So where were we......
After passing through the Guatemala border formalities with relative ease we hit the Belize border post about 100m further on……..to be greeted in English!!!! Wow, our first English speaking country in over a year. What a shock. The guys there were so friendly and had a published price list of all the fees we had to pay, a big difference from many other CA countries where the price is what they can get away with.
We had only intended spending 3-4 days driving through Belize as we had heard there was not too much to see and is very expensive. Well lucky we had asked for 3 weeks on our visa as that was how long we ended up staying in this tiny country.
Our first night we camped not far from the border on the banks of a river belonging to some Cabanas just outside the town of San Ignacio. Unfortunately that night our well travelled camera gave up the ghost and died!!! Bugger, what now. Belize in many ways is still a very backward country and we tried to locate another Sony camera and were told "impossible", if we did we would be paying up to x3 the price than the US. Mmm what to do! Fortunately we were able to get an ex work colleague of James' in New York to buy the model we wanted (after much research online) and then courier it to Belize. We figured we would beg to avoid the 45% import tax by claiming we had a foreign car in the country with permission to only stay 3 weeks.
With an estimated time of arrival of 6 days we headed for the Pine Ridge National Reserve and the Belize jungle to more Maya ruins, Caracol ruins, much the same as the Tikal setting but with only about 10% excavated so far. After camping in the jungle next to a river and a 50km dirt road drive early the following morning we arrived at the ruins, paid our entrance and were the only tourists walking around the ruins for 2 hours. Unbelievable bliss!
Leaving the ruins just after lunch we headed for 1000ft Falls, yep that is the name of the falls; I bet you can't guess why it has that name? Well in true English style it is because it is 1600ft high? Go figure. Anyway where this was all leading to was this is the one area in the whole world where the extremely rare Orange Breasted Falcon can be viewed quite easily in the wild. James could not contain his excitement. Anyway the first evening we drew a blank and the ranger would not allow us to camp in the car park so we drove a couple of miles down the road where we found a side road to a river and wild camped there.
Up early the next morning (the only way to get James out of bed early) we headed for another spot where the Peregrine fund of the US has released a couple of birds from a captive breeding project, the exclusive resort of Hidden Valley Inn (South African owned) A long story as to how we got to know them but they gave us permission to drive on their property to a look out over an enormous gorge where the falcons are often sighted!! After arriving at the said place, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, one little falcon in an enormous valley.
Well Kerry lost interest after the first hour and decided to read her book while James went walkabout! An hour later he came sprinting back past the car and up the road to the end of the escarpment. He was lucky enough to watch it hunt and capture a small grass bird and then perch in a dead tree eating his breakfast. Spending half an hour watching it complete its meal he continued approaching right to the point he was below the tree, these birds are so unafraid it continued to sit 10m high in the tree and not move at all. Well that made for an extremely pleased James!
Leaving the Reserve at lunch time we headed for Barton Creek Outpost, highly recommended by some Canadian back packers we had met a couple nights prior and who had come all the way back into town to say what an awesome place it was. After a very bumpy ride, including a drive through a river about 3ft deep, we arrived at the outpost, situated about 100m downriver from the local tourist attraction of Barton Creek Caves.
Barton Creek Outpost is a "new owners" restaurant on the banks of Barton's creek, overlooking a gorgeous little lagoon where swimming is highly recommended, and they had 2 Tarzan ropes for James' entertainment. We were greeted by the Canadian couple who were ever so friendly. They had been there for 3 nights now and had actually been left in charge of the place as the owners wanted a couple of days off! Cool! They even had to do the cooking for the tourists passing through. The owners were a young American family of 4 who had just upped sticks and moved to the jungles of Belize and were learning how to run the business.
After chilling out here for a couple of days the owners returned and were such a nice friendly family we decided to stay another night with them. Unfortunately we left the next day as we were due to drive to Belize airport to pick up our new camera. After checking the tracking the number on the internet and confirming the arrival we headed off to Belize International Airport. Only about the same size as Vic Falls airport in Zimbabwe we hoped there would be no hassles. To cut a short story shorter we paid USD5 admin fee and took away our new camera!! We were both over the moon.
The following day we visited Belize Zoo, a very respectable and world famous rehabilitation and conservation zoo helping Belize's ever decreasing wildlife population get more media coverage for conservation. The highlights of the trip were of course the enormous Harpy Eagle and the Black Panther who was so beautiful!! We relished in getting to know our new camera with the extra zoom!!
Our next stop was Cockscomb Wildlife reserve, the world's first Jaguar sanctuary, 52,000 hectares, positioned in a natural basin, thick jungle, rich in wildlife and home to an estimated 75 jaguars. Arriving late the first evening we camped on the helipad and were up at the crack of dawn for a 3 hour walk along on of the reserves 70km of trails. No jaguars although we did see fresh spoor along the path. We then decided to take our small camp tent and head for a nearby mountain with a remote campsite to spend the night out on our own. After a gruelling 2 hour hike from the car we set up the tent on a clearing overlooking the whole Cockscomb basin, a splendid site.
We continued for another 45min along the trail to a natural waterfall spilling down to form 2 beautiful crystal clear pools where we could not resist a quick skinny dip. No photos this time!!!! No jaguars that night either although the most exciting thing to happen was discovering a little black scorpion below the tent when we packed up the following night.
A short drive the following day to Sittee River as our next destination just 5km from the Caribbean Sea, here we had researched the cheapest way to reach the outer Belize Barrier reef, some of the most pristine diving and snorkelling in the world. A family owns an Island on Glovers Cay, a world heritage site and the outer most Atoll off Belize' coast. They have kept the Island very rustic with no electricity and still cater to financially challenged clientele, they have private cabins over the water, on the beach, a dorm house and then camping facilities, for just $99 each including the 40 mile round trip we were lucky enough to have a week camping with self catering on Glovers reef.
After being delayed a day due to bad weather, along with about 12 other guests we finally reached Glovers Cay just after lunch. Wow talk about a Robinson Crusoe setting, blue crystal clear warm Caribbean ocean, a pure white sand, palm fringed Island surrounded by Pristine Coral and thousands of fish. It was Paradise. We positioned our tent right on the beach in the palm trees and had a truly idyllic setting for our week of camping.
Our week on the Island consisted of some world class snorkelling, including swimming with reef and nurse sharks and Barracuda (much to Kerry's dismay), relaxing in the hammock, drinking a lot of rum with Blayne and Alison from the US whom were also staying budget style in the dorm room. James also went on a fishing trip catching dinner one evening and organising the Friday night Bonfire and the Island Hermit crab race which was a huge success. We were sorry to leave this paradise as our week had flown by.
Back with Lodzi, we continued our journey east towards Mexico, visiting Steve, a local Belizean mechanic whose speciality is Landrovers, his back yard is a graveyard many Landrover enthusiasts would die to get their hands on. After helping James replace a rubber mounting for the transfer box and a bit of welding we hit the road for the final stretch to the border. Our last night in Belize was actually spent in a very plush self catering hotel as we were unable to camp in the local camp ground due to a plague of river flies in the area from the mangrove swamps, and mosquitoes the size of house sparrows. A fitting end to a beautiful little diverse and friendly country.
We both loved Belize and have added this to the list of countries we could definitely live in. We are so glad that we spent more than the intended three days in Belize and can only pity those people who miss out on such a wonderful experience.
Well we will sign off here, just as we enter our final Central American country, Mexico. Enjoy all the photo's and please keep writing, it is always good to hear from every one, no matter how trivial.