Belize February 2011
Belize City (pop 70,800), the capital, is a shabby, run down place with a large black population. I hitched a ride into town with an American living there doing research on coral. Hurricanes had recently flooded much of the town. I have never been panhandled as much anywhere else and was advised to go almost nowhere outside of my hotel. Unemployment is high but Belizeans refuse to do manual labor so Guatemalans have taken over that role. Corruption is high and everybody complains.
I caught a taxi 35km north to Altun Ha, an unexciting Mayan ruin with 2 temples surrounding a grassy plaza. As I was the only one there, it was very serene.
On my last day in Belize City, I caught the 6AM bus to Orange Walk (pop 18,000), and went on a tour to Lamanai, another Mayan ruin 50 miles down the New River. The trip is as much about the river as the ruins. We caught the boat at the Tower Hill toll bridge. Many birds and crocodiles were seen and we passed a large Mennonite town. Mennonites immigrated here in the 1920s and produce 80% of the vegetables and build almost all the furniture. One community has a modern farming community across the road from fundamentalists who use no machinery. The ruins were great with some large pyramids and many howler monkeys. With the largest voice box of any animal for its size, the roar can be incredible. On the way back up the river, the young boat driver took the many corners at high-speed, great fun.
I took a ferry out to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, about 2 hours form Belize City. Most of the many tourists rent golf carts to move around the small island producing a pretty unpleasant atmosphere and it was not long before I wanted to move on.
It is a tiny place, had no carts, narrow dirt streets and a very laid back atmosphere. I stayed in a small hotel run by the ex-secretary of the prime minister.
The snorkelLing was world-class, I went three times and saw lots of great fish including moray eels. The Belize Reef is the second longest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef, but like most coral reefs in the world are suffering. Warmer water secondary to global warming bleaches coral. We were able to hold manta rays and small sharks. Diving the Blue Hole, a sinkhole of startling blue water about 400 feet deep, is a major draw.
SAIL TO PLACENTIA
Ragamuffin Tours offers a three-day sailing trip to Placentia in the south of the country. With a bunch of 20 some-things and a three-man crew of rasta dudes, it was great fun. The food was excellent, there was lots of ganga and the rum punch started with breakfast. We stayed on two islands, the first, Rendezvous Caye, only 60x30m big and on Tobacco Caye, a 5 acre island with a few hotels and a bar. We cleaned out the bar and the party continued well after midnight. I picked up all the garbage on the beach (2 large garbage bags) and don’t understand why such beautiful places are treated so badly.
We snorkelled every day in remote places, adding more fish to my list. Fishing rods hung off the boat and everybody caught something. Unfortunately the sails never went up but it was a very relaxing few days.
KAYAKING AT GLOVERS REEF
Placentia (pop 1,200) is on the tip of a long, narrow, sandy peninsula. I bussed up to Dandriga (11,500) to start a five-day kayaking trip out to Glovers Reef, a 17×6 km rectangular reef outside the main Belizean Reef. The resort was nice with good food and guides but quite lame kayaking as there weren’t many places to go (the other guests were all novices). One off the guides worked on Quadra during the summer and he helped me with my roll (unsuccessfully).
However the snorkelLing was fantastic on the outside of the reef. I went alone to a small caye about an hour from the resort and picked up all the garbage on a beach that we had snorkelLed at the previous day. The park wardens were a rather lazy bunch.
Returning to Dandriga, I had a few days to kill so bussed to San Ignatio (pop 17,000) close to the Guatemala border. I took a tour to Coracol, my 26th Mayan ruin. With a very long drive, I’m not sure it was worth the trip. The highlight of the area is the ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal). Opened to the public only in 1997, it has been well protected and can only be visited with a guide. With a running river in the cave, there were two swims and lots of wading, some up to your chest. The formations in the cave were pristine. After ½ km in the river, we climbed up into a fantastic Mayan ceremonial cave. Hundreds of broken pots lined the walls and were cemented into the floors by the mineralized water. There were several skeletons including one of a hydrocephalic child. 98% of the artifacts have been left intact, making it one of the most authentic archaeological sites in the world, truly one of the highlights of my entire trip so far.