Up close with Junior the jaguar at Belize zoo
Second leg: Flores (Guatemala) to Belize
On Thursday 7 we caught the 5am bus from Flores and travelled east to Belize. The bus was 20 minutes late leaving Flores but despite this we arrived at the border between Guatemala and Belize within about an hour and a half. We had to write our names on a register and at the border everybody had to go through border control (for an entry stamp), immigration and customs with their suitcases/ checked luggage. We had to show our passports at border control to receive an entry stamp and then we had to walk about 50m to another building to pass through immigration and customs. The process was ok but we had to show our passports again for another entry stamp, but this one has a date of when we have to be out of the country. Our coach was slow to pass through the checks, taking an hour in total. Whilst we waited we managed to pick up an extremely cheap snack of two cheese and bean tortillas and a bottle of pop for 6 Belize dollars (the local currency), which works out at around £2.
The entrance to the caves we were tubing through
the length of time it took to get across the border, our bus ride took about half an hour longer to reach Belize than the expected 5 hours but, having arrived at 11am, we still had most of the day ahead of us. Mal and I checked into our hotel, The Bakadeer Inn and took advantage of their advertised 8 dollar laundry service and left them to wash some of our clothes whilst we headed into town for a sandwich and a look around. In town we found a sandwich shop not too dissimilar to Subway inside one of the local convenience stores, which sells everything from clothes to food to toiletries.
After town we decided to make an impromptu trip to the local Belikin beer brewery, which is situated near to the airport and is about ten minutes in a taxi from the centre. We had read that the brewery did tours and we were keen to partake in one. Sadly, when we got to the brewery it turned out that you have to make an appointment in advance to go on the tour, which we weren't aware of. There are no buses or taxis on
Getting ready to float off into the caves
the Brewery road so we meandered back towards the main road in search of a cold drink and a taxi and headed back to our hotel.
Once back at our hotel we were presented with the news that my jeans and a pair of shorts had been "stained" in the wash. When we went to inspect what had happened straight away I detected the tale tale chlorinated smell of bleach and it was clear that bleach had been put in with all of our washing, half of which consisted of dark items. Apparently the person who does the laundry for the hotel didn't realise using bleach would cause stains such as this, at which point I was in complete dispair and I said you should never use bleach with dark clothes.We were too angry initially to discuss the situation with the hotel but after inspecting our washing back in our room it became apparent that much more of our washing had been affected by the staining than they had let on..most of it had suffered some sort of discolouration or bleaching effect. In total around £120 worth of clothes were ruined. The hotel initially offered us 100 Belize dollars (the equivalent of around £33) so we could replace the clothing but I protested and stated that the amount was insufficient.Their final offer was 150 dollars (£50), which will still leave us out of pocket but we had to accept it as it was "all they could afford".
Due to the washing mishap we spent Friday looking around clothing shops to try and replace some of the items. Having packed fairly light due to how often we are going to be on the move, we were desperately in need of a few items. On our hunt we ran into a fairly friendly local who seemed to want to show us where clothing was sold and as friendly as he was, the fact he was hanging around us and waiting for us in every shop soon became a little uncomfortable. Naturally he was only after a bit of money - quite like many of the other locals here who can sometimes be a little forceful and in your face when it comes to trying to sell you things.
After shopping we headed to the museum of Belize. It's a fairly small museum as museums go but there are many interesting exhibits, including an old prison cell from when the museum was formerly the Belize prison, information about Belize currency and stamps over the years, an overview of Belize's boat and railway history, a section on the Mayans and also on insects of Belize (warning this one is not for anyone who hates insects that are the size of a hand!). For 10 Belize dollars per perspon (£3.30ish) it was well worth the visit and the excellent air conditioning was a welcome relief from the 26 degree heat.
