05 Feb BELIZE New Year’s [Part 2]
A few weeks ago I posted about the first half of my fantastical New Year’s vacation to Belize. It seems like both the trip and that post were ages ago now, so I figure I better get my butt moving on part 2! Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?
The start of the second half of our vacation brings us to New Year’s Eve. By Day 4 we already crammed so much into our vacation that it was time for some R&R before the big night’s celebration. We decided to take our golf carts north of where we were staying, away from town, to explore some new territory. Armed with bags packed full of beach supplies, we hopped in our golf carts and headed northward on the island’s only road, which proved to be an adventure in itself.
In normal conditions I’m sure the unpaved road is less than ideal for golf cart trekking. In our case, due to an unusually rainy winter and lack of any sort of road maintenance, the dirt road was in absolutely terrible condition so our little journey was akin to mudding versus a leisurely drive to the beach. We made out way verrry slowly, passing the not-so-resorty back sides of large beach resorts, inhaling all sorts of questionable odors, quickly realizing that we probably should have walked up the beach instead of braving the island’s back road.
We eventually found solace at Captain Morgan’s Retreat, a resort and beach bar with a knack for flying under the radar for copyright infringement. I can’t tell you for sure if they always have an open door policy, or if it was just a slow time but they let us lounge on their beach and welcomed us into the bar and pool area afterwards, no questions asked – very unlike any other tropical resort destination I have ever been to, where facilities are strictly for guests only. We enjoyed some delicious tropical rum cocktails and lounged by their pool for a few hours in true beach vacation style.
Captain Morgan’s would have been a great place to stay had we been looking to stay away from town, however I would not have wanted to brave the roads every day to get into San Pedro and back.
Our lazy afternoon on the beach was followed by a late afternoon trip back into town because some of the group had made reservations for massages on the beach. Unfortunately on the way there our driver, Vijay, made the “mistake” of running a stop sign. The same stop sign that every other driver on the on the island ran on a daily basis, multiple times a day. Unfortunately, we fell victim to a local police officer who obviously recognized us a tourists and a wealthy supplement to the local tax payers’ money. I kid you not, we got a ticket in a golf cart.
I hate to play the tourist victim card, but I’m pretty sure in this case I’m right. As soon as we got pulled over we pointed out that every other passing golf cart was running the stop sign as well. To “be fair”, the officer pulled over a cart of locals as well, who were still parked behind us waiting when we were finally ticketed and given the freedom to drive off. We ran into them on the beach later and asked if they also got a ticket and they, with a hearty laugh, told us no. Here is officer McGrumpy-Pants writing our ticket.
Luckily we made it to town in time for massage reservations. Steve and I opted to spend this time on the beach, but the rest of the crew said the massages were great, especially considering they cost $40 US, less than half of the cost of a 60-minute massage at most places in U.S.
I, of course, took advantage of this time to take pictures of other people’s children playing on the beach (in the least creepy way possible – they’re just so darn cute) and capture pictures of the local pups. One of whom even tried to sneak a bite of Pete’s afternoon snack.
I just love the expression on his face. Do you think that’s his guilty look? Or is it all part of his act?
After playing on the beach for a while, Steve and I decided to go for a snack at a small beach-front restaurant called Lick’s Beachside Cafe. We stopped there at random, not knowing anything about the menu and it turned out to be an unexpected gem. Steve had a chimichurri Lobster sandwich that he is still talking about and I had finally had the conch fritters that I had been craving since day one. The menu was handwritten in a spiral notebook, with several items crossed out because they had already sold out for the day – a sure sign that they get all of their seafood fresh on a daily basis and in a limited quantity. It was definitely one of the best meals we had the whole trip.
That night, we went out for a celebratory New Year’s Eve dinner at the Blue Water Grill, where they were kind enough to accommodate us even though we mixed up our reservation time and showed up half an hour late. With a party our size that’s tough to fit in on a normal night, let alone on NYE, so we were grateful for the service. The menu was the most traditional seafood menu we saw on the island and included a separate sushi menu that looked amazing but since none of the fish were locally sourced I opted for a meal of the local rock lobster instead. Ahhh vacation. It was a good meal, but not my favorite of the trip – pretty on par for a hotel restaurant but an A++ for service
Dinner was followed up with dancing at a hotel that had turned their first floor into a party for the evening, complete with champagne bottles (hey, Andre!) and fireworks at midnight. After midnight we grew a little bored of the one Pitbull song after another blaring from the DJ booth and wandered to the main square where there was a huge celebration put on by the town taking place. Hundreds of locals were gathered in front of a large stage, with music blaring from the speakers and an enthusiastic MC encouraging locals and visitors alike to mingle and dance. There was even a speech from the mayor of San Pedro himself. It was a people watcher’s paradise.
The boys had purchased some celebratory Cuban cigars that afternoon so we wandered onto a pier where they could imbibe and we could all watch the local celebration from a distance. Of course, a pier on the edge of a huge celebration in Central America is the prime place to buy all sorts of contraband and we were approached several times by locals selling cocaine and marijuana. We politely declined but somehow managed striking up conversation with a couple of local entrepreneurs. In a drunken moment of camaraderie Steve made the mistake of offering one of them a puff of his cigar for a photo opp. After taking the group photo (below) I somehow managed to snap a picture of the interaction that followed – the perfect image of a perfectly awkward situation.
Check out Steve below looking like “Uhh what? That guy is walking off with my nice cigar!” and said guy with an expression of “HAHA I just ripped off that gringo’s smoke”.
(I apologize for the grainy nighttime iPhone photos.)
