Monday, October 21, 2013

Belize III

After San Pedro I continue on the boat to Corozal, but nothing especially strikes me here so I spend one night and then do the tour to Lamani, a Mayan ruin.  There’s a nice river trip on the way and we spot some wildlife here too, the most interesting of which is the “Jesus bird,” called such because it can walk on water:

There are also trees covered with cacti, which are interesting.  Our boat loses it’s propeller at one point and we have to be towed by another company’s boat to a pier at a Mennonite farm until someone can get down the road with another propeller for us.  Luckily all the tourists on the boat have a sense of humor and no one minds much.

Lamani is interesting and we have a good guide to tell us a bit about Mayan culture. My favorite bit is the faces: What is most compelling to me is how nature takes everything back eventually:

We are in a jungle here (technically, I think, it’s not a rainforest?), and there are howler monkeys everywhere. Boy are they LOUD. It sounds like a cross between someone trying to start a rip-cord lawnmower and the MGM lion.

 Another thing is that everything is BIG here, including the insects!

The view from the top of the pyramid is spectacular - my photos can’t even do it justice.

After Lamani, I take a bus to San Ignacio (unfortunately, because there are only a couple of major highways, I have to go back through Belize City, which is basically the wrong direction). They are getting ready for their independence day celebration, hence the banner. I find it quite amazing how much Belizians love puns involving the name of their country:

Before leaving Belize, I go to the Independence Day celebrations.  Everyone in town is out in the streets, there’s tasty street food everywhere and plenty of makeshift bars.  Despite all the drunkenness and the huge numbers of people from various races and walks of life, everything is peaceful.  I don’t even see a single fight, and I can’t help thinking that if this were Baltimore City, someone would have been shot.  The best moment is three people, including a Rastafarian and a Gringo tourist, in the street playing the djembe, with a very intoxicated very old man who looked like he stepped out of a 70’s blaxsploitation film doing the pelvic thrust in time to the beat.  And I'll leave you with that hilarious image until next time :)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Belize II

While in Caye Caulker, I stayed at Bellas, a super chill hostel made from two converted Mennonite houses. It's $15 BZ (half that in US dollars) for a dorm, with a shared kitchen, hammocks, and canoes and bikes (although they are tiny and do a number on my knees). Def. recommended if you find yourself on the island. Although I would NOT recommend's seems like a good idea to save $,until one night you wake up in an inch and a half of water b/c of a huge storm (how the f*&k did I not wake up before that?!), and pour a full cup of water out of your computer. Luckily the woman running the place was kind enough to let me stay a couple nights in the dorms at the same price, and on her advice I saved my computer by putting it in rice to dry out. The other hostels are, respectively, too quiet and too fratty. Here's a pic of Bellas:

I take one of Bella's canoes out one day,getting a terrible sunburn in the process.I don’t know how, but I end up rowing against the current both ways(!) so it takes a while. It’s cool to see the mangrove swamps though, and some birds. I row all the way down to the airport on the southern part of the island.
So as I mentioned in my last post, I got mistaken for a rasta a lot w/ the dreds...speaking of rasta, check THIS out:

Yes, that really lists such people as Peter Tosh and Abraham Lincoln along with the somewhat more traditional prophets Abraham and Mohammed.

It takes a few days of trying, because it’s slow season, but eventually I find a dive shop going to the Great Blue Hole.  The dives are a two hour, VERY choppy boat ride away – my stomach falls out like I’m on a roller coaster more times than I can count.  You go down to 40 meters, which is the recreational diving limit and the deepest I’ve ever been.  I STILL don’t get “narced” (which is an effect some people get on deep dives that’s supposedly like being high), which is actually a disappointment because I’ve always wondered what it’s like. You swim through these stalactites and stalagmites, but because it’s so deep you’re only down there for 8 min. and it’s cool but a little underwhelming.  

