So pictures first this time, give em what they want...
It was finally time to make our first border crossing into Central America. Up until now we were only a country away. Crossing into our next country seemed like a huge step. While in Mexico even as far in as we were it always seemed like we could just turn around and be home soon. In the span of just a few miles turning around got much more difficult.
We made one last stop in Chetumal Mexico to get a new gas cap having left ours at a Pemex 2 hours north. We had been warned about a scam in which the Mexican border agent will claim that you need to pay $28 per person to exit the country if you were there longer than seven days. This scam was alive and well. We pulled into the booth and the agent asked for our passports. Next came exactly what we were expecting he asked for “the fee”. I assured him that we had paid all applicable fees when we entered the country and that there were no additional fees to be collected. He kept our passports and told me I needed to go to the bank and get the money to pay. After talking to some other folks I dug out our receipts from when we entered the country and returned to the booth and demanded that he stamp our passports and return them. I showed him the receipts and he continued to tell me I needed to pay additional money until another person came into the booth. This must have been some sort of supervisor because he immediately changed his tune and tried to tell me that I should have told him I already paid. He stamped our passports and we were off.
Entering Belize was simple enough but took some time going from one place to another to get our dog through, fumigation on the car, vehicle permit and insurance etc. We made it through no problems. Our first destination was Corozal only 29 miles or so from the border. We went straight to the public park next to the sea and parked the van.
Belize is hot, so jumping in the water was refreshing I swam with Vega in the sea and we stayed put, free camping in the park. The evening was filled with a lot of Families in the park picnicking and playing volleyball. Vega of course made friends right away and played in the playground with them until well after dark. We often wonder what it would be like to have Vega in school in a foreign country, learning a new language and culture. The language here is English for the most part. The locals speak Creole which is essentially English but with a thick accent that made it indistinguishable to our ears at first. It was fun imagining Vega growing up learning that way of speaking.
The next day we headed south to the town of Orange Walk. We grabbed some tacos and rolled in to our camp site for the next three days. It was a small cabana place on the “New River”. We parked right on the bank of the river. We booked a boat for the next day to take us an hour upstream to the Lamani Ruins then spent the rest of the day organizing and relaxing. The owner of the place told us about a “small” crocodile that lived in the river across from where we were camping, but said not to worry it was only 9 feet or so! And we did in fact have to worry. After being there for a few days it caught on to the fact that our dog loved splashing in the river chasing fish. At one point the owner came out quickly and pointed out the croc stealthily coming across right at our dog. We quickly called Kohbi out of there and the crocodile turned around and went back to the other side. For the rest of our time there Kohbi stayed on leash.
The river tour was really relaxing and beautiful. The breeze while moving cooled our skin and we saw a number of birds, Osprey, Kingfisher, Stork, Blue Heron, the Jesus Bird and more. There were bats, fish, no crocs, but a spider monkey that Devon fed and at the ruins 2 different troops of howler monkeys.
That evening when we returned to camp there was another overloading couple there. Kristina and Bernardo. Originally from Venezuela but coming from Texas in their truck and camper with there little puppy Helen. Their website is www.BKexpolore.com, check it out. They are going all the way to Argentina so should be on the road much longer than us. We started chatting and decided to stick together the next day or two and head out to Caye Caulker..
That night, Bernardo, who was really into fishing and chomping at the bit to get his line in the water ended up biting off more that he could chew and hooked the crocodile! There was no way he was going to pull it in and though he fought it for a bit he finally had to cut the line when the sugar barge came by. He did redeem himself the next day and hooked a giant tarapin that shook his line by making a spectacular jump out of the water for all to see. After that we loaded up and headed off to Belize City to park the cars and make the trip over to the Caye.
Caye Caulker is considered the more backpacker friendly and budget option of the two main islands off of Belize. We booked a cabana on the beach for $25 a night and set off to explore the island. Caye Caulker was split some years back into two Islands by a hurricane. The gap that was left (The Split) turned out to be a fun place to jump in and do a bit of snorkeling. We grabbed dinner on the backstreet and watched the sunset. The next day we set out to the reef by boat to do some snorkeling and to watch Bernardo and one of our guides do some spear fishing. The snorkeling was gorgeous and the real surprise was Vega hanging in for the entire trip and getting in the water at every stop!
