Published: April 18th 2011April 13th 2011
One of the most relaxed border posts I’ve been at, the pier at Punta Gorda (a.k.a. PG) an it’s adjoining customs office stamped all the gringos aboard the lancha from Puerto Barrios through in a matter of minutes. Another day at the office for them, I guess. Some of us changed shirts as we had gotten quite wet on the way. A restaurant just up the road was able to exchange Quetzals for Belizean Dollars at a good rate (Q8 = B$1) and a chicken bus was waiting to take us north. Actually I’m not sure if these old school buses from the USA are the infamous chicken buses. This one wasn’t full anyway and quite comfortable. It took two hours or so to Placencia, or the stop on the main ‘highway’ for the city. I bought a fresh piece of banana cake, still warm, and a drink as I was fairly dehydrated after the boat ride from Guatemala.
The bus went all the way up to Belize city, but I got off at the junction with the road to Hopkins
. It sounded like a nice little town, and I didn’t want to travel all the way to Caye Caulker
in one go. Apparently there was a local bus taking me the 4 miles along the mainly dirt road to the town, so I was waiting for that when a bunch of local teenagers jumped off a jute and hailed a vehicle just turning onto the road to Hopkins. The driver opened the back and we all hopped in, immediately realising we had jumped into some kind of cattle truck. Although it had clearly been cleaned well, the smell still was obvious. With the truck driving however, most of the smell blew away, and with the dust trailing us and the laughter of the local teens blowing away in the wind, we had soon arrived. As I headed north to a place I had seen advertised at the junction, a local Garifuna kid named Ryan joined me in my walk. He offered to take me to my designated spot for a Dollar, and I took the offer. We walked along the beach and it was quite a walk so when little Ryan offered to carry my rug sack (not my backpack ha ha) for another Dollar I gladly took that offer as well. Great little boy, very smart, telling me
how his friends from school called him a thief, stealing from tourists as they had probably seen him do this before. They didn’t understand, like Ryan did, how money could actually be made by walking up to ‘your kinda people’. He told me all about the town and his school, his 4 brothers and sisters… I enjoyed the talk and didn’t mind the walk because of it. The place was nice and although there were no beach cabanas as advertised, I took the cool room under the house for B$25. The owner, a local woman named Trish was on a shopping trip to Mexico and so the place was managed for the moment by a bunch of older American guys. One had lived there for over a year in his trailer, driven down from the USA.
Sweet little back girls came selling hash brownies, cakes and other baked goods, while I kept chatting with little Ryan. He was waiting for me as he had heard me say I needed to buy cigarettes, and I guess he saw an opportunity for more money to be made. I didn’t want to keep him waiting too long, so walked back with him
into town to Hopkins store, a Chinese owned store. Apparently, a lot of the stores in Belize are Chinese owned. In fact, I heard a not so pleasant story about the Chinese presence in Belize. Just last week, 2 Chinese were shot and killed in Belize city, and 1 in Dangriga. During my stay in Belize I heard different stories, among them that they were in the drug business or that they had been carrying large amounts of money at the time. I don’t know if any of it is true though. Sad enough, of course, and the Chinese boys working the shop told me they felt scared. I paid little Ryan 3 Belizean Dollars, of which one he spent on crisps. By invitation from the little man himself, I bought the drink for him so he could wash it down with. I told him however, he was to go home and eat dinner and save the remaining Dollars. (I didn’t believe his story how he needed money to pay for his report card anyway he he)
I ate with the guys at Kismet Inn, and listened to stories of the Iraq war (as some had worked for the
US army) and chipped in on interesting discussions on USA, China and the likes. Good conversations! With the breeze blowing in from the beach right into the room, and the sound of the lapping waves, I slept well.
