Of all the cities I spent time in during my stay in Belize the city of Placencia was the least captivating. Despite being located on a long peninsula with a beautiful crescent white sand beach. I’ll admit, that my experience was no doubt colored by what had proceeded it. It’s hard not to be overshadowed by 3 days and 2 nights exploring pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters along the barrier reef. In comparison Placencia’s mangrove groves, sand beach, small cement boardwalk, and smattering of small restaurant-bars and Chinese markets had a lot to compete with.
We arrived in port around 3 or 4PM in the afternoon, said our temporary goodbyes and set off to find accommodation. It was Christmas eve which made us all a little nervous, but eventually ended up being anything but a problem. The town and peninsula is divided into two main thoroughfares. The first is the main road which runs along the inside of the peninsula. The second is a small 4 foot wide winding cement “boardwalk” that runs about a block back from the beach. The two are connected by a series of small sand walking paths that cut across the block or so between them.
Sweating in the humid afternoon sun, I quickly made my way down along the boardwalk inquiring at several hotels along the way. There were two main budget hotels, one of which – Omar’s – had a decidedly ramshackle appearance. After a quick look inside I opted to continue looking, eventually finding a room for $40 BZD a night or about $20 USD. To my surprise the private room I had paid for came with 2 single beds and a double. A fan in the middle of the room and a bathroom with toilet and shower. The shower, like most I’d encountered in Belize lacked hot water. The shower head was a PVC pipe that hung about a foot out of the wall with a nozzle near the tip. The water was a bit bisque but refreshing and a welcome opportunity to wash the saltwater off. I washed up, and struck out for food – ending up at a local restaurant on the main street. The food was sub par, bland and expensive. Unfortunate.
Feeling socialized out after the close quarters I’d been sharing for the last 3 days I headed back to my room, settled in with a book and enjoyed an easy night to myself. Laughing from time to time as small explosions echoed through the walls of the flimsy two story structure my room was in. Fireworks, you see, are a major part of Christmas in Placencia – not only are they a major part, but a major part in celebrations that stretch through the night.
Christmas Day I got a lazy start to the morning. Found internet and let the world know I was ok, and then bumped into a bunch of other members from the Raggamuffin tour. We explored the town, hung out, ate, and generally enjoyed a relaxing day. From what I can tell the majority of Placencia was wiped out in a major hurricane in 2006 or so. Since then a lot of internationals (predominantly Americans and Canadians) have immigrated and purchased property. Rebuilding, opening restaurants and hotels and generally setting the city’s price structure at a level comparable to what you’d find in the US or Canada. The end result? In my opinion a fairly beautiful, highly over rated, expensive tourist trap.
That said, I enjoyed myself – spending time with my friends from the Sailing trip, exploring the island and generally recharging. It was a wonderful opportunity to refresh myself a bit before what ended up being a major push to the north. I ended up splitting off from the others with Steve to grab Christmas dinner at one of the local venues – an overflowing plate with ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and more – a meal that easily made up for the disappointing food I’d run into the night before.
It’s important to note that when I told people about the dates for my trip – the most common reaction was surprise. People found it hard to believe that I was willing to spend Christmas abroad, especially as a solo trip. I have to admit that when I was gearing up for my December 08′ trip to Spain the year previous, I’d harbored a lot of the same concerns. Even as someone who’s not religious and who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, it is a very social time in the U.S. – one where a lot of time is spent with family, friends and a time of the year most of us would prefer not to be alone.
My decision to travel over Christmas two years in a row definitely confused a few friends. I’m VERY close with my parents and brother. To the point where I typically have a daily 20-50 minute phone conversation with my Mother and Father when stateside. I suppose that’s part of what makes these holiday trips more viable for me. I try and live life in a way where I don’t need an excuse to spend time with loved ones, but rather integrate it into my day to day routine. To that end, Christmas just becomes another day with a little extra pomp and hype.
And was I lonely? Not really. I’ll admit, this year’s Christmas paled in comparison to the amazing time I had in Cadiz Spain in 2008. The food wasn’t as good, I was in a private room instead of a fantastic hostel, and I didn’t especially care for the town I was in – but despite that, was I lonely? Not at all. Was I happy and enjoying myself? You better believe it! I spent Christmas with friends, in an amazing part of the world listening to music, sharing stories, and eating good food. It’s an experience I definitely recommend!
The Trip to San Ignacio
The following morning I woke up early, nervous that the bus and water taxi to the mainland would be running on a holiday schedule. My goal? Head inland. Where? Well, to be honest – I hadn’t really gotten that far. I’d heard good things about San Ignacio and knew that I wanted to try and make for Tikal/Flores in Guatemala. I’d also heard good things about Antigua to the south in Guatemala and figured that between the three destinations, I’d be able to find a bus/route that would get me to one of them.
As I waited for the water taxi I met older Canadian couple who were making their way to San Ignacio. We got to talking bus schedules, cities, and towns and still undecided I took a quick look at their Lonely Planet guide. San Ignacio looked good – why not? Besides, this way I had traveling companions.
We caught the water taxi through the mangrove groves to the city of Independence on the mainland. From there we took a quick taxi ride to the bus stop and waited some 5-10 minutes for a bus to Belize’s tiny capital: Belmopan.
The trip started out well, the bus wasn’t overly packed and I found a seat where the seat-back in front of me was broken and collapsed forward without support. This gave me a little extra knee room – a very welcome change of pace on a regional bus. Unfortunately, I underestimated their willingness to use a broken seat and over sell the bus. Some hour or so into the bus ride the bus’s ticket man walked back – pointed at a guy, pointed at the chair, fiddled with it a bit, stood the chair up – which fell back against my knees…and considered that “good enough”. Needless to say the remaining hour of the bus ride to Belmopan was less than enjoyable, especially on the occasions that the man in front of me leaned back, decided to doze off, or adjust in his seat. On the upside, the fabric pattern imprinted into the skin of my knees looked cool.
Glad to be done with the adventure, we disembarked in Belmopan, only to be greeted by a Bus terminal which was completely swamped. The buses were overloaded, and after watching one fill up like a subway car during rushhour the Canadians and I teamed up with a Philippino woman who lived in San Ignacio, a Spaniard and several others to split two taxi cabs to San Ignacio. Eventually we ended up with 8 people split between the two cabs – mostly other travelers. Between us the taxi ride, split as it was, ended up costing us some $15 BZD a piece, which was less than the overflowing bus would have. A brief 15-20 minute ride later we arrived in San Ignacio. Said our good byes and set off to find accommodation.
More on that in my next post – as well as one of the trips greatest adventures! Stay tuned!