Here is an index to my pictures.
March 1, 2000
It's 12:00 midnight and I just found out that Rick won't be able to go to Belize! What am I to do? Do I go by myself? Do I get someone else to go with me? What?
Well, I guess I should have expected something like this... Rick is known for having travel problems. The last trip he took was to Cancun and he missed the flight. This time, he didn't have his passport so he drove to Austin to get it. By the time he got back, a family member had died. Fortunately, I know his record, but I expected something along the line of not getting a room or missing a connecting flight. I didn't expect to be in Belize by myself!
I had relied on his research and was going to let him lead the way. Now that I'm going by myself, I've got to research Belize... and quick. At 1:00 am, I'm surfing the web trying to identify what/where I go. By 2:30 am, I know little more than at 1:00 am, but I pack. I decide that I'm going to take this trip like my European trip. Few clothes, a computer, the Newton, and my Teva's. When I get to Belize, I'll go West.
I get to Houston and try to connect to my Belize flight, but I've lost my boarding pass! (Here I go, pulling a Rick.) I run back to the bathroom where my pass is now gone from the ledge where I left it. I run back to the gate and the woman hassles me for losing it. She tells me that if I lose any or all of my return ticket, that I will have to purchase another. She even writes it in my ticket notes! What a pain.
On the plane, I sit next to an older Canadian couple who are traveling to Belize for the first time.(1) They don't know where their staying either. Waiting in Customs, I start talking with a woman about 35 who left her husband to go on this trip by herself; she's traveled ALL the way around the world; she doesn't know where she's staying for the night. This seems to be a common trend for visitor's to Belize.
Outside the airport, I'm trying to get to Downtown Belize City. That's where the buses start from. However, I'm too cheap (or maybe I should say that it's more fun) to pay US$15 to get to the city. I hope a ride with the Canadian couple and paid half the fare. After the taxi let them off at this plush casino/hotel, I asked to checkout company that rents motorcycles. The Taxi, now filled with 4 Belizians, goes in search of this rental company only to find that they are out of business! Okay, so it's to the bus depot. They think I'm crazy for considering a bus. "Your going West at this time of night? Where do you think you'll stay?" which I reply "I don't know?!@#$?"
Belize City is pretty bad looking. It's scary in the daytime; it's 6:00 pm and getting dark; where do I go. I have a phone number of this hostel in the jungle out west in the Cayo; they tell me to get on the bus and come West. They give me directions but the time on the phone meter ran out soooooo.... I go West on the bus for US$3.
My seat assignment happens to be next to a man named Ramon. He's a meteorologist and works at the airport. He makes a 2 hour round trip on the bus each day to work. He studied in Pennsylvania & Britain and is back here to work. The government paid for part of his tuition; I think the rest he saved by working for the government before going to college. Cool!
Ramon tells me that where I'm going is dark. Pitch dark. The bus will let me off anywhere, but I have got to find my way to the place called "The Trux Stop." He offers his cell phone to make a call but the battery is dead. Since that was a dud, he offers to share a biscuit with me. I take him up on it because I don't know when/if I'm going to be eating tonight. Ramon has been a BIG help in understanding the way things work AND the Belizian culture.
Ramon tells me to get off in San Ignacio, make a phone call to verify where "The Trux Stop" is located, and jump back on the bus. Fortunately, I grabbed my back pack because the bus didn't wait on me. They took off with me standing at the phone booth!
Okay, so there are more buses tonight. Maybe I can get on one of those... but the phone doesn't work! So I'm directed down a little dark alley way to another phone booth; it so happens to be located next to a friendly looking hotel, a hotel without a vacancy. The second phone wants a calling card, not coins! (Grrrr. This is a Rick trip for sure!)
As I go in search of a calling card, I notice that there are quite a few tourists in the town. This is something that I couldn't have seen from the bus stop. The friendly hotel people direct me down the street to Eva's, but I walk right by it. Instead, walked past another hotel; in fact, I walked by it twice before deciding to check it out. They have only one room left. An American girl leaving for dinner at the the same time as I'm arriving says that it's clean and the showers are HOT! Okay, I'll stay. The American girl and her husband leave a friend behind in the hotel to make a phone call. I drop my stuff in my room and run back downstairs to ask to join them; they're going for Chinese food! That's suppose to be the most popular food in Belize.
