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Flores to Punta Gorda

GUATEMALA | Friday, 25 September 2009 | Views [3215] | Comments [2]

Templo I

Templo I

Flores to Punta Gorda 26/8/09 - 6/9/09  545 km

What kind of sound does a howler monkey make?... It’s 4am and we awoke to the sound of howler monkeys singing in chorus through the canopy of the jungle at the ruins of Tikal. It was a call and response kind of affair with loud wheezy moaning. It brought the dark jungle to life. Later in the day standing atop templo IV at the ruins of Tikal the symphony began again. We asked each other, how would you describe the sound a howler monkey makes? It is so distinctive, you can’t mistake the howling in the canopy for anything else. For the benefit of you the reader the only way I can truly think to describe it for you is a lion with asthma wheezing in the treetops or maybe Chewbacca from Star Wars. Or maybe we shouldn’t try to compare it with anything, they sound just like howler monkeys! But they are a unique soundtrack to our time in the jungle.

Tikal was amazing. Steep-sided stone temples rise out of the steaming jungle. We saw many toucans with their out-of-proportion rainbow coloured beaks in a feeding frenzy. We would see a flash of black and bright colours as they flew one by one from tree to tree in search of fruit and nuts, before delicately using that large curved beak to carefully extract the seeds. Other strange animals roamed the jungle floor like the coati and the agouti a large member of the rodent family. 

We thought the most impressive thing about Tikal was the combination of these amazingly constructed temples, steep-sided, with elaborate headcombs that would poke out above the green of the jungle canopy, and the diversity of wildlife that exists there. From atop templo IV, as far as the eye could see in all directions was unbroken tropical forest and jungle. So after seeing some of the environmental destruction in northern Guatemala, it was nice to know there are places where the jungle is unbroken, and the creatures can exist without our interference!

steep steep stairs

While camping at Tikal we were also eaten alive by flies and mosquitoes. Anna was bitten on her hand by a kind of ‘deer fly’. Within minutes her hand had swollen up so much that there was no definition in her knuckles and she felt a little faint. It took days for it to return to normal. 

We love the jungle, the birds, the monkeys, the trees and the sounds, but the little ‘nasties’ (flies, mosquitoes and random other creatures) literally ate us alive! The rule in the jungle is if you stay still long enough, something will try to taste your blood. So after two nights camped out we hit the road again bound for Belize.

Crossing into Belize from Guatemala the contrasts were amazing. After the usual border crossing formalities (or informalities), 20Q each for the privilege to leave, we entered a different realm....the friendly people, ‘hey man’ ‘jah man’ ‘war is da final destination man?...’, weatherboard homes on stilts painted blues and turquoises, orange orchards, the lack of people everywhere, the preserved natural areas, marked walking trails etc...

People would call out “how ya doin?” or wave from their verandahs while rocking on a chair or swinging a hammock. It seemed even the bicycles are more laid back in Belize, cool ‘cruisers’, with low seats, rounded handlebars and classic white walled 1960’s style tyres, usually ridden barefoot or for a little more foot protection flipflops!

The roads in Belize were fairly average, a bit crumbly, no line markings and no shoulder, but the low volume of traffic meant that it was really nice riding along the Hummingbird highway and then the Southern highway to Placencia and Punta Gorda. It was also relatively flat (with the exception of the Hummingbird Hwy) so for the first time in a while we could cover more ambitious daily distances.

Another detour back up into the mountains on 8km of dirt road took us to the Cockscomb basin Jaguar preserve, the only official Jaguar preserve in the world. Although sightings are obviously not guaranteed we stood a small chance to see one on the access road, or at least their prints in the mud. We basically had the place to ourselves end enjoyed a river tube trip and some hikes in the rainforest. While walking the Tiger Fern Trail to two beautiful waterfalls we realised it was the first time in Central America that we could walk trails in pristine forest, without fear of being robbed, and without a guide - just a good network of trails and the forest! That’s a feeling of freedom that’s been missing since the United States.

In laid back Placencia we found the Caribbean town that we had all been looking forward to. In fact the town itself was at the end of a long narrow peninsula, almost like a caye that you can ride your bike into the white sandy beach at the edge of the Caribbean. We stayed at Omar’s Guesthouse, a barebones backpacker favourite and it just so happened he owned the best restaurant in town (by our unbiased opinion), ‘Omars Creole Grub’ and we ate creole style Snapper with rice and beans and fish burritos...it was amazingly good! In Anna’s perennial search for ‘coco fresco’ or fresh coconut juice (“why are there so many coconut trees in Belize, yet no one sells fresh coconut juice like in Mexico?”) she met ‘da Coconut Man’, a Garifuna man with a six-pack of abs to put us all to shame, who can slice up a fresh green coconut in seconds, as well as give lessons on ‘walking the slack rope’. We spent two evenings sipping coconut juice, and taking the first steps to balancing on the slack rope. The photos will help explain things.

anna and da coconut man

Martin walking the slack rope

We also couldn’t be in southern Belize and not get out to the Cayes so we headed out to Ranguana Caye for a full day snorkeling trip. It was a coconut palm fringed island oasis in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean sea. Frigate birds, boobies, and brown pelicans nest out here and patrol the waters for fish. We saw a nurse shark, blue tangs and a whole range of tropical underwater life. I was taken most by the bright purple veined sea fans that wave into the current creating a magical underwater forest. Storms and dark clouds threatened in all directions and we enjoyed some ‘castaway on a deserted beach’ time. A little piece of paradise.

