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

Friday, 15 April 2011

Vagabonding: Rolf Potts

Was recommended this book by a friend, about the 'art of long term travel'...mmm... lovely (:

Vagabonding Rolf Potts

Travel, education, spirituality, and social evolution are to me intrinsically intertwined. If we spent half the money on travel that we do on material goods in America [or us here in the uk] I think the world would be a much different place. We've stifled our curiosity because it's time-consuming (and time is money). Travel is spiritual because it's about personal growth, awareness and sensitivity.
-Michelle Shepard, 33. Writer and editor, Missouri.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Safely back!

2788 cycled miles on and I made it to the airport...yay! It was such an exciting feeling to think that yes I'd made it the whole of the route and I've got to admit to gushing a bit at the young security guard that I grabbed to photograph me at the departures door to prove the fact! I didn't have long to be self-congratulatory though, seeing as I had to make a box to carry Peggy home in. I'd picked some beer boxes up in the morning from Puerto Morelos so did a bit of a Blue Peter job and had a very wobbly bike box after an hour or so. Jose a friendly member of staff who'd been passing by throughout the hour watching what I was up to sorted out getting a final plastic wrap around my makeshift construction and eventually after one angry German fall-down-on-the-floor-lady surprise later I was checked in for my triple-leg Air Berlin flight. 20 hours later I emerged in London Stanstead where I was met by my lovely mate Hannah, who was thoughtful enough to arrive brandishing a furry jacket against the London chill.
The chilliness of London has been a big bit of a shock to the system I've got to admit, especially after my last beach filled couple of days on Mexican soil at Puerto Morales. After the snorkeling experience of the final day I had food and drinks on the house courtesy of lovely trainee medic David and we chatted well into the night about Mexico's health care difficult to access for somewhere poor) his learnign to autopsy as a young teen, barwork and close encounters with exiting animals around the reef.. between him and his friends from the sounds of it there is quite an impressive underwater gallery involving sharks, turtles and manatees. Got up about 5am the next morning to go and sit down at the beach front and watch the sunrise, a fantastic cocktail of blues because of the clouds.

Sat watching the sun emerge I met night vigilante, or security, Fernando, who recommended Tio's cafe where I had my final central american breakfast of omlette and tortilla and sorted out the boxes for packing Pegy before dashing around picking up little presents for folk back home (have been slightly ribbed for bringing back Mexican 'magnifico' cigars which my bro Daniel tells me sound like dodgy cousins of the slick and sleek Cuban varirty...doh) Lazed around in the sea for a while wondering at the loveliness of easy floating-sky-gazing in salt water until it was finally time to don my dog-chewed-wave-painted-ridiculouslness of a cycle helmet for the final smooth and uneventful 20km ride of the trip.

So after nine long exciting months and innumerable encouters and experiences I am back on UK soil, among family and friends, and incredbly luckily with animation work to go back to as of next Monday..... am already daydreaming of the next adventure !)

big love,
and for any final donations for Macmillan visit

Sunday, 17 October 2010

7th border crossing: Mexico, the Final Countdown

So I´ve crossed my final border into Mexico... happily back to being immersed in the Spanish language, 7th border, 8th country, 8th currency this time the Mexican peso or dollar, 12 to 1 US roughly. I´ve been told the new 500 bills have images of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two Mexican artists I really love, but am yet to see one.

Cycling wise these have been longish days, pushing out the k´s to make sure I get up to the airport in time, but since the exhilarating hummocks of the Hummingbird highway back in Belize (downs good enough to pull you all or almost-all up the ups) it has been flat flat flat. And since crossing the border it has been an arrow straight line, good asphalt, speedy (for me, which is not -so-speedy-really!) going except when I´ve had strong headwinds, which thankfully have never been all day. Downside is that there is very little to see, very few settlements on the side of the roads, mainly trees trees and the odd entrance to a huge resort. I´ve taken to playing Spanish alphabet-base-word-games with myself as well as my random singing and hand-swap-riding to entertain me.. oh dear... also you know its repetitive scenery when almost all your road photos are roadkill.. I counted I think 12 or so different types of roadkill, right now the ones I can remember are: dragonfly, big colourful grasshoppper-ish creatures (a lot of a sudden after the border, peculiar!), butterflies, spiders (tarantula-esque), frog, bat, big rat like creature, skunk, long tailed monkey-esque creature (not sure about this one, went whizzing past so not sure really what it was but it had a big long tail), snake, little field mouse type rodent, and the shelled creature you see below. Poor wee blighters!

