Belize is my last new country on this trip, so this is my final ‘everyday sights’ for a while. But, check out what makes El Salvador a little bit different to Honduras and what differentiates Guatemala from Mexico.
The beer of Belize fills every fridge in every supermarket and graces most store and restaurant signs. El Presidente claims to be the beer of the Caribbean but Belikin is definitely the beer of Belize (it’s Mayan for ‘route to the east’). It comes in four types – regular, light, stout and a rather nice seasonal sorrell stout. I got into the very naughty habit (I’m on holiday!) of buying a couple for the beach each day.
Marie Sharps hot sauces grace every restaurant table in Belize. You can even buy a giftpack of sauces from pretty much every supermarket to take home with you (there might well be one or two hidden in the depths of my backpack as I type this). Marie started experimenting with natural ingredients in 1980 (the year of my birth!) and now produces ten hot sauces, from mild to ‘beware, comatose heat level’. The habanero chillies are locally grown and factory tours are available too.
Unlike the other Central American countries I visited on this trip, Belize actually enjoys its beaches with 240 miles of coastline on offer. The Caribbean vibe is alive and well, with several beach towns and plenty of cayes to discover. Some are even affordable. Boats are used like taxis to hop from one shoreline to another and there’s plenty of snorkeling, diving and fishing trips to choose from – it’s home to the world’s second largest barrier reef after all.
Oh my, how to describe fry jacks? A heart attack waiting to happen? Heaven on a plate?! It’s essentially fried bread, which in a restaurant is a side to your cooked brekkie, but head to a food shack and the fry jack becomes the wrapping around any combination of chicken, ham, cheese, beans, eggs… whatever’s on offer.
Johnny cakes are the other typical Belize breakfast offering – a sort of light buttery scone, generally with ham and cheese or chicken inside.
There’s coconut water in plastic bags from the man on the bus, cans of coconut milk lining the aisles of shops, coconut powder in sachets, delicious seafood dishes made from coconut. .. and don’t forget to look up before you choose which palm tree to fall asleep under on the beach.
My second favourite meal in Belize (after my gigantic lobster burrito on Ambergris caye) was darasa with stew fish at a beachside shack in Hopkins. Darasa are delicious green banana tamales made with coconut milk, a traditional Garifuna snack. I found a recipe here. If you make them at home don’t to forget to invite me!
Unless you have your own car, and it’d better have high clearance for all those dirt tracks, it’s hard to experience much in Belize without doing day tours. From snorkeling to caving, Mayan ruins to birding, chocolate making to Mennonite communities, there’s a tour for everything. Next time I’d definitely consider hiring a motorbike (or car) for a week to explore the national parks on my own and some of the remoter areas.
One of my favourite things in Belize is getting on a bus secure in the knowledge that at least once during my journey someone will hop on offering dried banana slices for sale. Just to clarify – not banana chips, Belize prefers its bananas sliced lengthways! They are surprisingly delicious, especially the salted ones with a squirt of hot sauce from an old coke bottle that the vendor carries in his basket. Or, jump off the bus at the bus station, run inside and guaranteed a kiosk will be selling giant slices of fresh banana cake or banana muffins. Don’t forget to get back to the bus before it leaves again though!
As I travelled the country from north to south, I started by admiring all the sugarcane fields and trucks of cut cane queuing to enter the factory on their allocated processing day, but the bottom half of the country is orange country. Groves and groves of oranges. Citrus production (Valencia oranges and grapefruit) is the most significant agro industry in Belize employing over 10,000 workers and involves everything from planting and growing to canning to selling. FYI, it’s six oranges for a dollar. That’s 50 British pence!
After the abundance of street food in Mexico, with food carts on every corner, Belize can initially feel like a bit of a let down. Until you learn about food shacks. That closed up unidentified but gaily painted shack seemingly in someone’s garden – that’s a food shack. Not open now, but guaranteed it will be for either breakfast and lunch or just for dinner.
Without menus or signs giving any indication of what’s going to be cooking, I turned to ‘cheap eats’ on TripAdvisor to see what was recommended in town, then trailed around the streets at the appropriate meal time trying to track down Johnny’s – ‘there’s no sign but it’s right by the bus shelter and opposite the pink house’. Sometimes it’s takeaway only, sometimes there’s a plastic chair or two outside. My best find was in Hopkins, where Tinas had a small thatched cabana with four tables and offered fresh fish dishes.
God loves Belize is a pretty common sign found in towns, along highways and outside properties in Belize. I lost count of how many Ten Commandment banners I saw, listing the commandments in full and at most bus stations or village bus stops I passed through there would be two church ladies with their wheelie display of bible stories and pamphlets.
And a bonus number 11 – wildlife and bugs
Seriously, so many bugs! Ants, flies, spiders, mosquitoes, all three times the size of anywhere else. It’s bad enough being constantly hot and sweaty in the humid jungle environment, but having to bat away giant horseflies and deal with a spider bigger than my palm on the back of the bathroom door (right by the door handle!!) got a bit much. Then there was the day a rather large tarantula wandered past my bare feet…