Paget’s Belize Journal #20

October 19: A Weekend in Hopkins Village

Since I didn’t have a new bedstead and I still had quite a
few not-so-tiny roommates, I decided to get on the bus and go
to Hopkins – a small Garifuna village about 20 miles from Dangriga – for
the weekend. It was a good adventure.

First, I had to get breakfast
and finish negotiations on getting laundry done and getting a
counter built for the kitchen. I currently have exactly 14″
of counter space surrounding the sink. When I find a good board
to put over the sink, I’ll have some more, but this is proving
to be a little more difficult than I thought. So I was put in
touch with Cress, a carpenter and general handyman who agreed
to build me a freestanding cabinet 3 feet long and 20″ deep
with two shelves for BZ $150. Remember a BZ dollar is $.50 US.
I don’t have the foggiest idea if this is a good price or not,
because I don’t know what materials cost, but I bought it.

Then, I found Winnie who makes her living mostly selling cassava
pudding in the market, but had told a friend of a friend of a
neighbor that she would like another small laundry job. So we
negotiated per piece prices – so much for a towel, so much
for a t-shirt, etc. Looks like about BZ $20 a week and I can’t
convince her that jeans don’t need to be ironed. Then I bought
a wonderful smoky-tasting chicken tamale wrapped in a banana
leaf (BZ $1.50) from an older Guatemalan woman on the street
corner and went home to pack my bag.

I had previously e-mailed the proprietors of the Tipple Tree
Beya in Hopkins and they said they had a room and their place
was “pretty far down the peninsula” so I should just
stay on the bus when I got to the village. Not very precise instructions,
but it worked. But first, I had to get on the bus. I took Ritchie’s
bus service, which only leaves the main “highway” to
take the side trip to Hopkins once a day going south and once
a day going north. I understand there used to be better service
but after the last election, all the franchises got shuffled
and there was no longer an elected official from Hopkins so we’re
back to minimal service. The local schools only take children
to about age 13 and then they have to go into the district central
“ecumenical college” in Dangriga, so the ones who pass
the test and are allowed to continue school come in on the northbound
bus at 7:00 in the morning on Monday and go back again on the
11:30 am southbound bus on Friday. I don’t know where they live.
It doesn’t seem like these families have enough money for boarding,
but maybe it’s relatives and scholarships.

The fare for a person is BZ$5 to Hopkins and the bus also
carries freight. The price list is $20 for a stove, $5 for a
large cooler, $3 for a small cooler, etc. And $3 for a coconut!
I can’t imagine why shipping a coconut is expensive. It’s not
like it’s a durian. When I asked the ticket counter girl, she
looked at me like I was nuts and then said very precisely “Do
you wish to ship a coconut?” “Well, no,” I answered,
“but I was just wondering” She then looked around me
and started a conversation in Creole with someone in the waiting
room. After a while I wandered off and bought a glass (plastic
cup) of heavily-sweetened grapefruit juice from a street vendor
as consolation for being an idiot.

The bus (NOT an old school bus) is 48-passenger (or less depending
on the cargo) and has assigned seats. My seat was 9W, which I
learned meant window. You can also get A for aisle. Seems sensible.
We were pretty full, but no one sat by me. Just before we started
out, a young man came through the bus selling little packets
of grainy looking, whitish stuff in plastic bags (everything
is in plastic bags or bottles in this country. Well, except the
tamales). It just cost a shilling or two and only the younger
kids got some, so I knew it wasn’t drugs. I asked the young lady
behind me what it was and what you did with it and she said,
I thought, that it was made out of corn and you just ate it.
But I never saw anyone eat it. Later I got to thinking maybe
she said it was made out of CANE and it was flavored sugar or
something. Remember Lik-M-Ade? I’ll let you know if I find out.

All the passengers from Hopkins helped me figure out where
to get off the bus for the Tipple Tree. This is a small (3 rooms
and a cabin) and inexpensive, but nice, guesthouse on the beach
run by a retired army doctor, (Dr. Debbie) and an English woman
named Trish. (check out their web site – we did not do this site at Naturalight, Debbie did it,
but it’s not bad for a retired surgeon. I advised her to lose
the bug-eating iguana.)

Hopkins is a quiet, traditional Garifuna fishing and farming
village of about 1,200 strung along the beach. There are two
resorts and 6 or 8 small guesthouses. And there are only a few
places to eat. Most often, a household where the mom is willing
to let you buy a plate of whatever she cooked. And it’s always
the same thing – stewbeans and rice, stewed chicken (sometimes
fish) and cole slaw, Fanta or Coke. That’s what I had for lunch.
At the Ritchie’s Dinette (I don’t know if it’s the same Ritchie
that runs the bus service) in Dangriga you also get a lengthwise
slice of baked/fried plantain. Which I thought was a huge hunk
of bacon the first time they gave me one. Anyway Belizeans eat
this every day and I eat it a lot too since I left Pelican Beach.

On my way back from lunch, I discovered yet another use for
school buses retired from the U.S. In Hopkins, one serves as
a mobile store. The seats have been removed and replaced with
shelves and a freezer (and a gas-run generator), a sign announcing
fruits, meats and groceries has been painted on the side and
the bus rolls around from neighborhood to neighborhood. Very
practical since Hopkins is strung out along about 5 miles of
beach. For some reason, I felt awkward, though, so I didn’t go
in and buy anything. Now I really wish I had.

Then after a rough afternoon of lying around in the hammock
and wading a bit, it was Tipple Time. Debbie and Trish make their
own wine and also sell some of Laura’s wine from Dangriga. So
we tippled as the sun set and the neighborhood girls started
coming around with things their mothers had just made – panades
which are little turnovers made from cornmeal stuffed with fish
and garnished with spicy cole slaw. The panades cost a shilling
each (a BZ quarter remember) and 6 of them will make a nice supper
if you don’t want stewbeans and rice again. Then another little
girl with hot lemon pies. This is a big flat tart of piecrust
topped with a condensed milk/lemon juice concoction. A piece
of pie about 5″ x 5″ costs BZ $1.

After supper we just sat and talked and watched the stars
and the fireflies come out. One other guest was a youngish (but
older than 25) woman from England named Hillary who is doing
the English equivalent of the Peace Corps. I gather she teaches
English but seems to travel around a lot doing it. She was actually
born in Belize, as her father was stationed here in the military.
The other guests were a young family – Mom, Dad, three kids, 7,
3 and 5 months – who just moved here from Las Vegas and rented
an organic orange grove. Boy did the wife have some stories to
tell. And maybe I’ll tell you a few, but not now. This is way
too long and unfortunately I don’t have time to edit it. More
tomorrow. Oh, I got the bed – heaven!