After 2 months in Mexico we enter a world pretty different: Belize. Anglophone, still many curiosities only found in British ex-colonies. Despite rather rainy weather a journey thru Belize’s small towns, villages and to the beach.
Chetumal, 2nd January
We’ve left Bacalar and its colorful lagoon.
Just 1/2h to Chetumal at the border to Belize.
Not a lot of yarn to spin about the town. For those heading to Belize the last chance to go shopping in huge malls, …
… well, not much more. Maybe to mention the Sky Bar in a hotel in the city center. THE PLACE to sip a beer and to wonder why there’s no skyline visible in Chetumal.
Orange Walk Town, Belize; 4th January
The next morning we’re about to leave Mexico – after more than 2 months travelling around.
The border, just 2 – 3 km to get there. On Mexican side we get a stamp in the passport, go to the customs office with Prado’s birth certificate and its permit to drive in Mexico. The guys take a couple of photos of Prado, we return the all-important Banjercito sticker and for that we receive the 300 USD deposit. And that’s it.
10′ later we’re on the way to Belize.
Same stuff again – just the other way round. Prado gets stamped in the passport. The guy puts all data he can find about Prado in his computer – and then, in handwriting he copies all these details again in a form with 3 copies using carbon paper. Yes, all by hand. Yeah, good old British administration at its best – no wonder the British lost their Empire and later could never identify themselves with the EU.
Whatever. It takes a little time to have this masterpiece elaborated, but 1/2h later we enter Belize. We get an insurance for Prado – just outside the customs building. 30 USD for 1 month. Of course, again a handwritten certificate and a handmade sticker for the windscreen.
Then we’re on the way to the 1st town in Belize: Corozal. A drive thru a very rural area. A few scattered, slightly shabby farmhouses.
15′ later we arrive in Corozal. The 6th biggest town in the country, counting some 9000 lost souls.
There’s not much to do. We just need some Belize $ to get a beer in the evening and a SIM card.
Compared to Mexico the town looks much poorer and definitely infinitely sleepy. And it looks like all shops are owned by Chinese immigrants.
A quick look at the harbor and the nearby murals …
On to Orange Walk Town. About 1/2h’s drive. We really have to get used to all these extremely short distances.
Landscape: Bushland or sugarcane on the left, sugarcane or bushland on the right. Very few cars crossing.
In Orange Walk Town a stroll thru the CBD. Well, it doesn’t take days to see everything.
Maybe 10′ if you really need to admire all sights, 2h should you need a cup of coffee after this experience.
It’s obvious, most tourists don’t visit Orange Walk Town for its CDB or its gourmet restaurants. Nor for its vibrating lounges and clubs – they’re all pretty pristine, in deepest hibernation, still with a huge potential for development.
No, the visit is all about another Maya ruin: Lamanai. Some 30 km in the jungle.
Best to book a tour by boat to reach the site. Despite its rather unreasonable prize it’s a wonderful opportunity to float along New River. Thru a kind of secondary jungle, passing the Mennonite village of Shipwreck, watching some birds along the way to finally reach Lamanai after 2h.
Unfortunately, you’ll not be the only 1 heading for this site. Some other guys had the same idea. Sadly, even a crowd from Cruise Ships.
Then we’re in Lamanai.
To start with, we learn all we’re not allowed to do, …
… then a lunch – this rice’n’beans with a piece of dead chicken …
… carefully observed by some howler monkeys munching leaves on the trees.
Then we’re finally ready to admire the ruins of Lamanai. Pretty atmospheric provided you see them between the arrival of 2 cruise ship tours.
1st to the Jaguar Temple with a beautiful view from the top, …
… sneaking to some other buildings …
… to finally reach the High Temple – definitely the place where you’ll climb a bit up. On the side they even built a wooden stair to get your grandma to the top of the pyramid.
While visiting this temple our luck runs out. We bump into a huge cruise ship group. A group even divided into several subgroups, each headed by a kind of a slave-driver. And each listening to a specific name – the 1st 1 is the Happy Group.
