Before coming to Belize, I was already anticipating Fay’s birthday, which would occur within a couple months of our arrival. I wasn’t sure which things would be easy to buy and which things would be difficult to obtain here in Hopkins, so I brought some piñata making supplies. I make piñatas for my kids almost every year for their birthday. The joke was on me because I brought balloons and tissue paper, but the one thing that was hard to find was newspaper. Can’t prepare for the unknown I guess. Now that we are here, I laugh at myself for thinking balloons would be difficult to find.
Knowing that Fay had not made many friends here yet, and wouldn’t be celebrating with a party filled with other 10 year olds, I wanted to make her birthday feel special in other ways. I asked my mom to come visit us and if possible to come near Fay’s birthday. Whats better than having a grandma help pamper you on your birthday? After my mom’s trip was arranged, I realized I could also have her bring some presents for Fay — things that might be difficult to get here. On the top of Fay’s list were books and candy.
My mom planned her trip for Oct 18-22, returning home on Fay’s birthday, so we would have to celebrate early. My first idea was to bring Fay and a couple friends to a bowling alley I saw in Placencia, 1.5 hours away. But when I mentioned it to Fay she reminded me that we celebrated her 6th birthday in a bowling alley. I’m really glad she didn’t like the bowling idea because it forced me to come up with a much better plan.
After living in Belize for over 2 months I still had not visited San Ignacio, which I’ve heard such great things about. So I planned to take Fay out of school on the Friday my mom was visiting and take a day trip to San Ignacio. There were a couple of things I thought Fay would love in San Ignacio. 1) The AJAW Chocolate Factory, 2) The giant outdoor Market (fruit, veges, etc) and 3) A book store ( I read in a blog that there was a gift store with a small selection of books in the back).
Fay has always been a picky eater, so the foods that she likes are few. However, she seems to really savor those foods and sweets that she likes. She will take her time with a cookie or muffin, breaking it into little pieces to make it last longer. So she really does look forward to edible treats. The AJAW Chocolate Factory in San Ignacio shows you how to make chocolate in the traditional Maya way and mix a few chocolate drinks to sample during your visit. I thought this might be a good activity for Fay’s birthday.
After opening a few presents with Nana, we got set for a road trip to San Ignacio. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive there from Hopkins. As we neared San Ignacio we stopped at the Orange Gallery which I’d heard about multiple times. It is well known for being a large souvenir shop and there are billboards all over the country stating how far it is from where you are — “Orange Gallery, 50 Miles!”
When we arrived in San Ignacio, we saw the farmer’s market right away. The big day for the market is on Saturday mornings when a ton of farmers and other merchants come early in the morning to sell their goods. I was afraid that on the Friday we visited the market would be tiny, but it was still very large. I can hardly imagine what it must be like on a busy Saturday. We parked by the market, knowing we would hit it on our way out, and walked to AJAW chocolates.
San Ignacio is not a large town to walk, so we found AJAW after about 10 min of walking, they taught us about the full growth cycle and harvesting of the cacoa bean. I had no idea the little beans are found in a giant pod. The beans ferment, are roasted, and finally ground using volcanic rock and the heat of your hands. The kids and I got to try grinding beans and tasting the raw mash. We were told by AJAW that the first taste of the cacoa paste is a “KODAK moment” since it is very very bitter.
After the chocolate tour, we were starving for lunch and found the perfect solution. Fay was very proud to find a restaurant that looked like a typical fast-food restaurant for her birthday. They had burgers and tacos and more. There were also two stray cats that begged and rubbed against our chairs. Perfect for Fay’s day, as she loves cats more than anything.
After lunch we walked around, looking at shops. I was keeping my eye out for the used bookstore I’d read about. But as is common in Belize, the directions from the blog were a bit difficult to follow. It went something like “Its on a street off of X street in a store next to the two store red house. You’ll find the books in the back of a gallery”. The blog post was over a year old and we did not find anything that matched the directions, so we gave up quickly. But we did find a candy store and that was a nice birthday treat.
After the shops we walked to the farmer’s market and had a great time looking around. The kids were preparing for a school/church event on that Sunday, called Harvest. They needed to bring a basket full of vegetables. So I had the kids pick out the vegetables they wanted to bring and also we looked at good produce to bring home to our kitchen. After looking at a lot of carrots, zucchinis, potatoes, tomatoes and beans, we stumbled upon a stand at the end of the line with peaches. The kids just about lost it with excitement. They also had a sign about berries which were in a fridge. We brought home a bag full of peaches and strawberries and some fantastic apples.
After 2+ months in Belize, I couldn’t help but be astounded at how excited the kids were over the peaches. Part of me thought — oh no, they’ve been so deprived of the bounty they used to see every day in NYC grocery stores. But the other part of me thought, how great it is that they can appreciate seasonal fruit and what a true treat it is to have a peaches and strawberries. Rex was complaining the whole day about how far we had driven and how it wasn’t worth it to just go to a chocolate factory and a couple stores. When he saw the peaches, he changed his tune saying that this was definitely worth the long drive!
This was one of my very best days since moving to Belize. But that is easy to believe with all that went into it. I was able to take a road trip with my mom, chatting the whole way and experiencing something new and beautiful with her. I was able to give Fay a very memorable and fun day for her birthday. I also enjoyed the chocolate tour as much as Fay, and finally, Rexie was even happy by the end of the day.
This time, I also made a POINT of driving home before dark. No white knuckle driving for me. Although, on the way home, Ryan called to ask us to stop by the Dangriga airport to pick up supplies for the restaurant. That was after already picking up supplies in Belmopan at Madisco’s. But that is the norm — if you are out driving in another party of the country, it is an opportunity to pick up things that are not in our part of the country.
I ALSO made that piñata for Fay. The week after her birthday we had constant rain so school was cancelled for three days. This gave me some much needed extra time to make the piñata. We brought it to school the week following her birthday and her whole class got to whack at it. Not much to report for that — except I was extremely glad no one got hurt. I think we are getting to the age where piñatas are just asking for an injury. The big kids just throw themselves into it.