As you can imagine, day 5 was a pretty slow one, and by far the most boring day from a blogging perspective. We spent the morning and early afternoon lounging by the pool with our books, recovering from the previous night’s debauchery. Eventually we made our way into town to peruse some of the local art galleries and eat a late lunch. It was all very slow-paced and relaxing, as the day after a night of celebrating should be.
We spent the evening back at the condos, grilled some burgers and just hung out. Speaking of hanging out – we ended up staying in most nights just so we could play Heads Up. Have you heard of it? Apparently Ellen plays it on her show all the time. We spent HOURS on the category where you have to hum or whistle a tune for the person who’s turn it is to guess. Tear inducing laughter. Seriously, download it.
On our last morning, we woke up to the hardest rain we had seen all week. Of course, this was also the day we chose to sign up for a morning snorkel. I will continue to say that we LOVED Alphonse but this morning he was an hour late to pick us up. Blame it on island time – be prepared to have a flexible schedule when in the Caribbean because things happen at their own pace, with no apologies for delay. We ended up waiting out the showers on the porch of a unit rented by a Canadian family, passing the hour getting to know each other and sharing stories from our trips.
The snorkel trip was to Mexico Reef, a location farther north of Hol Chan, where our previous two trips were. Unlike Hol Chan, Mexico Reef is not a protected marine park so it doesn’t receive the same level of protection from fishing by the Belizean government. Regardless, Alphonse did his thing and chummed the water so we still saw a lot of great fish, a sea turtle and another moray eel. The sun even magically came out as soon as we got to the reef so we were able to enjoy full visibility and warm sun on our backs. After Mexico Reef, Alphonse told us he was taking us to another small reef with some really impressive coral. The only thing was, to get there we had to head into some pretty treacherous looking storm clouds.
By the time we got to the stop, it was pouring down rain. Every one on the boat was huddled together for warmth, being pelted in the head by fat drops, and I’m sure looking at Alphonse like he was a crazy person. He insisted we get into the water, promising we would be warm and happy once we did. I admit, Alphonse knows best. The temperature of the water was at least 15 degrees warmer than standing out in the wind and rain, and being able to watch the drops hit the ocean surface from underneath was super cool to watch. The reef we were at (I’m sorry I don’t think I caught the name in all of the storm chaos) was in a very shallow area next to breaker reefs so the coral was unique from anywhere we had been before. Instead of the fairly rounded, undisturbed reef formations we had snorkeled on up to this point, these coral were jagged and grew almost sideways towards the shore, I’m assuming from being beaten by the waves and wind so close to the breaker.
We made it back to land, unscathed by the storm and happy to have experienced another awesome snorkel adventure with our new friend, Alphonse.
After long hot showers and a quick nap we were all starving. Snorkeling in the wind and rain is hard work. We’d heard about a place in town called My Secret Deli that came highly recommended but when we got there we discovered there were no vegetarian options so we got another recommendation from a local for a restaurant called El Fogon. Boy I’m glad we did because it ended up being my favorite meal of the trip.
At El Fogon we were greeted by a friendly waiter and seated outside, under a thatched roof and next to a large outdoor wood-burning stove where they were cooking the local special stewed chicken.
I doubt this would ever pass health inspections in the U.S. but talk about authentic! I, of course, ordered the stewed chicken that was being cooked in that there giant pot because I felt like I would be crazy not to.
When our lunches were brought to the table I started looking around for habanero hot sauce, as it had become somewhat of an addiction over the last 5 days. There were no bottles on the table so I asked our waiter to bring some. Instead of bringing me the bottled kind that I had been grown accustomed to, he brought out two FRESH habanero sauces and explained that they made them from scratch every morning in house. (!!!) He of course gave me the standard gringa warning: be careful, they’re very hot. Hands down, best habanero salsas I’ve ever had. I’ve been dreaming about recreating my favorite of the two, a more relish-like version, since I’ve been home (hint). And let’s not forget the chicken. It was perfectly, fall-off-the-bone tender, spiced very similar to Jamaican jerk and served with the Belizean staple rice and beans. For real guys, if you’re going to be on San Pedro, do not miss out on El Fogon.
From lunch we went back to the art gallery from the previous day’s wandering, where I bought a painting of an indigenous woman painted by a local Mayan artist. One thing I love to do on big vacations is buy art if I can find something I really like. It’s a great way to bring home something that will last a lifetime and that you can frequently look back at with fond memories. Also, t-shirts and shot glasses just aren’t as special.
And of course, no beach vacation is complete without visiting the local ice cream shop (in this case DandE’s Frozen Custard & Sorbet), which we finally made it to on our last afternoon. That’s a coconut custard cone and a look of pure joy on my face. I also may have finished Steve’s caye lime sorbet as well.
Save for some packing and pizza delivery, that pretty much wraps up my New Year’s Eve trip to Belize.
Ambergris Caye was a beautiful island full of friendly people and with some of the best snorkeling and diving (so I hear) in the world. For those who are familiar with vacations to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Belize feels quite a bit more exotic, less touristy, and a little farther from home. The culture is unique, yet it’s easy to get around because everybody speaks English. There was never a time when I felt threatened or unsafe, as is the case with many other Central American travel destinations. We crossed paths with several families, though I would recommend Belize as a destination for families with older kids as the island didn’t have much to do for young children. Since there was often a certain level of disorganization to things, I can only imagine the stress that it would add to be accompanied by little, high-maintenance people.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you so much for reading about my vacation! I hope you found some of the information useful. If you’re planning (or considering) planning a trip to Belize and have questions, feel free to email me at butterlustblog[at]gmail[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you!