Saturday May 8th to Wednesday May 12th, 2010
Finca Paraiso, Guatemala to San Ignacio, Belize
San Ignacia to Douglas D'Silva
Douglas D'Silva to Caracol to Spanish Lookout to Orange Walk, Belize
Orange Walk to Palenque (just stopping over, all ruined out by now)
Palenque, Campeche to San Cristobal De Las Casas to Arriaga, Chiapas
Rio On Pools, Pine Ridge Forest, Belize
Crossing into Belize was one of the oddest experiences so far. Some of the Central American border crossings were downright farcical and one took two hours. Phillipe told me that he was at the Honduras border for a 1/2 day. So this 45 minute border crossing should rate amongst the better ones, right? ...not so!
First when exiting Guatemala, everything went very smoothly ...for me. No unofficial charges and no "helpers" pestering me at all. I was wondering why Phillipe, who was one other person behind me, was taking so long. I looked over to the migracion counter and he was waving me over with a somewhat annoyed look on his face. He asked me if I had paid anything and I said no. The immigration lady, who was very nice to me and even smiled at me, was trying to extract 20 Quetzal from Phillipe. We argued that all migracion services in Guatemala are free, and I did so in a somewhat angry voice. She insisted that I had not passed through her wicket but finally she had to back down and let Phillipe pass since she was clearly trying to pad her own pocketbook by collecting bogus fees from "dumb tourists" or so she thought. It felt good to prevail.
This was the easy part since I've gotten used to the Central American way of doing things, especially when someone has a bit of power over you.
Now we go to the icing on the cake with the Belize border ....
Rio On Pools, Pine Ridge Forest, Belize
Spent an hour here climbing around the pools and swimming to my heart's content. It was a weekend so lots of local families enjoying a day out, roasting chicken, drinking Bellikins, and kids and adults frolicking in the cool water.
OK, back to the Belize border. It was relatively modern, there was no sense of anyone being ripped off, no cost for the passport stamp, nor for the bikes, and they spoke English. So what's the problem? ...arrongance on a massive scale. While many of the other border officials in the other countries were surly, unmotivated and slow, they weren't arrogant at all. Here both Phillipe and I felt like we were entering the USA and being grilled like criminals. An exact address was needed for the form and she wasn't about to be happy, if she ever was going to be happy at all in her life, until we provided one. So I suggested we look one up in my guidebook and did so right in front of her. That worked for her. While she looked over Phillipe's bike I dealt with her supervisor for my own bike. I didn't really want to deal with "the bitchy one". Well, it turns out that her supervisor was probably the one with an advanced degree in bitchology from the University of Belize. She started grilling me about where I'd be every night and was counting the nights to see if they added up to my stated six days in Belize. She didn't seem to grasp the concept of just ambling around and making route decisions as I went along.
Now don't get me wrong dear reader ...ok, readers (I think one more joined up a few days ago) I actally like Belize and have been there before. The last visit included a great friendly crossing with my bicycle at the very same border.
Yellowtail with young 'uns in droopy nests
Douglas D'Silva, Pine Ridge Forest, Belize
Phillipe was anxious to leave the country the moment he entered it. He seemed put off by the arrogant treatment at the border and was probably suffering from "sticker shock" when exposed to the very high prices in Belize compared to Guatemala and many other Latin American countries. I, on the other hand, was very happy to be here. We shared a $50 cabana at Midas Resort in San Ignacio, where I had camped on my previous bicycle trip in 2006.
After sitting down for an expensive meal in town, accompanied by two Pantie Rippers for me we ambled back to the cabana ...OK, Phillipe ambled and I staggered. Those Pantie Rippers are so named for a good reason :-)
Phillipe had decided to head into Mexico in the morning and I was very much looking forward to exploring parts of Belize I had missed on my previous trip. So this is where we would part ways. I was a bit sad to have him go since I had enjoyed his company. I was also excited about being by myself again. After two months of travelling alone I seem to have gotten into a "routine" of independence.
Caana Temple, Caracol, Belize
Caracol is one of the places I didn't get to visit the last time, along with the Pine Ridge Forest. Luckily they're in the same area so I decided to tackle the bumpy 80km dirt road into the Pine Forest and Caracol, and bumpy it was.
