Leaving Mexico, Orange Walk Belize
Leaving Puerta Angel and Zipolete we were in for another long drive. To compound or problem, we didn’t have a plan on exactly where we were going next. The date was November 22, 2005, hurricane season was still on, and it had only been about a month since Cancun was leveled.
Getting a status report was difficult on the region, but we did know that the big package tours were still diverting their traffic to Puerta Vallarta and other areas.
So we drove. And drove and drove. I’d like to give my thanks to little white pills.
That first day we met some nice guys doing the motorcycle thing through Mexico. I think they were riding Goldwings. He pulled up next to us, and said, “Donde esta gasolina”? We said, “You just passed it about 10 miles ago.”
It was funny.
He probably could have made it to the next place, but we sold him a few gallons anyway out of our tank. That pump is really a neat thing!
So, with fresh beers and clear consciences we got back to it.
The sun rose on our crew as we surveyed the Bay of Belize. We’d made it to another ocean. And now, decision time. We turned south for Belize.
Belize Border Games
The border was a colossal hassle.
They claimed that our titles were no good for the boat and motor. In Texas, those are titled by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. According to this guy, they weren’t real. So Kyle stonewalled right back. We were getting good at this game. Kyle told the man to call TPWD and confirm them.
“Oh, we can’t possibly do that”.
“OK, fax them. Heck, get online and look it up!”
“Oh, that’s just not possible!”
After some time, Kyle got really agitated, and the guy said something along the lines of, “Sir, I don’t know why you’re getting so upset. There’s nothing we can do, blah blah blah.”
Without skipping a beat, he retorted, “I’m getting upset because I know what’s coming next – you asking me for 1000 bucks!”
This got under the guy’s skin. “This is Belize, we don’t do things like that here!” And his stonewall crumbled. Success!
That’s how things work down here. Officials usually won’t ask you straight up for a bribe. It’s a “grease-the-wheels” tip. A little something for you to help me out, buddy. A bribe is more sinister. Get it?
Belize was immediately different than Mexico. Sure, it’s poor. But the British used to be there, so they speak English and have the whole rule-of-law thing down a little better than most. And they don’t stamp out their grass like the Mexicans.
We stopped at the free trade zone in Corozal. Gas sells for market prices there. Gas sells for double market value in the rest of Belize (taxes). We filled up.
The country of Belize taxes their beer and gas like crazy, just a few years ago they doubled its price. Distributor wholesale pricing for beer is $1 US. Bars all charge $2 US. Stores charge $1.75. And to add insult to injury, the beers are only 243ml, about 9 ounces!
We were also told that there are a lot of illegal gas stations in Belize. That people who can go in the zone do, and fill up, and then offload the gas at the “Speakeasy Gas Station” or however you’d call it. And that you can make some good money doing it. You better Belize it.
Had we made a contact, we should’ve sold our gas a few times. With a 110 gallon reserve tank and a 30 gallon main, we could’ve made a little dough. Spend a day and make 1000 bucks! But, alas, we’ll have to wait to start our gas-smuggling careers.
Orange Walk and Lamanai
We put away our Mexico map, pulled out the Central America map, found Orange Walk, and decided it would probably take all day to get there. We forgot that Belize is a tiny speck of a country unlike Mexico. Things are close – might have taken 2 hours. Maybe.
We shacked up downtown at the Asian hotel. They have a razor wire fence and an enormous scary dog.
Orange Walk is on the New River, which runs 60 miles to the Bay of Belize. We checked out the water, looking for tarpon, which we’d heard were right there in the river. This place is stunning.
We talked to the owner of the lodge that’s right there, (if anyone knows the name, please let us know!) he was very friendly. Nice little bar, cabins.
Interesting fact about the third world. There’s no credit. This guy owns a business, has real capital, and can’t get a Mastercard. It’s nutty.
Talk to the lodge owner about the fish. His brother is obsessed with fishing and would love to go with you if you invite him.
You’ll see the tarpon up on the mangroves. Look for them. We heard to run toward Lamanai from the brother. The owner told us right out in front and toward the sea. We went with the brother’s advice, and saw them that first evening, but couldn’t get it figured out before the sun went down. Or maybe that advice is backward. I can’t recall anymore. Point is, there’s tarpon there. And crocs.
Mayan Ruins of Lamanai
Down the river is Lamanai, some Mayan ruins that are unusual because they’re on the water.
The next morning we ran the river in the boat. This was not easy. There are many, many forks because of the mangrove forests in the river. At some point, someone put up signs to tell you which way to go. Most have been removed, I suspect from tour operators that don’t want you to know how to get there.
We had GPS that made a map for us, so it was easy to back up when we took a wrong fork, but it took a while.
The river isn’t that wide, there’s just forks. And they all come back together more or less, but the mangroves close off certain forks and you have to backtrack.
So, if you do it, just follow what “looks” right, and look for little sticks in the water. The stick held the sign. You can still get an idea based on where the stick is positioned whether to go right or left. Or just wait till the tours leave and follow one. Good luck, they’ve got bigger engines than you. We kept up for a while but lost him after about 20 minutes.
Either way, we made it. You simply must take the river tour up to it, though you can drive around and approach from the other side.
One of the things I liked the most about the site was an abandoned sugar press, built in the late 1800s.
Another thing we found about Central America is that parks and sites don’t have free maps or any information at all, really, about the place. So bring some.
We climbed the one highest Mayan temples in the world, had lunch, and went looking for more tarpon.