One more time down south (South Belize)


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Published: June 16th 2010
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(Day 799 on the road)Our last few days in Belize were also our most adventurous in certain ways. Whilst up to now we had travelled mostly on the beaten path with fairly good infrastructure, we left all this behind as we headed first inland and then south, away from the touristy island of Caye Caulker. Bus services were thinning out fast, and soon we found ourselves hitch hiking to get anywhere.

Over time, I have become a big fan of hitching, not only because it is typically a lot faster (and cheaper) than those ominous chicken buses that are used for public transport in many countries, but because I tend to meet a lot of interesting characters this way. Or, failing to do the latter, hitching more often than not certainly makes for great memories - I still think very fondly of my time in Borneo (the Malaysian part) almost exactly one year ago, where Karen and I hitched almost the entire length of the island in a month's time or so and had the most amazing time possible.

Here in Belize, the highlight of our hitch-hiking adventures was certainly the lift we were being given on the back of a rubbish collection truck, which smelled horrendously, was super-filthy and stopped at literally every garbage can to add more rubbish to our truck. I thought it was awesome experience; Tino very much less so unfortunately. All the same, we both enjoyed the lift we got on the back of a tractor however - not very fast or comfortable at all, but definitely better than walking in the scorching heat. Mostly however we were riding on the back of pick-up trucks, which seems to the preferred mode of travel in rural areas, for locals and tourists alike.

Our first stop on this second and final leg of our travels in Belize took us to Gales Point, a tiny and dusty settlement at the end of a long and narrow peninsular that is supposedly the best place in the country to spot manatees, the endangered massive sea cows. These creatures can weigh up to a ton, but are still nimble enough to swim graciously. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to spot any, despite an extensive search in our two rented sea kayaks - but the sunset on the water was still worth all the effort of getting to this remote part of Belize.

Hitching out the next day and heading south was easy enough, and in the afternoon we found ourselves on the tip of yet another long and narrow peninsular, this time in the mostly expatriate community of Placencia. Placencia.is a favourite hound for retired or early retires from the US, with a remarkable number of houses being build along the peninsular for them. The result were prices that were simply ridiculous for such a poor country as Belize - does 14 US dollar (11 1/2 Euros) sound like a fair price for a dinner in a restaurant in the third world country?

Apart from a fairly nice beach, there wasn't really anything to do in Placencia. The main attraction, the "narrowest street in the world", was joke at best, as it was nothing more than a beach side-walk you can find in most coastal towns in the world. So the high prices induced by the hordes of retired Americans saw us leaving the very next morning. A combination of hitch-hiking and bussing it saw us arriving in Punta Gorda in the early afternoon, just in time to catch the 1400 o'clock boat across the bay back to Guatemala (on which we witnessed huge blankets of rubbish floating in the middle of the ocean). Belize waved goodbye to us with a heavy departure tax ("Either you pay here and now or you will not be allowed to leave the country") and and even heftier price for the 50 minute boat ride to Guatemala (at least we had it for ourselves).

For me, I always feel that the borders of a country - the first and last points I as a visitor come in touch with of any nation - play a special part in how I perceive or remember a place. If the border is manned by corrupt officials rudely pressing you for a bribe or treatig you like a terrorist, it just makes for a bad start. Guatemala or Vietnam come to mind for corruption, the US regarding utter unfriendliness. Comparatively, a high departure tax (here in Belize it is the equivalent of two to three night's of basic accommodation ) after I have just spent a significant amount of money in the local economy through my travels leaves an even worse after-taste.

Money apart however, Belize was the first country in a very long time that I was pretty disappointed with. To be fair, Belize was nice in that we were able to actually communicate with the predominantly English speaking population, something that I am missing in the Spanish speaking rest of Central America. But apart from some great snorkeling off the Caribbean coast, there weren't really any attractions to speak of. And the few attractions that do exist are so heavily overpriced or only accessible as part of an expensive tour (the great St. Herman's cave being a notable exception).

I also found the people here a little weird to put it mildly: There are a lot of really dodgy characters around the country, and walking down any city street or beach is impossible without being approached by either stoned, drunk or simply shady men. Without exception, they either want money, sell you dope ("High grade, my man, high grade"), or simply tell you strange kind of stuff that makes little or no sense, even with a lot of goodwill. On top of all this, Belize is very bad value for money compared to its neighbouring countries, and the high levels of crime in the country, to the point where we were being stopped by the police in the middle of the day to tell us to leave this neighbourhood as it wasn't save at all for us to walk there, don't help either.

In short: Thank you Belize, we made some good memories for sure, but I can't see myself ever coming back here.

Next stop: Livingston & El Estor (Rio Dulce, Guatemala).



To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).




