Part 2…Holy Cow!…We had a great day!…Lots more photos…

I squealed with delight when we encountered this pineapple growing in Ella and Ian’s Botanical Garden.  Tom looked at me smiling, “Gee, t’s a pineapple.  Hold it together!” But, he too, reveled in its beauty.

The theme of the Botanical Garden is orchids, but other plants and flowers abundant in Belize were also incorporated into the vast display.

Simple yet elegant, a single orchid.  There were hundreds of varieties, more than we call recall, but Ian knew them all.

Ian made a special point with meeting up with us again after our tour of the enchanting tree houses, to give us a tour of his botanical gardens, a horticulturist’s dream.   

Rich, thick greens surround the dainty flowers.
 All the flowers and plants had signs describing their species, origins and unique qualities.
Art in horticulture.
The scents throughout the garden were intoxicating.
This unique plant is sensitive to touch. Tom touched it and it recoiled.  He was impressed.
Ian purchased this fountain in Guatemala.  On his way back to the resort, he hit a speed bump causing it to fall apart in the back of the truck. Later, it was rebuilt to stand in its full beauty in the Botanical Garden.

At the end of our exhilarating visit to the massive garden his dear wife Ella had so lovingly created, he took us to a little unmarked hut to discover his soap making facility, where organic soaps are handcrafted using the finest quality essential oils.

Unusual plants indigenous to Belize adorn the garden.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without six bars of soap. After the hot, humid day, we were anxious to shower back at our villa at Laru Beya using the naturally scented soaps.

Another flowering plant.

By the time we completed our tour, it was already 3:00 pm. Apprehensive about driving the scary road in the dark with a 2 1/2 hour trek ahead of us, we decided to return to Placencia. 

As we approached the exit to the garden, we spotted this locally crafted head.

When we returned to our villa, we had yet to grocery shop, visit the vegetable stand, refill the rental car (the gas station closes at 7 PM) and get ready to go out for dinner.  With the rental car in our possession until 9:00 PM, we’d plan to drive to one of the local restaurants that previously we hadn’t been able to visit on foot.

As we were about to depart, Ian wanted to show us one more of his venture. We walked the steps into this quaint building to discover it was where their organic soaps are made.  The aroma in the little hut wafted through our nostrils sending our sense of smell into overdrive.

Alas, when done with it all we were pooped, freshly showered, smelling of essential oils, still full from the cheese tasting and we decided to stay in, munch on leftovers, and watch the first episode of Dancing with the Stars.  Ah, another fine day and night.

Bins, bags, and containers were filled with handmade organic soaps. The plastic wrap, as shown in the above roll that is used to wrap the soaps, is biodegradable.

Are we disappointed we didn’t see waterfalls and ruins?  Not at all.  After all, our goal has been to do exactly what feels right to us, learning about the people, their food, their work and their dedication to the ecological preservation of their country.  

We chose six of our favorite scents.

With the production of environmentally favorable products for the people of Belize and their visitors all of whom gain as a result of the myriad health benefits coupled with the beauty of the land and sea.  Mission accomplished.

On the drive back to Placencia we counted seven single-lane bridges, none of which proved to be a problem. With no shoulder, winding mountainous roads, it was dangerous to pass other slow-moving vehicles. Tom was careful, but on a few occasions, I white-knuckled it.

Skinny cows. And this morning, I poured thick raw, fresh cream, locally produced, into my locally grown coffee. Tonight we’ll have taco salads, made with organic, locally grown lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, and seasonings with ground steak from the grass-fed skinny cows, all topped with cheese lovingly crafted from the Cheese Factory at Cave’s Branch Jungle Lodge.

Thanks, Ella and Ian Anderson for a full and enriching experience. 

Part 1…Holy cow!…We had a great day!…Lots of photos!…

Grazing cows on the bumpy road in the cozy town of Hopkins.  Notice how skinny they are as opposed to grain-fed cows.

Tom is an excellent driver, although he tends to be impatient, continually attempting to pass the car or truck in front of us.  Guy thing.  Yesterday, we went on a road trip.

