Tag Archives: Belize


24 Nov

This is one of my absolute favourite Belizean dishes to make. I first tried them years ago when J’s mom made them for dinner. Instantly hooked. As with many local specialties, everyone makes them just a bit differently and everyone claims their (or their mom’s) way is best. The basics, though: crunchy fried tortillas topped with shredded chicken or pork. The toppings and sauces are totally up to the cook: pickled onions, salsa verde, avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, green onion, sliced jalapeno, and cilantro are all popular options. We do ours with thinly sliced avocado, shredded chicken simmered in salsa verde, sour cream, green onion, cilantro and a bit of hot sauce. You can include or omit just about any of the ingredients listed above: it’s truly about your own personal taste. We usually roast a whole chicken so we have leftovers for the rest of the week and shred both wings, a thigh and a breast. (Tip: take the skin off and save it to add when you’re dressing the tortillas. You want it to be crispy.) You could also poach chicken breasts in spice-tinged water – salt, pepper and oregano would be a nice combo.

This recipe makes 10. Two of us can polish that off but we are very full afterward.


10 tostadas (or 10 tortillas, fried)
2 chicken breasts or equivalent, cooked & shredded
1 c salsa verde
2 avocados, sliced
salt & pepper
lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, finely chopped
sour cream
hot sauce, optional


1. Warm up your tostadas in the oven at a low temp. They have a high oil content, so make sure you keep an eye on them ensuring they don’t burn.
2. Heat up the salsa in a sauce pan til it simmers. Add in the chicken and stir. Allow chicken to warm through, 5-8 minutes.
3. Divide the avocado slices evenly among the warmed tostadas then season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Layer on the chicken, sprinkle with green onions and cilantro. Top with dollops of sour cream and, if you wish, dabs of hot sauce.



Belize 2012 – Day Nine: Golf Carts & Sunset Cruises

11 Apr

Up and at ’em…at 10am the next morning, the four of us headed for breakfast at the Sand Box, a restaurant at the top of the strip overlooking the water:

The view from the breakfast table

Starving as we were, this place was perfect: huge portions, affordable prices. I opted for the huevos rancheros while J went for the 2-egg special with ham and fry jacks. J’s cousin went for the same dish while her friend decided on the breakfast burrito which, when it arrived, looked to weigh about 10 pounds. We were also sure to ask for some of their mind-blowingly spicy hot sauce. Last year, much to the amusement of the staff, J ordered some and proceeded to douse his breakfast with it. I watched as his colouring went from tan to beet red in roughly 7 seconds. Lesson learned, we just put teeny amounts all over our breakfasts this time.

Eggs & big, puffy fry jacks

Huevos rancheros

Hot sauce of doom

We wrapped up breakfast and wound our way through the back streets until we came to a golf cart rental store. J’s cousin and friend thought it would be a great way to show us the rest of the caye, since we’d barely seen the south end at all. We bounced and bumped our way around the place, outwardly gawking at the natural beauty of the place, drinking in the atmosphere. (And maybe secretly hatching plans to live there forever.) We passed children in their school uniforms playing on their lunch breaks, friends chatting in the street, fascinating houses (like the Rasta house…’nuff said), landmarks, signs and untouched, unspoiled coastline beauty.

The road less travelled

You make sure you mind your signage.

After our very entertaining – and informative (see pic above) – tour, we went for one last dip up at the Split with our company and then saw them off, back to Belize City. We’d planned to go on a sunset cruise that evening, so we checked in with Raggamuffin Tours and booked our spots. I had wanted to do this last year; unfortunately, due to time constraints we weren’t able to make it. I was so excited to check this off my list of things to do in Caye Caulker and it did not disappoint. Asked to be there 15 minutes ahead of time, we arrived and promptly began chatting with Ish: captain, bartender and salsa-maker. Good person to know on the caye!

Cap'n Ish, hard at work.

Fifteen or so of us piled onto the boat around 5:30 and half of us were asked to sit out on the prow. I leapt at the opportunity and J and I scrambled up to the top of the boat and perched ourselves, ready to be awed. I was a little concerned by the intermittent cloud cover, thinking it might mar a spectacular sunset. I needn’t have been so worried:

Tropical sunset

Gobsmacking. Awe-inducing. Stunning. If you were so inclined, perhaps religious.

