- Wonderful nature, incredible jungle with countless animals and hundreds of species of birds, of the most colorful
- Unbelievable lack of education of the locals. The common sense is almost entirely missing, but of course there are some exceptions.
- A great place to retire for a lot of USA citizens. It’s a pretty good place to buy a house and live on an American pension. And of course, people speak English, so the language is not a problem.
!# get ready, it’s a long post covering a whole month of adventures #!
A wonderful land of pirates, coincidences, and lack of education or common sense. Most of you already know that here’s where I spent my last month. It all started with an invitation to volunteer at a dog shelter, on the island of Caye Caulker. And that’s exactly where I went, right after leaving Mexico. I went straight to the docks for the Express Ferry, and left my motorcycle in their care for the next three weeks. I’ve been a bit worried about it but it all turned out ok.
And what happened on the island is mostly work related. I wake up early, surrounded by barking dogs, going to sleep late because not everyone in the house could fall asleep before midnight, sweat a lot in the sun, spend very little time in town, waste a lot of time walking there and back. I remember what work I signed up for but I didn’t expect to mix and pour concrete, or to have so many other time-consuming ‘extra’ tasks. It was straight clear that I’m not working with the dogs, but it was inevitable to interact with them. However, I had a couple of full days in three weeks to enjoy the island. That’s when I booked a snorkeling tour at the coral reef but it got cancelled (again) due to bad weather. And that was my last day on the island. Among the best moments there – a ‘getting drunk together’ Valentine’s day with an American guy and two German girls (thanks Johanna, Luca, Forrest), a couple of fishing evenings on the docks with a successful catch of a baby barracuda as well as other fish (thanks Shane for cleaning and cooking the fish and Noel for the fishing lines), and the day I completed the fence around the property (minus the gate, but I’ve already had enough).
On the island I had the first contact with the locals and learned a few facts about the language and the culture of Belize. Being a part of the British Empire, English is the official language, but most people speak Spanish and/or kriole as well (which is a very funny English, spoken and written in a ‘Jamaican’ way). As a former territory used by pirates to hide (as the reefs provided good protection against the big colonial ships), what strikes you most is that things didn’t change much. I can’t deny the progress, but the education is totally missing. It feels like the pirates traveled all to the future, and discovered all these new objects and technology, but they’ve been too far behind to adapt. For a country with 350k inhabitants (a little under the city of Brno) and among those with the lowest density in the world, one would expect it to be very well developed. To me, that lack of education, transformed into a lack of integrity when it comes to governing the country, is what doomed this country. The roads are only a few (the main highways + a few extras) and in quite a poor condition, with bad to no signalling at all and speed bumps of the right size to break your car/bike. The influx of tourists paying everything at the prices in USA should have abolished poverty a long time ago, but instead the businesses are struggling. Some are flourishing thanks to the influx of money from rich USA/Canadian/German citizens who own them.
But enough with the judgement, I am here to travel and have fun. And what a coincidence! There is a motorcycle rally in town. A big motorcycle meeting from all around Latin America, USA and Canada. Organized by the local Harley Davidson club/store, it was bound to gather the chopper clubs and the people with money. I also didn’t expect to be among the very few young ones in a crowd of almost 400 people. At first I thought it will be easy to make some friends, but I forgot my leather club-vest at home, I don’t have a hanging belly or gray hair, and I believe I was too young for them to ride. I was also among the very few who chose the free camping included in the package as opposed to a room at the largest hotel in Belize: Ramada/Princess.
However, when you don’t find friends, they find you. As I probably looked a bit lost as I arrived at the clubhouse, a nice lady selling the tickets offered to host me at her place and even ride with me for the rally. That’s how I met Gillian. After the first night in the hammock, under the stars of a very loud club, I got to meet her and her husband, and they gave me the reasons to like Belize. The bikers meeting had a very nice welcome package with free beer included, some music concerts and a trip to San Pedro city on Ambergris Caye. The rock bands in the evening kinda’ sucked, but there was a lovely band of metal drums who played in the opening and stole the show for the whole evening (The Pantempters).