My first night in Mexico I camped at the beach next to the Tortuga restaraunt where I´d stopped for a coffee and where all the staff were really kind, Alberto gave me a resaraunt t-shirt to take home... that´s some long distance advertising and Carlos insisted I didn´t leave until he got to work the next morning so he could check out the weather reports to see if it was safe to travel, because there were rumours of a hurricane hitting the coast. As it turned out it headed towards Cuba, lucky for me but I hope the Cubans coped ok. So after a beautiful sunrise and a refreshing early morning swim in the virtually still water I was back on the road (and back to my morbid photography!)

More water edged camping... after stopping at the Cenote Azul next to the town of Bacalar for an afternoon swim I decided the resort filled town didn´t feel right (resort land feels fake and I just don´t feel comfortable somehow) so I pushed on, making it up to the tip of the Laguna Azul and a quiet cabaña spot run by German Frederico (much more comfortable with a patch of earth under a palapa - thatched wall-less shelter - directly on the edge of the lake). Met a young lad called Jesus on the last part of the highway, he showed me where the hostel was (not really necessary but sweet) and helped me put up the tent so I shared my lazy-out-the-tin effort at dinner with him and we chatted about illegal immingration. At 23 years he´s already been to the US working and been deported. He openly told me his story, of paying $3000 US, meeting with a group of other Mexicans, getting to the border where they walked 9 hours through the night to cross the frontier, getting to a safe house on the other side and heading north towards family and friends. He was driving without a lisence for work and got caught one year, for fear of deportation he didn´t pay the fine which accumulated for a year and half until he was caught again, found to be illegal, put in prison for a month waiting deportation, then flown handcuffed to northern Mexico, with 30 pesos in his pocket (less than $3 US) and the set of clothes he was walking in. Family moneygrammed him the cash to come back down south, where he works now on road construction and has no immediate plans to head back north. Tough.. I asked was he afraid at any point but he said no, he never felt in danger, perhaps he was lucky, perhaps because he crossed at the easternmost point of the border.

Later in the week a couple of older Mexicans at Tulum, Sergio and hammock maker Theo, shared their opinion about immigration. They feel that folk who follow the quick buck US dream are just wasting money that would be better invested in establishing a small business here at home, where life is cheaper and there is potential for growth and a good life. They both seem very content with their lot at the stunning coastal spot, where the sand is silky (though you can make sculptures out of it as I learnt when I came across a competition of turtle sand sculptures going on) and so white golden the sunreflecting off is very-squint-making without sunglasses (of which I´m now on my 5th pair of the trip after the losing and breaking efforts that I´ve managed!) and there is a lively night life up in the town. German Sebastian and I headed out for food and beers last night, learning in one sitting about all the different types of tortilla based foods that make up Mexican cuisine... like a wine tasting only of tortilla based foods, empanadas, tacos, panuchos, salchichos etc etc, it made me think of a Ready Steady Cook episode based on tortilla, cheese, meat, avocado and chili!

After having been travelling in and around the Mayan world for months, since my arrival in Guatemala, but somehow skirting the real heart of it, I feel like I have finally learned a little about the culture after visiting the Museum of Mayan Culture in Chetumal the afternoon of crossing the border, and then visiting the beautiful coastal ruins site at Tulum yesterday evening.

One of the facts I was particulrly interested in was the ritual body decoration that the Mayans went in for. Always one for body art, I was fascinated to see these images depicting facial scarification, and to read that as well as tattoing the Mayans pierced their bodies (the females usually the earlobes and tongues and the men their penises) using manta ray spines or bones of special animals, such as the jaguar. The blood fell on ritual fires so was lifted to the gods in the smoke. Slightly more cringe-inducing was the common practise of head-deformation, where the parents would squash a baby´s cranium using wooden planks so that as the bones hardened with ageing the child was left with an elongated head, either sideways or backwards. Apparently it left no lasting damage on the child. Ew..Another fact I enjoyed was to learn that the Mayans were big into muralism, reflecting the colour of creation in the world around them on the walls of their buildings depicting scenes comemorating preists and gods. They also had diferent forms of recording information: wood or stone lintels and stellae were carved with scenes of important historic events in the lives of the rulers, accompanied by glyphic texts (700 distinct glyphs are known, syllabic-fonetic symbols and ideographic and pictographic elements ); stone altars were carved representing the different levels of the world and offerings were made to the gods on them, they were usually circular though sometimes in the shape of mythical animals; books of painted texts also existed recording information about science, medicine, mathematics and astrology, such as the page in the photo below which comes from the `Madrid Codex´ and which depicts a ceremonila scene of a shaman smoking tobacco, whilst taking mushrooms (seen as sacred), an hallucinogenic mixture used ceremonilally rather than recreationally to communicate with the gods and ancestors.

