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The Story of Our Little Library

After experiencing success in the corporate world, Bertie Lee Murphy, affectionately called “Miss Bertie” joined the Peace Corp at age 70, where she was tasked as a literacy volunteer assigned to Hopkins, Belize.

When Bertie arrived in Hopkins, she noticed there was not a school library or a community one. Since there was no physical building, Miss Bertie set up a “mobile” library system of some donated books and passed out library cards. Books were loaned on a weekly system. Fortunately, the old pre-school classroom was converted to the library and books becan filling the shelves and many other benefits of a “store front.” In her blog “Bertie in Belize” she shares of her surprise at being able to establish a library in Hopkins, with over 1500 books, in just 11 months.

Miss Bertie died the following year, in 2008. Lacking lacking volunteers to run the newly-created library, it closed. Thankfully, it re-opened in 2011 and has flourished since. Books continue to be donated. Shelves continue to be added, and there has even been an expansion of the building. The library received electricity in recent years, and now has fans and some donated computers.

Miss Bertie’s Hopkins Community Library became part of the Belize National Library Service, in 2011 as well, ensuring its continuation for the Hopkins community even if the availability of local volunteers disappears. There is no government funding, except to provide for one part-time librarian. All funds for book maintenance, building repairs, building book shelves, and bills are raised by the community.

After school programs are daily, where children read and do their homework. There are science days, art activities, and Friday “game days.” However, puzzles and learning games are hard to find in Belize and typically expensive. Children’s library cards are free. Adults are $2.50US/$5BZ, and anyone is welcome to be a member of Miss Bertie’s Library. Tourists included.

Miss Bertie’s has a bi-annual yard sale to raise funds, as well as a few smaller events throughout the year. Donations of books, pencils, games, and money are welcomed!

 

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Hopkins Pirate Scramble

Hopkins Inn was excited in joining our friends in sponsoring the first Hopkins Pirate Scramble!

From the Belize Amateur Golf Association–(Will is the BAGA secretary):

This past Saturday was hot and that heat resulted in firm fairways and tight lies. Fortunately, the golf format was a scramble. We increased the degree of difficulty by adding pirate rules that allowed a team to take certain liberties with the ball of the other team in keeping with the saying “Pirates – We steal it, burn it, or violate it!” The pirate rules also had the effect of increasing the amount of conversation and sometimes the amount of exercise. Back at the clubhouse there were great tales of pirate mischief, a pleasant lunch, cold libations, and over $2,200 in award values donated by Hopkins Village businesses. Thank you sponsors for your generosity!

Congratulations to the winning team of Peter Allen, Peter Hughes, and Paul Martin! The full list of teams, scores, and awards are attached.

The next BAGA event will be the April monthly tournament on April 22.

Fun Facts You May Not Know

  • Belize’s wetlands are home to the fresh water Morelet’s Crocodile and the saltwater American Crocodile, that can be spotted in Sittee River and the freshwater lagoon in Hopkins.
  • Mangos are the world’s most popular fruit and Hopkins is the “mango capital” of Belize.
  • Approximately 1,000 Mayan ruins are scattered throughout Belize. Most are unexplored. Xunantunich and Caracol are some of the most impressive sights in Belize.
  • Belize’s Black Howler Monkeys are one of the top 10 loudest animals in the world.
  • Belize is the first and only country in the world to create a Jaguar nature preserve (officially titled The Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve) and it is located about 15 minutes from Hopkins.
  •  Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and home to some of the best scuba diving on the planet.
  • Cashew trees are all over Hopkins Village and Will and I even have one! (Cashews don’t come in shells.) Instead, they grow from a fruit called the cashew apple. The fruit is edible, but the nut must be roasted to remove the toxins as it cannot. Want to see a photo of a cashew nut? Check out the Hopkins Inn Pinterest page.
  • Over 540 species of birds have been recorded in Belize. In Hopkins, we regularly spot the Jabiru stork and roseate spoonbills, just on the Hopkins Road. A little further out and we have spotted green parrots. At the inn, we have hummingbirds, brown pelicans, frigate birds, and just today, we spotted a mockingbird with her babies in their nest in our palm tree.
  • There are no fast-food chains in Belize. (That’s right, no drive through Chick-fil-A’s, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subways, etc.) And there are no “big box” stores like Walmart and Target. Will and I like that Belize is filled with locally owned “mom and pop” stores and restaurants that serve fresh food. Nothing fast here, as all food is prepared to order.

