Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ixcacao Chocolate Tour and Hiking Antelope Falls at Bocawina National Park!

Our guests have raved about the Ixcacao (pronounced Ish-cack-cow) Chocolate tour, and we finally had a chance to take it ourselves, with Mark from Cayequest Tours. It was wonderful! It is a full day tour, where you start off visiting Juan and his lovely wife Abelina. You get to try so many fun, exotic treats along the way....hot cacao drink, sugarcane right off the plant, roasted cacao beans, chocolate at every stage of making it (including making your own!), all kinds of chocolate flavors - even liquor!, and then you get one of the best authentic Belizean meals I've ever had. So good in fact that I even bought a little cookbook of her recipes.
Dave, me, Abelina, Juan, and Mark.....and yep I am totally aware that we look like avatars in this picture.
Hot Cacao drink.....unbelievably good!
Juan teaching us how to make chocolate from the bean...you even get to take your chocolate home with you!
After that fun, depending on timing, you may stop at a Mayan family's home, where they will explain how they cook in their outdoor kitchen, tell you some really interesting stories about their family set up, and show you how they make those Mayan baskets you see everywhere!

Finally, you stop at Nim Li Punit Mayan ruins, where Mark gives some great history about burials, culture, and the village structure.
Everyone on the tour loved it, and it has been unanimously highly recommended!

Another highly recommended activity is to hike at Bocawina National Park, There are several hikes to choose from, as you can see on this map:
We did Antelope Falls this time, and please note, this hike was NOT for the faint of heart. Much of it was uphill, and you had to use ropes to pull yourself up and let yourself down at times! But, totally worth it....the waterfalls were totally amazing the whole way through. 
Rope climbing!
Look for signs to the view--you climb over to a ledge where you are treated to this amazing view all the way to the sea....this picture doesn't capture its awesomeness at all!

Be ready for LOTS of steps. You'll feel it for 2 days afterwards.
Rock climbing.

Finally, I wanted to share some totally gratuitous and random pictures from the last couple weeks. 
View from the veranda at Wendy's Creole Grill.....every time we eat here we wonder why we don't eat here more often. Great fish!
THIS PICTURE. There is a chihuahua smiling on a kayak. Go ahead and click it to get a close up, you know you want to!
My mom came for a visit, and we had such a great time. She is terrible with knives so I thought it would be fun to teach her to machete a coconut. (she didn't even break its skin.)
One last random observation this week. I hadn't eaten at Omar's in a while and had the chance to try it again. I felt I had to mention that you can call and have him deliver stewed chicken, rice and beans to your door, and I realized that it was the best stewed chicken I can remember having in a long time! There is a reason Omar's is always on the must-eat list :) 


Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Recipe for Ex Pats in Belize, who miss Whole Foods...:)

That Ex Pat would be me--I miss the convenience of stopping at a healthy place and getting pre made, cut up healthy stuff for dinner. Since I made a recent blog about male-oriented food on the peninsula, I wanted to follow up with a healthy option for those who eat more like me :-p

While the vegetables and fruits in Belize are mostly healthy and organic, and cheap!, there is NO PRE MADE ANYTHING TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE....unless you buy from a restaurant, but I do enjoy cooking and I like to know exactly what is in my stuff I'm eating. I came up with a recipe that turned out great, that I can keep in the fridge for several days, and eat out of instead of having to cut up and cook every time. I have been accused of using a LOT of ingredients and this one is no exception--if you are going to cook, and it is cheap, why not? You get more nutrients that way! :)

Healthy Vegan Quinoa Veggie Bowl/Salad

Ingredients (here we go.....but they are all easy to find here which is saying something!)

- half head chopped cauliflower/broccoli (or frozen)
- 1/2 grated carrot
- 1-2 onions depending on size
- 1 cucumber
- 3 small tomatoes
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 cup dry quinoa (rinse beforehand if package says to)
- 1 can black beans or black eyed peas
- olive oil and cider vinegar
- salt, pepper
- garlic powder
- sugar or sweetener

Saute cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and onions in a large pot with lid, in olive oil until they are a bit tender. Add salt and garlic powder to your liking.

Add 2 cups of water and the cup of dry quinoa--mix it up so the quinoa is in the juice. Bring to a boil and then put on medium heat for 15 minutes, covered. Mix just now and then.

