Thursday, July 17, 2008

A wonderful time in Belize, and now in Guatemala.

(I forgot my notebook, so I do not have milage or budget figures in front of me, but I will update those as soon as I am able.)

I have been having an amazing time in Belize. This is just a flat out cool place. There are certainly some downsides such as poverty and some crime, but the upsides far outweigh the downs from my point of view.My last day in Orange Walk, my appetite came back in a big way. Previously I had been having trouble getting down more than two meals a day. But that day I felt my hunger come back and so I indulged a bit and in the course of one day went through: one plate of eggs, ham and beans with toast, a box of frosted flakes with milk, a plate of chicken with rice, beans and tortillas and 36 chicken tacos (they were so cheap!). So yeah, I am packing away the calories again.

After Orange Walk, I made my way towards the capitol, Belmopan. Everyone I have talked to has told me to skip Belize City and so I decided to go with that and see the rest of the country. On the way to Belmopan I rode with a local guy for about 10 miles. He was going to "chill out with his mom for a bit." He lived in Belize City (the Shitty as the locals call it) and his mom lived near Belmopan. He was a really cool guy named Earl (not the name I expected!) and he was pretty tough, riding 2 and a half hours each way bare foot on an ancient bike. He blew a flat on his rear tire half way but just kept going! That is not easy to do, and I know from experience.

One of the things I had noticed was that in Belize, there are cyclists everywhere. And not just the usual towns people going around doing their daily chores on bikes, but road bikers with name brand high quality racing bikes. It turns out the cycling is a huge sport in Belize, right behind soccer! Who knew? But I see them all over riding in team jerseys with support cars and everything. One team even had guys in rasta colored jerseys, and they all had dread locks flowing out from under their helmets. That was awesome!

I camped out that night in a pretty marshy area outside of Belmopan and my goodness, that was a shock. I hate the swamp as anyone who has read this knows, but Belize swamps are on another level. The bugs out here are prehistoric! I was being chased around by mosquitoes that were a half inch long! My worst nightmare! Despite wearing 100% DEET and covering up, one of them bit me through the shirt and it felt like I was getting a shot at the doctor's office. I saw the daemon bug and instead of swatting it like you do with a normal mosquito, I punched it! I was a little afraid it would block my punch and then beat me up, but it splattered in a big crunchy squish on my shirt. Yuck. These mosquitoes are horrendous and I had a nightmare that night that they got into my tent and my flashlight broke and I was swatting at them in the dark ineffectually and they infected me with some terrible tropical disease. Speaking of which, Belize is home to some pretty awful maladies, as well as being the country with the highest occurrence of Malaria in Central America. I started taking some Cholroquinine which is an anti malarial available here cheap, and I hope it is effective as Malaria would be a trip ender and possibly a life ender.

After Belmopan, I made my way towards Dangriga, a coastal town. I got a good tip from some locals to avoid the Manatee Highway which is mostly dirt and worse, home to bandits. Just two weeks ago some people were ambushed on the road and killed. So obviously, that was some really well appreciated advice, and I took the longer, but paved and safer Hummingbird Highway. It was a nice ride and I had the opportunity to stop on cool off in some beautiful jungle pools with waterfalls and the works. Just beautiful looking places. The only thing that stinks about the mountains here is that there are some bugs called Bat Las that live there and they are atrocious little beats. They are tiny, but they actually bight a chunk of you off and you will bleed afterwards, like a trickle of blood flows down your skin. DEET doesn't stop them and they destroyed my legs, I have little bites all over them and they itch for days.

These waterfalls are all over the place and make for a great and refrshing break in the jungle. Just have to look out for the Crocs they have out here!

Belize is great, but the roads pretty much suck, especially when riding in the mountains.

These are what the locals live in up in the mountains.

Lush countryside everywhere.

This was a cenote, a sink hole filled with water. They are all over the place in this part of the world and are just beautiful. They are aquamarine with waterfalls and so deep, you cant swim and touch the bottom, it kind of freaks you out a bit! But the water is cool and so nice to wash the sweat off of your body.

Not everyone in Belize is poor, there are some big ballers out here.

These kids were so cool, when I took the photo they just kind of looked at me funny, then I showed them their picture and they were just tickled pink. They started laughing and jumping up and down, it was really fun.

