Chetumal – Progreso 🚴🏽 – Crooked Tree 🚴🏽 Belize City 🚌 – San Ignacio 🚌 (rest day) – Belmopan 🚴🏽 – Hopkins 🚴🏽 – Placencia 🚴🏽 (rest day) -Punta Gorda 🚴🏽
Belize was unbelievable. We cycled from top to bottom in a week. It is characterised by its tiny population that are a mesh of Garifuna, Criole, Mayan, Hispanic and a good smattering of North American expats/retirees. Dark skin has mixed with white and caramel to give birth to a nation of distinctive variety and ultimately, unquestioning acceptance. This made me feel at home in this country that I barely knew anything about beforehand. As soon as we crossed the border legally (we initially forgot to stamp out of Mexico and had to ride back over and pay a questionable fee to get the stamp), the attention began. Men in Belize don’t hold back on passionately telling you how they feel about your appearance. I would say we’ve been verbally admired by at least half of the men in the country this week. At the bank; honey you’re so beautiful, wow. At the shops; looking hot today. At the police station; hello gorgeous followed by a big toothy winky face. It is culturally normal to cat call and as much as it made us clutch our passports snarling and pull down on our bike shorts, I’ve left the country with an enormously boosted ego. I’ve also left the country with a lot of bug bites. Everyone seems to warn us about the danger of people and cars, but the only thing that actually touches my skin are these tiny sandflies that leave a red bubble and get aggravated from our salty sweat to create a red, spotty mess of our legs.
As soon as we arrived in the country we met with sugar cane fields and expansive white dusty roads, hand pulled ferries across waterways, the milky blue Caribbean, lazy dogs and high prices that made us get into gas stove pasta and happy cow cheese mode. We started to see men in overalls and white hats and their wives in long dark dresses travelling by horse and cart – Mennonites of German descent. The first night we ended up camping in the yard of a Christian/Jewish Canadian family with a fascinating life story of surviving cancer and car crashes and Belizian bureaucracy. Don’t come here if you’re looking to make money. They took us to meet some of their Mennonite friends in Little Belize and we had our minds blown by their simple living. They are against the luxuries in life, which include having rubber on your tractor tires. They just use the inner steel. Again, they are accepted here in Belize.
One night we slept at a bird rescue centre belonging to an English couple and then a toucan preservation site set up by Canadian biologists. The next we camped out the front of a Garifuna drumming centre and couchsurfed the last few nights in laid back coastal Placencia and Punta Gorda with an Italian host and then a local Belizian.
The northern highway is perfectly described as peanut butter brittle. One hot midday when we’d had enough of the busiest highway in the country we threw out our hand and an army truck screeched to a stop. The Commanding Officer of a unit gave us a lift through the hot scrub and told us to give him a call the next morning to hitch out to San Ignacio with him. We did just that and found ourselves in thick jungle on the Guatemalan border. We spent our entire weeks’ budget on an amazing caving experience called the ATM. Not only was the cave out of this world, but the Mayans sacrificed people to the gods to stop a terrible drought in 750AD. Strangely enough, it didn’t work and they abandoned their village. However, the pottery used in the rituals and the human remains are preserved in the cave. With torchlight and bare feet, you walk through a cave chamber full of artefacts in situ. The final skeleton of an eighteen year old boy is in such perfect condition it had me stumbling on my feet. I’m sure there is no better way to feel connected with your human ancestors than to see their remains.
The road back to the coast is called the Hummingbird Highway and we’d heard it’s a cyclists dream. It was indeed really beautiful, sloping mountains, junglescape and simple thatched villages amongst shady palms dotted along the way.
The coast is super chilled and has a rasta feel. You walk the beach with a Belekin stout in hand, sweat dripping down your face and the smell of weed wafting through the Caribbean air. Waitresses move slowly, elderly people sit watching the world go by and everything is suspended in time. There seems to be no worries, no stress and no problems.
Belize became comfortable within a few days; the people, the plates of rice and beans, the familiar language and the safe and quiet roads. I feel drawn and think I will head back again, if only to boost my ego when I’m feeling down 😘
Yesterday we caught a speedboat from Punta Gorda into Livingston, Guatemala. From there we boated inland on the stunning Rio Dulce to find a hostel perched on the river. It’s time to face the unknown and play a shiny new game; hello Guatemala.