I didn’t do much the next day, as none of the promised free bikes were either available or working. I had planned to cycle to Sittee river but walked through town and read my book in front of the guesthouse instead, joined by the local pack of dogs and free roaming chickens. In the evening I met up with Ryan and spoke to him in front of the other Chinese shop in town, where you come in from the main road. Practiced my (little) Chinese with the owners who had come here from Guangdong province (where most overseas Chinese entrepreneurs are from) and seemed to like the place, so he said. If his wife felt the same, I wasn’t quite so sure about. With their kids back in China, QQ and 1 or 2 Chinese TV channels was all that they could hang on to. All other was foreign to them it looked like to me. The guy seemed to get along
well with the locals though, having picked up a little of the local Caribbean English Slang (Creole). Talking to a few locals later on, I understood the Chinese in Belize are overall respected and appreciated, so that was good to hear. Talking to a Hispanic teenager later on, or actually he started talking to me. Most of what he had to say seemed influenced by the hormones going through his 18 year old body I guess, coz it was a lot of p***y and f***ing. After talking to him for a while though, he was able to have a normal conversation as well, and that’s how I find out he originally came from Guatemala, but moved to Belize with his parents when he was a kid. Upon asking why his parents had chosen to move to Belize, he said it was mostly because of safety issues. He found work through his brother as a carpenter in Hopkins and rented a room behind the Chinese shop. Good kid.
Although I loved the town and the feeling I had with it (As a local woman said to me; ‘Yeah man, you can come live here you know, find yourselves a nice
Doin' up hair, Hopkins
These ladies told me: 'You like'em up here, you come live up here!'
black girl’’), I did want to move on to Caye Caulker. I took the local bus that leaved from the main road in town to Dangriga, but got off somewhere along the highway where it met up with the bus to Belize city. Found a bank in the city that accepted Maestro cards, which was good, but then arrived just after a departure of the water taxi to the island, which was not so good coz it meant I had to wait nearly 3 hours. I filled my time buying new sunglasses as my old ones had broken, at a shop called ‘super save’ and eating a ready-made meal consisting of a salad, pasta and a great chicken leg. Man, the chicken you get in this area, with Jamaican jerk spices and what not, FANtastic! I was given a beer by a USA couple on holiday from the USA, freshly flown in from Wisconsin, who admired my way of living. I told them what I tell most others who admire this lifestyle; ‘it’s either one of two, you got the cash but no time, or you have the time but little cash’, to which they happily agreed. The boat ride
was all right, although the vibrations from the engine sitting in the back were a little to much to bear for me. Happy I had arrived I checked in, joined by a Japanese guy named Liu, a guesthouse called Marin’s. Painted bright green and white, with a little sandy courtyard in the middle, at B$ 30 it wasn’t bad. The shared bathrooms, like the rooms, were all spacious and clean. There was some time left before sunset so I walked straight to ‘the split’, the northern end of the southern part of Caye Caulker, where hurricane Hattie split the island in half in 19... The beach wasn’t all that nice, mainly a hard and flattened piece of coral with a thin layer of sand on it. The bar at the split, playing loud reggae (mostly Bob Marley, like everywhere else) sits right on the edge.
That night, and the next, I had dinner with the Japanese guy, trying to get some sort of conversation going. It was very hard though, with this guys’ limited English. Amazing though, how this guy from Tokyo, selling glasses in an opticians when back home, planned to travel the whole of Central America and
part of South America in the space of just 3 months, with the language barrier between him, other travellers and the locals. My respect! My story on what else I did on the island I can keep short; mostly I spent my time on ‘the beach’ getting that desired, deep-…… tan I saw all around me. Getting burned, basically. I did rent a mask and snorkel too, but the visibility was poor at the slip, with the current racing through the gap and the constant easterly wind blowing. I did see a stingray however, lots of Barracudas and some smaller reef fish. I practiced my Chinese as much as I could in the local shops and even ate Dumplings at dinner on my second day. (I miss China…)
With Santa Semana coming up on the 17th, and it being the 11th now, combined with the high prices in Belize (the rum is cheap though), I moved on. I took the boat back into Belize city and the bus to the border, from where a shared collective brought me and a bunch of Australians to the ton of El Remate
,on the east side of lake Peten Itza. This was going
to be my base for exploring the Tikal
There are more photos below