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:

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