Once the sun fully set, chips and the most delicious, simple salsa ever were passed around along with copious amounts of rum punch. The first hand was very chatty, but we found ourselves mostly talking to a charming, fun couple from Kansas. We talked for hours about travel and food: they had decided on a whim to come to Caye Caulker with their friends. They were quite clearly enjoying themselves – and really, how could you not? We implored them to take the short trip over to San Pedro since they had plenty of time to explore.

Back into port around 8pm, we found ourselves in need of dinner. We thought we’d head up to a little place where we’d seen whole suckling pigs roasting away, but found it sadly lacking. The host was also extremely pushy, so away we went, back to where we had disembarked: Sabre Los Olas, or “Over the Waves.” We considered sitting outside on the swing chairs, but after rocking around on the boat, sturdy chairs were more appealing. As we arrived late, a few options were off the table (at least you know the food is fresh!); however, we were still able to order conch fritters, blackened fillet and shrimp creole. Those fritters were certainly the best part of the meal, though the shrimp & fish were good, too.

On our way home, we popped into a grocery store to pick up some mix for the gold rum that we had in our hotel room. After taking what seemed like an eternity to decide on said mix, we ended up with pineapple lemonade. When we got back, we searched for glasses and found…tea cups. Okay. You make do with what you have. Pinkies out, we finished off our last full day with a night cap you’d only have in Caye Caulker.

Belize 2012 – Day Eight: How to Do Nothing…Perfectly.

1 Apr

Aside from the beautiful scenery, the amazing aquatic adventures and the relaxed atmosphere, the thing that J and I remembered most about Caye Caulker was the pineapple grilled cheese sandwich we had for breakfast at Amor Y Cafe on our first morning there. It sounds a little weird, I’ll grant you that. Let me make the case for it, though: the cheese is mild and a little salty; the pineapple is juicy and sweet; and the bread is light as air, buttered and just toasted enough to get a nice crunch without being overly crisp. The cheese is gooey and when you bite into this gloriously simple sandwich, the cheese oozes out and mixes with the fresh juice from the pineapple slices. It was so good J spent the better part of the following year perfecting the Toronto-made version. (I was more than happy to be the guinea pig for these taste tests and even happier when he figured out the key to recreating it.)

So when we found ourselves back at the caye, we knew we had to head to Amor Y Cafe as soon as we could. They’re only open for breakfast and are busy from the time they open til they close at midday. The service is always friendly, if not always terribly expedient; but, you’re in Caye Caulker. Nothing moves too quickly there anyway. There is a fairly large breakfast selection and you can order any of the sandwiches to go, should you want a snack for later. We chose seats at one of the tables that’s right on the street – a great spot for people watching – and ordered our coffees.

The most important meal of the day.

We did, for just a moment, ponder ordering something aside from the pineapple grilled cheese, but quickly dismissed those thoughts. We put in our orders and soaked up the atmosphere. We recognized a few people from neighbouring businesses that we’d met last year, including the guy who gave us the most epic directions ever. (“I know where you need to go. See those two girls over there? Yeah, turn left at them and then walk til you see some trees…”) Not much later, our highly anticipated meal arrived. I must tell you: it was as good as we remembered. Maybe a tiny bit better.

Grilled cheese heaven.

Did I mention this thing is enormous? It’ll keep you going for a while.

Leisurely breakfast finished, we parked ourselves beach-side with some books and magazines. We were to meet J’s cousin and her friend some time in the early afternoon but had not been able to communicate exactly when. No matter: we sat in a lovely, shady spot between the two water taxi piers and spent a couple of hours doing…nothing. When the scenery looks like this, that’s a perfectly acceptable – and recommended – activity:

When they arrived in the early afternoon, we changed into our bathing suits and headed up to the Split. We spent the rest of the daylight hours watching the parasailers perform their stunts, swimming, drinking from our bucket o’ beers and generally enjoying ourselves immensely. When dinner discussions arose, we suggested heading back to Syd’s. Syd’s, however, was closed on Sundays (ah, travelling in a Catholic country. Gotta remember what day it is or you may find yourself outta luck) so we needed another option. That ended up being the Rainbow Grill, a restaurant with an enormous open-air dining room right over the water. Hard to beat that. I went for the curry chicken; J was feeling the chicken burrito. Both plates were gigantic but as we hadn’t eaten lunch (unless beer counts. And it could.) that was no problem. We polished those suckers off with no problem.

