Monday, October 12, 2009

Southern Belize

September 6th and 7th

In Placencia, we finally bid a fond farewell to Anna and Ali who are continuing on into Honduras. We've got plans to re-enter Guatemala and see the jungle gorges around Livingston and Rio Dulce, whilst they are keen to make up some time and put some miles in further south. So we head our separate ways. Good luck guys - it's been great riding together and we'll catch up somewhere else on this big blue/green ball of a planet....

Rather than ride north back along the Placencia peninsula, Sue and I take a short boat ride across the lagoon to 'Independencia'.

Oh the King is Coming....


Unlike Guatemala and much of Central America, Belize is mainly tropical lowlands with just a small, largely uninhabited mountain range in the centre of the country. The Maya Mountains top out at around 1000m (3300ft), small bumps in comparison to Guatamalan monsters; many of which soar comfortably above 3500m (11,500ft). The roads here skirt the highlands and riding generally looks like this....


It's hot, sultry work. To the west we see the Maya Range that would provide some spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea and some welcome relief from the heat, but the Humingbird Highway and now the Southern Highway were built to circumnavigate these peaks....


After suffering the loss of Anna and Ali, we are lucky to recruit a new team member on the road. On hearing we are heading to Guatemala, young Diego sets off in hot pursuit, his tiny legs a whirring blur as he tries to keep up....


He's with us for a couple of miles, before we convince him to return home....

Unlike this one that's been following me for about 9,000 miles now....


It's an easy ride through 3 different national parks - the 'Savannah', the 'Swasez Bladen' and the 'Deep River' Forest Reserves. Belize takes it's conservation seriously, in the sense that 40 percent of the country is now national parkland and many of it's animal species are protected. We meet a marine biologist - Penelope who's worked here for several years and explains she is still torn between; on the one hand the government's desire to do good, and on the other it's opportunistic cash grab by taking otherwise unused land and charging an entry fee to tourists.
Hhhmmm that's a tricky one.

What's not up for debate is the beauty of the land. Not in a spectacular sense like the Guatemalan Highlands. No, here it's more of an easy going type of easy on the eye. The variety of bizarre flowers is impressive....


The variety of the people is also impressive. Belize probably has the biggest diversity of peoples I have ever seen anywhere, and this in a country about the size of Massachusetts state. Placencia was mainly a 'Creole' town, where Dangriga was mainly 'Garafuna' or 'Garinagus', a mix of indigenous South American and Africans. A third of the population are 'Mestizos' of indigenous Central American and European descent, and there are also Indian, Chinese, European and North American communities. Added to that are a range of Mayan tribes, the 'Yucutec' in the north, the 'Mopan' in the west where we crossed the border and here the 'Kekchi'.

You only have to ride a couple of hours for the language, the clothing and the shapes of the faces to change completely. Gone are the wooden stilt houses of the Creoles in Placencia and the more Guatemalan style Mayan huts and corn fields now dot the landscape....


An hour later, the colourful traditional Mayan dress fades out and it's all American baseball caps, colourful basketball shirts and bling-bling as we near the American rapper styled town of Punta Gorda and it's 'Garifuna' population. We're back to Caribbean chill-ax and the bikes reflect the laid back attitude - beach style cruisers are the rides of choice round here. Single speed - no brakes, white walled fat tyres and very cool....


Punta Gorda is pretty much the end of the road - this is literally the southernmost road in the country. Belize is not particularly blessed with an abundance of routes, but then not many people drive and the roads that do exist are empty. South of here there is nothing and the only transportation out of Punta Gorda is by boat, either to Honduras, or to Guatemala. We have to spend the last of our Belizean dollars and 'Miriam's' restaurant offers a good opportunity with it's fine blend of Indian and Caribbean cooking. We spend an evening reminiscing about past bike tours with Vanessa and Piotr, a couple we met in Placencia and then again in Punta Gorda who rode from Italy to Spain.

We also discover 'fry-jacks' for breakfast, an oily, bready, corny deep-fried thing that is totally bad for you and totally delicious with eggs and hot sauce.

I took a photo of the last of the money before we converted it all to food. It just seemed a bit weird seeing the British Queen on currency not only denoted in dollars, but sporting pictures of jaguars as well! The back of the $20 depicts tapirs, ocelots, spider monkeys and a raccoon like 'coatimundi' and is very cool....


Can't say a lot happened in Punta Gorda. It is described in the guide books as being so laid back, the locals can't even be bothered calling it by it's full name. Even the road signs refer to it rather diminutively as 'PG'.
It's true! Nothing happened here and 'sleepy' is an understatement, but it's a nice place to relax on our last Belizean stop before heading through Immigration, parting with a $37.50 exit tax and boarding the world's smallest international boat....


Next stop Livingston and a return to Guatemala...

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