The warm welcome to the country from the customs officer in a bright orange shirt, asking you if you’d like to apply for a citizenship, couldn’t be a better introduction to a country pleasant for any kind of traveller. This is how Belize welcomed me in February of 2002. Unfortunately it was a short stay of only one week. I really wish I had stayed longer.
Belize is the only English speaking country in that part of Latin America but if you ask me, Belize is international. It’s a small black African democracy that includes the Caribbean part of the coast and the tropical rainforest. Part of the country is the uninhabited, vast jungle. My first stop was a small city called Orange Walk. I stayed at a guest house, in a nice clean room in the alley of a main big building. As I found out later, the nice lady that showed me around was the wife of the vice president and the big house belonged to the vice president himself. Funny but yes, I was the vice president’s official guest. Orange Walk is a base for the jungle so I arranged a trip into it. You have to go down to the river dock where fishermen come back with the day’s catch. Some of them double up as tour guides. The boat owner usually tries to rip you off. Always after negotiations you either accept his last price or you walk on to the next boat owner. Anyway, I went with some other people since I was alone. We took a nice 3-day trip into the mouth of the river on which Orange Walk is built. There I hooked up with a guy from the United States and took some side paths. Pete, if I remember his name correctly, was a great kid. We even borrowed a paddle boat and paddled down some sandy stretches of land in the river’s mouth. We found out about the crocodiles later, when we saw one. The jacare is a cold, small and really aggressive creature. Anyway, we got back alive so I consider that just another adrenaline dose to which I am addicted. On the way back, we took a speed boat to get to the highlight of the whole place. The ancient Maya temples are in the jungle, on top of a cliff. During the two days of walking in the jungle, we managed to see all sorts of small animals, from monkeys to tapirs and birds of every shape and colour. At night, sleeping under the stars in my hammock was for sure a highlight of the trip. A really nice introduction to this small country that got me hooked. After all that Indiana Jones kind of lifestyle, I left Orange walk and paid a quick visit to Belize City, a pretty dangerous looking city. There’s great poverty and criminality as well. Nothing bad happened to me but you could definitely feel it in the air, especially at night. From the city I took a speed boat to the Belize Keys. It’s a group of small coral-made islands in the blue waters of the Caribbean. As I approached my destination, Key Chacker, I was already in a state of euphoria. The island is six kilometres long and one kilometre wide. There are no cars and no need for shoes since there’s pure white sand everywhere .A few Black African inhabitants have set up small hotels and guest houses. There’s just one expensive hotel, one bakery, one small supermarket and a couple of guesthouses. The Keys and the coral reefs that protect them from the ocean are part of the second biggest reef, after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. All this makes them an underwater paradise for diving or snorkelling. I stayed at the very end of the village, at a bright painted, two-storey wooden hostel with all sorts of colours. If the crowd is good, every hostel is a great place to be. So was the one that I stayed at. I hooked up with a Mexican street seller, two crazy Canadian girls and a guy from Japan who didn’t speak English but Spanish and gave it all every night. Other people would join us occasionally from the neighbourhood. See, our hostel was the funkiest, with a constant party feeling every hour of the day. The next days I loosened up, I paced down my rhythm and enjoyed swimming. It was hot and the crystal blue Caribbean waters were at a hand’s reach. So instead of washing my face in the morning, I preferred to jump into the sea. I spent five great days of enjoying the sun and partying every night. The hostel was a great place. By the way, unfortunately it has been shut down, as a fellow traveller informed me. That makes sense since the owner used to spend there an hour or two during the day and after that we had it all to ourselves. That can’t be good for business. I didn’t have the time to explore the rest of Belize but I think it’s a great hideout, away from the city crowds.
I am sure you are aware by now that I was thrilled with it. Belize is a new country that welcomes foreigners of every colour and nationality. It’s a poor country so you have to take the regular security precautions but generally speaking, if something happens to you, it’s just bad luck.