We parted ways after dinner, heading back to our respective hotels. We made plans to meet up around 10am for breakfast and said goodnight. Another fabulous day on a beautiful island with wonderful people.

Belize 2012 – Day Seven: Hey…There Goes The Car

25 Mar

How can our time in San Pedro already be coming to a close? Didn’t we just arrive? At least there was no rush for us to leave: our B&B, Change in Latitudes, was very accommodating, allowing us to leave our bags with them a little longer than check out time so we could spend another precious hour or two in San Pedro. Before we had to say our goodbyes, however, we still had some time left. Breakfast on day two was a sweet one of fruit and cinnamon French toast with hot buttered rum syrup. Were it feasible, that would be my breakfast every day.

Fresh pineapple, orange & papaya

French toast with a little powdered sugar on top!

It would be wrong to drink this straight, I suspect. And yet...

Post-breakfast, we hung out in the courtyard for a bit and met a lady who volunteered at the local animal shelter. Every day, she would go to the shelter and walk as many dogs as she could. Had we known about this opportunity earlier, we certainly would have taken some time to help out a worthy cause. We missed our pooch (a rescue dog himself) while we were away and it would’ve filled that pet withdrawal!

After a swim, the time did come – sadly – to leave. We hopped into the electric golf cart owned by the B&B and Renita gave us a lift back to the pier to catch the water taxi to Caye Caulker.  We had about half an hour to kill and were in search of lunch. There are tons of options available, but we were seeking out some street food and pupusas sounded like they’d hit the spot. We found a little cafe that could accommodate our schedule and ordered cheese, chicken and pork pupusas to go. Accompanied by a marinara sauce and slaw, these were cheesy deliciousness that made us very, very happy:

Perfect snack.

It didn’t hurt that we ate these on the pier, watching the boats come in and out, the birds searching for lunch, kids playing soccer and everyone enjoying the sunshine.

Our taxi arrived at 2:30 and we hopped on for the short trip over to Caye Caulker. This was our first stop last year so we knew what to expect: lots of sun and an incredibly laid back attitude. People are very helpful, the food is plentiful and you can opt to either do lots or absolutely nothing at all. It’s a small island where 75% of the people walk, 22% bike, 2.5% use a golf cart and .5% drive. We saw all of one car on the island and when it would drive by, people would say, “Hey…there goes the car…”

We walked up to the beach house we’d booked, Barefoot in Belize. (We actually had a wee trespassing adventure before arriving, as we saw a sign for the beach house and it was right in front of a big, two-storey blue house that looked much like the pictures we’d seen online…but was definitely not it. Whoops.) Located at toward the south end of the island, about a 5-10 minute walk to the centre of town, it had its own pier, complete with hammocks. Works for me!

Sunset at Caye Caulker.

We got ourselves settled, took a little tour of the caye and wound up where, eventually, everyone winds up: at the Split having a drink at the Lazy Lizard. On any given day, this is where the vast majority of tourists (local and foreign) can be found. Beer and rum are cheap and plentiful, the music is cranked, snorkelling equipment can be rented for five Belizean dollars and you can just jump right into the water and have a swim. Lots of people park themselves at the beginning of the day in a prime spot and don’t leave until the sun goes down.

We found ourselves getting hungry around 8pm and decided to check out a place recommended by all the locals, Syd’s. We had contemplated going last year, but for one reason or another never did get there. Located a couple of streets off the main strip, Syd’s is a real gem. Family-run, the smells and sounds emanating from this little place are truly welcoming. (Not to mention the lovely staff.) J and I made our way to the back patio which is encompassed by lush plants. We had hoped to try the Saturday special of BBQ chicken; alas, we arrived too late. (They close at 9:30, so do get there earlier rather than later.) No matter: let’s try the fried chicken and get some different sides, we said. Oh, and a couple of Belikins, if you please.

I wouldn’t call myself a fried chicken aficionado, but I know good food. That chicken, my friends, was fantastic. Crunchy and crispy, screamingly hot, succulent and juicy: the trademarks of great fried chicken. The batter wasn’t heavy and had lots of flavour. Really, really excellent. Not to be outdone, the rice and beans were pretty much perfect. We had rice and beans just about every day while there and my mother-in-law makes a mean pot of rice and beans herself, but this was the best. If you find yourself at Syd’s do yourself a favour and make sure you get them:

A plate o' tastiness

Bellies full, we strolled back over to the main strip and back north toward the Spit. There was a political rally captivating most of the people on the street, including ourselves. We stopped to listen for a bit and took in the scene that had attracted both locals and tourists. We stayed for a bit and then moved on as I was anxious to get out to a darker spot by the water so I could see the stars.

