Archive for the '04 Belize 2007' Category

Taste of the Caribbean (march 16th to april 8th)

Posted by on Apr 18 2007 | 04 Belize 2007, 05 Guatemala 2007, English

Green lawns and houses on stilts

“You need a visa mister!”, the officer looked at Florian with a face of stone. “No, I don’t think so, Swiss don’t need a visa, do they?”, Flo answered. “Yes sir, Swiss need a visa for Belize!” So we got our stamps from the Mexican officer and rode our bikes over the bridge to the Belizan immigration. Chan and I went through quite fast, as Canadians we didn’t need any visa. Flo had to pay 50US$ for a 30day visitor visa. His paperwork took a while and luckily we found an old passport picture of his which they took. We spent probably an hour at the immigration office, but we were lucky to be able to get Flo’s visa right there.

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Something was strikingly different here in Belize, but what? Then suddenly we realized that there was hardly any garbage alongside the road. Everything was clean, no dust either. The land was cultivated, mostly with sugar cane. There were no cartboard houses either. Most houses are built with wood and they are on stilts. The british influence is obvious too. People are looking after their nice green lawns and flower beds and some houses are decorated in victorian style.

There wasn’t much traffic and we enjoyed the ride. We spent our first night in Belize in Corozal, only about 15km away from the border. When we walked back to the hotel after dinner, the sky was one big firework. Huge lightening strokes were speeding over the sky in white and purple colours almost every second. After about a 30minute spectacle the rain hit with a sudden impact.

Hotel and Krokodile hunt

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It was a beautiful day again, not much traffic and no hills, an easy ride. I was dreaming while watching the landscape go by. Suddenly I shuddered. What was that in this pond right next to the highway? “Hey Flo!”, I called, “Did you see that too?” “Yeah, I hoped you would miss it!”, he smiled at me through his back mirror. “It was as long as I’m tall!”, he added. So it was true, we were in krokodile country now. This one wasn’t lucky enouth to be able to read the warning sign about the underwater cables and probably thought they were find food. Now it was swimming belly up. It’s size made me wonder, if we should really go on that boat trip to some ruins, krokodile sights promised.

First we looked for a cheap hotel in Orange Walk. The first one was ok, though the room was tiny. We thought that we could maybe find a better place. The second hotel didn’t even have a sign up. The house looked like it wouldn’t hold up another day. The wind was bulging the curtains, more hole than fabric, out of the windows without mosquito screen. The price was the same. The third hotel was much over our budget. A taxi slowed next to us and the driver recommended another hotel about five minutes away, which he thought was the best place in town. So we went to check it out as well. It was hot and this one had a pool, but the room was so small, that only one bed fit and there was no space for a camping mattress. The price was the same. After one hour riding arround we ended up at the first hotel again. There at the check in was Markus, a german cyclist we had met at the intersection to Palenque.

Markus joined us for the boat trip to Lamanai, one of the most important Mayan Ruins in Belize. Our boat was full with 16 gringos. Our captain, as Chan called him, was our guide as well. Food was provided for our 7 hour adventure. I was surprised how populated the river was. It seemed like we entered noman’s-jungle land, but in every niche at the river bank were people fishing or bathing. Behind every curve was another boat or wooden canoe.

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We passed a sugar refinery and one of the cane boats on its way there. About half way we passed a Mennonite community. Their religion doesn’t allow them to marry outside of their community. So they all look pretty much the same, not only because they all wear the same. They have blond hair, blue eyes are skinny and tall. The community we passed was conservative, that means, they are not taking part in modern civilisation. One rule is not to use any electrical tools or engines. We didn’t quite understand the logic of those rules, since they do use tractors on the fields.

Our guide showed us different kinds of birds, one of them was walking over the water on searose petals. We saw a special kind of bat hiding on a tree trunk and then our first baby krokodile taking arest on some branches stiking out of the water. It took me a while to find it. How could our guide have seen it, steering the boat with full speed? Anyway, he wanted to know if any of was were interested in a swim with the cute reptile? He offered to take a picture.

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We saw a few more baby krokodiles and the eyes of some bigger ones, which disappeard quickly when we approached them. The whole ride took 2 hours. A long time for a three year old. But he enjoyed the krokodiles and playing with another swiss guy or munching cookies we had bought specially for the trip. At the ruins we had lunch first. People ate like birds while Flo and I helped ourselves more than once due to our biker stomachs!