Just the Facts

Belize is physically a small country that can be traveled by car in about five hours (from north to south) as it’s only about the size of the state of Massachusetts. However, the city of Cleveland, Ohio has a larger population than Belize. Belize has Mexico to its northern border, Guatemala to its west and southern border, and the Caribbean Sea to its east.

The people of Belize are wonderfully diverse with Mestizo (Maya and Spanish descendants), Creole (European and African), Maya, Garifuna (African and Arawak’s of Caribbean), East Indians, Chinese, Maya, and the Mennonites.

Belmopan, is the country’s capital and it is considered the world’s smallest capital city. After Hurricane Hattie, in 1961, the capital was moved from Belize City inland, where Belmopan was created as a planned community. The government buildings are designed to resemble that of the Maya pyramids. The name Belmopan is derived from two rivers-Belize and Mopan.

Language:

Belize gained its independence from the British in 1981. Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Just like the people of Belize are diverse, so are the many languages spoken in the country. I get several questions asking if I have learned Spanish yet and I re-iterate with people that everyone speaks English in Belize, just like in the U.S., and English is taught in schools.

However, unlike the U.S., many other languages are spoken in Belize and many people are bilingual. Hopkins, is a Garifuna village, so Garifuna is widely spoken as well. Typically, it is taught and passed on orally. All Garifuna in Belize speak English. There are also Maya and Creole villages, where those languages are spoken, in addition to English. But, Spanish is quite common too, but more in the other areas of Belize than in the Hopkins coast.

Time Zone:

Belize is on Central Standard Time and does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Currency:

The Belize dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at two to one. $1US=$2BZ. The dollar is accepted everywhere.  You can use both U.S. and Belize dollars to pay for something. Cash is preferred, but more places are taking credit cards. ATM cards with no foreign transactions fees are more common than they used to be, so why not save on fees and acquire one before traveling?

Electricity:

Electricity is the same as the U.S. and Canada, so no special plugs and adapters are needed. However, many jungle lodges are “off grid” and do not appreciate energy-draining accessories, like hair dryers and straightening irons. Besides, we find most people enjoy a break from high-maintenance hair days!

Emergency Numbers:

To reach the police, dial 911.

Driving:

Belizeans drive on the right side of the road.

If you are making a left-hand turn, you should pull over to the right and put your left-hand blinker on and wait until the road is clear from both ways before making a left turn.  One should not travel the highways at night because they are no lights, reflectors, etc.

 

Budget Bites

We hear quite often that guests want to save money and stay somewhere they can cook some of their meals.

While I appreciate wanting to save money and cook, I would recommend doing that somewhere else, but not in Hopkins. Some say Hopkins is a food mecca! Enjoying the food really is part of the experience! So, not only do I suggest going out, the good news is that it is affordable to do so. Below is a list of places that may not be on your radar or in any travel books either as they are off the beaten path. Some tourists simply don’t manage to venture out to try them, but I can assure you, your taste buds will be glad that you did.

At Hopkins Inn, continental breakfast is included in the room rate. We serve breads made by local women—things like Johnny cakes, powder bun, bun, and creole bread with fresh local fruits like papaya, pineapple, molly apples, and mangos.  However, if you were not staying at the Inn, you could purchase the breads from local women, particularly at the Belfuna Women’s’ Coop for about $1-$2BZ each. You could also go to the fruit and vegetable stands as opposed to the grocery stores for fresher foods and more variety. (Hopkins has two vegetable stands.) Molly apples and star fruit are typically $1BZ each, while $1BZ gets you ten bananas!

To go out for breakfast, Tina’s has an amazing veggie omelette for $3US/$6BZ or her Belizean breakfast with fish and fried jacks is $6US/$12BZ. Tina serves breakfast all day, now!  Felicia, at Queen Bean, is known for her stuffed fry jacks (they are stuffed with eggs, bacon, and veggies) as well as her fried chicken and pancakes. Both are $5US/$10BZ each. Fry jacks are like beignets.

For lunch or just some snacks around town, Virge’s serves panandes, empanadas and such for $1-$2BZ each. La Runi Hati has small burritos for $3BZ, Cassava fries for a few dollars, and my favorite—fish fajitas for $5US/$10BZ.  Belfuna’s Women’s’ Coop usually serves just one item for lunch, a regularly featured item is stew chicken $4US/$7BZ or Hudut or fry fish for $6US/$12BZ. Melting Pot does some of the best fry fish in town, but be prepared to wait as she (as do other restaurants) prepare all food to order. There fry fish runs about $6US/$12BZ or she has a $1.50US/$3BZ chicken burrito or a burrito with cheese for $2US/$4BZ that most people are content to share.

