Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
17Trip End Feb 28, 2009
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It started the first minute I entered the country, right at the border. As you are all aware, having read my past experience in Central America, it was rainy season down here. When leaving Flores, I was told that the road to the border was rough and very wet, but what I did not know is that the border crossing in between Melchor de Menchos in Guatemala and Benque Viejo Del Carmen in Belize was flooded; hence closed! The border had been closed for over three days! It was a sad picture with everything wet, grey and damp. The bridge crossing was no longer submerged, so we could literally walk across but the Guatemalan officers would not stamp my passport out of the country because they knew that the Belizean officers on the other side were not letting anybody in. People and tourists were just hanging out, hoping for the border to reopen anytime soon now that the bridge was cleared up. Unfortunately, the problem was not only at the border itself, but it was also further in once in Belize. The closest city was three miles from the bridge and this was where the road was blocked. Bridges and parts of the road were completely submerged under water. See it for yourself with the pictures that I have taken.
As a new group of tourists arrived, I decided to hang around to see if they would go through and little did I know, they were a travel tour of Dutch people who had to catch a plane the next day from Belize City. The customs officers were allowing them through so I slipped myself in the group. When I handed out my passport, I had drops of sweat rolling through my cheeks. The officer took her time and looked at all my passport twice before I could hear the soothing noise of the passport stamp to set me free across the border.
Taxis were waiting for the first tourists to arrive in order to give them a ride to the closest town where I could catch an onward bus to San Ignacio. I had to wait for the chicken bus to fill in before making our way though the rivers and lakes that were still flooding the road. Taxis and cars were still not able to go through, only high, tall buses could make the journey literally through a meter of water. It was a very interesting ride. All the activities around San Ignacio, cave tubing, hikes, and waterfalls were not accessible because of the rain so I had no other choice than to move forward. Before I made my way further into Belize and now thinking I was out of trouble, I had a quick look at my passport stamp and what a surprise! I had been given a one day visa! Just enough time to go to Belize City and catch my plane back to Holland with the tour group, but definitely not enough time to enjoy my vacation in Belize. The only option at this point was to go back to the border and ...sort it out one way or another. How embarrassing.
By that time, the border had fully reopen so that was not the issue anymore. I just had to sweet talk the officers who were sending me back and forth between the two borders to finally get a stamp out of Belize and back in again...on a thirty day visa. Back on the bus again but this time I went all the way to Belize City which is no longer the capital of the country. Belmopan is now and has been since 1961 after hurricane Hattie destroyed vast quantities of government documents and buildings in Belize City. Belmopan was built far away from the coast to keep it safe from storm damage. Belmopan has absolutely nothing interesting for tourists, nor does Belize City. Both cities were not safe. Walking down the streets, I could fill the insecurity and as soon as it was getting dark, there was not a single soul out.
The hotel I stayed at did not only smell like mold, but you could actually see the mold: on the bed, the cushions, the sheets, the bathroom. Water was pouring down from the ceiling and it was not a pretty sight, but it was one of the only places open and was just as bad as the rest of the ones I had seen. It felt safe and that was all that mattered as I was out the next day to get to the nearby "cayes" (islands).
I first stayed in San Pedro, the most developed and bigger cayes in Belize. I completely felt like I was on vacation. Reggae music in all bars, rastas everywhere, a big friendly community and finally a bit of sun. The ground was still highly flooded as you can tell from the picture but it was very nice. I rented a quaint little flat, a bicycle and had two days of wonderful relaxation out there...in the mud. Most tourists cruise around the island in four-wheel drive golf carts; it is pretty funny to see.
The next island was Caye Caulker, a much more backpacker oriented vibe with bars, hostels and cheaper places. In general, Belize is about four times more expensive than any of the other places in Central America, but is it home to the world's second largest reef and the diving in unbelievable. I did not even need to go anywhere far as big sting rays were right at my feet a meter from the beach in the shallow water. It was nice to be able to see them that close and pet them as they were cruising by. When diving, the marine life was plentiful: turtles, stingrays, barracudas, eels, lobsters and sharks. So many sharks, I could touch them and hug them, petting their underbelly. They were nurse sharks, so not dangerous but they were still mean looking with rough skin. I now know why French people use shark skin to scrub their feet.
The crabs and lobsters inhabiting the islands were the biggest ones I have ever seen. No wonder lobsters are on all menus in the islands. I had a few days of lobster breakfasts, lunches and dinners in various forms: lobster burgers, lobster fillet, whole lobster, barbecue lobster tail, lobster soup. It was so good. I made friends with some locals and divers out there while waiting for the weather to improve enough to set sail on a three-day tour to Placencia, south of Belize. With the interior of the country being flooded, that seemed to be the best way to enjoy this beautiful reef. The trip was about sailing, fishing, snorkeling and camping. At least, that is what I signed up for. On Sunday, we were told that the weather was finally stabilizing and that the boat will leave for sure the next day. We were fifteen people waiting for that special trip and we all joined in for a special three days.