The last time we heard from Dave, he went deep into Central America trekking Guatemala. Dave had a blast walking through an active volcano, hitting a local festival, weaving (yes, weaving), checking the magical pyramids and getting scared out of wits by howler monkeys. It was one incredible story!
The story continues here in Belize where Dave learns a thing or 2 about the history and culture of the country, joins exciting Actun Tunichil Mukna tour, snorkels the beautiful barrier reef, and recalls a strange encounter with a local barman. He then parties on in Mexico joining the party district and hitting a few spirits hard. But that’s only a taste of what this entry contains.
And so without further ado..
A few hours after leaving Tikal I crossed the border from Guatemala into Belize, a country which I knew nothing about. The border police gave me free chocolate which I thought was a very nice touch and far friendlier than some customs officials I’d met in the past.
I then headed to my accommodation in the town of San Ignacio, a lovely little hotel with bungalows and a swimming pool.
I checked in and then walked into town to exchange my money and the first thing I noticed was the Queen was on all the currency, I then learnt later that Belize was part of the Commonwealth, I had no idea.
I also noticed that a lot of the signage was also in English. It was nice to be in a country where I spoke the native tongue and that my limited Spanish was no longer necessary as Belize was Creole and the national language was English and not Spanish or native Indian, though all these languages were in use.
There were also lots of Rastafarians in town, something else that I was not expecting.
You meet all sorts when you travel
Later that night at the hotel I met some interesting people, all from the USA, two that worked at an asylum for the criminally insane, a cop and a psychiatrist from California, interesting conversations.
It’s amazing the people you meet that you would never ever come across in your routine day-to-day life, one of the reasons I love travel.
A few hours later I then headed out into town, it was not peak travel season so there was not much going on at night. San Ignacio was apparently a nightlife partying place so the quietness was a shame, but at least I would get some daytime activities in hangover free.
The circus is in town
Bored in town, I decided to attend a visiting circus that was set up in the local park. I hadn’t been to a circus since I was a kid so thought that would be something interesting to do. After a few hours, I realised why circuses were banned a long time ago in Australia. Apart from the highly skilled, yet seemingly exploited children gymnasts on display, some of the animals seemed to be in very poor condition. Not all the animal stunts went to plan and a llama and a horse escaped the actual circus ring into the crowd and I was forced to move out-of-the-way, this was bringing the circus experience to a new level (I suppose).
The tigers were interesting and well-trained though I had a thought that the trainer might cop a mauling.
There was also a motocross bike in a sphere like cage riding up and down and around……
I finished up with the circus and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.
Actun Tunichil Mukna
The next day I was on the local tour, referred to as the ATM or Actun Tunichil Mukna, the tour was going to a site regarded as the most important historical place in Belize. I and a family of three Germans (two very overweight parents) headed out on a 2-hour drive / 4wd trip with a guide to the national park.
Then there was another 2-hour walk which could have been faster except the Germans were having trouble hiking, we eventually made cave entrance. We then put on stack helmets and torches and entered the cave underneath a waterfall, it was pretty spectacular.
The tour then involved swimming, climbing and ascending rocks, fitting trough narrow passages and seeing plenty of stalactites; it was fairly extreme, spectacular and good fun.
This would have been a more intense experience except for the fact the Germans were now really struggling (we left the mother behind for the last part), so I had a lot of time to chill out, pick my nose, and skim rocks across the underwater cavern.
Ancient Mayan sacrifice
Eventually, we reached the purpose of the trip, an ancient chamber that was used for Mayan sacrifice; the ATM leads you to where the ancient high-class Mayans used to sacrifice people to the gods for better harvests.
The last cavern included various urns as well as skeletal remains of sacrifices made, apparently all authentic. The difficulty in reaching the place I was inclined to believe, it was also very creepy. It’s possible that it’s the only natural museum in the world where the ancient artefacts still remained in their original resting places. The artefacts were over 1000 years old. Once again I was feeling very Indiana Jones but there was no Ark of the Covenant to be found I was not allowed to take photos as a tourist a few weeks ago dropped a camera on one of the skulls and put a hole through it.
To be honest I am not sure leaving remains in the cave is the best idea if looking to preserve history; however the experience despite the waddling Germans was quite unique. My group then waddled back to our truck and headed back to town. That night nothing much was going on so went to bed early.
Don’t mind the gunfire
The following day I headed off to Belize City for my ferry ride to Caye Caulker my next destination, the drive took around 1 hour and on the outskirts of town I heard automatic gunfire. My driver put on the radio and there were news reports of a gun battle on the outskirts of town between police and local organised criminals, Belize City much like Guatemala City is dangerous and not recommended for tourists.
I arrived at the ferry terminal and promptly got onto a ferry which took me to the much safer island of Caye Caulker. I spent most of the day walking around the town and then sitting on the beach, the town as the island is not particularly large.