Meanwhile, in a HUGE bowl, chop up the cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, and cover them pretty liberally with the vinegar, lime juice, and a splash of olive oil. Add drained can of beans. Also add a bit of sugar-I used liquid stevia, or you can use about half a tablespoon or so of sugar. Make sure the taste is good (and it will be drowning a bit in juice, that is good)--should be really tasty, if you have too much sugar, add more vinegar, and vise versa. Add salt, pepper, or garlic powder if you think it needs it.

When quinoa stuff is all done let it cool! It should also taste good on its own (enough salt, etc.) When it cools, you will dump this pot into your huge bowl and mix it. Because these two taste so good on their own, when you mix them it is like a taste explosion in your mouth. If it is too dry, add more oil/vinegar a bit at a time(but don't overdo it as soggy food is gross). Cover it and put in your fridge, it should be eaten cold. :) Yum, just like you stopped at Whole Foods on your way home! And, you have like 10 servings!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Read this before deciding to travel to Belize! How does Belize TRULY compare to other exotic vacations?


After hearing guest feedback about Belize for the last 2 years, I thought it was time to put together a post about who may love their vacation to Belize, and who may be a better fit for other places; I sincerely hope potential guests will read this before they come. Expectations are a big part of vacation, and no one wins if a tourist expected one thing, but found that what they were told did not match reality. This is more of an article then a blog post, less for entertainment and more for your own research for your trip! It can be so hard to choose a destination for your vacation; every place you research is going to look perfect on the internet. Only by doing a bit more research will you be able to determine the subtle or significant differences between "paradises!"

HOW DOES BELIZE COMPARE TO OTHER BEACH DESTINATIONS?


This is hard to capture in one paragraph! One reason Belize recently won international awards for Best Overall Destination and Best Beach Destination (Ambergris Caye and Placencia, respectively) is because Belize truly offers an authentic and slightly off the beaten path experience - NOT because Belize offers perfection unlike anywhere else. Belize is NOT like Cancun or many of the traditional places you find on cruise ports, like Nassau, St Thomas, The Dominican Republic, etc. (HERE is a post in which I describe more differences in detail.) In the tourist areas in those places, corporations have come in and bought huge tracts of land, and put up massive resorts, where all-inclusives are prevalent. You can eat at chain restaurants, be with other tourists, and if you have been to one all-inclusive, you pretty much get what it is all about. In many places people do not venture into town due to safety factors. You eat, swim, and hang out at the resort with maybe an excursion or two.

The positives of this, of course, are that you know what to expect! It is familiar, first world, and comfortable. You know there will be uniformed staff around, and every need can be met. There is a time and place where this vacation is just the right fit!

Belize is not quite like that. Belize is still a developing country - you will find many comforts and first world experiences here, but you don't have to look far to see wood shacks on stilts, and clear indications that you are not at Disney World. Often, this is what attracts the traveler that has had enough of the "sameness" of the all-inclusive experience. In Belize, particularly Placencia, the village IS the experience. There is no scrubbed clean, tourist-contrived area. The locals, ex pats, and tourists all hang out together. We are lucky here in that Placencia has historically been warm, welcoming, and safe for visitors.

We get a remarkable number of repeat visitors, and there is a reason that Belize is the fastest-growing country in the Western Hemisphere. It is not for everyone, but for those who seek adventures beyond the predictable experiences, they can quickly fall in love with it here! Every culture is different, and in Belize, there has been a massive effort at keeping things authentic and moving slowly. Belize has historically not shown interest in bringing in huge corporations to change the landscape and feel of its villages. In fact, the locals and ex pats who live here are resistant to these changes, because most want to maintain the charm and pace that exists now.

What this can mean, for travelers who are planning their first trip to Belize, is that some of the culture here can come as a bit of a surprise, sometimes called "culture shock." You may find in some travel reviews or forums, comments about beach dogs being in bad shape, the beaches not being cleaned, power or water outages, begging, problems with medical facilities, poverty, or a general slowness to fix problems. You will read other reviews that call Belize "paradise." This can make it very confusing to decide if Belize is for you!

One of the best reasons to travel is to increase your "worldliness." With this comes wisdom about other cultures and an awareness that North American standards are not the standards everywhere - and sometimes, even with the "inconveniences," this is a good thing!

I will focus on Placencia. In Placencia, as you drive down the peninsula, you are likely to be completely charmed by what you see. Mountains and the lagoon on one side, endless beach and the Caribbean Sea on the other. One cute resort-style place after another, all painted quirky colors with adorable names, not a chain in sight - palm trees everywhere, happy tourists, smiling locals. In Placencia, we do not have problems with sick beach dogs or begging - this would be a very unusual sighting for a tourist. 

