Belize City; the second time around

Cruise ships in the distance at the harbor tower.

Belize City took on a world of difference with our second choice of routes through and around the city. This time we took the route toward the Northern Highway out of the city and towards the airport and Baboon Rescue facility. We were directed right immediately out of the cruise complex and found a route with fewer people and cars competing with us on the road, newer and upscale buildings all along the route and an impressive Oceanside drive for almost four miles.

We were immediately introduced to a 100 member marching school band practicing on the road adjacent to their school. I realized later that the coolness of the ship’s staterooms had chilled my camera lens and the humidity easily fogged it. I dried it off temporarily but I knew it would take some more time before the glass warmed up and the condensation subsided. Pardon the photos in the meantime. A horse drawn cart carried 2 cruise passengers on their own trip along this route. An armada of gliding swallowtail seabirds floated 20 feet above our heads as we enjoyed what was clearly the Kahala of Belize. We stopped to take a few photos of this picturesque seaside setting, catching the two cruise ships five miles out to see in one direction and a bevy of clean three story hotels and restaurants along along the road on both sides in the other direction with the Caribbean making a perfect backdrop.

A few miles on we passed the microwave laden tower for the local cell phone company just outside their headquarters and then the local TV station. The electric company on the right provided two large new buildings as I remembered to notice the structures carrying power around the city and into the countryside.
This route also took us past an old soccer stadium with workmen building a wall to begin construction of what was to begin to become the Marion Jones Sports Complex as was identified by a large billboard. We then moved into a very upscale neighborhood of large two story homes, most with bars on the windows and fences around each property. The lawns were well landscaped and workers could be seen regularly making improvements to many of the homes.

More upscale Belize City

Next came the clean, well kept, colorful buildings of the St Johns University where the road became divided and two roundabouts marked the influence of the University on the neighborhood. Apparently, this is a school beginning for 16-year olds. Next door was the Nazarene High School and another school identified as the Belize branch of the West Indies University. Students could be seen moving between classes, waiting for city buses, and being dropped off or picked up by friends or parents in newer autos.

We turned at a nearby roundabout where a sign indicated the direction toward the airport. The neighborhood turned more industrial, but this was still identifiable as an upscale area. The businesses were building supply stores, architect and engineer offices, auto sellers and many gasoline stations. The Caribbean was a little bit further behind the buildings and a residential neighborhood lie between the backs of the businesses and the ocean, but the waters regularly peaked through. Several bars and restaurants also popped up on each passing block, ranging from local food to Indian, Chinese, and Italian food.

The P Market inside.

I began to think about a convenient rest stop when Marilyn spied something and suggested we stop at a large warehouse-like store identified as the P Market. We parked the bikes outside and entered what turned out to be a grocery store somewhat like those I’m familiar with from the US. The aisles were wide, the goods plentiful and recognized by familiar manufacturer names, and a bakery/coffee shop even could be found in the front corner with 5-6 small two person tables. We took the opportunity to walk around the aisles and noted that everything seemed to be available, ranging from fresh vegetables to pet food and even frozen foods. Some of the products were from European or South American manufacturers, but the store seemed to supply choices for anything one needed. Customers were sparse, however, and the dozen or so workers busied themselves stocking shelves or checking out the cash registers at the ten check out counters. Marilyn used the rest room while I sought a cold soft drink at the coffee shop. The counter person indicated this was the wrong place for sodas and pointed to a checkout counter refrigerator which contained what I have become familiar with here in the Yucatan, Coke Light. I purchased one for $1.25 Belizean dollars ($0.75 US) and Marilyn and I shared the bottle at one of the coffee shop tables. The place wasn’t air conditioned, but the many fans were well placed and I began to feel comfortable even in the heat. We left to to begin our journey a few minutes later.

The Riviera of Belize City

Our route took us past more businesses for the next 3 miles or so. I noticed a development of homes on the seaward side which reminded me of ones I had seen at Pinehurst in North Carolina in the early 1970s. They were two stories high and circular, about 40 feet in diameter with a walkway completely around the outside on the second level and the lower level with a smaller diameter, leaving the homes somewhat like gigantic mushrooms. There were about forty or so of these homes, each painted a distinctive color typical of the Caribbean. I could also see the Caribbean peaking through between the buildings.

Lunch at the M&G

I began to look for somewhere to have lunch and Marilyn insisted we find a local place. We passed a very nice hotel cluster with what must have been a nice restaurant, but we continued on looking for something more typically Belizean. I passed one called the Atlantic but continued on, seeking another choice. Soon, I spied a sign identifying the “newly opened” M&G restaurant on one of the side streets. We searched for another half mile and then turned around to try the M&G. The side road turned into a dirt road bordered by churches and child care facilities, but eventually revealed our target, a tiny one or two room single-story wooden building. We stepped up through the door after verifying that the empty room was available for lunch. We were quickly followed by two other customers, one of whom sat at a table and the other of whom greeted the cook before leaving on another errand.

With no menu, we asked the cook what was available and she identified various stew meals. Marilyn asked about fish but we settled upon the chicken stew and the pork stew, both served with mixed rice and beans, although white rice and bean soup was also available. I ordered limeade and Marilyn had water. We began a conversation with the other customer (who had also ordered chicken stew). She ran a hotel nearby and ate here frequently, saying the fare we ordered was both good and authentic Belizean food.
We spent about 45 minutes at the M&G, learning that the owner was a graduate of the Nazarene High School we had seen. We talked about the grocery stores and learned there were at least 5 large ones like the one we had visited, and that the busy time was late in the afternoon after the workers left work. We learned that the bars of home or business windows were a correct indication of a high crime rate and that this area was somewhat safer than downtown, where most people would not venture out at night. The entire time was very pleasant and the food just right both in flavor and in quantity. We took a few pictures and headed back.

I was a little concerned about getting lost but ticked off the familiar buildings as we rode and noted the microwave tower I recognized on our way out. It appeared several miles in the distance, and although there were other towers and even microwave towers, I was convinced this was a proper landmark because of it’s location in relation to the coast. I made one wrong turn but corrected the path quickly and quickly returned to the Princess Margaret Drive as it passed the schools. The ride was entirely pleasant. We returned to the cruise ship tender landing area and were greeted by the security guards who remembered that we had told them last week that we would return for a third cruise. The tender operators loaded our bikes on the tender and we returned to the ship uneventfully. We were questioned by at least a dozen passengers at the tour center and on the tender about the bikes and several of them remarked that this was a smart way to travel and they would consider this method the next time they took a vacation. I think they will.


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