I camped at the ghost town of Douglas D'Silva. There were about 6 permanent residents left, along with 6 soldiers and 6 Koreans working for Carribean Investments. Due to a serious language barrier I still don't know what they were doing there. The evening was spent in my tent without the fly, gazing at the beautiful stars. The next morning the Koreans invited me for breakfast but I had already eaten and wanted to get to the ruins early ...too bad.
View from Caana Temple, Caracol, Belize
Since I have an aversion to tour groups spoiling my solitude in sacred places I opted to go to Caracol early in the morning, as soon as it opened. There is a mandatory sign in and sign out at the military checkpoint. They were telling me that it would be safer to go with the 9:30am military escort but I politely declined, explaining that riding in a cloud of dust just wasn't my thing. They simply told me that I was going at my own risk and didn't try to insist on anything. One of them even chimed in and agreed that mornings were best for seeing animals along the way. Apparently a jaguar had been spotted recently in the morning.
Horse Balls (yup! that's what they call them)
Cojon in Spanish (same idea)
They're apparently used to fight the Bott Bott Fly
So off I clattered without my luggage for the 35km trip to Caracol. For some strange reason the road was paved for the last half of the trip.
The visit to Caracol was absolutely wonderful! There was not a single other soul around and I wandered for almost two hours just soaking in the atmosphere, listening to the birds and howler monkeys, and climbing a few pyramids. I even had a little shut eye on top of Caana temple.
Caana Temple, Caracol, Belize
Caracol has captured my imagination. While only a tiny fraction has been excavated it's actually bigger than Tikal in area, number of structures and former inhabitants. Caracol at one point actually waged war against Tikal and won the battle.
Road from Caracol to Douglas D'Silva
It was now time to head back to Douglas D'Silva to pack up my tent and luggage to move on. On the way back I came across the convoy of tourists heading to the site, followed by a lone military jeep with about 4 soldiers. The soldiers gave me cheerful waves and smiles. All in all, they were some of the friendliest soldiers I had ever met. I had found Belizeans to be very laid back and friendly on my previous trip and this trip was the same ...aside from two border officials.
Douglas D'Silva used to be a forestry town while there was a thriving logging industry in Belize. Unfortunately (due to our own meddling in nature ...look it up!) the pine beetle devastated the entire pine forests and the town was abandoned. The landscape looks a bit eerie with only very small pines all over the place. A sign of what BC will look like not too far in the future. I was unaware that the pine beetle was down here and always thought it was confined to BC and the US Pacific Northwest. In fact, Central America seems to have been hit long before we were. This also explains the kempt look of the pine forests in Honduras, with very evenly spaced, open pine forests. In Honduras the pines are actually quite large and I'm told that they had been hit a lot earlier than Belize and have already replanted many trees.
Rio On Pools, Pine Ridge Forest
Without the Weekend crowds
1000 Foot Falls (actually much taller)
Pine Ridge Forest, Belize
Ferry to Spanish Lookout
Another thing I missed on my last trip was the Mennonites of Belize. So I headed down a very gravelly road to Spanish Lookout. This little ferry takes three cars at a time across the river into farm country which reminds me a lot of Ontario. I guess that's why the Mennonites like it so much ...great agricultural land.
The fellow who was hand cranking the ferry across the river wasn't too happy about my motorbike on his ferry. "The ferry is for three cars, not a motorcycle" he tells me after I had ridden on board. He felt that I should place my bike beside the car in front of me, within the 24" space. In all of Central America so far, I have found that almost no one has a concept of a "big bike". They see a bike and their brains seem to automatically switch into 125cc mode. Needless to say, I politely declined to lift my 500lb, 36" wide bike across two planks, into a 24" space. No big deal mon! He just calmly cranked the ferry across the river without any fuss.
On the Ferry
On the other side I was now very hungry and thirsty. It was after 1:00pm and I hadn't really eaten enough for breakfast. A Guatemalan lady at the bar, where I stopped for a beer, gave me her leftover food for free, since no food was available at the bar. She was just happy to be chatting in Spanish about my bike and trip.
