Hopkins: Belize’s Best Kept Secret

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Hopkins is that smaller dot just below Dangriga.

When you go to Hopkins, you might have someone ask you if you liked your stay. Most responses would be a resounding “Yes!” This person would then say, “Good. Now don’t tell anyone, or you’ll ruin it.”

So, I’m breaking all the rules here and telling you all about Hopkins, but really, only a handful of people will ever actually read this, so I’m not all that worried. But those of you that do read this… SHHHH!!!

The drive from Altun Ha to Hopkins was fairly short, but then all drives in Belize are… you can get from Hopkins to the Mexican border in under 4 hours, or to the Guatemalan border in just over 2… the country is about the size of Massachusetts. As long as your routes are mostly highway, you’ll get there in a jiffy. The highways were meh, but better than dirt, and the scenery was fantastic. We hit a grocery store and ATM in Belmopan since we had no idea what kind of facilities we would find in Hopkins, and followed the winding Hummingbird Highway down to the southern coast. You could also take the coastal road. This is all dirt and takes a lot longer, but if you’re up for it (and have a suspension that can handle it) go for it.

The whole, “if anything can go wrong…” theme of this trip was already pretty old at this point, but let’s add to it again. Arrival in Hopkins: Check – pretty smooth sailing actually. Finding the Funky Dodo (where we booked lodging for 3 nights): Check – it’s the only Hostel and there are signs everywhere.

The Dodo... it's pretty Funky.
The Dodo… it’s pretty Funky.

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Finding someone who works at the Dodo was a little harder and took a few minutes. Gio, the manager informed us our room was not available, and that we had been sent an email the night before letting us know our booking was cancelled. Well, isn’t that just shitty (Also, after checking several times no such email was ever sent and our booking fee on hostel world is still on our credit card)?  We were in Altun ha with no email for two days and this is the luck we have. Even after corresponding with the owner via email, and confirming there was availability and we could bring our dogs, “Hostel World” overbooked them, and now we had no room. Turns out, this is a fairly common occurrence at the Dodo, and even worse during high season (Nov – Jan), even though we were told otherwise. The policy at the Dodo is that if you want to stay, you can. Even if there is a booking. Which is great for the person staying, but shitty for anyone arriving expecting a room or dorm bed. I usually have a backup plan now (especially after the 7 P’s incidents), but with email confirmations I thought we were set. There was literally NOTHING else available, and it was pouring (PERFECT!) so camping was looking even less appealing. There was a suite under construction with some friends of the owners staying there, but had an available bunk. If it was OK with us, and the people staying, we had a bed for the night at no charge (I would consider that un-refunded amount from Hostel World our payment for the night anyway). We spent that day taking the dogs to and from the car for walks and food/drink and spent an uncomfortable night on a twin mattress together (with the dogs too) – with so many rooms/beds overbooked we felt bad taking two beds and offered the top bunk to another person who had nowhere else to go.

Strangely enough, one of the friends staying in the suite was Natalie (owner of Backpacker’s in Sarteneja) – so the mystery of the missing owner was solved.

In Hopkins, there are several very well stocked grocery stores and an ATM was put in about a year ago. So, unless you need something specific, there is really no need to leave town.

And guess who we saw while in town – Josh and Kathi from Birds of Passage! They were planning to stay at Cockscomb and do some birding for a few days before trying to get into Crooked Tree (roads were completely flooded while we were there).

After waking early, we lazed around waiting for our room to be available. With the heat it was impossible to leave the dogs in the car for any length of time, and we couldn’t leave them in the suite since we were sharing… so we were all stuck together. At around 11 we were told “soon” and to me that means within an hour or two. Well “soon” in Belize means a lot longer and it wasn’t until nearly 3 pm we finally got our room. We wanted to hike that day, and decided to try and give it a shot. We had plenty of time until sunset to get in a quick hike. We sped out to Mayflower Park (Bocawina Falls), only to find it cost 10 BZD to enter and the park closed at 4:30. It was already 4 pm… day 2 in Hopkins wasted. So, to compensate, we got wasted too. That was the first of too many nights in Hopkins drinking too much rum and juice. The stuff goes down like just juice after a while….

Day 3 Hopkins, we woke late (damn you Rum!), but made it to Bocawina eventually. We spotted a Gray Fox on the road in, which was pretty cool. The park was a mud fest from the previous few days of rain, and hiking in our merrills was a slippery affair. We made it to the top of Antelope Falls though, without incident (I only slipped and fell once on my way down – I call that a win). The hike itself is pretty intense, especially after some rain. There are ropes available for climbing some of the riskier parts. Please use them.

