Full disclosure, we did not give Belize the attention it deserved. There were a couple of factors at play here. I have visited Belize. And it is really expensive. Last time I visited, I was fairly thorough in my discovery so if Scott wasn’t super jazzed to do something we just skipped it. Mostly due to the expense involved. I have linked my self-worth with our ability to stay on budget and most things in Belize cost more than they did in Mexico so it was a difficult time for me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we have to get to Belize before we can discuss Belize!
Leaving Mexico and entering Belize was a breeze. It happened really fast. We turned down the road toward “Belice” and before we knew it we were at a drive-up window handing our passports over to a lady to be stamped out of Mexico. Small side notes: If you ever drive into Mexico make sure to save all of your receipts from the entry border. There is a $25 USD tourist fee that is charged for visiting Mexico. If you neglected to pay it on the way in they will charge you on the way out. If you paid it on the way in but lost the receipt they will charge you again on the way out. Alternatively, you can head over to the Banjercito across the road to have your receipt reprinted but that is not a widely advertised service. If you fly, the airline usually takes care of all of that for you. Anyhow, we had our receipts so all we had to do was answer a couple of questions. Are you sure you want to leave Mexico? Yes. Are you coming back? Not anytime soon. Maybe she was trying to stave off a border run or maybe she was trying to save us the trouble of prematurely canceling our Temporary Import Permit (TIP). I didn’t ask. She waved us over to the Banjercito to check the truck out of Mexico. This was even easier. We handed our TIP through the tiny window to the attendant who drew the short straw and had to deal with us. Only one question. Where are you parked? In the parking lot. A well-coiffed lady stuffed into an ill-fitting uniform begrudgingly made her way out to the sweltering parking lot to the truck. She checked our TIP against the VIN of the truck. Took a photo of the truck and about twenty photos of the VIN. Then she peeled the TIP sticker off the windshield and we followed her back inside. She to her airconditioned cubby and us to the humid hallway. After a bit of clickity-clack on her keyboard, she gave us a receipt and said that our deposit will be refunded to our credit card in two days. With that, we were officially in no-mans-land.
Next was to gain entrance to Belize. The first step was to be “fumigated.” It would be more aptly described as being spittled. It was a drive over the mister in the road type of affair. This cost us 100 pesos. They happily accepted pesos for this service. The guy at the spittle desk gave me a little receipt and a full-color brochure about how to cross the Belize border. In English! The official language in Belize is English which was really hard for me to wrap my brain around after so much time in Mexico. Next, we pulled into a parking lot, told the super-chill porter, “no thank you” to his offer of services to help us with our border crossing and headed inside to get stamped into Belize. Upon entering we bypassed the tourist info desk and went straight to the immigration window. The woman there asked for the completed tourist cards which we didn’t have. She directed us to the tourist info desk to get those. They even had pens for us to borrow! Once our cards were completed and tourist info politely declined we went back to the immigration window. Just a couple of questions there. Where are you coming from? Chetumal. Where are you going? Sarteneja. How long are you planning to stay? Two weeks. With that, she stamped us into Belize for a month and directed us to the back of the building to get our TIP for Belize. This guy was all business. We had a bit of trouble understanding his thick island-style accent but eventually understood that he wanted to know the make of our truck. He gave Scott a long list of rules to read and agree to. Basic stuff like don’t abandon your vehicle in Belize. Scott agreed, signed his life away and we got a TIP for exactly two weeks. They never even looked at the truck. Paperwork in hand, we headed back to the truck. Out in the parking lot, a man in an official green uniform came by to check that we had the fumigation receipt and charge us the tourist fee for entering Belize. It was $30 BZD. He was kind enough to take pesos as we did not bring USD or purchase any BZD yet. He gave us a receipt for that fee an then we drove up to the Customs inspection booth. This guy was really relaxed. He didn’t even look in our truck. We answered the standard questions. The truck is full of camping gear and clothes and tools and food. No, no fresh food. We ate all of that last night. No, we aren’t going to Argentina directly from Belize, we’re going to Guatemala first. No, I don’t know how to extend my TIP, But I would google it and realize it is difficult and just leave on time. Okay, he says, you can go. One last stop is Insurance. It cost us $46 BZD for two weeks of insurance that basically only covered any damage we might do to the roads while in Belize. They gave us a sticker for our window and we were ready to explore!
