Local Flavors: Belizean Stew Chicken

When walking down any street in Belize you will be hard pressed to find a restaurant or food stand that doesn’t have stew chicken listed on the lunch board or menu. Every Belizean learns how to make stew chicken at a young age by carefully watching a mother or grandmother flawlessly prepare it in the family kitchen. As our hotel owner Lydia said to us “If you are from Belize and don’t know how to make stew chicken, you aren’t Belizean”. After asking around for a while, the consensus was that the Cozy Corner restaurant was the place to go to get our first taste of Belizean stew chicken. We were not disappointed, to say the least. Walking into the mostly open air restaurant we could smell sweet peppers and chili paste perfuming the air like incense. Not totally sure we were going to love it, we ordered one plate to share. About 4 minutes later we were presented with a gigantic plateful of coconut scented rice, fried plantains, coleslaw, red beans with chilies and the queen of the plate, succulent, red stained, stew chicken. One bite in and we immediately regretted not ordering two plates. The chicken was so tender it literally fell off the bone and the delicious creole flavors of Belizean Season All, garlic and Recado Paste were addictive. After speaking with the chef, I found that the process of making stew chicken is much simpler than it seems. The key is to soak the chicken in vinegar prior to cooking. This not only adds a unique flavor but also tenderizes the chicken. After rinsing the chicken it gets a thorough rub down with black pepper, garlic powder, Complete Seasoning and a touch of Recado Paste. Once the chicken has released its juices, remove it from the mixture and brown it on all sides in a skillet with coconut oil. Add the previously set aside drippings from the chicken rub to a separate skillet with more Recado Paste and water, bring to a simmer to create a gravy. Once the gravy begins to come together, add sliced onion and sweet peppers. Once the chicken has been browned on all sides add it to the gravy. Add more water if necessary to cover the chicken. Simmer on low until ready to serve.

If you ever have the chance to sample stew chicken, I am sure you will echo Daniel’s eloquent sentiment, ¨damn it’s good, damn it’s gone¨!





Introducing Local Flavors

There are many things that make a country unique and beautiful. There are the obvious things like the geography, the history and the people, but my personal favorite is the food. In this section I hope to introduce you to the local flavors of the countries we are visiting, i.e the dishes that we believe to be the most famous or popular of the local cuisine. Some of them will be delicious and simple and some maybe won’t. Either way I am excited to dive in and explore one yummy dish at a time with you.


The Deep Blue: Utila, Honduras

Fourteen hour travel days. That is what’s becoming the new norm for country to country journey’s and honestly it can be tough on our constitution. We’re begrudgingly getting accustomed to it though and our journey to Honduras with our new Aussie friends Josh & Kim was no exception. A nine hour boat ride from Placencia, Belize to Puerto Cortes, Honduras followed by a five hour car ride to La Ceiba where we arrived in Honduras’s gritty beach city around 11pm. Prostitutes walked the streets as we slid through a cracked fence to our otherwise empty hotel for the night. The machete wielding hotel keeper led us to a deplorable but serviceable room to rest our heads for 7 hours until the first morning ferry that would finally take us to our destination, the island of Utila, Honduras. Leaving La Ceiba would be exciting enough, but getting to the coral reef ringed Bay Island was the chance for Laura to fulfill a life long dream. Scuba diving. We couldn’t wait.

Utila is one of three Bay Islands, the other two being Roatan and Guanaja.  With a permanent population of about 3,000, it is considered one of the top backpacker destinations in the world for one primary reason, scuba. Utila is most widely known for being the cheapest place on Earth to get scuba certified. That was our plan. The shores of the small island are lined with scuba schools that all offer 5 days of classes with 6 dives and include 5 nights accommodations at their affiliated hotels for about $270 per person. A big splurge for our budget but super cheap comparatively and hey, did I mention it was Laura’s life dream?!

We settled in for our week of school and by mid-week we were swimming effortlessly 50 feet down in the deep blue at several of Utilas more than 80 dive sites. Snorkeling, you are amazing, but you’ve got nothing on scuba diving. Gliding along beautiful 100’ coral walls with day glow anemones, we found ourselves surrounded by huge schools of bright purple Creole Rass, giant yellow Angel Fish and dozens of other equally amazing species. On the final dive we even made our way down to a barnacle covered shipwreck! It’s a whole different world down there. One thing we quickly learned is you can travel far and wide but until you travel below, you’ve still got plenty of this amazing planet to explore. We will definitely be diving again soon. As Laura says so exuberantly…¨We’re divers now!¨.

We spent Christmas in Utila. Like many Latin American countries, the holiday season in Utila is celebrated with fireworks and the streets were filled with children (and us) shooting off rockets and setting off firecrackers 24 hours a day. It certainly wasnt a traditional Dan and Laura Xmas but it will definitely stick in our memories as one of the weirdest. Not being with family and friends at this time of year is especially hard but we’re getting by. It’s part of life away but it’s definitely the hardest part so far.

On Thursday we began our trip away from Utila in a torrential rainstorm. We crossed the island on foot in flooded streets with rushing water almost up to our knees. A soaked hour long ferry ride later and we began a record setting (for us) 16 hour van ride to Leon, Nicaragua. Total door to door travel time…18 hours. Painful. The journey is half the fun they say, but ¨they¨have clearly never been in a packed van for 16 hours… in 90 degree heat… without air conditioning. C’est la vie.