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Someone was enjoying himself.
Someone was enjoying himself.

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Spotted this guy early on in the hike… we think it was an Indigo Snake.

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Ropes: for the accident prone among us.

Schwetty.
Schwetty.

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Stairs… lots and lots of stairs….

After a cold swim, some cool lookout points and some creeptastic ants, we decided to head to another one of the falls in the park. The way to Bocawina falls is a muddy messy, watery, “road” to the back trails. Of course Mike kicked it into 4WD and took the Jeep mudding… because that’s what it was made for. The racks on the other hand were not, and we ended up bending our license plate up a bit.

The road to the falls... Hold on tight!
The road to the falls… Hold on tight!

On the trail it was way buggier than the Antelope Falls trail, but we spotted a Gibnut (we think – also called a Paca) and the walk was actually really easy to the falls. Bocawina Falls was not nearly as nice (for swimming or looking at) as Antelope Falls, but still, it’s a waterfall which is cool and you can sort of wade around if you want to. If you do go to the park and can only go to one trail (or don’t have transportation to take you to the back trails) definitely do Antelope Falls (trailhead is right near the visitor’s center).

Gibut. We think. Look down the trail on the right. Its brown and tan and about 10 inches tall.
Gibut. We think. Look down the trail on the right. Its brown and tan and about 10 inches tall.

photo(65)This is suspiciously clean looking… it didn’t last.

Bocawina Falls Park
Mayflower/Bocawina Falls Park

So, back at the Dodo (or Doo Doo to the locals – if you stay there you get it. Sometimes it STINKS – the sink drainage goes right behind some buildings – yuck!), we spent the afternoon lazing around, walking Hopkins and eating. And, ok there might have been more rum.

We did some more hiking the next day at Cockscomb Basin. There was a tubing/hiking combo so we didn’t take any pictures. After settling into the river I freaked out (just a teensy bit) realizing I hadn’t thought about the possibility of alligators/crocodiles/other dangerous creatures that could be lurking in the water. Relaxing tube ride it was not. From there the short hike to the falls was ok, but beyond there was an overlook with (1) no bugs and (2) no people – sometimes these parks get crowded, so that was a bonus. There are a bunch of hikes to take in Cockscomb, including a 4 day Victoria Peak hike, which we could not do with the dogs (even if they were both in perfect health, no dogs allowed in the park). We hoped to return the following day to do the Outlier trail – a 14 km hike – to the first lookout of the Victoria Peak trail.

Trail listing you can view on the Cockscomb Basin Website.
Trail listing you can view on the Cockscomb Basin Website.
This was actually after... and I still had all my limbs!
This was actually after… and I still had all my limbs!
We didn't actually see any, but Josh and Kathi saw some prints on the trail!
We didn’t actually see any, but Josh and Kathi saw some prints on the trail! Also, is it me or dies that look suspiciously like the Lyger (or was it a Tigon?) Napoleon drew…. all it needs is wings.

Returning to the Dodo we had a surprise. No power in the room. The suite that was under construction was causing issues in the electrical in other buildings/rooms so they were trying to sort that out. So, possibly while we were gone, the poor dogs were in the room with no fan. Not OK. We spent that afternoon and several other days keeping the dogs as cool as possible around town (usually at the beach) when there were Dodo, or village-wide outage (happened about 4-5 times for 2-12 hours).

In case I never mentioned this before, Barley had been acting poorly and not eating properly for almost three weeks at this point. In Merida we thought it was a combination of too long in the car and maybe eating something he shouldn’t have while we weren’t looking. Boiled rice seemed to get him back on track, except he didn’t want to eat his food. In Pie de la Cuesta (outside Chichen Itza) he started eating sort of normally again. By the time we got to Bacalar it was past the point we could try to help (not eating and starting to shake uncontrollably) and we had to go to the vet. He gave us some amoxicillin and some puppy pepto and some puppy liquid pain meds, along with special gastrointestinal food. About 1200 pesos ($90 ish US). He ate the food (yay!) and showed some improvement while on the meds. Once the medicine was gone (a few days after arriving in Belize), however, he started deteriorating, rapidly. He stopped eating entirely (wet food, dry food, rice, etc. – the only thing we could get him to eat were treats), and he appeared to have lost a lot of weight. His weight was 36 lbs when we started the trip. He was about 32 lbs when we took him to the vet in Hopkins. Thankfully, Hopkins has an amazing Humane Society that operates using volunteers and donations (open Wednesdays 1-3pm and Saturdays/Sundays for neutering/spaying). There is a trained local who treats the animals but he’s not a vet and cannot write prescriptions. The day we went there was a vet volunteer who, based on his symptoms and some minor swelling in his spleen (they were out of “snap tests” for tick fever, and could not do blood work) said “Tick Fever” (Erlichia/Anaplasmosis). This was what we were afraid of on the trip, and we were probably kidding ourselves the last few weeks thinking it was something he’d just getover. A couple who did this trip previously with dogs actually had one pet die from the disease. We hoped we caught it in time and headed to Dangriga to fill the prescription. $1 bzd per pill of 100 mil doxycycline – 42 pills total (which is not enough by the way, we found that out later and got more) and a donation of $50 bzd for the exam. ($46 us)