I follow their friend, Robert, to meet Ron and Melissa. Their in this hole-in-the-wall that I would never go in by myself. I order up a big bottle of water and curry chicken. It's excellent and the water quenches my 3 hour thirst.
Ron, Melissa, and Robot have been on sail boat for a week or two. They sailed the Florida Keys with a friend who has just accomplished his dream of living/sailing on a boat. Their all from Austin and in their 30s. Wow, I'm meeting people my age here. When I was in Europe, everyone I met was early twenties.
They tell me about their trip thus far. They loved swimming with the Manatee. They loved Tikal and Flores in Guatemala. They loved their canoe trip. They loved their conoeing in the cave trip. And I only have one, maybe two days in the area! Grrrr!!!!!!
After dinner, Ron and Melissa head to bed. They're all headed home tomorrow. Robert and I go to Eva's, a bar(2) with tour advertisements all over the wall and an Internet connection. For about two hours, we talk with the bar owners, tour guides, two people from Colorado, and a girl traveling by herself from Canada. This is definitely a hub for travelers.
Ramon told me that today was election day. Robert said that people were going crazy in the streets yesterday trying to get votes and arguing their point of view. He said that it got pretty heated but fights didn't break out. The Belizian people are now walking around the city with their flag claiming victory. The bar owners say that the election results are released in the middle of the night so as to keep down on violence when the wrong man wins. It sounds like I got here one day too early.
By the time Robert and I get back to the hotel, I realize that I don't have my Newton. (Rick, you strike again!) In my haste to catch up with Robert, I forgot that I hid my Newton but left my backpack on the bed. Shoooo......
So much has happened this first day. Now I have to figure out what I'm going to do with myself tomorrow, Mountain Bike through the jungle, Canoe through the jungle, go to Tikal to see the Myan ruins, or go to Guatemala. Just think, if that phone would have worked, I'd be lost in the jungle and wouldn't have this dilemma.
March 2, 2000
Just as I went to bed last night, they announced the election results. The town went crazy and by 4 am, there was this van with speakers spouting propaganda throughout the street. Oh, and it was cold; fortunately, the shower was hot and it burned the chill out of me.
I got up at 6:15 am, headed out by 7:00 am(4) to look for a canoe trip. I found the group I was looking for, but they said they wouldn't be back until 4 PM. I wanted to be out of San Ignacio by 3 PM and on to my next destination. I found a couple of canoe options, breakfast, and a suggestion about where to go when the canoe trip was over. The earliest one started around 9:30 am. Since I had to go back to the hotel to pay my bill, I just took my room key back from Rosa (the owner) and slept for another 45 minutes.
Guess what woke me... That stupid propaganda van.
I decided to join David's Cave Canoe trip(3) because Robert, Ron and Melissa said he was fun. It started at 9:30 am and should be getting back by 2:00. This fit with my expected schedule to leave San Ignacio by 3:00 pm real well.
I met two other guys there waiting, Todd and Erin.(6) Both are on vacation from a Lutheran College in Minnesota. We waited on David's porch from 9:30 am to 11:45 am. For me in my normal daily activities, I leave only a window of 5 minutes to wait on someone. It wasn't easy sitting on the porch for so long watching the cars, people, broken down truck, family bus also waiting, election parades, and conversation; I wanted to do something productive!
We even got to talk with a farmer who we first thought was a Mennonite; he dressed/looked like one. We were questioning him about why he would ride the truck but not go with his Mennonite brothers on the horse and buggy. (We saw about 5 Mennonite men in town while we waited on David's porch.) He finally informed us that he wasn't part of their religion, but did live in their community.
By noon when we got on the highway (5, 8) to the river, we realized that the Mennonite men had gotten a head start on us. They were already out of town on their horse and buggy. We kept kidding David that he was on Belgian time; obviously, I wouldn't make my 3 PM schedule nor would Erin and Todd catch up with their Sister at 4 PM. Oh well, it's just time and productivity down the drain.
When we got to the river, we met up with a large group of people who was in Belize for a family reunion. David had been trying to coordinate these people and us. This was why he was 2 hours behind schedule. Eric, Todd, and I carried as much stuff as we could down to the river, after all, we were in a hurry as far as Belizian time goes.
The cave trip was really cool.(9, 10, 11, 12) This cave is very active with large stalagmites and stalactites.(13, 16) There were many places where we had to lay down in the boat to get through dripping stalagmites. I just hope my pictures come out.
All the boats paired up so that only one guide had to paddle.(14) We got to know some of the family; they were all bossy. They were all telling everyone else what to do. By the time we got back from the cave, every single one of them jumped out of the canoe and lit a cigarette; smoking must be a family trait. As we made our way back to the cars, Todd, Erin, and I again helped carry stuff.(15) None of the others made an effort to carry their equipment; self-centerness must be another family trait. Grrr...
The cave that we canoed in was in the middle of a VERY large orange grove.(7, 17) I think they said it was the biggest in the world. I tried not to pick an orange but still gave in. It tasted really good... or maybe I'm just really hungry. Where do I send my Bz$.25 cents?
On the way back to San Ignacio, we passed the Mennonite men.(18) This time, we were ahead of them and they were just about half way home. It's amazing, a trip into town for them is a WHOLE day. I know that the last of the men won't get in until after dark unless they run their horses; I don't think anyone is in that big of a hurry here.
In San Ignacio, I was noticeably tired. I sat in Eve's Backpack Bar just staring at the wall for about 20 minutes. I finally made my way to the local public phone that didn't work for me yesterday. It didn't work today either. I hit two other phones but still no luck. I just needed to call "The Trek Stop" to see if they had an open cabin. After about an hour of searching for a phone, and dealing with how you dial another person, I finally got a reservation.(19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25)
I was told not to pay more than US$2 by Joyce, the keeper of the "The Trek Stop." I asked this one taxi and he said that they were going to the Guatemalan boarder. I asked for a ride since that was the direction I was going. He managed to take me for US$5. I was just too tired to fight or get upset.
"The Trek Stop" is very different. We're in the jungle,(27, 29) Joyce cooks from a menu but they have a stove for those who want to cook their own food. The outhouse is a four holer. My bed has a mesquito net over it.(26) The shower is rain water warmed by the sun each day.
Now is the time to take a shower since the water will only get cold throughout the evening. The problem is, they don't provide soap, towels, or shampoo. Fortunately, I found soap, I dried off with my dirty shirt, and left my hair icky.
The Belizian meal that Joyce makes is pretty good. For about 2 hours after dinner, I talked with other people staying here. One woman even brought a drum and started beating on it. This was a really nice evening and completely different from last night.(28)
March 3, 2000
Last night was a pretty good even though I picked up a tick in my bed. The Trek Stop didn't provide soap or towels, but they did provide really heavy duty blankets. I stayed warm all night long. Even though I woke up at 7:30 with every intention to get out of bed, I stayed there until Wylie, the 3 year old in the next cabin, decided to cry LOUDLY. After Breakfast, I walked with Wylie, her mom Pat, and three guys traveling with her, Geod, Jay, and the last I can't remember, to Xunantunich.
Xunantunich are Mayan ruins just across the river from The Trek Stop. You have to get on this hand cranked barge to get across.(30, 31) We got on the barge with about 50 kids; it's national children's day in Belize. What I thought was strange was that the cars were the first on the barge and the cars were the first off. The captain purposely had people wait on the boat until the cars made their way through the crowd. From there, it was a mile walk up the mountain in the sun with no breeze.(32)
I walked around the Mayan ruins,(34, 35, 37, 38) climbed the temple,(39, 40, 41) and then found a trail out back. I followed the trail for over an hour.(42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48) It was wide and heavily traveled, so it must go somewhere. I had also hoped to see monkeys, snakes, or some thing wild. Unfortunately, the trail only went to the end; an end in the middle of the forest. On the way back, I followed another trail which put me back on the up hill road to Xunantunich.
