01 September 2012

CYCLING BELIZE



19/20 August - Melchor de Mencos, Gautemala – San Ignacio, Belize - 18km

It was time to head for the Belize border.   The border was just on the outskirts of town and we crossed into Belize without any problems. Belize is a small country, about 290 km long and 110 km wide with a population of about 320 000. It´s also the only country in Central America with a British colonial heritage. It is therefore the only country where English is the official language, albeit with a heavy Caribbean accent. Many Belizeans speak a mix of Creole and English among friends, and switch to “full English” when speaking to foreigners. The strong Caribbean accent may take us some time getting used to, but a friendly “Gud Mawnine” can be understand by anyone.

We cycled a short distance to San Ignacio and found a campsite right in the centre of town, which suited us just fine. Ernest seriously needed some spares for his bike and we thought we could get some in town. We looked around but could not find the bike shop we read about.

In the meantime, we met the local bush doctor who recommended some Noni juice for Ernest’s ailments. That night he returned with some foul smelling stuff in a jar!!!  Ernest bravely drank it and lo and behold, would he not feel a lot better after that!!  He is now a converted Noni juice drinker!! 

I normally sleep very well in my tent but this night was different.  Red ants somehow got into my tent and Iawoke in the middle of the night to ants slowly and systematically devouring me. Needless to say there was a lot of jumping around.

21 August - San Ignacio – Belmopan - 40km

Belize is a rather small country and nothing is very far. So far I have found the Belizeans very friendly. Not only did a lady stop next to the road to give me a bottle of icy cold Coconut juice, but a friendly passerby also thought it necessary to hand me some bananas.  While waiting at a roadside bus stop for Ernest to arrive, I had a long and interesting conversation with a lady waiting for her bus. They are really friendly and chatty and very interested in where we come from and where we are going.

We cycled the short distance to Belmopan, the capital, and found a very small village. Belmopan is a “built” city and was established in 1961 after hurricane Hattie wiped out much of Belize City.  The city therefore appearsrather dead and the huge parks and gardens around the government buildings, deserted. We thought we had to apply for a Mexican visa in Belmopan, but after enquiring at the embassy they told us we had to do it in Belize City.

22 August - Belmopan - Belize City - 83km

We headed off in the direction of Belize City and at last we seemed to have found flat land again. But as the case with flat areas, one always seems to be cycling into the wind. Ernest nursed his bike along; as soon as he applied pressure to the peddles, the chain snapped. I must admit that I really enjoy the Belizeans: they are kind and friendly and without any airs about them. Here we are not referred to as Gringos anymore, but plain and simply as white boy or white woman

We slowly moved along and still reached Belize City in good time. A much livelier city than Belmopan and it gave us hope that we would find a bike shop. On our way in we spotted two shops but none had the parts we were looking for. We did however easily find a room, as friendly locals are ever ready to point one in the right direction.  

The following day we headed for the Mexican embassy and were surprised to find the process quick and easy. We were issued with a 6 month visa on the spot and all that for free!!!  I like that!!!  Then it was off to look for a bike shop. We found most of the things we were looking for but not everything, so we will just have to make do.

It was rather interesting walking around town as there always seems to be music of some kind around. The Garifuna are master percussionists and I´m convinced that by the time I leave here I will know each and every Bob Marley song off by hart.

24/27 August - Belize City – Caye Caulker - By water taxi (45min)

The place to go to in Belize is definitely the islands. Water taxis ply the water between the mainland and the Cayes, and we jumped on one and sped off at full throttle across the calm Caribbean Sea to Caye Caulker. A friendly and laidback place where the motto is “Go Slow”.

Caye Caulker is a tiny island, at most 800m long and no more that 300m wide. Friendly, dreadlocked and laidback locals eagerly await you as you step off the ferry, ready to point you in the right direction (or sell you some of the good stuff). We were looking for a place to camp and were pointed in the direction of a nearby campsite. The friendly man told us that if he had a bike he could have shown us the way there – ha-ha (keep in mind that we were about in the middle of the 800m long island). The ¨Go Slow¨ motto of the island is being taken quite literally. Everyone seems to know everyone and there is no rushing from place to place, as each one you pass will strike up a conversation. Going to the little supermarket to pick up milk can be a long process as by now just about everyone knows we’re cycling and that we are from South Africa. Both these two facts seem to amuse them tremendously!  They will chuckle at the fact that we are white and from Africa and they are black and from Central America. More amusing to them is the fact that we cycled to Belize, as the furthest most of them have been on a bike, is around the island.

We lazed the days away, dipping in the warm, crystal clear water of the Caribbean, listening to reggae music and sipping a beer at the Lazy Lizard Bar. Finally I gave in and took a boat out to the nearby reef for a threehour snorkel. What an experience it was!!  I snorkeled to my heart's content and swam with nurse sharks, sting rays, moray eels, and schools of fish. LOL! I event touched the grainy skin of a nurse shark and live to tell the tale!!  I felt the friendly sting rays bump against my legs. This is truly an amazing trip. I so wish I had a camera to capture the experience, as no one at home will believe me.

28 September - Caye Caulker – Belize City (by ferry) and onto Crooked Tree - 62km

It was finally time to leave the island and head back to the mainland. We were rather slow in packing up but still managed to get the 10h00 water taxi back to Belize City (good thing it was late). After repacking the bikes it was 12h00 by the time we left the city. We slowly headed north for about 55km until we saw a sign for Crooked Tree. I find it hard to cycle past a place with a name like Crooked Tree. We turned down a bumpy dirt road forabout 6km and found Crooked Tree Village, located on Crooked Tree Lagoon. The entire area has been declared a wildlife sanctuary, principally for the birdlife and is a stunning area. We (as usual) had little money and found the rooms in the area rather expensive. We asked one of the locals if we could camp on their land and they were happy for us to pitch our tents under a huge mango tree. They were, however, rather amused and mentioned that they had never before had such a request!

29 August - Crooked Tree – Orange Walk - 47km

We woke to the deep, course croaking of a toucan and the chirping of various birds. It rained heavily during the night making our patch a bit muddy. We dried our tents in the early morning sun, before setting off in the direction of Orange Walk.

Orange Walk is a small but lively town, where one can still find old-fashioned tortilla factories.  Orange Walk is situated on the New River, once a major waterway for the ancient Maya. We found ourselves a cabana next to the river; a beautiful spot, where the river is covered in water lilies and little tables under thatch roofs are standing right in the water.

30 August - Orange Walk

Once in Orange Walk I took a boat ride up the New River to Lamanai, the nearby Maya ruins. The river trip in itself was fantastic with an abundance of birdlife, crocodiles and monkeys.

Lamanai is simply magical. It is one of the largest Mayan sites in Belize, and holds over 800 structures. The site is situated deep in the Tropical Forest. Lamanai (Submerged Crocodile in Mayan) was occupied as early as 1500B.C. and was occupied continuously for over 3,000 years. Its remoteness most likely contributed to itscontinuous occupation, well beyond most other Mayan sites, until at least 1650 A.D.

After a quick lunch we hopped back onto the boat and headed back to Orange Walk. What a fantastic day it was.

31 August - Orange Walk – Corozal - 53km

It was a short and flat ride but into a friggin  head wind, past vast fields of sugarcane until we reached Corozal. It was still very early but a strong wind came up so we decided to stay in town. We found a room and no sooner were we inside before the rain came bucketing down.

Later we walked to the square and the supermarket. Not a lot happened in that little town. I thought of going to see the ruins but it involved a boat ride and the sea was far too rough for that.