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on the road in Belize

BELIZE | Monday, 13 September 2010 | Views [504]

On dirt roads heading slowly south

13 Sep 2010

I left Chetumal on Monday 13th of September and very lazily cycled the 7 miles to the border. The day before I was online trying to work out if there was a departure tax when leaving Mexico by land, some websites said yes, others said no.

When I reached the border crossing I was unsure where the passport control was but a middle aged man in a small concrete hut shouted out “passport senior” and I had my answer. Turns out there is a departure tax and it was set at 200 pesos. By some strange coincidence that was the exact amount of money I had in 1 and 2 pesos coins.....handy that!

With an exit stamp in my passport I crossed the Hondo river and entered Belize. One mile down the road was the immigration and passport control office. After 4 ½ months of not really understanding a word of what people were saying it was nice to be in a country that had the good fortune to have been conquered by a decent empire....everyone speaks English!!!

With a 30 day visa (no charge) in my passport I got back on the bike and cycled the 10 miles to Corozal, a not to impressive small town by the sea. However it did have a good local bar and for the 1st time in who knows how long I stood at the bar, smoked fags, drunk lots of cold beer and talked a load of bollocks with the locals (it's a guy thing!)

After two nights in a slight dive of a guest house I was up early and eager to get back on the road. Sadly, Kevin was in town and as he was a tropical storm with winds gusting up to 50mph I decided to spend an extra night!

Finally on Thursday I got back on the bike and headed out of town on the main road. After a mile or so I turned left onto a dirt road and spent the next 5 hours cycling the 30 miles to the small fishing village of Sarteneja. The day was hot but the road was flat, although very bumpy in places. The traffic levels were great, 8 cars in 5 hours.....so I had the road to myself, which was good because I was meandering all over it weaving around the potholes and following the shade. After crossing two rivers by means of a hand cranked ferry and seeing my 1st Belizean crocodile and drinking several litres of water I finally arrived at my destination. 

Its called “backpackers paradise” (http://backpackers.bluegreenbelize.com/ ) and do you know what, it is. Me being me, I went for the en suite cabana, unpacked my bags and then checked out the hammocks! Later on, before dinner and the 1st cold beer of the evening I discovered whilst locking up my bike that I had a puncture. This time it was a proper puncture that didn't require the inner tube being plunged into a sink full of water in order to find out where the hole was. Bizarrely I was quite happy about it, after 3500 miles I finally got my 1st “proper puncture”!

I'm not to sure how long I'll be staying here but one thing is for sure it will be longer than the 3 days I had planned to.....well it turns out that I spent 6 nights. There were books to read, hammocks to lie in and food to eat. There was also the Shipstern nature reserve nearby, which was mostly waterlogged and full of mosquitoes.

However all good things must come to an end and so on Wednesday 22nd I got back on the saddle and made my way to the town of Orange Walk 40 miles away. The gravel road was mostly smooth but damn was it hot! I found a hotel that had what I needed.....A/C and relaxed!

The next day I was going on a day trip upriver to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. The boat was small and the river was quiet, the trees along the banks reflecting in the still cool waters of the New River. It took about 2 hours to travel the 30 odd miles and along the way the keen eyes of the guide/boat driver spotted several crocodiles, lizards and near the Mennonite settlement of Shipyard a couple of spider monkeys, which came onto the boat and helped themselves to someone's bananas.
When we got to Lamanai we had an early lunch before walking around the site. Out of the 700 odd buildings here only about 10% have been explored and only 6 are open to the public, the rest have yet to be restored. Have to say it was a top place although the climb up and down the largest temple was testing.

When I got back to the hotel the lass behind the counter told me that hurricane Matthew would be dropping by in 68 hours....looks like I'm here for the weekend! On Friday afternoon the weather forecast had changed and Matthew had been downgraded to a tropical storm, so only 40mph winds then.....

