San Ignacio – part 2 by Alissa Reid
The bus comes to a complete stop in Santa Elena, the sister city to San Ignacio. They are separated by a wooden bridge large enough for one vehicle to cross suspended above the Macaw River. Between both cities, the population is around 16,000 people. The city looks worn and dirty compared to the countryside. We stop in the middle of the road. People start jumping out the back of the bus and the ticket agent with the gold fillings walks out the front of the bus. We wait. The bus driver honks the horn and everyone comes running, jumping back onto the bus with styrofoam containers filled with BBQ chicken and rice and beans, the Belizean staple food. It smells incredible.
We are then dropped off in the middle of town square, where the local fruit and vegetable markets are held. We are told to jump out the back emergency exit and I hold my breath until a man hands our big back packs down to us with a smile. We made it! As we start to try to close the school bus back door, the bus driver is already driving away, to his final stop at the Guatemalan border.
I hoist my bag up to my shoulders and notice that it is much hotter and much more humid that I had expected. I was actually thinking that this place was mountains and trees, dense and cold, but it is mountainous and hot, as we are still in Belizean jungle. We are immediately accosted by the cab drivers, to which I smile and say, “Maybe, gimmie a second to figure out where I am!” They smile and I start to realize that this area is much more friendly than the Island people I have grown accustomed to over the past year and a half. Steve and I scan the area. It seems there is the market area, and then up the hill the road splits into two and I can see stores up each way and the Belize Bank. Down the hill and past the market seems to be a less populated area. They have many tour operators, so we decide they might be the most helpful people to talk to first. We walk up to one of the tour operators and ask him where Casa Blanca hotel is, a hotel we have found in our guide book and it seems quite charming by the description. He points up the hill, it’s not far. We start walking up the hill while the taxi drivers keep calling to us to take their offer of a ride. We realize it is literally a 2 minute walk. As we walk up the steps to the hotel, I notice an over powering sewage smell and see that beside the sidewalk there is an open sewer. So far I am not happy with our quaint nature adventure. The lady at the hotel comes out to greet us. She is very sweet and takes us through the locked gate and up a staircase to show us the rooms. There is a common area where people are able to cook in a kitchen and a small living room to watch tv or hang out. Steve finds it endearing, I find it weird, with mismatched decorations and the worst selection of books I have ever seen. She takes us down a long corridor, to our room. It is small, with two small beds, a tv and a dresser. Each room has a bathroom with a slated window for ventilation, that goes directly into the hallway. You can hear the people in the common kitchen area from the bathroom. We decide to take the room for the night, and she tells us to get settled and then come down to pay. We change, freshen up, and decide even though the room is $50US, it isn’t that bad and we will survive. I can hear the traffic below. We go downstairs and pay, deciding that we will only pay for one night, and see if we can find something a little better.
The street is filled with cars and people, a strange sidewalk that doesn’t go straight, but cuts off in places to allow the drains to go where they need to go. There are three small buildings across from us. One is called an icecream shop, although there is a line up at the window and people are getting things that don’t look anything like icecream. The place beside it is called Hanna’s restaurant and is also featured in our guide book so we cross the street and go in. The place is fairly bare, except for linen table cloths and some local art for sale on the walls. There is another traveling couple around our age sitting, already enjoying their food. The menu boasts that Hannah’s has its own farm, where they raise their own chickens, beef, and grow all the vegetables. I am eagerly anticipating the food, as living on an Island does not provide the freshest of produce, unfortunately. I am having a difficult time deciding on what to order and the traveling couple suggest the fish fingers and the giagantic quesadilla they cannot even finish half of. Steve orders the quesadilla and I opt for the chicken curry with salad and their own homemade dressing. The food surpassed my every expectation as the freshest, tastiest food I have had in ages.
