Hopkins, Dangriga, & the Hummingbird Highway

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While touring Dangriga, the sun makes one brief appearance after a long, gray day. It beams under the cloud cover just as I am walking by the oceanside bandstand featured on the title page of Moon Handbooks Belize. The photo was shot by my friend, Danielle Vaughn, at this exact moment of the day, when she and I were walking by the park after the Jonkanu dances. We found this teenager lounging on the railing, looking out at the Caribbean as the sun played on the oranges and yellows and greens. Three years later, I discover a young couple standing at the same rail, as entranced by the ocean as the teen was. Maybe, I think, just maybe — it’s the same kid, with his first love.

The day began just south of here, in Hopkins, one of my favorite stretches of beach in Belize. The village spreads loosely along the shoreline and the few accommodations make it a great place to stay for someone looking to avoid the crowds. I covered Hopkins by bicycle yesterday afternoon.

I didn’t bring my camera because it was raining, so I missed the shot of the dreadlocked Oregonian in front of the stilted shack of a hemp store; and I couldn’t take a portrait of Mark Nuñez, a.k.a. “King Kasava,” who’s shop, restaurant, and bar is the central pulse of Hopkins. Neither did I get any photos of Alaska Tony who, after preparing an exquisite three-course dinner in his new Barracuda Bar & Grill, poured shots of bitters made by the famous “Kid B.” The Kid is a 76-year-old ex-welter weight prize fighter from Silk Grass, who showed up with his buddies while Tony and I were talking about him. The party spiraled from there as Tony and I played bluegrass on his guitar and mandolin while Kid B told boxing stories about his time in Chicago, calling me and Tony “Papi.”

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Walking the streets of Dangriga is enjoyable, even before my photographic deja vu. ‘Griga is another unassuming Belizean coastal town more concerned with its own business and Garinagu culture than attracting crowds of foreigners. This is nice. I spend one night, then make a trip to Marie Sharp’s hot sauce factory, eight miles out of town; unfortunately, I am one day early to meet Miss Marie herself who is traveling abroad. Instead I buy a case of sauce (which is dirt cheap at the factory) and continue up the Hummingbird Highway.

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dan_pcv.jpgIn the village of Armenia, I stop and ask the first person I see, “Donde vive el gringo?” I’m back in mestizo country, searching for the local Peace Corps Volunteer whom I’ve been told is helping coordinate a village homestay and ecotourism project. I find Mike (another Oregonian) bent over a wash bucket, scrubbing his clothes; he is shirtless, scruffy, and happy to see me. After showing me his thatch-roof, gap-walled Peace Corps digs (with its requisite maps pinned to the walls next to photos and postcards from home), we cross the highway to inspect a couple of rooms set up by the village women’s group.

In Belmopan, Belize’s wimpy little capital, my cab driver is a transplanted Belize City man who knows nothing about his new home. His wife works for the US Embassy, he tells me, which just relocated to Belmopan, and after 20 years driving a taxi in Belize City, he has no idea where anything is here. So I teach him about Belmopan’s hotels, and we even stop and photocopy the city map from my book. He is grateful but charges me anyway.

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