Monday, September 17, 2012

Belize, Central America

Unbelizeable! You better belize it!

One the overnight bus from Playa del Carmen to Belize City
Crossing into Belize from Mexico was a breeze compared to what we’d experienced crossing over from Mexico moments before. In the dark of night we seamlessly passed through the Belizean immigration and customs counters, getting our passports stamped after a few generic questions from the inspectors, and back onto the bus in a matter of moments.  Too Easy, Belizie!

The bus then sprinted on Belize time in the direction of Belize City. As soon as we got to the final bus station, we hopped into a taxi headed to the water taxi terminal to get the first crossing to Caye Caulker.  

The Caye Caulker hotel private jetty behind us
It cost us $35 USD for 2 people for an open ended return trip to Caye Caulker from Belize City (1 USD = 2 BZD). The ferry was very basic and took about 45 minutes to get to there. When we arrived Gaffa opted to sit in the shade of a palm tree keeping a watchful eye on everyone’s luggage, whilst the rest of us (Quiche, Maverick and I) went searching for budget accommodation. Not far from the ferry dock we found Popeye’s Resort, and had negotiated a pretty good deal (since it was still low season), it was a double double-bed room on  the ground floor facing the ocean, with its own private hammocks and outside table for $60 USD per night between the 4 of us… All this and only a 5 minute walk from the water taxi terminal.

Gaffa relaxing in our private hammock
That afternoon we spent it chilling out at Popeye’s private jetty, swimming in the sea, sun baking and lying in the hammocks. Gaffa fell asleep on the deck and got burnt so he went to the shade to sleep in the hammock. For dinner that night we explored the main street of restaurants and sea side barbeques. Seafood here was caught daily so it was very fresh. We decided on Fran’s Grill for a $25 Bzd/$12.50 USD plate of barracuda, snapper and rice. We also made friends with a local Belize man called Benedict (supposedly he was a Belizean Footie Player, but he looked more like someone who has done some hard times in jail – nervous lol).

Benedict was actually very friendly and offered to take the 4 of us out the next day on a private fishing trip where we could catch our own fish using a line, go snorkelling and attempt spear fishing, then for dinner we would eat the fish we’d caught that day. Sounds good for 100 bucks per couple!
our local Belizian friend
In the morning we hopped on the small boat with Benedict and his fisherman friend. Note to self: never wear white while fishing on a boat with live bait! Gaffa accidentally slapped me with a dead Snapper and my dress got scales and blood on it…. Ooops!

woo hoo! first catch of the day!
I was the first to reel in a catch of the day – YAY! -  I managed to haul a Barracuda in to the boat and the fisherman dude gave me a hand pulling it onboard! Next up Maverick caught some small snappers, but not to be out done – Gaffa proudly reeled in a selection of even smaller Snapper! The boys did eventually catch some relatively edible sized fish, and then Quiche pulled in some more too… All in all we each caught something and had a great time doing it! It was fun doing the line fishing, easy to do in calm seas and a great way to top up the tan too. After this we went snorkelling on the reef and swam around with a spear gun – Gaffa felt weird using it, but Maverick is an obvious hunter – must be the South African roots!!

Gaffa trying out the spear gun
We had some lunch provided – which was, err, interesting – mayo, spam and tomato sangas (or for Quiche and Maverick – just mayo and tomato!) – the real twist was that Benedict used the same knife to cut up the live fish bait, peel oranges and prepare lunch…talk about fishy food!!

Next the fisherman drove us to another secluded location where we had a brief go at lobster spear fishing. The spoils were pitiful, so we moved on.

When we drove back to Caye Caulker island – the locals side of the island (which is largely undesirable) where Maverick and Gaffa were shown how to scale  and gutt the fish. This was a smelly and messy endeavour! Quiche and I decided not to partake in this messy task, but watched instead.

Men hard at work, preparing our dinner
Afterwards we got dropped off out Popeye’s jetty to shower and freshen up, then our dinner arrived just in time! Cooked barracuda with coconut rice and a few vegetables. For the amount of fish we caught, we expected a lot more. So we think that Bennedict sold some of the snapper to make some money on the side….

Dinner :)
The next morning we decided to head out for breakfast. We found this quaint little café called Caribbean Colours, which we visited a few more times before we left Belize. Owned by an American lady who also produced local art. The kitchen of her home was the café kitchen and to go to the toilet, you walked through her living room. Very cosy! We ordered fresh juices, and traditional Mexican breakfasts like nachos, heuvos rancheros, chilli quillis, and also tried her freshly baked muffins.

For dinner that night we discovered these local tacos that were only 1 BZD each. We ordered 5 small tacos each, one of the cheapest dinners ever, only 2.50 USD each! They were good too, with some local Belizian hot sauce on top. 
50c tacos!
The day after we were planning to go diving to the Blue Hole and surrounding reef. Quiche was not feeling well so her and Maverick decided not to come with us. But mother nature decided for us, and we didn’t go diving either because of the bad weather, the dive centre cancelled the day trip out to the Blue Hole. There was a storm brewing.

