Right from the beginning, Belize felt strange. At the border we were energetically welcomed in English, the official language of the country, by an officer of African ancestry, an Ethnic group called the Garinagu forming a small proportion of Belizean population. A few kilometres later we rolled in Corozal, our first Belizean town. Most shops were closed as it was Sunday and the food stalls didn’t have food anymore. We found a Chinese fast food place where a teenage Chinese girl welcomed us. We both ordered stir-fried rice with shrimps. As we sat down to eat the enormous serving of rice older man with what we thought was Creole background wandered the streets on old bicycles or simply walking the streets. Two white ladies walked in Chinese fast food store an also ordered stir-fried. They seemed to know the young girl very well which indicated they were living in Corozal.
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize used to be a British colony from the late 19th century until its independence in 1981. By then people from Mayan heritage, Africans, Creole, Mennonites, East-Indians, Chinese and Indians were already part of the multiculturalism that exists today. This mixture of ethnicities is extraordinary in this small country and sometimes felt strange. On several occasions we walked into a store where the Chinese owner – most of the stores are owned by Chinese or Indians – would sit on a comfortable chair watching Netflix or Skyping on his phone with the volume cranked up to the roof while Mayans employees would unload the boxes full of items to place them on the shelf. When disturbing the Chinese man by asking if they had a gallon of water he would inform the Mayan in a disrespecting way to help me. I felt like the boss had no respect for their workers. It was strange.
We opted for a secondary road along which we planned to camp for our first night in the country. We arrived at a large dirt pit where a guard called Oscar welcomed us and accepted our demand to camp nearby. The gravel was owned by a road-building company who hired Oscar, from Mayan origin, to look after the pit so no-one would come and steal the dirt. Oscar alternated day and night shifts with his brother and was paid a few dollars a week for their 7 days a week, 24 hours a day service. In the morning we sat down with Oscar and could talk as we ate breakfast. To kill time, Oscar shoots birds with a compressed air lead gun or makes sure the 5-foot crocodile living in the puddle of water down the pit doesn’t go out too far. On a night shift, he saw a plane coming down the dirt road and landed within a kilometre from his shack made of steel. It was a narcos plane from Colombian delivering a load. Police officers were present to make sure the drugs would make it to Mexico, so he told us.
After Orange Walk, we veered off the main road and chose to ride the Old Northern Highway and avoid heavy traffic, see what this country was like and have a little off-the-beaten-track experience. The road became rough at times but very manageable. We hardly saw any cars and stopped by the road to pick oranges on numerous occasions. The old highway goes for about 65 kilometres and is the pathway to Athun Ha Maya site, the only site we visited while in Belize. I already talked about this site in a past article which gives more details about this beautiful site.
We skipped Belize City and took the highway straight to Hattieville. The traffic was insane and the road didn’t have a shoulder. After 2 days on the sleepy Old Northern Highway, the main road was driving us nuts. After spending a morning at the fabulous Belize Zoo, we took the slightly less travelled road to Dangriga on the coast. The country is well-known for its pristine, crystal-clear water all along its coastline. From there boats leave for one of the many caye or small islands where diving is world-known. However, many have told us it was way overpriced and we’d better go to Mexico to do the same thing for half the price. We spent an afternoon in Dangriga and decided to skip on the diving. Again, the vibe in town was strange and we were surprised to see too many intoxicated people, young and old.
The following day we took on the Hummingbird Highway, our definite highlight in Belize. The road is well-maintained, with a shoulder, without much traffic and goes through rainforests. With a number of rivers along the way, we could go for a dip to cool down from the heat. We camped at Blue Hole National park and did a short trek in the thick jungle the following morning to arrive at a small yet beautiful natural hole with crystal blue water. There are also a number of caves to explore in the park.
Belmopan, the capital city, looks nothing like a capital. With nothing much to do and visit in town, we found it to be non-inspiring, boring and a disappointing capital city. We stayed a day as we were desperate for a break but at $60 US a night, it was way overpriced and would recommend to skip it altogether.
On our way to Guatemalan border we came across Oleg, another cyclist we had met earlier. He surprised us as we took a break in Spanish Lookout, a Mennonite community north of the main road. They have their own electric power, farming that supports the community and even have their own banks. Mennonites tend to not go out of their community unless they absolutely have too as they prefer to remain on the self-sustained lifestyle provided by their community.
With Oleg, we elected to take a secondary road leading us just before the Guatemalan border but dark clouds loomed above us, menacing of an incoming storm. Sure enough, in the middle of nowhere rain started. We found shelter in the small house of a farmer who took us in while the storm passed. It bucketed down for about an hour before we could go back on the muddy road. We had to change our plan and go back on the main road as this track was rendered too muddy by the rain. Just after crossing a bridge leading into San Ignacio, the rain started falling again, forcing us to wait under a narrow awning of a building. The night was coming fast but luckily the rain stopped before sunset so we could push to the town where we searched for the Bomberos who had just moved to another location. We finally arrived at the station where we could pitch our tent.
We only had a few kilometres to do before the border during which Oleg had a mechanical issue; his front derailleur broke. Shimano XTR doesn’t last forever, it seemed. After a quick fix at a petrol station, we arrived at Benque Viejo Del Carmen at the border with Guatemala. The crossing went super well apart from the constant rain. Belize was behind us, a new country waiting to be discovered!