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The Lamanai ruins weren’t as impressive as others we had visited. It was interesting though to listen to the guides comments. He pointed out plants on the paths between the structures. The “give and take” plant is full of thorns, if punctured by one of them, it will give you instant muscle akes and a high fever. They only stop, if the plant is cut and the sap put onto the wound. One of the pyramids was quite high and steep to climb. Since I’m afraid of heights I wondered if I should go up. But then we started climbing. Going up wasn’t a big deal though once on the top I started feeling dizzy and had to sit down. Flo and Chan came behind me. Chan climbed it all by himself. The view was just amazing but I feared one of us would thumble down, not a good ending for our journey! I wanted to go back down. Flo took some pictures and then he walked down step by step, carrying Chan on one arm, as if he was just walking in the street. I was sweating and my legs felt like pudding. I was holding on to the rope provided as thight as I could, slowly getting down. Rene, the Swiss guy said:” That fear comes with age!”

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Belizan Zoo

I’m not a fan of zoo’s, so Flo took Chan to the Belizan zoo, which is said to be the best in Latin America. Apparantly all the animals there were rescued in one way or the other, if not born behind the bars. A lot of people think its cute to have a pet monkey, krokodile or even jaguar. Such animals, if discovered are getting a new home at the zoo as well as orphaned wildlife.

Chan love to see all the animals. His eyes were sparkling and his cheeks red when he came back and he immitated the sound of the howler monkeys for me and described the jaguar as a big, big, big cat lying on a branch up in a tree.

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We were staying at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary about two miles west of the zoo. Like usual, some parts of our equipment needed to be fixed and I was writing on the blog while the two men visited the zoo. It was a beautiful and quiet spot to get rested and we ate awesome food there too.

Hummingbird Highway

Entering the hills past belmopan was enering into a different world. The first two small hills framed the highway like a gate into jungle land on Hummingbird Highway. Up and down teh road wound its way like a snake through dark red-brown rocks and dirt decorated with bright green junlge foilage.

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St. Herman´s cave contrasted the hot, bright outside with a cool darkness. We needed a flashlight to find the path into the earth´s womb. Accomanied by the solen sound of an underground river, we had to feel our way into darkness. There were stalagmites and stalaktites and millions of miniature cristales sparkeled in the beam of our flashlight. Chan wasn´t too sure about this dark hole. He wanted to be arried all teh way in and our and only found his adventure spirit again back at the entrance. Flo asked him:”How did you like the cave Chan?”, and Chan answered:”You know, it was too dark down there!” So we went to a more enjoyable place for him, the Blue Hole. This is a cenote, a water filled limestone sinkhole, fed by underground streams. The water´s colour was an inviting blue and the three of us went for a swimm in the delicious cool water.

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It was hard work pushing the bikes over the ever steeper getting hills towards the caribbean sea again. The steepest hills awaited us just after the small community of “over the top”. Somehow this name didn´t make sense to us. When we finally reached fltter parts, we stopped at a gas station for a cold drink. A Belizan stepped out of his car, which was tied to his friends car, and said: “So you like bikin, eh?” “Yeah.” 2Where did you rent em bikes?” “Oh, they´re ours, we came from Canada.” “So where did you fly to, to Belize City?” “No, we biked from Canada.” “Yeah, yeah, bla, bla, bla, ha, ha, …, ??? You mean for real? Holy shit! You’re mad man. No way! How long ‘it take you, three weeks?” “No, more like seven months, canada is quite far away.” He turned around to swear some more, than he said:” You are jus mad man, Not for money not for nothin ‘d I put my ass on a bike! You’ re crazy man!” He walked back to his car still swearing.

Caribbean beaches

Florian wanted some haning out at the beach for himself and Chan. Another swiss biking couple had enjoyed Placencia quite a bit and so we decided to visit it as well. About 40 km north of this laid back beach community we found ourselves on a bumpy dirt road, our first longer off pavement experience. It took quite some concentration to not ride into the many potholes and to keep balance on washboard surface and slippery dirt. Our speed was at its lowest.

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You think you are away from it all, riding on such a bad road for as long as we did. But half way through we reached the beaches and turend south onto a narrow landstrip between the caribbean sea and a lagoon. Soon we passed private property signs and there tehy were: private villas, castle like side by side, making the beautiful beaches unreachable for public use. Then the resorts came up. One uglier than the next one. Do people really want to spend their vacations in such tastless complexes? What’s the impact on the delicate ecosystem with so much building, burning vegetation and sand shifting going on, we asked ourselves. American and Canadian companies bought up the land to build their resorts, where Belizans won’t be welcome unless they are “upper class”, we were told. We could only shake our heads and our spirits rose only again after we arrived at “campin on the beach” in Placencia.

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We stayed three days, took a swimm in the turqois blue water, strolled along the beach under palm trees and just hung around. Chan built sand hotels- and airplanes. He was constipatet too because of all that white refined bread, rice and pasta you get down here. For the past days he had refused to eat any fruits or veggies unless they were in an ice cold smoothy.

