Belize it or not

We would enter through the Mexican town of Chetumal. Shortly before we got there, we stopped by a small roadside shop to rid ourselves of all Mexican Pesos. I bought a Snickers, a bottle of water and some crisps. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Mexicanos is that they have a ferocious sweet tooth and absolutely adore sweets, Coca Cola and have an impressive crisp selection. 

It had been six weeks since we crossed into Mexico so naturally we’d forgotten the border rigmarole. Leaving Mexico was relatively easy. We had to return our Temporary Vehicle Import Permits along with showing we hadn’t actually sold our bikes in Mexico. Once they inspected the bikes, they cancelled the permit and we’d receive our $400USD deposit we’d paid upon entering in a few days. We got our exit passport stamp fairly lively after that and then bam, that was the end of Mexico.

The rather ominous looking border road into Belize. Yes, that's billowing smoke from a fire in the background.

The costs of entering Belize were fairly minimal and were comprised of:

-$7.50USD - Vehicle Entrance Fee
-$2.50USD - Fumigation of the bike
-$20USD - Mandatory Insurance (3 Weeks)

I thought the fumigation fees were a bit of cop out as I’d read online that it wasn’t required for motorcycles. That and the fact all it was a light spray of the lower half of the bike for no more than a couple of secs. I can’t imagine it would have killed any stowaway pests or diseases that may have been clinging on for the ride. I chalked it down to border bureaucracy and didn’t let it bother me much. One can only embrace these foreign inefficiencies as part of the experience and this was nothing compared to what was to come. Plus, I love getting my brake pads lubed up with Monsanto’s finest! 

Corazul is a small, quaint town on the North East Belizean coast not 30 minutes from the Mexican border. It had been sweltering and the heat had sapped us of the energy reserves we thought we’d be able to tap into to get it to Belize City that day. The first thing we did after we found accommodation and parked the bikes was jump straight into the tepid Caribbean sea. It had been a long day riding but the sea quickly limbered up my sore, stiff body. It was invigorating enough for me to muster up the strength to take a walkabout the town of Corazul in search of some tasty food however all I found was mediocrity. 

Right on the water outside our hotel in Corazul.

Fun fact: There are more Chinese takeaway restaurants per block in Belize than in NYC Chinatown. This statement may or may not be true but the number was staggering. The Chinese presence in Belize I found to be arbitrarily out of place. How the Chinese had come to infiltrate this afro-caribbean, creol-speaking country I’ll never know but it was an observation I made that strangely stuck with me well into Guatemala.

When I meet travelers and I’m told somewhere is not worth seeing because of x, y and z, the optimism in my always looks for a redeeming quality or charm. This is not the case for Belize City. It’s an absolute shithole, through and through. As far as I’m concerned it’s sole existence is to act as port to ferry tourists to the islands of San Pedro and Caye Caulker. For the most part, Belize is a country which charges first world prices for third world living. There are some absolutely gorgeous places in Belize and all the people I met were marvelous however there was a constant overhanging cloud of dissatisfaction that accompanied every Belizean dollar I spent, the value was too often not there. 

About an hours speedboat ride from Belize City is Caye Caulker, a backpacker and tourist haven. An island where only golf carts skirted along dirt roads, ferrying gringos to wherever their hearts desired (or at least as far as this tiny island would allow them). The island used to be one however a hurricane is said to have split it in the 60s. The ‘split’ is where the divide occurred and its most prominent feature today is ‘The Lazy Lizard’ bar which attracts the young and the restless. Swimmers who braved the current inbetween the two islands to get to the other island were rewarded with a sketchy-yet-fun tree jump and horde of hermit crabs roaming the seemingly empty island. We even found a hermit crab that had made a toothpaste cap it’s temporary home! I spent many hours swimming, drinking sometimes swimming and drinking and just hanging out. We met Sarah and Ashley here who were vacationing from New York and had a great time with them. Oddly enough, I had met Ashley before in NY but only copped this after two days of hanging and Facebook told us of our mutual friends!

