We headed out on the Fourth of July through much less traffic than would be normal Stateside (Belize celebrates their Independence Day in September) – but to a much bigger police presence than we’ve ever seen. There were traffic checkpoints all along the Northern Highway, with a questioning cop on the driver’s side and a usually stern-looking partner with a machine gun on the passenger side – – which made me wonder: If Ray drove through, would they shoot me first?! Ha ha. Actually one of the guys with the machine gun looked friendly enough that I offered him my open bag of Cheetos, which got him to crack a smile (he shook his head, patting his slight paunch) before we were waved on.
On a previous road trip, we were already passing the Belize Central Prison in Hattieville when I noticed a sign that said “Gift Shop” which we thought at the time was funny. I read later in one of the guidebooks that it’s actually a pretty good place to buy handmade items, so this time we pulled in.
Not surprisingly, the shop didn’t have much in the way of ambiance – it was just a concrete room alongside the visitor check-in. An inmate in an orange jumpsuit (watched by some guards) showed us what they had to offer – some of the usual tourist items (zericote wood sculpture, Mayan weave purses and backpacks, carved wooden bowls) and also some really excellent furniture. We seriously considered buying two hand-painted beach chairs, but decided we don’t really want to collect things we may or may not be able to bring back home with us (and now we know where they are if we change our minds).
We’d traveled this stretch of the Western Highway before on the way to Stann Creek district; it’s mostly marshy savannah, the Central Belize Wildlife Corridor, and not particularly scenic. At Belmopan, though, we turned west into new territory for us. Almost immediately, the geography began to shift to hills and the air got noticeably cooler.
We arrived in Santa Elena (San Ignacio’s “twin town” on one side of the Macal River) and saw a sign that said Hode’s Place /Cold Beer was 333 steps this way – strategic marketing for tired travelers, as that sounded just about as far as we wanted to continue in the truck at the moment. We had lunch and refreshments and took advantage of their free Wifi to scout out a few hotel possibilities in San Ignacio.
Not sure this picture gives it proper scale, but there was a HUGE tree in front of Hode’s patio bar.
We decided to stay at Martha’s Guesthouse, smack in the middle of town; as isolated as we typically are in either of the places we’re house-sitting, a bit of “big city” sounded fun for a few days.
We got the open-air suite at the top of the inn, and it was HEAVEN. We could leave all the windows and doors open, with a constant cool breeze coming through (and fans) and no mosquitos or yellow flies – such a nice respite from the heat and bugs we’ve gotten used to in the Corozal area.
The balcony was almost as big as the entire yellow house at the Cerros property.
And the views were spectacular. It reminded us of Naples, or somewhere Mediterranean, with the houses clustered in the hills nearby and all the tile roofs. Church bells ringing and voices drifting up from the street…
Ah! What a perfect base camp for the next three days…