December 2016 archive

Why I love Belize

Soph outside a Garifuna restaurant

We didn’t know what to expect with Belize, aside that it’s a former British colony that boasts the planet’s second largest coral reef.

Straight off the boat and into the customs and immigration office. A large black lady welcomed us in English, asking to see our passport. Speaking Spanish to customs officials has become second nature and we were caught off guard – we’d forgotten English is the official language of Belize!

straight off the boat

straight off the boat

We’d fallen in love with the fun-loving Garifuna culture since first seeing it in Livingston. Walking around Punta Gorda on our first day, the atmosphere was much as I’d always imagined the less Americanised parts of Jamaica to be, with easy-going locals kicking back outside wooden shacks. People waved as we passed and everyone wished us a ‘good afternoon’, with some even adding a ‘Sir’.

Soph outside a Garifuna restaurant

Soph outside a Garifuna restaurant

Moving north along the quiet Southern Highway, we passed traditional Mayan villages, with wooden huts built the same way as they had been since the Mayan heyday hundreds of years ago.

the Southern Highway in rush hour

the Southern Highway in rush hour

into the land of the Maya

into the land of the Maya

We spent a couple of days in the sleepy fishing village of Hopkins, where we learned more about the Garifuna culture: it seems to revolve mainly around fishing, drinking, music, dancing and being happy. It’s a simple life and – for them – it works. It was fun to watch a lobster catching party prepare their boat for a five day fishing trip: they were already half cut by 10am and had brought more beers and rum than they had water. With the rich seas around Belize, it’s not unusual for trips like this to return with hundreds of pounds worth of lobster.

fishermen checking their nets

fishermen checking their nets

We had highlighted snorkelling the barrier reef as a priority of the trip since way back in Ecuador. With 2016 signalling a potential finite turning point in the health of the planet’s coral reefs, we knew seeing a relatively healthy reef now was a chance we shouldn’t turn down. The experience of swimming with nurse sharks, eagle rays, turtles and all sorts of tropical fish in abundance was something I’ll never forget – incredible.

incredible snorkelling

incredible snorkelling

I’m going to miss Belize, with its charming place names – Boom Creek, Mango Creek, Silk Grass, Gales Point, Ladyville – with its beaches and no-worry way of living, with its conch soup and coconut rice, its big smiles and Caribbean sunrises. It’s a country seldom mentioned in Central America. And I hope it stays that way – an as-yet unspoilt gem found only by those who really want to find it.

Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker

sunset over the Caye

sunset over the Caye

As we cycled north, more people spoke Spanish than English and the place names became distinctly Mayan. Mexico Beckoned.

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks 🙂

 

Cycling Central America pt.2

twilight on the Rio Dulce

El Salvador

El Salvador – like Honduras – has its fair share of negative press. European opinions are shaped by the country’s reputation for gang warfare and homicides but, though both of these do exist, the traveller is unlikely to come across them.

on the Honduras/El Salvador border

on the Honduras/El Salvador border

We cycled through El Salvador within a week and without incident. Similar to Honduras, the locals were invariably warm and welcoming.

I wanted to hear about how the gang culture affects the country. Speaking to Salvadorans, it’s clear that the narcos have bought off the government and police to the extent that it’s not really the politicians who run the country but the powerful gang members. We had policemen warn us to stay safe, keep our wits about us and be aware of the dangers but the only signs of the problem were the heavily armed security with their loaded shotguns who guarded gas stations, banks and other businesses that could afford them.

 

The inland road northwest up to the Guatemalan border took us through increasingly hilly landscapes, up to gorgeous vantage points where we would pause to take in the valleys below, watching the smoke waft up from fields where farmers burned vegetation to clear the land.

across the valleys

across the valleys

An on up to Guatemala, to another border crossing, another country, another stamp in the passport.

Guatemala

The topography in Guatemala is defined by compact, steep hills with the ever-lush green vegetation blanketing every surface untouched by man.

We only dipped into the country, following the road to Chiquimula, Los Amates and finally Rio Dulce. We had heard from Dave, a bike-tourer we met in El Salvador, about a river taxi that took travellers from Rio Dulce down the river of the same name to the small Caribbean town of Livingston. The route sounded fun and we decided to take it.

Guatemalan hills

Guatemalan hills

The small launch from Rio Dulce takes passengers along the river, with canyon walls rising sharply out of the water on either side. There are locals who live in huts along the water’s edge who rely on the river as their sole means of transport and a couple on-board disembarked at one of them, presumably heading home after a trip into town to buy supplies.

Livingston itself has no road access, so all goods and people come in off the boat. There is a strong Garifuna culture there and the Afro-Caribbean flavour was strong, with loud music, plenty of rum, and lots of laughter. The town’s remoteness and slightly anarchic though friendly vibe made it easy to imagine Caribbean pirates mooring up there for a few nights to spend their treasures on good times.

The Belizean border was just a short boat ride across a small corner of the Caribbean away. The 14th country on my trip was the antepenultimate of the entire journey and thoughts naturally turned to home. It would be the end of the trip in just a couple of months. What once seemed intangible now felt very real – that before long I’d be back in London with these long and exciting days of adventure behind me.

twilight on the Rio Dulce

twilight on the Rio Dulce

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks 🙂