Dinner in the village is same type of fair—stew chicken, fry fish, or cultural foods like Hudut, Bundigo, or Darassa. The best fish and chips in the village is at Windschief for $7US/$15BZ. The fish tacos there are delicious too. They have avocados on them when they are in season. An order of four tacos runs about $6US/$12BZ.

No one goes hungry in Hopkins!

What kind of shoes should I bring?

High heels or even wedges don’t work well for a place like Belize and will just take up unnecessary room in your luggage. If you haven’t thought of packing a pair of hiking sandals, you should. If you don’t have any, you may want to consider purchasing some as they are long-lasting and versatile, working well on the beach or mountains.

Why pack hiking sandals?

Hiking sandals offer a nice alternative to hiking boots in a tropical climate, like Belize. They work well for hiking, cave kayaking, floating the river, and more. Hiking sandals are light enough that they also work well for beach activities and walking. Of course, hiking sandals are not meant for treacherous terrain and heavy back packs.

Climbing the Maya ruins of Belize or going to Cockscomb or Mayflower National Parks require good shoes. Flip flops simply do not provide ankle support and traction, that are needed even for a stroll through the parks, much less strenuous hiking. Hiking sandals are a better alternative to tennis shoes as they have more traction and dry out faster. Unlike tennis shoes, they can be worn with or without socks.

For walking around Hopkins, flip flops and sandals just fine for some. But between the intense heat and more walking in dirt streets than you may be accustom to, you may consider something more, as it is not uncommon for delicate shoes to fall apart. Being here on vacation as a tourist, I did not enjoy the long trek back to Hopkins Inn when one of my sandals blew apart. So now, I prefer a hardier shoe–that is–when I wear them! Feel free to go barefoot!

Regardless of whether you pack hiking sandals or not, it is good to pack a pair of shoes that serves more than one purpose. You may not have had a chance to think about it, but having roller board suitcases or heavy luggage can be challenging in the sand. Many places do not have paved walk-ways and such, like in the U.S. or Mexico. Also, many of the guest houses and inns are built with smaller closets than some may be accustom to, so one less pair of shoes is a good thing. Lastly, we have found that traveling light simply is more enjoyable, especially in the heat, as lugging around big bags can take away from the fun.

 

 

 

 

ATM in Hopkins

When Will and I first started coming to Hopkins, there was no ATM machine, nor did anyone take credit cards. Now, we have one ATM in Hopkins Village and many restaurants and shops that take credit cards. However, some do charge a processing fee, typically around five percent.

The Hopkins ATM is with the Belize Bank. The maximum it allows you to take out is two transactions of $500BZ. You may (or may not) know that the Hopkins ATM is not accepting cards with chips, like it has in the past. For people with cards without a chip, it usually works. There are times that the Hopkins ATM runs out of cash, but the bank is typically good at refilling it the next day.

*Update* International travelers are no longer able to get cash out of a Belize Bank ATM. Therefore, you should get cash BEFORE coming to Hopkins. 

To save money on fees, I recommend getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Finding a credit card with no foreign transaction fees used to be a challenge, but now there are several (Chase, Capital One, Charles Schwab, Fidelity, etc.)

Scotia and Atlantic Banks have had no problems getting cash to those with or without chips and they allow you to get $1kBZ out in one transaction. These banks are located all over Belize, just not in Hopkins. You may want to get cash before arriving in the village. Where to find their locations? The ATM locations for Scotia Bank: http://www.scotiabank.com/bz/en/0,,3019,00.html and for the Atlantic Bank locations: http://www.atlanticibl.com/about-us/branches/

The closest branches—Scotia and Heritage, from Hopkins are in Dangriga. It is 20- minutes from Hopkins. Taxis are $45US/$90BZ one way. Bus fare is $2.50US/$5BZ one way. We are hearing from many Canadians that the Heritage Bank ATM is “swallowing” their cards. However, that does not happen with our card, but to be cautious, I recommend going to the Scotia bank in Dangriga.

As an alternative to making a trip to Dangriga, the Happy and Dong Lee Supermarkets in Hopkins allow you to access money but charge an 8% fee.

Now, several restaurants take credit cards, although many prefer cash and some of the more local ones only transact in cash.