Our first stop was Sarteneja. This is a tiny little fishing and boatbuilding town on the Gulf of Mexico. The most direct way to get to Sarteneja is not the way that Google maps will send you. We took route-finding into our own hands and found a shortcut that involved two hand-crank ferries. Much more fun than the highway! Sarteneja is not a beach destination. The shores are mangroves and deep sucking mud. Scott found this out the hard way while trying to entice a pelican to fly. We camped at a cute little hostel/campground about a mile outside of town. The grounds were covered with fruit trees (most not in season yet) and they had a nice screened communal kitchen/hang out space. It is usually more convenient for us just to use our own kitchen in the truck because everything is right there. This would not be the case here! There are two very curious and friendly horses roaming freely through the grounds. The first meal we tried to prepare made it obvious that we would not be cooking food outside. The horses are accustomed to being fed scraps and see people as nothing more than snack vendors. They were trying to take the ingredients from my hands and poking their heads into the back of the truck looking to graze on the bananas we picked up in town. At least we would save our propane by cooking in their kitchen!
We stayed a couple of days there while Scott finished a YouTube video and used their internet to upload it. We would go running in the morning before it got to hot for me. (I am a bit of a delicate flower when it comes to exercise in the heat. It gives me a nauseating headache that lasts all day.) On one run we thought we would be efficient and pick up tortillas while we were out. In Sarteneja, they only sell tortillas in the morning. We had remembered seeing tortillarias on our other town wanderings but were not having luck relocating them. We started asking around and everyone was happy to point us in one direction or another. We zig-zagged all over town before just following our nose to a tortilla shop. The sign on the building had nothing to do with tortillas but the smell was all tortilla! Afternoons would find us relaxing in the hammocks until we would eventually wander back into town for a meal. We like restaurants. There is a restaurant facing the water called Crabby’s that has vegan options on the menu. This was a winning combination for us. This is where Scott tried his first Belikin beer. The flavor is good. At Crabby’s it arrived in ice rime. The thing about Belikin is that it comes in 284ml bottles. That is 9.6oz. They go quickly and are quite expensive. At Crabby’s they cost $3.50 BZ at the standard exchange rate of 2 BZD to 1 USD that is $1.75. Which may not sound too bad until you consider that we were spending about $1.25 for restaurant beer in Mexico and we got all 12 ounces there! What we didn’t know at this time was that Crabby’s was the cheapest restaurant beer we would find. Belikin goes for $3.25 BZ /bottle at the grocery store and most restaurants charged $6 BZ. Anyhow, enough about the beer. The food was delicious. I had conch fritters for an appetizer which were heavy on the fritter and light on the conch but delicious all the same. I also had fried lionfish. The lionfish is an invasive yet beautiful fish that voraciously eats up all of the resources on the reef and has no natural enemies. It is killing the biodiversity on Belize’s barrier reef and the people have taken on the role of its predator. Lionfish is the daily special all over the coast. There are even people using their fins to make jewelry. Luckily, it is delicious! I think Scott had an unremarkable veggie burger.
Our next destination in Belize was the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Last time I was in Belize I had intended to come here but didn’t make it. If there is any chance of spying a jaguar in the wild then this is the place to do it. We didn’t see any wild cats but not for lack of trying. When we arrived and paid for three nights of camping the ranger seemed surprised that we wanted to stay so long. He very diligently described all of the hiking trails and let us know that the only time a jaguar killed a person was when one escaped captivity during a hurricane and a man opened the door to his house for his dog only to find that a jaguar was on its tail. Since we did not foresee these circumstances playing out again, we felt safe to sneak around in the jungle peeping at the wildlife. Some highlights from our excursions were boat-billed herons, a retreating armadillo (don’t kiss them, they carry leprosy!), a scarlet macaw, crested guans, and speckled racers.
One night, after dinner, we headed out along a trail that followed the river to see if we could surprise any wild cats. It was a creepy experience that only produced a freakishly fecund mama spider carrying all of her young on her back. Their thousands of glowing eyes reflected the light of our headlamps back at us like a dystopian disco ball reminding me to always, always look before I squat in the jungle!
There were many trails in the reserve and most of them lead to an overlook or a waterfall. One lead to a crashed plane in the jungle! Apparently, scientists who were out tracking the radio signals of collared jaguars missed the runway/road during a rainstorm and crashed into the trees. Whoops! They all survived with minor injuries sustained by falling out of the craft through the front windshield into the soft embrace of the jungle.
We were more than ready to leave there after our third night. The insects there were voracious! We were covered in bites. Not your run of the mill mosquito bites either. These were orders of magnitude worse. We didn’t feel it when they bit us. We would just look down at our skin and see tiny specks of blood oozing out. It wasn’t until later that those bloody spots would become the most maddening itchy bites we had ever experienced. And so many of them. If we inadvertently touched any of the bites they would all light up demanding our attention. We found that white vinegar soothed the itch. For the next week, we smelled like salad dressing. Lesson learned. No shorts in the jungle.
