For the full photo diary of this part of the tour please click here
Three days ago I got on a boat in Frontera, Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Four boat rides and just over 60 miles cycling later I am taking a second day sheltering from a tropical storm in the out of season Belizean town of Placencia. I keep asking myself how and why I’m here for Belize is yet to impress. But experience tells me it takes a few days to acclimatize to a new country and I know full well that Belize’s jewels sit off shore. The decision for me is whether at this time of year it is worth the gamble of trying to get out and explore them.
I spent a couple of days longer at Hacienda Tijax, Rio Dulce than I had originally intended. A beautiful little marina, it’s good food, swimming pool and interesting residents held me captive, enticing me into a rare bout of hedonistic luxuriating. I immediately fell in with Gib, a dive master and boat captain who was in town looking to buy a boat. Originally from New Orleans, Gib recently moved his young family to the Honduran island of Utila. If the man found a boat then he’d offered to sail me out to Belize, so baited by adventure I waited on in the hope of a chance to sail. The good news is that the boat was found, the bad news that it wasn’t possible to wrap up a deal in time for me to take advantage. So I loaded Shermy onto the 9:30 lancha to Livingston and consigned Hacienda Tijax to memory.
The ride out to Livingston consists of about an hours picturesque blast down the Rio Dulce and out into the Bahia de Amatique. On docking in the Garifuna town of Livingston we were immediately descended upon by guys hawking onward trips. Turned out that I had been misinformed about services into Punta Gorda, Belize and would have to wait two days for the next reliable service. However, within ten minutes of arriving a way out presented itself and I found myself loaded onto another small boat and powering off on the half hour trip over to the port of Puerto Barrios. Within half an hour of arriving in Puerto Barrios I was through Guatemalan immigration and on another boat to Punta Gorda. By mid afternoon I was in Belize having forked out for two boat rides I would have preferred to forfeit for the short ride straight around to Puerto Barrios and US$10 lighter after a surprise departure tax was sprung on me at Guatemalan immigration. I couldn’t refuse to pay as there was a large official poster and when I asked for a receipt I got one, pre-printed on official paper with an official stamp.
It was Saturday September 10th when I arrived in Punta Gorda, this just happened to be Belizean Independence day. Everybody was out on the streets celebrating 30 years as their own country, leaving only the Chinese shops (of which there seems to be loads) open. So I was met by a wall of bass, it seems these guys know how to build a sound system. A night at Nature’s Way hotel and the next morning I was out on the road, making my way north up the Southern Highway. The owners of the hotel were good enough to send me off with all the recent horror stories regarding rapes and muggings in the area. Apparently only three weeks ago a female cycle tourist was viciously raped on the highway, following closely behind the rape of a local lady who had been riding her bike. I didn’t need to hear these stories but I hear a lot of tales of danger and have learn’t to take them all with a pinch of salt.
The day before yesterday I rode up the highway to a point just after the turn off for Monkey River. The route took me through two forest reserves on generally flat and very boring roads. The lack of people and traffic made much of the experience quite eerie and I have to say utterly unremarkable. There is no mistaking the huge ethnic diversity down here, incredible for such a small country. After just starting to connect with Spanish it came as a shock to get off the boat and hear English. But riding yesterday I heard a number of unrecognizable languages. The previous six months have been spent repeating the same Spanish greetings to passers-by, now I don’t know what to say so I’ve degenerated to a gruff grunt… it is often reciprocated and thus seems to work quite well.
After braving a terrific storm in the tent and waking to dark skies and heavy rain I rode into Independence yesterday. Here I picked up another boat over the Placencia, a small town hanging off the southern end of a long spit. It’s grey, the tourist season over and generally depressing, so why the hell I am I here? Put simply, because I want to ride out of it; the fairly recently completed road up the spit and back to the mainland looks to be a bit of a beauty. The highways of Belize promise to be so dull that any accessible excitement must be exploited. Unfortunately the storm is still raging, the winds and rain today making such an exposed road an obvious route to misery, so I’ve retained my place as the sole resident in the very comfortable Lydia’s Guest House. Belize is as expensive as they say so I keep my fingers firmly crossed for a more pleasant day tomorrow and the chance to move a day closer to Mexico.
So far Belize had failed to score many points at all; the people have been generally (not universally) aggressive and rude, and the riding terrible. I know that I have to get out onto the Barrier Reef to see the best of the country and was seriously considering a week out on Glovers Reef. Commitments down the road have forced the abandonment of that idea but I still may take a boat out to one of the Cay’s… that’s if I think it’s worth the trip into Belize City, about which I’ve heard absolutely nothing positive. We shall see. I’ll keep an open mind but right now the thought of being back in Mexico really appeals.