Found this little guy who had made a plastic bottlecap of some sort his home. Photo taken by Sarah Lucas.

To infinity...and beyond! Tree jump across from the Lazy Lizard, Caye Caulker.

We were often treated to gorgeous sunsets on the shores of Caye Caulker

While I never dived the infamous Blue Hole, I did the best snorkeling I’ve ever done off a catamaran on the reef here through Raggamuffin tours. Complete with fly-by hand-feeding of Friget birds off the stern of the catamaran, we spied Green Moray Eels, countless Nurse Sharks, Stingrays, Spotted Eagle Rays and a plethora of gorgeous, colorful coral. The water made for perfect conditions. It was crystal clear turquoise, a hive of activity and a very comfortable temperature. 

After several days of punishing our livers, we left the island, sun-kissed and with a trove of fond memories. Delighted our bikes had not been stolen from the Chinese-ran hotel we’d paid to park them in (Belize City is rife with theft and crime), the Belizean jungle would own us next. 

It wasn’t until having to ride across Belize that I realized how tiny this country was. Having crossed through the States and the vast Mexico, getting around here was a cinch. A bit south of the lacklustre capital Belmopan was Hummingbird Haven, a hostel we happened upon with very little research which rewarded us immensely. Whilst the dorm was very basic and buggy, we were the only ones there so had the run of the place. We were told to roam the land and eat whatever fruit we found. I took it upon myself to attack a coconut tree. Armed with a machete, my assault continued until I’d hacked away enough to reach the goodness inside (and somehow kept all my fingers intact!).

When things turned very 'cast-away' at Hummingbird Haven eco-community.

We had mentioned our interest in cave-tubing to the owner and he was quick to provide. He called his buddy up who was a tour guide and he’d confirmed he’d take us out the next day. The next day we were stoked to hear that we’d be the first ever tourists to cave-tube in the Five Lakes National Park. A tad apprehensive but mostly honored and excited, we set off hiking for an hour until we reached the entry-site. I could tell we were the first due to the lack of paths and our machete-toting guide carving our way through the jungle. The first two caves were pretty cool and although a bit short/small, I would have said we’d got our money’s worth if we’d stopped then. ‘Get ready for the big daddy!’ our guide then shouts, as we were engulfed feet first into the darkness. For a full hour we floated through a vast cave in pitch dark save for our shitty headlamps. Bats skillfully swooped centimeters from our heads and catfish swam precariously close to our floating arses. By the time we saw light, we were sufficiently creeped out and a tad cold but thrilled nonetheless. Our trip concluded with our guide rustling a palm-sized tarantula out of a hole in the ground. Well done Belizean jungle, well done.

San Ignacio was our last stop in Belize. We made friends with Elise and Will, an American couple who had been travelling on and off for 5 years. We would end up hanging out with them quite a bit in Guatemala as they were great fun.

San Ignacio was our final taste of Belize. It's a town better known for it’s Actun Tunichal Muknal or Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre tour, an eery, Indiana Jones-esque swim/crawl 1km into an ancient burial cave. Deep cave pools, tight spaces and lofty heights are traversed to reach the inner chamber which was often associated with the Underworld by the indigenous. The truly unique experience was enhanced by the two perfectly preserved, crystallized skeletons of children, apparently cruelly sacrificed to the Mayan Gods during destitute times in an effort to change their fate. No cameras were allowed into the cave due to a clumsy tourist dropping his camera onto the ancient fragile skill in 2013, piercing a hole into the skull and leaving his eternal mark on history.

One of said crystallized children's skeletons. Picture courtesy of Steve Taylor, taken before the cave camera ban.

As quick as it had begun, our Belizean adventure had ended. Having only spent just over 10 days in this tiny country, we didn't need any more time here and were happy to point our bikes toward Guatemala and get on with it.