I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Monday, 4 October 2010

6th border crossing: into Belize, from Coban to the Caribbean coast

So from Tactic I really took it slow along the 200km straight and relatively flat dirt track road to El Castillo on the edge of Lago Izabal where I caught a lancha to the Garifuna town of Livingston and passed a few days in the crazy party hostel there Casa Iguana run by drinking-game-fan Londoner Rusty.

The days it took me to get to the coast and the lancha were calm and solitary in a happy way whislt tiring and hot in terms of cycling even though I was doing short days, and full of small details of pleasure that bearing in mind Jane and my chat about mindfulness I tried to taste each experience individually...

bumping into familiar face of young Mum of David from the Hotel Familiar in Coban with her husband selling chips.. David was in a wooden cot covered in a mosquito net behind the stall, burning up with a fever though they had medicines for him poor thing, but it was lovely to hug his Mum...

camping by the warm waters of Lago Izabal at Finca El Paraisio, spinning poy in the moonlight, bare-feet in the sands, amongst the toads and mosquitoes flocking round their mecca of the night lamp, following the pelicans waddle into the water and swim off, collecting unusual black spiral shells, diving off a water stranded tree

being rowed in a wooden kayak amongst the rocks and reflection of the Boqueron canyon by 12 year old Danielo

scrambling around the rocks and splashing in the hot sulfur smelling waters of the hot springs at El Paraisio (a shame here 50q went missing from my wallet, I didn't notice it til later, but hey I've got to expect stuff to get nicked sometimes). Ate tasty banana bread which were actually pancakes sold by little girls at the exit

swimming off the edge of the land where the old anti pirate fort sits that El Castillo takes its name from and watching a snorkel masked man dive and catch a whole harpoon full of fish

seeing the wooden canoe fishermen paddling along the edges of the Rio Dulce on the lancha ride down to the port at Livingston and the wooden homes on wooden piers edging out nto the water, imagining how it must be to live there so remotely

Stepping off the boat at Livingston I experienced the hustle of competing hostels and was persuaded to head to Casa Iguana along with New Yorker Ezra who I'd met on the trip down and got talking religion and politics with at the hot-spring-and-fish-nibble-your-ankle spot half way down the river. There were two sides to Livingston, the fun side of meeting other tourists, going out dancing and drinking with locals and hearing Garifuna music and language and trying the new foods, and then there was the feeling often that someone wanted something from you and genuine friendships were harder to form. There is very little work opportunity at this time of year, with it being off season, and at times it felt like everyone was trying to make a quick buck off you, from the hostel itself to the young lads working the docks showing tourists to the hostels for a tip. Understandable but at times not as relaxing as you might expect of a Caribbean coastal port. There also seemed to be tensions between the Garifuna community, who are black decedents of African slaves, and the ladino culture. One man Ezra and I met on the beach took us for a walk through the Garifuna part of town and into one of the homes there, very poor housing, ramshakle and huddled together.

Food wise it was great to have some variation and the tapado, seafood soup that Livingston is famous for was delicious, cooked in a coconut based sauce the flavor was delicious and there were so may different seafoods that Ezra and I weren't sure how to get into a few of them... he called it an inconvenient dish. Possible my best experience there was going to local lad Eddie's house to learn how to cook plantain Garifuna stylee, grated down to a mash and mixed with a little salt then fried, so tasty and very similar to hash browns in texture.

One of my concerns when I approached Livingston was that I'd been technically illegal in Guatemala a good few days, my visa had run out and I knew to expect a 10q-per-day fine. I ended up staying a few days longer than I thought, at first just enjoying the company and the drinking, visiting the local waterfalls at Siete Altares (7 altars) whose walk through the beach was beautiful until the sand swapped for layers and layers of rubbish and I felt so sad, and then waiting for the Tropical Storm to pass, although we never really felt the effects of it, then waiting til the next Tuesday lancha, direct to Belize. Surprisingly to me the official at immigration, an office in town where you stamp your passport the day before the boat ride, was completely un-bothered by my illegality. I had a stonking 150q fine, but no reprimand and when you think of the many tax-dodging tourists who are living full time in Guatemala and skirting tax and visa laws (I met a couple of these types of ex-pats, solid folk, especially Londoner Chris who has traveled by horse and cart through the states, wicked) I guess then its no surprise they're not worried about a mere backpacker.

So fine paid and new stamp in passport I caught the lancha to Belize, a border crossing by boat, very exciting- a bumpy ride that makes me think we're riding along on wood, yet I still managed to doze off for the last wee while. Having unloaded from the boat the differences began to spring out. Checking in at customs you are talking English not Spanish, changing money from quetzales to Belizean dollars you see the British Queen's much-younger-than-now head on the notes, stopping off for breakfast in a local cafe there are fried jack (fried puff pastry similarish to yorkshire pudding but oilier for being fried in a pan) rather than tortilla with the egg and beans. Dairy milk in bars in the corner shop, though I haven't succumbed yet and according to Lucy it isn't actually the same as back home unless you buy from the city!

