New country, new attitude

Belize – San Ignacio

I left Guatemala on a high for it had spoilt us with a fantastic few days and in my mind it was about to get better than a free bar at a wedding as we crossed over into Belize, the one and only reason for me wanting to come to this region of the world. I remember seeing Belize on the telly box, a country of pristine waters and barren tropical beaches with one of the biggest coral reefs on the planet. It looked untouched and in my mind no one other than the people watching the show knew about it. My perception didn’t quite match the reality as a country I’ve been keen to visit for over ten years began to let me down within hours of crossing the border. In the modern politically correct world we struggle to cope with the concept of people being different from one and other. Countries and nations differ, that’s what defines a nation from another, and in many cases you can sense or even blatantly see a change in a countrie’s people as soon as you cross the land border. On this occasion we left the incredibly wonderful people of Guatemala to be hosted by Basil Faulty, only with less humour and a tablespoon more of a patronising attitude. On arrival to our hotel around mid-day, there were signs everywhere telling us what we could and couldn’t do and how we would get a good spanking if we broke the rules. Limits on how much water we could get from the cooler and instructions on how and where to hang towels. Before settling for lunch we were given a rundown on the activities for the next few days by one of the guides who would be supplying the fun. He didn’t make it sound like fun. On one hand I get it, going out on rivers and into caves can be dangerous and they don’t want people going into such activities with their eyes closed and then freaking out and making life difficult. Belize was also full of Americans and Canadians and so I understand why the instructors may be a bit more blunt, but it got tiring extremely quickly. There was an arrogance behind it all which I hate because it installs unnecessary doubt in me and then just to wrap it all up they charged an horrendous amount.

Our afternoon activity should we wish was tubing down a river and through caves for a small $75 UD. All it required was a flashlight, an big inflatable inner tube, safety gear and of course a couple of guides. Granted we got lunch and travel included but for two hours floating down a river I thought it was more than enough, especially as the guides were boarder line arses. BUT… looking back maybe it wasn’t that expensive as it was a fun thing to do and the park was stunning. Blue Hole National Park should you be keen. They also told us that numbers were restricted into the park in order to protect it and this something I strongly believe in thus less people will equate to a higher entrance fee in order to cover costs. Ultimately I think I was pissed off with the attitude. There was also some confusion over whether we needed river shoes. Of course they were available to hire for $5 from a guy who couldn’t sell an umbrella in a rainstorm and then he angered me when he told me quite forcably I would be turned away at the entrance for wearing only flip-flops and not his fancy crocs. In return I bluntly told him he was full of bullshit and I wondered happily and unmolested along with many others wearing only flip-flops. Two great things came of the afternoon and that was I jumped off some high rocks into a pool of water deep inside a cave which was a first for me and, the Mrs was about as happy as one could be, quite clearly loving the day.

No sooner had we got back from the river tubing we went straight out for dinner and then straight to bed before heading straight back out the door at 7.30 the following morning. I wanted to start my day with guacamole but strangely avocado was out of season in Belize but in season in the countries either side of it! Slightly aggrieved we jumped into the minibus and headed back to the park where we would be spending the morning crawling around caves. For us it would be the Crystal Cave and it would once again be complete with patronising guides who couldn’t help but install a sense of inability in oneself. They were good guys but made worse for me because I was already stewing over Belize. The caves however, were bloody awesome. We spent several hours deep underground in huge caverns and tight cracks. Stalactites rained down all around us with stalagmites piercing the floor. The rocks were slippy, it was muddy, it required a little effort, I loved it! At one point we had to take our shoes and socks off to enter one of the cave systems which added another dimension to the whole experience. What makes these caves particularly unique to other caves around the world is that they were frequented by the Maya back in the day. This is well known because there’s remains of pottery dotted around the place as well as the remains of a headless snake and human remains. Yes indeed, a human skeleton that has become calcified over time is one of the star attractions. You may have noticed in my tone that I haven’t been taken by Belize but credit where credit due, San Ignacio has provided more than its fair share of adventure in lush tropical surroundings and new experiences. Sweaty and covered in mud upon exiting the caves we trekked for forty minutes back through lush forrest before making a two minute road trip down to a cenote. Traditionally a pond in a cave with no roof, this cenote was more of a pond surrounded by rocks but…. apparently you could dive from this cenote underground to some other pond/cenote. It may have even been to the sea but my memory fails me once again. Anyway, I was there simply to wash off and freshen up in surroundings I’m more familiar with on TV shampoo adverts. Sweat free we headed to lunch where there was no fault to be found. Huge fajitas with chunks of cheese, chicken and salad, washed down with a fruity and slightly rum tinged punch. It was a feast and brought the day to a jolly nice end. Food in Central America continues to impress!

The following morning saw us all aboard the chicken bus. This is the local bus, most likely originating from the United States and finally ending up driving around Belize carrying people and their livestock to market in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately when we boarded there were no chickens to be found for that time had passed and so we took our seats, opened the windows and watched the beautiful Belize countryside pass by as we made the two and a half hour journey to Belize City. Fun fact, Belize City is the biggest city in Belize but not the capital. It was the capital but after a hurricane it was decided to built a capital more inland in an effort to make it safer against bad behaving weather, thus Belmopan was born, a capital city of just 17,000 people. Right now we had to taxi our way across 57,169 people from the bus station in Belize City to the boat station (Harbour? Port?). From here we would catch a speed boat to the island of Caye Caulker where I expected to find my deserted tropical beaches. How wrong I would be!

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