There’s a Laru Beya in Hopkins.  We’re yet to discover if there is a connection to our Laru Beya in Placencia.

With the reputation of the Hummingbird Highway being a “death trap” and after hearing about four tourists dying on the highway a few years ago, I was anxious about traveling on the road. 

Cute flowery house on the main road through the town of Hopkins.

 This style of house is common in Belize when close to the ocean.

The most frightening aspect is the lack of emergency services in this part of Belize. An auto accident victim could easily die, with what wouldn’t have been life-threatening injuries in the US or other countries, during the possible four to six-hour wait to get to evacuated to an emergency hospital. This scares me. Tom, on the other hand, didn’t give it a thought. Another guy thing.

 We stumbled across this restaurant and condo development at the end of the road in Hopkins

Our plan for the day was to travel to Cave’s Branch Jungle Lodge near Belmopan, Belize (the capital city) to visit their gourmet cheese-making factory, perhaps spending an hour. Then we’d travel on to visit a waterfall, ruins, and a few cozy resort towns along the drive taking photos at random.

The laid back beach at the Hopkins Beachside Bistro Restaurant.

Our first stop was in the town of Hopkins about an hour’s drive from Placencia where we had an opportunity to snap a few photos.

The scene was breathtaking.
 We can’t miss a photo op!  We prefer scenery photos but family and friends insist on photos of us.  We comply from time to time.

On February 15th (see the post from February 16th for details of the party) we attended a cheese and wine tasting party at Mathieus Deli across the road from us. During the party, we met Ian Anderson, the owner of Cave’s Branch Jungle Lodge and the cheese-making factory founded by him and his wife, Ella.  Ian invited us to visit the cheese factory and resort in the future. 

The breathtaking canopied drive to the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge Resort
 Entrance to the Cheese Factory at Caves Branch Jungle Lodge.

After tasting and subsequently purchasing a wide array of the extraordinary gourmet cheese weekly at Mathieus Deli, we knew that a visit to the factory, worked by locals, exactly meets our criteria of learning about the work and culture of the local residents of Belize. 

Entrance to the resort.

The waterfall along the walkway toward the main building.

All proceeds from the sale of the cheeses are donated to fund the ‘youth at risk’ programs of the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation.  Ella and Ian Anderson’s commitment to this foundation and their ongoing dedication and hard work add a unique charm to what is according to our taste buds, the most delicious cheese we ever tasted. 

Clara Belle and Clara (yep, two Claras) were busy making cheese.
Purchasing their fresh raw milk products from a local Mennonite farm along with the organic ingredients and the utmost of sanitary hand processing attributes to the fine quality of their cheese.
Ian is an excellent educator taking considerable time with us
to explain the cheese making process.
Mozzarella making in the process!
 The platter of cheeses Ian set up for our tasting.
We could hardly wait to sink our teeth into the delicious cheese but Ian insisted we savor
the texture, aroma, and start with the smallest of bites. 
Although not a wine drinker due to my strict diet, I wanted to toast
Ian for offering us this delightful experience.
Tom and Ian both enjoyed their fine white wine with the exquisite cheese.
Rows and rows of cheese in the cooling room, many still in the aging process.

Roquefort cheese in the aging process.

More cheese in the aging process in the cooling room.  It was refreshing
to cool ourselves in the 52 degree room.

Argus, Ian’s female bull mastiff waited outside for Ian while he was in the cheese factory with us.  The photo is deceiving.  Argus weighs 180 pounds!

After our cheese tasting and cheese making education, Ian arranged a tour of his Cave’s Branch Jungle Lodge with Larry, which gave us an opportunity to yet another of his employees, all locals, all of whom expressed enthusiasm and appreciation for employment at this fine establishment. 

After climbing numerous flights of steps to see a few of the jungle lodges high above the resort, Tom and I both sweating up a storm, panting like dogs, to relax with beverages in the bar, meeting both staff and resort guests. Lively conversation ensued with the delightful staff.

