I am going to tell you about our time in Hopkins, despite what I said in my last post.
We’re not sure what it was about this town that made it so special to us. Perhaps we were just on the same frequency or we were craving its authentic vibe, but something captured and held on to us. I don’t think we can put into words the feeling we experienced in Hopkins. It was a pure, raw, innocent joy, with no care in the world. We felt like guests of the community, not tourists.
In actuality, we only spent one night here, but it felt like a week.
To Hitchhike or Not?
The bus from Independence dropped us off at the junction of the Hopkins road. If you are lucky enough to be there when the Hopkins bus passes twice a day, you can catch a ride for $1 bzd and it’ll take you to the heart of town. Otherwise, you can hail a passing pickup truck (most of them stop) and hop into the truck bed for the four mile journey down the dirt road. We were just about to hail a truck (which would have been a great sight to see our family riding in the back) when the bus stopped, so we jumped on the bus and headed to town.
Finding a Place to Stay
Once we got into town, we headed towards The Funky Dodo, another backpacker recommended hostel. At $38 bzd/night ($19 US) for 2 people in a private room, we thought we couldn’t lose. They had a room available, but kindly told us that they aren’t family friendly. The Funky Dodo is college room rustic. Think 2×4 and plywood walls. Fine for backpackers, perhaps not for families. Looking around the place, we agreed and were happy to move on.
But, we did feel a twinge of worry. This was our fist place that denied us and we wondered “Where else?” Next door was a nice looking hotel: The Coconut Row, a colorful place with a manicured beach. We asked a guy doing some concrete repairs if they had an available room. He happened to be the owner and said they did not, which made us start to worry. It was midday, the sun was hot and the last thing we wanted to do was walk around searching for a place to sleep. This was also one of our worries with the No Plans Travel Approach with kids. However, the owner thought that the Sea Gulls Nest, a five minute walk down the road, had a room. He was kind enough to give them a call and to our delight they did have one room left. So we headed down the beach then over to the road.
The walk was more like 10-15 minutes minutes, but in the sticky heat and carrying two kids it felt like two hours. We could not wait to get there and drop off our backpack and the kids.
Once we arrived we were excited to find a nice little room right on the beach. The room was only big enough for a full size bed and a bathroom, but our kids are small and we could make it work. Plus it had its own little porch. And for $60 BZD/night ($30 USD), you can’t beat it. We got there just in time, as other traveling groups looking for a place to stay were stopping by hoping to find a room. Juanita, the owner, was so kind and friendly. It felt like home right from the beginning. She even had the washing machine ready for a load of laundry, which we needed to do.
Settling into this little town couldn’t be easier because there is not much to distract you from the pure beauty of it. No big hotels, no shops, no restaurant after restaurant, just a quiet little town. The only things we had close to us were a small grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, and a local Garifuna restaurant called Innie’s. We picked up lunch from Innie’s and took it back to the beach.
Finally, Garifuna Food!
For lunch we had baked lamb and a typical Garifuna dish called Hudut. This wonderfully flavored dish consists of Black Snapper fillet cooked in a coconut milk soup & seasoned with black pepper, garlic, onions, oregano & other spices. It comes served with “Hudut”, a mix of green and ripe plantain, boiled & blended to serve as a soft bread for the soup. It was amazing! So much flavor, especially when you took a bite of the fish, soup, and Hudut all together, wow! This is why we were here, to learn more about the food and culture of the Garifuna. We loved the Hudut so much we went back for dinner and ordered two plates. We also bought homemade Star Apple Wine from Innie’s. A local wine made from star apples and bottled in a recycled plastic soda bottle (how romantic!). It was a sweet wine and very tasty. And we are still trying to find out what star apples are. Any idea?
If you can’t get to Hopkins to taste Garifuna food, there is a surprisingly large Garifuna community in Chicago. We met a few Garifunas that were in Hopkins for the holidays visiting their family, all from Chicago. Chicago also has a traditional Garifuna Restaurant that has been featured on Food Network: Garifuna Flava. Go there to get your hudut.
After lunch and playing on the beach, we took a walk along the dirt road and were attracted to a wonderful smell and a big plume of smoke rising from behind a wooden shack- someone was grilling with an open fire.
Food + Open fire = Bliss.
So we followed our noses to the little shack where a Garifuna grandma named Sarita welcomed us with a glowing smile.
“What are you grilling?”
And she replied “I’m baking bread.”
“Ok, but what are you grilling?”
Again she replied “I’m baking bread.”
What? So, she took us to the back where she had an open campfire. A large pot with a lid sat on coals of burning coconut shells with more on top of the lid.
She carefully lifted the lid to show us what she was baking inside this pot, and the smell was hypnotizing. She was baking Johnny Cakes and Coconut Crusts, traditional pastries of Belize and the Garifuna culture. Not seeing any signs that would let us know if this was a bakery or if she was baking for her family, we asked if they were for sale. And they were. We bought four of the Coconut Crusts, but as soon as we took a bite, we bought four more. They were delicious! Coconut Crusts are a folded over dough stuffed with fresh grated coconut, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, sort of like a coconut empanada. And the char and flavor from being baked over an open fire was something you just cannot duplicate in an oven. Even S, who is not supposed to eat wheat, scarfed a few of these down. The Johnny Cakes are similar to a biscuit and were the lightest and most moist Johnny Cakes we had tasted since our time here in Belize. We left with plenty Coconut Crusts and Johnny Cakes for breakfast the next morning – if they would last that long.
Our Garifuna Gals
The most fun we had was playing with the neighboring kids, a group that exuded everything positive about growing up in a setting like this. They were fun, friendly, helpful, respectful, looked out for one another in the water, made up games, played on shored boats and took way too many pictures with my camera. G had a blast playing with them ALL day. There was just something so innocent and pure about them all running around, having fun, using their imagination, and laughing.
Star & Jelly…Fish
During a morning walk on the beach, we spotted our first starfish: red, bumpy and huge. It looked like a piece of artwork, not a living creature. I love when a day starts out with total amazement at all of the beautiful creatures that inhabit this earth!
The other creature took us totally by surprise. We were just about to pick up the floating piece of plastic when something told us to wait and take a closer look. It was completely clear. We got closer and picked it up with a stick only to see it oozing clear gelatinous liquid.
Weird. Totally weird. How is this a creature with no organs, no brain, no heart? The jellyfish was completely clear and see through. They only have 1 nerve that allows them to react to their surroundings, in this case a Polish woman holding it on a stick.
We Will Be Back
We were only in Hopkins for 24 hours, so how is it that we experienced so much? What made us fall for it?
The reasons we loved Hopkins so much may be the same reasons why most people would not like Hopkins – there are not many bars and restaurants, not many little shops, not a lot of touristy things going on. Just a simple little town where the local culture has not been pushed out by commercialism and tourism.
With its welcoming people, rustic charm, simplistic lifestyle, and beautiful beaches, Hopkins, Belize holds a special place in our heart. It was very hard to leave and take G away from all his new friends, but we will return soon. And after getting to our next stop, we wished we would have stayed longer in Hopkins.
There is so much more to tell, but we just can’t write it all down….boys doing back flips into the ocean, boys fishing with just a line and a styrofoam reel, speaking with the neighbors, mermaid washing her hair outside with a hose, thinking of buying the shack next door, hammocks, sunrise on the beach, roosters and chickens walking around next door, cinnamon bread, having a midnight snack on the beach with G watching the stars, and many other small experiences that made us fall in love with Hopkins.
See our next post: Surviving Dangriga and Going Home