January 22-29. Roy Gentle, manager of the Kumquat Cottage which we had rented for a week, picked us up in Crooked Tree and drove us down the Northern Highway to the Western Highway to San Ignacio in the west. Once we got to the Western Highway we started to see the mountains to the south.
Lodging: The Kumquat Cottage is owned by some people in Minnesota we found online. It's a very artistic, one-of-a-kind house. It was a great location, just a 5 minute walk into the center of town and a nicely landscaped yard complete with fruit trees. (Unfortunately there is no fruit in season now.) It was really nice to have a house to stay in instead of just a room and cook our food. We also had access to a laptop and the internet (and a TV to watch CNN and movies at night). We did have some issues with it like the lack of good lighting and the lack of hot water in the kitchen and the bathroom sinks. Notice the seats on the roof and the typical cistern to catch rainwater.
Food: The food which we bought at a store and the farmer's market was quite inexpensive. We didn't eat out at all except two tours included lunch (rice/beans and chicken and sometimes potato salad.) The only bread the stores had was squishy white bread. We survived. We loved the sweet bananas and the papaya. Saturday's farmer's market sold a little bit of everything, even some used books and used clothing.
Town: The downtown has a little park and a roundabout as well as a bigger park with playground equipment and two soccer fields. We were surprised with the condition of the downtown. Some of our observations: In front of some stores there were sidewalks. There was an open gutter. People are selling food everywhere from tables or stands (and we later learned that they have to pass certain health standards just like here). Doors to the stores are open. Cars drove very close to each other. Litter is a problem even though we saw signs about not littering. Other things to note: 1) There was a beautiful African Tulip tree in the park, just like the ones we saw in Hawaii. 2) The ATM worked at the Belize Bank and didn't run out of money. (But it did cost us $10 for every withdrawal!) 3) We had delicious, refreshing frozen bananas dipped in chocolate for only 25 cents each. 4) They buy and keep using the US's old school buses for their children. One bus was from Wilson County, one from a town in NJ. Other school buses were the highway buses for only about 50 cents for 5-6 miles. 5) We got a load of laundry done by a woman in what looked like a laundromat but it wasn't self-serve. (I added a picture of the typical Belikin Beer sign so we don't forget its name.)
Tours: 1) Barton Creek Cave and Big Rock Falls. David Simpson, owner of David's Adventure Tours, was recommended as a nature guide. We put the canoe in the Macal River at Barton Creek Outpost, a camping area with a little restaurant run by a family. (Here we saw some green parrots that came to a pole because they feed them.) The cave was used as a burial ground for Mayans wanting to be reincarnated as jaguar. It was a beautiful cave with so many beautiful formations and a few bats hanging from the ceiling. (We were lucky it wasn't the rainy season as the water level rises so much that you can't go very far in.)
On the ride to the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve we saw a stand of mahogany trees (taller ones) in front of teak trees. The pine beetle has done a real job on the pine trees. We also went by Francis Ford Coppola's lodge "Blancaneaux" and his landing strip. We had a bit of a hike down to Big Rock Falls but they were very pretty and we were the only ones there. We ate lunch and Sandy took a swim. It was a lovely day.