Having felt a bit lost and unsure of my plan getting off the boat I got chatting to an older man in the cafe, Mr Rob, and good connections began to slot into place once again, and have done ever since. Peggy had been feeling a bit worse for wear and my pump was dodgy so I followed up Mr Robs recommendation and headed to Justin's bike shop. We got on immediately, Justin is full of energy and enthusiastic about bikes and cycling, reminding me a bit of the racer from the film 'A flying Scotsman'. He lent me one of the very laid back 'beach cruiser' bikes that most folk get around on in Punta Gorda (PG as the locals call it) to nip about picking up a new tyre and inner tube and headed back to the shop to fix Peggy up, before heading to the pier to swim, meeting up with Alaskan artist Kassi who I met on the lancha over and whose veganism led us to the tastiest meal I'd had in ages. I ended up sticking around in PG a few days, staying at the shop which was also J's home, painting a new sign for the bike shop in exchange for a free place to kip and his delicious cooking, trying Johnny cakes, cinnamon buns and BBQ chicken Belize stylee... Justin gets his culinary skills from his dad who lives just round the corner and mixes and sells seasoning as his second business (after 'yard chopping' - lawn mowing). Hanging out there was a great welcome to Belize being surrounded by Creole which is an unusual language to my ears because so often it sounds like English but at the same time often I had no idea what a conversation would be about... I think I found it easier getting my ears around Spanish. It is a lovely sound though, lilting and laid back... just like the Caribbean coast in general.

Justin, and three of his mates cycled me the first 17miles up the road as I headed off yesterday, a great head-start for me especially as the lads took it in turns riding fully loaded Peggy whilst I tootled along on the beach cruiser. I was really touched at them keeping me company and after refilling water bottles at Dwight's auntie's house and sharing chicken rice and beans at Big Falls they turned back whilst I carried on. The new tyre and more air than they've had in ages, combined with flat-as-an-almost-pancake ashpalt highway I felt like I was flying along at last... to be fair proably averaging 14mph but everything's relative.. apparently a whole load of water came pouring out her frame when J hung Peggy up to work on, so perhaps that had also been weighing me down. I made it to Mango Creek by dusk and in one of those connections-at-the-time-you-need-it scenarios found a place to camp on the porch of an empty house opposite the home of a couple Canadian David and Guatemalan Anna after they'd turned up on a moped selling mini bananas at the spot I was waiting to enquire hotel prices at. I can definitely see why not many backpackers head to Belize, there are not backpacker accommodations, and food is much more expensive than the C4 countries.

In another of those perfect connections, I just caught the Hokey Pokey water taxi (another lancha) across to Placencia, waiting for the internet cafe to open, wrote down Lucy's email and had her number, a phone credit slip and the reciever of a payphone in my hand when a car drove up and out she jumped... fantastic! Lucy is a wicked girl I met on the Macmillan Mexico cycling trip all the way back in March 2009, and was one of the big influences in me even being here. partly became she's already been living and working out here and made me realize what is the point in dreaming and dreaming about traveling and still carrying on sitting back at home waiting for someone to go with you.. better get up and go before it is too late. We'd originally begun dreaming about this trip together after the notorious day 3 of Mexico, when a switch flipped in my head and I realized its possible to travel the world by bike like this. It felt great to see her familiar face and to be able to chat about a lot of the excitement, thoughts, inspirations and challenges that being out in this part of the world brings, and staying in her and Robert's home here in Placenia is a luxury I wasn't expecting, warn shower, good coffee, ice that comes out a fridge, fluffly towels...mmm....but best of all its having the company of a friend that felt fantastic.

And that will be what i most look forward to about coming home, that and good bread and a pint of cider... with thinking about my trip coming to an end I have definitely changed pace and entered a different headset of traveling. I think chatting with Lucy I have stopped being in denial about coming home at the end of this month. I'd been looking at the map on my own and worked out I can make it through to Cancun at a fast pedal push for all the next 16 days, and when we looked at the route together we rekoned I can still stop off in Ignanio Cayo where they also stay and by the time I am there Robert should be back from the island where he is helping develop a resort, and I may even get a chance to fly with him. After all these months of sloth paced traveling it feels so strange to be in a rush, or at least under time pressure, but then I've always been a leave-things-til-the-last-minute kind of person. I know I will make it, I just hope that I still get to see a lot on the way.

big love from Belize,

No comments:

Post a Comment