We went back to our beach house to swing in the hammocks by the sea. There was quite a breeze that night, whipping our hair around all over the place. We kicked off our shoes, hopped into the hammocks and chatted away. After a while, we extricated ourselves and went to head in….except, I couldn’t find one of my flip flops. We searched and searched, even looking in the water but no. That sucker was gone. This was quite clearly a case of karma as I had seen a single shoe in the road earlier in the day and remarked, “Who loses ONE shoe? Really. How is that even possible?”

Now I know. Who loses one shoe? I do. My guess is that a gust of wind picked it up while we were swinging away in the hammocks. Or maybe this little guy took it:

Thief? Doesn't seem too likely.

Regardless, I had it comin’. So if you’re in Caye Caulker and happen to come across a silver flip flop that’s washed up on shore, it’s mine. Feel free to mock.

Belize 2012 – Day Six: Chocolate, Bacon & Rum

23 Mar

Day two in paradise. Awoke to blue skies, steady breezes and temperatures in the high 20’s. We made our way down to breakfast around 8:30 and found our little table set with coffee awaiting us: pretty much the only way that morning could’ve gotten better. We were greeted by the staff and were promptly brought out a bowl of fruit to start our breakfast. Renita introduced us to Seth, a 20-something recent journalism graduate who was taking a month off before plunging into a full-time job. We chatted about travel and Belize and about the camera equipment he took with him everywhere he went. In the meantime, plates with beans, scrambled eggs with cheese and Johnny cakes were placed before us. As we munched away, I mentioned to Renita that I had found a chocolate manufacturer via Twitter in San Pedro and that we’d love the chance to visit. “Oh! You mean Belize Chocolate. I have Chris’ number in my phone. Let me just call him up and see if I can arrange for a tour.” Just like that, we had a tour of an organic, fair trade, locally-grown chocolate factory.

Have I convinced you to go to San Pedro yet?

A few other guests joined us and we all headed down to the south end of the island, roughly three miles from the B&B. Orlando, our taxi driver, was very entertaining, pointing out local landmarks and describing the various foliage which could either heal or seriously harm, apparently. We arrived at the Belize Chocolate Company and were greeted by one half of the team, a British ex-pat named Chris Beaumont. (His partner, Jo, works there in the afternoon.) He took us right into his work space and explained the basic chocolate making process. It was all we could do not to dive in greedily as he showed us the raw cocoa beans, the various stages the beans must go through in order to become beautiful, silky chocolate, the just-picked oranges that would be incorporated into some of the chocolate…seriously. It was tough even at 10:30am.

They make a number of different chocolate bars on-site and we had a little taste of each: dark, ginger, orange, chili and sesame. They were all (predictably) wonderful, but J and I agreed that the significant heat of the chili and the creaminess of the sesame were our favourites. We bought some to bring back to his dad as a thank you gift for driving us to, from and around the mountains, though it was hard to part with it.

The raw product

Oil gets reincorporated back in for a shiny finish

I'll take them all, thank you.

A quick note about the grounds. Even though making chocolate for a living is most kids’ (and adults’) dream, if I worked there I don’t know how I’d ever spend any time inside. This is the view Chris & Jo enjoy:

Sure beats a pavement and cement intersection.

What does one do after a morning spent sampling chocolate? One finds lunch, obviously. We headed to George’s, a local spot recommended to us last year by Josimar, the always-charming Jack of all trades at the B&B. Located just a couple of blocks away, George’s is a great spot for local food cooked up by George himself. It’s not the sexiest spot for lunch but man, is it ever good! J went for the stewed fish lunch; I opted for the stewed chicken. Importantly, both came with plantains and not just any plantains: of all the ones we tried all over Belize, these were the best. The caramelization on these puppies was just perfect:

It came with 2 plantains...I ate 1 before remembering to take the picture.

