Belize By Accident


We weren’t initially planning on going to Belize. The plan was to stay in Mexico, drop down through Chiapas, and take the southern route directly into Guatemala. We had heard that our dog Luna might be quarantined for up to 6 weeks depending on the mood of the official at the border on that particular day. The quarantine possibility and no surf combined with the fact that gas prices in Belize are significantly higher than Mexico had led us to the decision to skip Belize. But, we had to go to the border to get our vehicle permit re-upped for Mexico anyway, so we decided to give it a go at crossing.

The border crossing document we have tells you not to let any of the many ‘helpers’ that attempt to latch onto you at the border help you. This is easier said than done and 2 minutes after our arrival to the Mexico/Belize border we were saddled with a very large, insistent Belizian fellow. He basically just followed me around and instructed me in what to do either after or during my actual doing of it. It would go something like this:

I would hand over a document to a man behind a window.

My Belize border ‘helper’ would say, “hand your papers to this man”.

He would then pat me on the back and tell me all about how much help he was to me during this difficult process. Pain in the ass, but I was very much thrown by the fact that he spoke English with what to me sounded like a fake Rastafarian accent (as does everyone in Belize) and that the Banjercito was on the opposite side of the street from where my border-crossing-document had informed me it would be. Anyway, we were now out of Mexico and we just had to get Luna into Belize.

Apparently, Belize requires that you fax them a document 2 weeks prior to your pet’s entry into their country. It’s not a vet note or a document showing the pet’s vaccinations, it’s just a form to inform them of your intent to bring a pet, I guess. Anyway, we didn’t fax this document 2 weeks ago and now had to pay a fine of what amounted to $50 USD. All of these countries seem to have weird requirements about pets that in no way prohibit your pet from entering their country; they just use them to squeeze more money out of you. We were now officially in Belize. Now we just had to pay our ‘helper’ a ridiculous amount of money and give him a ride to Corozal. I am such a sucker.

Once in Corozal, we promptly checked our emails to find out where to rendezvous with Tree and Stevie. They were in Belize City, further south. We decided we would hit the road and see how far we could get before dark. We loaded up the cooler with some delicious Belizian beer called Belekin, bought some trees off a guy named ‘John’, and were on our way. We couldn’t find a place that sold apples, so we opted for a green pepper instead. The green pepper is a nice option since it isn’t as moist and is hollow so you get a chamber of sorts, but it’s not as tasty to eat afterward. Immediately after we went through 2 separate police checkpoints. Despite our being nervous as hell, they were actually rather uneventful. They pretty much just want to see that you have your license on you and that you have the Belizian insurance sticker on your windshield.

We took our time and drove the scenic route down Old Belize Highway toward the Altun Ha ruins. Belize so far had far exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t believe we almost decided not to go. Here was the lush, tropical greenery that we had expected of Central America and more. The guidebook said there were a few places to camp near the ruins and we made that our attempted destination. By the time we reached the gates of Altun Ha it was a bit late to try to see the ruins before dark. There had been a campsite a mile back, so we turned around to go check it out.

The campsite was run by a man from Texas named Bob Simons. Bob was from Brazoria county like myself and had a Belizian wife, 3 huge rottwielers, a couple of cabinas for rent, a restaurant, a butterfly garden, a few fish ponds, a howler monkey, spotty internet, and a distaste for cigarette smoking. Emily wrote him off immediately after he reproached her for her smoking. I rather liked Bob. He had quite a nice piece of land. Almost all the trees on his property bore edible fruit or leaves. He was farming tilapia in his fish ponds and since his property sat atop an underground spring, he was almost fully sustainable. We took advantage of the butterfly garden and the next day had lunch at the restaurant. We had a delicious Belizian-meal with a sort of jerk-style chicken, rice and a slaw made with coconut. We also bought some Cashew fruit wine. I love cashews and had no idea that the cashew nut grows on the outside of a fruit that resembles an elongated red apple.

We loved it at Bob’s, but Sprinter Life was just ahead of us and we needed to play catch-up. Our last contact had them in Belize City the night before, so off we went into the big city. The plan was to find an internet café and make contact with Tree and Stevie. We pulled into town and parked near a canal a few blocks from a café. Belize City looks like New Orleans’ more unsavory neighborhoods AFTER the flood. We were not at all happy about leaving the van parked where it was, but thankfully Luna is an effective car alarm. We made contact with SprinterLife only to find that they had already left Belize City and were now further south in San Ignacio.

When we returned to the van to get underway, it wouldn’t start. After a few attempts at troubleshooting, we surmised that the battery was dead. So now we were on a scavenger hunt through Belize City on foot for a new battery. Par for the course, no one that we asked had any idea of where one would get a battery. Not even the guy at the hardware store knew anything about his town, or at least didn’t want to tell us. Finally one fellow pointed us in the direction of a gas station that might be able to help.

