Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Rice 'n' beans, Belkin beer and Belize

When you leave a country with the intention of crossing borders its always warming to be given parting gifts. Sadly some are a little too bulky to carry whilst others, wrapped in tin foil, a little too illegal. But it's the thought that counts and so we carried those thoughts rather than the gifts on our bus journey across to Belize. A short journey on a packed bus which leaves Mexico, goes through the Free Zone (no tax shopping) and into Belize. The bus is packed (by the way) because Mexico is so much cheaper and the Belizeans can travel back and forth freely on cheap buses.

First stop – Corozal. Twenty minutes into the country and there is almost instantly a different feel – English speaking, different attitudes (Give me your money), architecturally more Caribbean and substantially higher prices for everything.

So. Bus stops and we pass a bar when looking for a guesthouse. 4 good old boy expats are drinking their afternoon away outside and raucously point us to a cheap hotel where we drop our bags and return 10 minutes later to join them for a few hours (hic). They invite us on a short driving tour and to join them and other expats the following day for volleyball in the sea. The next morning before meeting up we mooch around town and along the lagoon. It's a nice enough place. The waters of the lagoon butt up against grassy banks and the town is all block concrete and nothing fancy although there is a pleasant little square, lots of shops and several bars and restaurants. We are collected and spend the afternoon with a great crowd of people flailing about in shallow water whilst trying to get a ball over a net.

The river at Orange Walk
Day three we arrive after another bumpy bus journey in Orange Walk. Where we are directed by various helpful locals to a cheap and fairly shite little hotel in the main street. Small room, noisy fan and scratchy sheets. The town itself is just a small place with nothing in it worth mentioning apart from it being one of the centres for Mennonites. An Amish style community who speak an archaic form of high German, live conservative lives and because of the agreements and tax breaks have grown to collectively provide over 65% of the country’s food requirements.

Orange Walk is the starting point for visiting the Lamanai ruins. The biggest Mayan ruins in Belize, which are reached by taking a fast boat down the jungle lined, brown river for an hour where we saw some wildlife including a half tame spider monkey who hung from the trees above the boat to take food from our hands. 

The Mask Temple at Lamanai
The site was ok. But neither as big, deserted, or magical as ones in Mexico. We wanted to see the Mask Temple with giant face carvings cut out of stone on the outside. But, when we got there we discovered that they were only really painted fiberglass replicas of what they would have looked. Sort of ruined it really. Later we found two other single travelers who had been on the trip so the four of us went to quietly have rum and cokes and tacos in the square. Yum.

One moan here. Many Belizeans are friendly and helpful but many just want your money and try to get it by overcharging, spin long stories or trying it on. It saddens us because we try to treat everyone the same and are sensitive to the have and have not situations. I particularly hate having a long chat and find there is an ulterior motif on their part. I end up saying no then sitting them down and trying to explain why I say no – not sure it helps but it makes me feel better and ultimately bores them away.

Caye Caulker. This is a small island that is reached by boat from Belize City and is a pretty collection of Caribbean style buildings, beach bars and restaurants and tour companies offering diving etc. It’s laid back and has sand roads that have pretty much only golf carts on them.  There are a couple of sandy areas that serve as beaches but these are incidental rather than thought out or naturally occuring. It's a place to get in the water and do stuff and socialize in and nice for a few days. Again though, 50% more expensive for any attractions than in Mexico or what we will find in Guatemala so didn’t get into it fully. In fact we spent a good bit of time viewing the place and properties through the eyes of people looking for a home rather than a holiday place.
Caye Caulker from the jetty
It was here we got meet a real character. Darren is about 55, soft-bellied and sporting a mullet on his largely balding, potato head. He comes from Georgia and bellows his diatribes from behind his out-of-the-way-bar in that thick southern drawl. His beliefs are generally thoroughly loathsome but something in his delivery and twinkling eyes made him very entertaining. Here’s some Darrenisms:

On the subject of entering a bar and asking for a bottle of water: “Ain’t no fucker drinks water in my bar!”. (And to Rachel’s chest) “You wanna nice, big, beer darlin’”.

On the subject of immigration. He flushes red, drool splutters from his snarling mouth and between two raised middle fingers he shouts top of his voice until any other view stops being expressed “Fuck the Muslims. Fuck those fucking fuckers! Fuck them, fuck them etc.

On the subject of foreign trade he interjects with “Fucking Muslims fuck goats and sell ‘em to the next village to eat. Never trust those fuckers. Fucking Mu…….. “. And so it goes on.

Weirdly. Stayed there for three hours drinking heavily and defending just about everyone outside of his world of heavydrinking, zz top listening, narrow minded backwoodsmen world.

Dangriga – The highlight in this small seaside town that is reached by a bus ride along the beautiful Hummingbird Highway (palms, rising hills, think jungle, citrus orchards and mist) was our catching the bus out without a wait the following morning. It's a nothing place on a nothing coastline with no views or interesting buildings/things to do. There was even nothing not to do as their was no where that pleasant not to do it. We stayed in an awful room that I likened to an underground carpark toilet. In reality it had probably been two toilets areas that had been amalgamated. The room still sported white tiled walls and there was no door on the toilet which you could see from the bed…..classy

Rachel at 3.00am in our toilet themed 
room in Dangriga

Placencia: Stayed at Lydia’s -  probably the cheapest (although very nice) accommodation in the fairly pricey village. It’s colourful, quiet, low rise and has nice beaches looking out to the horizon one side and docks on mangrove lined inlets on the other. It is a great little place for a holiday with some swanky resorts just outside the village and all the usual access to sea adventures are available. But, the place all feels like its desperately seeking the dollar and everything is for sale. Hundreds of lots for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It all feels a little hollow for us even though I guess you could make money there. But living is different to having a holiday and nice as it was it was not for us.

Lydia's in Placencia
Punta Gorda is right in the South and was our last stop in Belize. My daughter Holly had done her Elective Medical stint there several years ago so was interested to see it and we found it charming. Real Belezian life in a nice seaside town. No beaches or anything particularly touristy but even so it was lovely to be there and leave Belize feeling a bit better about the place.

Playing hopscotch with a passing school kid on the Jetty. He
beat us both but cheated!
In conclusion. I don’t think we would go back. It’s overpriced for what it offers compared to its neighboring countries and there was something that just didn’t work for us. Still. Can’t win em all but at least we can write it off our list of places to want to be.


Just remembered three things I should have added.

The other day a man was biking up the road in Palencia. We exchanged a smile and greeting but as he passed us we realised he had a fairly large snake (about 75mm wide) wrapped around his arm.

Outside the main cell phone provider shops there is a big sign banning weapons in the shop!

Going up the jetty yesterday a man coming in the opposite direction warned us not to touch a box that was just ahead of us as it was full of African bees. Shortly after he got in the little boat and putted away into the blue swatting away escaping bees as he went.

Here in Belize some of the billboards are written in Creole. "Mek mi reech" on a lottery ad.


1 comment:

  1. Especially enjoyed that post, one less place I don't need to visit xx