We passed the afternoon reading, swimming at the pool next door and chatting with Renita. (Tough life, I tells ya.) She mentioned that Red Ginger, an affiliate restaurant to Blue Water Grill where we’d eaten the night before, had excellent food. A little more upscale than the other restaurants in Belize, their food had gotten excellent reviews of late and she had enjoyed it immensely as well. Sold. Later that evening, we moseyed north up the beach, past the centre of town where kids were enjoying the enormous play area while their parents caught up with friends and music played through giant loudspeakers.

The staff at Red Ginger was unfailingly charming and courteous during the several hours over which we dined. We started off with a round of Ginger Punches, an evil concoction of white, dark and coconut rum, pineapple and orange juices, Triple Sec, sweet and sour mix, a dash of bitters and tiny pieces of shaved ginger as a garnish. Those little pieces of ginger were a genius addition as they helped to balance out the sweetness of the rum and the juices. This cocktail will appear at our next party, that’s for sure.

For dinner, we ordered the grouper ceviche. Mixed with mango juice, ginger and cucumber, this was a lovely and refreshing appetizer served in a beautiful martini glass with a compartment for ice underneath to keep the ceviche properly chilled.

Next up: snapper fillet with Caribbean garlic-cilantro mojo, served with coconut rice and  wilted spinach and bacon-wrapped scallops with a maple cream sauce on a bed of pappardelle pasta and julienned zucchini and carrots Bacon-anything usually gets my vote as is, but wrapped around scallops and served over fresh pasta with a sweet maple cream? Oh my, yes. Really, this was a stellar meal in a beautiful restaurant. If we’d had room, certainly we’d have indulged in dessert but we were pretty full as it was. Shame, really, as the rum-glazed bananas and the trio of crème brulée looked fantastic.

We casually made our way back to the B&B through the buzzing streets of San Pedro, passing both locals and tourists out enjoying a Friday night on the caye. We were to leave the next afternoon for Caye Caulker, a full-on hippie paradise where life is even slower than in San Pedro. While I looked forward to it, I was saddened by the thought of having to leave a place that I could call home. Maybe one day…

Belize 2012 – Day Five: Never Going to Leave

18 Mar

Have you ever found yourself somewhere so wonderful, so beautiful, so unique that you felt completely immersed in the culture with zero effort? When we took the water taxi back to Belize City from San Pedro last year, I got very emotional. I did not want to leave. There was so much more to see, to experience, to soak up with every fibre of my being that I felt almost cheated. What a tease to only have been there for a short 30 hours! This time around, we were determined to see and eat more.

We arrived at Ambergris Caye (San Pedro is the town making up most of the caye) around 12:15. As I got off the water taxi, I inhaled deeply and smiled ear to ear at the scene in front of me: kids playing, little restaurants lining the beach, people moving at about half the speed of Toronto. We sauntered down the beach to our lovely B&B at which we stayed last year, Changes in Latitudes. We were a little early for check-in, but co-owner Renita said it would be no problem to leave our stuff with her and to grab some lunch. Done. Back down the beach we went to our fave beach-lunch spot in San Pedro: Wild Mango’s. Right on the beach, this is a very popular spot and for good reason: the portions are huge, the food comes quickly but you never feel rushed and, of course, it’s damn delicious. Each table comes with three condiments: two spicy fruit salsas and an onion and carrot mix that adds great crunch to your meal:

Everybody salsa!

We already knew we’d be ordering the Baja fish wrap as we’d had it last year and it was probably the single best thing we ate on the trip. What other yummy dish could we order? We settled on the chicken and avocado wrap and, when they arrived, we knew we’d chosen well:

Chicken wrap

Baja fish wrap

Paired with a couple of Belikins, sitting on a great little patio, this meal is tough to beat. The crispy coating on the fish and the lettuce give the wrap a nice crunch and there is enough filling in there to keep you full for hours. The salsas add a nice heat, too, and our little bowls were nearly empty by the time we had finished.

Having happily killed a couple of hours at lunch, we returned to the B&B and discovered that our sleeping quarters had been unexpectedly upgraded! And what an upgrade! We were to stay in the Toucan’s Nest, a beautiful suite upstairs with its own kitchen, living room, second bedroom and porch, bar & hammock included! The porch quickly became known as the Hammock District.

The Hammock District.