After a very lazy long weekend of rain and wind I got back on the bike on Monday the 27th and cycled the 56 miles to Belize city. The road was flat with lots of straight bits but I found it hard work to get my speed into double figures! Several hours later I was about 5 miles from the city, sitting down on the river bank having a rest whilst the sweat slowly trickled down my face. I was flexing my knee listening to the sound of it creaking when the voice inside my head whispered “the knee ain't going to get you to Panama” and for the 1st time I found myself agreeing with it!

I finally got into Belize city and found a hotel 30 seconds before the thunderstorm broke. When it was over I went and got a ticket for the next morning's boat ride to Caye Caulker.

On a sand bar

12 Oct 2010

It's Tuesday the 12th of October and I've been here on Caye Caulker now for two weeks.

I was planning on catching the boat back to the mainland today but when I was in the sports bar last night watching the Monday night football game (American style) I was unable to come up with a good reason why. So I did what I always do in situations like this....tossed a coin! The coin came up heads three times in a row and this morning I did the same thing and once again it came up heads three times in a row, you don't ignore these things!!

The “tag line” for Caye Caulker is “Go Slow” and I've almost come to a complete stop! That's not to say that I haven't done anything, because I have. However if you don't count drinking beer, eating food, lounging in a hammock or the sofa then all I've done is gone diving for three days. 

The 1st day's diving was in the Hol Can marine park which is about a 20 minute boat ride from the island. It was okay, saw some rays, a shark and a turtle. The second day's diving was on the “house reef” just a mile or so off shore and it was enjoyable. The third day's diving was a 3 tank dive, starting with the famous blue hole! The viz wasn't that great and at a depth of 42m the guides didn't let us stay down for that long. Probably because most people diving were novices with less than 10 dives, so for me with over 300 dives I was disappointed with the bottom time. Mind you the dive itself was a disappointment! The next dive was on lighthouse reef and that was good and following a long surface interval on Half Moon Caye we dived the aquarium, which was the best dive out of the 7 I've done here. Loads of fish, good looking coral and great viz!

um...that's it....I need to do stuff to be able to write about it. 

mind you when I finally get back on the road the 1st day on the saddle is going to hurt big time!!!!

and then there is the knee to worry about, I've gotten used to the creaking sound but now it has started to “pop” as well....

Heading to the border

19 Oct 2010

It had to happen...after 21 days I finally managed to prise my fat arse off the stool inside the Barrier Reef Sports Bar and place it onto the water taxi that took me off Caye Caulker and planted me in the shithole that is Belize city.

I spent two nights in the city because there were clothes to wash and buy and a visa needed to be extended but finally on Thursday 21st I got back on the bike. It had been 24 days since I last spent a day in the saddle and the 50 odd miles to Belmopan, the capital of Belize was going to hurt....

The road was mostly flat, bumpy and boring. It was also damn hot, I mean really hot! However after several hours of slow cycling and lots of stops for rehydration and shade worshipping I made it to the outskirts of the capital. That was far enough for me and the 1st hotel I came across was the one I was going to be staying in. As it turns out it was expensive but it did have a super quiet and very efficient a/c unit and a fully loaded wide-screen TV....so it wasn't all bad.

The next day it was only 23 miles to the small town of San Ignacio and after a small lie in I was back on the road for about 4 hours. The road spent most of the time going up and over gentle rises and small hills which completely wore me out....3 weeks of doing nothing ruins the fitness! I arrived in the town just after midday and got a hotel that had A/C and TV which also happened to be opposite a bar...strange that! I had an early night “in” enjoying the coolness of the A/C and the firmness of the mattress on top of the large bed.

The next day it was Saturday and after watching two football matches and one game of rugby I finally got out of bed and went to get something to eat. It was then that I found out that a hurricane was heading across the sea to Belize. Looks like I got off the island at the right time and I was in the best place in Belize to ride out the storm. The hurricane was due to hit the country on Sunday afternoon and until then I chilled out and relaxed. 

On Sunday afternoon the rain started, a gentle drizzle cooling down the heat of the day. The old saying “of the calm before the storm” is absolutely correct. By the evening the wind had picked up and at just after 19:30 the power went out! Unlike areas near the coast (i.e. Belize city) the effects of the hurricane were just a few trees blown over and a few sections of corrugated iron blown off a couple of roofs. The next morning nothing was open and there nothing do to except lie in bed and wonder when the power would becoming back on....the answer was 8pm!