However, before you get to Placencia Village, after Maya Beach (which is at the far North end of the peninsula, about 14 miles away) you will drive through the village of Seine Bight. This is not a tourist village, this is a typical Central American town, and to the average tourist, this will look quite rough. You will see more dogs milling around, buildings that could use some maintenance, and signs of poverty. However, the people of Seine Bight are used to tourists coming through, and while it can look alarming to those who have not seen an authentic Central American village before, you will also find very warm and friendly people. Some guests have remarked about how it could be improved, and things that could or even should be done to change the lives of the animals and people that reside there. It can be hard not to compare what you see here to the standards of first world living. 

As you keep driving South into Placencia, you start to see Placencia Village. Placencia is such a special place - a charming, funky place where locals, ex pats, and tourists can be seen everywhere. There is what has been described as a "good vibe" here. People are warm and friendly, it is very easy to navigate, you will feel safe, and yet you know you are not in a contrived area - it is authentic. Much of it looks like a Caribbean postcard - cute dogs running around, palm trees, tons of bars and restaurants, endless beaches, adorable places to stay, and you can even drink the water, which is more pure than bottled water!

What often happens next is interesting. Most tourists are in love with the village and have a beach dog or two following them around by the end of their trip, and have made friends throughout the village. They have enjoyed world class restaurants, exotic excursions, and plenty of lazy beach days. 

But, we are still in a developing country. Once in a while, things happen that are difficult for some tourists to get their head around. Occasionally, the power or water will be off unexpectedly. Sometimes these are planned outages, but sometimes we can't predict them. Occasionally, a tropical rain will come through, and knock out the WiFi/cable for a while, and create MASSIVE puddles everywhere. Sometimes, because we are close to the reef, if the current is such, sea grass (or even garbage from who knows where) will wash in and make the beach less than perfect. Sometimes popular places to go, like Tranquilo, Fusion Beach, Tutti Frutti, etc, will be closed for a short time. Sometimes the sea is too rough to take a water excursion, or it is more cloudy, less Caribbean postcard blue. 

We have found the vast majority of guests to be wonderful sports in these cases. (Belize tends to attract adventurous, flexible spirits). I have yet to see a vacation ruined by any of these things; there are ALWAYS alternatives, and you can ALWAYS make the best of things. There is plenty to do here no matter what is happening! Occasionally you will hear a negative review about Belize or Placencia in general with regards to these problems. Often guests will ask before they come, about the water, weather, etc. You can find positive and negative reviews about EVERY place on earth. NO place is right for everyone. It can be frustrating when unexpected occurrences happen, and you may find yourself asking, why doesn't the village have generators, stronger WiFi/cable, people cleaning the beach every day, someone managing the stray dogs better? 

The reason, simply, is that exotic places sometimes have limited resources. With the first world resources, you get first world amenities. With first world expectations, you get first world predictability. Belize is not going to be totally predictable, and thankfully the problems I mentioned are NOT the norm. But, if unexpected problems occur, and you are from North America, you might get frustrated about the seeming lack of urgency to fix things. Some may find themselves thinking that if people would just solve the problem by....(insert first world solution here)...this problem would go away. After 2 years here, (and by no means does this make me an expert, this was just one of the few major learning curves I have experienced!) I am starting to have an understanding of the deeper and more complex issues at hand, that prevent first world solutions from working. 

Frankly, a lot of the issue is this. WE HAVE URGENCY in the US, and not all cultures have it. I have found this to be one of the best - and hardest - learning curves. For example, when a strong current comes in and sea grass and some garbage washes ashore, we do go out and clean it up quickly. We have a worker on staff who cleans our beach 5x a week. However, 90% of the beach in Placencia remains untouched. Why? Because Mother Nature will take care of it, it is just going to come back at some point, there is plenty of places to swim and enjoy yourself, the heat index is over 100, there isn't anywhere to put the garbage, there is no recycling mechanism, the tractors purchased to clean it are broken and parts can't be found here, most of it is organic and builds the beach back up, it simply isn't that big a deal, etc etc etc. There ARE reasons why (cultural and otherwise) countries have their own way of handling problems. 