After a quick dip at the neighbouring yacht club’s pool, we parked ourselves in the District and debated where to go for dinner. “Let’s just walk til we find somewhere that looks good.” Wise words. We’d done a little bit of reading up before we left Toronto, but we knew from experience that there was a plethora of places from which to choose. So between prior experience and instinct, we felt we would do just fine. We found ourselves at the Blue Water Grill on that very windy evening, a popular spot in the middle of the waterfront strip. It’s a restaurant that features not only local cuisine, but shows local artists’ work on the walls and contributes much back to the community. J decided he wanted the breaded pan-seared snapper  topped with red onion and papaya salsa, accompanied by sweet potato cakes and grilled veggies. The sweet potatoes used were of a local variety and were white, not the orange we expected. The fish, as expected, was excellent and the cakes were crunchy on the outside while light and fluffy on the inside. Yum:

I opted for the grilled snapper in sesame butter sauce, served with wok-cooked vegetables and steamed rice. The fish was tender, flaky and juicy while the veggies were nice and crispy, not at all overcooked. And the sesame butter sauce? To die for. I could put that sauce on everything: chicken, fish, toast…whatever.

We contemplated dessert, but decided instead to go grab some mix for the rum we had back at the B&B and have a couple of nightcaps instead. Fresh pineapple juice & rum in hand, we wrapped up the night hanging out on our porch, staring up at the star-strewn sky and listening to water lap against the beach. Paradise.

Belize 2012 – Day Four: Holy *%^@, There’s Another One!

12 Mar

We arose to another stunning day in Belize. Warm weather, birds singing, empty stomachs. Having learned my lesson from the previous day, when I ordered breakfast I skipped over the continental breakfast and went for the two eggs (sunny-side up), refried beans, bacon and fresh tortillas. I’ve mentioned a few times that I am notoriously picky when it comes to how my eggs are cooked and am disappointed when my egg order shows up (almost inevitably) overcooked. These, however, were absolutely perfect with bright orange yolks and nearly-translucent whites, cooked just enough. Rip off a piece of tortilla, smother some beans on it, top with some egg yolk, a piece of bacon and a little bit of the ubiquitous Marie Sharp’s sauce. Repeat. Heavenly breakfast.

J and I took a leisurely tour of the grounds, hanging out with the animals and taking pictures of the vibrant flowers planted everywhere:

One last dip in the pool and we were back on the road. We stopped in for a brief visit with J’s uncle and then it was on to…the zoo! The Belize Zoo is a sanctuary for native animals, most of whom were rescued. For a “little zoo” it certainly had a plethora of animals from all walks of life. We saw tapirs, an ocelot, an enormous crocodile, snakes, spider & howler monkeys, birds of every variety, coatimundi, deer, grey foxes, a puma and, most impressively, the jaguars. Mesmerized is the only word that suits our reaction to seeing these gorgeous animals. We were under the impression that there was only one, which we saw lounging on a tree branch:

Maxin' & relaxin'.

But as we all clamored to gawk at this beautiful creature, J’s dad yelled out, “Holy *%^@, there’s another one!” We looked down to see:

Hello, kitty.

This, apparently, was Buddy Junior and it was Mom lying on the branch.Hi, Buddy Junior, nice to make your acquaintance. My but you’re close to my toes…

While Buddy Junior was close, the zoo also affords visitors the opportunity to interact with the animals. You can pay a relatively affordable amount of money to play with and feed a baby jaguar (DO IT!) and, when you’re done your tour of the zoo, you can hold a boa constrictor. This was not my cup of tea in particular, but J was all for it. I have some great shots of him with a snake draped over his shoulders, while his mother stands behind me and looks on, horrified.

Our next stop was Old Belize for a late lunch. It’s a cultural centre just outside Belize City with a little museum, a gorgeous port filled with yachts and a man-made beach. Because it was nearly 4pm by the time we got there and we were starving, we ended up skipping over much of the tourist-y/learning stuff. Right for the food – that’s what we really wanted anyway. I can read on my own time: feed me now! I was in the mood for shrimp, so I opted for the deep-fried shrimp. As always, the meal did not disappoint. The view didn’t hurt, either:

Cucumber Beach

Back to our hotel in Belize City, we had a quiet night in with our second bottle of complimentary champagne. (I hesitate to call it that, but hey…it had bubbles.) We repacked our bags in preparation for the next five days that were to be spent out in the cayes: Ambergris and Caulker, two of my favourite places on Earth.

Belize Bubbles!

Belize 2012: Day Three – Adventurin’!

8 Mar

Finally! It’s climbin’ ruins day! Time to clamber over history…in a good way. We got up at a reasonable hour so we could have some breakfast. After a rather large breakfast the day before, I thought I’d go for something a little lighter. I had a look at the menu and decided on the continental breakfast: a fruit plate with toast, butter & jam. Seeing as I don’t generally eat all that much in the morning, especially earlier in the morning, this sounded about right. The waiter explained that each breakfast came with a fruit bowl – even the continental option. Did I still want the continental, he asked. Sure, I responded. No one else at the table was going to have as much fruit as I would, so I figured we could just share.

Our small fruit plates arrived, with pineapple, orange segments and bananas. Lovely way to start. As we sipped our coffee, the larger plates arrived one after the other: eggs with refried beans, pancakes and then mine. This was, without hyperbole, the largest plate of fruit for one in existence. Ever. None will be larger. It was filled with papaya, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, starfruit, oranges, apple slices, grapes…it was endless. I wish I had thought to bring my camera to breakfast so I could take a picture of the absurdly portioned plate; alas, my brain does not engage until I’ve had some coffee. By the time everyone was finished their breakfast, I was only halfway through. Don’t get me wrong: the fruit was fresh and delicious. No human could eat it all, though. Maybe a little less fruit, a little more toast. Live and learn.

My in-laws dropped us off at the hand-cranked ferry that takes you the short distance across the river and we began our long, steep, hot climb that would take us to Xunantunich. We were under the impression (okay..I was. J was totally right on this one) that you had to walk up the hill to get there – an impression that was shattered as several cars whizzed past us in all their air conditioned glory.

Just the beginning.

Fortunately for us, we have young legs and a lot of determination. We paused briefly to pay the inexpensive entrance fee and were mildly horrified to find out there was more hill to climb before reaching our final destination. The man in the booth looked amused at our horror and clarified that we only had a few more minutes of walking to do and sent us on our way. As unexpectedly tough as that initial walk was, it was completely worth it when we came around a corner and saw this:

Temple at Xunantunich.

Folks, it is a long way up there. Once you reach the summit, however, the view is absolutely breathtaking. It feels like you can see the entire country. It’s nothing but rolling green hills dotted with the occasional house. Spectacular.

The view from on high.

We hung out at the top of the temple for quite some time, soaking in the view and imagining what it would have been like to have lived as the Mayans had (what if you were a Mayan ruler afraid of heights?), we decided to make the trip back down. My friends, the descent was far more frightening than the ascent, I must tell you. Deciding that my life was more important than my dignity, I took a few of the steps on my butt. I think J found this a little ridiculous considering I’d been swinging my legs over the ledge at the top a few moments earlier…

We spent the rest of the day scrounging up some lunch of tamales stuffed with chicken, swimming at the infinity pool…and eating dinner. It’s a tough life on vacation. J and I both opted to have the black lentil soup with sausage and fry jack and the shrimp & fish combo served with a jalapeno cream sauce. To. Die. For:

After a long day of climbin’ and eatin’ we headed off to bed to dream of ancient civilizations and their fish. My dreams are a little weird.

Belize 2012 – Day Two: We’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain…

5 Mar

After a solid 10 hours of sleep, we were up and ready to get this vacation started! From prior experience, we knew that our hotel put on a really nice breakfast buffet with local food and baked goods made on premise. We tucked into johnny cakes (think Belizean scones), papaya, pineapple, local bacon and sausage, French toast, refried beans, eggs and fried/fry jacks. A light breakfast? Certainly not. But  who cares? We’re on vacation!

J’s folks, along with his aunt, came to collect us around 10am for our trip up to Cayo, the mountainous district in Belize. Cayo his home to a number of Mayan ruins, beautiful wildlife and dense forests. It’s a roughly 2.5-3 hour journey along the Western Highway, depending on how you’re travelling and how many stops you make. Along the way, you can go through Belize’s capital city, Belmopan. We have family friends living there and they invited us for lunch – who are we to turn down such hospitality?

The lovely Nelly cooked up a traditional dish called “black dinner” or chimole. This soup, made with two kinds of local spice called recado, garlic, cloves, oregano, cumin, tomatoes and onion, is served along with chicken, a hard-boiled egg and tortillas. You can eat the soup, chicken, egg and tortilla separately but it was much more fun – and tasty – to cut off a piece of the chicken, a piece of egg, wrap them in the tortilla and dunk the whole thing in the soup. There is a good chance I will be attempting to make this at home, assuming I can find all I need!

