Belize - Central America

Saturday, 14 July 2007, Finca Ixobel, Poptún, Guatemala
As you may have noticed, we have now crossed into Guatemala, our 5th country. So far we find it very much to our liking, but more of that later. First the description of our 11 day sojourn in Belize. While not being an overly attractive country to spend considerable time in, it has its interesting and enjoyable spots - and it is like a holiday to be able to speak English everywhere. We understand the importance of becoming more proficient in Spanish, and plan to remedy that as far as possible here in Guatemala, but it was just so nice to remove the language stress for a short time.
Crossing from Mexico into Belize was relatively painless - except for the rip-off leaving Mexico - and the officials on the Belizean side were friendly and welcoming. The customs agent came out to the truck and checked that it was indeed the one we had paperwork for, and then asked us what we had in the camper. She wasn't interested in going inside to look, and told us clearly that we shouldn't be bringing in beer (although she didn't mention that locally it was about $US1.35 per bottle compared with as little as $US0.40 for a can in Mexico - not to mention that the tiny bottles in Belize hold about 100ml less than the bottles and cans in Mexico, or anywhere else we are used to!) and anything else that Belize produces, but after the lecture, she let us keep everything anyway. A quarantine guy asked if we had any fruit or vegetables and when we confessed to a mango, he said to just drop it in a bin somewhere and let us drive off!
We had thought to drive to Orange Walk and find a place to stay but, when we arrived and got out of the air-conditioned truck cab, we found it so hot that we located a bank and a supermarket to procure the necessities, and then kept driving toward Belize City. Our destination was the 'Cucumber Beach Marina' which had been recommended to us as a place to stay in our camper. It is about 5 miles outside Belize City and has a huge gate saying 'Old Belize'. Now I'm not really sure what the Marina is called, but 'Old Belize' is some sort of historical museum that we didn't go through, and Cucumber Beach is a constructed beach which costs $US10 to use (we didn't use that either). There is also a restaurant, which we did eat at once, and then there is the marina which has some very expensive looking boats in it, along with large passenger boats which were always there. We were told that they were used to ferry cruise ship passengers from the ship to shore (Belize doesn't have a deep enough docking facility for the cruise ships to come right in), but evidently there were no cruise ships around while we were there. The other facilities at the marina seemed to be geared toward these clients as well, although locals that could afford it were obviously happy to pay to use the beach on the Sunday that we were staying there.
The marina offered us electricity, bathrooms with hot showers, token-operated laundry, an English book exchange, and friendly, helpful people. We ended up parking our camper there for 8 days.
We drove into Belize City on Sunday to have a look. In Belize almost everything is closed on Sundays - and that which is open closes around lunchtime - so we thought it would be relatively easy to get a look at the 'city' that day. It was, but there wasn't a lot to see that was overly impressive. Belize City is a very poor place and seems to have large portions of it that are tantamount to slums - falling down houses occupied mostly by black people. There was evidence of past glory in the architecture of some of these houses, but the emphasis is definitely on 'past'. It was not really what one would have expected for the largest city in this tiny nation.
One day we took a drive to the Belize Zoo. The original animals in this zoo were collected for a wildlife film and then kept here. All the animals are native to Belize and the zoo is also involved with breeding programmes for endangered species. The zoo is made more interesting by its outrageous signage. It is widely touted as a 'happy' place for the animals, and it is true that most of the enclosures are quite large and the animals have lots of vegetation around, but I must say we did see some of the cat species pacing along the fences of their enclosures. However, it was interesting to catch sight of animals that are around in the wild, but which we would likely never see.
Off the coast of Belize is the second largest barrier reef in the world - and everyone is proud to tell you that. When we mention that we are from Australia, they all know that our reef is the biggest! We decided to leave our camper for a few days and take a boat to Caye Caulker. It turned out to be a relatively quiet place and very laid-back. The only vehicles on the sandy streets were golf carts and bicycles, both of which are for hire. We found the place small enough to walk everywhere. There was a real feel of being in the Caribbean there. The slow-walking, slow-talking locals added to the colourful atmosphere.

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