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16th June 2010

Always good to read your stories. And, indeed, hitch hiking was so easy on Borneo. Also a fantastic part of the world.
16th June 2010

Interesting
Thanks for the vicarious travel whilst still at my desk in NYC. I can tell people I went to Belize for lunch! I would think the stories you accumulate hitch-hiking are worthy of telling. I actually want to hear more about the unsafe neighborhoods, too. Funny, when me and my family went to Belize City, my father took a walk and came back and told us how he was offered pot "Hey, Big Man!"
16th June 2010

Be careful please ...
As a police officer I can tell you some bad stories about situations that people have gotten themselves into HITCHING! So have fun but please be careful.
17th June 2010

Hi Ben!
Whoa.....you've been everywhere! I lost track of where you've been lately since I got busy. Now that I'm not that busy anymore, tried to catch up with you and my, you are certainly having a blast! Till your next blog. Safe travels, Ben.
17th June 2010

Hi Ben! Your stories about Belize aren't any different to the stories I heared so far from travellers. It's a pitty that these people can't think a little further than their day-to-day income. I bet it would be a far richer country (especially as they speak english) if they would organize things a bit different. Thank you for your lively and detailed stories! Keep on writing them!
17th June 2010

Agree with the hitching.. we had some great times when we hitched around countires on our travels and sat on all manner of vegetables, rice and god knows what! Shame Belieze wasn't all you'd hoped but you never know until you get there. Out of interest are you planning to visit Honduras too? At my work we have this as our team to support and it looks really nice! Have fun x
18th June 2010

Crime in Belize
When I was there the major topic in the newspaper in Belize City were crime and big part was covert by articles about Belize Citizens who were murdered or arrested in the USA. Other "serious" topic: Yesterday I was in Frankfurt and in really every restaurante, cafe or even ordinary shops there were crowds of people watching on TV the Football match Greece with Nigeria. Today we stop working a midday just to watch together the match German with Serbia. So football is something that brings people together. Happy traveling Walter
18th June 2010

Awesome bloggs!
Stumbled accross ur bloggs while looking at sth america bloggs, have been reading all bloggs for sth america for about 12mths now, strayed to central america and found yours. Couldn't stop pressing the "previous blogg", am extremely envious of ur travells and congratulate you for doin it. Your photos r awesome, ur comments r unashamidly ur view as they should be and extremly refreshing. Hope ur heading to sth america, so i can read ur view on the places i intead travelling to. Planning on heading to Buenos Airies for new years then spending at least 6mths backpacking the rest of the continent, can't wait. Keep up the excellent work bud, put it all into a book, i'de certainly buy it! Steve
29th July 2010

no so bad
I am truly sorry that you did not enjoy my country. In reality I never saw my country to be a tourist destination untill all those fancy advertisement came out. But the truth of the matter only the rich can really enjoy belize. Its not for every one. Its so sad what the so called tourist officials are doing with all the money they collect from poor tourist. Apoloni Mai Belize www.wildbze.com
1st August 2010

cheap tourist
A cheap tourist will always find the cheapest way out, in any country in the world, hiking is dangerous! The many attractions in Belize is way too many to mention but again a cheap tourist will think twice to pay! Inland attractions are easy to access, Island tours are yes expensive but check out for who is offering the tour..When you pay your departure tax it goes to benefit programs or to help mantain our reserves...Yes Belize is poor but its doing its best to present itself to you in the best way possible...Drunks, beggars, prostitution, drugs you find in any country.
5th August 2010

Jeez
I don't want to sound too hostile here but you had an extremely short time to have made such harsh judgements of our country that others will read and believe. I wonder where in Placencia you stayed and ate that you didn't notice that we are still predominantly a village of local, born in Placencia, people. True, there are a lot of expats in the village but most are in the upper part of the Peninsula. Maybe you were in an expat owned bar or restaurant? They tend to be pricier. There are quite a few locals that have small stands and shops that sell wonderful, very cheap food. Prices in the whole of Belize are much higher than the surrounding countries and so are the wages (which are still appallingly low by "1st world" (and I use the term very loosely!) countries. Maybe that is why thousands of people from all the surrounding Spanish speaking countries flock to Belize to work. Their own countries, while cheap for passing tourists, are too expensive for them to live and raise families. You are happy to pay so cheaply in those countries, never thinking about what a few dollars more would mean to the people serving you. Too bad you didn't stay a little longer and figure out that there are a million wonderful jungle and sea experiences to be had, many of them very reasonable. Hitchhiking through a country in 3 or 4 days sure doesn't give you any idea, whatsoever, of the real Belize. And walking around in Belize City!? What were you thinking? Don't you read travel advisories? None of us in the rural areas go to Bz.City for any reason other than total necessity. Which is a sad comment on the state of the city - but, which major city in any country would you be truly safe in the poorest neighborhoods (and surely you could tell that if the police had to tell you)? Please think about what you do to local economies when you flip out blogs so off-handedly that affect people's (read local's) livelihoods and discourage visitors to come. Although if they are all as cheap as you, maybe they should just skip Belize, too.
13th August 2010

It's a shame some of you tourists don't see the effects of oppression that your ancestors, have caused....ALL OVER THE WORLD, NOT JUST IN BELIZE, AND OTHER SO CALLED "THIRD-WORLD COUNTRIES".....TAKE A LOOK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARDS. YOU WILL ALSO SEE IT IN THE US, RUSSIA, ENGLAND, ETC....
19th August 2010

You are so negative!
Maybe you should have done some research before traveling to Belize because it sounds to me like you are disappointed by what you have experienced so far. It also seems, just because it's a third world country, that you expected to pay dirt cheap money for someone to give you a tour of beautiful sites you will experience nowhere else on this planet. I'm sorry you are so disappointed by the prices you have to pay in order to enjoy your vacation. Belize has a lot to offer, but it's what you choose to make of it. I don't appreciate your negative view on Belize but to each his own and hopefully tourists aren't deterred by your point of view. Cheers! A very proud Belizean American

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