Caye Caulker is a beautiful place with just a few small sand-covered streets to get you around. Tim, my host from Tulum, was in town with his brother and I’d spent my rest day hanging out with him while Alec was at work. Tim invited me to stay at his resort, but with the weather forecast saying I’d have a tailwind pushing me across to Belmopan and then the next day it should swing around to push me down to Dangriga. If I stayed for a day more, that’d be two days of headwinds. Relaxing on beautiful islands is good, but I wasn’t going to give up a couple of days of tailwinds!
The idea had been the 6:30 boat, and then the 8:30 but I ended up on the 10am. It meant I could get a few things done that I’d have done the day before if I hadn’t been busy swimming and drinking beers, but it also meant that by the time I got to Belize City at 11ish (having had to pay B$10 for my bike) it would be wrong to suggest it was a nice temperature to be doing anything in. I had a look around the city centre of Belize and found that people had been right and it doesn’t really have much to offer so after some rice and beans it was on the road and riding west towards the next town of Hattieville where I planned to have a break.
Between Belize and Belmopan there was a marina, and I was definitely tempted to pull in to see if I could hitch a ride to somewhere like Jamaica, but ignored that option to keep going on towards Hattieville, a town set up in 1961 as a camp to support victims of Hurricane Hattie. I looked for a place to get some shade, but found nothing better than a bus stop where plenty of locals were sat either waiting for a bus or just hiding from the sun too. I got talking to one of them, but the conversation again turned to food and him telling me he hadn’t had lunch and letting me know that he sure would appreciate it if I could give him a couple of dollars.
As I got closer to Belmopan, which I believe is the smallest capital city in the world, the ride improved a little. Not only did it stop being pancake flat and straight, the clouds came on and so the heat became more bearable. There are signs welcoming you to the city limits of Belmopan, but it’s hidden off the road and you could easily go straight past it without even knowing of its existence. Even given how slowly I travel on my bike, I only knew it was there because I saw it on my GPS.
I stopped to pick up some groceries, the store run by immigrants from China as seems to be the case with all the businesses in the country, and then started on the Hummingbird Highway. I’d heard it was the prettiest road in Belize, and considering nearly all oft he others are flat and straight that wouldn’t take much. I made it up a few hills until I got to the first town, Armenia, where I stopped as it was already dark. I chose a lady selling second-hand clothing, and she said of course I could stay. She was selling things to raise money for the church, and even offered me the little shack. I was slightly concerned about mosquitoes and airflow, but she seemed so excited to share it with me that I went in. Before I unpacked, she asked me if I could possibly spare some money, I didn’t really want to say no, so sat there for a little bit thinking. By the time she came back, she said that if I didn’t have anything I didn’t have to, and by the way how about camping. I quickly agreed, the lack of any breeze in the shack was going to make for a very hot night and without my tent to protect me, a mosquito bite or six.
I set my tent up and was invited to the church service that I could hear booming away even though it was a few buildings away. It made for my 3rd church service of the trip, even though after an hour I was starting to wish there was a breeze and my eyes were closing so I had to leave. As I got back to the tent, the wind was picking up and shortly later it started to rain. I could have put my rainfly on, but instead put my tent under the sheltered area they used to sell clothing. Dry and with the wind to cool me down, perfect.
Even with the roof and breeze, I woke up around 5am in a pool of water. I thought there was a leak, but no it was just that humid so I was drenched. When I was riding with Peter, we would often leave around 8 or 9am, but now I’m by myself and it’s ridiculously hot in the day I’m going with heading out with the sun at latest, as sunrise is at 6am, that means if I’m up around 5am I’m good, even getting ready slowly.
I rode along the Hummingbird Highway and there were so few vehicles, just the odd truck full of citrus fruits. Dawn riding was beautiful, with the road cutting through a jungle and the birds singing away. It definitely beat the other less imaginatively named roads such as he Northern Highway, Western Highway and Southern Highway in terms of beauty. While there were some climbs, they were gentle enough as to provide scenery and a distraction but not frustration. I was also lucky with the sun deciding to stay hidden until around 9:30. The only downside to that was when I stopped for a break at a bus stop around 8, I got swarmed by no-see-ums and got bitten all over my legs. The Mayan lady sat next to me said she was getting bitten plenty too, but I guess she’s used to it cos she didn’t move an inch.
By 11, I was at the turn off for Dangriga. It would be an 18km detour to go there, but being by the sea meant I was sure I could find a lovely place for a nap. I was right, I found a park where I chatted with some local rastas and then took a nap with a delightful breeze blowing over me. On the way out-of-town, I found my first open wi-fi signal in the country (from a restaurant by the bus terminal) and got my laptop out and replied to the emails that had built up in the last few days (the Kindle 3G doesn’t work in Belize). My battery used to last for about 6-7 hours when new, but now it’s down to 3 on a good day. I can charge my USB things while I ride, but charging my laptop, even if I worked out the cable I need, would probably take a good 8-10 hours, or so I speculate. I guess I’ll be charging it when I have my breaks to avoid the sun around lunch if it’s possible.
By 4:30 I was ready to head out on the Southern Highway with about 110 miles between me and my destination of Punta Gorda where I would be able to take a boat to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. I didn’t have a destination in mind, I’d just ride until I got tired and then find a place to throw up my tent which shouldn’t have been too difficult. Belize isn’t a large country, but even still it’s only got a population of about 250,000 which means that there is a lot of free space. Some of it is behind fences, but there are plenty of areas without fences where one can put up a tent. That didn’t happen on this occasion because about 25 miles in, when I was looking for a place to camp, I saw a guy going very slowly on his bike.
I pulled up next to him to see if all was OK. He told me his name was John and that he’d headed out to buy some fried chicken only to have his chain snap on him so meaning had to ride his bike Flintstone style the couple of miles home. I didn’t have anyway of fixing his chain, but as he only lived a couple of miles away could give him a tow. It turned out to be closer to 4 miles of riding with him grabbing on to my rear left pannier. While on the way we were chatting and he told me about his wife who he had recently broken up with. She had cheated on him and ended up with both houses and the car. Something didn’t add up, but I wasn’t going to push it any further, especially when he said I could camp in front of his place!
We pulled over at a closed restaurant cos he was hungry. He shouted for a bit, and the owner opened up so we ordered what else but rice and beans. I was going to pay but he insisted that he would considering I’d saved him a long walk. He then invited me for a couple of beers, but considering how angry he’d been when talking about his wife I decided to skip that. Thankfully we ran into family members of his on the way to the house and so I was introduced and then walked back to the house, while he went to the bar with a nephew.
Back at the house, I set my tent up to much interest from the Mayan family, and then retired to bed, probably earlier than they’d have liked. When I woke at around 5am the next day I found John sat in the back of his truck chatting with a family member, both with beers in hand. It turns out that the one or two beers I’d been invited for turned into them drinking for a good few hours, coming back, crashing briefly and now having a few pre-work drinks – so glad I didn’t join them for that.
A look at the Hummingbird Highway