Basic wood and thatched home, poverty stricken Belize
House on stilts
Belize takes environmental issues seriously, regarding the land as their only hope for the future. This is a close up of the mangroves.
The Garifuna people
A run down street scene of Belize city.
Local artwork depict the people.
Up a little later than usual this Monday morning and fired up to be going to Belize. Belize was a British colony until they gained independence in 1981 and we were looking forward to seeing the different culture and also to being in an English speaking country.
At the hotel there was a Belize family visiting in the room next door and we got an opportunity to speak to them about the border crossing. We still had to pay the Mexican Tourist fee of $15 each and if we hadn't spoken to our neighbours we would never have noticed the small hut that served as the Mexican Immigration office. If the fee is not paid it could jepodise any future entry into Mexico. We were also aware that we had to hand in the temporary import permit and sticker for the bike. Upon reading the fine print on these documents it turns out that if they are not handed in, the Mexican Government can charge the import duty they believe is due to your credit card. I recalled when I got the permit the officer insisted that I pay for it with the credit card. - that's why. The point is that as travelers it is up to you to be aware of these issues. At the border they just wave you through and it's all too tempting to just ride on through and think you had a quick and smooth exit.
The Belize immigration was efficient with no charge for the bike or us, just $7.00 for 24 hours insurance. Our friends at the hotel had told us about the duty free shopping at the border but on the Belize side there is a whole town devoted to all sorts of duty free goods. We got a litre of Jack Daniel's for $18.00 and a litre of Baileys for only $9.00 as well as a tank full of cheap super fuel and rode away happy little vegemites into Belize.
There was an immediate change to our surrounds. The majority of people here are Creoles, descendants of African slaves and British Pirates/immigrants with a smattering of the Garifuna, American Indian and African (much like the Rastafarian's). The living conditions ranged from the grass hut to the comfortable colonial home and everything in between. There wasn't the crowding that there had been in areas of Mexico, in the countryside everyone it seems lives in their own space.
We followed rivers and mangrove swamp toward Belize City on good paved roads and had not been there for more than 5 minutes when we were approached by 'helpful' locals!! Seems if you look a little lost they will approach you and offer to help - for a fee! We eventually decided to stay at 'The Three Sisters' guest house, recommended in our guide book, a basic but clean and cheap hostel.
We had already cottoned on that Belize City was not the safest place to stay, but we needed drinking water and when I went to a small 'convenience' store around the corner I was somewhat surprised to see that it had full length steel bars completely surrounding the products and the shop keeper. My 2 litre bottle of water had to be squeezed through the narrow opening!!
Fortunately just down the road on the beach front was a new Casino and local restaurant, we decided to go there to cash a travelers cheque and get some tucker. Along the way we stopped to enjoy the view and were approached by a local begging for money for food. As white people I guess we stand out and the locals assume we are wealthy. Sometimes it's hard to convince them that we are poor Australians and not rich Americans. Although less than one kilometre from our hostel, we were advised to get a taxi back rather than walk back after dark!!
An early morning thunderstorm meant we left Belize City a little later than we planned. The rain also ensured it would be another humid day. Fortunately I had not changed my watch and in fact it was not as late as we had thought and we were able to cruise the city with very little traffic. All said and done Belize seems to be a bit of a basket case. Buildings are run down and there seems to be no maintenance of anything.
Our guide book probably summed it up pretty well when describing the 'National Psyche'. "Belizean's have elevated 'taking it easy' to an art form. Where else will you be told that checkout time is 'whatever time you like! Shopkeepers will close early if they feel they've made enough money for the day and hammock swinging is pretty much a national pastime."
An interesting country but one with a lot of economic problems to overcome. The Belize government is trying to encourage eco tourism though and the diving and reef are apparently second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Heading out of town we made for Belmopan, the new capital. Belmopan though is a nothing town of 7500 inhabitants and we rode around it and straight out again towards the Guatemala boarder.
Entering Belize was cheap but leaving cost us a departure tax of US$37.00 each. Entering Guatemala we needed a $2.50 fumigation spray, a cheap import permit for the bike. We were though in 30 minutes and filled the bike with super fuel at half the Belize price. (around $US2.50 a gallon)
Click NEXT PAGE to continue our journey in Guatemala
|©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200|