BELIZE, 2nd March 2019
There are three ways to get out of Livingston. One is to go back west on the boat to Rio Dulce. The next, the choice of Niels and Johan, is to take a boat south to Puerto Barrios, a Guatemalan town with road connections from which they would catch a bus to Guatemala City for their flight home. Dea was going to accompany them as far as Puerto Barrios, then catch the boat back to Livingston. I, however, was taking the third option. I was taking a boat north, to Belize.
I’d bought a ticket the previous day and I was surprised to find that I was the only passenger climbing aboard the speed boat for the hour-long journey to Punta Gorda. The sea was a little choppy, and the fast-moving boat bounced along, its bow coming down with a thud over every wave. It was not exactly a smooth ride for me, nor for my bike, which was rattling around in said bow, but a life on the open seas was something we were going to have to get used to. My aim of cycling in 100 countries was still ongoing, but with me languishing on 65 after almost six years, with barely a year of our adventures left to run, I’d identified the Caribbean as the ideal place to tag a lot of nations very quickly. The plan was, once we’d cycled down to Panama, for me to go off island hopping on sailing boats while Dea waited for me in Colombia. In my head I imagined it would all be very easy, and this daytrip to Belize felt like something of a practice run.
The boat dropped me off on a pier and I pushed my bike towards the immigration building that divided the pier from the rest of Belize. I passed a man who was sitting outside of a duty free shop who called out, “You’re in Belize now!” which might have been true, but I knew it wouldn’t really qualify as number 66 until I’d got through immigration and done at least a little bit of cycling. As it turned out immigration was easy, but customs not so much, and a big, unfriendly man confiscated my banana, despite my pleas to just be allowed to eat it.
I’d been to Belize, and even to Punta Gorda, before, back in 2011 on my first long cycling adventure. I do, however, have a really bad memory, and so it was still just as new and exciting to me this time. I expected it to be busy and chaotic, and so I was surprised to find quiet streets, a super laid-back atmosphere, and people who were not the least bit interested in me.
I cycled out of Punta Gorda along the coast on a nice paved road which then turned north, away from the sea. Belize is unique among the Central American nations as being primarily English-speaking, with a culturally diverse population with as many African roots as European, and there were a variety of different people walking along the road or standing outside their homes. One of these people shouted out at me as I passed and I looked up to see a topless old black man in a glassless window of a wooden shack, waving at me like he was just happy to have something to wave at. There was a nice atmosphere here. Belize was alright.
I circled around on a dirt road that looped me back to Punta Gorda. Now I’d ticked off cycling in Belize it was time to sort out getting back to Guatemala, the country where I’d left almost all of my possessions, and my girlfriend. I headed back to the port and enquired about buying a ticket, which I eventually succeeded in doing a couple of hours later when a man showed up and set up a folding table in the street to sell tickets. But the boat was not sailing for a few more hours yet, so I soaked up some more of Punta Gorda, making my way to the central square which, unusually for a square, was a triangle. It was a grassy park so I tried to sit on the grass, but was soon deterred from doing that by the armies of ants that patrolled it. All of the benches were already taken by locals, so I settled for standing and watching the proceedings that were taking place on a stage at one end of the park. A white American preacher was speaking into a microphone, using technology to amplify the words of God loud enough for everyone in a three block radius to hear. It had been apparent from my cycle around that there were already plenty of Christians in Belize, with billboards and signs everywhere advocating the Lord. Yet this preacher clearly felt there was work to do. “God knows when you sin,” he said, “God knows, everytime you get high, God knows.” There was at that moment a dreadlocked Rastafarian-like man sitting on the stage a short distance from him, doing his best to look the other way.
There was still time for me to ride out along the coast again and take a dip in the Caribbean, a dip which was hastily ended when I felt a sharp sting in my side, no doubt from a jellyfish, though if you’d seen the way I ran out of the water you wouldn’t rule out a shark. And there was one other matter to attend to – getting in my country sign photo. I had come prepared for this, ruining one of my T-shirts by writing the number 66 on it with permanent marker, and found a place by the coast with Belize written on it to seal the deal.
With all matters now attended to I could definitely say I’d been to Belize, and I went and got on the boat back. This time it was packed with people and it was also delayed for quite a long time, but after six hours in Belize had become six and a half hours in Belize, it was finally time to leave. And what an unbelievable six and a half hours it had been. You could almost say it had been unBELIZEable! Hahaha! Or perhaps even FUNbelizeABLE! AHAHAHAHA!