We hear this name constantly as its members seem to be quite unruly: they take their pics and selfies not fast enough, don’t run up the stairs, stay too long on the top of the pyramid, etc.
The next sub-group’s names are probably the Miserables, the Black Sheep or the Lucky Ruin Runners. Who knows, they’re very disciplined, thus nobody’s shouting at them.
Whatever. After a few minutes they rush on. Just to make sure they won’t miss their gala cheeseburger dinner on the ship anchoring in Belize City.
Time to admire the view – especially New River.
On to the next building: the Mask Temple. Probably the most famous structure in Lamanai. And definitely the masks are very visible. Look even a little artificial. We learn, that the guys coated the initial figure with fiberglass. Should you beat on it the sound will immediately remind you to these Chinese plastic toys you loved that much as a kid.
Time to drive back to Orange Walk Town …
… on the way some Iguanas to admire …
… and late afternoon we’re back.
San Ignacio, 8th January
We drive on to Crooked Tree. A village next to the eponymous wildlife sanctuary. Please, don’t expect lions, elephants or even jaguars and pumas. No, it’s all about birding. Thus, watching all kind of birds flying around. Some enthusiasts with thick books knowing each and every bird, others completely desperate that their app cannot help them to know all details of 1 of these chickens flying around. Finally, the hungry guys just thinking about a couple of these birds marinated and then slowly roasted to perfection.
As we’re mainly supporters of the 3rd category of bird watchers, there was not too much to do for us. Anyway, for us it’s more a stopover to arrive on Monday in nearby Belize City. Just to find out where we can find a mechanic able to rejuvenate Prado.
In the evening in the only munchery we can find: Bird’s Eye View. A place suddenly filled up with tour groups enjoying a birding day before having their Maya ruin day or the reef snorkeling event. Whatever, slightly strange to be in such a place among all these package tourists on their adventure trip.
Whatever. The next morning we’re on the way to Belize City. We check with 1 of these Mennonite owned companies if they could do all necessary work for Prado. Especially the injectors need some attention and a professional test of the engine would probably be appropriate after 350 000 km around the world. We go to Econodiesel. Quickly learning that their headquarter is in Spanish Lookout. A Mennonite settlement with some 2500 enlightened souls. Despite the well-known fact that these ultra-conservative guys refuse categorically anything of the modern world, some villages have become more liberal. They switched from horse carts to cars’n’planes – thus have become Belize’s main producers of agricultural products and the country’s best technicians. Hence, the place to go to get Prado in shape.
The guy in Belize City makes an appointment for us and 1,5h later we’re in Spanish Lookout.
Just approaching the village everything changes completely. Immediately Belize fades and you have the impression to drive thru any countryside in the Midwest of the US. Cattle breeding everywhere, tidy wooden houses scattered in the landscape, …
… the silhouettes of huge silos – and numerous hangars with garages and warehouses for spares. A dream for Prado that was so much neglected during the last 2 years thru the US zone of influence where they can’t repair any other car then the 1s built in the US.
Quickly we find Econodiesel – their Spanish Lookout headquarter.
They await us. Check the injectors, replace the nozzles. Then Prado sounds again like a diesel, not like a sexy senior citizen at the proud age of 98 climbing Mount Everest in 1 day. A check of the engine and all other parts where we could imagine something might have gone wrong.
Yes it’s true the guys are not the fastest you can imagine. To check everything takes a while – as does it to find a spare. But they get them all and after 2 days they’ve finished.
Only in the last minute they hear a strange sound. It’s the alternator. What the hell – we have to take an appointment with another mechanic for the next day.
Day 3: Alternator day. They find the whole housing broken. Nobody knows how that can happen. Maybe the roads along Lake Turkana 7 years ago or thru the Gobi Desert 3 years ago. Who knows. The part has to be replaced. A few hours later they find a suitable 1. Of course, not the original Japanese 1. No, it’s from an unknown company in Taiwan producing it. True it’s cheap – hopefully it will last a few km.
