I hope someone out there gets this Rick James/Dave Chappell reference. Anyway… enough about how I can’t tell a joke….
After our not-so-stellar border crossing into Belize, we were officially starving and needed a beer (or six). We headed to Corozal, to make the trip towards Sarteneja. From what we read, you can cross by hand crank ferry and just “follow the signs” to Sarteneja. In Mexico, signage was awesome. If you got lost going to a city, you just stopped paying attention (or didn’t have your handy dandy Guia Roji map). In Belize, have fun finding a speed limit sign (and then determining whether its in KM/Hr or MPH), let alone directional signs to other towns. So… lap one, we missed Corozol (we were expecting a bit more…. At least a SIGN), but found beer and some snacks a little ways down the road. Food craving temporarily sated, we turned around to return to Corozal. In town, we located an ATM (necessary since there is reportedly no ATM in Sarteneja – but we located a bank in town though we never checked out the ATM), and a slightly larger bodega store for some supplies. No fruit or veggie stands while we were there, but another couple who came the following day found them. When traveling through Corozal you need to turn off the main highway (as soon as you see buildings located closer together, you’re there) to locate anything, otherwise you’ll drive right past it like we did. After securing a few provisions (rum, juice and some more beer – you know, the important stuff) and some cash, we asked the security guy at the bank how to get to Sarteneja via the ferries… he said there was a big sign just past town and you turn left. Can’t miss it. Oh, yeah? Well, yes you can, since the sign only faces south, and is so faded you need to practically stop to read it, you can miss it. Lap two, turned around and spotted said faded sign, and turned right. Note: if heading south, there are signs for Progresso Grove (or Shores, or something like that) that point you in the right direction. After that, look for little car ferry signs like this:
There are two ferries on the road to Sarteneja. After those two crossings you just go straight. No getting lost unless you try really, really hard at this point. As soon as you leave Corozal and turn towards Sarteneja the roads are all dirt. If you are not on a dirt road you are going the wrong (or long – through Orange Walk) way.
After riding on the hand crank ferries and bouncing along the dirt road, we came across a disabled vehicle. They needed a jump. We tried the jump box (easily accessible behind my seat) but that didn’t cut it. So, since we were already committed to helping, we had to unload the back rack (second time that day – hooray!) and open the back door to pull out the spare, and retrieve the jumper cables in the rim. After the jump was completed, we repacked the back and the bag, but decided to keep the cables in a more accessible locale. We’ve used them twice or three times already (for other people) and this unpacking and re-packing thing was just getting old.
We also spotted a few dead snakes along the way – one we determined was a rattle snake common in the area. They all have their heads removed and buried by whoever is lucky enough to kill them, to make sure the venom doesn’t accidentally hurt anyone, because apparently the darn things keep biting for like an hour – GROSS!
In Sarteneja there are a few places to stay – guesthouses mostly – along the water. Other than that there is Backpackers Paradise, just as you enter town. So first impression: Buggy, muddy, overgrown, unfriendly and just plain disappointing. Everyone who had come before us said so many good things, perhaps we built it up in our minds but seriously, when the owners dogs pee on your tent annex twice before bed and once (at least) after, we’re allowed to be annoyed as hell. And of course, in addition to the bugginess associated with general jungly-ness, we had frequent (daily, sometimes twice or three times a day) rain showers while we were there, adding to the muckiness for those nasty bugs to procreate in. We arrived just before sundown the first day, so we decided to use the kitchen for some dinner (sparse kitchen – no sponge no dish soap and hardly and cooking or serving supplies) then hit the hay. And, of course we had to rinse the tent annex and wheels of the Jeep off a few times between arrival and bedtime, so that was fun.
The next day (after re-rinsing the tent) we decided to head to town to check it out, and pick up some cold beverages. The “Paradise” does offer drinking water for $1BZD per liter refill, but it’s warm. We took the dogs with us and were super surprised when we arrived at the pristine water that surrounded the village. Sarteneja is a fishing village, and most fishing villages we had been to didn’t have much for beach access (too many piers and the water near shore was usually gross with fish stuff and sometimes garbage) so this was a huge bonus. The day was super hot, so we headed back, got the dogs situated in the much cooler annex, changed into our suits and hit one of the local piers. Sandy bottom and so shallow for way far out it was the perfect place to swim for a person with a fear of stepping on something squishy (who? me?). The bikes for rent there are a nice treat too – at $5BZD for half a day it’s a bargain! We decided to stick it out for a total of three nights, and did one more day exploring the Shipstern nature preserve, and down at the water, just taking in the sun.
