After getting past the insurance people, the fumigation people, the customs people, and the immigration people, we rode confidently into Belize, whereupon after two miles a truck promptly knocked Darren off of his motorcycle.
This happened at three miles an hour and the truck's passengers were quite friendly in helping him lift his bike and Darren didn't even fall, he kind of hopped off, but the point was made: in friendly Belize, there'd be no f*cking around.
Riding through to Belize City, halfway down the country's length, we made gentle progress on decent tarmac. We felt out the new traffic culture — cars were a little more ardent in passing and the two-lane road lacked markers — but this was one of the country's best highways so we didn't complain. In Belize City we expected a metropolis with one quarter of the country's population, though we were underwhelmed when upon arrival the sign stated a population of 70k, but with a country of 300k peeps this made sense.
We automatically headed downtown just as in Mexico, but Belize City downtown felt quite sketchy and foreign, and our guidebook's first guesthouse listing appeared abandoned and then reinhabited by squatters, complete with drooping sign and doors torn off hinges. Where were we? We headed to another place, back down alleys behind alleys, and we parked our bikes nose-out preparing for a quick getaway before giving up and heading out for the fringe of town where we saw a Best Western.
Before the Best Western, we spotted what we'd later be told is the only place in B.C. where we should ever, ever park our bikes: the Princess Hotel and Casino. Darren would win $25 at the casino in roulette, offsetting the USD$130 we spent on our most expensive hotel room by far. Oh, so it turns out Belize is strangely expensive, despite its underwhelming tourist draw, but it speaks English, making everything far easier.
The next day we'd make our way out across the water to Caye Caulker, so we made a private arrangement with the head of security for the protection of our motos which we'd lock down and cover with tarps against onlookers and the sea spray coming from twenty or so feet away.
We took a taxi to the ferry terminal, but after the obligtory offer of ganja and women, the driver insisted on first taking us to a decent restaurant for lunch, telling us that our watches were fast by an hour and that we had plenty of time. We agreed though we thought it might be a robbery ploy, but as we wound our way through arbitrary alleys we discovered that Belize does not, in fact, do daylight savings, and our taxi driver's story checked out just as the oceanside restaurant came into view. He wished us a happy Independence Day and I had beef stew with coconut rice and fried plantain and sweet tea, the meal a cross between Carribean and American southern.
We ferried to the small island Caye Caulker, about a mile long and one-quarter mile wide, and anyone you see once, you are guaranteed to see four more times and no less. With its license-plated golf carts and shoddily-built restaurants and hotels, the place felt like a miniature version of reality, as though children had pieced it together from driftwood. I dinnered on a lobster who had been rudely cleaved.
We would run into German Nate from Oaxaca and was it San Cristobal? We would run into Adam from San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Escondido and was it Oaxaca? We would drink rum on the beach and talk about women, what else?
We'd go on a snorkelling expedition but I'd get seasick and sit the whole thing out, and others would be fine but one person would slyly vomit off the side of the boat and rays would feed on the chum and snorkellers would swim through it, but the sea cleansed them just fine. A hot Australian girl I'll call Beta, a Czech name the internet tells me, kept me company and later we'd go out for dinner then drinks and then after a night together I asked Darren about staying an extra day, he said it was fine so Beta and I got a private cabaña and I had a girlfriend for a day.
This was an interesting phenomenon, to be with someone for what one was to know would be a single day and that you may never see them again. I tried hard not to think of later but of Now, I thought mostly of a Buddhist quote about valuing a prized glass Now because one day it would break, I knew our glass was already broken in the future. There are no pictures of this time, but I would think very much about it on the ferry back.
Our total time in Caye Caulker turned out to be four nights, the last one with howling winds which shook the cabaña on its stilts and all I could think of was what to do if there were a tornado (silly, I know) but there was no hiding on this island from weather or anything else.
Our bikes were still at Princess Hotel and Casino when we returned, the raw steel of the brake discs bright red with rust. We rode slowly to San Ignacio, west and inland toward Guatemala, and upon arrival a stranger, expat motorcyclist Andy, rolled up on a beat-up XR 650 to say hello. He gave us a tip on a good hotel for moto parking and we invited him to dinner, where he regaled us with stories of professional diving and being an impromptu fishing expert in Lebanon during their recent war and surviving riots throughout the most dangerous country I've yet visited, America.
We had signed up for a tour of one of the biggest attractions, the ATM caves, but it was off the next day due to high water, so we tried in vain to get a hold of Andy for a personalized tour of the local sites before finally giving up around noon and making our own way. After circling town a few times in a lost manner, I fell off my bike in a panic stop at three miles per hour and demolished my windshield. I was fine and Andy called right then, so it was clear the gods had other plans for us. Darren and I were now even for lame mishaps in Belize.
My confidence was shaken, but the rough road to the butterfly farm built it back up.
Then we stopped at a local hangout to ask about the roads and inform the locals of the rest of our journey.
We proceeded along packed clay to Big Rock Falls where we swam and met a pair of attractive couples from LA and SF. We splashed around in the river until we got hungry.
We stopped off at a very expensive resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola where an attractive but too-young woman ordered a daiqueri, making us all feel very conflicted. We ordered wood-fired oven pizzas and drank what Andy called the best piña coladas in the country, though that was debatable. We let the time slip by and ended up riding back along dirt roads at night, which was a double challenge and made me appreciate the extra lights I had installed.
The next day we'd actually finally go to the ATM caves, which required a two-hour van ride, a 45 minute hike including three river fordings, and a minor swim into the cave's mouth, as well as a number of chest-deep wades and squeezes through narrow rock as water flows at neck height.
Cameras are strictly verboten here (sorry) but the reward was huge caverns of amazing stalactite formations and unique Mayan artifacts, including the well-preserved full skeleton of a sacrifice, murdered in the desperate hope of resetting their failing climate. No bones of women were found in the cave but children were scattered about, killed via suffocation. I left and ate a simple pulled-chicken sandwich, which was tasty for a tour's provided meal, but I couldn't stop thinking how when humans die long enough in the past, we cease to see it as tragedy and instead view it with fascination. I had to bite into the provided orange to peel it and it was very bitter.
At night we would eat again with Andy, and Your Humble Adventurer would finish Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" and for a moment wish that he were living a romantic lifestyle of travel and writing and then suddenly remember that he is.
Tomorrow we are crossing into Guatemala to see Tikal, one of the most impressive Mayan ruins anywhere. They say Guatemala is dangerous, but they said that about Mexico and Belize, too.