 The inviting pool beckoned us to jump in.  We didn’t.
 The entrance into the main dining area and bar.
 The river running through the 50,000-acre resort.
 The bar in the main dining room. Jason, one of the bartenders is from Placencia, now living near the resort.
The outdoor shower in one of the jungle lodges.  The water runs through a metal bucket with holes in the bottom.  Tom turned it on allowing me to get this photo of the water flowing.
 The screen room in a jungle lodge high above the complex.
Locally crafted wood carvings abound in the resort.
 The screened veranda in a jungle lodge with expansive treetop views.
Another living area in a jungle lodge embraced by the jungle.
Elegant indoor shower.

While at the bar we met a guest from the resort who’d just completed a horseback tour. Toward the end of the event, she ending up removing the horse’s saddle to embark upon a trek across the river that runs through the property while hanging on to the horse’s mane. She was grinning from ear to ear. The resort offers a multitude of unique adventures that meet the abilities of any age guest.

Beautifully appointed fixtures and amenities utilizing natural material.

Stop back tomorrow for Part 2 of our day trip to Cave’s Branch Jungle Lodge including our tour of Caves Branch Botanical Garden and soap making factory.

Party Time in Placencia, Belize…

Gunter, the chef, baker and purveyor of fine foods at Mathieu’s deli.

Who knew that less than one week after moving into our ocean front villa at Laru Beya that we’d be going to a local party?  Yep, that’s us, social butterflies. 

An element of our ability to travel the world is wrapped up in our combined enjoyment of meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, ultimately making new friends.

After our first friends, Kari and Stu from Canada left Friday morning off to visit another island and then head home, we’d planned dinner Friday night with our favorite newlywed couple, Pam and Jerry, who’d invited us to join us.  

Last night was their last night in Placencia and they too were heading off to another resort in Belize for the remainder of their honeymoon.

The marina at Habanero’s/Mathieu’s.

Early in the afternoon Pam, a long time resident of Belize and a US citizen, came dashing over to our veranda as we lounged after a long walk on the beach.  Her enthusiasm along with the bounce in her step, led us to anticipate she had something exciting to tell us. 

“We’re invited to a party!”  she blurted. 

“We?”  I questioned hoping that the invitation did indeed include us.

“Yes,” she babbled, “all of us are invited to a wine and cheese party across the street at Mathieu, a quaint bakery attached to Habanero, our close and favorite Tuesday night Mexican buffet spot.

“Its at 4:00 pm. Would you like to go with us?”  she questioned with eyebrows raised.

More boats at the marina.

Tom and I looked at each other for a moment reverting to our “old selves” thinking of a reason “why not?”  But our “new selves” chimed in simultaneously,
“Yes, we’d love to!  We’ll look for you there at 4:00 pm sharp!”

Pam smiled wide.  We’re going to a party!

Planning to attend the party for a few hours returning to our respective villas to get ready for the evening and drive the five mile distance to De Tatch, a local eatery consisting of multiple little huts on the beach and one large thatch hut, known for its traditional Belizean food and juicy imported steaks (I prefer the local grass fed meat).

Arriving promptly at 3:55, we grabbed a rattan table for four with comfy padded chairs, seeing few people.  Tom and I looked at each other surely thinking the same thing, “Where are all the guests?  Not much of a party.”  No wine, no cheese was in sight.

Nice catamaran!

Within minutes, we found Pam and Jerry, happy to find us.  We all reveled in how thoughtful promptness is, as we gathered around the table, looking around the sparse area. 

In a flurry of activity, the Belizean way, the area filled with locals, expats, tourists and us, leaving us feeling excited and included in what proved to be a delightful experience as you can see from the attached photos.

Cheese being served at the party. Ian Anderson, the cheese maker, manufacturing cheese made in Belize, is the gentleman serving cheese. 

Frosty lasses of fresh squeezed pineapple juice was poured all around. (None for me.  No sugar here.  No problem.) The imported red and white wine flowed freely and the food…much more than cheese. 