There are two other dives, though, and a visit to the lovely Half Moon Key:

In addition to the beaches, there is a trail to the bird sanctuary, where we spot hermit crabs the size of a Patron bottle, lizards, and tons of these guys:
One of the girls from the boat told me about drinking young coconut – I have to say, I’m not a fan, the taste is too green for my liking. 

After I leave Caye Caulker I take a boat to San Pedro, which is the town on the next island, Ambergis Caye.  I do some more diving, and this time I get to see nurse sharks, which are very friendly and will swim right up and sometimes let you pet them.  They feel like sandpaper.  There are also green moray eels that instantly call back memories of Ursula’s henchmen in The Little Mermaid.  They aren’t actually going to bite you, that creeping opening and closing of their mouth in your general direction is apparently how they breathe.

One of these days I’m going to buy a GoPro (the ubitiquous dive pressure proof video camera) and I’ll have pictures from my dives, but they’re quite pricey.  That's all for now, safe travels everybody, wherever you are.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Belize Part I, Goodbye Dredlocks

First stop on the trip was Belize. It’s an interesting place because it was a British protectorate until 1981. (The following history was related to me by Belizian locals, so I'm sure the British and Guatemalan versions are different. In other words, I take no responsibility for its accuracy)  Belize probably would have been independent sooner, but the British made a deal with Guatemala, whose government still considered it part of their country. The British were supposed to build some infrastructure in exchange for keeping Belize. Of course, as is always the case when imperialist countries make a deal, they reneged on it.

What is most fascinating about Belize is how diverse it is – there are Creole speaking black people, Spanish speaking Latino people, and descendants of various tribes of Mayan people speaking indigenous languages, as well as a smattering of white and Chinese expats. The Chinese are excellent business people, and Chinese food has become quite popular with locals and tourists alike, has have the Chinese-owned grocery and convenience stores.  The most surprising element of this is the large Mennonite community (Mennonites are a white Protestant religious sect who dress and behave much like the Amish with whom my readers are likely more familiar).  They came to Belize many years ago and now grow most of the locally-produced food and meat, although a sizeable percentage of the food in Belize is imported from the U.S.A.  One might think that the locals would resent the wealth and large landholdings of this insular community of gringos, but based on my experience this does not appear to be the case.

My first stop is Belize City which (like most Central American capitols, from what I hear) is a place you come to on your way to somewhere else. It’s not particularly nice and I just crash out in a hotel room after a long day of flying from Portland via Houston. Having never been to Central America, I am a little nervous about getting around and have pre-booked a nicer room than my budget generally allows.  The woman who runs the Bella Sombra Guest House is open and friendly, and I spend about an hour educating her about traveling (as she has really never traveled herself), backpackers, and how she could attract more business by turning one or two rooms into a dorm.  I also explain the basic backpacker demands (kitchen, wifi, booking on one of the three hostel websites), and tell her about Lonely Planet -- aka the backpacker's Bible.  It’s amazing that she knows nothing whatsoever about any of it.   But hopefully she’ll take my advice, because Belize City would benefit from another cheap sleeping option.

The next day, I jump on a water taxi to Caye Caulker, a lazy island that is one of those places you get stuck a few days longer than you planned – and I do. The official motto of Caye Caulker is “Go Slow,” and the best explanation I saw of it was this sign:

I've been getting a lot of "hey rasta girl!" everywhere I go in Belize. Between that and the fact that my dredlock extensions are starting to seriously come out, they have to go, even though I LOVED them.  So, the first night in the hostel, we get some rum and make a party out of cutting them off.  Here I am being worked on by Nicole, who runs the hostel, and Annabelle, my new English friend. You can also see me holding half my dreds.  I still have a couple of them.  Afterwards I kept tripping out touching my head – it felt so small without all that extra hair! 

One of the main things to do on the slooow island is to visit "the split." Caye Caulker used to be one island, but after a big hurricane the island was split in two, and now the area is dominated by a bar, with a pier where you can go swimming.  This is the view from the split to the northern island, which is much less developed.

And here is the bar, where a bucket of 6 Belikins (sounds like pelicans), runs you 10 bucks US: