As you’ve read from our last blog post we had been working at the “Botadero” for five weeks. As my brake pads arrived after a long and painful process, plans were coming to fruition as to our reluctant but necessary departure from Paradise. As we both changed our oil filters and other boring mechanical shit on our bikes (Thomas fixing a leaking oil problem) it came time to leave.
The destination of course, was Belize where I am currently writing this post. It was a short drive from our home near Bacalar to the border with Belize where we entered the “free-zone” or “la zona libre”.
For a small entry fee you can roll on in here and enjoy some dirt cheap duty free shopping. Everything is fake of course and bound to break within a month but for consumable items such as alcohol and cigarettes, a couple of weary travelers like us were in heaven. I bought an mp3 player for 200 pesos (around 10 euros), a headlamp for 40 (2 euros) and a bunch of other shit.
The main event of course, was the cigarettes. I hope you’re sitting down for this. If you have a history of heart problems I suggest you stop reading right now.
We bought 6 cartons of cigarettes (Jaipur Premium) for an incredible 240 pesos. That’s 40 pesos for a carton or if you want to get technical its around 2 euros for 10 packets. 20 euro cents for each packet, 2 euro cents for each cigarette. I could go on and on about this but needless to say this is one of the greatest things we have done on the trip so far. A memory that will last a lifetime.
The border crossing process took hours, with us needing to visit about four or five different offices located at random locations. Immigration, Customs, Vehicle Permits, Fumigation, Insurance, and random people from random departments wanting to charge us money. It was a rather frustrating experience. We later found out that the fumigation was a scam, and they just spray your bike with water. Jokes.
At the Insurance office (once we were finally in Belize) it was a lot more laid back. The official insurance company of Belize. We asked the man if we could smoke a cigarette outside to which he responded “Nah guys, just smoke here there are no laws in Belize”. Smoking in government buildings, these guys sure know how to live.
We found out from this man as well that there is currently an election in Belize, something I think only the people of Belize are aware of, so when we finally arrived in Corozal the place was awash with music and people in the streets.
In Corozal we would also meet some cyclists from the Netherlands and Slovakia, a young couple who were planning on cycling from Cancun to Panama. We drank the two bottles of whiskey we had bought in the free zone with them while we camped and joked about the randomness of travel.
They had told us that they don’t even like cycling, and they cover a maximum of 50kms a day. Absolute legends. If you’d like you can even visit their blog, consider them verified friends of livedeleven.com.
Drinking coffee out of a Tupperware container because we have no cups
We woke up hungover of course, and spent a lot of the next day doing nothing. However we had been given a quest by Miguelito as we left the botadero the day before (If you don’t know who Miguelito is, read this blog post).
The quest was simple, however it turned out to be anything but.
We had to seek out Tony the Canadian Bird Watcher at Monkey Bay.
After recovering sufficiently from being hung over we set off. We drove somewhat aimlessly through the Belizian roads asking around for the mysterious Tony from Monkey Bay. After a while we ran in to someone who had an idea of where Monkey Bay was, which turned out to be quite a while away from where we thought it was.
We arrived about a hour before the sun set and talked to Matt, the keeper of Monkey Bay Resort. He had heard of Tony, however unfortunately he was not there and not scheduled to be there for a while.
We decided to stay there the night anyway, hearing that there was a group of Americans from Chicago staying as well. They were in Belize for 10 days on a college trip. Most were Biology or Environmental Science majors and were there to study the environment of Belize. Later that night we ended up attending a lecture on caves with the rest of the students.
With that, and the graduate philosophy lecture we attended at Stanford University I guess you could say we are learning a lot from this trip.
At the local bar we noticed an interesting napkin stapled to the wall. Our friends Claudia and Anna (who had also stayed at the botadero) had passed by and left a little note. Needless to say we left a note of our own. If you’re ever at Amigos across the road from Monkey Bay, check it out.
We got out of there later than what we wanted, but we didn’t have much road to do. The plan was to head south to Dangringa and ride what we heard was the nicest road in Belize, the Hummingbird Highway. It was only around 60 miles away (Belize uses the Imperial system) so we thought we had time to make it there and do the rest of the road we had wanted to do.
After turning off the main road (which was paved) we hit a patch of dirt. This “patch” ended up continuing for another 40 miles which drastically slowed us down. There was sand, lots of rocks and loose gravel, narrow bridges with little to no security railings and the occasional semi trailer hooning by.
It was the biggest stretch of off-roading that we’d done so far and it tested both us and our bikes. Needless to say though, both the mighty KLR and ourselves came through in flying form.
Here at a small town called Giles Point, we stopped and had a beer with the most chilled dude in the world, Mr Gentle who owns a little place by the water called “Gentles Cool Spot”. Probably the most relaxed place ever.
