Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Northern and Central Belize

Belize has kept us busy! We have met the loveliest people in some beautiful places, and spending time on the internet has not been high on our priority list. We just cruised into San Ignacio in Western Belize, although the term "cruised" is a bit of a stretch of the imagination - we just encountered the first of the hills on this ride and "huffed" is a much more honest representation of our arrival into town! For those in the know, San Ignacio area reminds us a lot of Montville & Maleny in QLD, and Pai in Thailand.

To back-track a little bit: Arriving in blue-green Belize was simple and straight forward, and actually quite a mind-trip. As soon as we got stamped, the music changed from Spanish ballads to Reggae, "Hola!" was bumped out of the way by "Hey Mahn!" and there was no mistaking that we were in Belize. Sugar cane field and sapphire lakes sprang up around us as we rode on one of only three highways in the countries - a roughly tarred, unmarked road that is just wide enough for two cars to drive on. And the mosquitoes! They show up in armies and show no mercy! We veered off into Corozal, which has a bit of a seedy feel but a great little internet cafe, and camped out that night with our two Austrian friends from Bacalar, Stefan and Romana, ready to set off to Sarteneja by boat the next day to avoid riding on the highway.

See Ma - no trees, walls or fences required!

Now, Sarteneja is a little fishing village on the end of the Shipstern Nature Reserve, 60km from the next town of any mention. And that 60km is not an easy ride - it is to date the worst road we've been on. The whole road was rocks the size of potatoes with sharp edges, so no matter where you rode, it was catastrophic. We decided that secondary roads in Belize wasn't going to be worth it. Upside is that we did go past a whole whack (pun intended) of Mennonite settlements, where all the kids passing us on horse-carts looked like brothers and sisters.

Literally THE WORST ROAD EVER - (Little Belize to Orange Walk)

In Orange Walk Town, we did our second tour-activity and took a boat down the New River to the Lamanai Archeological Reserve. The boat ride itself was spectacular - clean blue water, lush vegetation, birds and critters galore and we even had two spider monkeys come on board to grab some bananas. A classic case of Monkey See, Monkey Do: because they are the only two monkeys on the island and they only encounter human tourists, they walk on their hind legs when they come onto the boat. Apparently Lamanai was the only Mayan city in the larger area to flourish during the Late and Post-classic Mayan Period, so its architecture is unique and the culture was much different that many other cities of the time. We got our first sighting and sound-clip from the Howler Monkeys, who happened to have a territorial war going on in the canopy above our heads. Imagine this: you're 8 people in a jungle, age-old ruins around you and it sounds like the banshees of hell are closing in on you. Incredible experience though!

Dos platanos (spider monkey on Lamanai tour)
High Temple at Lamanai, and yes we are at the top there...

We headed down the highway to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, where our trip almost ended. Not in a bad way - we stayed for 3 days with Angie, Mick and their kids (Zach and Cory) at the Crooked Tree Lodge; we loved the lagoon and serenity of the place, they needed a cook for the busy season. I won them over with a potato dish and it was a close call, but in the end we decided to seek our destiny elsewhere.

Ghetto breakfast - old corn tortillas given new life by topping with peanut butter and bananas before toasting in the pan!
Good ol´classic southern barbecue meat at Slim´s Grill in Biscayne, Belize
Noah makes possibly the best Cashew and Blackberry wine in Belize, Sand Hill

The ride leaving Crooked Tree was hard, partially because we couldn't find a good place to stay along the way, and partially because my stubbornness wanted to get all the way to Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The 85km ride was our longest yet, and we rested there for 4 whole days to check out the area and recover. After yoga in the morning, Tim and Cory, two motor bikers from Calgary (Dad, take note! Terranova Expedition - their Dec 12 blog has some photos of our day at the zoo!) gave us a ride on their bikes back to the zoo. The zoo was devastated by Hurricane Richard in October, but the staff did everything they could to ensure we still had a great day. Hats off to them. We got up close and personal with a python, tapiers, mountain lions and scarlet macaws. We even got to do a "roll-over, high-five" with a jaguar - so close that you could smell its breath and it was exhilarating. Jaguars are massive cats, much bigger than either of us anticipated. The next day we we cycled 20km backwards (one-way!) to Gracy Rock, a small Creole Village, with our new friend Alex who grew up in the village. It's a gorgeous little village on the Sibun river - we had to paddle a boat over the river to Alex's house. Him and his family was very kind to us and it was his birthday coming up, and I made him and the rest of the great people at Monkey Bay 2 massive lasagnas the night before we left.

Oh my god! Look at that beard!!! - Belize Zoo
The Schalk of envy, Tim and Corey from Terranova Expedition with one of the bikes
Bridge over Sibun River with Alex at Gracy Rock

Now we are in hilly country and apparently the hills towards Guatemala are even more difficult. So wish us luck - we'll be heading out there probably in about a week!


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