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New Cruiser: Expeditions

The travels of an all aluminum Land Cruiser and its owners…

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Mmm, the Belize saga …

Written by Noreen (Raenelle's Mom) on Saturday, November 8, 2003
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Well, we got packed up and proceeded to the Southern Mexican border to cross over into Belize. The usual confusion with the language complicated matters again, and R&R had to pay more money for obtaining a multiple entry visa which they will need on their way back. The trouble with these ‘officials’ is that whatever they say you must pay, you must pay, legal or not, otherwise you go nowhere.

The Mexican side was dirty, noisy, busy and rude. Then a few 100 yard on was the Belize border crossing – new clean building, efficient, pleasant, and speedy – they speak English too, which is a great help. Robin had to attend to ‘importing a vehicle’ and buying insurance, having the car sprayed and inspected, which he did most efficiently, whilst Raenelle and I stood in the sun talking to Manolo – the ‘moneychanger’ who just appears from nowhere offering to change pesos or dollars to Belize dollars.

Well, we gave him a ‘hard time’ and then exchanged our funds and chatted a long time to him, joined by a Menonite gentleman whom he obviously knew and we got lots of bits of local info. There is apparently a large Menonite settlement in Belize.

Same type of rural roads as Mexico, with little groups of houses scattered on the roadside, milling kids and dogs, but it seemed just a little more cared for, a little cleaner and a little more organized with fences around houses etc. Belize is a small country in relation to Mexico, and it wasn’t long before we reached where we wanted to be. We saw a little lake on the map, Honey lake, which looked like a suitable spot for a campsite, and the GPS said ‘turn left now’ which we did, onto a very rough path through the countryside.

Ah, fun, real four wheel driving round trees, down dongas, through dips filled with water, splashety splash, mud everywhere and finally down a somewhat steep bank to join the real road, which we had missed because we had turned off a little too early – never mind – good fun. We found a nice campsite on the side of the lake and I pitched my tent under the eaves of a house being built on the property, and good thing too, for it rained a little that night.

Raenelle and ruinsThe following day, we went to the most famous ruins in Belize, Altun Ha, and wandered about there for some time. They are different from the ones in Mexico as only some of them have been uncovered, and you can see the others still hidden beneath the sand and green covering – you could imagine them all covered with trees too, hidden in the jungle – it is REAL jungle in Belize – so think you couldn’t move through it, even with a machete going full speed. Lots of jaguars in there still and rattlesnakes – mmmm, that shaker lady in Mexico always comes to mind when I think ‘rattle’. Dennis, the local guide gave us an unofficial tour and we spent a relaxed few hours before getting back into the vehicle to continue further.

We were searching in vain for a campsite near Belize, when we pulled out into the road right in front of a Landcruiser, who promptly flashed his lights, waved and pulled over on the side of the road – did I mention that the Landcruiser guys really ‘stick together’.

Well this was Francis (Cisco), who promptly said to follow him and led us to his private boat Marina, where we camped for the next two nights. There was a ‘dock’ built out into the water, extending some way out, and he suggested we camp midway along it, which we did. We pitched my little tent and spent the night pleasantly chatting to him and his daughter, Caroline, who was ten. They speak a delightful English – she had a Jamaican sort of accent which was SO funny to hear from this little ‘white’ girl – she was a sSnorkelling in Belizeweetie.

The following day, we went into town and caught the open fast ferry over to the island of San Pedro – about 1.5 hours away. This little island is the springboard for snorkelling/scuba diving the nearby coral reef, second in size to the Great Barrier Reef. We spent some time enquiring about tours etc and finally chartered our own little boat and guide. We picked up our snorkelling gear and tested it out in the clear warm water and lolled around until time to leave.

Our boat took us to a section of the reef that was open to snorkelling – it is all heavily protected ecologically, as is the Barrier Reef. But we had plenty to see and it was great to just put your head into the water and see the shoals of coloured fish below and around us, lovely coral formations, see a beautiful black and white patterned Manterey swim majestically by, plus a large shark right at the bottom (they are milk sharks and suck rather than bite, but they are definetly recognizable as SHARK).

Robin and StingrayOnce we had seen enough, we climbed back into the boat and went to SharkRay Alley, where you can swim the critters. Our guide chopped up some fish and schools of fish appeared from nowhere, plus about 8 Mantereys and about 8 or so shark, including one BIG daddy about 8 feet long!! They are pretty tame though, and Robin (with permission) tagged onto a shark and then caught a Manterey in his arms and held him there for a while until it got annoyed and whipped its tail!! No sting – don’t know if they have them removed or what, but everyone was safe.

We finished that day with a trip back on the fast ferry and then settled in for the night, tired but having had a good day. Some time later, we were awoken by the most incredible torrential rain and wind – I was in the little pup tent, and the wind was blowing so hard that the two sides of the tent were blowing around the supporting stick and were touching each other. What the heck!!! So up I sat and pushed my hands onto the sides of the tent to push them out against the wind – they were filled like little spinakers and I imagined my tent taking off in the wind, with me in it – mmmm, little danger of that really, as I was a perfect heavy fat anchor !!!

I peeped out of my flap and saw the kids’ tent getting equally blasted by the wind – but they are higher,Noreen on snorkelling boat being on the top of the truck and guessed they were getting wet. Everything in my tent started to get wet – the rain was PELTING DOWN in sheets – a real tropical storm. So I sat like that with my hands pushing out my tent for what seemed hours – had to rest my arms one at a time they were so tired. But then, lightning like I have never seen – sheet lightning so bright that your eyes hurt, even though you closed them instantly – I had little dark pictures of my outstretched fingers and arms ‘burned’ onto my brain !!

The storm was right above us – lightning and thunder happening simultaneously. At the second flash, I heard action from R&R, with Robin instructing Raenelle to ‘get into the truck’ and he smashing down their tent as fast as possible, and jumping into the truck. Good thinking Robin, I mean we are the only thing on this gravel dock out in the water, and we are in a metal bodied vehicle with a tent on top – just asking, hey, strike here!! They got soaked in the few seconds it took to accomplish this, but jumped into the truck and slammed the doors and spent the rest of the night there. Mmmm, from what I know lightning goes AROUND the vehicle and into the ground so they will be safe – but what about the occupant of the little pup tent pitched about 3 feet away !!!

Contemplated – if I get out of this tent, it will fly away in a second, that’s for sure – Scottish gal, you can’t let that happen, you’re going to sit this out, and if you die by lightning in Belize, so be it !!! Well eventually the torrential rain stopped just as quickly as it had begun and the storm moved off us – I lay down and counted slowly during each thunder clap – 32 seconds of continuous rolling thunder – that’s one heck of a clap of thunder.

I was wet but tired and managed to lie down and fall asleep, only to be awoken by the storm coming back again but this time with just pelting rain and some wind. To heck with it, I’m too tired, and after a little while it went away. Add this one to my experience book – Caught in a torrential tropical storm!! Everyone assured us that it was very unusual for Belize at this time of year – yea right.

Leaf-cutter antsWell, everything in the truck got soaked, including the carpets, bedding, down duvets, pillows – you name it. Fortunately, Francis had told us about his farm about 90 mins away and we went there and his foreman showed us a very large room with a bed in it and we gratefully unpacked EVERYTHING we had and put it inside, including unscrewing the tent from the top of the van. And by the end of next day, everything was dry or almost dry, and we were feeling more confident about this camping thing.

And that was my time with the kids over – we had ascertained that there was not a flight available from Belize city to Cancun, so I would have to take the bus back. So off I went at 6 pm on the ‘first class’ bus from Belize City to the Belize border, a three hour journey. Our bus driver was a big fat black man, who put on his rap CD at the beginning of the trip and we were treated to Spanish Rap all the way – yea mon!! He was also prolific with his use of his hooter, hooting all the time – I think it was to alert the many cyclists on the road, as it was dark.

Anyway, we arrived at the Belize border, and when I left the bus to go through customs, I asked him to please make sure I was on the bus before he left again :):) Well, I get in line and they want $37.50 Bel from me – I only have $22 as I wasn’t expecting to have to pay so much to LEAVE the country – do you take pesos? No, only B$ or US$. Mmmm I have a $100US bill – am not wanting change in B$ so I say I have none. Stalemate. Well, eventually, we bartered B$ for Spanish pesos from the 5 or so Mexicans behind me in the line, and we all got through, with me showering ‘gracias’ everywhere.