After that we declare Prado again fit to continue. Ready to drive in the next week its 350 000’s km.
And we’re happy that the mechanics didn’t find anything serious. Just small stuff. And that they repaired at a pretty reasonable cost everything many of their US and Canadian counterparts were even unable to look at – mainly because they’ve never seen a diesel, never seen a foreign car and they’re just used to change components, not to repair anything.
So, should your car need some check-up, some repairs or simply you require some spares you don’t find anywhere – go to Spanish Lookout in Belize. Visit Econodiesel – probably they get it done.
And what’s happening with you during the time your car is being repaired? Simply spend the day with the mechanics, learn where the different bolts are and check that they’re all well tightened once everything is back to its place. Just plan in a way that your car drives you back in the evening. So, no need to participate in any Mennonite enlightening session. Instead incredible opportunities to support Belize’s beer industry.
Hopkins, 11th January
Prado is ready for new adventures. So, we leave San Ignacio. We’re on the way to Belize’s Caribbean Coast. To Hopkins. Unfortunately, weather is not really too good – a polar cold front hits the country.
After 1/2h we bypass Belmopan. The proud capital of Belize. It’s said to be so sleepy and insignificant that only the worst masochists would ever visit it.
We follow the Hummingbird Highway to the coast. Hilly landscape, a lot of secondary jungle, some agriculture and …
… a few miserable villages along the way.
Then we arrive in Hopkins. Don’t expect a vibrating beach hangout. It’s more a pretty long road along the shore dotted with houses. A number of places to recover from daytime stress, some muncheries and watering holes. In between rather shabby wooden houses of the locals.
Somehow a slightly strange atmosphere in the village. With quite a number of expats owning the hostels, guesthouses, hotels and most restaurants. And the local Garifuna population mainly watching what’s happening with their village.
Whatever. Not much to do. Hanging around, wait for the rain to stop to have a look at the beach and continue to hope that weather tomorrow will be better.
The next day: the weather is still the same. The sea pretty rough. Thus, no snorkeling at the reef. We take the opportunity to drive to Placencia. A tourist hotspot some km to the south. Maybe there are some sensational things going on. Half an hour’s drive and we approach it. Looks pretty different to whatever we’ve expected.
We already know that certain villages of the devout Mennonites look like those in the Midwest of the US. But now we discover Placencia. Many parts look like any US coastal suburb. In between construction sites, unfinished houses, abandoned places. Many properties for sale. Hence, a typical enclave of immigrants and refugees from the US and Canada.
Well, we decide to drive back to Hopkins. Despite all it’s slightly less weird. At least until we come across the village’s ultimate evening event: the must-go-weekly-event in a watering hole at the beach.
It all starts well. Although beer is not any cheaper than somewhere else. Slowly the whole expat community of Hopkins sneaks in. Some carefully selected locals as well. All in desperate need of their dose of beer or rum. Then the Hopkins expat disco starts with songs from the 60ties – adapted to the average age of the guys. Ok – just for a change. A little later we’re already asked if we would not be interested to buy a house, …
… time for another couple of beers – and off we are.
The next morning: still rough sea – no chance for snorkeling. Thus, a short drive to the Coxcomb Jaguar Preserve.
Well, not really hoping to see 1 of these cats. It’s more about hiking to some waterfalls.
Nevertheless, to impress poor tourists, they claim the reserve to be a dangerous place. Just ignore it.
Quite a hot hike. Sometimes steep up. Fortunately, few mozzies.
On the way numerous opportunities to admire the different veggies growing in the jungle.
After 1 1/2h we’re at the Tiger Fern Waterfalls. Not very impressive, but an opportunity for a swim. Well, the upper 1 so full with students from an US university on a study tour that it may be difficult to squeeze in.
Enough for this post. Soon there will be another 1. Definitely at least as interesting as this 1. Well, let’s see what other adventures Belize has to offer.