The old man watched the riders approach, the heavy bikes, the bulky clothes. This small town could not be their way. He stood up not quickly but still smoothly from his chair and stepped off the porch and to the fence, urgently stretching his arms to the sky, waving, waving again: stop! The riders slowed, stopped: the old man did not seem to have something to sell. The old man said, “Belize City is toda left! You must turn arount, and keep toda left!” The riders spoke and waved their thanks. The old man nodded as he seated himself again, the benediction of the Patriarchs in his gentle smile.
Later the boy from down the street would come by to help him fix a board on his fence. The boy’s mother made him but the boy was not unwilling. The old man was exacting but kind: the boy knew respect, unlike his neighbor’s boy whom he occasionally scolded less for any specific infraction than for a general slovenly ignorance. Perhaps tomorrow the old man would go fishing and then join the group at the store to discuss the world, his opinions broad-based if definite.
We got a 9-year-old guide who apparently has a Ph.D. already, David. The kid was super knowledgeable and showed us a clearwater spring in the jungle.
Joe drinking water in the Jungle
Later he took us to where the captives were sacrificed. He noticed our obsession with the topic. “Where did you hear about the captives being sacrificed?” he asked in despair. “Oh, in books, as children. There were pictures. We liked them.” He looked at us sadly. “And you came here for this reason?” We felt our studious mien slipping. “Ah, well, you know, for, um, other reasons too. Can we go there now?” He took us to where the captives were sacrificed. We liked it.
After Palenque we went down the road to Xpujilah, Dzibanche, and Kunichna, which we chose for the difficulty of pronunciation.
At the second set of ruins, a sign said “don’t climb the temple!” But there were these awesome doors that looked intriguing, five steps up. We looked around. We readied the flashlight. We sprinted up the steps. “AAHH! That tunnel doesn’t go anywhere! Next door!” We made a left face and sprinted three steps. “AAHH!! This tunnel doesn’t go anywhere! We’re exposed! Back down!” We sprinted down the steps. I stumbled and did a “combat roll”. Safely past the protective line we walked nonchalantly like nothing had happened. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, on the road to Mexico.
We were exhausted from climbing the ruins and doing combat rolls, so we rode back to the road without our protective clothing. We know, bad idea, but better than heat stroke. We wore these goggles we got from a firefighter. As I passed the town kids, they stared. Joe, in full steampunk mode, made the face shown below. The kids’ jaws dropped in utter astonishment. I am not certain they will ever recover.
Joe on the bike
At the road as we tightened Joe’s chain before putting on our heavy suits, a guy stopped and produced ice cream! On-the-spot salesmanship, capitalism at its finest. I scream, you scream, we scream for ice cream.
Then we decided to go to Belize! We were closer to the border than we thought. After a little extra paperwork to get out of Mexico, we went through Belizean customs and immigration, which was hugely easy. A Creole going through spoke with us a bit: “Man, you got to respect the great God above – he is the master over we!”
Right after we crossed the border I almost died. My tank bag, which I had failed to close correctly, came open and my passport and other documents fell out! Focused on this potential catastrophe, I executed a U-turn in front of a blind curve without looking properly. A cop car did some admirable braking and swerving to avoid hitting me. The cop was upset: “Look man, I got no problem wit’you, just because I’m a cop! But next time, there is gon’be a crunch! There is gon’be a crunch!” We were like, man, the cops here are chill. Maybe because their car read “Donated by the US Government”. Also, we were told they can’t be bribed.
That night we stayed in Orange Walk. We realized we had just crossed a quarter of Belize. Small country. Nice.
A street performer who gives impromptu lectures on the history of the word “Belize” entertained us for a bit and got some money out of us. He called himself “Prince Charles Paris”.
Then we visited the Belize Zoo, “the best little zoo in the world”.
Coastal Road, due to which I had to patch my front tire. Recommend you go around. We saw a guy pushing his bicycle since the chain had died, so we stopped and gave him some water. Wish he’d said we were taking the tough way through.
Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Co. and Jungle Lodge
For $15 US, we got a bunk with a comfortable mattress and clean white sheets and a great fan, and access to a warm shower and a hot tub. Everyone here bent over backwards to help us out. If you’re backpacking in Belize, this is the best 15 bucks you’ll ever spend. If you’re looking for a place with great activities for the whole family, they also have a cave tour and rappelling, and they are right across the road from Blue Hole National Park.
Belize actually has a substantial Mennonite population, one of whom owns the best motorcycle parts store in Belize – “Wolfe’s Garage”, in Spanish Outpost, down the road from Belmopan. We got three inner tubes, one front tire (Dunlop), one mirror, and one chain, for $170 (US). Then we went down the road and bought cookies. And yes, they still dress in the clothes and speak the old tongue.
Impressions of Belize
1. The country is sparsely populated. You cross the border, and there’s just not a lot there. The highways are small roads, with few road signs and no distances. The buildings even in Belize City look uncared for, as though fewer people live here than in the past (though actually the growth rate is one of the highest in Central America). Facilities can be difficult to find.
2. However, there are many resorts, and great restaurants.
3. The people are fantastically friendly. Belize apparently has no national literature; I assume the culture is found in music and dance, boating, and the sports we saw.
4. Driving the Hummingbird Highway, I have never seen more beautiful countryside anywhere, even in Hawai’i.
Today we’re going to Guatemala. I’m homesick for Spanish.