The Heat, The Heat, The Dang Heat
Morelet Crocodile at the Belize Zoo.
Monkey Bay Camping.
Thursday, Feb 1, 2007
Belize Day 3
Belize City to Monkey Bay Wildlife Refuge
At the crack of 9:30am I set out on the old mountain mule to cycle off towards the western horizon. After riding in circles a few times and asking a few friendly locals, I finally found the Western Highway on my way to the Belmopan area.
The going was good and the road was mostly smooth and flat. The bus drivers here are just as they are in most of the developing world, stark raving mad. If there is no oncoming traffic they gave me a wide berth. If traffic was oncoming the long drawn out honking, in conjuction with the bus not slowing down one iota, was my signal to move into the gravel lest I wished to be crushed. Truckers, as everywhere else I've been, were awesomely courteous. The car drivers here are maniacs too but they're much more respectful of cyclists than back home. A toot on a horn simply serves as a polite notice to let you know they're coming. As opposed to the hostile meaning that takes on back home. I never received this many friendly toots and waves anywhere else. Oncoming drivers were smiling at me and waving with more than one finger. Drivers passing from behind would toot and wave out the window. Passengers sitting in the backs of pickup trucks also waved as their vehicle sped past.
The heat and humidity were taking its' toll on me. Not being accustomed to that mugginess I polished off all the water I had in no time at all. Just before reaching my destination I saw a truck approaching from behind. Trying to be nice I decided to move off the road even though there was absolutely no need for it, since there was no oncoming traffic. I promptly lost control in the 2 inch deep gravel and went crashing down without being able to unclip my cleats. I fell towards the road and my hand went down on the pavement. The trucker was unfazed and gave this weird gringa a wide berth. A van driver stopped to make sure I was OK. Aside from some scratches and a seriously injured ego I was OK.
I usually don't support zoos but the Belize Zoo came highly recommended so I went. All the animals are either rescued or donated by other zoos. After about 3 hours at the zoo where I patched myself up, rebuilt my energy stores, and communed with the animals I spent the night at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Refuge, where the only wildlife I came in contact with were the mosquitos who were eating me alive. This refuge was kinda cool. They collect their own rain water and they reuse the methane from the pit toilet to fire up their stove ...I'm not kidding!
I had dinner at the rather peaceful "Cheers" Restaurant after a nice walk in the full moon. I had been warned about coral snakes and fer de lance. Each time I saw a twig or piece of wire on the ground I jumped. At Cheers I had my first panty ripper, a Belizean drink consisting of coconut rum and pineapple, while listening to everything from country, to Pavarotti, to soft rock, to Gypsy Kings. I felt a bit disappointed since my panties remained intact through the entire experience.
There was a nice young lesbian couple camping next to me but I never got to talk to them very much. We were all tired and anxious to get out of the clouds of mosquitos.
Cool Dip in Roaring Creek.
Friday, Feb 2, 2007
Belize Day 4
Monkey Bay Wildlife Refuge to Ian Anderson's Caves Branch (Blue Hole)
I had not made up my mind what to do or where to go. I was considering many different options, including staying a day at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Refuge. when the students studying there started making noise and turning on the radio at 7:00am I knew it was time to move on. The bags got packed and I filched as much of their drinkable rainwater as I could for the hot and arduous ride to my next destination. Along the way I ran into a racer from the US who was participating in the Temple to Temple race. They were on the 2nd last day of the grueling test of endurance through the heat of Belize.
I arrived in Belmopan, Belize's capital, at the height of the day in sweltering heat. One Chinese shop after another greeted me along the way. I managed to stop at a Chinese bakery to pick up some sweet bread. I cruised the local market and bought some "garnache". Little tortillas with beans, tomatoes and cabbage. It was very refreshing to just be able to walk around the market as a tourist and not be constantly hassled by hustlers. It was all very casual and I felt like I was just another customer browsing for wares. After a one hour lineup at the beautifully air conditioned Scotiabank to cash some travellers cheques I was back on the road. As soon as I turned south on the Hummingbird highway the insane bus drivers thinned out quite nicely. Traffic was very light and cycling through the gentle hills was a breeze, albeit a very hot one.
About a half hour south of Belmopan, croaking from the heat, I spotted a crystal clear creek just off the road. I quickly pulled a u-turn, parked the bike down a little trail, ignored the pile of fly covered excrement up the hill, took my shoes and socks off and jumped into the surprisingly cool water with all my clothing on. I rested and swam for about 2 hours. A Mayan Mopan family showed up to do their laundry and I managed to talk to them for a few minutes before hopping on the bike dripping wet. The cool wetness helped for about 15 minutes until I was once more overheating.
That night was spent camping at Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Lodge. Camping was in a beautiful, albeit muddy, little spot just above the Caves Branch River. I cooked a meal on my smelly kerosene stove rather than springing for the US$17 set dinner at the lodge. I later learned that camp cooking was not allowed ...tee hee! While having overpriced Belikins at the lodge, eight of the Temple to Temple racers were having dinner there. The two dykes in the race immediately spotted me and came over to talk. They were both there at least partly because of my friend Ulrike's article about last year's Temple to Temple Race in The Globe and Mail. It turned out that several of the racers were there because of her article. Ulrike's site can be found at www.miteymiss.com or www.ulrike.ca.
Saturday, Feb 3, 2007
Belize Day 5
Bus to Belmopan and Back, local cycling
A day of rest and relaxation. I started off by taking the $1, 30km bus ride back into Belmopan for some Internet time and to check out the market once more. That was the scariest experience so far. With each corner arms shot out from the seats as passengers braced themselves to avoid sliding off their seats into the aisle. The adrenalin was pumping and the heart was racing by the time the 20 minute ride was done. In true multicultural Belizean fashion I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant called Aloha, being served by a Mayan, while listening to country music. The ride back to the campsite was much more civilized and I didn't wet myself this time around.
For the afternoon I sprang for the $4 entry fee into the Blue Hole National Park. The swimming hole is part of an underground river whose roof has collapsed in that spot. So you take the steps down to a little water hole surrounded by tropical vegetation. The river comes in from underneath but you can't see where it comes from. A great way to spend a hot afternoon. The river then flows into a small cave. I strapped on the miner's light and swam into the cave while singing "De yoh!, de eh eh yoh! daylight come and me wan go home". Cool echo. The cave goes in about 50 feet and then the river just continues underground into the limestone.
I then mounted to old mountain mule and rode the 1 mile to Hermann's Cave. The cave has reflectors installed and is safe to explore with a flashlight. I ended up taking eight students from the University of Vermont into the cave with me until we realized that one flashlight for 9 people simply doesn't work. After I took them back out I went back in by myself for about 1/2 km. the same river that I swam in earlier was flowing by my feet inside the cave. I turned off the light just for fun and experienced the most absolute darkness possible.
The day finished off on the patio sipping Belikins while listening to jungle birds, crickets and some soft reggae in the background. That's when I started counting the insect bites on my legs. 30 so far.