And into Belize…

Wednesday 24 February

Yesterday at Tikal a lady called Fiona, from Scotland, had told me about the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) caves in Belize near San Ignacio. AJ and Cam decided to head through to Caye Caulker as planned on the 7:30am bus. I had to catch the 4am bus to the border, then taxi to San Ignacio.

This is how buses work around here: “Be there at 3.45am. The bus well get you to the border at 7.30am.” Well the bus finally got there at 5.15am. We got to the border just after seven; a taxi got me to the tour office at 8am in time for the tour.

We headed east along the main road, then south on through farmland. Stands of mahogany trees stood in dead straight lines, as did citrus trees and crops of corn. A forty minute stroll took us from the car park to the mouth of the cave.

Discovered by a group of archaeologists in the mid eighties these caves are the most interesting I have seen. From the entrance we swam a short distance to some rocks, then for the next two and a half hours a lot of the time was in the water, sometimes pushing between rocks or through tunnels to get to the next cavern. The stalactite formations were amazing, some looking like large chandeliers, others like huge pipe organs. At one point there were perfectly round holes in the ceiling. Like post holes they reckon these had been formed by whirl pools millions or years ago.

Eventually we reached a large cavern several hundred meters long. Here the Mayans had made offerings to the gods and sacrificed a few people. They believe this took place in the sixth and seventh century during  the drought that eventually drove the population from the region. The amazing thing about this place is the guys that discovered it decided to leave it as they found it. You wander through the place between clay pots – some still complete, amongst the skeletons of the poor buggers that were sacrificed. The rest can only be described in pictures. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed so I have borrowed a few pics off the net.

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Thursday 24 February

The original plan was to get a cab back to the border and catch the bus I came on yesterday from there to Belize City. Locals said there was an express bus that left every hour from San Ignacio to Belize City for ten locals; the cab back to the border was forty locals. I arrived at the bus terminal before ten but the express bus didn’t show. About ten thirty a bus showed up and a guy that looked like he was running the show said I had to get on. “There is no express bus until tonight”.  On I got for an entertaining four-hour, 120km trip.

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This retired, or should I just say tired US school bus, with cracked windscreens and a door that didn’t close, vibrated along reaching speeds of up to 35mph. It stopped through some towns every hundred meters or so. Arriving in Belize City a short taxi ride got me to the water taxi. The ride to Caye Caulker took half an hour.

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AJ and Cam were waiting at Jeremiah Inn. They had spent the previous night at Dirty McNasty’s, a real party place, so had relocated this morning. We headed up the end of the island to the Lazy Lizard with Anna And Mila, a couple of Dutch girls staying at the inn. There we played a version of petanque.

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We headed to Frans, a street side place for dinner, where we got chatting to a bunch of people from Minnesota who were building three-meter by three-meter houses in Belize city through a church mission to house the poor. A rather unusual chap, calling himself the Holy Shower, whom AJ and Cam had chatted to the pervious evening, arrived briefly on the scene at one point.

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Friday 26 February

Wow what a great day out! At 9am we rocked up to Black Hawk Tours, www.blackhawksailingtours.com

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Soon we were fitted with snorkel, mask and flippers. A short stroll to a jetty and we were on their yacht motoring north. Gulls and frigates swooped in to try and grab a fish the crewman held up.

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Reaching our first snorkel location in a marine reserve we tied up to a buoy as the boat became surrounded by nurse sharks and other fish. Hundreds of fish, the odd stingray and a few sharks stayed close to the boat as we entered the water.

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Blue Tang

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Horse-eyed Jacks

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We swam around with them for forty minutes before boarding the boat to the next location.

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Arriving at the new location we followed our guide Harry out into a channel. A large green sea turtle was feeding on the bottom surfacing periodically for air

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Next we came across a tunnel that the guide dived down and swam through followed by a French girl, Alex, an experienced diver who cut through the water with ease.

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A green moray eel came out of its hole so I dived down for a close up.

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Next the guide grabbed a basking shark by the tail and started stroking its belly which it seamed to enjoy.

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Schools of small fish gathered on the bottom while bigger ones drifted around.

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Back on the boat the sail went up and we headed for another spot where only a few people went in. The rum was opened and poured; salad and buns were served. Jeanette from Phoenix was celebrating her birthday as we sailed home.

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Saturday 27 February

A lazy start to the with boiled eggs on toast cooked by Anna. Its cook your own breakfast supplied here at Jeremiah’s Inn.

A stroll around the island revealed some interesting architecture. The island is basically a beach even the roads are mainly sand. There is an sealed airstrip that runs east west close to the south end of the island. A few trees and mangroves provide a bit of greenery. The odd lizard scurried about on the edge of the track one about 300mm long.

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A sign warned to watch out for crocs. Quite a number of jetties jut out into the blue-green waters of the Caribbean. I discovered the local power station six or so container housed generators.

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We spent the afternoon relaxing and talking to various people. In the evening we went to a local restaurant with Anna, Mila and their Dutch friend Tom.

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I also received exciting news from home that Daughter Victoria and Leighton had become engaged.


Sunday 28 February

As we left Jeremiah’s Inn we were greeted by heavy rain for the short walk to the wharf.

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Forty five minutes on the ferry and we were in San Pedro. We strolled the 300 meters to the other (west) side of the town to check the departure of the Thunderbolt ferry to Corozal. With a few hours to spare we dropped into Ashley’s Smoothie Shack back on the east side. The service in this tiny shack was incredible. They even let us leave our bags there while we hired a golf cart for a tour of the town.

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Heading north the town turned to resort type places. The cobbles turned to a concrete road, which soon turned to a shingle track. We found a causeway joining the island to the mainland through the mangroves. Some ‘what had been resort’ buildings were abandoned and derelict, some well maintained, many more under construction. Often in amongst mangroves it is not the sort of place any of us would have imagined someone building resorts.

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At three we were seated in the cabin of the thunder bolt as its twin outboards propelled us and around twenty others quite quickly up the west side of the island.

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An hour and a half later we stopped at Sarteneja to drop off and pick up passengers. Thirty minutes later we arrived at Corozal just south of the Mexican boarder.

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After disembarking we strolled a few hundred meters around the waterfront to The Blue Iguana, our accommodation for the night. We had passed Scotty’s Crocodile bar and restaurant on the way so headed back there for a rather tasty dinner.


 

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