Well, this post finally gets me into Belize, but……..not without one last bit of surprise from Mexico…..
I had arranged to meet my friend Evert, who was going to Belize about the same time as me in Playa Del Carmen and then continue on into Belize. Evert is very familiar with the country so it was a good opportunity to spend some time with a good friend and enjoy the country.
As I underestimated the time to drive from Merida to Playa Del Carmen (typical in Mexico) I arrived in Playa a bit late, and took a breather from the driving while we met up and chatted about things so far in my favorite cafe, Ah Cacao. Just some of the best chocolate I’ve had anywhere! After about an hour, we were off and heading our way to the border to get cross into Belize by evening and grab a place to stay.
Unfortunately, Mexico wasn’t ready for me to leave. As part of the car importation, a hefty deposit (just under $400) was left with the Mexican government to be refunded to my credit card upon exit, to ensure my car left with me and wasn’t sold to to some lucky buyer in Mexico. Not a problem really, unless of course, you find out the office closes at 5:00 and it is 6:30! Hmmm, who knew a border office in Chetumal, one of the busiest offices, because of the free zone, would close way before the actual border closes! So technically, we could leave, but my car could not.
Luckily Evert speaks Spanish so we appealed to many other people at the border, only being told “it’s no problem, there are plenty of hotels in Chetumal and you can go tomorrow”. Okay, so maybe that laid-back “manana” Mexican attitude isn’t always charming. Looks like we will be exploring Chetumal tonight.
Although Chetumal was fairly uneventful, I found it a nice town to spend the evening in, perhaps because it was so close to Christmas and the festivities were everywhere, very lively. But the main order of business was trying to get over the border. So here we are the next morning ready to give it another go.
This time, much smoother. The only hiccup being an attempt to overcharge us for exit fees, only to be asked directly after, if I “worked for the government.” Hmmm, I wonder if those reduced fees should have been “no” fees possibly…..note to self, in the future if corruption is suspected, find a way to work into the conversation an imaginary governmental title.
Well, goodbye Mexico…..and Hello Belize…….
We are greeted by Belizean border officials who inform me that all my contents need to be unloaded and carried into the office for inspection. This is not pleasant to hear as the truck is obviously quite loaded. After minutes of conversation, they give in and compromise with just a few bags. And one, who happens to havehis own rap CD, provides some entertainment with a creativerap celebrating Belizean women. I have a feeling this will be the only border where I am entertained by customs officials rapping. But we’ll see.
Shortly after finishing the border, we rolled into Corozal town to have some lunch and I was more than happy to sample the rice and beans, one of my Jamaican favorites in Toronto, with of course a bit different flavor…
So close to Mexico, but feeling like so far away
Corozal town immediately provides a more Carribbean welcome after coming from Mexico. Hearing English after so long is somewhat nice relief, although some of the creole requires a bit of extra attention to comprehend. But this close to the border, there is a still a relative mix of Latino/Carribbean culture, so it serves as a nice transition into the southern part of the country.
However, you can immediately feel the pace slow down, or just about come to a halt after being in fast paced Mexico. No one is in any kind of hurry to get anything done here. And aside from the town square with a small amount of hustle and bustle, there just isn’t a whole lot going on. Which means this will be more a stop rough for some food, and then we’re off!
Yup, its as quiet as it looks..
So onto our next sleepy city of Orange Walk, just a quick jump out to try a bit of food, and then continue on again!! Keep in mind, Belize is a small country that you can drive through in about 6 hours!
Orange walk town hall
Home cooking in the park
Next on to Belmopan, the capital, for a quick errand visit for Evert, and once again a feeling of just how isolated this little county is. Even within the capital, the “mall” is a store about the size of Zellers/Target, with everything from TV’s to cereal, so the “one stop shop” for the city. And the closest the country comes to any large shopping. If you are a shopper, or don’t do well without easy convenience, look somewhere else my friend. Belize is not your cup of tea. Luckily, I’m not much of a shopper, but thought it was interesting to point out.
Although not one of prettiest cities, the decision was made to check out Belize city. Although known to be a bit gritty, and requiring some caution, I was certain that as the hub of activity for the country, there would be plenty to experience. Driving through at night, my first impression was that most of the descriptions previously given were spot on. crazy, chaotic, and a bit sketchy, but most definitely alive with activity. But then, as I continue to witness in this trip, driving into new cities at night most often does not give a fair shake to the place.
But we made it through, and yes, the next morning, it seemed just a bit calmer (just a bit)…but luckily a lot less sketchier.