It’s regarded as a hippie chilled out place, unlike Belize City which is riddled with crime, and it was easy to see why. All the roads were made of sand, the few vehicles on the island were golf carts, most people either walked, rode bicycles or these carts for transport. There was also a lot of Rastafarians selling marijuana including giving out free samples apparently, not that I engage in that.
The town was quiet but fortunately, I ran across the American couple I had met in Antigua at the hotel I was staying in. I had a nice dinner with them and headed to bed early, I had some more activities planned.
Snorkeling on the Barrier Reef
The next day I met up with the American couple and went on a snorkel on the Barrier Reef. Belize’s reef is the second largest in the world, not quite as large as Australia’s Barrier Reef and it also did not have as much coral or wildlife.
I don’t have my driver’s license so I spent the time snorkeling, the highlight was cradling a nurse shark and a sting ray, something that you are definitely not allowed to do in Australia.
Apparently the locals are worried about the reef breaking apart due to climate change though this concern didn’t obviously pertain to handling the wildlife, it was good fun though.
The barman is THE LAW
That evening I headed out the American couple as was caught in a mini hurricane, we ran into the first place we could find to escape the storm which happened to be the local night club.
We had some dinner and chatted with the guy behind the bar. I asked him all the selling and smoking of marijuana and he said it was banned in the club to which I asked why? The barman indicated that he was the local police chief and a former police officer from Ohio, so while smoking was illegal it was still practiced everywhere except inside his bar.
I did not believe this so I asked to see his badge which he showed me; I thought it was fake so asked to see his gun which he promptly pulled out.
This was all quite surreal and then the barmen said: “Watch this” flicked on the gun’s laser sight and started waving it around in the air.
“It’s a real gun, but also makes a good glow stick”.
My friends and I left shortly after, we went to a few bars and then back to the hotel, we had a good chat, the couple both worked in cinematography (another career that sounds more interesting than mine), I said my goodbyes headed to bed around midnight was I was off to Mexico the following day on the 7 am ferry.
I had five nights in Mexico, unlike the cultural experiences I’d been having in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize, I came to Mexico to specifically experience the nightlife, and my expectations were exceeded.
The first 3 nights I spent in Playa Del Carmen, one of the top tourist destinations and party capitals in the world apparently, it was expensive, classy and lots of fun. Women were allowed into nightclubs and provided drinks for free by the club. I found the practice discriminatory but managed to cope with it.
Just like Vegas
My three nights involved night clubs and sleeping during the day, either at the hostel I was at or down at the beach.
Playa Del Carmen was kind of like a mini Las Vegas, though I did not find any gambling, it’s also quite a beautiful town unlike Vegas so if awake during the day there was plenty scenery and shopping to be done.
The hostel was excellent as well with backpackers mainly from Australia and England; I had not run across any large groups of backpackers on my trip so far so it was good to hang out with backpackers.
One particular highlight was Chelsea becoming the world’s best football team; defeating Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. The only frustrating part of the experience was the rather monotonous sound of an artist called Pit Bull. Grrrr..
From there I moved onto Cancun, known best for its college Spring Vacation, I had missed that by a month or so, it was still fairly hectic, however. I was staying at an all-inclusive 4- star hotel in the Cancun hotel district, an area that is essentially a suburb full of hotels adorning a beach.
The hotels are designed so that hotel patrons had no reason to leave; you could realistically come to Mexico and do nothing culturally, whilst staying in the hotel.
This was the first time I have encountered this type of accommodation and again I was not disappointed, this was the polar opposite to backpacking.
Lots to drink around here
My room overlooked the beach and my fridge was stocked full of beer, the top of the fridge was a rack full of spirits, bourbon, tequila, gin and everything else. The fridge and the alcohol were stocked every day with room service at no extra cost. I am not one to sit in my room and drink alone so I headed to the pool, the pool was the communal area, mainly USA and English tourists.
Cocktails were free and they came thick and fast as the bar was in the middle of the pool, this place is not an authentic cultural experience by any means and I’d dread to see what it was actually like during Spring Break.
The restaurants were large and there were plenty of them, there were hundreds of dishes available to choose from, Mexican and everything else seemingly, German, Japanese etc.
I made the most of this by eating quite frequently over the two days and nights I was there, this was made easier as I was allowed to serve myself, if I ran out of beer there was always a tap close by where I could refill myself as often as I wanted. My time there was a bit of a blur, but I figured I had done a lot of cultural activities already and it was good to sleep in and not have to run around to see the sights.
Made it – whew!
I eventually made it out of Mexico “alive” two days later on 4:00 am flight, Cancun was fun but way too much excess and it was time to get back into some serious travel.
The next destination was Haiti, I figured one can’t get more serious than that……
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. This series started a while back and finished right here in Mexico. We’ll be back soon in the Haiti!
He just completed another world trip and will be sharing his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you with these stories.