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Published: June 16th 2010
(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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