Back down to the Belize border outside Chetumal and actually leaving Mexico this time. Mexican immigration here is infamous for demanding the $20US tourist fee when it is not required, and they get me as well. I paid the $20US when I first entered Mexico, luckily I saved the receipt as when I flew back to Chicago from Cancun the ticket counter told me that I had to go to the immigration booth and get a stamp on the tourist card, otherwide I wouldn’t be able to get on the plane. At the airport immigration booth he looked at my tourist card and immediately said “You have to pay $20.” I reached into my pile of travel papers and pulled out the receipt. After some inspecting and scribbled notes on the receipt, tourist card, boarding pass he finally stamped my tourist card and I was free to leave. Upon returning I got a new tourist card but did not pay anything as I was planning to leave Mexico within 7 days, which should be free. But the immigration at Chetumal insists that the 7 day rule does not count when you fly in and drive out. Interestingly, the airport immigration guy tried to tell me that I had to pay $20 if I drove in and flew out. We argue for awhile but the line of honking cars is building up behind me so I finally give in and pay. When I ask for a receipt he gives me a tiny 2″ x 2″ copied paper that just says “2016 immigration $390 pesos”
Anyway, crossing into Belize is pretty easy apart from being caught in line behind a whole bus full of tourists at immigration. Importing the Land Cruiser goes smoothly and there is an insurance office right past the border where I buy a week’s worth of Belizean insurance. They give you a dated windshield sticker showing that you are insured.
I drive down to Orangewalk to a small river resort with camping and it immediately starts to pour down rain. I haven’t seen rain like this in a long time.
Once the rain passes I go for a walk around Orangewalk. It’s Monday the day after Christmas which is an official holiday here so the whole town is closed up. After some wandering I find a Chinese-Belizean restaurant that is open and enjoy some stir fry.
Without the rain it is nice sitting on the river watching the crocodiles swim past. It’s a popular place for boat trips to the nearby ruins and also for bird watching.
Next day I drive to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, an island on a lake that is famous for bird watching. It’s run by the Audobon Society and they tell me that there are over 300 species of birds here. Right at the ranger station there is a hummingbird feeder with probably a dozen hummingbirds hovering around it. They give me a map to the hiking trails and the village and I set out in pursuit of the famous Jabiru Stork, largest bird in the Americas. The map has several sites flagged but I don’t see any until on my way back through the village I finally spot one standing out in a field across from the police station.
I drive through the village of Crooked Tree to a little restaurant for lunch. Inside they are all watching Supernatural reruns on TV. It doesn’t look like much but the BBQ chicken with beans and rice was great.
It’s still raining quite a bit, but at least each shower only lasts 20 minutes or so.
It’s very different here. The national language is English, although many people speak Spanish or Kriol. Signs are almost all in English and the two or three speed limit signs I have seen are in MPH. Gas is sold by the gallon and is very expensive, around $7US, but I filled up just before leaving Mexico and should be able to make it to Guatemala without having to stop at a gas station. There are exactly 2 Belizean dollars to 1 US dollar, and they use them interchangeably. I always have to think about it for a second, for example you have $6BZD coming in change they might hand you 2 USD and 2 BZD.
Leaving Crooked Tree I continue on to the Belize Zoo. It’s not a traditional zoo; all of the animals here are native Belize species and most of them are orphaned or rescued.
They have a lot of tapirs which are great fun to watch. Tapirs are usually overlooked in American zoos next to the hippos, rhinos, elephants etc.
The zoo is just part of the jungle with some fences so they have a natural habitat.
It’s afternoon and quite hot so most of the animals are just hanging around taking a nap.
Some regular and albino coatis
The ocelot is not angry that’s just its everyday sound
I stayed for the night at TEC, kind of an eco lodge extension of the zoo. They asked if I would like a full guest house for $66 and I said why not. After driving to the back of the grounds and pulling up to the house I was amazed. It’s up on stilts with screens all around so it’s like a giant tree house in the jungle. A huge porch on two sides with a giant bedroom and bathroom inside. At night it was completely dark all around, I had to grab a flashlight to make my way along the jungle paths to the main lodge for dinner.
Very sad to leave the guest house after only one night, next day I headed to the Caribbean coast. The most direct route is on the Manatee Highway, which turns out to be barely even a dirt road in most places, so the name of “Highway” is a little deceptive. With all of the rain it is full of huge potholes and water completely over the road in several places. There is one pothole in the middle of the road that somebody marked by sticking a huge tree branch into it, I look down but can’t see the bottom. I keep expecting to come around a corner and find the road completely washed out or under deep water, but I eventually make it to the town of Hopkins. Only 2.5 hours to go 40 miles. When I get there I mentioned to the lady who runs the beach hostel how crappy the road was, she said “Oh you didn’t take the Manatee Highway did you?”. Apparently everybody knows not to go that way; it’s actually much faster to go 20 miles out of the way west then east on a real highway. Talking to other people with rental cars they tell me that the rental company said that they could drive anywhere in Belize except the Manatee Highway, their rental car maps have big Xs through the length of the Manatee highway.
Hopkins has a very Caribbean feel, unlike Caribbean Mexico. Most of the houses are wood, built up on stilts and brightly painted.
The hostel is pretty basic, at least it has screens and a fan. But it’s right on the beach, above left is the view from the front porch.
This is the best barbecued pork chop I have ever eaten.
Driving the very scenic and well paved Hummingbird Highway toward the capital city of Belmopan I stopped at St Herman’s Cave and Blue Hole National Park for a day of caving with a visit to a hot sauce factory along the way. Unfortunately, due to all the recent rain, today the Blue Hole is now the Brown Hole and closed due to unsafe water levels. There are cave tubing trips and cave hikes in St Herman’s cave, but these are also on hold due to the water level. I was really looking forward to tubing through the caves on an underground river. They let me into the cave but you are only allowed up to 200 meters without a guide, and there are no guides today because of the high water.
So it’s just a short cave tour today. Nobody else around, at the 200 meter mark I switch off my headlamp and it’s completely dark and silent.
Stayed for the night in Belmopan, which is a very unassuming place for a national capital.
Then off to Clarissa Falls, a resort with camping near the Guatemala border.
It’s a beautiful spot, they have a small field for camping right on the river. The falls are not as impressive as you might think, but they have a large open air restaurant/bar overlooking the falls which is a great spot to hang out with good wifi and plenty of power outlets. The woman who runs the place is very friendly and also a great cook. I’m way behind on organizing pictures/movies and internet stuff in general so I spend two days here just relaxing. The second day is New Year’s Eve, which I spend drinking beer and playing cards with a Canadian couple and another American guy. All night, until 9 pm when everything closes up.