Astrology was very important for a culture which believed man was influenced by the movement of the starts (hence my two different Mayan star sign personality predictions, the one from Jaime in Xela and the other from Verena in Lanquin) and who worshipped natural phenomenon such as the snake, water, Venus, the sun, the moon, the cardinal points (each asociated with a colour), death, blood, the ancestors of rulers, sacred time and the ceiba. The Ceiba is a cotton producing tree and it communicates the structure of the three level universe as the Mayans percieved it: the roots penetrate to the underworld where the nine lords of the night reign; the central level is the human world, divided in four directions, white (north) red (east) yellow (south) adn black (west), with green being the centre; the braches extend to the upper world of the 13 heavens.
It´s really feeling like the final countdown now, with only a couple of days til my flight and the excitment about seeing family and friends really kicking in, and overriding the nostalgia of the journey coming to an end (and my worries about heading from the sun into the impending winter shortening of days and from the calm tranquility of the latin world to the speedy shock of London). It´s been a literal countdown on the highway too, with plenty of place and distance signs all the way since Chetumal and every kilometere marked by a black and white post, (also get rubbish bin signs followed by rubbish bins in the flesh (or metal as it may be) ... I was impresed at the effort to keep the country clean, as one feature of Central America has been folk throwing all rubbish out the window, but I have yet to see someone slow down fom highway-speed to put anything in one... at the same time I haven´t seen too much rubbish at the side of the road so it must be working. Anyhows, in a happy coincidence as I was going up and down the streets (and even into the forest) of Fellipe Carrillio Puerto looking for a cheap place to stay one evening (never materialised, found a 250 peso room in the end which made my scottish tacaño - tight - bones quiver) I came across an enthusiatiastically waving couple who turned out to be Canadian cycle tourers Yves and Katja and just heading out at the start of their trip. It felt like a happy circular ending to my journey to be able to pass on a some tips, recommendations and a map and their excitement got me dreaming about where I´d want to go next, something I´ve been thinking about a lot recently. I love the idea of Alaska to Patagonia, though I reckon I´d want to travel with a companion/s to give me the motivation to move at a fast enough pace to get me through Canada ahead of ´the bad weather´and the States within the alloted visa time.. a fair challenge if you consider the pace I´ve set here in CA!

Another day has passed and so tonight is my final final night. Talking of Scottish tightness, I´ve gone for a luxury final night by checking into a 300pesos room at the Posada del Amor ($25 us, haha not so expensive sounding when you put it that way, but consider most of my trip I´ve been on anywhere between a $10 to $25 a day budget depending on the country, and you can see why I´ve shocked myself!) I actually really wanted to camp on the beach front for my last night in Mexico, in this beautiful part of the world, to open my tent door in the morning and see the Carribean sea, but after an enjoyable afternoon sharing some beers and fresh fish with a group hanging out there I decided there´s too much drinking traffic to be really secure, and opted for the towels-in-the-shape-of-a-swan hotel instead, which actually I´m secretly chuffed with, especially since it strated chucking down with rain an hour ago... and I´ll aim to get up early early to watch the sunrise knowing that I can nip back to bed afterwards if I like!