And then it comes the time I spent with Gillian and Gordon. It was supposed to be a couple of nights only, but then the famous “La ruta maya” canoe contest was really close and Gillian convinced me to stay. Meanwhile she took her time to show me parts of Belize I would have never explored on my own, or even have access to. She and her husband are running the Belize Animal Rescue and they’re doing a great job capturing and saving wounded animals or captive monkeys. I’ve been taken to see some of the facilities where these animals are kept to recover, before being released back to the wild. This is how I saw an impressive amount of colorful birds. The Belize zoo is small compared to these facilities (run by generous non-native people who pay the bill for so many animals). But the Belize zoo shows you some of the most impressive animals and birds of this country, like the tapir, the big jabiru stork, spider monkeys and traditional parrots – yellow heads, blue heads, or the scarlet macaw (the red, yellow and blue combination) and even a few Keel-Billed toucans. No red-footed boobys on display, sorry. And another place I spent a whole day bird-watching is the Crooked Tree bird sanctuary, build around a lagoon and teeming with bright colored birds as well as small predators. I still can’t believe I saw so many types, but I’m grateful for the big book of birds that Gillian gave me – this way I could identify a few more than the null number of bird names I knew before.
Some other places I’ve been to and worth mentioning before the canoe race started, are the Inland Blue Hole and the nearby St. Herman cave, the Community Baboon Sanctuary, a modern Mennonites community – Spanish Lookout, as well as a more traditional one – Springfield, and the local restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of dining in – Cheers and Riverside Tavern.
The canoe race is a 4-day event, starting on Friday in San Ignacio and continuing along the Belize river until Belize City. Teams from all over the world are participating every year since 1997 to bring people to understand the way the mayans traveled the river to trade goods and wood, but as well to show people how rich their nature is and that they should protect it. The prizes are quite motivating for every category, and since there is no way to restrict the participation, a lot of people join the race even if just for pleasure. The pleasure of paddling about 6hrs a day, in burning sun (or pouring rain) through a river that twists and turns like a wounded snake.
The whole country participates in this event, some cleaning the jungle for the campsites, some selling food or assisting the teams, or even cheering from the side as I did. The start in San Ignacio on a Thursday evening was preceded by a boring hour-length speech of some officials and a few concerts. I followed the team the first day and even camped over night in the jungle (hammock and tarp). The rain poured the whole day and night, so the place turned into a mud bath. Thanks to a very good tarp I got from Gillian, I was able to stay dry and sleep really well. The race started again the next day at 6:30 – too early for me to wake up at 4, with the other participants, but I took the opportunity to take a naked bath in the river before the break of morning. We spent the day chasing the river and the participants, driving from lookout to lookout with a lot of other supporting cars or news crews. It was an exciting experience and seemed to be the largest off-road gathering in the whole country. We both went back home to Belize City for the night, as the place was too muddy to spend the night. I left Gillian home and followed the teams by myself on the third day, and also camped with them. And as you think the night is left for the teams to rest, nobody told that to the club next to the campsite – which turned into a carousel of awkward ‘dancing’ locals on something called music, and a parade of bad taste and lack of education (peeing on cars’ wheels even though there were toilets inside). They closed at midnight and I could finally have about 6 hours of sleep till the next start. On the bright side, I met a few teams of missionaries and spent the night with them, going to a catholic mass (and singing along) but also sitting by the fire and eating some empanadas. The last day I simply got back to Gillian’s place to pack my stuff and go – I’m running out of Belizean time.
I have to be out of the country in a couple of days, and there is still more on my “to see” list. So here I am, in San Ignacio, after a couple of hours of riding. Yes, Belize is really small. I already enjoyed a peaceful afternoon among the ruins of Cahal Pech, with nice birds and not so many tourists. Small, but totally worth the money (5USD), unlike Chichen Itza for example.
I’m leaving Belize with a ton of nice memories and great experiences. Guatemala is waiting for me tomorrow (8th of March)!