We tried to find placed to stay on one of the Cayes that allowed dogs, but had no such luck while we were in Sarteneja, so we decided a different route. There was an advertisement for the Funky Dodo in Hopkins Village, so we contacted the owner about bringing the dogs, and booked three nights there instead. We asked what there was to do around there from someone who had been before and the response was “Drumming, and drinking, and drumming…..” so we figured three days was plenty.
Overall, even after three nights at Backpackers, we never met the “super friendly” owners we heard so much about (saw Ed wandering around but he was always coming or going, but Natalie was MIA while we were there), were never made aware of the hot water system (WTF I could have taken a HOT shower?!?!) or about the tangerine trees we could pick from that were on the back of the property (I overheard these things when we were packing to leave). We did however, enjoy the common room (super plus with the mosquito netting, hammocks, and WIFI), the restaurant up front (convenient and the Lionfish is delicious) and the refreshing waters of the town. Out of 10 – solid 6 – could have been an 8 if i knew about the hot water though. I love hot water.
While there we met Josh and Kathi from Birds of Passage and had fun learning about all the birds we’ve seen so far, and hearing about the parts of Mexico we missed (they looped it like 3 times – we missed A LOT compared to them). We also learned we needed nylon pants. Bugs can’t bite through nylon pants – this is amazing information for me – care package anyone?
After Sarteneja we were headed south and inland – to visit the ruins of Altun Ha. We stayed at the Mayan Wells campsite, and would recommend it except for the bugs, specifically the doctor flies. Those suckers would not give two shits if you are wearing a 200% Deet body suit, and then proceeded to slather yourself in baby oil (the killer of sand flies everywhere). Though, I’m sure if we had some nylon pants and shirts we would have been OK. They bite, and you bleed, and then you swell and itch for 3-4 days. I think my right upper arm looked about twice the size from the dozen or so bites I received on that side. Mike, lucky guy that he is, looked like he had cankles from all his bites on his lower legs and feet.
There isn’t much at Mayan Wells – the restaurant is closed and so is the butterfly house. The howler monkey is still there and she eats right out of your hand. I felt a little bad for her though, she seemed awful lonely. They have bathrooms with cold showers and a picnic area they let us use as our temporary kitchen. We only stayed two nights, but if we had an earlier start from Sarteneja, we could have made it there, to the ruins, and then out the next day. Altun Ha was cool, since it was pretty empty, but avoid the vendor stalls – some lady tried to sell us a wrinkled $2 BZD and some coins in a plastic sleeve for $5 US. Ummm…. ripoff anyone?
Also, avoid the pond. It’s a muddy walk to no where and doctor fly/mosquito heaven.
See, now you’ve seen the pond and you don’t have to subject yourself to the same torture we did.
While at Altun Ha we spent the first night at the bar next door to Mayan Wells. It was called Maya Crystal Skull and looked more like a shack than a bar, but they had cold beer and food so we were all for it. We had already polished off a fair amount of rum that day, and a few more beers were probably not the best idea, but we had a good time, meeting some locals, drinking some beer, and having the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Mike, since he drank way more rum than I did, got to taste his twice. We finished off the night by hopping the fence and breaking back into our camp (thanks guys, I always liked a good B&E). The owner of Crystal Skull, a woman who’s name I’ve forgotten (damn you Belizean Rum!) had big plans to put in a more permanent bar/restaurant out front of where we were currently, and some cabanas in the back, as well as an area for camping. She’s got the space and if she continues making that chicken I’ll stop by there in a few years to see what’s what. Aside from that place, there was a bar/restaurant near the ruins and some really small convenience shops along the road. Not much at all to do around there.
After packing up our wet tent (because, of course it rained the last night), we hit the road and headed towards Hopkins Village. There are a ton of places to camp down the Hummingbird Highway (probably tent camping, FYI RVers) and a bunch of national parks. We hoped to hit everything we missed on our way back towards San Ignacio, but for now we were Hopkins bound, ready to find out what this Garifuna village had to offer.