We then moved on to Dangriga, where like the rest of Belize, the election was in full swing, with the reigning party UDP looking like a clear favorite.
We had met some girls in the street here, who offered us a place to stay which due to reasons we turned down, never showed up to our meeting time and continued along the Hummingbird Highway looking for someone who would let us camp in their garden. And we found a place alright.
Where we arrived was a beautiful garden with orange trees, random medicine plants, and tons of different fruit trees and palm trees. We asked the older lady whether we could stay the night in her garden, she said she would ask her son “who loves motorbikes”. Thomas and I exchanged smiles, we knew we had found the right spot for the night.
Here we would meet Shane, a 50-something year old biker from Long Island, New York but who had been born in Belize. He spoke with a thick New York accent and had an awesome attitude to go with it. He had been running an auto repair business in New York but had recently taken up retirement in Belize living with his mother and uncle on land they own.
Joint in mouth, gun in hand…Just Shane being Shane.
He bought us some rum to drink with him and we spent a lot of the night sitting around two of his three motorcycles he owns and talking about drugs, women, and motorcycles. We met his uncle as well, an older Belizian man who used to go jaguar hunting back when that was a thing. To think that we very nearly could have ridden straight past this house and never met this man made us think of the amount of other opportunities out there we could have also just ridden straight by without stopping.
The next day, Shane made us breakfast and we asked him if he’d like to ride with us along the highway for a bit on his 1500cc Harley. He loved the idea and came along. The sound of his bike was monstrous and we could barely hear our own bikes over his riding ahead of us. After about 10 miles or so he decided to turn back and we continued on.
The Hummingbird Highway was amazing and was one of the best roads (the best road?) we have ridden so far in central America. The condition of the road is fine, with sweet curves and beautiful scenery. Finally we got some riding done.
This is what we’re after. #realroadshavecurves
We were on the lookout for a wildlife sanctuary that Shane’s uncle had told us about, which was apparently near a place called Spanish Lookout near the border with Guatemala. Upon arrival we were surprised to find that Spanish Lookout is actually Mennonite farming community.
If you don’t know what a Mennonite is, we didn’t either. Think of guys wearing overalls and the women full length dresses, like in the 19th century. They are a religious group who started in the Netherlands and have been pushed around the world for hundreds of years. They remind me a bit of the Amish, a very traditional people who are very religious. We had seen them in Bacalar, but considered them a closed group, not really willing to speak to “outsiders”.
But shit, after finding out that the wildlife reserve we wanted to go to is completely in the other direction of where we were, we decided to ask around for a place to camp. We stopped at a farm where we noticed there was an auction about to happen and begun to ask around.
We met Danny, whose wife’s family owned the property. After talking to him for a bit he was more than happy to offer us a place to camp behind his property at the end of a very steep and hilly road which was a lot of fun to drive.
Talking to the Mennonites was a strange but enlightening experience, one you can only gain by travel. They speak German amongst themselves, however are fluent in English and in this area of the world are often conversational in Spanish as well.
But Julien, did you guys go to church as well?
Why yes dear reader, we did.
Danny had told us of a sermon that was being held at his church at 7:30pm that evening so after stuffing our face with some ice cream at the dairy wholesaler we headed over.
It was a short drive to the church, and upon arrival everyone seemed to be wondering what we were doing there. I guess we were wondering that ourselves. We settled right in though and everyone there was more than happy that we attend. The sermon was nice with some live music about Jesus among other things. We had some communion and after we spent some more time chatting with the Mennonites.
Recording of us at church, fucking jokes
Having a blast at church
The next day (today at the time of writing) we attended the famous auction of farm goods, furniture and other shit held by Danny’s wife’s family. Mennonites were everywhere, but we felt more than welcome. The auctioneer rattled off numbers and sayings as we sat in the backdrop of people wearing funny hats and speaking a German/Spanish/English dialect which is easy to understand but very foreign to us.
So here we are now, I am sitting in an internet cafe in Guatemala after having crossed the border after the auction. We are somewhere near Tikal, an ancient Mayan site.
So what do we think of Belize? Well, for one it certainly isn’t the “Gringo shit hole” that Miguel had described it as. It’s an English speaking country, which in the middle of all the Spanish makes communication a lot easier for us. Every place we went, people would stop and talk to us and the population as a whole is incredibly helpful.
Expensive? Not as much as we thought, but still more expensive than Mexico. There is a lot of Western investment there so certain stretches of road are pristine, while others not so much. The jungle is amazing, along the hummingbird highway a lot more lush than in Mexico.
Tomorrow we move out to Tikal to get some culture and visit the ruins, before probably partying in Flores.
I guess you’ll find that out how all that goes on the next blog post.
Until next time.