Until next time, Feliz Navidad everyone and Happy New Year!

Beaches, Blisters & Barracuda: From Caye Caulker to Placencia, Belize

As we made our way out of the jungles of Guatemala towards Belize, the prospect of seeing the sea for the first time since San Francisco, over two months ago, was an enchanting prospect. We weren’t disappointed. Making our way into gritty Belize City after a 5 hour bus ride and border crossing, the Caribbean sea finally revealed itself in all its blue glory. Hopping a ferry to Caye Caulker (“Caye” being the Belizean name for island) we found ourselves on a half mile wide, 2 mile long sliver of land ringed with white sand and palm trees. Considered the “backpacker” island of Belize, Caye Caulker is dotted with inexpensive guest houses and cabanas as well as “street” vendors grilling fresh fish, shrimp and lobster along the sandy streets. Continue reading

Into the Jungle, Northern Guatemala

         It’s easy when you spend a large amount of time in a section of a country to start to forget that there is so much more to a place than its tourist centers. The US is not just New York, the Grand Canyon and Orlando just like Australia isn’t just Sydney and Ayers rock and Guatemala certainly isn’t just Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Two weeks ago we headed north from Atitlan towards the next destination on our Guatemala hit list, Semuc Champey. The 14 hours of bus rides (including breakdowns) took us through a completely different type of country. Steep rolling hills of dense jungle, rusted corrugated steel and wood shacks perched precipitously on cliff sides and children carrying 50lb loads of firewood from headstraps trudging up mud roads. This is what much of Guatemala still is. For a country with so much natural beauty and such amazing history and culture, government mismanagement and instability has left the country way behind other developing countries in infrastructure and education. A surprising 75% of Guatemalans still live below the poverty line. The primary roads through the country between major cities and landmarks are largely unpaved and a trip that would take an hour on a US freeway takes 8 hours on dirt roads littered with potholes, rocks and ruble. The next phase of our adventure was beginning and it was obvious. To Lanquin we traveled.

                The town of Lanquin is a small rural town at the end of a long winding gravel road that takes an hour and a half to traverse its 9 kilometers. Not quite at the end of the road actually. At the end is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Semuc Champey. As the river Chabon comes down through the mountainous jungle, it crashes furiously into a subterranean cavern for a quarter mile before resurfacing. Atop that cavern are a series of limestone pools filled with turquoise waters that tier one into another like emerald steps down the mountainside via dozens of cascading waterfalls. A sacred place to the ancient Maya for good reason, we spent our day at Semuc climbing a nearby mountain to view the beauty from above before cooling ourselves swimming in its cool waters and exploring its various lagoons and grottoes. As if that wasn’t a good enough day, we also visited the amazing Kan Ba caves nearby. This tour involves swimming through the cave systems water filled chambers while holding candles overhead to view the stalactites and other structures in the same flickering glow its original visitors must have seen. It was spectacular. Climbing rope ladders up subterranean waterfalls and sliding down nature-made chamber to chamber water slides by candlelight the Goonie in us came out full force and that childhood sense of adventure and wonder boiled inside. It was our time.. down there.

                Leaving our thatched hut riverside hostel and heading north we went deeper and deeper into the Guatemalan jungle. Our destination… The Mayan ruins of Tikal. Us both being huge history buffs, big fans of Indian Jones and having recently read The Lost City Of Z, we were ready to experience the Mayas lost city in the Jungle. Machetes in hand (not really) we headed into the ruins midday to avoid the crowds and sure enough our group were the only ones in the entire preserve. Wandering from step pyramid to step pyramid on dirt paths through dense jungle in the late day failing light was awe-inspiring. We climbed to the top of Temple 4 and watched the sun set over the jungle with the orange glowing tops of other pyramids staring at us over the field of green. The Mayans aligned everything astronomically and as we walked through the ruins at night under the stars you just felt a sacred sense of in-tunement with the world around us. It was awesome. 

                Leaving Guatemala after a month we definitely felt a bit of sadness but Belize and the beach were in our immediate future and that put an internal smile on our faces as we boarded yet another bus for another unpredictable overland journey. This morning we swam in the Caribbean on the island of Caye Caulker. But that’s a story for another post. Until next time.

Road Wisdom: Friends on the Road

Friends On The Road Can be Fleeting, and That is Okay

It’s amazing how many friends you make on the road. At a hostel/hotel… on the bus… on some other wacky adventure…. Constantly you spend an afternoon becoming great friends with someone, or a few days or even a week together having drinks, learning together, hiking together, etc.. But then inevitably one of you leaves that place. Heading north to Belize or south to Honduras or heading home to the US or Europe or Australia or China or wherever. And you try to make plans to meet up a few countries down the line but it gets harder and harder and eventually you realize that the amazing time you had together, however fleeting it may have been, might be it. And that’s okay. Certain people obviously you hope to keep up with for years but most of them you’ll just have the memories of the great times you had together. The drink you had having laughs by the river together… the arduous 14 hour bus ride you endured together… the songs you sang together… the cliff you challenged each other to jump off together… those are the memories you’ll always share with each other. And that is great.