Mexico has really been filled with watery days for me. After the beach lazing at Tulum I was able to break my ride from there to Playa del Carmen yesterday by stopping off at one of the nature parks off the highway, and swam in three of their four cenotes, the fourth had an uninviting scum on the to, probably a form of algae rather than dirt, since it was in the shade of the rocks. Cenotes are natural pools scattering this part of Mexico, and which form when the limestone land dissolves into underground rivers. Then today I went snorkelling over the reef off the coast here at Peurto Morelos, something I´d been itching to do since seeing all the snorkel signs along the highway, and it was well worth it, a real highlight of the trip (and also how I managed to end up hanging out on the pier in the afternoon!). The colours of both the scenery down there and the fish were just stunning, greens, yellows, browns, purples, reds, blues, turquoise. It is other-worldly, and really it is another world. It is funny to see the blue surface of the water and these bums, snorkels and life jackets bobbing slowly along, until you become a bum snorkel and life jacket and sticj your head under the surface... up opens a wealth of beauty and calm. My favorite plants were these purple crochet leaves, looking like flat trees waving in the current, in which shoals of fish also wave, bob and weave, and rock coating green labyrinthine moss-like formations, also semi-transclucent halloween fake-finger-textue-looking tentacle-esque wavy clumps nestled in crooks, with creamy bodies and coloured tips, orange or purple.. and so many other fascinating plants. We saw conches and a sea cucumber, baracudas (that respond to a dropped snorkel by coming to have a look at it again and again), long bodied and long nosed trumpet fish and endless other fish I wouldn´t know what to call, but of a variety of colours and patterns that had me thinking of a fashion-designers mood-boards... my favourite were the tiny electric blue mites, and medium-sized turquoisy individulas who mozied around solo, and the black-with-electric-purple-spot chuckadees who nipped to and fro. Honestly an indescribably beautiful eye-full of an experience.

So tomorrow for the cardboard box hunting and the plane, how strange..... looking forward to seeing all you lovely folks back home, big big love from Mexico!


Monday, 11 October 2010

Creatures and characters... Jungle Belize

What a patchwork of different experiences traveling continues to be...this morning I was hand feeding banana pieces to a howler monkey in the jungle at Bermuda Landing and tonight I am in the north Belizean town of Orange Walk in a hostel run by a Taiwanese family after having ridden 50 odd miles through flat and virtuallu unpopulated wetland savannah, going miles without seeing anyone outside of the few cars and trucks. I was riding the Northern Highway so it seemed pleasantly odd that there was so little traffic, even taking into account that today is a public holiday. It is interesting how threatening the great unpopulated outdoors is to so many people. Popping into Raquel's supermarket in the last town before the long empty stretch to Catrina I overheard one older lady tutt-tutting under her breath about me cycling on my own for all those miles with no people. It seems slightly illogical to me considering when there is a threat it's most often from other human beings, but I've got to admit I was slightly spooked by her comment for the first few miles, until I got bored and uncomfortable in the saddle from all the flat-same-position riding and started shifting from one-handed-riding-left-side to one-handed-riding-right-side to temporary-no-hand-big-wobble-riding and singing Cat Steven's 'If you want to sing out sing out, if you want to be free be free' (the only lyrics of the song from the soundtrack of the absurd and hilarious film Harold and Maud that I watched at Michael's the other night) loudly and badly to myself.... next time I do a long cycle I really need to bring some music along with me, my self-entertainment is just a wee bit lame!

Perhaps the tutty old lady at Raquel's was more concerned about random attacks by the jungle animals. It had taken me a good chunk of days here in the country and a good few miles inland before I began hearing stories of the wildlife of Belize and registering on a concious level that this really is a jungle country. The first hints had come as dead tarantulas on the roadside. Just incase I had never stopped to take a close look at any of them but a few evenings later was 'helping' Lucy in her sweeping-a-tarantula-off-the-porch-so-it-wont-bite-the-new-dog-or-come-in-the-house efforts by shining a torch around and jumping at the moving shadows I created, doh! Also got to see the resident tarantula of Monkey Bay wildlife reserve and campsite, happily sat amidst a cockroach feast in the pipe chamber behind the eco-loos which separate methane from waste for cooking and odorless liquid waste for watering plants. (on the sustainable living front Marga also has there giant inverted glitterball-look-a-like discs that you can use to cook on.)