The fishermen snagged us enough snapper for a nice BBQ that night and even a barracuda which we left with our guides. It was a great time having some fellow overlanders to hang with and we were quickly making new friends. Anyone who knows Vega could probably already guess that she attached herself to Kristina. We even had more than an hour without child where Kristina took Vega for a walk into town! That kind of free time hadn’t happened since Mazatlan. Because we were having a great time and pretty much headed in the same direction we decided to stick together and get off the island heading back to our cars and further south.
In Hopkins Bernardo found a nice little street that ended at the beach and we boondocked there for the night. Best part of this spot was the outdoor shower on the rental house right next to us that we were able to sneak showers from. The next morning we parted ways with our new friends as they were off to Guatemala and we were staying around for another few days to meet up with Devon’s parents.
We made our way further south to Placencia. This place was nice but more of an older ex-pat post. We stayed in the parking lot of a nice hotel for 3 nights with use of the facilities, a nice pool and restaurant. It was HOT in southern Belize and we were glad to start moving a bit more north as Donn and Crarol were coming in soon.
We spent a few nights back in Hopkins and made a day trip to a National Park and did some jungle hiking to a waterfall and swimming hole. We also visited Blue Hole NP. Parked in the lot at the entrance to the hiking trails we spent the evening watching the fireflies descend from the canopy of trees up the mountain and into our camp. We swam in the Blue Hole and cooled our skins after a sweaty jungle hike.
We picked up Donn and Carol on a Monday and had a week to show them all of the places we had found and loved. We took them to the Lamanai Ruins, the Belize Zoo, the Blue Hole and then together we headed off to Ambergris Caye. On the Caye we relaxed, ate good food, swam in the pool, took real showers, did some laundry and went scuba diving! The diving was a highlight of the week. Thanks to Carol for manning the Vega post for the bulk of a day! Devon Donn and I got to dive off of the largest living reef in the world. We did some swim throughs, saw a ton of fish and on our second dive were treated to an amazing experience. We swam among a swarm of nurse sharks, with 3 different Loggerhead Turtles and had a spotted eagle ray swim just arm lengths past us. It couldn’t have been a better diving experience, one of the best so far. Not only did we have a great time with our family Bill Murray got some special treats as well. A new light switch and upgraded bulbs have finally given us headlights after not having any since I can’t remember when (not a huge deal since we don’t drive at night) and a new fan resistor has breathed new life into our cooling system.
We dropped Donn and Carol off at the airport a week after they arrived. It was a strange feeling being on vacation from this long “vacation”. Like a dream within a dream. There is always that moment near the end of a vacation when you start thinking about going back and mentally prepping yourself for that. This happened to me in the last few days. I started to daydream about being “home” from vacation only to snap out of it with thermalization that I wasn’t going anywhere except deeper into the jungle, a strange feeling for sure.
Our last stop in Belize was in San Ignacio, the last major town before leaving the country into Guatemala. We were waylaid due to Kohbi getting Bot flies and having to get treated. An overnight stop turned into a three day stay and taught us again the lesson that slowing down opens up your schedule for new experiences. In search of swimming holes we saw some amazing landscapes that we would have missed. We drove deep into the jungle to the Rio On Pools and spent a day hopping from pool to pool and rock to rock.
Belize is such a different country from Mexico. The language is English but the culture is more difficult to grasp, likely due to the immense diversity of people there. You have expats, Garifuna, Creole, Latinos Chinese and Maya all melding into one country the size of Massachusetts. The people were generally more stand-offish and despite being able to speak English the basics seemed harder to navigate than in Mexico. The natural beauty is amazing and well preserved yet the air is filled with smoke from slash and burn agriculture. The rum is delicious.
Next stop, Guatemala.