Two things became clear as we arrived in Belize and began exploring. One we missed Mexico. Two we also really missed speaking English. Also we began to learn that Belize runs with an efficiency we hadn’t seen in a long time. Boy we had missed that too!
We crossed into Belize on March 21st with no problems, thanks again to that Belizean efficiency. The Mexico side only required we pay our exit fees (for our tourist cards, just $20 each) and then we returned our Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (referred to as TIP by most overlanders) allowing them to refund our $400 deposit for not selling our vehicle while in Mexico. With that done, we drove through fumigation, a buiding like a small auto car wash where they spray the underside of your car for… something… I have no idea what they’re worried about us bringing into Belize. Then it’s a trip through immigration to get our passports stamped and a new TIP. After a short inspection of the truck and a stop to purchase the required Belizean vehicle insurance, we were officially in Belize. Total time: about 1-1/2 hours.
We started with a visit to Copper Bank and the Copper Bank Inn, which requires a trip across a hand-cranked ferry to visit. We will admit that was part of the draw. You drive onto the ferry they start cranking away, one on either side, and then as you reach the end everyone has to move their vehicles back several feet to adjust the weight. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes, giving you just enough time to chat with the operators and locals on the short ride. In Copper Bank, we got the scoop from the locals at the bar on everywhere we needed to visit in this small country. We quickly realized that the two weeks we’d thought we’d spend in Belize, would probably be a month.
The owner of the Copper Bank Inn, Canadian ex-pat Todd, let us borrow two kayaks so while we visited we took a 7 mile trip down and back across the beautiful Caribbean blue lagoon and then gorged ourselves on American-esque meals of fried chicken, burgers, and spaghetti and meatballs. It was a wonderful welcome into this new country. We also had a chance to stop by a piece of property owned by our friend and former boss Cliff and met one of his neighbors who kindly showed us how to find his lot. When your house is built, we’ll be your first guests Cliff! : )
We traveled next to Orange Walk Town to visit the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. This site is best experienced by taking a boat ride from town down the windy and scenic New River where you will see crocodiles, monkeys, bats, turtles, and lots of birds I can’t name. The ruins themselves are secluded, and mostly devoid of the crowds we were getting used to. The best part is they let you climb up the tall ruins, take pictures, really get up close and see each building. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of each structure, and their discoveries, and taught us Mayan phrases along the way that we immediately forgot. The boat ride back was a little tense as they ran out of rum punch just as they were getting to KP and I, but luckily I had my trusty flask with me.
On our way to Belize City to catch a boat to the islands, we stopped to catch up again with our friends Mark and Victoria and their 2-1/2 year old Joey, at Crooked Tree Wildlife Preserve. We camped at the Jacana Inn for two nights and had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk to the owner Earl. Earl had lived in LA for about 35 years, until he made enough money to come back to his home town of Crooked Tree and buy his beautiful property, as well as several rental properties in nearby Orange Walk Town. He came to the states with very little and worked hard until he could afford to buy a house, just six years after he arrived, and then turned around and sold that house in six more years for 3x what he bought it for. He talks about the heart and determination that immigrants bring to the states with them, and how America is the only place where a 20 something kid like him could go and have the opportunities to build a life the way he did. His story is one we hear often from people who have spent time in the states, but it reminded us of the important part immigrants play in the fabric of America.
We said goodbye to Earl, and our friends Mark and Victoria who were heading to Guatemala, and made our way toward the islands and the world’s second largest barrier reef! We picked Caye Caulker for its small island feel and proximity to the incredible snorkeling. We feasted on Lionfish (something I didn’t know you could even eat until we got to the island and saw it on every menu) and red snapper for dinner, with as much free rum punch as we could find (which was actually a lot), and then bar hopped our way back to our tiny room. We discovered rum is good, and Belize is a lot more expensive than Mexico. Time to go snorkeling!
The snorkeling did not disappoint as we saw giant sea turtles and sting rays in our first 10 minutes in the water. Then it was over to shark n’ ray alley for up close encounters with nurse sharks, gentle sharks that have a sucker type mouth with small teeth, and more huge sting rays. Two more stops took us through the amazing coral gardens and a deep natural channel used to cross the reef. It was here that we saw my favorite of the day, the Morey Eel! So crazy how big and brutal these guys look. I even braved a dive down to a natural tunnel about 20’ underwater and came out the other side alive! The day ended with a nice boat ride along the island where we saw a family of dolphins up close, a small sea horse sanctuary they built near the shore, and two manatees right by our boat! See the video above for some of the snorkeling highlights!
We made friends with another couple on the boat Steph and Piya, and we joined them on the roof of their fancy hotel (everything else seems fancy when you’re staying at the cheapest place on the island) for sunset cocktails. It was fun to hear how much these ladies had traveled and we found yet again, that we were jealous of the experiences of our fellow travelers. Their stories were amazing! We all wandered to a bar advertising movie night with very fancy cocktails- Ginger-Blueberry Margaritas, anyone? – and watched Passengers in their outdoor garden with projector. It was a lovely night with new friends, and capped off a wonderful visit to the island.
Not all was as well as we thought though when we got back to our room to find we were not alone… More on that next week…