I'd seen a similar set up, minus the resident tarantula, at the Hummingbird Haven, a hostel and campsite almost ready to open about halfway along the beautiful Hummingbird Highway, run by political and environmental activist, furniture maker and psycologist amongst other skills, Michael, a fascinating and really kind man originally from the US who I came across in one of those right-place-right-time connections that you feel occur for a reason, by stopping at Palacio's looking for camping. After I'd pottered around blissfully alone and in-th-nud at the river all afternoon Michael kept me entertained in the evening with our ponderings over the 2012 predictions, peak experiences and stages of life discussions, rum and the worth a second mention Harold and Maud film (coincidentally Michael also works with voluntourism group Proworld who were the NGO I came out to Peru with in 2004, sparking my love of Latin America). He and the couple running Palacio's had a few nerve-rattling snake-scare stories, including the death of Micahael's horse, and a driver being bitten through the window of his car at 40mph on the highway... that had me leaving the next morning eyeing the grass suspiciously. Wade, biker and builder from the US, another incredibly generous man who put me up the next night (and who made me feel part of his adopted family with all the food drink and kindness he showered me with... he has 4 rescue dogs, bouncy happy cuties) even had a photo to illustrate his snake encounter, a 6 foot long fer-de-lance, the most dangerous snake in Belize, laid out in all its post-death-by-shooting headless glory along the back of his truck. Although these are very poisonous and vicious snakes, as the info at the Blue Hole points out they are nocturnal animals and shouldn't attack unless provoked, which seems to mean standing on them as they sleep... so for all the hype-inducing stories it seems unlikely that I will see one, especially as tomorrow I'll be crossing the border and heading north into Mexico, away from jungle and along the coast.

I have managed to see a few animals in my time here, mainly by going to the zoo, so technically they weren't wild, being rescued pets, or ex film stars - the zoo was set up in 1983 as a rehousing effort for animals used in the documentary film-making. I was most impressed by the pretty and twitchy little collared acary toucan, although don't think the feeling was mutual since he jumped viciously at the bars of the cage while I tried to draw him. I held a full-bellied-therefore-calm boa constrictor, the zoo-worker seeing it as a photo opportunity for me, but I was more thinking perhaps I would get over my slightly irrational fear of snakes, which I think actually comes from another snake holding experience, at the Edinburgh Zoo as a 7 year old in Mrs Lyburn's class where I remember getting a shock at how strong the snake's muscles were as it tried to move out of my hands... perhaps coupled with the not-so-subtle anti-snake propoganda of Indian Jones films. Anyway, I hekd a boa constrictor, felt slightly uncomfortable, though not afraid, satisfied the guide by getting a photo taken (really don't like theose posed shots though) and felt bad thinking that probably the snkae was so placid not just becasue it was full but becasue of being a pet before, who knows?

The zoo is an effort in education, preservation and breeding, and amongst it's roles is responsible for taking 'problem' jaguars out of the wild to avoid them being shot by communities they are harrassing by eating livestock, and transfering them to zoos around the world. Although I can see the logic in this, better the animal is being used for breeding and education than shot in revenge, but it is still sad to watch a beautiful large cat pace up and down a caged enclosure, even if that enclosure is in the natural habitat of the jungle. We are often such an interfering and arrogant species.

Some of the animals which seemed the most suited to the environment at the zoo were the ex-pet howler and spider monkeys who vhave free roam of the tree tops. This was my first sight of monkeys, yay, followed yesterday evening by seeing troops in the treetops along the roadside as I cycled towards Bermuda Landing and camping at the Baboon Sanctury, which was how I came to be hand feeding one of the mother monkeys thismorning with guide and medicine man Robert. I also came across a fascinating monkey-studying girl, Kayla, at the local bar alongside the Monkey Bay campsite. Specialising in the sexual segregation within spider monkeys Kayla is dedicating her PHD studies to following one particular troop of spider monkeys in the deep jungle, who now, after two years, are greeting her with their hello 'kissy face' as she called it, which she makes back to them. She will camp in the jungle, along for a week at a time, and has had close encounters with a Tapir (or mountain cow, a large mammal related to the horse) and a Jaguar, which ran straight in her direction one morning, leaping up the tree in front of her to catch a monkey dinner. Kayla had anxiety going back into the jungle after that one. She also regularly gets bitten by an insect that lays a larvae under the skin, the worm breathes through the hole in the skin, and holds itself in place with barbs which hurt a lot when it moves. Apparently you get rid of it by covering the breathe-hole with duct-tape (yet another use for that genius of products), suffocating the worm which you can then cut out... ugh.