Anna on Ranguana Caye

Unfortunately we went our separate ways with Martin and Susy who were heading back towards Guatemala after Belize. Thanks guys for the past month of adventures together!

Martin and Susy under a Ceiba tree in Tikal

So for the last day in Belize it was back to the two of us, rolling foothills of the Maya Mountains in the south of Belize, past orange orchards, banana plantations and small villages reminiscent of Guatemala and into the southern port of Punta Gorda.

We paid our US$18 departure fee and made our way down to the dock to load our bikes on the medium sized ‘lancha’. In the process something dropped from one of Anna’s bags...her favourite orange bungy cord sank into the blue. It was apparently not that deep, so within a few seconds she jumped in the water and recovered it. The boat was about to leave when someone yelled out that we still had to get our passports stamped. We thought the lady had already done that when we paid our fee...we quickly ran for the stamps and then back to the boat.......in Belize they were laid back, but not that laid back!

A short hop through Guatemala, then into Honduras and the Bay Islands, ready for the next adventure.

Que les vaya bien

Alister and Anna

PS. I have started doing some summaries of the countries we travel through, for other cyclists information, for fellow backpackers, or just to give an idea on what things cost and how it is to travel in these places. The universal currency is accommodation, a beer, a coke and a meal...I will try to stick to this!

Guatemala Summary

The local currency is Quetzales (Q) named after their national bird the Quetzal, a shy bird of the mountains, green with a long green/red tail which features on every note and coin. Hotel 50 - 120 Quetzales ($6.50 - $15US), 1 litre Gallo beer 20 Q ($2.50 US), 3 litres of Coke 14 Q ($1.75 US), typical meal at a local comedor (informal restaurant serving basic meals) 15 - 40 Q ($2 - $5 US). In tourist areas, price of meals swelled up to 60 - 70 Q.

The roads were generally of very good standard, with a wide paved shoulder the only problem being the annoying little ridge that moved in and out with every road, meaning regular bumps in the ride. Many roads were obviously newly built in the past 8 years and virtually empty of traffic... Far better roads with dramatically less traffic than in Mexico, made for relaxing enjoyable riding. The exception to this was the gaps of unpaved roads that they are still to get to, or some of the ‘B’ roads like the one to Lanquin and Semuc Champey. They were steep and full of chunks of limestone, made for challenging riding, but traffic was slow. As for the famous brightly painted and diesel spewing ‘Chicken Buses’, loaded to the top with people, cargo and the ayudante (helper) doing high speed acrobatics on top. They were loud and dirty....but you could hear them coming, and apart from copping a mouthful of diesel fumes every time they blasted past, they usually gave a loud short blast on their horns and then gave us plenty of room on the road.

Belize Summary

Everyone carries on about how expensive Belize is compared to the rest of Central America, so much so that we wondered if we even wanted to go there at all! The local currency is Belizean dollars $ BZ, which I think already makes it sound expensive especially when $1 US = $2 BZ. Well we went, we saw, and we spent and yes, it is a little more expensive than what we were used to paying in Guatemala, but not so bad and we really enjoyed the place.

Hotel $23 - $36 BZ ($12 - $18 US), 1 Belikin beer 280 ml $2.75 BZ ($1.40 US), a meal at a restaurant $10 - $18 BZ ($5 - $9 US) for example: Fish Burrito $10 BZ, Red Snapper rice and beans $18 BZ...but aside from the great seafood at ‘Omar’s Creole Grub’ we mostly cooked ‘beans and rice’ ourselves to save on cash.

Tags: belize, caribbean sea, cycling, guatemala, tikal

Comments

1

Glad to see your latest message, as usual very interesting. In case Ali is interested in footy, Grand Final sanfl Centrals played Sturt, Centrals won 92 - 54
Last week AFL grand final Geelong played St.Kilda, Geelong won.Looking forward to tour next story, keep safe and good luck Robert and Sophie.

  Robert Rutten Oct 4, 2009 8:16 PM

2

Hey thefuegoproject,

We liked your blog post and decided to feature it this week so that others could enjoy it too!

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Oct 26, 2009 12:34 PM

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