Beach bar on the island of Caye Caulker
The flight from Miami approaches the Yucatan peninsula. We land at the airport located half an hour from Belize City. Terminal looks quite unusual, more like a bus station back in the 80’s rather than a modern establishment. People queue up waiting to be handed in their luggage. I fill out the form at the immigration check and after a short conversation with a Black security officer I got my passport stamped.
Immediately after exiting the airport we are surrounded by a swarm of wild taxi drivers offering transportation to the city for a special price. We refrain from their services and head walking towards the main road. A hundred meters later a car stops next to us. A bit of haggling brings us for a fixed fare of $6 right into the town. On the spot we find a hotel, a more expensive one than planned.
A walk around the city leaves blurry impressions. People are very open and helpful, not for nothing however. Most folks expect a small payment in return for even a bit of advice. As it turns out later, this is pretty typical all around Belize.
Walking around the city we enter not necessarily a safe area around Swing Bridge, where we find Dit’s bar, a place for lunch. We order a typical (and fat!) national dish: red beans with rice and roasted chicken. Afterwards in our hotel we get to know Gerald, a guy from Oregon, who would become our company for the following two weeks. In the evening we relax on the hotel veranda. Far away I hear sounds of nocturnal insects. I see a giant cockroach climbing up the wall. A few days ago Hurricane Dean made its way through the former capital, today however, is a very calm and pleasant evening.
Jumping into the water on the island of Caye Caulker
Island of Caye Caulker is nice change from the mainland. Unfortunately, the water due to the recent hurricane is quite murky. We have a beautiful beach and palm trees with coconuts at your fingertips. The warm Caribbean Sea around and subtropical relentlessly burning sun. Renting out standard snorkeling equipment is enough to spot some large orange starfish and many colorful fish. The beach is a truly relaxing place. Wooden bar in the shade of palm trees, colorfully painted boat wreck and flexible springboard from which we keep on plunging into the water. The time slows down significantly.
We wake up early before the dawn to head out to Orange Walk. City rather not interesting at all. We rent a boat to reach the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. We cruise at breakneck speed upriver surrounded by dense jungle. Our young guide has a very discerning eye, so he stops the engine as soon he sees something interesting. We take a look at the exotic birds, crocodiles, monkeys, lizards and bats. Once ashore we walk to the ruins located in the jungle. In the distance I hear loud sounds of wild animals. Right beside me something rustles in the bushes. We are surrounded by many tropical trees, huge palm trees and tall ferns. The guide demonstrates some properties of certain plants also shows these poisonous. We reach the great pyramids with their height surpassing the line of trees. Soon we climb up one of the pyramids to stand on top of the jungle. The top looks like irregular, but very dense and consistent green marshland, where you can hike.
A river full of crocodiles leads to the ruins of Lamanai
Suddenly the sky becomes cloudy and a warm tropical rain sets in.
Within less than a minute of unexpected downpour we are completely soaked. Actually it does not make any difference to me, because I would become dry soon after the sun returns.
On the way back just by throwing small pieces of chicken on the side of the river we seduce a crocodile. Opportunity to look at this reptile closely. Talking about encounters, after a while we also hold a small crocodile on our hands. It is still important to be careful and keep him around his neck to limit his range of movements. A small, innocent reptile, however, could easily bite a finger off!
In the evening we decide to walk around Orange Walk. Maybe even go for little clubbing. Initially, we come into a hole-of-a-place dive. The premises I’m talking about does not have doors, nor decorations, as there are only concrete walls with protruding metal rods. Beer, the only listed product, is sold off a barred window. Most of the local patrons have missing a couple of front teeth. We get a drink or two and decide to carry on with our clubbing.
Another visited place is the opposite. Hi-Five is a classy establishment. Especially compared to the previous one. Here we stay a bit longer, or even as it turns out later, for too long. Our hotel has a curfew and there is no way to enter it after hours. The only thing we can do is to sleep in a riverside cabin at Celeste’s, a New Zealand girl met some time ago.
Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary
We get on a chicken-bus (as are defined all the restored and repainted U.S. school buses). We go to a small town named Dangriga, from where we continue to move towards the village of Hopkins, a charming place located on the Caribbean Sea. We install ourselves in a hut which not ‘close to’ but literally ‘on the’ beach. It is a hut belonging to Hawaiian seventy year old expat, who lives on the top floor, we take the entire ground floor. So I take a comfortable sit on a windowsill overlooking the rustling palm trees, golden beach and the waves gently humming. I contemplate how lucky I am to be here in this place. The night cost me less than two dollars. Right now is the time for evening swimming in the thirty degree warm sea and walk through the village afterwards. I sit on a bench in a street bar. Local artists’ performance begins shortly. They play the drums, turtle shells and other hand-made instruments. In shady, vaguely-lit alleyways of Hopkins some lost crabs march here and there, fleeing clumsily as they would discern one of us. When one of the crabs is stuck in the open space it does quickly rush its legs to move sideways, as to only be able to hide behind flower pots or other object giving a relatively subjective security.
I sleep on the beach, but at night the storm breaks and disturbs my sleep. Mid-soaked I move to a sheltered patio, but unfortunately it is difficult to sleep here also because the termites and other vermin keep biting and harassing me.
Sunset over the Caribbean Sea
Next day we start with breakfast bar. While this can be called a hut bar, looks more like a kitchen in someone’s household. I ask a Black host, what we could possibly eat. He looks inside the pots and after a while he says "… I just have beans and bread baked by my wife." Let’s get some of what is available. Bread actually has a bit of acquired taste, suits well to red bean spread.
We hitchhike to the nature reserve of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. We choose two seemingly interesting walks around the Sanctuary. The lush vegetation is stunning. At every step something rustles in the bushes, from time to time we notice decent size lizards. We reach a crystal-clear waterfall in the middle of the reserve.
It’s a perfect spot for a refreshing swim, so long awaited after a hike in a humid rainforest. Soon we ascend to a viewpoint from where stretches a panoramic landscape of remote jungle.
We return to the initial point to start again, this time on a slightly longer Antelope Trail Track. During the monotonous march I notice a suspicious-looking strangely-bent rod on the road. With an extra precaution I refrain from stepping on the object.
A two-meter long snake notices our presence, crawls to the side of the path and then climbs up the tree! This is one of the two species of snakes living in the park, the venomous one. The second one the boa constrictor, which we unfortunately did not encounter. On the way back we’re lucky, as we get a ride with a truck filled with pineapples and limes to the top of the rim. A superb sunny outdoor ride with a gentle breeze of refreshing citrus scent! What a journey!
It’s our last night in Belize, we say goodbye to Celeste, who is going south. The three of us move towards Guatemala. Belmopan, the boring capital, serves an opportunity to eat a hot dough with minced corn and chicken wrapped with a leaf of maize. We pay ridiculously high and mandatory tax to travelers leaving Belize and here we are in Guatemala, the first Spanish speaking country en route.
A few interesting facts:
- Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America
- indigenous people of Belize are Black
- the Belizean dollar exchange rate is fixed to the U.S. dollar (is 2:1)
- as a result of major damage by Hurricane, the capital of Belize has been transferred in 1970 from Belize City to Belmopan
- local cuisine consists mostly of rice & beans with chicken, served in many different variations
- in no other country is the red beans served in so many different ways
- the most popular local beer is Belikin available in two varieties. It’s hard to buy a different one
- Belikin beer is only sold in small bottles
- Belize is the most expensive country in Central America
- hitch-hiking trip in Belize is fairly easy
How much is it?
night in Belize City: from $15 / person
lunch in a bar: $4 – $6
small Belikin beer: $2
boat from Belize City to the Caye Caulker islands: $15 return
snorkeling equipment rental: $5
chicken taco on the street: $1 for 3 pieces
fresh mango at the market: $0.60
departure tax: $ 37.50 (an exaggeration?)