Posted by: elgringoperdido | January 10, 2010

Ballsy crooks & a Rasta Santa Claus – Christmas adventures in Central America

Second post in a short time, since I barely got halfway-through what December had to offer me in ways of travel in my last post.

As I mentioned the last time I wrote, I was suddenly struck by an urge to spend my Christmas in the Caribbean, after hearing that terrible song on the radio.  Alas, so I did.  Big worms for early birds – at 07 in the morning the speedboat from Livingston, Guatemala headed out with destination Punta Gorda, Belize. Belize is not an island – going there by boat is simply the easiest way to cross the border from the south.

Belize is vastly different from the rest of the countries in Central America. It is the sole country in the region that has English as an official language, since it was a British Colony up until 1981. It used to be called British Honduras. Large parts of the population is black or of mixed race, and thus it is also one of the most racially diverse places I have visited so far.

Not like Mexicans or Guatemalans in general express much of a rush in daily life, but Belizeans certainly take this to another level. Everything, from everyday conversations to serving times in restaurants, is carried out at a slow, Carribbean pace rarely seen in above-mentioned countries.  Even the locals look on life seems different – gone is the seriosity often seen in for example Guatemalan people – and in comes a distinct, playful outlook on life that is reflected in many situations, from road signs to the attitudes towards soft drugs. For good and bad.

We arrived at Punta Gorda and my first impression was a feeling of dissapointment – I had thought that it would be more radically different than it actually was. Most of the population were Mayan and Spanish seemed to be the predominant language. However, I quickly understand that this was to due to the fact that this was… a border town. Stupid me.

The plan was to get straight to the Caribbean paradise island of Caye Caulker in one day, something that on the map seemed like an easy task but – as always – didn’t turn out that way. We (I was at this moment together with the Welsh dude, a Dutch girl and a guy from Zaragoza) missed the bus  to Belize City, which also led to us missing the last boat due to Caye Caulker that day, leaving it impossible to get to Caye Caulker before Christmas Eve. We shrugged our shoulders and decided to spend the night in Placencia, a peninsula some hours north of the Guatemalan border. It was supposed to have OK budget accomodation as well as some nice beaches – it was settled.

While on the bus, I was as always (not good) paranoid about my bags and kept on giving a glance at the back of the bus to make sure noone took my bags with them while squeezing out of the jam-packed bus at any of the bus stops. An old man saw my worries and told me off by saying: “Dont worry, mon! Here in BELIZE we treat tourists well!”. Allegedly, Belize used to have a very bad reputation regarding crime but also when it comes to general unfriendliness of the inhabitants. Much has been done, and is being done, to combat this and apparently it is going fairly well. As a curiosity, there is actually a radio station that starts every show with the sentence “Remember, Belizeans, be nice to tourists!”

We arrived in Placencia and it was quite a chill vibe. We got the cheapest possible accomodation and it cost equivalent of 30 skr or 3 euros a night. The house was virtually falling apart and there was no security what-so-ever – we really got to regret choosing this place in the end. But more on that later.

Chilled out cat in Placencia

A burger and the official Belizean beer - Belikin, mon! Placencia peninsula.

We went to the beach, it was fairly nice but if you start your beach tour of Central America on beaches like Tulum, Mexico or Isla Mujeres you really push your expectations up. On the beach we met a really peculiar fellow who certainly lived up to the myth of the Carribbean man. He spoke Patois (Jamaica-esque English) and his job (his only job, I reckon) was to walk around the beach and sell rum-spiked coconuts to tourists. Nothing wrong with that though – he could clinch a coconut in half with one hit – except that he had some trouble keeping his fingers from the rum himself. Basically his job was to get drunk on the beach all day, every day which seems like an excellent occupation. Him and his collegues would also try and talk up all the Western girls that happened to sit at the beach – the usual beach-bum activity. Seemed chill. He told me had clinched over 3 million coconuts in his life, most while working as the official coconut-clincher at a cruise ship.

The night went by smooth – I was too tired to do anything like drinking beer. When we woke up in the morning, we discovered that someone had been inside our room. The Dutch girl, Monique, had been half-way asleep, half-way awake and saw this guy looking into our rooms from the terrace. Then, she saw the same guy standing beside her bed. She thought it was someone who had moved into our dorm room so didn’t really react about it. Her alarm on her cellphone rang but she put it on snooze. Next thing she knows; there is no cellphone. This idiot had entered our room, where we all sleeping (four people!) and grabbed it from her, right next to her head in the bed. I guess you have to look for a ballsier thief. I mean, he must’ve understood he would get beaten up or something if we would have caught him red-handed. Luckily, I didn’t lose anything myself.

We set off early to get to Belize City before noon, where the boat for Caye Caulker was due. As a nice Christmas lunch, I had some sort of local specialty. It was a rodent of some sort, not sure which one, not sure I want to know. Hope it wasn’t rat. I’m not gonna fall for the cliche when eating weird meat and say it tasted like chicken – it tasted more like pork.