Before I left The Trek Stop, Judy made a real effort to suggest a place to for me to go for the rest of the day and tomorrow. She even helped me get an Internet connection with my computer. Everyone was really helpful and nice here. You just can't expect to be acknowledged by the wait staff when their working on someone else's food order; they do ONE thing at a time.
As I was headed out of San Ignacio, I saw Kerri and Scott looking for a bus. I think they said they were headed to East. My bus was headed to Belmopan, but I couldn't get their attention before it drove off.
On the bus from Belmopan to Dangriaga, the highway we took was the Hummingbird Highway. Everybody says this is the most beautiful highway in Belize and I'd agree.(49, 50, 51) This time, I offered the guy sitting next to me some of my cookies; he was the first person to never say anything to me nor did he say Thank you. I really can't pick'em.
I also see all these kids littering. It's like their taught to through trash on the ground or out the window. And none get reprimanded for it. In fact, Belize doesn't have any public trash cans that I know up.
Once in Dangriaga, I couldn't seem to find a hotel or a place to eat. The first two nights I was in Belize, I was a bit uptight; I guess it was from not knowing what/where I'm going to sleep. I didn't get this feeling tonight even though I had no idea where I was.
I caught these three girls headed to a bar called the "River Side Cafe." They suggested some hotels but no place to eat. Throughout my search for a hotel, two other locals continued to suggest the "River Side Cafe." The travel book said the food wasn't any good but all the backpackers hang out there. I guess the locals just wanted all us in the same place.
Once at the cafe, those three girls were still there. Two of them, Shea and Sarah, volunteered to teach in the local school. The third, Rebecca, just got into Belize today to visit Sarah, her Sister. They didn't look ANYTHING alike nor did they act alike. Rebecca was very high strung and work oriented as a lawyer. I commented that I would never expect Shea and Sarah to hang out with someone like Rebecca; Shea quickly informed me that her best friend has the exact same personality and would be getting into town tomorrow. I really can't pick'em.
After the girls left, I talked with John. He was a native Belizian who had lived in the states during the 70's and 80's. His family was with him and his son is going back an the same plane as me. Each of his kids were born in a different country. John told me all about the Belizian food trade. I wish I understood half of what he said...
Back at the hotel was Shena and Guido from Switzerland. They were school teachers who are on a year long travel throughout South America. They started in Guatemala and the first thing they did was take a Spanish speaking course; this consumed the first month of their travels. Now they're headed to Honduras.
I've got to decide what I'm going to do in the morning. Am I going to the Tabacco Key or backtrack to the Blue Hole and Zoo?
March 4, 2000
I don't have an alarm nor am I wearing a watch. So I had to rig the computer to wake me up this morning around 7:30. I wanted to get to the bus station and explore my options for the day. The night was loud from all the people coming home from the bars; they sell liqueur between 6 pm and 6 am only. Thus, everyone stumbles home throughout the night. I did manage to wake up just before the computer chimed in.
I made my way to the bus station and decided that I would go see Manatees and then the Belize Zoo. As the bus approached Gales Point where the Manatee live, it was raining and everything was muddy. The road that we had been on was not paved. I almost decided to stay on the bus all the way to the Zoo. At the last moment, I got off.
I was in a town which was a peninsula with one little dirt road down the middle. I began to explore the town.(55, 56, 57, 58) What I found out was that the Manatees were in the middle of the bay. You couldn't see or swim with them off the shore. A man offered to take me out to see the Manatee for US$50. I accepted but told him he would have to rush out, show me the Manatee, and rush back so that I catch the next and only bus in one hour.
The Manatee seem to live in this hole in the middle of the bay. We anchored over the hole but the Manatee were over 75 feet away from us. My guide, Ramon,(54) said that they would get closer over time. Within 20 minutes, they were on both sides of us.(52, 53) Unfortunately, the sun wasn't out so we couldn't see them under the water. I had met other people on my trip who said that they had gotten to swim with them, but my guide refused saying the it was against Belizian law.
We rushed back to land and I checked the bus tire tracks to verify that the second bus hasn't passed through. It hadn't. I began walking toward the main [dirt] highway. My walk lasted for about approximately 45 minutes and 2 miles. Up to this point, I was thinking, "The bus just hasn't come yet. It'll be here." As I arrived at the highway at 11:15, I realized, it wasn't coming today or it didn't come into Giles Point like everyone said it does. Starting next Wednesday, I heard that there will be many more bus routes into Giles Point. I'm a week early!