Servers passed trays of appetizers including many locally grown fruit, hand carved imported deli meats, Bruschetta made with locally grown tomatoes piled atop breads made right there at the Matthieu Deli plus a wide array of the most amazing cheeses actually made right here in Belize at the resort, owned by Ian Anderson, featured in the photo above.

Breads served a appetizer table.  Drool worthy.

The cheese making factory is located in Ian’s resort, Caves Branch in Cayo District. Its by far the best cheese we’ve ever eaten.  The proceeds from the sales goes to an organization for the betterment of Belizean children.  What an amazing operation.

Tom tried a few small slices of the amazing breads, as he has from time to time when we’ve dined out recently with no adverse effects, when eaten in moderation. None for me.  

Our newlywed friends, Pam and Jerry, as the area fills with party-goers.

Gunter, the chef, baker and cheese purveyor, a charming salt and pepper haired man from Germany was busy making platter after platter of his delectable delights.  The servers were darting in and out of the congested gatherings of party goers with platters in hand, serving generous portions. 

The cheese was to die for.  Immediately after tasting four or five of the cheeses, I dashed off to the counter in the deli, credit card in hand hoping to purchase a few of our favorites. 

Tom calls me a “food voyeur.”  So true!

Alas, in the Belizean way, they didn’t have any to sell.  This truly was a party!  It wasn’t a promotion to sell cheese.  I drilled Gunther, “When can we come back and buy some of these cheese?” 

“Come back tomorrow,” he proudly stated, “It should be here tomorrow.”

This morning when the maid arrived to clean our villa, (love having a maid twice a week), Tom and I walked over to the deli, hoping to find the cheeses in stock. 

With limited options at the grocery store, it will be a treat to snack on a variety of cheeses as dessert which I learned to enjoy after dinner aboard the Celebrity Century cruise ship.

Tom, wrapped up in lively animated conversation!

Alas, most of the cheeses we loved were available and we happily spent US $72.00 for a variety.  The blue cheese hadn’t arrived yet giving us a good excuse to meander to the deli (a seven minute walk) again in the next few days. 

While there this morning, we chatted with Gunter and Ian, both of whom were more than willing to visit with us.  Ian invited us to his cheese factory in Cayo District, an hour and a half hour drive from here.  This definitely is an option for the near future when we’ll rent a vehicle for a few days.

After the party, we headed back to our villa, changed for the evening and met Pam and Jerry by the pool for a 10 minute drive to the village for dinner.  Already full from cheese, I couldn’t imagine having dinner until I saw grilled conch on the menu.  Since arriving in Belize I’d longed for conch but, each time it appeared on a menu it was batter fried, not for me.

Tom ordered the imported rib eye steak, seasoned well but, thin and tough.  My conch, chewy as anticipated, was delicious.  Seated in the large thatched hut with literally no breeze, the no-see-ums were feasting on us.  Shortly after eating our long overdue dinners and many rounds of interesting conversation, we headed back to LaruBeya.

Saying goodbye to Pam and Jerry, knowing we won’t see them again, left us a little sad.  All of our new friends were gone.  But, today is another day.  The pool will start calling us in a few hours for our hour of sun and fun.  Without a doubt, in the next few days we’ll make new friends and begin once again. 

This, my friends, is the intended nature of our new lives “wafting through our world wide travels with ease, joy and simplicity.”

Splurging on dining out this past week plus the cost of the cheese, put us over on our budget by $30.  Thus, we’ve decided to dine in tonight and tomorrow roasting the two free range organic chickens we’d purchased on Wednesday. 

Right now the two chickens are marinating in the refrigerator.  With a small piece of cabbage left along with our ample supply if huge whole organic carrots, I’ll make a batch of coleslaw (sugar free, of course),  roasted garlic and roasted carrots to accompany our diinner. 

Homemade food sounds especially good right now.  For dessert, we’ll enjoy a platter of the Belizean made cheeses.  Thanks Ian.  Thanks Gunter.  We’ll surely see you again!

Be warm.  Be well wherever you may be.