My favourite moment of travelling is the moment when the road stops and the ocean starts. Waves are rushing to the coast and there is no way to continue. You have reached your destination.
My second favourite moment is swimming in front of my own private beach. I float on my back and look how the fish-hunting pelican’s wing is almost brushing my cheek. It’s so close. I have definitely reached my destination- Hopkins, Belize.
But the road to paradise is always tough. It has to be, or else you wouldn’t enjoy the journey’s end.
We started our trip in San Ignacio, which is roughly 3,5 hours from the coastal village of Hopkins. Since our policy is to go slow, we decided to break the trip in two by visiting Blue Hole National Park. Googling ‘blue hole’, you probably find out that it is in the sea. It is a beautiful diving spot, Belize’s most famous sight. Actually, there are two blue holes in Belize. One of them is located just next to the Hummingbird Highway. It’s basically a swimming hole, blue and round. What else to ask in the middle of the sweaty bus ride?
Bus rides in Belize are not exactly like the bus rides in Europe. Local buses are old American school buses. So you can imagine that the seats are not really designed for adults. There is no air conditioning and – of course – no seat belts. Luckily windows are open, so air still gets in. But when the bus goes fast, you should hold your glasses and hat or else they’ll fly away. If you have long hair, it’s better to tie them in a bun, unless you enjoy untangling them during the rest of your day.
Attacked by mosquitos
Sweaty but happy, we got out of our bus. We were ready to jump into the water. Unfortunately, the ticket seller in the bus hadn’t understood that we wanted to get out at the swimming spot. The bus dropped us at the entrance of the national park instead.
The park ranger welcomed us with a wide smile and pointed us the way to a cave. Well, we went to the cave then. It was really pretty with hummingbirds fluttering around the entrance. Once we got deeper in, the ceiling of the cave felt like a night sky with millions of little sparkling stars shining over you. Out of that magical place, we really needed to find our way to the swimming spot, if we ever wanted to reach Hopkins.
A 45-minute walk sounds like a child’s game? Not with all your life on your back and temperatures over 30°C outside. If that wasn’t difficult enough, a swarm of mosquitoes attacked us in the middle of the jungle. Hadn’t we spray ourselves with repellent barely half an hour earlier? It didn’t scare our bloodthirsty friends away. Soon they were all over us. They even found their way into Tom’s ears.
When it was finally time to remove our clothes, they were so sweaty that it looked like we already had our swim. But the feeling of dipping into the cold blue water was worth it and made us forgot all the hardships.
Nails pushed into leather seats
Getting out of the Blue Hole National Park was trouble. People in the villages are friendly and every single car that is not packed from front to trunk stops. On the highway, it’s a different story. No one stops. We had no idea when a bus would come and the time was ticking- only two more hours of sunlight left.
Thankfully, a bus took us. No free seats though. We had to stand up to enjoy the wild ride through the hills and valleys. There were also no handlebars to hold on. With my nails pushed into the leather seats I kept myself steady when we were speeding down yet another hill. I tried not to think about what would happen when the bus driver made a miscalculation. The Hummingbird Highway is considered the most beautiful two-hour drive in Belize. For us, it was equally beautiful and thrilling.
This time we were dropped in a junction 6 kilometres from Hopkins. We rejected the hopeful taxi driver’s expensive rates and pretty soon a car stopped. Looking out of the window, I could feel that the coast was not far. Around us were swampy wetlands with low vegetation. All at once, the car came to a sudden break. Confusion. Was there something on the road? I didn’t see anything. Only later, when the engine started again, I realised it was a dead crocodile. Another chance to spot a crocodile lost. Well, maybe a dead one is not much of a sight anyway.
At first glance, Hopkins looks like one endless summer road with a couple of guesthouses and restaurants. A blond girl with a pink top cycles past the local youth and there are very few white people. A car is parked on the side of the road with a boombox on the truck that blasts ear-splitting music. Behind it, local youngsters are finishing their last basketball match of the day.
Pretty soon you realise that time flows slowly here, slower than the girl on the bike. People are eating and drinking, enjoying, there is no rush. You open the door and step onto the balcony of your bungalow and there is the sea as far as you can see- all yours. In the mornings sometimes you have to share it with little kids or a fishermen’s boat, but more often than not it’s just you and the sea. Schoolboys walk to school in the mornings between thousands of freshly washed undershirts. The school is just across the street. You spot almost no tourists.
A tourist cafe has turned into a football watching spot during the World Cup. You see some white people dripping in one by one. But they are not the enthusiastic couples or curious solo travellers you expect. Instead, there is an old man having a couple of beers at 9 am, and an older lady who has just bought detergent. They all live in Hopkins.
Captain Jack. Not Sparrow, just Jack
One evening, there is a birthday party in the bar of our guesthouse. Tom likes to believe it’s in honour of his birthday. Every other played song is dancehall. We are among the few under 60-year-olds on the dance floor and it all feels completely normal.
But when I think that’s impossible to feel more Caribbean than I feel at that party, I’m mistaken. Climbing on the boat that takes us on our first snorkelling trip in Belize, a tall man with dreadlocks introduces himself: “I’m your captain, Captain Jack. Not Sparrow, just Jack.”
Hopkins is a little paradise that makes you forget that the rest of the world still exists. That there are still people who don’t swim two times a day. That there are still people who don’t spend all their days on the beach, like the lady who lives next to us. It’s easy to mellow down and stay forever. Just like the friendly English guy who welcomes every tourist from the window of the lobster restaurant, at the junction where the road to the end of the world meets the sea. He liked it here and never left. We don’t have that privilege. Once the power goes off, the card terminals stop working. And when the only ATM decides not to give us cash, we are doomed and sent back to real life.