On Tuesday I was booked on to a caving trip but due to the hurricane's rain laden downpour they were all shut! Therefore I walked to the outside of town to the nearby Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech, perched on the top of a tree covered hill. I was the only tourist there and I had the place to myself. It was a small site but I enjoyed the ambience. 

The following morning some of the caves had reopened. The waters had returned to their normal levels and the work gangs had cleared the paths of the fallen trees allowing the tourists to return. There were 3 of us on the day trip, myself, an Swiss bloke called Lars and a crazy Dutch girl (is there any other kind?) mysteriously called Ms Q. After a drive of about 60 minutes sitting in the back of a pick-up like a red-neck we arrived in the car park and picked up our tubes! An easy 45 minute walk found us at the edge of a narrow river, its milky blue waters were cool and refreshing. All of us got onto the tubes, some with more difficulty than others (yes Ms Q I'm talking about you!) and then linked up in a row, feet under the armpits of the one in front and headed off downstream into the underworld.

The 1st cave we tubed through was about 800m long, our headlamps reflecting off the water and the quartz in the rock ceiling as we floated along in the darkness. Then we re-emerged into the sunlight and up ahead was the next cave. As we came to the cave mouth the water turned white and all off us went “butts up” and we navigated the rapids. This cave was about a mile long with a few twists and turns and even a waterfall half way through near a opening that allowed the sunlight into the huge cavern.

Eventually we saw the sunlight of the entrance and left the cave and the darkness behind. We carried on floating downstream and the rays of the Belizean sun warmed us up chasing the cold chill of the caves away.

The following day Lars and Ms Q went to the ATM whilst I had a nice long lie in. The day after I went to the ATM but due to the overnight rain the tour guide abandoned the trip before we even got to the 2nd river crossing. The water level was rising very fast, 3 inches within 5-10 minutes. 

The next day was Saturday and once again I made out like a red-neck and headed to the ATM (or the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave to give it its full name). The water levels had gone back done to their usual level and after about 60 minutes walk through the jungle, crossing the river 3 times we made it to the entrance of the cave. The ATM cave is a “wet cave” and to gain access to the cave you have to swim about 20 metres from the cave mouth to the 1st bit of “land” or rock to stand on. After that it was a case of climbing, squeezing, wading and swimming upstream further into the cave system. The water was ice cold and amazingly refreshing, well for me at least!

At one point the guide told us all to turn off the head lights and placing one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us we waded deeper into the cave in complete darkness. After what seemed like an aeon the guide told us to turn our lights back on and the views were fantastic. (go and check out the pictures!) We carried on over small waterfalls and through narrow gaps before we got to the turn off and the climb up into the “dry area” of the cave. The river itself carried on for another 3 miles before disappearing into the depths. 

Climbing up about 20 meters we stopped and after removing our shoes we carried on in our socks. The cave was viewed as an entrance to the underworld by the Mayan and their priests and here in the dry area were offerings and sacrifices. The artefacts have been left exactly where they were found and the “holy offerings” contained in clay pots were “on show” just how a museum would do. There were 3 chambers to “discover” and the second one was a huge cavern about half the size of a football pitch. 

Sadly all good things must come to an end and after about 2 ½ hours in the cave we retraced our steps leaving the underworld behind and emerged reborn into the sunlight and the land of the living. Sitting down in the nearby “picnic area” I was enjoying a long lazy cigarette when I discovered that I was right on top of a solider ant trail. I found this out when they started to bite me!

In the evening I hanged out with Ms Q and bored her with stories of my travels (she's only on a 3 week holiday) and then faced up to the fact that like her I to would soon be leaving San Ignacio.

Today is Sunday 31st of October and tomorrow its the start of a new month and for me a new country. From San Ignacio it's 11 miles to the Belize/Guatamala border, so it should be an easy day!

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