You Better Belize It: Part 1.
Belize is our first foreign border crossing. We decided to do our border run into Belize instead of Guatemala because we heard it was an easy crossing. It was. The hardest part was finding our way around the newly constructed roads (with no signs) to get through each step in the process. All in, the crossing it took us about an hour. Which is good news, because 2 weeks later we will do it all over again in the opposite direction.
As we cross the border and drive less than a mile, we know we are in another country. It feels much more Caribbean than Latin American. Like Mexico, this is a poor country but it is much less developed than Mexico with no big cities. This country only has a population of about 350,000 people. The road from the border south is unpaved for about 20 miles and the tiny houses along side the road are mostly on stilts set back from the road.
Road south from the border. (sorry for the crappy iPhone photo...camera battery was dead.)
We passed small towns with hardly any stores, and rarely a gas station. The first real town on the map that we drive through is Orange Walk. We hoped to find a proper grocery store as we needed a few things but there was nothing that resembled the stores we had in Mexico. Orange Walk is just a larger collection of stilt houses, one of which is the police station, and just a few more roads with small businesses. Many of the small convenience stores seem to suggest crime is an issue. They have no doors for customers to enter. There is a mesh cage where you can look into the store and tell the cashier what you want. The money is slid through the small opening in the cage one way and the goods are slid through the other. The first gas station we tried had no gas. The gas guy, sitting on the curb said, “Ya mon, da truck no come today wit da gas”. Welcome to Belize.
The friendliness of the people is felt right away though. Maybe it’s that we now speak the same language, but everyone seems so helpful (even during the border crossing) with no agendas. We later stopped at the only tiny store we can find (without a mesh cage) and end up chatting with a guy sitting in the back of a toyota hilux pick up truck that's giving him a lift. He asks about our rig. He seems so happy for us that we have a Toyota Tundra, its his dream truck. We get the sense they don’t see many folks like us around these parts…
We arrived in Belize on my birthday. The last time I was here was on my 40th. So here I am, eight years later in Belize again for my birthday. For years I have wanted to come back and kayak in the turquoise waters and hopefully (finally) snorkel with whale sharks which show up this time of year down south in Placencia. On the way down to Placencia, we decided to go over to Ambergris Caye because I haven’t been there before. And well…we’re here so why not. That is the luxury of time.
Belize City is the jumping off point for most of Belize's island and jungle destinations, so that is where we need to find secure parking and take a ferry to Ambergris Caye. We drove through Belize City on Good Friday - virtually every business is closed and it's a ghost town. That turns out to be a huge help because we got a little lost and this city seems more than a little rough. I didn’t think it was possible but Belize City looks even worse than when we were here 8 years ago. Maybe it’s because we are driving slowly through the neighborhoods instead of sitting in the back of a cab, but it sort of looks like something out of a movie set. There doesn’t appear to be any "nice" areas. It would seem that with the increase in tourism over the years, some of those dollars would have helped this local economy and the country as a whole. If it has, we didn't see it.
We found a secure parking lot in Belize City through the Radisson Hotel, and parked next to some shipping containers. I am still a little nervous when we leave the rig as it is our whole world now. However, it is clear this lot is the best we are going to do in this town, so we hop on the last ferry over to Ambergris Caye. John has booked us a couple nights in a little chi chi hotel called Matachica. I have wanted to check this place out of years - and it’s my birthday! Those days are spent in a hammock, by the pool and snorkeling off the reef.
LoJo in the Belize CIty parking lot
On the boat heading up north to Matachica
My birthday came with a full moon
Our Casita at Matachica
These days here are so appreciated now. Running water and flushing toilets are amazing...and so is this!
Whose birthday is it again?
I love this photo. It's very Belize. The beaches aren't that great here so there are lots of these over the water lounge docks.
Not uncommon for us so far...the best food we had on Ambergris Cay was here. Shrimp burritos and Red Stripe.
In San Pedro waiting for the ferry back to Belize City, and plotting our next move.
From Ambergris Caye, we took the ferry back to Belize City and planned to head south in search of whale sharks off the coast of Placencia. It was too far to get there by dark so we overnighted in the only camping available around Belize City - in a marina just south of town. We camped in between the boat trailers. It was different, but nice as they had laundry, hot showers, clean bathrooms and a restaurant. It's the little things in life.
Belize City marina camping. Not a bad place to overnight.
This is the marina restaurant parking lot. We had the chicken for dinner.....does that make it parking lot-to-table?