Afterwards we went around the corner to a little vegetarian Chinese restaurant called Ma Ma Chen. Mal isn't a big fan of Chinese food so it surprised me that he was willing to give it a go. He ordered a mixed snackbox hoping to find something he liked but he ended up sticking to mostly rice and eating my chow mein! Once finished we headed two doors down to an ice cream shop we had spotted (innovatively called ice cream shoppe) and we tucked into a good old fashinoned ice cream in a cone. The portion sizes were large, similar to a lot of the other eateries around here, but the cost was very cheap at just 4 dollars (£1.30) for a single scoop and 7 dollars for a double. Standard ice cream cones are included in the cost, whilst waffle cones were an extra dollar. As we had an early start the following morning, we decided to head back to our hotel and just chill out watching tv.
The following day (Saturday 9) we had arranged to do a combined tour of Belize zoo and to go cave tubing with a company called Cavetubing.bz. Our guide, Carlos, picked us up just after 8am and our first stop was the zoo around a 45 minute drive away. The zoo is small to medium sized. Whilst it can't compete with English zoos in terms of size, many of the animals here aren't found in English zoos as all of them are native to the area. As well as being able to see animals such as the kinkajou, the harpey eagle, crocodiles, pumas and both spider and howler monkeys, we were also given the chance to do an animal encounter. There were several different encounters available including with parrots, tapirs, toucans, a black panther or with a jaguar named Junior. Junior was born in the zoo back in 2009 and, due to his mother rejecting him, he was hand reared by zoo staff and is now one of the tamest jaguars you will find.
The encounter with Junior was the most expensive at 50 US dollars per person (around £32) but gave you the chance to get into a cage within Junior's cage, see him up close and touch or feed him. Junior has been taught to do a few tricks such as roly polys. After he did three of these for us, I was given the chance to feed him a piece of chicken through the cage bars. He then got onto the top of our cage, his face not even half a metre from ours. At the points where he sat down on the top of the cage, we were allowed to stroke his fur and touch his paws through the bars. The experience lasted little over 5 minutes but it was truly amazing and it was humbling to know that all the money we had spent on the encounter would be put towards jaguar conservation.
After the zoo our tour guide drove us to a little stop off for Cavetubing.bz just 15 minutes away. Here we were given all we could eat in rice, beans and salad, as well as a large bottle of soft drink each and a bottle of water to take away (all included in the 90 US dollar/ £70 per person price for the whole day). We then headed to the caves a few minutes drive away. Naturally we had to wear helmets, lifejackets and water shoes and we were also given a tube (inflated seat) each. We had to trek through jungle terrain for around an hour before we reached the cave where we would be tubing.On our way our guide had stopped at several points to tell us about various native trees, plants and wildlife and he also took us through a dry cave so we could see some fruit bats.
The first part of our cave tubing experience started in a pool of water at the mouth of the cave, which started off shallow but soon became quite deep. We took a quick swim in the water, which was refreshingly cool, before heading into the caves in our tubes. It wasn't too long before daylight faded behind us and we were plunged into the midst of darkness (except for our headlamps) and we soon reached the point where the water was at its deepest (20ft deep or so). We were told stories about Mayan rituals of sacrifice which took place in the caves and of the spirits that are supposed to haunt some of the area. These stories, coupled with some very interestingly shaped rock and calcite formations, lead to a rather eerie atmosphere.
After passing through a tunnel, we then banked our tubes and explored some of the cave on foot. It was difficult to find our footing at first as we were climbing up a rock waterfall but we soon adjusted to it. Once we had explored the cave we tubed our way outside into the river. We then just floated our way back down stream towards the tubing base, with the water very shallow beneath us (at points our tubes were brushing the rocks below). After a change of clothes we headed back to the cavetubing.bz headquarters to drop off our equipment and for some seriously tasty chilled rum punch. It was a great ending to a great day and we had truly enjoyed our time with our guide as he had given us a wealth of information both about all the different animals at the zoo and also about the Mayans, rocks, trees and wildlife in and around the caves.
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