Published: April 27th 2011January 24th 2011
A person's first introduction to the Belizean bus system can come as a bit of a shock, particularly to someone used to the Mexican system of tickets and actual bus terminals. The bus from Vallodolid to Chetumal, the last town before the Belizean border, was much as any other. It stopped at a terminal of sorts, and we got off, fighting with pushy Mexicans to get our bags from underneath.
With a slight hiccup it eventuated that we had got off at the wrong place, but a short taxi ride sorted that out. The taxi pulled up at Mercado Nuevo, and I looked at the cabbie quizzically.
“Si, allá esta los autobuses para Belize.”
What we were looking at was a confusing mess of very old American ex-schoolbuses parked with no discernible pattern along a street near a market. It all became clear the moment we emerged from the taxi. We were immediately surrounded by eager Belizean blokes calling various destinations out. It sounds confronting, but, in fact it was quite the opposite. The blokes were unfailingly friendly and helpful, and in short order we were on a bus, backpacks jammed in up the back..
bus quite quickly filled with other travellers, many of whom appeared to be Belizeans returning home from Mexico with a crapload of shopping. Most of their purchases were clearly innocuous - dunny rolls, nappies, huge packets of lollies - simply things they could get more cheaply in Mexico. Of concern to the blokes running the bus, however, was a small box that one woman had on her lap. The box read “1000 Luces para Navidad”, but the airholes punched in the top of it hinted that it no longer contained Christmas lights.
It seemed likely that this was going to cause a problem at the border, but after a lengthy discussion, space was found for it in the smuggling compartment. This was a panel above the door which could be undone with a screwdriver, revealing enough room behind the panel for a couple of cartons of cigarettes, and a snake/chicken/ferret/whatever the hell it was in that box.
For the first time the border was more of a breeze for us than the locals as they had to declare all their goods and pay what seemed to be a fair amount of duty on a lot of it. For
us, the border bloke discovered we were Australian, stunned us with a few surprising bars of “Land Downunder”, and stamped us through.
We had then almost a quarter of the entire country still to travel, so we settled into the sticky vinyl bench seats. An hour or so later we arrived at the oddly-named Orange Walk. Wiki told me it was named after the marches through Ulster in Northern Island, so I put my IRA t-shirt away.
There was a nicely done up little motel across from the bus station/market/football field, so we grabbed a room there.
Not a hell of a lot to do in Orange Walk, actually, except walk about and do a tour to the Lamanai Mayan ruins. After a couple of quiet brews we decided to take the opportunity to walk about and pay a visit to the ruins.
The town was very different from the Spanish speaking towns, and it was more than just the signs in English and profusion of Chinese restaurants (I found out later that Belize has some sort of immigration arrangement with Taiwan). The place is incredibly laid back, for one thing, and the beer is actually good,
in particular Banks and Belikin. Must be the British heritage - I do love the Spanish influence, but the Latinos should stick to making rum and tequila.
We headed off on a tour the next morning. You really have to do a tour – the independent option is to catch a bus or bum a lift for about 4 hours, look at the ruins, then come back. The tour option involves a 2 hr boat trip up the river through the Belizean jungle, and it's really not that expensive. Along the way they stopped to show quite a lot of wildlife, most of it very interesting.
And, honestly, we tried very hard to look as excited and interested as the rest of the tourists when we stopped to look at a 2 foot Caiman. Why, it was almost as big as a decent goanna!
The ruins themselves had a delightfully underdeveloped feel to them, almost a bit Indian Jones-ish, with 90% of the ruins still unexcavated (the Belizean government having run out of money). The guide was clearly over qualified and bored, obviously wishing he was actually doing archaeology work, but he was a goldmine of information.
Then a high speed boat trip back down the river to Orange Walk. Very nice apart from a couple of lowlights – namely my offering of my Mexican Barcelona FC hat to the river and our side of the boat receiving an unappreciated show from the Korean-American girl sitting opposite sans underwear.
The parentals feeling crook, Klaire and I headed out for a feed, and found a nice spot down by the river – fans, mozzie coils, geckos chirping, beers on a verandah. Aside from the drunken American expats in the background it was much like being back in Darwin.
There are more photos below