On our walk to the gas station we picked up a barnacle. This guy passing out flyers on the corner of an intersection immediately spotted us as suckers and latched on to us. He was, at least entertaining. He looked sort of like a dreadlocked Mos Def. He told us all about Belize City and the changes happening over the last few years. Apparently there was a huge influx of MiddleEasterners buying up lots of property and opening up shops full of over-priced crap. He was not fond of the “towelheads” as he loudly referred to them as we passed in front of their storefronts. He tried his best to become a part of our buying a battery. He would act as though he were directing us to the gas station, even though we already told him that we knew where we were going. When we got to the gas station he even tried to get me to let him pay with my money. Presumably so he could either keep the change or charge me a transaction fee. Unfortunately, while I was paying he got his hands on the battery. Now he was carrying it for us. I told him that I couldn’t give him any money, so he should just go ahead and let me carry my own battery. He was not to be dissuaded. I finally agreed to give him a “little something”, but we would split time carrying the battery, because I couldn’t give him enough cash to warrant his carrying the thing all the way back. As we got near the car, I decided it was time tio part ways. I got the battery back and offered him the equivalent of $2. His demeanor changed real fast and he got at once offended and very agitated. I told him that was it. We only had a $10 or that $2, and we couldn’t give him the 10. We stood there arguing for a few minutes. He looked almost in tears he was so angry. I started getting pissed off aswell, and it began to look as though we were going to fight. I looked around and the neighborhood we were in gave me the distinct impression that in the end it would be cheaper to give him the $10 than have a fist fight with a local. Plus, I didn’t want someone to run off with our new battery in the middle of a scuffle. So, I gave in and Emily and I walked back to the van with MosDef still pissed off even though he got his fucking money.

We pulled into San Ignacio just before dark. It’s a small town so we just cruised the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of Tree and Stevie wandering around. Sure enough I spotted the Sprinter parked in a small, dirt parking lot. We pulled in next to them, but there was no one home. We left the van and a note for SprinterLife and decided to continue our search on foot. The thing with SprinterLife is that if you need to find them, just look for internet. Eventually we found Mr.Trujillo and company cruising around the streets of San Ignacio town. They were soon to be camping in the parking lot of Hotel Tia Maria and invited us to join.

Tia Maria is a cool old hotel owned by an American named Travis James and his girl Miette. For $5 Travis let us camp in their parking lot, use the internet and have access to the bathrooms. Travis is a wealth of knowledge about all things Belize. (If you are heading to Belize check out his sites: / ) Travis told us about the Mennonite monopoly on dairy and copper pipe in Belize. He also told us about the $500 price on your head if you’re a foreigner. Basically, a local will sell you some pot, and then turn around and inform the cops of your weed possession. The dealer gets a kickdown for the tip-off and you get a $500 ticket. He also told us how to get to all kinds of cool, free attractions near San Ignacio town. SprinterLife and ourselves decided to try and explore some waterfalls outside of town the next morning.

It was raining as we left Tia Maria to head towards Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. All but the main highway roads quickly became muddy trails dotted with potholes full of brown water, making it impossible to tell how deep they were. After about an hour a slow going towards the forest reserve, SprinterLife called it quits and headed back just before the road conditions got significantly worse. It turned out to be a good call, because there were a few sections that were almost impassable for us in our more stable van. The vegetation transitioned from tropical to an almost Colorado-like pine forest filled in with ferns. We finally arrived at destination #1: the Rio On pools. This is a series of pools that line the area where a river rolls over a large rock out-cropping. There was no one big waterfall, but instead a bunch of small rapids that fell down varying heights connecting the series of pools. It was beautiful and we had it all to ourselves.

After some time at the pools we decided to go check out the Rio Frio Cave. For this portion of our journey we were escorted by some fully armed Belizian military guys on a 4-wheeler. They are assigned to protect visitors from bandits that sneak across the border from Guatemala. There is a big problem with Guatemalans sneaking over and illegally harvesting a particular type of fern that grows in the area. There have also apparently been a few cases of tourist being robbed at knife or gunpoint in the reserve, so there is now a small military presence around to deter any would-be bandits. As we walked in to the giant, dark expanse of Rio Frio cave flanked by two men with automatic weapons, I couldn’t shake the image of them shooting us and hiding our bodies in the depths of the cave. Fortunately, theses fears were unfounded and our escorts were actually very nice. It was getting late and we would be doing good to make it back before dark, so we hauled ass back through the mud and arrived at Tia Maria just after sunset.

The plan was to leave in the morning and cross the border into Guatemala by about 10am or so. Kiki, of SprinterLife, had begun displaying symptoms of the tick-borne disease Erlichia, so first thing in the morning Tree and Stevie took her to see the local vet. The blood work would take a few days, so they decided to err on the side of caution and start giving her Doxicycline to counteract the effects of Lickia. So, with both dogs medicated to the gills, we rolled up to the Guatemalan border ready to brave what we had heard would be the most dangerous country on our trip.

~ by pleasuredevice on 04/11/2011.

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