Wet, hot and dirty

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“No, I don´t think your bikes will fit in the water taxi. The boats are small you know.”, said a guy at the dock. “But we talked to some captains the other day and tehy said it was no problem. Are you a captain as well?”, I asked. ” No, I’m just working in the store here, you need to talk to one of the captains. The next boat to Mango Creek leaves in 30 minutes.” The man turned around and walked back into his shed like store. More people arrived and then the hokey pokey water taxi appeared. The captain looked at the bikes and said: “No problem, just take all teh bags off them.” He opened a hatch and put all the panniers in there, then he helped us lifting the bikes and the trailer on board. A short ride through mangroves brought us back to main land Belize.

On pavement we continued our ride towards Punta Gorda on the southern tip of belize. Florian kept turning around to study teh sky or rather the black clouds closing in on us. “Just ride fast!”, I called. I got annoyed by his turning around because he was riding a lot slower like this. But he stopped completley and said:” Quick, put the raincove on the trailer!” I turned around too this time and saw a white curtain speeding towards us. I jumped off my bike and as soon as the cover wason the trailer, the first heavy drops hit the plastic. When I had finished covering the backpacks on teh bikes, Flo and I were soaked. It was kind of fun being dripping wet because it cooled us a little. It had been crazy hot once again and once the rain stopped it didn´t take long for us to dry. But it didn´t take long either to be completley soaked again. it kept happening that day and by the fifth time I didn’t think it was funny anymore. We had planned to stop for the day in a village marked with a bigger dot on our map than the others. There just wasn’t any village really, just a few houses, mostly made of palm branches and palm leafes. We continued to ride and finally there was a sign for a ranger station of aone of the many Belizan nature reserevs. We stopped, completley wet of course, and asked, if we could camp UNDER the house. We could and as soon as we had parked our bikes under the house on stilts, the next rainshower hit. We hung up our wet clothes, the wet tent and the wet rain covers and were happy to have found such a good and dry place for the night.

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The next morning it rained. We waited a little, but there was no hope that the rain would stop soon, so we put our rain jackets on and hit the road. After only about 3km, the road turned into a gravel-dirt road. For only 9 miles, we were told, and then its all paved again. We rolled slowly, but there wasn’t much traffic and the road wasn’t as bad as the one to Placencia.

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In a curve on the bottom of a hill was bus stuck in the ditch. The passengers were all standing arround, the driver stod in front of his bus smiling at us. 9miles (15km) seemed like 20, but finally we made it, after a few more “white curtains” overtaking us. It seems like the rest of the ride, all on pavement, should have been easy. But now there was no rain anymore, the sun burnt with all her meight and we ran our of power and water. hen we arrived in Punta Gorda we were completely exhausted and I had to run to a tienda for an ice cold emergency lemonade, only then we could tackle the “hotel hunt”! We took the second one and hoped into the shower. Yeah, right, we wanted to, but the room had to be cleaned first and we had to wait outside for half an hour before we could finally carry our bags in and get refreshed. Then we went for a stroll through the village to get information about the boats leaving for Livingstone in Guatemala.

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The crossing

“Flo this is a rather small boat and look how its bobbning up and down on those big waves. How will it be possible to load the trailer?”, I said. “Don’t worry, they are doing this every day!”, Flo replied. But I was worried a lot. The waves were quite high and I had imagened a bigger boat for the trip on the open water to Guatemala.

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Then the bikes, bags and finally the trailer were loaded. I couldn’t watch them lifting the trailer from the high dock down to the dancing boat, but they made it. While our luggage was being loaded, other people filled the seats of the boat and only the bench in teh very front remained for us. As soon as everybody was seated, we took off. The captain handed a black plastic to the one’s on Flo’s side. They had to hold it up over their heads for protection from the water splashes. Hah! Not even 3 minutes out on sea and we were all soaked, especially me with no plastic for protection and sitting in the very front. Chan was scared and I was scared. In the row behind us was a woman constantly murmuring prayers. I wanted to scream or jump our, I wanted to stop thathell of a boat ride! We slammed down every wave and crushed into the bench. My back hurt and I couldn’t move my fingers of the one hand convulsivly holding on to a bar. Chan was holding my other hand and his head was buried under Flo’s arm pit. Flo remained calm as is his nature in such situations. He had to hold the trailer which was baning against us with every wave. Then the motor stopped and we were seasawing on the big waves, up and down. Everybody was silent, even the praying woman. The mate looked at his boss rising one eyebrow slightly. The captain was fumbling with some bottles and plying with the engine for a few scary minutes and finally it started again. For two hours we got douched every minute and slammed into our benches every two seconds. For two hours I tried to escape at least mentally from this nightmare by singing children’s songs silently and talking to my father and friends in my thoughts, imagining their calming words. What a relief when I could make out land! “From here we could at least swmm to land.”, I thought. But we arrived at the dock in Livingstone and nobody went overboard, all our luggage was still there too.