The next day we drove to Placencia on the Hummingbird Highway. It is just as beautiful as it sounds and we drove past lush landscapes, banana farms and small villages. We stopped at a Mennonite dairy farm for cream and yogurt. We saw a roadside sign for organic coffee and stopped for a latte, which turned out to be some guy’s house. We go inside and he grabs the Maxwell House and made us pretty decent lattes.
We passed over lots of these one lane bridges all along Hummingbird Hwy
Once we arrive in Placencia we head straight to the dive shop to check on the whale sharks. They have only seen one far so this week, so we decide to wait a day and check back. We have no idea where to camp yet and it’s almost 5:00 pm. We checked in on a B&B called Mariposa that we saw on iOverlander - they may let us camp in their parking lot. When we get there we find the owners (Canadians Bruce and Sharon, and their 3 rescue dogs), and ask if it's ok to camp. He says a Swiss couple just left and of course we can stay. No charge. He just asks that we eat one meal a day in the restaurant. Done.
Mariposa B&B. Beautiful spot.
Our camp spot with an ocean view and use of the pool. Most of the time the parking lot was empty.
The Turtle Inn resort was next door. We had fancy drinks there one night - and then came back to our parking lot.
Before they turn brown they are green, and before turn green they are orange.
The next day we checked on the whale sharks and there were no sightings, so we waited one more day. We camped again at Mariposa, had the use of the pool and enjoyed a great dinner in their restaurant. They were lovely hosts and we felt like we were guests in their home. They weren't very busy so living in their parking lot was actually quite peaceful. We stayed another night and had an excellent dinner in town. Ultimately, we decided not to spend the money on the whale shark trip as the probability of seeing them was low. We will try again later in Holbox, Mexico after we come back. Next, we headed back up north to take a kayak trip on Glover’s Atoll out of Dangriga.
Dinner at Rumfish in Placencia. Our first taste of Lionfish.
Our go-to little store for water, bread, vegatables, everything. Placencia was a cute little town.
Thank you so much, Sharon and Bruce!
Glover’s Atoll is about 45 kilometers from the mainland so we once again have to find a place to park the rig. Driving through Dangriga, we don’t have a very good feeling. It's not as rough as Belize City but still pretty sketchy. The kayak company doesn't have a lot conviction on how safe our truck will be while we are at Glovers and they don't have secure parking on site. They finally said we could park the rig in front of their general manager’s house, which is two houses down from the office. Again, it seems like our best option. They say it should be fine but we are instructed to remove everything off the rig – bikes, surfboard, even the axe and shovel.
Be safe, LoJo. We'll see you in 3 days!
We had an hour and a half boat ride to Glover’s Atoll where we would stay for three really amazing days. There are semi permanent tents right on the water and only 11 people on the island with us. This atoll has 700+ patch reefs that are accessible by kayak and full of marine life. It was some of the best kayaking and snorkeling we have done in a long time.
Our Glamping tent
Sunrise from our tent flap
There was a little time for hammock surfing too.
Our shark wrestling guide, Mike. Born and raised in Dangriga, and grew up in these waters.
We went kayak sailing for the first time which was very cool. It’s not as easy as it looks either – the kayaks are much more tippy with a sail attached. We also snorkeled with sharks and went lionfish hunting.
The lionfish are an invasive species that have very few predators but eat everything. Supposedly people have been dumping unwanted lionfish from home aquariums into the ocean. They say Florida is to blame and it’s seriously bad news. Lionfish have venomous spines on their heads that are extremely painful so fishermen need special tools to bring them in as catch (we had Lionfish sashimi in Placencia and it was delicious). Our guide Mario uses a Hawaiian sling to kill them. We have seen these things used on the show Survivor and now John wants a shot at them.
See how he does and the rest of our time on Glover’s Atoll here:
Glover's Atoll: The movie.
Back to Dangriga and the rig is fine. We are salty, exhausted and happy. We drove 2 hours back to the Belize City marina for another night before we head back up to the border. With slow Internet, we spent the evening in the restaurant catching up on email, doing the laundry and paying our taxes.
April 14th. Doing laundry and paying our taxes in a marina bar in Belize. John's emailing wiith our accountant. A first for all of us.
The next morning we drove the 3 hours back up to the border and crossed into Mexico. It took us only about 20 minutes this time. We now have our truck permit renewed and no worries on visa issues.
Next up, Tulum and the Yucatan are calling.