A few days of this and we still saw no improvement. He was eating less, and then he stopped drinking. The vet in Hopkins couldn’t do anything more for us, so we headed to Belmopan. Dr. Baptist came back from his house calls to check Barley out. He said he also suspected Tick Fever, but was out of snap tests as well. The only other place to go was Belize City and the Animal Medical Centre. The vet there was skeptical about it being Tick Fever, but he weighed him (now down to 28 lbs and looking skeletal) examined them, and took the blood (they were also out of snap tests – what the frig people?!) to test for signs of the disease. He also tried to give Barley some fluids intravenously but he fidgeted too much. Driving around that day cost us a tank of gas ($200 bzd) vet fees ($240 bzd) and some of my sanity. Two days later we got the results – Peanut was clean, and Barley had the bug (or bugs – Tick Fever can present with more than one bacteria). Thankfully, that was on a Wednesday, so we went back to the Humane Society for more fluids for Barley, and to see about getting another prescription (recommended dosage is for 6-8 weeks and retest after 3 months). Joseph, the trained local, gave Barley fluids subcutaneously (he had a big bubble on his back) and we got a bigger syringe (no needle – we had one from the Mexican vet for his other meds) to pump some water into him until he started drinking by himself.  He also got a nice B12 injection and that afternoon he drank and ate significantly more than he had the previous days, which helped his stomach when we had to give him the doxy. Since he is not a licensed vet he couldn’t write us a prescription, but when could come back on Saturday and Dr. Baptist would be volunteering and could write our prescription. Another $50 bzd donation and another $42 bzd for the pills – tablets this time, from Belmopan. Dangriga only had capsules that were upsetting Barley’s stomach worse. So total this cost us about $400 usd.

Update: It has been about 2.5 weeks since we started Barley on his doxy regime and he is just about back to his old self. Now we just have to fatten him back up again.

During this time of running around, cooking up rice, changing wet foods to get him to eat and generally worrying ourselves silly over Barley’s health, we did manage to enjoy more of Hopkins.

There was volleyball down at Driftwood Pizza.

Volley ball star I am not - but I enjoy losing almost as much as winning.
Volley ball star I am not – but I enjoy losing almost as much as winning.

Swimming in the shallow sandy waters of the Carribean.

The beach. It's small, but it's pretty.
The beach. It’s small, but it’s pretty.

Walking Hopkins and eating local cuisines.

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See that sign for Tina’s? Eat there. Daily.

And we also did a night tour on the Sittee River where we saw crocodiles and cruised the bio-luminescent lagoon, and of course, more rum. Like, a ridiculous amount of rum. My liver is still recovering.

We went from 3 days in Hopkins to 7, to 10, to a full two weeks. During this time we fell in love with the area and started entertaining the idea of buying in Belize. There are some issues with a foreigner buying in Belize, but mostly that has to do with knowing your seller and the rules. Our advice would be to deal with an agent. Yeah, you can probably get a better deal without one, but with an agent you know the rules are being followed and you’ll get a clean title on your property. Peace of mind does cost money.

Ultimately, after going back and forth, and deciding to walk away only to be pulled back in, we got our little piece of paradise in Hopkins Village.

Our piece of paradise... just a short walk to the beach!
Our piece of paradise… just a short walk to the beach!

This cost us our trip money. We will be officially broke in 2 months when the contract closes. So, with our money spent, and a sick dog on our hands, we decided the best idea was to head home… but not without a few more stops along the way.

The "new" Mike

This guy paid us a visit in our room one morning... EEK!
This guy paid us a visit in our room one morning… EEK!
Baby croc on the side of the road... see that shit everyday.
Baby croc on the side of the road… see that shit everyday. Ok really it was just the once, but apparently its fairly common.
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4 thoughts on “Hopkins: Belize’s Best Kept Secret”

  1. Well, I guess it’s no longer a secret since it’s the title of your blog post :p HURRY UP AND GET HERE!!!!!

  2. Liger.
    “It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed… bred for its skills in magic.”

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