That got me worried about the bites on my own legs and ankles, which Kayla reassured me weren't barbed worms, but nevertheless were becoming nasty pus-weeping open wounds. Marga of Monkey Bay was so concerned about them that she advised me to go to the Belmopan hospital, so leaving Peggy at the campsite I headed into town by bus where even though it was a Sunday and I'm a foriegner, I was seen really quickly, for free, and with very little paperwork at the public hospital by a lovely Cuban nurse Judith. I was really impressed, except for with the cost of the three prescriptions I'd been given when I took them to the pharmacy - over $ to blow a few days living costs in one go. I've got a second method of treatment now too, after meeting Robert the Creole guide from the Baboon Sanctury, who went into the jungle early this morning and was boiling up a concoction of plants (susumba, cure all and piper cowfoot, with salt) on a stick fire when I emerged from my tent this morning. Robert grew up learning the medicinal uses of plants from his grandmother and then was involved in scientific plant studies with another local, 30 year old professor Colin, although he says his one daughter has not learned the knowledge from him, nor any other youngsters in the community. His brew certainly soothed the wounds this morning and my ankles feel less swollen so more movable, although I feel the itch back now... I reckon its time to apply another dose from the 7-up bottle he gave me the remaining liquid in.

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As I'm sat writing this and not-trying-hard-enough-not-to-scratch my itchy legs I've got the chitter chatter of Chinese in the background and the tempting soy-saucy smell of Chinese food... the family who run this hostel are Taiwanese, like I said, and are sat around the reception counter eating dinner. There are mainly Chinese restraunts and fast food places out in the street, and like literally every Belizean town that I have been in the local supermarket is run by Taiwanese too. Apparently the Taiwanese use Belize as a route into the USA. Once they have residency here it is apparently easier to get the relevant visas to move north. Apparently in the process many end up enjoying Belize and settling, adding to its already rich diversity of people.

As well as the older established communities of the Garifunas, the Creoles and the Mayans, there are the Brits left over from British imperialism, who never went home after the independence on 21st September 1981 (I haven't actually met any of these, but so Wade tells me), then there are the ex-pats from the US like Michael and Wade, both guenuine 60's younsters who have chosen to settle here after becoming disatisfied with US politics. There are other expats, such as German Sybile, a lovely woman who runs the Casita de Amor Cafe at Stan Creek on the Hummingbird Highway with Belizean husband Windell, who originally came out to Belize volunteering with a HIV focused NGO. Belize apparently has the highest incidence of HIV in Central America and with a culture where men commonly have many women, lots of children and rarely use condoms, Sybile sees the situation as almost impossible to resolve. I did notice many billboard campaigns about using condoms, and about tolerance for individuals with HIV, soething I had not seen in other parts of Central America. Another ex-pat run business, this one on the Western Highway heading towards San Ignacio, is the Teakettle bookshop run by South African couple Zaneta and David, again really kind people, David gave me a cup of tea on hearing I was from the UK, and Zaneta advised me on a wierd and wonderful collection of Belize-only sweets for my onward journey and helped me choose a couple of books for me and Lucy, who had mentioned how rare it was to find a bookshop in Belize. Zaneta also spoke about sad she found the corruption in the Belize govenment, which receives financial aid from Nicaragua, the US, Venezuela and 40 million Euros annually from the European Union, but which she says you see no evidence of within the country, where there are still people so poor they have no electricity or running water, like her neighbour who bakes coconut sugar squares for the shop. She asked me had I noticed how thin the tar was on the roads, being worn down daily by the big oil trucks that go hurtling past (and shake me and Peggy in their wake), but where, she asked, is the oil money going? NOt back into the roads nor the communities.