After getting directions to Spanish Lookout I ended up on a beautifully paved road. It turns out that the paved road leads back to the highway. But it was actually fun to cross on the ferry and get some more experience riding on loose gravel. Besides, I would otherwise not have run into the nice Guatemalan lady if I had taken the paved road.
I was in search of Mennonites. So imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered that Spanish Lookout was a very modern rural area with agricultural supply stores, with gleaming windows. The perfectly paved road was straight as an arrow and affluent looking farms lined both sides of it. Tractor workshops and other stores were to be found throughout. Mennonites in dungarees and old fashioned hats were chatting with a mechanic about their pick up truck inside a garage. A young Mennonite woman in traditional garb flew down the main road in a wicked looking ATV (the one with vampire like wings) while a little boy sat in front of her.
Almost back at the main highway I finally spotted a lone traditional Mennonite. Complete with beard, hat and horse drawn carriage. OK, not what I was expecting but very interesting nonetheless.
Traditional Mennonite on his horse drawn cart
Tomorrow I'll be heading out of Belize and back into Mexico. The road east and then north to Orange walk is pretty good with mostly straight stretches suitable for "higher" speeds.
I've always tried to give Central American chicken bus drivers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just didn't see me; maybe they miscalculated, not being used to larger fast bikes; maybe they didn't realize how wide and heavy that bike really was. But now I've come to the conclusion that many of them simply are sociopaths. After all, once you realize that when you're passing someone and the vehicle coming at you is going a lot faster than you thought, wouldn't you hit the brakes and pull back behind the vehicle you were trying to pass? ...apparently not if you're a chicken bus driver. Hey! I just realized why they call them chicken buses ...they love to play chicken with oncoming vehicles! ....wow! now I can go on in peace with that realization ;-)
Crossing back into Mexico was a breath of fresh air. The Belize customs requires a $19 exit fee but I already knew that. The four border officials I dealt with were very friendly and one even talked about his own motorcycle and his need for speed. This restored my faith in Belizean officials and made me realize that the faculty of bitchology at the University of Belize had probably been shut down at the request of the Ministry of Tourism :-)
You just have to love Mexico when it comes to border crossings. They don't really seem to care much about anything and I was just waved through. No passport check, no vehicle import papers check. Just a friendly smile and "keep going" wave. The friendly soldiers at the checkpoint did ask me to open my cases ...the first time this has happened since I started the trip. But they were all very friendly and chatty and were obviously more interested in the bike than the contents of my cases which the never actually searched.
The drivers are once more much better than most other places in Central America. Once you get used to the way of driving in Mexico, you actually realize that most of them are very good drivers. They may be fast ....very fast; it may look like chaos; they may pass in situations that seem freaky to foreigners. But there is a certain flow to everything and it's simply expected that drivers acccommodate each other instead of insisting on their very own private personal space like back home. OK, cities are an entirely different animal and especially taxi drivers there are definitely nuts.
Not much to report from Mexico so far. It's been mostly riding and riding to get out of the flat and hot states of Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Campeche.
The road starts climing and winding into Tzeltal territory in the mountains heading towards San Cristobal De Las Casas. Many signs proudly proclaims this as Zapatista territory. It's quite stunning yet a bit sad to see the relative poverty amongst the indigenous population. To make matters worse they are some of the most beautiful, friendly and gentle people in this area. I guess nice guys do finish last.
A crooked pickup truck putters along in front of me. Two cows in the back seem to be hanging one for dear life as one of them starts sliding against the other. This ingenious Tzeltal driver had installed a very effective "anti tailgating" device in his truck. As I approached from behind one of the cows, whose bum was facing me, started peeing profusely. I waited for a break in the stream and quickly gunned it to successfully outwit his clever device. I guess if you get too close "ur-in" trouble ...OK, bad joke!
The air conditioning in my room in Arriaga did not work. I discovered a great way to keep cool. Put on some socks and a thin T-Shirt. Then wet the socks and the front of the T-Shirt. Lie down underneath the ceiling fan and drift off to sleep dreaming of ice cube filled bathtubs, fresh ocean breezes and long sensous licks of ice cream in the shade.