Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I didn't get to update on Belize because internet was super expensive and we were too busy having wonderful adventures.
We caught a bus from Tulum in Mexico to Belize City on December 23rd and have just left. We took the advice of everyone we'd met and decided not to stay in Belize city, it's incredibly run down and there isn't really anything there to do. We headed straight to Caye Caulker, an island less than a kilometer long and 40m wide where we managed to spend 5 nights and still could have stayed more. We had our own little cabana with two big beds, a bathroom, a fridge and a balcony with a hammock and fairy lights, it was lovely.
To give you an idea of how small (and set out to Peta standards) this place was, I'lll tell you the street names. There were 3 streets going lengthways, they were front street, middle street and back street. Genius.
A couple of hours after arriving we'd been swimming, covered pretty much the whole island (there wasn't really a whole lot on the south side) and were about to get ice cream (we'd been there a few hours afterall!), we heard our names being called and ran into Jip and Niek. We first met Jip in Mexico city over a month ago and we'd bumped into each other a couple of times after that. In 4 nights we racked up multiple hours of table soccer at the sports bar (girls vs boys- the boys won the first few days by one or two points each game but Jip and I had our moment on the last night by beating them 3 games in a row with a best score of 10-3), had Christmas dinner that Niek prepared (he's a chef and did very well with the limited supplies on the island) and went through a few beers here and there.
Jeff and I spent Christmas day tubing and zip-lining in an area west of Belize City on the mainland in limestone caves. I lost a thong on the first river crossing and one of the guides lent me his giant crocs for the rest of the walk (as opposed to wearing crocs as I was, the rocks convinced me to wear them). We met a cool Canadian couple (although, aren't all Canadians cool?) and the girl gave me her thongs, insiting she had another pair so I wouldn't have to walk around Belize barefoot, have I mentioned that I love Canadians? Tubing through caves was amazing, you go into a break in the limestone and float through looking at the crystalisation and cool rocks above you until you end up in the river at the other end and look back to see a patch of pure darkness where you'd just come out. Zip-lining, for those of you not familiar with the concept, is when you put on harness and hook onto a wire and jump off a tall platform and glide to a slightly lower one about 20-50m away. I didn't even scream... Although I may have jumped off the first tall one exclaiming "not gonna scream, not gonna scream!" a little loudly.
After a full day of adventure, we went back to Jip and Niek's place for our Christmas feast where we just had to bring beer and wine. It's odd being in a place where wine is $30Belize ($15 aussie) and a big bottle of rum is less than $10 (yep, $5 Australian). We couldn't have a big night though as Jeff and I were going scuba diving on boxing day. I'd never been scuba diving before and after our recent snorkling adventures where we found out that I'm not very good at the whole breathing thing, I was a little nervous. After going through a little, and I do mean little, of the safety stuff, they pretty much sat us on the edge of the boat, put the tanks on our backs and said "fall backwards". Once again, I wasn't very good at that pesky breathing thing. Besides having a massive coughing fit 10m underwater, I did pretty well. Dont worry, I didn't take the mouthpiece out or die or anything so I'll definitely have to get my open water license so I can dive again.
The next day we went swimming with sharks and sting rays. Well I'm not sure you can consider standing in the water and gritting my teeth everytime one came near me for the first 5 minutes as swimming but I eventually got used to it. There was only one shark that came near us but dozens of sting rays. Those things are freaky. Jeff almost got killed by one. By Jeff almost got killed by one, I mean that as Jeff and I were happily floating on the surface with snorkels, a stingray decided to swim directly underneath me so I grabbed Jeff and pushed him down as I hid on top of him and between him laughing so much and me holding him underwater, he nearly drowned- see, stingray almost killed him. I kept floating along though and just tried to think skinny and boyant thoughts as they continued to swim closer and closer to my stomach. Then they started circling me. Jeff and I were the last people left and he was off not getting eaten by stingrays so I made a few little girly noises and swam away from the evil creepy things.
After spending our days being adventurous and daring, we'd hang out at the bar at the north of the island. A hurricane split it a couple of years back so 50m away is another island but not much on it. We swam to it a few times but mainly just jumped into the water and drank beer and pina coladas.
