Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Hopkins...aka my favourite place in Belize so far

Let me start by saying that I love Belize. I don't just quite like it, I love this country in a way I never expected to. Not because I expected to dislike it, but it really has been one of the highlights of my time in Central America. One town however I've loved above all others, and that was Hopkins.

I love Hopkins. I love the village, the people, the food, the social life...everything. A sign at the hostel there said something along the lines of 'it's not perfect but it's paradise'. I'd say that sums it up pretty damn well.

A little over a week ago (I think?) after spending a couple of nights in sleepy Dangriga, we were having our perpetual breakfast discussion about where to go next and the options were to either head north to the Cayes or to make a quick diversion for a night in Hopkins, a small Garifuna fishing village to the south. To be honest we didn't really know why we felt like we should go there, especially after reading the wikitravel page for the place...go look it up and see what I mean...but a few people we'd met had said it was worth a nights stay so we decided to give it a try.


There are two buses each day in and out of Hopkins, one leaving Dangriga at 10.30am and another in the afternoon. In Dangriga we'd met a guy from Quebec, Max, and he'd decided to come to Hopkins too, only he suggested that walking might be a more interesting way to get there rather than getting the bus and then sitting around all day. Sharen wasn't keen and opted for the bus, but I like a challenge so I said I'd join him. On asking around, local opinion was that we were crazy, but if we insisted to it was 'about 8 miles' and that we shouldn't try and walk along the coast because there were at least five rivers to cross and we might encounter crocodiles. Probably not that wise, especially carrying backpacks!


So we walked, and it rained, and we walked some more and a few hours later we finally reached the junction with the southern highway only to find a sign that said the hostel we were heading for was still 15 miles ahead! At that point with a few blisters and a realisation that we probably wouldn't make it there before nightfall we decided that a few beers in the next bar and then hitching the rest of the way would be a far better option. Three beers and three truck rides later we were there, much to the amusement of the people in the village who were expecting 'those idiots who tried to walk.'


There started my love affair with Hopkins. On arrival we discovered that Sharen had met a local guy on the bus, Tony, whose uncle owned a place that rented kayaks, so the following day we paddled around the mangrove lagoons and out to the sea, swimming and that evening we drank a lot of local beer and rum. In fact I learnt a lot about rum in that place...the difference between one/two/three barrels and why there are parrots and vultures on the bottles.


The hostel wasn't great - no hot water, virtually no electric sockets or lights that worked and it was cold at night, but the people working there more than made up for it. The beaches were beautiful and something that seemed to be a recurring theme there was waking up in a bed full of sand...probably as a result of our many impromptu late night swims or walks home along the beach. They also had the best hostel dog I've ever met, Luna-Tic, on account of her nervous tic. Every day she'd lay in the sun sleeping like she was recovering from a hangover, then as soon as it got dark she was wide awake and raring to go. That dog came everywhere with us...to bars, for dinner, to the beach, everywhere. She was a true party dog and she greeted us all like long lost friends when we returned if we'd somehow managed to leave the place without her.


Every night there was something going on somewhere in the village, whether it was late night pizza at Driftwood, 'ladies night' at a place that reminded me of house parties when I was 16 and played music to match or karaoke in a bar that involved a crazy ride on the back of a pickup with 15 other people across a few fields. One of my lasting memories of the place will always be watching Max sing gangnam style at karaoke to a room full of stunned people who really thought he could speak Korean! Everywhere we went we'd bump into the same people to the point that it felt like you were meeting up with old friends. No-one treated you like a tourist, you felt like you belonged there and that's rare. Food was great too...one night I ended up eating Gibnut/Paca (look it up, it's cute!) because of a mistake with an order and it was very tasty! I also had the best fish and chips I've ever tasted at a little place called Windschief - fresh grouper caught only hours before.


We planned to stay a night...we stayed a week and even then we had to tear ourselves away. It was just one of those places. Leaving felt like we were breaking up our little family. Me, Makou, Sharen and Uncle Patrick. I'm glad we stayed as long as we did, because arriving at Caye Caulker was a huge anticlimax. It was the first time that I'd felt in Belize that anyone was less than sincere when they started a conversation with you. In Caye Caulker you knew that the banter had been used a million times before and that eventually the conversation would come round to money. We got told off by someone for going fishing with kayaks we borrowed from a hostel, but it just came down to the fact we hadn't paid the guy for an organised tour to do so. The only plus point about the place was it's proximity to Hol Chan Marine Reserve where we went snorkelling and saw turtles, nurse sharks, rays and some really beautiful coral reef. I didn't like the place though and I liked Belize City even less. I miss Hopkins and all the people I spent time with there. Sometimes lots of things align to bring good people together and this was a perfect example. I hope all the people that I shared some time with there are enjoying their travels wherever they may be.

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