This is (from left to right) Fox Jr., Fox Sr., and Lion. Not pictured are Little Fox (the youngest kid) and Big Fox (and he was huge!). Really cool people.
I was making my way through the Maya Mountains towards Dangriga when I was waved down by a local guy who's bike had blown a flat. I pulled over to help him fix it and we got to talking and he invited me to his place for some food and water. We went and he served me some awesome stew that was made out of fish, plantains (they look like giant bananas), and some root that I can't remember the name of, all cooked in coconut milk served over rice with hot sauce. It was super good, and they had grown or caught all of the ingredients on their farm apart from the rice.
His name was Lion and he was a farmer and water delivery man. He was a super cool cat and I hung out with him and his neighbors, the Fox family. He and Fox Sr. were some hardcore fishermen and they told me some crazy stories about how they had caught massive fish. Two of the best stories were how Lion and his buddy hauled in a 450 lb Bull Shark by hand! They don't have fishing rods out here, they just use a reel with some high strength line. They pulled the Shark onto the beach with the help of two other guys and then dragged it up on shore by its tail! That was a pretty great story. Mr. Fox had to one up him though when he told me how he had caught a 200 lb grouper with a Hawaiian Sling (a piece of PVC pipe with a metal rod in it that is propelled through the water with a piece of rubber, like a sling shot. It is used like a spear gun while diving). He nailed the grouper in the head then speared it and dragged it up holding a rope he tied through its mouth (while it was still alive!) in his teeth!
Fox Jr. had a big cut on his chin and his leg and when I asked him about it they all laughed. Aparently Fox Jr. is the town wild man. He had attempted to jump a 10 foot drainage ditch on a a beach cruiser! That is insane! He made it the first time and when he tried to do it again, he ate it bad. It cracked me up because it reminded me of me when I was his age!
These guys were great story tellers and that is because that is what they do to entertain themselves. They live in wooden houses that don't even really stop the breeze, with no lights or running water, let alone TV. To pass their free time they tell stories and smoke a LOT of marijuana. They offered me a handful for what came out to $2.50, but I didn't think that would really help my bike riding skills so I politely refused. Here it is as normal for a lot of people as having a beer is for a lot of Americans back home. Parents smoke with their kids and don't think twice about it.
It is a really different life out here, they are very connected to the land. All of their stories were about nature and animals, weather events like hurricanes and floods, or growing crops, etc. Some of the stories they told me about the Jaguars were pretty amazing. They call them Tigers here, and the Jaguars will kill and drag 700 lb cattle up into the mountains. They are incredible animals and really big, just barely smaller than a lion. I hope I get to see one before I leave, but they tend to avoid humans.
They also told me about the muscle men of the jungle, or Ant Eaters. Apparently they are the strongest of the jungle animals and they can pull off flesh muscle and tendon from your limbs just by gripping you. One of the other little critters they described to me was an animal that was half raccoon and half mongoose. They travel in big packs of a 100 or more and apparently are very deadly. One of them can fight off 4 dogs at the same time. I can't remember the name though as these guys had thick accents and a lot of what they said was tough to understand, especially after they smoked a few joints.I spent the night at Lion's house and took off early for a place called Hopkins. It is a tiny fishing village on the coast that consists of one dirt road and a handful of houses. It is such a chilled out, mellow place. Everyone knows each other by name and they live really slow paced lives.
Lots of this in Belize, not too fun for long stretches. The dirt isnt so bad, but it is rainey season so its as much mud as dirt and there are big stones everywhere that make for a bone jaring ride.

I met two American Backpackers there from Kentucky, and we spent the day hanging out in hammocks on the beach drinking coconut milk from the palm trees all over the place. They had just gotten done backpacking Central America and gave me some really useful tips. They were flying home the next day, so it was great meeting you Ryan and Kyle, have a great trip.

Myself, Ryan and Kyle, all looking pretty scruffy!

This is how we spent the day, in hammocks on the beach just chilling out.

And drinking lots of cocnuts!

Some local Belizeans hanging out.

The bridge had been washed away in a recent flood, so you had to cross the river on this rickety plank bridge, even big rigs!

This is a Mayan village, I didn´t take any pictures of the Maya themselves so I feel like I didn´t violate their religous beliefs against having their picture taken.