Another group of people that live within Belize are the Menonites, a Christian sect originally from Germany, that I have to admit I had not even heard of until I met Sybile who let me read about them in her guidebook as I enjoyed the rarity of a real coffee in her cafe (incidentally Sybile also bakes her own bread... I had a great burger from her served on real wholewheat bread... good bread is so hard to find in Central America that it is notable when you do find it, and Lucy had recommended this place to me as one of those rare spots). From what I read the Menonites are such introverted communities that some of them will not even talk to a non-menonite, so I was surprised the next day when I stopped to get home-made ice-cream from a Menonite farm that all three of the folk I met there chatted to me... even the very traditional man in breeches, workboots, a big orange beard and a large hat spoke to me after I'd shared my map with him (he was puzzling over finding frineds in a nearby town). He told me he didn't really like sweet things, althouhg his teeth, which looked a bit like mine in the not-doing-so-well kind of a way made me think perhaps he used to like them too much. Anyways, I ended up chatting to Alren, the very young looking wife of the farm, who shocked me by telling me she had 6 children, I thought perhaps they just start uber young in this sect until she said she was 39. Her and her husband were originally from Canada, although had lived in the US before, and have now been in Belize 6 years, since being sent here by their church back home to join the mission here. She explained to me that they study the New Testament, taking it very literally, take their day of rest on a Sunday and try to live as simly as possible. What this actually means in practice apparently varies a lot, depending on whichwhich sub-sect of Menonites they belong to. The bearded-toothy man would be from the strictest group, using only horse and cart as transport, whereas her and her husband use a truck and have electricity. There is a third group, the progressive Menonites,. who I've also heard calle Moneynites, whose communities are apparently concentrated around Spanish Creek, and who use buggies, mobile phones, and drive expensive cars. Some common rules throughout all groups though are that the women dress in a certasin type of ankle length dress with a white cloth partially covering their hair, no one watches tv and they do not drink or smoke. Perhaps that is why Arlen looked so young. According to Wade the slow electricity-free lumber cutting method of one of the strict groups of Menonites, which involves using horses to drive a wynch, has far less waste than machine methods. I found it interesting that Robert told me there had also been inter-racial marriages between the black Creole community and the Menonites near Bermuda Landing, especially after Michael had told me that the church had had to 'ship' young German men to Belize to prevent inbreeding.

In another exciting twist to my week I got to see Lucy again (that wasn't the twist, I was headed there on purpose), this time in San Ignacio, where the taratula-porch experience occured, and on the Saturday morning go to go flying... yes flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyinnnnnnnnnnngggg! Weeehee! Lucy's boyfriend Robert is a long-time plane enthusiast and had mentioned the flying, only I hadn't really had a clue what to expect so when he opened this warehouse-sized-grey-metal hangar to reveal four open light planes (sorry, have already forgetten the proper names for them, but Air Hog was sewn on a badge under the double seats, perhaps I can get away with calling them that?) I was well excited. Added to the anticipation I got to don a neck-to-foot flightsuit, which along with Lucy's loaned owl socks made me feel uber-groovy, and a white helmet-with-visor-and-microphone to chat to Robert while in the air... and we were off. It was incredible, surprisingly relaxing rather than adrenaline-pumping... Robert pointed out that the wing absorbs any turbulence so you don't get shaken around... and when he did a circle on the wing it felt like air-ballet. Appropriate that the point I felt like I was physically relaxing into traveling was the evening on the shore of Lake NIcaragua watching the flight of the pelicans and now nearing the end of my trip I get to fly-for-the-pure-enjoyment-of-flying too. Beautiful. We were in the air an hour I'd say, and passed jungle and remote homes and towns, plenty of citrus plantations and followed the loops ofr the river, with the highlight being flying over the Mayan temple site at Cahal Pech... that is a unique first for me, an air-visit of a famous ruin.

OK so I'm about to succumb to the itching and the Chinese food smells... I'm going to head off to cake myself in ointment before hunting out some dinner, am wondering would it be wrong to eat a Chinese dinner as my last meal in Belize when I haven't even tried cowfoot soup yet? Think it might be inevitable just from sheer availability, I haven't seen even one Creole comedor in town, and I'm feeling too lazy to explore further into the centre. Tomorrow I head for the Mexican border... and hopefully will be seeing Lucy and Robert in the eveing again. New country, familiar faces, sounds good to me! New pace as well... I realised the other day my flight leaves Cancun on the 19th, a day earlier than I'd had in my head, so now there are only 7 days left for me and Peggy to make it to the airport... arrgh the pressure is on! ha ha, I do always leave things to the last minute... I'm confident I'll make it though, as long as no pesky hurricanes or exploding swollen ankles interfere!

big love from Belize and the beautiful (although aparently domesticalted) plant that I was excited to learn is called the Traveler's Palm after admiring it.

p.s. was equally chuffed to read the name of this street: