My alarm went off at 4:30, and I was out of bed by 5, but still didn’t leave the house until just before 6. I was planning to head south, to the Mayan ruin of Lamanai and then beyond through roads varying from badly potholed to sandy beach so as to not double back. Mike loves to ride, but his mountain bike is out of action right now so he could only join me for the first few miles where there was some form of paving on the road. We made it to the next village and said our farewells, him letting me know that if my plan to head south so as to avoid u-turning failed I was more than welcome back in Yo Creek. The reason I knew of the road south, was that I’d found a crazyguy journal from a couple who had ridden it. They mentioned having to push for about 3 miles, but it not being too bad outside of that, so I figured it was just fine.
I let a bit of pressure out of my previously rock hard tyres in the hope of smoothing the ride out a little. As I shook along the road I decided that it helped a little, but without suspension there’s only a certain amount that it can do. I bounced my way through three small villages and between them saw little of anything. The dirt that a pickup would kick up on its way towards me is how I knew when anything was coming. I made reasonable progress, although climbing up hill on compacted sand was not so fun, I’d hate to try the road during the rainy season.
The 50km to Lamanai took about 3.5 hours with little by the way of downtime, which given the conditions didn’t seem too bad. I was glad it didn’t take much longer as my 3 litres of water was about to run out. Lamanai is one of the most important ruins in Belize, and one that many tourists enjoy. Part of that is because with it’s placement by a lagoon on the New River it makes for a lovely boat trip from Orange Walk past crocodiles and other wildlife. That’s for those who are willing to pay B$100, aka not me. It’s one of the things I’ve read about Belize, it’s a beautiful country filled with nature reserves but they are mainly aimed at eco-tourists who have lots of money to spend rather than cyclists going along on $10ish a day. Things like going to ruins in Mexico didn’t take much thought as, outside of the ones in the state of Yucatan, they were all free. Here in Belize they cost B$10 each which is half of my budget, and with food costs not being as cheap as they are in other parts of Latin America I could easily go over budget here and there.
Another reason why Lamanai is seen as important is that it survived through the Preclassic, Classic and into the Postclassic Mayan eras making it one of the longest lasting Mayan cities. There is even a Spanish church in ruins at the site (also apparently in Xcaret) It has three fairly well preserved temples (Mask, High and Jaguar) and when I arrived there was only one group of 8 tourists in the ruins at the same time making for a peaceful wander around. Riding by myself feels normal, but going to a Mayan ruin without Peter just felt strange.
After the ruin it was 2km back to the village of Indian Church where I lunched (a plate of ‘rice&beans’ for B$6) and got confirmation about my route south, even getting told about a shortcut that wasn’t on my map (take the 2nd left after the Las Orquideas Restaurant where I lunched and go straight to a Papaya farm before asking for more directions). I took this shortcut (not sure it’s actually shorter having ridden it) and passed a dirt runway with a small jet stopped on it. Apparently they were waiting for a couple of passengers from the nearby resort who had booked a charter flight to take them over to San Pedro and the Cayes (said keys). The pilot warned me about the Belizean roads saying that he can see potholes in them even from 3,5000 feet where he flies.
As a good amount of farmers drove around the area, it was generally pretty nicely compacted. The area around is called Indian Creek and is filled with a large number of Mennonites farming the land. When I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way I waved a tractor down and they would help me. After a good while, I finally made it to the front gate of Hill Bank also known as Program for Belize, an area filled with logging trucks as well as a research facility. They claim to be sustainable, but that just means that they plant one tree for each one they cut down. I spoke to some people who claimed that to be truly sustainable they’d have to plant closer to 40.
The road was blocked with a large chain, restricting access to the private logging area. I was met by a security guard who let me know that the road was closed to outsiders during logging because of the danger. The road was just about wide enough to fit a logging truck, so there was no space for anything else and few, if any, places to pass. Anytime there was no logging, there was no cycling, and as there was logging anytime it wasn’t raining from Monday to Friday, sunrise to sunset there wasn’t much of a window. They tried to tell me that I would have to double back to Orange Walk, an option that didn’t fill me with excitement. I let them know that I’d been given directions from people and had been told I could go through since Indian Church and so was hoping they could come up with any alternative. They said that if I was willing to wait until the morning I’d be able to get a ride from a pick-up truck. With the only other option being riding a 40+ mile u-turn I gladly accepted the option, especially when they let me know about the spare mattress.
Javier and Marlon, the two guards, were fun to talk to. They spoke together in English, even though Javier was raised speaking Creole and Marlon Spanish. They had quite different personalities, but seemed to get on well, important considering their 14 day on, 7 day off schedule meaning they spent 1 out of 3 weeks living and working together. The job was especially difficult for Marlon who has been working there for a couple of years, basically the whole of his young daughter’s life. As it is, it’s difficult to find alternate employment and so they have to work it to get by, even though it pays little.
The next day, I was up and out with the sun as a Mennonite passing through picked me up and offered to take me most of the way through the park. It’d be far enough that I’d be able to ride the rest of the way without the danger of logging trucks. I didn’t catch the name of the guy who drove me, I just know that he told me it was from the bible. The Mennonites in the area all speak German between each other, but some learn Spanish to interact with the local community for business as they sell a lot of the things they produce. He was born in Belize, although his parents moved down from Canada. He also told me about money difficulties that he faces, and how he’d like to move to the US to make more. I asked him what it was that he wanted the money for, but didn’t seem to get my question across. I’ve got this image of Mennonites as generally low-tech and not wanting too many material possessions, but he still wanted more money.
I was dropped off at a fork in the road, and there was about 6-7 miles more of dirt road until the gate. The only sound I could hear were the insects and birds chirping and singing. Aftr getting through the gate, the road actually deteriorated with long stretches of white sand where my bike would sink forcing me to get off and push for the best part of an hour. After that it turned to gravel, and then finally wonderful pavement where I seemed to fly along, well as much as the headwind that I’d had since entering Belize would let me. I made it through the superbly named towns of Scotland Half Moon and Double Head Cabbage before finding some lunch in Burrel Boom. I only found it because I took a wrong turning on the main road, the lack of any kind of signage is one of my biggest frustrations so far in Belize, and I was definitely looking forward to having my GPS again. The idea that I can turn onto a main road at a fair sized junction and not have a sign saying what was left or right is just strange. It’s not like they have a lot of roads and so signs to maintain.
The infernal headwind kept me company all the way to the city of Belize where I arrived shortly after 4. It meant I had enough time to pick up the package from my parents with my GPS and a couple of other small things in, thankfully without having to pay import duty, before taking a water taxi to Caye Caulker where Alec, the son of Edith & Mike from Yo Creek lived and worked. It cost B$35 for a return ticket and they didn’t ask for anything for the bike. It was about a 45 minute crossing before I got dropped off at the small dock that welcomes passengers to Caye Caulker. I looked to find wifi to check for an email from Alec, but couldn’t find any for free. I had his phone number, but the cheapest phone card cost B$5. Thankfully I found a guy at a dive shop who after talking for a while let me use his phone to get in touch with Alec who turned up shortly after to show me to his place where I’d spend a couple of relaxing nights, doing little more than swimming, sleeping and living the Caye Caulker motto of Go Slow.