There are a lot of Meninites in Belize from Germany. They are very similar to Amish people in America. Here is one of them rolling along in his buggy. Belize is just a funky place with so many different kinds of people, I love it!
These are two Canadian cycle tourists I met on the road. They were riding to Mexico from Panama, it was great to meet some fellow cyclists! They were really nice and we stopped and chatted for a good half hour.
I made my way to Punta Gorda from Hopkins and slept out in the Maya Mountains. I met a Maya man named Mr. Ack while getting some food and he was a really great guy. We chatted over lunch and he was very curious about my trip. He thought it was a pretty cool thing and offered to drive me up into the higher mountains where the Maya live in traditional villages and then to take me over the border into Guatemala. That would have been awesome, but I would have had to wait 4 days to do so, which was too long for me so I had to pass on the offer.
The Maya people here are so friendly. When you go through their villages, all the people smile and wave or come up to you and ask where you are going and where you are from. The little kids all run up and wave and some say hi, some say bye, and some just shout gringo, gringo! It always cracks me up. Their lives are so simple, and they seem so happy. However, I saw the downside to their life style too when I went into one of their homes to buy some water and I saw a little girl who had a horrible infection on her face. It was so bad that I couldn´t look at her. I knew that she was not going to see a hospital either and it was just sad. This poor kid would most likely be scarred for life because of a lack of medical care.
Speaking of which, I met a family in Punta Gorda waiting to go to Guatemala on the boat that had a child sick with Cancer. This poor kid couldn´t even walk he was so sick, and he would just randomly puke. He couldn´t even hold his head up when he did so. I felt so bad for him. The mom told me what it was like trying to get treatment for her child and it sounded like a living hell. Belize has no facilities to treat this type of cancer, and when they had given the little boy (3years old) a bone marrow test, they had taken the sample with no pain killers! The kid had some rough scars from it and they had messed it up and now he couldn´t walk. It was just a horrible story. They were taking him to Guatemala city for a blood transfusion hoping it would help. Things like that just break my heart and make me so thankful to live in a country where if your child were to get ill like that, you have at least have the potential of a cure. I am no doctor, but from what it looked like, that poor guy was doomed.

This is Livingston, Guatemala, a really cool little town.

I am in Guatemala now, and so far, I love it. I am staying in a hotel that is one block from the water in a really neat town called livingston, for 3 bucks a night! I have my own room too, not a dorm bed. The food is cheap as well, and the people I have met so far have all been super friendly and nice.
Getting here was a bit of an adventure though. I got to Punta Gorda at 9 am to catch the boat to Livingston, but the guy who was going to take me just deicded he didn´t want to go after all, so I hade to wait for the 2 pm boat. That guy showed up and then said he didn´t want to take me because of my bike. So then I had to wait for the 4 pm guy who was actually a straight shooter and got me and Artax to Guatemala, just not to Livingston! The ride was incredibly rough too and watching Artax bounce around in the front of the little boat was like watching your best buddy get held down and punched in the face repeatedly. Every time we went over a swell the boat would hit the water and the floor would flex under your feet, it was pretty scary actually.
So, I had to take another boat to Livingston, and watch Artax get beat up again, this time the rear rack snapped and is now held together with wire and duct tape. I didn´t arrive until 8 pm and as soon as I got off the boar a bunch of annoying stoned totes tried to ¨help¨me with my stuff (I HATE it when people touch my bike and trailer) and ¨guide¨me to a hotel, all for a few bucks of course. I kept telling them to beat it but they were persistant. I finally got them to take off after I told them flat out they wouldn´t get a dime from me. You get those types of guys all over the world and they are so annoying. I know they are trying to make a buck, but I am not obligated to pay them for services I don´t want.
Well, tomorrow I will head up the river on another boat (hopefully a nice calm ride!) and then head south towards El Salvador. All my love to everyone back home!


jesstheonlyartist said...

Oh Reece... I love it! 36 tacos! YEAH!!! Glad the hunger of Reece is back! You need all you can get. I knew you were eating and last I knew it was like 9 *HAHAH* You well outdid yourself!

It sounds like some really good times you have had getting there. Poor little bike bouncing around.

Don't remember, don't get sick and ruin THE PLAN! *haha*

Reece'sMom said...

Reece, Tay and I laughed about all the food you ate in 1 day, she said it was like when you were home. I still have a hard time reading about all the danger, but you balance it with all the wonderful people, places and experiences. We love you and look forward to hearing from you. Love Mom

Elizabeth said...

Seems like you r having a great time...enjoy..and be safe...How fun!!!
Lisa your myspace friend.

Lisa in Louisiana said...

YUMMMMM . . . plantains!!! Look for them where ever you eat. Fried sweet ones or fried crunchy salty ones. The further south you go, also be on the look out for the fried cheese that goes with the plantains. We are addicted to this combo and have to go to New Orleans to find the right cheese for frying. You are about to be in the Land of Queso Frito!!!!

all happiness aside, the stories about the sick kids are a reality check . . . we Americans just don't realize how blessed we are in this country. Thanks for reminding us.

Lizzie Morrison said...

Now that was a great post. keep them coming!

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