Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You have to see it to Belize it: Mexico/Guatemala border to Belize/Guatemala border (13th Feb - 3rd March '11)

(apologies for the terrible pun but it had to be done....)

After almost three and half months our trip through Mexico came to an end. We loved our time in the friendly, chaotic, fascinating, historical and beautiful country, and of course we thoroughly enjoyed its culinary delights. But while we were sad to leave, we knew that someday we will return for a visit and we were also excited about exploring Central America.
We headed into Guatemala by crossing the Usumacinta River at Frontera Corazol, after loading the bikes on the boat, getting stamped out of Mexico and most importantly stocking up on some Mexican essentials, like Bimbo Cake. The boat took us downstream about 15kms to the border town of Bethel. Not that there was any sign of a border – once we had been unloaded, and some local kids had helped us push our bikes up the steep river banks, we found ourselves on a sandy, rocky road on the outskirts of a small village.

We went searching for the immigration (always a good sign) which we found a few kilometres down a very rough and rocky road. The smiling official welcomed us to Guatemala and assured us that yes the road was like this for the next 60kms.. 60 bone-shaking kilometres of rocks and dirt. I was still sick with diarrhoea and stomach cramps and was in a bit of a daze, so by the time we clambered off the bikes at the end of the day my poor body felt like it had spent the last few hours in a washer and dryer.
The next day we cycled into the village of Flores, on an island in Lago de Peten Itza, which was a lovely place to spend a few days trying to get over my stomach bug and heading off on a day trip to the very beautiful ruins of Tikal, set in the jungle and starring spider monkeys, coatis (kind of like raccoons) and cool jungle birds.
In Flores we had to sadly say goodbye to our companions of the last three and a half months, Team Lusty. Russ and Lorely were heading south in Guatemala while we were off to the beaches of Belize. It had been a wicked few months of travelling with them, we managed to survive some tough days of cycling and a terrible Ashes series (and thus a lot of taunts from the Poms) but we always had some great laughs. We'll miss them, but I'm sure we'll see them down the track somewhere.
Jules and I headed off to some lovely relaxing on the shores of the lake at El Remate and then to find the sun and beaches of Belize, where the motto is “go slow”, just how we like it!
Belize was a fascinating place to visit, so very different from anywhere that we have been. It is very Caribbean and laidback, even the dogs were too chilled out to chase us, occasionally one would lazily lift its head to bark as we rode past but that was about as bothered as they got.
Belize has an eclectic blend of cultures: Creol, Spanish, Indigenous, Garifuna, Chinese etc. It was interesting to be back in a country where they spoke English, and people loved to yell out at us as we rode past “hey beautiful ladies”, “where you going so fast” “hey respect to you, man!”. One policeman chilling on the side of the road, called out “hey man, i love your rear view mirror, yeah awesome man”.
We spent most of our time in Belize either in, or lazing next to, the ocean. We spent four days in chilled out Caye Caulker, where we snorkeled with sharks and rays, swam in the turquoise waters and became addicted to coconut rum drinks. We also spent four days on the tiny island of Tobacco Caye, which was one of the highlights of our trip so far. We stayed with a lovely couple, who let us use their kitchen and helped us to buy fresh fish and seafood off the local fisherman. Our host taught us how to make some Caribbean seafood dishes, but was horrified when I planned to use powdered coconut milk in my spicy coconut fish stew. He went off to get us a fresh coconut from the palms outside and taught us how to make fresh coconut milk . Yum! So we spent our time out at the island snorkeling off the beach, lying in the hammock overlooking the ocean, eating delicious fresh seafood and occasionally visiting the beach bar for some sunset cocktails. Bliss.
We did do some riding around the country, we rode across the Belize west to east and then south from Belize City to the southern border. But it didn't require too much effort when the country is only 500km long! The whole country was a dream for cycle tourists, all the roads we took were almost completely flat and there were some great campsites along the way. The hardest day was taking the Coastal “Highway” which was actually just a dirt road through the middle of nowhere. However, while it was tough riding at least it wasn't boring as we got the full range of rocks, gravel, sand, corrugations - it had it all.
Belize is a tiny country, with a small population, so a lot of our time was spent riding along open roads with occasional farms and wooden houses on stilts next to the road. Most Belizeans don't have a lot, so it was a bit of a shock to ride into Placencia (which was another lovely beachside town where we swam and drank more coconut rum) and see evidence of an influx of expat retirees building huge houses right on the beach. The show of wealth really stood out after the small Garifuna towns and banana plantations that we had come through.
Our final morning in Belize, in the border town of Punta Gorda, was a nice summary of our time in the country, everyone waving and smiling as we rode past and then chatting to us at the local cafe. We had our coffee bought for us by a friendly travel writer, Joshua, that we had a great yarn to about travels ( Someone then came to find us and tell us that our boat was leaving early, this town was pretty small! So we headed through immigration, loaded up Betty and Norma on the boat (“too many boat trips in the last couple of weeks” they protested) and headed across the beautiful turquoise waters, bound for Guatemala once more.

1 comment:

  1. Hola Amigas! You are awesome - Criss-crossing Belize cuz it's only 500km long? Soft sand and dirt roads too. We look forward to the breeze as you blow past us on your way south to Argentina!
    ¡Buen viaje! Dave & Michelle