Onto the bus for 30 seconds and then off again at the Mexican Border – this time I take a LONG time as I am the only foreigner on the bus and it is now 9.30 pm and it’s very dark. I come out and no bus anywhere, so walk over towards Mexico and am about to go to plan B, when I see the bus and one of my Mexican fellow travellers waiting to beckon to me. On I get with more gracias for my big fat bus driver. We arrive at the Chetumal bus station at about 10 pm.

Mmmm, next step, get a taxi to town to the Los Cocos hotel – only name I could find in Raenelle’s book – have no idea what type of accommodation it is, but the taxi driver says Si to my request, and the hotel is fine and they speak EEEngleeesh at the counter and I book in and arrange a wake up call for tomorrow morning, in time for me to have a bit of breakfast, get a taxi back to the bus station and continue the other two bus rides I must take to get to the airport.

Now, I must digress – I know I have not told you about the mosquitos yet, or the sandflies. Needless to say they are most most most prolific and had an absolute field day with my naked legs during my time in Belize. Raenelle tells me bye the bye that Belize is a very high malaria risk area – I had forgotten about that little aspect when thinking of my trip, but too late. Anyway, I get to my hotel room and start counting bites – gave up at 200 plus on one leg and had a shower and tried to soothe my itchy legs with the little bottle of cream they always provide.

Anyway, in the morning, my legs are just red awful looking blotches and bumps and scabs and it looks like I have a disgusting disease, but it’s really hot, so I brave my shorts again. A little Spanish porter volunteers to call me my taxi. He looks down at my legs and talks away (man, I speak NO Spanish), but he finally mentions ‘moskeet’. Si, I say, gesticulating to my legs, moskeet. He shakes his head and indicates, No moskeet Chetumal – Si, I reply pointing, No Chetumal moskeet, Belize moskeet. He continues his monologue, indicating I should have used ‘repello’. Si I reply again, Repello, mimicking a spraying action on my legs. Silence, then he shakes his head – Belize moskeet no respecto repello – Si, senor, Belize moskeet no respecto repello – and we laughed like hell together !!!

Off to the ‘autobus terminal’ purchase a ticket to Playa del Carmen because the bus all the way to Cancun does not go to Aeroporto and onto the bus for the 5 hour trip up the East coast of Mexico. In the town, the bus just stops and the driver indicates OUT – mmmm, but where is the ‘autobus terminal’? Blab, blab, blab, OUT. Okay, out I get and then find some directions eventually to the terminal – amazing what you can do when you have to and when you are attracting much sympathy with Belize mozzie bitten legs – walk this way they indicate to “McDonalds” – okay. And there they are the familiar Golden Arches and opposite them the ‘autobus terminal’. Buy my final ticket and catch the bus to the airport, arriving in time to check in for my first flight. All the dominos tumbled as they were supposed to and I breathe my first sigh of relief.

Change into my long denims as I always freeze in planes, and oh, that’s really nice, they are rubbing the hell out of my mozzie bites and I have to go to the toilet twice and rub hand lotion onto them to stop from scratching myself to death!! Five hour flight Cancun to LA, change terminals and planes, 3 hours LA to Seattle, arrive midnight, wait in terminal till 6 am, 3.5 hour flight Seattle to Anchorage, arrive at 8.30 am, wait till noon for flight to Valdez, arrive home finally 40 hours after commencing bus ride in Belize!!

Two weeks later, I am happy to advise that my legs have only vague fading scars and I haven’t developed malaria symptoms, or had dreadful diahrea (?) or picked up some little bug from the water we swam in (well hopefully), although I did have that little one that was travelling along under the surface of my skin – north 1″, turn 90 degrees, west 1″ turn 45 degrees, south west route – oh what happened to you, we got to Valdez and you just disappeared did you – well either it was too cold for you, or you headed directly down and will make your way up to my brain in the year DOT – whatever !!!

Two moe badges added to my collection – Mexico and Belize. Not to many more I want to add, Maybe Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tibet, India – oh stop now.

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