The border crossing into Belize had been totally rebuilt, so all the border crossing tips from other traveller’s websites were all out of date. We first ended up at the old crossing in amongst the small border town, we were kindly redirected to the crossing on the highway just to the west. It was very smart, new and well signposted. It was all very straightforward apart from them trying to charge us for our tourist cards again. Luckily we had kept the receipts from Tecate where we entered. After crossing the Mexican side the new road then swung round to the back of the old border and due to construction a little harder to navigate in the correct order. We missed the fumigation post to have the tyres sprayed. The Belizean side was also efficient and fast, even with the return to be fumigated and the whole process took an hour, including buying local insurance.
Steve had heard from the insurance guy that the road to Sarteneja (our planned first stop) was completely washed out, they’ve had a lot of rain in Belize over the last few weeks. As we were not allowed to bring any fresh food over the border, we stopped for groceries in Corozal, the first town over the border. Again we asked around about an update on the state of the road. We knew it was going to be an “interesting” drive there on a normal day with two hand cranked ferries across rivers but supposedly the road has been impassable for a couple of weeks and everyone has been getting about by boat. We were looking forward to a more challenging drive but not quite that challenging! We’d planned to stay there for a few nights as it is a chilled fishing and boat building village with a manatee and jungle reserve nearby. So, on to plan b. We continued south to Crooked Tree bird reserve, hoping to camp the night as well as see the birds. Half way along the good dirt road we saw a traffic jam?? As we got closer we realised that it wasn’t a jam, it was a car park. There was a row of buses and cars parked along the otherwise empty road. The reason, you guessed it…. the whole road further on was underwater.
We moved onto plan c…we headed south again to the Community Baboon Sanctuary at Bermuda Landing. Luckily it was on a tar road, although there were flooded areas either side of the road and the rivers were hugely swollen, the road was good. Belize is a small country so by 3pm we were already almost halfway down the country. The baboon sanctuary is a community initiative of local small scale farmers to protect the black howler monkey, they call them baboons here. The farmers have left the large trees and much of the jungle intact to preserve the monkey’s habitat. The local women’s cooperative offers tours to see the monkeys and has an interesting museum, we stayed in their car park too for a small fee. By then it had started raining, again. So we holed up inside the museum until there was a break, then headed out in our kagooles and wellies. Steve had been laughing at me for bringing wellies on this trip but as the only one with soggy wet feet on the march through the jungle, I think he was rather jealous of the girls and I. Luckily the monkeys were very close by and the guide was able to find them easily. He was very knowledgable but as he was half cut and had a thick Belizean accent I don’t think the girls understood a single word he said. Fortunately his alcohol intake didn’t affect his ability to find the monkeys and they even came down from the top of the trees to have a nose at us. Then the heavens opened again…
We were trying to work out how to spend our time in Belize. We are meeting my Mum for Christmas in Placencia but with all our plans changed we were wondering how to spend the remaining days. My mum and her best friend, Else are doing their own trip around Central America. After a wet night we headed to Belize City, had a look round and camped at the Marina there alongside all the yachts. It felt secure enough leaving the truck there to head over to Caye Calker, a tiny island just an hour from Belize City, for a couple of nights. We hadn’t intended to come out to any of the cayes (islands just off the Belizean coral reef) as we are going to spend a week on the beach with my Mum but with many things a washout on the mainland, we thought why not.
Unfortunately the rain followed us there and the first night we had a 4 hour deluge with heavy rain either side. In Belize City that night we’d heard they’d had 9 inches of rain that night, the annual total is just 6 inches. After a couple of false starts due to the rain the following morning, we headed out to snorkel on the reef. It was fantastic, just inside the reef there is an area where southern sting rays and nurse sharks congregate in a marine reserve. The water was crystal clear turquoise and shallow enough to stand up in. Steve and I had a great time snorkeling with them, Lucy tried it for a short while but Alisha couldn’t be persuaded about the safety of the whole encounter. Richard our guide was brilliant about explaining about the marine life and how nurse sharks have such small teeth that they couldn’t really bite anyone. They loved watching them from the boat though. Before the next torrential downpour we managed to make it round to the other side of the island to see tarpon. They were congregated in huge numbers in the shallow waters near an underwater cave. Steve is now very keen to catch these big game fish that can grow up to 5 feet in length sometime soon. Despite the rain, we’ve really enjoyed Caye Caulker, it is the sort of place you can imagine yourselves putting off your departure, day after day. It has a great relaxed vibe, with just 3 sand roads, no cars and is popular with backpackers. Although the rain is a bit of a pain for us, we really feel bad for those who are flooded and also for those people who are here for their precious 2 week holiday.
Belize is so different from Mexico and the other Latin counties around it, as it used to be a British colony, British Honduras. It is a multi-ethnic country with a mixture of those of different descent: Spanish, African, British and Mayan. It feels far more Caribbean than Central American and English is the official language, although most people speak Kriol. It is a patois based on English but listening to it we get lost by about the third word, it sounds like we should be able to understand it though.
We finished our trip to Caye Caulker with the traditional dinner of red snapper and spiny lobster. Just delicious.
The sharks and rays, while snorkeling: