San Ignacio, Belize: Ruins, Street Art, and Stab Wounds

Sunburnt, hungover, and smiling, Michael and I left Caye Caulker for the second leg of our trip: San Ignacio. Located in the far west of the country, San Ignacio is the second most populous city in Belize. It is a lively town and a popular home base for jungle hiking, ruin trips, and other adventures in the area.

San Ignacio
The view from Belize’s only suspension bridge in San Ignacio

The Journey West

To get there Michael experienced his first Central American bus ride, which did not disappoint in silliness or unpredictability. We bounced around on an old American school bus to the soundtrack of dancehall blaring out of phone speakers several rows behind us. When we got off to transfer buses we were told our next bus would be leaving in about ten minutes. An hour later, the bus rolled in.

A crowd of Belizeans immediately swarmed around us. We raced around the back, hopped on through the emergency exit, threw our bags in the makeshift storage bin, and secured a place to stand in the aisle. Then we were told unceremoniously that standing was no longer allowed on Belizean buses and we would have to get off.

News to me. I swear I was standing on a Belizean bus just two weeks ago.

Grumbling, I reluctantly agreed that we should split a cab to San Ignacio with another couple who had not gotten seats. We crammed ourselves into the back of Earl the Rastafarian’s car and took off, speeding through the Belizean landscape in a rattling sedan.

Earl was a fascinating character: born on Caye Caulker, he split his time between the island and the city of Belmopan. Depending on his mood he worked as a taxi driver, coconut farmer, or fishing trip guide. He taught us a few phrases in Belizean creole and explained the difference between it and Jamaican patois. With characteristic Belizean pride, he whiled away the ride talking about what he loves about his life and his country.

San Ignacio

Cahal Pech
a funky shot of me in the ruins at Cahal Pech

When we arrived in San Ignacio we checked into our hostel and immediately headed to Cahal Pech, a Mayan ruin situated atop a steep hill in the middle of town. We hoofed it up the hill and were delighted to find ourselves alone amidst the ancient stones.

We clambered over the rocks, spotted an agouti, and shot some cool footage for Michael’s upcoming music video. It was excellent.

San Ignacio
sunset over the hills of western Belize

Afterwards we headed down the hill into town to explore. San Ignacio is a cool town full of street art and funky bars.

Incredible Nicknames and the Occasional Stabbing

After an excellent street food dinner, we headed to one of the few bars we found open on a Sunday night. We sat down at the bar and soon started talking to our neighbor, a friendly Belizean man who was starting to slur a little. He was a barber and a musician who plays reggae in local bands. When we asked his name, he explained that real names were only for intimate family use. Instead, he assured us that everybody in town went by a nickname. His was Quick.

Real names are for your family – Quick

After another drink with us, Quick started to leave. Before he did we asked him where we could go to hear some music on a Sunday. He directed us to a bar called Blue Angels.

After Quick left, we quickly started to befriend our bartender. When we heard him singing lightly along to the songs playing, we told him to sing out. He didn’t need any encouragement. Soon he was bursting out in song and rap every few minutes for our benefit.

Eventually we wanted to move on, but we had some doubts about blindly walking into a bar with a name so reminiscent of a strip club. We decided to ask the bartender what he thought about us joining Quick at Blue Angels.

His response was immediate: bad idea. Blue Angels clientele would look to us to buy them drinks and we would not have a good time. He summed it up with this sound bite: “the locals will disappoint you there.”

We didn’t press hard for more details, but he was happy to share: he had once been stabbed there for not buying another man a drink. He showed us the impressive two inch scar on his collarbone. Another time, a group of people attacked him when he spilled his drink on somebody on the dancefloor. He then waited outside the bar for them and jumped them as they left, which led us to believe that he wasn’t quite the innocent bystander he described.

Nonetheless, we decided to skip Blue Angels.

As we left we asked his name, and he gave us another great nickname: Fiyah Blaze. He spelt it out for us to make sure we understood, which I appreciated.

The locals will disappoint you there – Fiyah Blaze

Although we didn’t find any live music, we were content with our night spent chatting with locals. We were left with a burning question, though: was Blue Angels really a bad spot or was Fiyah Blaze the source of the trouble?

An Unexpected Answer

The next night we spent the evening at the hostel. Ever the musician, Michael was ecstatic to find a guitar to play. The lovely staff hung out with us and jammed for a while.

Michael jamming on our hostel’s dope porch

During a music break we asked them a few questions about San Ignacio. We were curious about these signs we had seen all over town:

a nice guy who loves us all
a note from Nick

Who on earth was Nick and why was he wishing the whole town a happy Valentine? The owner of the hostel laughed and said, “Nick is just a nice guy in town. He loves us all.”

I liked this idea. How sweet! I asked for more details about him and got this answer: “He owns a bar in town called Blue Angels. I wouldn’t recommend it though. People get stabbed there.”

One thought on “San Ignacio, Belize: Ruins, Street Art, and Stab Wounds

Leave a Reply