Our next stop in Belize was a relaxing paradise right outside of the town of Placencia. We camped in the parking lot of a resort that offered overlanders free camping and use of the resort’s facilities in return for eating at least one meal a day in their restaurant. It was very lovely there. The ocean was not inviting as the wind had whipped up the seagrass and deposited it on the beach recently but the white sand was lovely to relax upon. They had shaded palapas with hammocks and chaise lounges on the beach. Also, a lovely clean swimming pool right on the beach. We lingered there. It was breezy enough that the bugs were easily blown away and the requisite meal at the restaurant was delicious! The resort was about a mile from the town of Placencia proper. On Scott’s 45thbirthday we made the trek into town to have a nice meal out. The walk was very sketchy. The road was narrow and the shoulders were mangrove swamps. The road had been paved about a year prior and it seemed like all of the locals were still giddy with the amount of speed they could build up heading out of town. Add to that gringos in golf carts zipping around in less-than-sober vacation states of mind. I was in Placencia way back when I visited Belize 20ish years ago. The town was sleepier then. The land was owned by locals back then. It didn’t look like a suburb of San Diego back then. Interactions with locals didn’t feel strained back then. Placencia has gentrified. It is not good. Not good for Belizeans. They can’t compete with the disposable income that fuels the vacation home market. We are traveling to the far corners of the Americas to soak up as much unique culture and experience as we can. In Placencia, it felt like there was none to spare. The gringo sponge had sucked them dry and I didn’t feel comfortable wringing out a drop if island vibe for my personal edification. We passed by the real estate listing billboards without a glance. We didn’t want to be mistaken for one more voracious consumer of their piece of this beautiful world. After a really lovely vegan meal at a seafood restaurant (BYOB from the market across the street), we checked out the gelato joint in town. I don’t remember the flavor Scott went with (all of the fruit flavors were vegan) but I had peanut butter and it was amazing. We decided not to risk our lives on the walk back to the resort in the dark and hailed a taxi. Wisest $10 BZ we ever spent!
Once our bug bites had mostly healed we were ready to leave our swimming pool oasis in this gritty overlanding experience. Our sights were set on a campground in the city of San Ignacio in the far west of Belize. We pulled in and parked in their beautiful grounds. They had warm showers and a great little palapa to while away the idle hours of our days (most hours are idle these days). We took this final opportunity in an English-speaking country to pick up some truck parts at the local auto shop. We had been running rough for a while. Like since we first arrived in mainland Mexico all those months ago. The check engine light had come on and we paid a guy to run the code with his scanner. It was a misfire in cylinder two. We have six cylinders so one little misfire didn’t warrant too much anxiety. We figured a new set of spark plugs would solve all of our woes. As of late, the rough running was becoming more severe and we felt like it was the right time to act. That action began with a trip to the amazing New French Bakery right next to our campsite. We drank coffee and ate pastries until the day was sufficiently sweltering. We set our sights on an auto parts store not far from our camp. Our exposed arms were generating vitamin D as we wandered about on the melted tarmac alternately getting lost and reorienting ourselves with our google maps. We had no trouble getting the spark plugs but we wanted a gapping tool as well. It was the search for the gapping tool that sent us on the wild goose chase.
Eventually, we were successful and headed back to camp to start the real work. When Scott removed the spark plug wires so that he could access the plugs it was apparent that the problem was not the plugs. Cylinder two had a completely severed wire. This meant that we needed to head back out into town to pick up a new set of wires. By we, I mean Scott had to head into town for a set of wires. I was pretty dug into a hammock and could not be moved to venture back into the urban inferno. Plus, there were beautiful birds to stalk here in camp! I was really impressed with the wildlife so close to the urban center of San Ignacio.
Scott called ahead to ensure that they had the wires we needed in stock and made the trek to procure them. When he arrived at the parts house he was pleasantly surprised to find that the wires cost $10BZ less than he was quoted on the phone. Back at camp, Scott replaced the wires (not the plugs because they looked to be in good shape). The new wires barely fit our truck. They were a smidge short and had an angled boot the had to be held on with a zip tie. That is what we get for waiting until we were in Belize to address our known misfire. Anyhow, we fired up the truck and she purred like a kitten. Success! We were now ready to head off over the border to Guatemala! Almost ready. We still had a few days on our tourist permit so we relaxed and enjoyed San Ignacio. There was a nice Canadian fellow who was traveling in a converted Japanese firetruck camped near us. We enjoyed hearing about how he transformed a firetruck into a home. It was pretty rad. He had been in Belize for a handful of months and had it pretty much dialed. He had found himself a “dealer” of affordable beer and cigarettes from Guatemala. He kindly shared his good fortune with us as we shot the breeze in camp. His advice in life was to stop rushing everywhere and learn to saunter. Good advice. We have been sauntering for the most part since arriving in Mexico. Now we are relearning how to boogie but will return to the saunter as soon as is feasible.