish nothing but continued success.

Ixcacao, Toledo, Belize

I'm glad we're not being paid by the bean

Ixcacao, Toledo, Belize

Mayan powered

Nohoch Che'en, Cayo

Cave tubing in Belize has been something I wanted to do ever since we first visited the country over ten years ago. Needless to say we were never able to participate in the tour during subsequent visits due to inclement weather. Every overlander we came across was raving about the tubing at Nohoch Che'en so we backtracked a little to finally get to experience it for ourselves. We purposely timed it on a day no cruise ships were in port so we enjoyed having almost the entire river to ourselves. Our guide, Alex, did a great job of educating us while keeping us paced well away from anyone else. He also let us swim a lot to get a reprieve from the heat. We ended up settling at $35US per person, not the best or worst rate, but we are ecstatic with our 2 hour float.

Nohoch Che'en, Cayo, Belize

Worlds most uncomfortable hammock

Nohoch Che'en, Cayo, Belize

Trippy, what was in that cashew fruit

Nohoch Che'en, Cayo, Belize

Jelly filling

Nohoch Che'en, Cayo, Belize

Now dis is wat we talkin' bout

San Ignacio, Cayo

We had already spent a couple nights in San Ignacio when we drove over to take the ATM Cave tour. We knew the Mana Kai campground, $10US per night for two, would be our basecamp while we explored the surrounding area. Javier, it's owner, is one of a kind and really takes care of his guests. We happened to roll back in the night before Josh & Jenna, Betty & Beat, and Guy & Amy were crossing into Guatemala. We all shared stories while eating our respective dinners under the giant palapa hiding from the rain. It was great to catch everyone again before they jumped ahead of us. Hopefully, we'll bump into all of them somewhere down the road.

After everyone else ran for the border the next morning, we caught up on our neglected chores, mostly our blog and cleaning the van, then reached out to Joe & Josee to see if they were coming to San Ignacio. We knew it would be fun to explore the Mountain Pine Ridge area together and they agreed. We had no trouble spending some time reading and trying to escape the heat while they attended to a couple things on their rig over the next couple of days. The Mana Kai campground is really an easy place to be. We stayed there again after our foray into the Mountain Pine Ridge area to prepare for our own border crossing into Guatemala.

San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

Amateurs our asses

San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

Hammock hogging hooligans (photo: Guy Green)

Caracol Ruins, Cayo

The Caracol ruins are located in a spot known for conflict. A couple of years ago some overlanders witnessed the shooting death of one of the guards. We spoke to Javier and other travelers before deciding a visit was worth the risk. He suggested we either take our own vehicles or rent an SUV, a great idea that allowed us to scout the Mountain Pine Ridge area before venturing out in our homes. We ended up in a Honda CRV so it took almost three hours to reach the ruins, ground clearance has been proving to be king as of late.

We arrived at the staging checkpoint 15 minutes after the military escort had left, so we drove the remaining 22 miles by ourselves, stopping at a bridge to take in the overwhelming beauty of the region. The ruins are really wonderful but sadly way undervisited. There were a total of 9 visitors, including the four of us, that Saturday. Since we had to drive slow in our rental we were eventually passed by the return convoy, essentially driving the "dangerous" section alone again. All in it cost $35US per person (rental, fuel, and entrance fees). We were told that booking a tour would have started at $150US per person so it was well worth it. A Toyota 4Runner would have been better, but the company we used had already rented theirs.

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Presented to you by Honda CRV, getting you there...eventually

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Hey ladies

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

No matter the century, there's always a special playground for the elite

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Consider this our Christmas card

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Perspective

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Is it snarling or sniffling, damn you Will Smith

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Heh, heh...wood

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

Lift up the stone, no need, we found you

Caracol, Cayo, Belize

No two corners are alike

Rio Frio Cave, Cayo

The day following our Caracol excursion we headed back out into the Mountain Pine Ridge area in our own rigs. We first had to drive to the military checkpoint to ask for permission to camp at Rio on Pools, they had no problem or warnings to give us. On our way to camp we set off to explore Rio Frio Cave but we apparently forgot the tips in iOverlander and started down an old dirt road as instructed by Maps.Me. Once Mandi realized it was a dead end we stopped and began honking our horn losing Joe & Josee in the process. We turned back and followed the directions properly to locate the cave, essentially abandoning Joe & Josee under the premise that overlanders figure it out eventually (which they did). I made an arrow in the road pointing our direction which they did not see but that doesn't excuse us for being bad friends, sorry again guys ; )

Rio Frio is really impressive and worth the 30 minutes to explore. It was an easy hike in but a slippery one once inside. We spent way too long trying to get the perfect photo as Joe wandered down to the river inside the cave to cool off a bit.

Rio Frio Cave, Cayo, Belize

Nice hole

Rio Frio Cave, Cayo, Belize

Olly olly oxen free

Rio Frio Cave, Cayo, Belize

Who are you calling a troglodyte?