As the traveling woman appears from the bathroom on their way out, I decide to ask her where they are planning on staying, as they are still carrying their oversized backpacks. She tells me they found a cute little place called Midas, just outside of town with little cottages and a hammock strung up on the veranda. They also serve breakfast. We thank them for the suggestion and they are on their way. While finishing our lunch, we decide that we should explore other places to stay, as our friends Jean and Doug are meeting us the next day to stay for the weekend as well so we start walking in the direction the girl pointed. We decide to walk, as we are exploring the town anyways and aren’t carrying our heavy load anymore. We ask along the way if we are headed in the right direction and are greeted and encouraged by the smiling faces we meet. The small town center is gone from view within a few minutes and we are greeted by a much cleaner, greener area. We walk past a large park and find ourselves at a sort of large outdoor restaurant with gaming area for children. We decide to go and sit for a drink and enjoy the view of the wooded area. Steve asks where Midas hotel is and the waitress points through the trees, she says its right there, and then points to the road we had been walking on and says maybe five minutes and we are there.
We arrive at Midas, and find a small building which serves as the office. There is a young white teenager working. He is very friendly and has a thick Belizean accent. He tells us his name is Michael, that this is his mother’s hotel and he was born in the Cayo District. We ask if he minds showing us a room and we are guided into a wooded area around back with a long winding path through at least a dozen small cottages. He shows us 4 or 5 of the cottages and the different styles and prices and we are confussed but happy, as we like them all. He asks us where we are from and we tell him Canada. He says he has family in Canada that he has wanted to go and visit, in Winnipeg. I laugh and tell him that that is where we are from. What a coincidence! He asks how long we have lived in San Pedro and we tell him we have lived here for one and a half years. He says that that qualifies us for a Belizean discount and we end up with a cute little cottage and airconditioning for $50USD. We tell him we will see him in the morning, as we have already paid at the place downtown and will be staying for three nights. As we are leaving we see the traveling couple from the restaraunt and they are happy we have found the place.
After walking around the very small town square for awhile we decide to go and have a beer or two at the pizza place, as we can’t find anywhere with a patio open. Shortly after, the couple arrives again, so we ask them to sit. There names are Katie and Evan and they are from Iowa, but have great stories about living in New Orleans. We sit for a few hours until it starts to get dark and I suggest we go back to Casa Blanca for a shower and out for supper to the Italian restaurant, that we have also heard good things about. Our friends have decided to go for a night on the town. We say goodbye.
I awake in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of a fridge opening in my ear. I hear the pan go down on the stove top and realize my head is right beside the wall in the kitchen. The sun isn’t up. I hear the tv go on in the common living room and people talking. I look at the clock on the cell phone and laugh. It’s 4:55am. I wonder how happy the guy is that I heard come in at 2:30. Probably not. I decide I couldn’t let it bother me, but then realized that I am smushed up against the wall with Steve on the other side of me in the tiny little bed with a terrible mattress that I almost thought was a water bed the night before with the way it swayed when we got in. We end up awake, showered, and packed up to leave the Casa Blanca hotel by 7:00am. We go over again and again how happy we are that we are moving to Midas cottages. We decide that we should find Evan and Katie and buy them a beer for getting us out of the downtown hotel.
At 9:00am we are already catching a taxi to Midas. We have realized we have missed every tour around and I am feeling a little down and want to find some sort of adventure to do for the day. We think maybe Michael will be able to help us. We arrive and realize to our dismay another person is working. It is another man who looks quite young as well but is of a Spanish or Mayan decent. We explain that Michael has said we could leave our bags at the front desk. He looks at us with a frown and says, “What? Reid? I don’t see you guys in the computer……” then he breaks out into a grin and says, :Just kidding, you can get into your room right now! We were trying to find you a king bed, but if you are ok with 2 doubles…..” We smile and still can’t believe our good luck as he walks us to our cottage. I realize I didn’t actually see anything about check in and check out times. We walk down the path and listen to birds chirping songs I have never heard and watch as the hotel guy points out different types of plants and trees, reciting what herbal remedy it is used for. I’m starting to think that time is not much of a factor out here.
That all we have, is time – more coming soon.