I began to hitch hike. I think 6 cars passed me and none made an effort to stop. (I'm sure they were all laughing, "That STUPID American thinks a Belizian is going to pick him up?") I told my self that I shouldn't get worried about this problem until at least 2 pm. Oh okay, so it won't be a Belizian, but surely that American Marine Jeep will stop... Even they just smiled and left me standing in the middle of nowhere! Now I'm really getting worried. Stuck out here, with only a half bottle of water and now, a bright sun. Just out of the blue, this Kia Sportage showed up, slammed on the brakes, opened the door and out pumped this loud heavy Reggie music. I jumped in without anyone saying a word and the driver took off. I looked at my watch and it was only 11:30 am. Am I relieved.
No one ever did say a word nor could you hear them over the music. I did say Zoo, the driver looked at me in the rearview mirror, and kept going. By the time we got to the main road, I was now completely down to earth. The worse thing that could happen is that I have to catch a bus and they run often on this road. But the driver turned away from where I thought the Belizian Zoo was located; I kept looking back behind us to make sure that I didn't see any signs when the driver suddenly stopped. We were in front of the Zoo! I gave the driver US$5 and he acted surprised that I would do such a thing. I told him I didn't care if he was a taxi or not, just Thank You for picking me up!
From here, my day gets boring. I go to the Zoo.(63, 59, 60, 61, 62) I catch a bus to Belize City.(65, 66) There, I catch a boat(64, 67, 68) to Caye Caulker. As I walk the sandy streets, I talked with a local who suggested hotels and restaurants. I didn't chose any of her hotels because they weren't "festive" enough for me. I want a place where I get to talk to people; I guess this is why I like Hostels so much. I ended up taking the last room in this dump where a lot of people have gathered, but so far, I haven't met anyone. Half of the people next door were on the boat with me, but they don't speak much English and I think they are from Europe.
Everyone says that I should go to Caye Chalker, but I can't figure out what's so special. Yes, it's nice and friendly, but what's so special? A Belizian couple on a long weekend vacation said that it was the rustic atmosphere. The roads aren't roads; they are hard beaches. Everything is covered in sand including the restaurants and bars. All the locals go barefoot or have a golf cart they drive around. (All with a license plate.) There are no cars on this island, or Caye (Key). And there's this bar which everyone across Belize knows about, it has swings hanging from the ceiling and they play Bob Marley music.
I think I'm going diving in the morning. I have to get the computer to wake me up again.
March 5, 2000
This morning started off with a really good breakfast, but since they, nor did anyone else, open until 8 am, I almost missed my dive trip. As of 8:30 when my breakfast hadn't arrived, I was getting real stressed. The stress made eating pretty hard even though the eggs and pancakes were really good.
By 9:50, I was at the dive location, but no one was there! I looked around and the only person working was a guy sanding a boat. So, I turned around and headed off to my backup dive trip. The backup trip had asked me to be there by 8:15, but they suited me up without hesitation. Shooo... I'm getting to go! In fact, they charged me less than advertised; I'm not sure why but the guy knew it. Great!
The first dive wasn't all that exciting, but then, I don't ever get to see any really great fish. Same thing as when I was in the jungle. We dove on the reef off of St. George's Caye.
For a break, we went to the island. Since I had left all my money and equipment back at the dive shop, I couldn't buy anything. First, I walked around the island(69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77) a bit and then laid down for a nap. About 10 minutes later, the boat mate woke me; everyone else was on board the boat and they had already untied it from the dock! I'm surprised that I didn't hear everyone leave. I was on a swing just under porch where everyone was sitting. They had to walk by me to get to the boat. All that's important is that they got me.
My dive buddy, Marcel from Swisserland, hated me. Just before we went into the water for the second dive, he asked that we stay a little closer to each other. I told him that he never left my sight on the first dive but that he was easy to spot because of his red hair.
