belize

The Fuegochips camera crew at Xanantunich

Surviving Chicken buses and tuna sandwiches

After our belated ferry crossing ride back to Belize city, which included a complimentary sea shower (especially for the poor soul sitting right up back in the stern starboard side), we arrived back on the mainland just the two of us once more, Ben and I. But it wouldn’t be for long as we met a friendly couple to share a taxi to the nus station with, who we would randomly bump in to many more times over the coming weeks.

Our intention was to get to the bus station and make the trip south to Hopkins, a small fishing village, to experience more of Belize and the Creole culture. Arriving at the bus station, things however changed very quickly when we realised the bus to San Ignacio was right there leaving now, or we could wait hours (?) for the next bus south to Hopkins only to be dropped at some indesciminite location on the highway 7km from town.  With a quick glace of unanimous approval shared between us, both hungover and looking for the easy option, I’m sure you know which option we chose 😉

Our first chicken bus ride was quite the experience, backpacks piled high in the back, and me crammed three on a seat just in front of Ben. Not far out of Belize city, he mentions his need for a rest stop – there was no time for pleasantaries as we’d tushed to make the bus. The ayudante (bus attendant) tells us it’s not far, not far, however an hour later we are still yet to stop. You know someone is desperate for the bathroom when they jump out of a chicken bus just outside of Belmopan, with their bag remaining on board, on the promise that we would return “in five minutes”. I think we were gone just long enough for the poor guy to think he was stranded on the side of the highway, but crisis averted we were soon back on our way.

Arriving in San Ignacio with old friends Orio and Mikey, we set off up the hill to the Old House hostel only to discover they were full for the night. However, if it was okay with us, the very relaxed owners offered us to sleep on the rather comfortable looking couches for the night – offer accepted and a large number of the Caye Caulker crew were reunited once more!

We set off early for the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave adventure. At the end of a beautiful ride through the countryside, we geared up and were quickly up to our necks in freezing cold water as we trekked our way through the jungle to the cave entrance. Hanging on to your buddy or walking like Rambo was mandatory to hold your balance in the current of the river.


Descending down into the cave we weren’t quite prepared for what we were about to experience. Headlamps on, we made our way over and under rocks sumberged in the water, climbed up rickety ladders and squeezed through tight gaps until we eventually reached the inner cathedral chamber where our guide explained the Mayan rituals which were undertaken there, including leaving offerings inside large clay pots and even human remains which are still in place from human offerings to the gods (some of which were babies and children). Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed in the cave following an incident where a French tourist dropping a handheld camera and fracturing a 1,000 year old human skull.

Some three hours later, we finally emerged from the cave!
According to the guide books, no trip to San Ignacio is complete without a visit to the local market, the biggest in the region. Somewhat underwhelming, the highlight was observing the Amish people who inhabit nearby Spanish lookout, and giant Ben (who had to stoop to fit underneath all the tarpaulins) being told by the market stall lady not to walk around on his own as it is dangerous about here!

Mikey powered ferry

We decided on the way to the Guatemalan border that we would stop by the aptly named “tuna sandwich ruins” or Xanantunich. Climbing into two taxis with seven people and seven backpacks was an interesting feat, and afer completing the hand powdered ferry crossing and a short hike, we were able to climb the ruins and admire the 360 degree views.

The camera crew atop Xanantunich

Crossing the border was simple enough, however as soon as we left Belize we were immediately surrounded by young children selling us shuttle services, they start them young here! Fortunately for an unaware English girl on the same shuttle, we happened to mention to her on the bus that an entry stamp to Guatemala was necessary, she had only officially left Belize but not entered Guatemala, luckily for her there was time to go and make amends!
A short time later we arrived at Los Amigos hostel in Flores (to be continued…)

A slice of island paradise – Caye Caulker, Belize

Belize, as the locals say, is absolutely unbeliezeable! Hearing how expensive it was, I had considered cutting it out of my itenerary and heading into Guatemala overland via Palenque instead. I’m very glad I stuck to the original plan!

I took a string of three Collectivos (shared vans) to get to Chetumal which is the ferry departure point. I can’t say that I’ve ever entered another country by ferry before!

