After a rest day hanging out with Paco and Nancy, it was finally time to leave Mexico for good. I’d crossed the border from the US just over a year earlier, unable to speak Spanish and not knowing much about the history of Mexico, while now I’m able to get by just fine with my Spanish and even use it to discuss things such as Porfirio Diaz, the dictator who was in power at the turn of the 20th century, and have seen a very large number of ruins.
Paco had offered to ride with me to the border, and if we’d got up earlier, Nancy would have come too, but she had to work at 8 and we didn’t roll out of the house until closer to 10. The border town with Belize is a fairly nice place, and I had pesos to use so we stopped for breakfast. We saw intermittent streams of people crossing into Belize to either go shopping in the duty free zone or to contribute to the $100,000 a day in profit the casino makes – mainly from the 150,000 living in Chetumal.
Leaving Mexico was painless. I didn’t have to pay anything, although that might be because of my student visa, which definitely turned out to be a better choice than flying to Guatemala for a weekend to renew my visa. I even got to keep my student visa ID, unlike my Japanese and Korean ID cards that immigration asked for when I left.
Entering Belize was even nicer. I was taking a picture of the casino when I heard a voice in English. I was confused until I turned to see a man in his 50s telling me that I should take his picture. Apparently, everyone that comes through takes a picture of the casino, and no-one stops at his travel agency. I stopped and took his picture, and was impressed that during our quick chat he didn’t try to sell me anything.
A couple of minutes further down the road was the arrival hall, a large building for customs and immigration. When I was the name I had the idea of it being packed with people lining up waiting to cross the border. It turned out I was the only person trying to go through. I entered the hall and was immediately welcomed to Belize and then handed a map of the country, before being told that I could go and speak to the immigration desk. The interaction there took no more than 2 minutes and the only question he asked was “How long will you stay in Belize?” before stamping my passport to give me a 30-day-tourist visa. Next was customs, where the official was chattier and asked about my trip. He asked how much my bike was worth, and then wrote it in my passport. I assured him that the only way my bike was staying in Belize was that if someone stole it.
That was it, I’d said my farewells to North America and was in Central America and country 6, Belize – the former British colony of British Honduras. It was strange to see signs with distances in yards and miles as I made my way towards the first town of Corozal. On the way there, I passed well spread out houses with large gates and PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING that reminded me so much of my time in the US. When I got to Corozal, I asked for directions to the Mayan ruin of Santa Rita and was accompanied there by a guy on a bike who told me it was next to his house. He was being literal, on the other side of his fence was a Mayan pyramid that was being re-constructed.
The site was just a field with a pyramid in the middle and some smaller excavations around it. In front of the pyramid was Andres, a worker at the site, who was sorting materials as I approached. I leant my bike against a tree and walked over to him. It was a Saturday, his day off, but he was feeling bored and so came into work, wow. He was proud of of his Mayan descent and so found his job very rewarding. He was a fascinating man and spent more than 30 minutes talking to me about all manner of topics such as the ruin (250 buildings but mainly now under residential areas so not going to be excavated), his life (had a daughter but tragically lost her to leukemia), living in Belize (difficult relationship with Guatemala) and the influence of the British (good because it protects the small country from bigger ones like Guatemala).
I was about to leave the ruins when a guy who was about 20 came past riding a bicycle and pushing another one. He started talking and let me know that it was his birthday. I wished him a happy one, not understanding what he was implying. He happily filled me in by asking me if I could give him a present. He was happy to accept money even letting me know that just a single Belizean dollar (B$)would be great (The Belizean dollar is tied to the US, 2:1). Unluckily for him, I’d not been to the bank since crossing the border and so had no money on me.
The asking for money continued when I made it into the town proper with 4 more men asking me during my hour or so in town. Some of the begging was interspersed with some rather strong language with one guy, who had his hand in a cast and was pushing a bicycle that had a flat tyre and no chain, letting me know that because his hand was f’ed up he needed money. When I went to sit in the main park, after being called WHITE BOY for the first time in my life by someone who warned me that I should never stop in Belize because of the dangers, I was first warned by a group in their early 20s that I shouldn’t sit under the trees as a bird may give me a present, and then was joined by an older guy. He sat next to me and complained about life in Belize and how he’d just bought food but it was terrible, even throwing perfect fine looking tortillas on to the floor, before saying he just wanted some rice and asking me for a dollar. I had been to the bank by that point, happily withdrawing money without a fee, but told him that I only had plastic. He seemed to ignore that, rambled on a bit more about the young group and how they were ignorant fools, and then asked me again for money. I was using the time to write a couple of things in my notebook, but left shortly after feeling rather uncomfortable.
The ride to Orange Walk was along the main road lined with wooden houses which were frequently on stilts, but there were no lines painted on the road to split it into two lanes. People seemed to generally have an idea of where they should be, but I did have to take evasive action as a van took up all of my lane passing a truck even though he definitely saw me. Maybe because of the lack of traffic on the roads, people seemed to share my reluctance to brake and so when they got to me they passed me, no matter if there was something in the other lane or not. That lack of patience and willingness to wait a few seconds meant I felt more close calls in the 50km stretch to Orange Walk than I had in the previous many months.
In Orange Walk, I got to hear another rather heated argument, this time between two drivers. At least as far as Orange Walk everyone uses Spanish between themselves, although it’s really bizarre to listen because it has English words thrown in seemingly at random. The only pattern I could make out in the argument was that he seemed to shout lots and explain himself in Spanish before throwing in his swear words and threats in English. It’s going to take a good while for me to get used to talking in that way.
I had a Couchsurfing host lined up for Yo Creek, a small village about 10km west of Orange Walk. I had been told that when I got to town I should just ask for Mike Tzul and people would be able to give me directions. It worked quite well, but with some definitely conflicting directions, including go three blocks past the church. I tried that one, only to find that the church was on the edge of town and the next block was in the next village 7km down the road. I eventually found my way across and was met by Mike & Edith. I’d been in touch with their son Alec, but he lives on Caye Caulker but organised for me to stay with his family. I was only going to stay for one night, but then Mike told me I should go with the flow and not stress about making decisions. There seems to be a distinct lack of flow on a Sunday in Belize as shops close in the towns and people relax. I had a lovely afternoon in a hammock, the Belizean pace of life is glorious.
Crossing the border