You will have less of these operational/maintenance problems at a first world all inclusive, NO DOUBT! However, if you choose that route, you are also choosing a safe, predictable, non challenging, minimally enriching/growth oriented experience, one where you can probably predict the entire vacation before you even go. I have addressed this in detail in a past post HERE.

The pleasures, benefits, and experience you can have by getting a bit out of your comfort zone, with the risk that you may encounter a variable that you weren't expecting, will be COMPLETELY worth it to some people, and some others may say, I am only doing a Hilton vacation from here on out. But, armed with this information, hopefully your expectations are in line, and please read HERE about why Placencia is truly a slice of paradise on earth! 





Monday, November 16, 2015

Placencia vs Hopkins - How to choose between them for your trip to Belize!

It is so hard to choose cities to visit in a country you have never been to, and you just can't get a real sense of a city until you visit yourself. I had driven through Hopkins a few times before and we decided to stay for a long weekend to get a better sense of what it is like, as we get many questions about the differences between Placencia and Hopkins.

General comparisons

In general, you will read that Hopkins is a "sleepier" village, more rustic, and perhaps tourist wise, a bit behind Placencia. Some travelers choose Belize because they want to have an authentic experience, and do not want to feel like they just went to another all inclusive resort. I believe the average tourist will not feel that either place is TOO touristy--I mean really, it is very hard to find a place that has NO traveler comforts unless you are going wayyyy off the beaten path. Both if you are looking for a lot of warm interactions with locals, where the experience IS the village, there are no chains, plenty of local excursions and restaurants, but it is still safe, manageable, and you can get by with English, then you are headed to the right places. I added in a few pretty pictures of Hopkins to enjoy :) So, the comparison....
Beach view from resort end of Hopkins

Hopkins

Hopkins has an interesting divide. After you drive the road in, if you go left, you head into a very authentic Central American village. You will see a few tourists riding bikes, but for the most part, you have all local owned businesses, a lot of very simple and rustic shack restaurants, parts of it look a bit rough, but you can safely navigate it. The roads are dirt and moderately hard to bike in places. The ride in is quite bumpy.

If you go right, you will see a bunch of signs that look pretty touristy--and you will quickly enter into a town where it is all tourists. However, this is a seriously cute little town, we were told it is called Hollywood Boulevard :). There are a bunch of really cute resorts on the beach--Jaguar Reef, Belizean Dreams, Hamanasi, Almond Beach. Any of these will make a traveler happy. Very first world. We stayed at Jaguar Reef - they had a nice clean beach, free bikes and kayaks, good restaurant on site, and a fun pool bar. I also realllllllly appreciated that the resorts banded together to keep the beach clean....in Placencia, we rake our beach, but many parts of the beach aren't touched too often. This is annoying and aesthetically unpleasing when the seaweed comes in.
Cute beach signs

Closer to Excursions

One huge plus of Hopkins is that you are closer to the excursions. You are saving about 45 minutes of a drive to most of the inland excursions. If you are looking for a first world resort where you can easily hit the inland excursions, it might be the right choice for you.
View from Chef Rob's

Authentic Experience?

I would say that for MOST people--if they stayed IN town (taking a left) they might feel it was a bit rough looking with not a huge amount of village activities to do. So you get a more authentic experience on that side but you need to be ready for a town that is not geared for the average tourist. The "Hollywood" side of town - great restaurants including Barracuda's, Chef Rob's, and a cute shopping center that I'd kill for sometimes in Placencia. There was a very fun bar called Loggerheads that I recommend. BUT overall on that end of town, you might feel like you had a more tourist-contrived experience. The prices were all in American dollars which tells you a lot right there :)
Not a bad view for breakfast

Cons of Hopkins

The water was a bit muddier than Placencia and the bugs bit me badly in Hopkins--but this is entirely unfair to say this is the norm, as it really just depends on luck sometimes. A consideration is that while Placencia has an airport a couple minutes from town, you have to fly into Dangriga and get a ride from there, which can be 20+ minutes, and there may be a charge for that, with a bumpy drive in. I am trying very hard not to be biased here....but Placencia is just a perfect mix of authentic and what you see on a Caribbean postcard. Everything is in one place (not separate sides of town for tourists). The village experience IS the experience here. There are too many good places to eat to name, and while we don't have a super polished resort area in town, we have adorable guest houses and a unique Caribbean looking village that just works. While you are farther from the excursions, it makes up for it by the village experience you can have (just head out for an afternoon turned evening here and you will see what that means!!) And, you can drink the water in Placencia.

