“How long do you intend to stay in Belize sir?”
“I’m not sure. We thought we’d just play it by ear and see what happens.”
“Well, enjoy Belize whatever you do. Welcome to Belize!” Said the Immigration Officer in a strong Caribbean accent as he stamped our passports. We climbed back into the car and left Mexico behind, geographically and culturally. Belize is a different world.
Gone is the litter, gone are the packs of dogs (generally) and gone is the everyday struggle to speak a second language. Mexico has been tough. Really tough. To be fair to Mexico it has generally been due to a run of bad luck, rather than Mexico per se. But either way it feels good to be back. Eight years is a long time and it’s difficult to believe it has been that long since we were last here, but the place hasn’t changed much. People still smile and wave as we drive by. Everywhere feels welcoming, easy and laid back.
As we left the northern Mexico/Belize border behind we first arrived in sleepy Orange Walk. Most places were closed for Sunday and the streets were empty as we drove around looking for a bank where we could get some Belize dollars. We found both an ATM and a Chinese takeaway. Result! We also later found Marmite in Belize City, panic on the streets at the hands of an over reaction to a few gang member killings and a right rear puncture on the Niva which led to Liz acting as a counter-weigh so I could jack the car up.
With full bellies and wallets we drove on to Crooked Tree, named after the misshapen trees that were logged by Scottish settlers over two hundred years ago. The Scottish settlers married freed slaves and both the cultural mix and the crooked trees can still be seen in the village today. (Although we didn’t actually see anybody with ginger hair.) We used Crooked Tree as the base to revisit the Maya ruins of Lamanai. Meaning ‘sunken crocodile’, the ruins sit on the shore of the New River Lagoon and most people take a boat from Orange Walk to reach the ruins. We however decided to drive there via the Mennonite village Shipyard. It felt odd trundling along the road, dodging buggies pulled by horses and people in dungarees and wide brimmed bonnets. If nothing else, Belize is diverse in every way.
Last year alone Lamanai had over 23,000 visitors. So it came as a nice surprise that we were the only people there. The ticket attendant dozed in the hot sun as we walked along the jungle track to the entrance and he sat up with a bit of a start as John said hello enthusiastically. Despite John’s lack of manners he was allowed in for free and made Lamanai his play ground. We marvelled at the pyramids with admiration while John scampered over them with total abandon. For his own good and the good of the ruins he eventually went on the lead. He had his first encounter with howler monkeys and a single spindly and rather territorial spider monkey. We found it’s not easy to take the animated protestations of a spider monkey seriously. No matter how hard they shake the branches, beat their chests and shriek they still look far to flimsy to perceive as anything other than comical. They look a little like a rather hairy but naked Spike Milligan.
Having had our intended snorkelling activities rudely interrupted by a crippled Andy Patrick back in Mexico (who I’ve very pleased to say is now home and beginning to mend), we drove south to Hopkins with a view to swimming with the fishes. We had never been before and relished the idea of a beach break. A bit of snorkelling, some good food, Garifuna culture and walks along silvery beaches with the sand between our toes. It turned out to be a day of looking for a section of beach that didn’t have twenty cabanas on it or twenty dogs. The wind howled and the sand blew in our faces and we ate overly salty food in the rain. We left Hopkins behind for the Mayflower Reserve, twelve miles inland, where we found tranquillity, jungle waterfalls and a place to sleep for £3.00. We stayed for three days.
Eventually, the need for washing overcame us. We had been intending to wash some clothes since before we went to the aid of Andy in Mexico, and even then the need for washing was getting desperate. (By the way Andy, we somehow have two pairs of your undies. They’re very comfortable.) We decided to drive northwest to San Ignacio to do the washing and then on to Mountain Pine Ridge for some more solitude. However, our plans changed when we saw an email from Ray at Pook’s Hill saying, “pop in”. So we did. We had looked after Pook’s Hill Jungle Lodge for a short spell last time we were here and had become firm friends with the owners – Ray and Vicki. On our way to San Ignacio we called in with the intention of seeing when would be convenient to stay longer but in true Pook’s fashion we ended up staying the night. In all our travels around the world we have found that the tranquillity of Pook’s Hill cannot be surpassed. It is a truly special place and it was lovely to catch up with Ray.
We did however tear ourselves away the next day, reluctantly, and are now in Mountain Pine Ridge as intended. We have just this moment done the washing in a mountain stream and have turned the pine trees into a Chinese laundry. We’ve been enjoying travelling some of the lesser-used roads in Mountain Pine Ridge and are currently camping at the corner of Navy Road and Silvestre Road. Neither road is on any map and the sign is hand painted. We’re not actually too sure where we are to be honest. We’re surrounded by overly large and fresh puma tracks which appear to have been hot on the heals of a tapir. I hope the tapir is still in one piece but can’t help but hope that the puma has also recently eaten! It’s nice to be here – kind of. There’s a soft whistle in the air as a breeze drifts through the pines. They’re silhouetted against a cloudless sky and a million stars in every direction. There isn’t a car to be heard, there isn’t a single light from an overhead plane, just as there is no light pollution from a village or town anywhere near. Neither Navy Road, nor Silvestre Road has a single tire track upon it, other than ours. The only marks on the road are our own, the wildlife or those of the fissures made by the seasonal rains. No one has been here in a very long time. Belize is only a small country but it is still so easy to loose yourself here. Belize is a very special place.
This will be our last blog for a while. Now that we’re here we’ll be visiting friends and chilling out for a while. There won’t be too much ‘blog worthy’ stuff happening; just plenty of washing in all probability.