On this dive, we saw a shark! It came right through the group and didn't even stop for a snack. It was the most docile type of shark there is; I don't know the name for it. In fact, I didn't even recognize it as a shark until I was chasing it.
Walking off the dock, I asked Marcel if I did better the second time around. He said "Yes" but he proceeded to tell me that swimming around looking at everything uses up my air. What he was really saying, in a polite way, was "No." I'll warn my next dive buddy in advance of going down with me.
I tried to get a bunk at the Hostel, but two girls and a guy had just stopped by then returned while I was filling out the paperwork. There was only one bunk left so I let them have it and went out searching for another place to stay.(78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83) I ended up at the same room that I slept in last night. Even though it was poor quality, I knew what to expect.
For dinner, I took my Newton to have something to read because I knew it would take a long time to get my order and food. At least, this is the trend here in Belize. I went to the second restaurant that the local girl from last night suggested. When I sat down, I looked across and saw Natcho, the Dive Master's helper, and his girl friend. He's from Chile and is staying here long enough to get his Dive Master's license. Then he'll go to Mexico; he didn't know if he would lead dive tours or what.
In the middle of our conversation, a group of loud guys came in and sat down; one at my table. They said that they are not a band, but a group of musicians. They do Belizian Reggie music. Because I didn't know what that was, two of them began banging on the table and singing. The rest of them play musical backup to these two. BUT, their not a band! Last night, I went to the club where they will be playing. I didn't like last night's music so I probably won't go back, pay the US$2.50 cover charge, to hear these guys. I have another hour to figure that out.
My dinner tonight was almost the same as last night. It seems that everyone here cooks fish whole. It was good and fun to pick at the food while it looked at me, but I just didn't expect this to be a common way food was prepared. It was also hard to see the fish bones; I was sitting in a dark corner with flashing Christmas tree lights hanging above.
This was the second meal that was good, but not filling. Therefore, I took a walk through the grocery store. I can't figure out why food is so cheap here. Most of the items on the shelves cost as much or more than at home. Many of their items were covered in dust, as if they are getting old Frito chips; I didn't think to check the expiration date. Maybe it's all the sand and dust in the air.
For once on this trip, I think I am relaxed. I know where I'm sleeping tonight, I know that I won't starve to death, and I know I get to take a clean bath tomorrow night!
March 6, 2000
Who did I meet this morning? but my old Dive Buddy Marcel and his friends at Glenda's restaurant. This is the third time I've run into them since the dive trip. And wouldn't you know it, two of his traveling companions, who also dove with us, are going back to The States on the same plane as me!
It has amazed me how often I ran into the same people, over and over again. On the water taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City, I saw Patrick. He is a tour guide from San Ignacio. Also on the Water Taxi was a guy from the room next door to me in the Tropicana Star. Then at the airport, there was a girl who I talked to last night at the Bob Marley swing bar.
For the time between breakfast and the water taxi, I had been trying to mail post cards, but the Belizian Post Office was closed. It seems that Friday was National Children's Day and today they were celebrating a canoe race from San Ignacio to Belize City; that's approximately 110 miles. Because of these holidays, I couldn't get postcards in the mail. They don't sell stamps anywhere else but the post office. As I waited for my Water Taxi to leave, Marcel and his girl friend, Elizabeth, were seeing their friends off. I remembered seeing some postcards on their breakfast table this morning and so I asked Elizabeth to mail my post cards. Now my friends who want cards from me, and mailed from within Belize, will be happy. Thanks Elizabeth.
From the Water Taxi port, I forced myself on Marcel's friends, Tony and Astrid.(85) I tempted them with half the taxi fare to the airport if I could hang with them. We had Chinese food at this scary hole in the wall. Tony said that they originally skipped this place because it looked so bad on the outside. On the inside, it's pretty nice and the good was really good.
I never could figure out if I was suppose to tip or not. I did figure that bartenders are not tipped, but I couldn't figure out waitresses. Astrid said that no one expects it and are surprised when you leave money behind. I said "Thanks for telling me now that I'm going home." Then, as we looked for a taxi, I told them that taxi's have green licenses plates; she reciprocated by saying "Thanks for telling me now that we're going home." These people were cool and I'm glad I got to spend my last day in Belize with them.