Rio on Pools, Cayo

Our plan was to spend two nights, what we told the military, we eventually left after four. We would have stayed longer but we were running out of food. The perched location near the covered pavilion provided a perfect view of the river and surrounding mountains. We would wander down the road and trail to the river, scramble over some small boulders, then soak in the crisp water at the base of a waterfall taking turns to simultaneously partake in a shower massage. Nothing was accomplished besides morning coffee, recreational reading, wildlife viewing, drinking, eating, and sleeping soundly due to the quiet and blissful mid 70s temperatures at night. An occasional conversation was had with day visitors but mostly the place was all ours. This is definitely one of the best free camping spots ever!

A highlight was routine visits from a small fox checking the pavilion for any forgotten morsels. We assumed it was a she and eventually named her Sylvia, never once bothering to get a camera. It was too intimate an experience to interrupt.

We did manage to brush against some flora that manifested into an itchy burning throbbing rash. Somehow my stomach was covered, so escaping the midges resulted in a different type of uncomfortable couple of days back in San Ignacio while we were preparing for Guatemala. We're not entirely sure what it was, possibly the Black Poisonwood tree...joy.

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

Boring

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

Do we have to walk ALL the way down there

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

Bustin' asses since '69

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

There's always a freaking line at the good shower

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

Can't drink it in Belize either

Rio on Pools, Cayo, Belize

Don't bother getting up

Big Rock Falls, Cayo

When leaving Rio on Pools we stopped by the Blancaneaux Resort for breakfast, a place owned by Francis Ford Coppola. It was neat to check out but nothing compared to Big Rock Falls which is a little further down the road. The hike to the river is far from safe on a rickety series of stairs. Once we reached the bottom and glanced left we realized why we went through the trouble and what all the hubbub was about. The waterfall is a good size with two large swimming areas at its base. The hike out was a little tough but visiting Big Rock Falls was the perfect ending to our time in the Mountain Pine Ridge area.

Big Rock Falls, Cayo, Belize

It has electrolytes, what plants crave

Big Rock Falls, Cayo, Belize

Looks more like little canyon if you ask me

Big Rock Falls, Cayo, Belize

Nearly dhere, nearly dhere

Big Rock Falls, Cayo, Belize

After you, Clevon

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a few standouts.

Cafe Casita de Amor, Cayo

An eccentric eclectic cafe on the Hummingbird Highway. It was a lucky find after both Mennonite places we wanted to check out happened to be closed the day we were heading to the coast. The cappuccinos were fantastic and the breakfast delicious. A really neat hobbity looking place whose dining area is in the shape of a heart.

St. Herman's Blue Hole, Belmopan

A really nice swimming hole and overnight stop. It cost us $8US to visit the park and another $5US to spend the night. Tour guides offer cave tubing but we opted to pass since they wouldn't come down from $50US per person. Our hike into St Herman's Cave could have been much better if I would have remembered to charge our headlamp batteries, it was still pretty cool though.

Spanish Lookout, Cayo

Close to San Ignacio and home to what would be the equalvilent of big box stores for farmers. Betty & Beat told us where we could get another waterproof bag and we finally bought a pressure cooker at the Farmers Trading Center, which is also known as the Belizean Walmart. A great place to stock up before making our border run.

Sisters' Diner, Spanish Lookout

Really great burgers. We ate there twice but couldn't bring ourselves to order anything else as the burgers are exceptionally good. The WiFi isn't bad either and we hear the Fry Chicken and Perogies are worth a try.

Ko-ox Han-nah, San Ignacio

One of those restaurants you try once then eat at five times, always looking for an excuse to return. My favorite was the Lamb Curry and Mandi's was the Thai Chicken,  each runs about $25BZ, $12.5US, but the amount of meat totally offsets the cost. Everything we tried from the bacon egg sandwich, coconut chicken soup, quesadillas, to the rib special was delicious (prices ranged from $9-28BZ). They are a farm-to-table establishment, adding to the list of reasons to visit.

Mickey's, San Ignacio

Josh & Jenna insisted we try the Indian Tacos at Mickey's, $3BZ each, and we can't wait to thank them in person. They are basically a fry jack topped with refried beans, cabbage, bacon, shredded chicken, cheese, cream, and salsa. Paired with a large fresh squeezed orange juice, $2.50BZ, it's hard to beat for breakfast. We liked them so much we started telling everyone too.

Running W Meats, San Ignacio

A must stop for decent meat, something we started to miss. We picked up a four pack of beef medallions for $14 US, the closest thing we have found to filet mignon so far, and it was really good. We tried out our newly acquired pressure cooker with one of their tri-tips, mouth wateringly delicious. If we had a freezer we would have left broke.


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Say what? (4)
slem
Jun 24, 2016 at 10:57 AM
Thank you for the time you spend telling us about your adventures. It is a great trip for me from afar.
Jun 25, 2016 at 09:54 AM
Thanks Slem! There are times we think the blog might be a bit too much trouble to keep up but we will do our best to keep plugging along. Hopefully one day you'll embark on a trip of your own.
Jul 6, 2016 at 11:42 AM
Indian Tacos!!! Great job keeping up to date on the blog. I might get around to writing about Belize in a month or so. We should just refer people to your page when they wanna know what we're up to :)
Jul 8, 2016 at 11:04 AM
Thanks guys! Refer away, we don't expect our server to crash due to high visitor volume. Stop just sitting around and you might get caught up ; )
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