Overall, Hopkins has a more polished (tiny) resort village on one end (actually called Sitee River)/more authentic Central American village on the North end--where Placencia is a perfect mix of the two. Hopkins is closer to excursions; however, with that, there is more to do and experience in the village of Placencia. I'd say you may want to stop in Hopkins and do the excursions, then check out Placencia for a few days to have the village experience! :)
View from Barracuda's




Friday, November 13, 2015

Caribbean Beach Cabanas is thrilled to offer a new 2 bed 2 bath suite, just in time for high season!

La Hacienda is officially bookable on our website, www.caribbeanbeachcabanas.com! 

It is brand new, with a veranda overlooking the sea, a third floor tower, 2 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms. King bed in master with attached bath, queen in 2nd bedroom. Gorgeous furnishings, wifi, a/c in both bedrooms, 3 flat screen TVs, full size stainless fridge, dishwasher, garbage disposal, concrete countertops. 

Comes with free bikes, kayaks, floats, cell phone in unit, lounge chairs and private bar on veranda. A 2 minute walk to all the fun, in a quiet part of the village. Managers on site who will help you plan excursions and complimentary rides to the Placencia Airport.

Price: Low season - $269us; High season, $299us, plus 9% GST.

info@caribbeanbeachcabanas.com

www.caribbeanbeachcabanas.com
View from sea side
 Kitchen...yes that is a swing!!

Family room area
 Sliding door off family room to deck
 Other side of family room
Master
 Master bath
 2nd bedroom
 2nd bath
View from veranda
 Welcome!!!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Top 10 Things to Eat in Placencia- from a Hungry Man's Perspective...

One of the things I have come to love about Placencia is how unprocessed and fresh everything is. I have found the food from the farmer's markets and stores to be really fun to work with-especially after I learned to go with the flow and cook more like a local. There is very little processed food here, no fast food, but when I have taken the time to shop and prepare, it has been wonderful. Just today I made fresh salsa, pickled onions, a huge salad, and cut up fruit. I would have bought all this already done in the US, for about 10x more money, and probably less organic!

Now, all this fresh raw food is great to me, but Dave starts to wig out after too much healthy fresh food. He does miss McDonalds, Burger King, etc. We don't have exactly the same tastes. :) I asked him the other day what his favorites here are, and thought I would share, especially for those coming down who want a guide to eating food that is maybe not the most "foodie" or the healthiest, but probably does taste the best!!

Men's Guide to Best Tasting Food on the Peninsula 

(ie largest portions of fattening filling foods)

1.) Doyle's Delight from Barefoot Bar. I think it has cheese, bacon, eggs, all that stuff.
Not the actual burger, but one of their burgers I could get a picture of from their facebook page...add egg and bacon and then have an antacid.

2.) Cozy Corner's chicken burrito. It is the size of your head. Read this review! Guy thinks it is enough for 2-3 people.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g291977-d1047031-r245488432-Cozy_Corner-Placencia_Stann_Creek.html

3.) Rumfish's pork chops. The most generous portion on their menu. What a surprise. This guy also made a fuss over the pork chops.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g291977-d1234323-r318334735-Rumfish_y_Vino-Placencia_Stann_Creek.html

4.) Turtle Inn's 16 course Indonesian dinner. Because who has a flat stomach after 16 courses?
Actual pic from Turtle Inn's facebook:

5.) Brenda's (near the pier) coconut macaroons. Don't put them down on your shorts as you are eating.

6.) Lobster grilled cheese from Barefoot bar-even I have to admit this is just bliss. Huge, cheesy, buttery.

7.) Chicken Egg Foo Yung from ENE - Chinese restaurant. Huge portion and this really is good (at least it is low carb?)
Not the actual pic as I never remember to take food pics, but it looks like this google image!

8.) Chicken Burritos from the "Mexican Belize Food" stand near the police station. They are like $2 each, so he orders about 5 of them.
Here is a fun site about the "Belize fast food" so you have some idea of what you are ordering, it took me months to know the difference:
http://www.belize.com/belize-fast-food

9.) Radi's BBQ chicken. It's like 1/2 a chicken. (stock bbq chicken pic, but that's what you get!)

10.) Stewed chicken from Mim's. I can attest he eats this meal about every couple days.
The national dish, every take out meal looks like this one...you do not get cheated. (tripadvisor pic)


So, as you can see, portion size + taste = Dave's top 10.