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On dock we didn’t pack the bikes. Chan and I watched our belongings, while Flo went to deal with the immigration. Then we organized another boat ride up Rio Dulce. Yes, another boat ride. Chan was still up for it, when we reassured him, that on the river weren’t any heavy waves anymore. After some rest and a picknick we loaded the bikes again onto another boat. For this ride we had hired a boat just for ourselves. The offical one was leaving mid afternoon and we couldn’t reserve a space. Now it was a bit more expensive, but we didn’t have to wait for hours in the sun. We were looking foreward to Casa Perico, a jungle hotel at the River, run by three Swiss guys. We had heard, that it was a peaceful place to hang out for a few days.

And that’s just what we did. Besides the usual chores of cleaning and oiling the bikes, chekcing for loose screws, cleaning out the trailer, which was a bit deformed from teh crossing and needed some bending as well, we took time for canoe rides and reading books in a hammock.

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Consequences of the crossing

The second day on the raod in Guatemala, Flo got diarrhea, the next day I had it too. It seemed like Guatemala was just another pinch hoter than Belize. We only rode in the mornings from around 7am to 11am, tehn we needed rest and shade. Usually we slept the whole afternoon in a hotel room, cooled by a ventilator and only got up to cook dinner.

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It was semana santa and most tiendas were closed as well as the markets. We wanted to get bananas because of our diarrhea, but all we could find was white bread. Now we were really low on food and with those high temperatures we couldn’t have carried supplies on fruits and veggies anyway. All the little restaurants only served meat dishes. So we pretty much only ate crackers or white bread during the day and mangoes and coconuts from street stands. For dinner we cooked our remaining pasta with tomato paste only or rice with bouillon. It took five days for our stomachs to work normally again. By that time we had made it past Rio Hondo and visited a dinosaur museum in Estanzuela. There wer two dinosaur skeletons an display as well as a grey whale one. “Mama look! those bones aren’t friendly ones!” Chan exclaimed. “Yes, they look a bit scary, don’t they.”, I said. “These bones don’t live anymore, you know. They would need a body around them to be alive. You have bones, a skeleton under your skin as well. Look here, these were the legs of the dinosaur. Can you feel your legs? There is something hard underneath the skin, right? That’s your bones.” Like this we went on talking about all the different bones we could see on the skeleton and looked for the relating ones on our bodies. We stayed for a whole hour in the small museum.

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From Chiquimuls the road wound its way up into mountenous regions. For some kilometers it must have had grades of 15% to 20%!

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On our last morning in Guatemala we were ready for the ride at 7am but something was wrong with Flo’s bike. The derailleur was too close to the spokes. Somehow the part fo the frame, where the derailleur is attached to, was bent. It took a while for us to figure it out. This must have happened on the boat crossing as well. We just don’t understand how we didn’t discover it earlier. Anyway, after an hour of fideling around, Flo thought we could try to ride. The valleys we travelled through were shaped in beautiful sickle like shapes, the hills were covered with pine trees growing on red earth. But the road was again really steep in places and wound its way mostly uphill towards mountainous Honduras.

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On one of those hills Flo’s bike suddenly went: “Clack, clack, clack!” Then he couldn’t move anymore. He started calling words and when we had a look at his back wheel, we found the derailleur all twisted and entangled in the spokes! Flo unhooked the chain and took the derailleur out of the spokes then we pushed the bikes up the hill and parked mine. We let Chan our of the trailer and he was immediately occupied mowing grass with a stick. Then we unloaded Flo’s bike andhe took his back wheel off. The part where the derailleur was attached to the frame was heavily bent. A moped slowed next to us and the friendly Guatemalan asked if we needed help. Then he said, that there was a mechanic about one kilometer up the raod. A few hundred meters up the raod were some street workers and Flo went to see if he could borrow a hammer. Two of them came to have a look at his bike, then one of them went to get a pick. The three of them hammered on Flo’s bike to bend that piece of the frame at least enough so that the derailleur could work again. Now Flo could ride his bike again, but he coulden’t shift into his lowest gears. In this terrain that meant, that I had to pull the trailer now.

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I jsut made it to El Florido, 3km further, at the border to Honduras, but only with Flo pushing me uphill. There we took a lunch break, changed our money and dealt with the immigration, before we continued with the last 12km to Copan Ruinas.

Right after the border the road led uphill again. After one km I started to cry. I just couldn’t do this. My legs hurt, there wasn’t enough power in them to pull the trailer. It was impossible. I don’t know how flo does it, he seems to do it with such ease, but it’s really, really hard! So I waited and Flo rode part of the way up. Then he ran back and pushed me with the trailer. Piece for piece we made it up. A short stretch Chan was even walking and he said: “Mama I’m helping you pushing the trailer!” It was our last hill and then we cruised down the curvey road to Copan Ruinas, where we are staying right now taking spanish classes.

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