July 1st marked the one year anniversary of our arrival in Placencia, Belize. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe we’ve been that long already, and sometimes it feels like we’ve been here longer than that.
I’ve moved country a few times in my life and one thing I’ve learned is that you should always give a new country, (or a town or city) at least 6 months before you decide whether you want to live there permanently or not. This is especially true if you’re coming from a first world country to a developing one like Belize – it’s definitely not going to be the same. If big box stores, malls, franchised fast food, coffee shops and restaurants and efficiency are something you can’t live without, then Belize is not the place for you.
The first thing that hit us when we finally landed in Placencia, was the extreme humidity. We had researched Belize a lot before deciding to move here and were very aware of the humidity, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. When we stepped off the plane, it hit us like a brick wall. It wasn’t long before we were drenched in perspiration. I’d like to say that you get used to it – and to a certain extent you do, but it’s more accurate to say that you learn to live with it more than anything else.
We soon learned to dress in clothing made mostly of cotton, wear our hair short and to seek a cool breeze wherever we went. The humidity is high from May to October. November to April are considered winter months here but the temperatures very rarely fall below 25 deg. C and are lovely and dry. May is the hottest month here and it became unbearable some days. We spent a lot of time in the pool. Even the sea was luke warm.
Less than 2,000 people live in Placencia Village, yet there are 7 supermarkets along Main Street, all Chinese-owned. These are not the lovely, well-lit supermarkets you know and love. They’re dimly lit, the aisles are narrow and the display, quality and availability of the products is limited. In their defense, bright lights only add to heat. Not all the stores stock everything we need under one roof and we always seem to have to stop at several different supermarkets in order to buy everything on our list.
Fruit and vegetables are purchased at one of the four farmer’s markets where you can buy beautiful, juicy pineapples, papaya, mangoes, oranges and more, and fresh vegetables and herbs. The fruit and vegetables are delivered from various farms around Belize every Tuesday and Friday and on those days, you know that they were freshly picked only a day or two ago. And because they haven’t languished in a cooler for a few months, the flavours are completely different – full of flavour.
We also learned that the meat (and sometimes other perishable products) in the supermarkets are left to unthaw during the delivery process, and then placed in freezers where they re-freeze. We soon learned to order good quality meat from various farms who deliver to our door once a week.
I know this probably sounds exhausting, especially if, like us, you’re used to shopping for everything under one roof, but you soon get used to it and it becomes a way of life very quickly. It takes just a little bit of forward planning. When shopping for fruit and vegetables, we meet people we know who are doing the same thing and we stop for a chat. It’s a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two.
Our first few weeks were spent exploring the Village, especially the shops, pubs and restaurants lining the famous sidewalk.
There is no shortage of bars and restaurants and we stopped in for breakfast, lunch and everything in between before heading home for a nap and heading out again for sundowner drinks and supper. The shops along the sidewalk are typical tourist-type stores that sell souvenirs, hammocks, hats and beach clothing. They all more or less sell the same things, but there are a few exceptions – a smoke shop, a clothing store that sells non-touristy clothes, and a couple of jewelry stores that have some very nice pieces in them. There are also quite a few art shops that sell beautiful wooden carvings and paintings created by our very talented local artists. They are certainly worth displaying in your home.
We soon realized that if we continued to eat every meal in restaurants, we would be broke in no time. Away from the sidewalk, there are many small eateries along Main Street and tucked away behind the main bus stop and along the side streets. We soon discovered the best food in Placencia is to be found in these tiny stalls for a fraction of the price of restaurant food.
If you take a stroll down Main Street in the early morning, you’ll see the local residents lined up outside these vendors getting their meat pies or breakfast burritos before hurrying off to work. Some of the vendors are simply a cooler propped up on a chair or a small table or even the bench at the bus stop, filled with delicious local food.
I never miss an opportunity to buy from these vendors. The ones that have buildings make your order from scratch right in front of you. Better not be in too much of a hurry as there’s no such thing as “fast” food here unless you’re buying tamales, burritos or beef pies from the man or lady with the cooler. Still, you probably won’t have to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes and there’s always someone to chat to.
The best way to find out about who’s serving what on any particular day, is to join a couple of the local FaceBook groups like this one – Placencia Food & Restaurants.
Belize loves it’s festivals and carnivals and each and every one of them is an incredible experience filled with laughter, music, dancing, good food and good people.
June to November marks hurricane season here in Belize and coincides with their rainy season. During this time, it can rain almost every day with lots of spectacular storms delivering loud claps of thunder and lightening that lights up the sky. The rain pelts down forcing us to close our windows for a bit. It doesn’t cool down for long though. Fortunately, most of the and rain and storms happen at night leaving us with lovely sunny days to spend at the beach or the pool.
Hurricane watch becomes very important here and every little yellow X marked on the map by the National Hurricane Centre, is followed closely to see whether it will turn into something more powerful and where it will eventually end up.
We learned a lot about Hurricane preparedness in the very short space of time and made sure that we stocked up on water, canned food, flashlights and the like, and made an evacuation plan, if it should come to that. My neighbours and I had a meeting to discuss what we would do in the event of a category one or two and how we would help each other. It’s comforting to know that everyone pulls together in these types of situations.
Fortunately, the two hurricanes that were headed for Placencia, Julia and Lisa, changed direction (Lisa, at the very last minute) but the storms that we experienced from these two ladies caused quite a bit of flooding.
Placencia is a great little village, but cabin fever can set in after a few months. In January, a small group of us – mostly ladies – went on a number of sight-seeing adventures every few weeks. There are many beautiful places to visit in the area, all of them just an hour or two’s drive away which makes for a lovely day trip. We went horseback riding in the jungle and swam in the Sittee River, river tubing and a refreshing swim at Maya King Waterfall, we travelled to Redbank and saw beautiful Macaws and visited Ya’axkin Butterfly farm lunching at the quaint village of Hopins afterwards, spent a day at Moho Caye, and hiked to the waterfalls at Mayflower Bocwina National Park. All incredible experiences which has left me wanting to see and experience all that Belize has to offer.
We have made some lovely friendships, both with permanent residents and people who spend six months at a time here, opened a business and are now proud to call this amazing place home. It’s been a wild ride, but a very worthwhile one.