Since diving was out we booked ourselves onto a cave tubing excursion and a visit to some Mayan ruins. On the postcards, cave tubing looked exciting and fun. But when we got there, we were a bit disappointed. After a walk through the jungle, where there was thick mud, and my thongs broke which Gaffa fixed (yet again!); we finally got to a river. We were tied together, each lying in our own tube, and pulled down the river, going through caves. We were expecting extreme rapids and a bit faster floating down stream. But it was still nice and relaxing floating down the river, being pulled by our tour guide. We had lunch at a local restaurant in San Ignacio.

Afterwards we went to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. These were located close to the border of Guatemala. When we reached the top of the ruins, we could see across into Guatemala. These ruins was also built on a particular location such that, when you slowly bring your palms together across your body, you can feel a magnetic force between your palms. Pretty cool! It is thought that the Mayans were descendents of the Chinese. Makes sense, because all the rooms in the ruins were small (for short people), and there is a large population of Chinese living in Belize. And Mexicans look like Latin Chinese....That night we were dropped off in Belmopan and stayed in a Chinese hotel with large beds, a bit of a luxury for us.
the old school river crossing
Guatemala behind us

The next day we headed south to Dangriga, and took another water taxi to Tobacco Caye. We were told by some fellow tourists that this Caye was a small quiet island to visit and relax for a couple of days. When we got there we found a cabana to stay in. They did not have any air conditioning or fans, but we were promised strong winds from the ocean to cool us off at night. There were however, lots of mosquitos. The mosquito net with holes in it did not help. 3 meals a day was included in the price of the room of 35USD each. So we had tacos for lunch then wandered off to explore the rest of the island. About 15 minutes later, we had walked all around the island – that’s how small it was. We spent some time swimming in the water and sun baking on the deck. But we were soon bored... So we decided to cut our stay short and head back to the mainland the next morning.

our private cabana

 We then headed further south to Placencia. We were told about the lovely white sandy beaches. We are spoilt in Sydney, as the sandy beaches in Placencia were not quite white, they were grey and the sand was hard and grainy. We did enjoy a few days of really nice hot weather though, where we relaxed in the water and enjoyed some more sun baking. Gaffa and Quiche were trying to catch up with the beautiful dark colour that Maverick and I were turning, but some times they’d go a slight red instead of brown!

beach in Placencia
By the time we had gotten to Placencia we had tried and tested a lot of Belizan hot sauces made by Marie Sharp. We discovered that they were sold in almost every local supermarket too. Hot sauces called, 'Whimps not allowed', 'Belizian Heat', and a variety in different strengths from mild to fiery hot. We had to buy some as souvenirs for people back home to try. 
Hot sauces galore!
It was time for Maverick to leave us and head back to Canada. Quiche was unsure what to do, but decided to also head back to Canada to find a job. They were both headed back to Canada, but were leaving from two different countries and coincidentally rendezvousing in Houston to fly back to Vancouver together. How romantic!
Bye Bye Quiche and Maverick! :(
Local transport in Belize, old American school buses!
 After Maverick and Quiche headed for their respective airports, Gaffa and I took a water taxi to Caye Caulker again. We were really determined to dive the Belize Blue Hole. We booked our day trip with Frenchies Dive Centre. It was an early 5.30am start and took about 2 hrs to get to the Blue Hole. The first dive was on the Blue Hole itself. We were used to the Egypt Blue Hole, with lots of colour and marine life. But this Blue Hole was different. It was dark and murky with little marine life. Except there were staligmites and staligmites at 40m, and also loads of sharks swimming around.

The second dive was at Half Moon Caye And we also did a third dive at The Aquarium. The diving in Belize was good, but it’s not somewhere I would come back to. There was some marine life but not an abundance of it.
I'm OK!
Back at Caye Caulker, we spent the rest of the time swimming at the Split and lounging around at the Lazy Lizard. We were ready to head back to Mexico and continue on with our Central American travels. This time instead of taking the bus from Belize City, we decided to try the ferry from Caye Caulker, via San Pedro to Chetumal in Mexico, and then take a bus up to Tulum. 

This process was a little bit more expensive, but a lot easier to get back into Mexico. Quiche took the bus from Belize City back to Cancun, and we were told that it was also an easier process than the reverse route. We had to pay an exit tax as we left Belize and a tax for the national park. The ferry ride was alright, and on the dock at Chetumal we were met by sniffer dogs going through our luggage. We decided to pay a bit extra also to get a direct shuttle from Chetumal ferry wharf to our hostel in Tulum. It saved us getting a taxi to the bus station, then the bus to Tulum, then another taxi to our hostel. We booked a week’s stay in Mama’s Home, and were going to explore more of the Cenotes in Mexico

Until next time, Adios Amigos!  

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