The people were all super friendly, including the men that would try sweet talking ladies, even if they were clearly with their husband/brother/friends.
There were cool swings at the bars and at the Spit we'd just buy a bucket of 6 beers to share. There were cool tables that were in about a foot of sea water where we sat with our happy hour drinks and tried not to get eaten by the giant hermit crab.
We left Caye Caulker to head to Orange Walk, the town famous for the best street food in Belize. Our first bus trip in Belize was definitely an experience. We got on the old American school bus and the driver turned up the volume of the custom speakers and he blasted clubbing music for hours. Most of the bus sung along to the very popular Cheater's Prayer song. We sat there in shock as the 8 year old girl beside us sung every word of "Oh Lord, dont let me cheat on my girlfriend" and then "But Lord if you cant stop me from cheating, just dont let me get caught". Unfortunately, the song is ridiculously catchy and it keeps finding it's way back into my head. If you're curious, check it out- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDw2fxozj_0
They've played it on a few buses now and its pretty hard to not sing along. Orange Walk was a little disappointing however. It was raining on the day we got there so most of the food stalls had disappeared. The food we did have was about a fifth of the price we'd been paying in Caye Caulker though and delicious to match. The next day we went through the jungle by boat to Lamanai, a group of Mayan temples. There were howler monkeys but we haven't seen any toucans yet- we're going to have to start carrying Froot Loops in our pockets. The High Temple (that's the name of it too, I'm not just being lazy) reaches above all the giant trees and if you climb it (which of course we did) you can see the river and all the other temples. The steps were designed to be so high so that the people who climbed them (usually only priests and royalty) had to climb on their hands and knees and as a result were bowing to the gods they were about to worship. Jeff on the other hand, had no problem casually strolling up them. The town of Orange Walk was also occupied by a lot of Mennonites- a very conservative community of farmers. There are 3 types of Mennonites, one being Amish. So yeah, we got weird looks walking around in our shorts. There were a couple of ladies sitting in the ice cream store, fascinated by Dukes of Hazard on the tv (they do not use electricity unless it is directly related to work) who kept staring at us when we sat at the table near them. They all looked a little too related so of course we looked at them funny too. One of the women just kept staring at us though (socially appropriate behaviour didn't seem as common among them) so Jeff gave her a nice friendly smile and the poor girl almost died of excitement. She kept looking back at him with a smile covering her whole face until we left.
After Orange Walk we spent a day covering the country by bus. We started in the northwest, hit the east coast, went through the center of the country and zig-zagged down to the southeast corner to get to Hopkins. Lots more interesting buses and clubbing music, jumping out of the bus's emergency exit and Jeff's legs not fitting in the seats on any bus and we were there. We had heard that Hopkins had the most beautiful beaches out of anywhere in Belize and after Caye Caulker's amazing clear water we were pretty excited to see them. Whoever came up with the rumour lied. The sand was brown and the water matched. There was less than a meter of sand between the dirty water and the debris from the palm trees. We didn't arrive until nighttime so we got up and watched the sunrise and as the town became lighter, we got more and more disappointed. By 7am we had covered the whole town (only one street in it so it didn't take long) and decided to leave on the next possible bus. We went back to our room and packed and showered. These activities are normally rather uneventful but as I lay on my bed reading, waiting for Jeff to shower, there was a loud bang, a huge flash of light around the bathroom door and a loud "Damn it!" from Jeff. It was just the live wires in the shower almost electrocuting him. Yep, there was a hose sticking out from the wall with cold water coming from it and a couple of wires hanging right above it and Jeff was unlucky enough to get sparked.
We left and caught a 'taxi', a beat up old sedan that a guy offered to give us a lift in, complete with a screw driver to start the car, out of town to the highway so we could flag a bus. The guy ripped us off by claiming that it didn't cost $10 Belize dollars, he meant $10US. This meant that we were 3 bucks short to be able to leave the country. Well, three bucks short for BOTH of us to leave the country. Don't worry mum, we're both in Guatemala now.