As truly delicious as this was, dessert was over-the-top, only-had-it-in-Belize good. Ice box cake was it’s name and it had to have weighed 15 pounds – plus the giant serving dish. Filled with condensed milk, Cool Whip, sugar and canned fruit, it had kind of a custard texture and was refreshing and surprisingly light. Despite the ingredients, it wasn’t overly sweet and if I hadn’t been so full from the two helpings of chimole, I would’ve had a second helping of dessert, too, when it was inevitably offered.

Back on our journey, the roads started to get narrower and the scenery changed from flat, wide open spaces to verdant hills. We wound our way through the bottom of the mountains until we finally arrived at our destination: Windy Hill.

Nice view, eh?

And one of my fave things about Windy Hill? This.

Oh, hello, infinity pool.

Not only are the grounds stunning, but the food is unfailingly delicious and clearly made from scratch. The flour tortillas were especially good here, reminiscent of Indian naan: soft and light on the inside, a little bit of char on the outside. The fruit is fresh and plentiful and the service is always friendly. You really get to know them and they you, which makes for an easy and pleasant dining experience. J and I opted for curry and creole shrimp dishes our first night there, respectively, and within 20 minutes GIANT plates of seafood arrived in front of us. Needless to say, very little remained by the time we were done.

After a starlit walk around the grounds, we headed back to our cabin to rest up for the next day’s adventure: climbing the largest ruins in Belize!

Belize 2012 – Day One: Ready for it All…Right After a Nap.

2 Mar

3:30am comes really, really early these days, especially when you’ve got to take on Pearson International Airport half an hour later. It helps to know that you’re headed on vacation to a beautiful country where friends, family and food await you. Last year’s day of departure was a total gong show; this year, a relatively painless experience. Most of the first flight was spent asleep or blankly staring at the seat in front of me. J and I were travelling with his aunt and upon arriving at the Miami airport we decided to go in search of breakfast. While I generally loathe the Miami airport and it’s ability to turn normal, reasonable people into shoving, rude, insane jerks, I must admit that they have a great selection of restaurants. We popped into a Tex-Mex place that had a surprisingly good huevos rancheros plate, served with warm flour tortillas. Beats a McD’s breakfast sandwich any day.

Two hours later we were on our way to my adopted country, Belize. My in-laws were waiting for us at the airport and took us off to the house they had rented in Belize City. After a quick clothing change (there is no place for pants while on vacation, as far as I’m concerned), I sat down with my in-laws to catch up. “Are you ready for a beer?” my mother-in-law asked. Oh, how absurdly ready I was.

The sign you've officially arrived

This light, cold beer was exactly what I was craving after 11 hours of travelling and to accompany it, she had some chicken tamales for us to inhale. What a welcome!

Beer and late-lunch taken care of, we went to visit some of J’s relatives, including his 97-year old great aunt who is an inspiration to anyone who meets her. We only stayed for a brief visit as it was pretty close to dinner and we didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s routine. Additionally, we were pretty exhausted and were very much ready for a nap.

And since we were on vacation, that is EXACTLY what we did: dropped our bags on the floor in our hotel room and fell dead asleep for an hour. Naptime was proceeded by a nice, hot shower. Feeling much more human, J and I headed to the Baymen’s Tavern in our hotel (Belize City is not a place to explore at night by yourself). We ordered a couple of beers and J went for the fried shrimp platter while I opted for the grilled snapper – both with rice & beans and coleslaw. When in Belize, you’ve gotta get the rice & beans. It’s different everywhere you go but always delicious.

There is nothing – nothing – like fresh seafood. The fish had a great flavour from the grill and was cooked perfectly, served with a lemon & garlic butter sauce on the side.  More of this, please:

Grilled snapper, rice & beans, coleslaw: standard Belize fare.

Seafood cravings temporarily fulfilled, we took a little tour around the hotel grounds. There’s something about dipping your feet in a pool that’s instantly relaxing. We returned to our room and sat on our balcony, breathing in the salty night air. Champagne was delivered to our room (part of the package we booked) but we were too wiped to enjoy it. No matter: we had plenty of other nights to enjoy it! Off to bed we went like responsible adults, knowing we had a long trip ahead of us into the mountains the next day.

Next up: road-tripping with the in-laws.

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