Monday, 13 September 2010

On dirt roads heading south

I left Chetumal on Monday 13th of September and very lazily cycled the 7 miles to the border. The day before I was online trying to work out if there was a departure tax when leaving Mexico by land, some websites said yes, others said no.

When I reached the border crossing I was unsure where the passport control was but a middle aged man in a small concrete hut shouted out “passport senior” and I had my answer. Turns out there is a departure tax and it was set at 200 pesos. By some strange coincidence that was the exact amount of money I had in 1 and 2 pesos coins.....handy that!

With an exit stamp in my passport I crossed the Hondo river and entered Belize. One mile down the road was the immigration and passport control office. After 4 ½ months of not really understanding a word of what people were saying it was nice to be in a country that had the good fortune to have been conquered by a decent empire....everyone speaks English!!!

With a 30 day visa (no charge) in my passport I got back on the bike and cycled the 10 miles to Corozal, a not to impressive small town by the sea. However it did have a good local bar and for the 1st time in who knows how long I stood at the bar, smoked fags, drunk lots of cold beer and talked a load of bollocks with the locals (it's a guy thing!)

After two nights in a slight dive of a guest house I was up early and eager to get back on the road. Sadly, Kevin was in town and as he was a tropical storm with winds gusting up to 50mph I decided to spend an extra night!

Finally on Thursday I got back on the bike and headed out of town on the main road. After a mile or so I turned left onto a dirt road and spent the next 5 hours cycling the 30 miles to the small fishing village of Sarteneja. The day was hot but the road was flat, although very bumpy in places. The traffic levels were great, 8 cars in 5 I had the road to myself, which was good because I was meandering all over it weaving around the potholes and following the shade. After crossing two rivers by means of a hand cranked ferry and seeing my 1st Belizean crocodile and drinking several litres of water I finally arrived at my destination.

Its called “backpackers paradise” ( ) and do you know what, it is. Me being me, I went for the en suite cabana, unpacked my bags and then checked out the hammocks! Later on, before dinner and the 1st cold beer of the evening I discovered whilst locking up my bike that I had a puncture. This time it was a proper puncture that didn't require the inner tube being plunged into a sink full of water in order to find out where the hole was. Bizarrely I was quite happy about it, after 3500 miles I finally got my 1st “proper puncture”!

I'm not to sure how long I'll be staying here but one thing is for sure it will be longer than the 3 days I had planned to.....well it turns out that I spent 6 nights. There were books to read, hammocks to lie in and food to eat. There was also the Shipstern nature reserve nearby, which was mostly waterlogged and full of mosquitoes.

However all good things must come to an end and so on Wednesday 22nd I got back on the saddle and made my way to the town of Orange Walk 40 miles away. The gravel road was mostly smooth but damn was it hot! I found a hotel that had what I needed.....A/C and relaxed!

The next day I was going on a day trip upriver to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. The boat was small and the river was quiet, the trees along the banks reflecting in the still cool waters of the New River. It took about 2 hours to travel the 30 odd miles and along the way the keen eyes of the guide/boat driver spotted several crocodiles, lizards and near the Mennonite settlement of Shipyard a couple of spider monkeys, which came onto the boat and helped themselves to someone's bananas.
When we got to Lamanai we had an early lunch before walking around the site. Out of the 700 odd buildings here only about 10% have been explored and only 6 are open to the public, the rest have yet to be restored. Have to say it was a top place although the climb up and down the largest temple was testing.

When I got back to the hotel the lass behind the counter told me that hurricane Matthew would be dropping by in 68 hours....looks like I'm here for the weekend! On Friday afternoon the weather forecast had changed and Matthew had been downgraded to a tropical storm, so only 40mph winds then.....

After a very lazy long weekend of rain and wind I got back on the bike on Monday the 27th and cycled the 56 miles to Belize city. The road was flat with lots of straight bits but I found it hard work to get my speed into double figures! Several hours later I was about 5 miles from the city, sitting down on the river bank having a rest whilst the sweat slowly trickled down my face. I was flexing my knee listening to the sound of it creaking when the voice inside my head whispered “the knee ain't going to get you to Panama” and for the 1st time I found myself agreeing with it!

I finally got into Belize city and found a hotel 30 seconds before the thunderstorm broke. When it was over I went and got a ticket for the next morning's boat ride to Caye Caulker.