After a 45 minute boat ride, we arrived at Caye Caulker. It is really as close to the image of a Caribbean paradise as you can possibly get. White sand, palm trees and reggae playing everywhere. I’ve always wanted to go to the Caribbean so this was like a mini-dream coming true for sure. I was so happy to meet up with all the crooks I had gotten to know in Antigua, nicely enough the Quebec-Canadian guy Hugo reserved us dorm beds in advance, without us even asking for it. We got the last ones in the hostel – it was jam-packed with backpackers who had the same idea of an ideal Christmas as we did.

At the hostel we also met one of the girls who worked at the Black Cat in Antigua, who was there unknowingly of our arrival. Nice coincidence.
Caye Caulker is a really nice place to chill but there is not really that much to do there. I forgot to mention, but Belize is an incredibly expensive country compared to Guatemala or even Mexico. Most prices are equivalent or higher than at home, and then Caye Caulker is supposed to be cheaper than other parts of the country.

We passed this island while going to Caye Caulker, on the boat. Oh, I want to buy that house. Monetary gifts, anyone?

I guess "Betta no litta" means "Don't throw trash" in English

Don't know what the French-Canadian was up to in this picture. It looks suspicious, whatever it is.

When we were chilling and drinking beer at a beachside bar on Christmas Day, this guy appeared out of nowhere and started toasting reggae versions of various Christmas carols. He was not paid by the bar or anything, I think he just turned up randomly. There were alot of... characters on Caye Caulker.

Basically, if you want to do any activities in Belize, you’ll have to get ready to splash out.  I didn’t really do much activities while there. We mostly hung out, drinking beer and eating (fairly) cheap lobster. Not much to complain about, really… but not too much going on, either.  The only activity I did was to go on a snorkle tour on the nearby Barrier Reef (the second biggest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), it cost me a lot, but it was worth it. We got to see lots of cool fish and I also confronted one of my biggest fears; that of Moray Eels (muränor).

Moray Eels are basically the most evil animal on the planet, it has no real purpose except of being vile in general and looking like something out of Jurassic Park. We saw a huge one, big like a damn Boa Constrictor, and of course it approached our tour guide as soon as it saw him, most likely in order to inflict a lethal bite or worse. The diabolic…. thing did not succeed, though. We also got to touch sting rays, that was fresh, I had like 15 of them around my ankles. It was a bit scary though since these fellas got huge stinger tails and the Australian national idol of Steve Irwin was killed by one in a bizarre accident some years ago.

We stayed in a hostel called Tina’s Backpacker Hostel in Caye Caulker. The hostel had the rumor of being a great party place, which I’m not sure if I can agree on, however we mostly hung out with ourselves since we were like 6 people in the group, usually then you’ll stick to yourselves for abit.

Tina’s is OK except for the fact that there is a thief at large there. Virtually everyone I’ve met who went there got stuff stolen; our room was OK though since there was almost always someone there. I won’t conclude there is an insider at work but when stuff is constantly stolen from dorm rooms that are locked with an individual key and the reception keep saying “it’s the fourth time this week people get shit stolen” and the staff shows absolutely no interest in helping people who gets relieved of personal belongings in their hostel it really indicates something fishy is going on.

Christmas in general was quite chill; the exception being Christmas Day when we all got presents from Hugo, the guy from Quebec. The Aussies were Jewish so obviously they got Jesus dolls and other Christian attire. I got a waterpistol, which I quite immediately filled up with cheap, Belizean rum attacking street dogs, random people passing by but of course mostly my own throat. We had a great time.

On the 27th, I left for the mainland with my eyes set on crossing into Guatemala again to see the great ruins of Tikal, and after that going down to Antigua again for New Years. Before crossing the border, I had a really cool experience at the Belize Zoo. It is supposedly one of the best zoos south of the US, it has only local animals but since these include stuff like pumas, crocodiles and jaguars it is pretty darn amazing. The cages are not really that closed off so you basically get close enough to the animals to touch them. In theory I could actually pet the jaguar through the net: most likely not a wise idea, though.

This may be the same type of animal I ate in that restaurant in Belize City on Christmas Eve

Typical Belizean humor... =D

You ain't gonna mess with this fella. Jaguar, big as hell.

The lens through the cage, 30 cm from a Puma

On the bus I met a Swiss girl, and together with two other girls we crossed into Guatemala the 28th. As usual the customs officials tried to make us pay a bribe to enter the country, but we refused and after some hassle they let us through. It is really one of the smallest things you can do when visiting a developing country – not to pay any sort of bribe. You really shouldn’t contribute to that if you have the language ability and time to refuse it.

We went straight to El Remate, which is located really close to the the ruins of Tikal, which is usually regarded as one of the best if not The best ruin site in Central America. We went on a tour, the tour itself was dissapointing but the ruins were not; it is truly amazing to see 70 metre tall buildings and pyramids that were built so long ago and since then have been lost in the jungle. What you want to do is to get there real early, so you avoid the tourist crowds. We went up at 5 in the morning, and thus we had the ruins mostly for ourselves for like an hour or two, which proved to be enough to avoid most of the Sombrero-wearing American tourists.

Alot of text for about a week of travel. As before, I try to be as detailed as possible, since this blog is really more for keeping my own memories of my travels written down for later reference, and not so much for other people. Still, I am really glad you are reading it, and keep commenting and liking on Facebook and here!

See you soon,

Rasmus

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Responses

  1. Tusan vad bra du skriver! Man vill aldrig att det ska ta slut 🙂


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