“Let’s start the weekend off right” said Staci and I as we prepared for an exciting and culturally diverse weekend in the small village of Hopkins, Belize. Three days later Staci and I smelled like sweat, wet dog and fried foods. And yes, we looked just as bad as you’re imagining right now: tired, partially dehydrated and appearing that we each lost at least 10% body weight. By the end of our three-day weekend we had ten dollars to our name, a bottle of water and half a pack of cookies. How we got to that point took only 3 short days and several crazy adventures in a country we have barely called home for a month.
What went down:
Every year on Nov.19th throughout Belize Garifuna Settlement Day is celebrated. It’s a day that recognizes the arrival of the Garifuna people from Africa to the coast of Belize. As one Dallas expat known around Hopkins as “Glass” so eloquently put it, “Garifuna day is a day where the [Garifuna] people celebrate arriving in Belize and killing their [white] slave masters”. Thank you, Glass. (If you want a more substantial history, visit National Garifuna Council)
While in Placencia we learned about Garifuna Settlement Day and wanted to celebrate with the people of Belize. We were told the village of Hopkins was the place to be in order to partake in the best, most authentic celebrations since they have a large Garifuna population. Staci and I had also planned on going to the area to do Belize’s longest zipline run through Bocawina Adventures just outside of Hopkins so being there during the celebration just made sense.
On Saturday, we packed up our bags, asked our Placencia neighbor to watch our cabana and hit the road on what was sure to be an easy, fun exploration. Together Staci and I hopped on a bus heading to Dangriga, Belize which stopped by Hopkins. The bus ride was $6 Belize dollars for each of us and lasted a little longer than an hour. We traveled the country side and saw many sites we were unable to see on our first ride into Placencia. The bus was an old school bus, but the seats were comfortable enough and there was a nice breeze from the windows.
Seems easy so far, right? Staci and I were not sure exactly where our stop was, but the bus driver gladly let us know when we needed to get off the bus. That’s when the word easy stopped being a part of my vocabulary when traveling in Belize.
The bus stopped at the intersection of a slightly paved highway road and a country dirt road straight out of rural Kansas. Once we were off the bus, the easy weekend pretty much ended. We stood around confused because there were no signs telling us how to get to Hopkins from this nondescript intersection. Thankfully, we were not alone.
Standing there with us was a local family, two European backpackers, a few local women, a Spanish-speaking lady and a Rastafarian. (Like an actual Rasta man). We were preparing to ask one of the local women how we actually get to Hopkins since everyone was just around more than confused 6th grad boys at a middle school dance, but the two backpackers beat us to it. After the backpackers’ talked with a local woman who got off the bus with us, Staci then asked the backpackers what the woman’s answer was for how to get into town. The backpackers said that Hopkins was about 3.5 miles away and the next bus didn’t come for another 2 and a half hours, but that most locals just hitchhiked the rest of the way into town. Huh?
Hitchhike! At this point, it should be noted I have never hitchhiked or picked up a hitchhiker because I always think of the Hollywood movies where someone is destroyed by a chainsaw or machete, and there are a lot of machetes in Belize! Astounded by the concept of hitchhiking, we stood back waiting to see how the process of getting a ride actually worked. For the first ten minutes or so car after car passed by the group of twenty or so people looking for a ride south, but no one was picked up. After waiting a few more minutes and seeing no one picked up I was prepared to do like the backpackers did 5 minutes after we got off the bus and walk the three and a half miles to our destination. Heck, I could smell the beach from where I was, so why no start the trek?
One of the local women, amused by two ill-prepared Americans preparing to walk three miles in the sun at 1:00pm in the afternoon, could not help but laugh under her breath. She advised us to not walk, but stay and wait on a ride, so we stood back at the covered bus stop watching as one set of hitch hikers followed by another set of people would stuff into any car that was willing to stop and help a fellow human.
After getting the hang of how it was done, we finally prepared ourselves to hitch a ride. I stepped up to the road and put my thump in the air, prepared to do what had to be done instead of waiting three hours for a bus. You’d be surprised at how tiring hitchhiking in the hot Belizean sun can be; I quickly got tired and retired back to the sitting post. As luck would have it though, a few minutes later a red two door pick up truck pulled up to the side of the road graciously willing to accept as many passengers as it could fit.The family of six or seven immediately recognizing the convenience of the truck’s size hopped in the back followed by the lady that gave us the advice along with her son and then the Rasta man. Under normal circumstances you would imagine it was impossible to fit that many people in the back of a truck along with two used tires and a bed frame, but Staci and I were determined to get to wherever the truck was going so we squeezed ourselves in. Throwing our book bag and purse into the truck, we flung ourselves over the top of the truck’s bed frame and tightly fitted into our four-wheeled savior.
The ride was bumpy, dusty and felt longer than it really was, but we were glad to be headed to Hopkins. It took about 20 or 30 minutes total after getting off the bus to catch a ride and then another 20 minutes to get into the village. After hopping off the truck and paying the driver $2 for his trouble, we stood in the middle of town wondering how the heck we get to our hotel which was not listed on any map, nor were there any signs in sight of how to get to the hotel.
Oh no, we finally got to Hopkins, but now we have no place to stay for the night…
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