Sunday, April 6, 2014

We're in Belize man!

A couple of months ago I wrote that crossing the border from the USA into Mexico had been like entering another part of the world. Mexico had been a big change and an eye opener. Crossing the border into Belize meant entering a new part of the world again, as we now rode into Central America. As Belize used to be occupied by the British and was then known as British Honduras, we are now in an English speaking country. A country where speeds are recorded in miles per hour and the British Queen can be found on the Belizean dollar. The biggest change however were the people, as unlike Chiapas and Quintana Roo the Belizeans are a friendly and happy bunch!

Mexico's Banjercito making
photos of the VIN numbers
Belize is the smallest country in Central America. It has a population of just over 300.000 people and yet no less than 8 different kinds of people. A diverse bunch too, made up of Mayan, Mestizo, Kriols, Garifunas, East Indians, Mennonites, Arabs and Chinese. As a result many different languages are spoken in Belize as well. Belize claims to have the perfect weather too, not too hot and certainly never cold. There are coastal plains, mangrove swamps, hills and mountains, jungles, wildlife reserves, a large variety of different species of flora and fauna and the largest cave system in Central America. Most of Belize is undeveloped and forested with hardwoods. 

Spraying the bikes with pesticides
Pirates used the area which is now known as Belize as a base to launch their attacks for decades, until they realised that logging the many trees was easier to do (with slaves!) and made them more money too. Later-on the discovery of Mahogany trees resulted in the English occupying the area and naming it British Honduras. In 1981 British Honduras became independent and changed its name into Belize. 

As soon as we had done all the necessary paperwork at the border and rode into Belize, we all had this feeling 'Yeah, we're in Belize man! A new chapter of our trip had started: Hello Central America!' We no longer found ourselves in a tourism area, which is good. Real life had taken over again from the somewhat artificial 'please the tourist' feel of Quintana Roo, the last state of Mexico which seems geared 100% to please the Euro/American tourists. We liked the USA but feel that Quintana Roo should be Mexican, instead of trying to be Florida.

The first impressions of Belize were of a country that isn't very rich, not only by US or European standards but also by Mexican standards. We were taken a little bit by surprise by this. Quite a few people were living in houses that seemed to be literally falling apart. Some had already done so but were still being lived in. Others were just a bare structure that wasn't finished, but again were being lived in. We saw small and simple houses made from wood and palm leaves that were barely bigger than a garden shed. Quite a few still had a hand operated water pump outside the house and seemed to lack electricity and plumbing. 

On the road, the first thing we noticed were the trucks, which are incredibly old. We saw old monsters that looked like WW2 army trucks hauling unbelievable loads of sugarcane. Just riding through this country and letting all the impressions and images we saw unfold before our own eyes sink in, was quite an experience. The many multi-coloured school busses, the bright coloured buildings but most of all the people made quite an impression. Never before have I seen so many happy people. We loved it, every minute of it.

The northern coastal half of Belize is a sugarcane area and just like we had seen in Australia, sugarcane grows in uninspiring landscapes. Sure it's green, very green, as sugarcane tends to grow in areas that are flat and have high annual rainfall. How much the area floods can be seen by the houses which have been built on stilts or elevated ground to prevent floodwater entering them. The wet season runs from June to November in Belize. So it wasn't the landscape that inspired us but the people. They are so cheerful, waving as we rode past, thumbs up everywhere and extremely helpful. We passed a lot of schools as well, with kids cheering and waving us on as we rode past. We drove through as many towns as we could to experience life in Belize and we are glad we did. Because unlike what we were told, Belize is not just a country to drive through as quickly as you can as there isn't much to see. There is a lot to see and a lot to experience, if you are only willing to have a look.

After 4,5 months of saying 'Hola!' and 'Buenos dias', Belize is 'Hey Man!' and 'How are you Man?' all with a strong Caribbean accent. Pesos made way for Belizean dollars, gallons replaced litres and posted speeds are now in miles per hour. The roads on our first day weren't as bad as we had been led to believe. Yes there are potholes, quite a few in some of the towns in fact, but it isn't all that bad. The topes are the worst, especially the ones which aren't signposted...

We really enjoyed our first day in Belize. Looking around, seeing the people and their way of life gave us a good feeling. The day ended at the Baboon Sanctuary. Howler Monkeys again! Mike and Jeanette went to look for the local shop and learned that even the shops are different here :-) Asking a local for directions, Bob Marley's Belizean cousin said they could buy food from him as they had just prepared a meal of rice and beans… The shop turned out to be the next house. No sign of any description to inform that it was a shop and no way to enter it either. You had to order what you want through metal bars that covered a hole in the wall…

He slept in front of Mike's tent the whole night…!