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!
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we cycled north, more people spoke Spanish than English and the place names became distinctly Mayan. Mexico Beckoned.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
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 🙂