Yes, this is the main terminal bus station
I forgot what we had for lunch, but it was super fried, yummy, and deifinitely NOT fast
Because you never know when you might run low on poison
Interestingly, Belize city has a network of canals that run through it, reminiscent of Amsterdam on a much smaller scale. And unfortunately, a much less picteresque scale. It is a shame there doesn’t seem any concern int he city toward tourism, or to clean and renovate, because you can just feel the hidden charm of the city just wanting to peek through.
While in Belize City, we took the ferry to the famous San Pedro island (Madonna/La Isla Bonita) to relax on the beach for a short time. As seemed to happen, I forgot my camera for this overnight trip, and such a bummer because it was a charming little town, different than I expected, as I pictured fancy development, but the main walk remains rustic and authentic, and definitely a world away from Belize City. But although I really enjoyed the scene, beach life is not really my thing, so time to continue the journey through the country!
So, time to leave Belize City and definitely leaving the city leaves you with a say, disturbing feeling as you drive through the main cemetary. Yes, not around, or by, but through. I guess no one is really resting in peace?
Don't mind us, just passing through....
If zombies ever do appear, these are going to be a might peeved...
So at this point, you’re wondering, okay, you’re in Belize, where is all the nature? Thats all there is in Belize! So much so that I think yours truly was a little lax on taking enough photos since there was more just around the corner! I know, terrible! However, I’ll throw some your way…
Typical long stretch of jungle in Belize
Bamboo by the side of the road
Looks like Ms. Bertha is on Belizean time...no tamales for us
Next stop was Dangriga, a bit of a drive and semi-isolated, I was looking forward to experiencing some of Belize’s truly authentic Carribean culture. We pulled into Dandriga after dark (once again) and it was obvious within five seconds that this was not a tourism hotspot. We immediately knew that everyone else knew that we were not from here. But this is part of the experience, sot he search for a hotel began.
We found some quite interesting cabanas run by a local family that seemed to offer quite an experience, but unfortunately as we were climbing the steps we found an unfortunate soul hiding underneath presumably suffering from some withdrawal, which was quite creepy in the dark. OK, maybe best look for another spot and hope this is not a common sight on this visit.
Finally found a decent spot right next tot he ocean, that was completely empty it seemed. Not the fanciest, but I have to mention it because this was the view directly from the room:
Good morning Dangriga, view from the room
Even front row parking...
Unfortunately, it would appear again that I have no other pictures of Dangriga, although I remember taking some. So if more pictures of Belize magically appear, I will promise now to revise the post with them! The best way for me to sum up Dangriga is that it feels to me what Jamaica probably feels like (although I have never been, so not sure). There is an extremely laid back pace, a similar sounding music on the streets, with the exception maybe being the creole language, which even bears some resemblance to Jamaican patois. Along with the most popular cuisines, fried chicken and Chinese food everywhere. In fact, another interesting note in Dangriga, and most of Belize for that matter, was that prevalence of Asian business owners. I think it would be safe to say that 85% of the towns convenience stores are Asian owned and operated, quite interesting to see.
Further along the way, we stopped into the coolest cafe/coffeeshop (those of you that know me, know spending time in cafes is one of my all time favorite activities) just along the highway seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The owner was a relocated German woman who married a Belizean and they now run the cafe together. It was a nice chat and inspiring to hear her commitment to a labor of love such as the cafe, even though she admitted that at times, it has been a struggle, as there is not a ton a traffic coming through, but as Belize only continues to gain in popularity with travelers discovering all its natural wonder (not shopping malls) she hopes to continue along and enjoy the slower pace of life Belize offers.
A little mix of Germany and Belize...
And now for the final stop in Belize, which will be San Ignatio Town, a popular tourist/backpacker destination. And once again, it would seem that I am lacking pictures that I could swear I took, so I will have to leave this Belize post with some shots of the hotel in San Ignatio, this will be the last stop before heading back into “Latin America”. Last chance for Carribean style rice and beans!
Although we had a great time in Belize, I do think for me it may have been just a little too quiet, little too remote. But to each his own, as there is a large growing influx of expats choosing to come to Belize and relax, which would be an understatement.
Now onto my first really challenging border crossing into Guatemala without assistance! (and with little Spanish) I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel just a bit nervous so wish me luck! Need to get used to the process!
Next post from Tikal, Guatemala!
UPDATE!! Found the missing pictures I was looking for, whew~~~!!!