Leaving Mexico

After a short walk (about 1km) from the collectivo stop, I arrived at the ferry terminal a little hot and bothered. It was there that I first met Ben, the rather tall amd extremely funny Englishman that I would end up travelling with for the next few weeks. Going through the departure process was an experience – was caught up by the mexican ferry departure tax scam – although annoying, there’s little one can do but pay the money when the guy won’t stamp your passport 🙁

   
Bags were placed on the ground outside while we waited for the 3pm ferry, secruity was water tight here. Snacking on a sandwich as we hadn’t eaten all day, 3:30 arrived and so did the armed police who carried out the drug search. We all stood in a line behind our bags while the canines circled around, all clear, by 4pm we had set sail for Belize. 

My first impression of Belize was cemeted when we arrived at the customs hall in San Pedro. After a convoluted process of standing in lines to get passports stamped, we had officially entered the country. Taking a moment to savour the flavour of our first Belikin, we quickly realised that nowhere else in the world had we had a beer at a customs hall! I only wish we got a photo.

   

Every little thing… is gonna to be alright!

Another short ferry ride later and we touched down at Caye Caulker which would be the start of many friendships. Arriving at Dirty McNasty’s (it’s really not that bad) I sauntered nervously up to the bar as I didn’t know anyone, and started chatting with the Italian bartender. Then I saw some people playing cards outside and thought one guy in a aussie akubra hat looked friendly enough, so I approached and met Will, who turned out to be a brother from another mother.  No, completely seriously, he lives in the area where I grew up just a few streets away from my parents (and later busted out the Beder football jersey – those who know the area will know the significance!)
 

Sunset in paradise

 

The next few days invloved plenty of swimming, snorkelling, exploring, socialising and of course the nightly dose of free rum which always ended up in a procession to the sports bar, and then the ‘reggae bar’ – which while I was there only seemed to play the classics, such as Justin Bieber. At least that seemed a safe enough place to hide from the American girl who brought along her Tazer for reasons unknown – which she also took great delight in firing off the hostel balcony in a misguided bid to impress the lads. How did she even get that into the country?

 

A hurricane divided the island in two in the 1960s and the spit is a popular place to swim, with a cool little bar and a laid back vibe. One of the days we decided to make the crossing, swimming across the lake only to find disappointment on the other side – seemingly now only inhabited by creepy animals and some local housing. 

 

Swimming across the spit

 
The laid back feel of the island is such that you will be yelled at by the locals for walking too fast – shouts of “go slooooow!” were not uncommon. However, it should be noted that while the rasta vibe is prevalent, the police tolerance for drugs was not, and one of the Mexicans in our crew was unfortunate enough to be caught red handed which resulted in an unfortunate night in the police cell followed by an unplanned boat trip to the court in San Pedro. No major issue, but I’m sure it wasn’t the most pleasant experience!

Bendict was the local man about town – a very laid back rasta kind of character. We would often see him wondering about the hostel trying to charm all the ladies. His aura seems to work for him, as most of the people we know arranged their tours through him, the clever guy picking up a tidy commission. 

   
 
We were lucky enough to arrange an absolutely amazing day tour through him, snorkelling with sharks and sting rays in the marine reserve and then in the afternoon spearfishing which resulted in a very, very tasty fish stew dinner!

 

Diving for some dinner

 
He also took us down to the local dock to have the tarpins (big fish!) take the bait fish from right out of our hands!

 

Feeding the tarpins

 
On the last night we met an interesting English lass named Willow who had invested £150,000 to buy a local Belizean Island – Virginia Caye. Needless to say she hadnt had company in weeks and was eager to share a few drinks with us. While Ben and I were super keen to visit and check out what life is like on your very own island, it wasn’t to be as Willow had rented it out for the weekend on AirBnB to a nudist hippy couple… Maybe best to leave that one right alone!
So to sum it all up on the day we were meant to leave for ‘Hopkins’ on the mainland (more on that in my next post), we ended up missing our ferry, and the next one, and the one after that… After a brilliant few days in paradise, I can completely see why it is such a favourite on the gringo trail.