I left Guatemala with Sarah and a Swiss girl (Alessia) who rode in the broken down car with us. Due to the second driver never showing up at the border we had to find a taxi to the bus station and then a bus to San Ignacio thereafter, easy enough to do but frustrating as hell when you’ve paid for an entire trip to the town you’re headed for. The border crossing itself was another pain for Alessia, who desperately needed the loo but unfortunately there wasn’t one on the Guatemalan side of the border. So, taking her small bag with her, she crossed to the Belizian side of the border without having gone through passport control in order to use the toilet. Of course she was stopped, bag searched and there ensued a fierce argument over an apple, because you can’t bring food from Guatemala into Belize. Alessia argued for her apple back, stating she simply needed a wee and would then proceed to eat it before she went through passport control (another argument about her even using the loo before she’d gone through passport control). Eventually she was allowed to use the bathroom and let back into the queue for passport control, not before she stared in disbelief as she was denied her apple back and watched as they threw her apple in the bin – Belize side.
Belize is probably the first country I’ve been to where it is so clear and obvious from the second you cross the border that you’ve entered another country. The buildings around change almost immediately and everything is in English.
Arriving in San Ignacio and we were immediately accosted by a man trying to sell us the ATM cave tour. Already in a bad mood over the shit show transfer service, and sweating like there was no tomorrow, I had to storm off and find food before hangry bex mode kicked in on top of it all. We quickly found a restaurant with a great menu, friendly staff and good food, but nearly choked at the prices. Belize is crazy expensive. We went to find out about the ATM cave tour and stopped at the Maya Walk Tours office and were offered USD 85, with a detailed explanation of what to expect from tour. We said we’d consider it while we went elsewhere to ask for other prices to see if we could find it any cheaper. In general you can’t – taxes in Belize are very high so it pushes up the price on everything. We were approached by the same man that had been shoving leaflets in our faces as we got off the bus and went to his office to hear his deal for the tour. He was offering the same tour for USD 5 less. Alessia and I quickly switched to German – it was a better deal but we didn’t like ‘angry man’. We said we’d think about it and left, filling Sarah in as we made our escape. We ended up booking with Maya Walk. Maybe the promise of banana bread at lunch after the tour, or the smiley attitude, or the free rum punch had something to do with it…
We split up to go to our hostels, Sarah and I were staying at Lower Dover, a car / bus ride outside of town, the taxis were asking for too much money so we decided on taking a bus. We went to find a bus to drop us off – a harder task that it ought to have been as it was Easter Sunday. Eventually one came by and I went to ask if it would drop us off near our hostel and as I tried to do so angry man appeared and tried to block my way telling me the bus wouldn’t take me where I wanted to go – definitely glad we didn’t book with him. I finally made it to the conductor who assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. Arf.
We finally made it to Lower Dover which I liked immediately because the owner has taken in 7 stray dogs who bark like crazy when you enter but are all big softies. The homemade lemonade was amazing and the family style dinners were fantastic. Sarah and I managed an episode of 13 Reasons Why before calling it a night.
We had an amazing hostel breakfast the next morning before Maya Walk called our hostel to let us know they were on their way to pick us up. We were picked up earlier than normal as some cycle race was taken place along the roads. Halfway to the cave we had to pull over for the race, and were lucky enough to watch some of it. Unluckily though I’d stepped on an ants nest and had to deal with flicking ants off and ant bites. The bus itself had pretty much stopped on the nest so we all spent the rest of the drive trying to brush off the red ants that had boarded the bus. Long way home for them. As we neared the stop for the cave we drove through a river whose waters seeped through the door but didn’t make it passed the first step, normally, we were told, the entire floor of the bus floods as they drive through it. On site we left everything in the bus, donned ‘gorgeous’ water shoes and walked 3km, crossing three different rivers to the cave entrance. It was a fun, pretty walk, not a hike by any means. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take cameras in with us as someone had dropped their lens on a skull and cracked a massive hole in it. Idiot. Even at the entrance you need to jump into a river to get into the cave which absolutely lived up to its National Geographic rating as #1 cave tour in the world.
The cave tour itself is amazing. There’s some squeezing through narrow passages, swimming, minor rock climbing and a lot of walking involved. It was such an informative tour and it’s amazing how close to artifacts and skeletons you can get. A tour I would highly recommend.
Belize is a country worth visiting purely to see the bizarre mix of cultures that coexist from one street to the next. You have the Latin Americans, who speak Spanish, the Black community who speak English and Creole, the Amish and every convenience store I visited was run by the Chinese community. It was bizarre but fascinating to see the communities change in such a short amount of time and space and each has an equally fascinating history and origins of coming to Belize.
Our next stop was Caye Caulker. Again Semana Santa struck as Sarah and I waited for two hours for a chicken bus to the port. We caught the first ferry over, met up with some other girls and got some drinks and our tan on on the private pier belonging to their hostel. I found Caye Caulker a slightly overrated place. The men were a little aggressive in their approach and there wasn’t that much going on. We did have a cute encounter with some siblings who wanted to tell us all about their delicious ice cream, and a funny one involving a police officer who overheard my story about Bocas Del Toro, a missing USD 100, weed and a jail. ‘Whose buying weed’? I hear behind me. ‘Oh…no..my friend..but in Panama, last year. I stammer back. He smiles and says ‘I’m just kidding, do what you want’. Sometimes you really couldn’t make this stuff up.
After my two nights on Caye Caulker I said goodbye to the girls as I set off on my three day highly recommended Ragamuffins tour. It’s a three day island hop trip on a catamaran. 20 of us had signed up for the USD 400 tour, including; three cooked meals a day, all the snacks you could possibly eat, all the alcohol you could possibly drink, snorkeling twice a day, visiting islands and sleeping on uninhabited white sand beach islands. We were nervous as we set of during what looked like a raging storm in the making, but after perhaps an hour of rain we had beautiful sunshine for the rest of the day.
The trip itself was amazing. Dolphins swam next to our catamaran, we drank, we danced, the snorkeling was incredible, the food options were varied and delicious and the islands were stunning.
On our first night we all camped out in tents. Just before bed I’d been admiring a beautiful lightening storm on the horizon, which wasn’t quite so spectacular at 4am when the storm hit us full force, rain whacking down on our tent, seeping through one entrance and the wind causing one side of the tent to consistently give me wet smacks in the face. My tent buddy wanted to bolt in case the tent came down, but I told her unless the tent collapsed on me there was no way I was going out in that storm and promptly fell back to sleep. (It didn’t collapse).
Our second night was far more comfortable, we could choose camping again or dorms – I picked a dorm and smiled to myself and I snuggled further into my bed the next night as the storm raged outside.
Our little band of people were great fun. So many interesting stories swapped and everyone meshed really well.
After the Raggamuffins tour a small band of us headed to Hopkins for a night. Three of the girls had promised to collect me for dinner and while I was sitting in my room I suddenly heard a man yell ‘Bex! Is there a Bex here’? I rush out, utterly confused and the girls fall about laughing at how the hostel owner had found me. We start walking along looking for a restaurant, with no clue where to go, when a man comes out of his apartment to ask us if we need any help. We’re not sure if we looked weird and suspicious sneaking around a neighborhood or if he was just genuinely curious about us. He told us about a Canadian run restaurant Iguanas, which was indeed amazing. There was an hour wait for food, so we decided a bottle of red wine would be a fine idea before dinner (and it was delicious), until one of the girls managed to fling half her glass at me (it washed out so I forgave her). I had a great time in Belize overall but it’s not backpacker price friendly and I wasn’t thrilled about the USD 20 exit fee. Beautiful country and a fun time though, next stop: Honduras.