Saturday, August 14, 2004

Week 7 - Isla Mujures, Mexico to Punta Gorda, Belize

August 7-13, 2004


Arrived in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico (capital of the state of Quintana Roo) at 4:00 AM and slept on the bus station floor until 6:00 AM. The original idea was to not enter Belize, only because Kiko required a visa as a Brasilian national (which he did not have). However, we came across some information that led us to believe that it would be possible to cross through Belize to Guatemala on a free 24 hour transit visa issued at the border. Based on this information, our curiosity about Belize, and the fact that it would be cheaper to enter Guatemala through Belize rather than going around to southeastern most Mexico (our original intent), we decided to try crossing the border... and so the next nine hours were spent trying to get Kiko into Belize.

After being rejected entry at the border, we went back to the bus station in Chetumal to regroup (a half hour trip each way from border town of Santa Elena, Mexico to Chetumal bus station). To make a very long story short, Kiko finally was issued a 30 day visa for Belize for $25 USD. Generally, visas are not issued at borders (Kiko`s first trip), but sometimes talking to the right people at the right time makes a difference (Kiko`s second trip to the border). After a long day of running around trying to figure out our next move, we decided to stay the night in Chetumal.

Chetumal is a wonderful town on the ocean. It is not devoted to tourism so it has a very relaxed and authentic feel. Very friendly people. Walking the waterfront in the evening was very nice. There were many families and people out. There were also many activities set up for children on the waterfront ranging from playgrounds, to art projects. It was interesting to begin to see people of African and Caribbean decent here.


Left Chetumal on foot towards the border town of Santa Elena, hoping to hitch a ride. After a long walk and one ride by a propane delivery truck man, a successful border crossing out of Mexico and into Belize by foot was made. A ride in the back of a pick-up truck, and another ride in a small car with six people (including our 2 backpacks) - brought us into Corozal, Belize.

Corozal is a small town on the ocean that was once a center for the sugar industry (cane). About 8,000 people live there - ethnically diverse - including Chinese, East Indian, Indigenous, Creoles, Garifuna, Canadians, Mexicans, Mennonites, and people from the United States. There were five Chinese restaurants and just as many Chinese run stores - most business in the small town were run by the Chinese... something that I did not expect to see in Belize.

In Corozal, the pace is very very slow and mellow, and the people are
extremely friendly and warm. The setting is gorgeous as it is right on the ocean. It was really cool to see a different style of home here not seen anywhere in Mexico or its border town with Belize. Most of the homes are caribbean clapboard houses on stilts.

Even the newer constructed cement homes are on stilts. I thought the style had a purpose(perhaps for flood areas, less bugs enter the home, cooler up higher with a breeze??) but when I asked locals, nobody knew. To them, it was just the style with no specific purpose. Many people hung hammocks below and had tables and chairs and made use of the space below. They were different, interesting, and neat.

Spent the day walking the waterfront and met some people.

We had some Belizean beers and food with our new friends (four "retired" American men, American Ex-pats) who had all been living in Belize for a while. They all said they relocated to escape cold weather, politics, and high costs of living. The night ended - camped across the street from where we were hanging out.


Took a bus to Belize City. All of the buses in Belize are old, American school buses, except the express service which are old Greyhound buses.

Spent a short amount of time in the biggest city and old capital, Belize City. Took another school bus through Belmopan (new capital - formed because Belize City is too vulnerable to hurricanes due to its seaside location and has been hit numerous times) to Dangriga. Click here for info.

Dangriga is the heart of the Garifuna (rich hybrid of African, Amerindian, and European traditions) and Creole culture. Met Lindsey, a Dangriga Creole who is in training to be a tour guide. He took us to a great budget hotel in town and showed us around both days.

We learned so much about Belize and Dangriga. So much!

Dangriga is a town of about 9,000 on the ocean. It has a very Caribbean island feel to it as well and the people are extremely friendly and helpful. Here we saw a military funeral procession down the main street led by a marching band (trumpet, trombone, clarinet, snare drum) playing traditional songs and followed by many people on foot, and lastly, followed by a few vehicles. Most people were walking. The casket was carried in a pick-up truck. Traditionally, businesses and stores close while the procession passes their stores. Some people come out of their stores and stand quietly in respect. A ritual will follow nine days later, "Ninth night". The Garifuna have maintained their culture wonderfully.

Here is a photo of a typical cemetery in Belize.

Wednesday to Friday - PUNTA GORDA, TOLEDO, BELIZE

School bus from Dangriga to Punta Gorda. Part of the journey involved gravel roads. Beautiful route skirting the Maya Mountains.

Punta Gorda is about 4,5000 in population and is the most southern town in Belize with services (banks, stores, etc.). It also lies on the Caribbean Sea - very much like Corozal in diversity. And again, - very relaxed pace with great people.

Picture of Punta Gorda beach...

Met a local school teacher and his friend (both of the Garifuna culture) and enjoyed each others company. Stayed in a hotel run by a very sweet Garifuna couple. The woman’s name was Rhoda and she gave me a tour of her garden and yard (including all plant names and uses) and outdoor kitchen. She had me try mali apples from the tree in her yard, with salt and lime. I spent the day with her and learned so much about Belizean and Garifuna daily life. The next day she made a traditional meal which was prepared over a wood fire outside.

The fish came from the sea three blocks away from her house, while the tomatoes, avocados, plantains all came from her yard - including the lemons used in the freshly squeezed lemonade. Fantastic!!!

After the amazing Garifuna meal, our friend we met yesterday, Ludwig, came by to pick us up and take us to a nearby indigenous village named Blue Creek. He had to go there anyway and took us with for the ride. There we swam in a beautiful clear blue river with local kids - very fun and also great relief from the heat.

We met some of the people in the village (Blue Creek) and also experienced the rainforest.

Photo of Ludwig...

Ludwig (who was named after Bethooven - which was the music his mother listened to and loved while babysitting for the Denver family - took care of John Denver, the late famous singer) invited us over for lemon grass tea...and so we spent a wonderful evening with him, his wife, and four children in their home - talking and drinking lemon grass tea... a wonderful experience!

Our plan is to leave Belize tomorrow by boat to Guatemala. This country will be difficult to leave - I have enjoyed the people and their warmth and hospitality so much!

Photos of a few local kids... in this particular photo, the kids are reading a book that Ludwig wrote and gave to me...

Click on Belize for more sites (five different sites): Belize 1, Belize 2, Belize 3, Belize 4, Belize 5.

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