Before we got to Belize I didn’t really know much about it. I knew that the official language was English and most tourists spent their time in the island system off the coast rather than inland in the jungle. I knew that Mennonites had a strong presence here. I knew that Floyd Landis was raised a Mennonite and ended up taking banned drugs to win the Tour de France. So basically the country had a strong presence of people linked to people who cheat to win the Tour de France. My knowledge was clearly a bit thin. I had heard that there were no fast food chain restaurants in Belize. Well at least that’s redeeming. We were also told that we’d be robbed blind the minute we stepped over the border.
Oh, but before we talk about Belize I have good news to report. While my research over the last couple of months has indicated that the Pacific Ocean is almost completely devoid of life, the Caribbean has proven to be a cornucopia of edible fish. Meet my red snapper.
Feels good to get that out in the open. Life is good again.
We beat the odds by crossing over the border and not getting robbed blind. Things were looking up. By the evening we had arrived in the country’s capital, Belmopan. We stopped at a Chinese-run hotel and asked if we could pay to camp in their parking lot. They nearly robbed us blind, but then opted to let us camp there for free. Camping in a hotel parking lot in a country’s capital might seem uncomfortable, until you realize that the population of Belize’s capital is only 16,000. That’s exactly 80 times the population of Farmersville, Pennsylvania; the town where Floyd Landis was raised as a Mennonite before growing up to be a big fat cheater.
While camping in the parking lot of that Chinese hotel in Belmopan, we made friends with Durman, the parking lot security guard. He told us that Prince Harry of England would be hosting a party in Belmopan the following evening, and everyone was invited. Our minds wandered to what could come of this. Belmopan’s population was small, so the party would probably be small. We imagined ourselves laughing at really funny jokes with Mr. Prince, doing belly button shots, and making impersonations of Ace Ventura. Later, in a moment of weakness he would scribble his cell phone number on a napkin and invite us to stay in Buckingham Palace when we get to London.
We slept on it, but in the morning decided to forego Prince Harry’s party and instead drive to Placencia to camp. It sounded like more fun than belly button shots and Ace Ventura impersonations, albeit only a little bit. We accepted the fact that we’d regret our decision in a couple of years when we find ourselves camping in a wet London back alley, creating little perimeter dams out of soggy saltine crackers to keep the hobo urine from soaking into our sleeping bags.
Accepting our fate, we drove on. A couple of hours outside of Belmopan we came across a sign advertising “Blue Hole”. We pulled over and walked into the jungle to find a nice little swimming hole created by a sinkhole that collapsed into an underground river. Just downstream from the swimming hole the river ducked under a mountain and disappeared into darkness. With a guide you can take an inner tube down the river into the dark subterranean cave, and presumably come out somewhere else. We didn’t have a guide so I just stood in the cave entrance and watched leaves disappear into the darkness as I dropped them into the current. It kind of felt like when I was a kid and used to send cow pie boats through the rapids in trout streams, except that if I slipped here I would be sucked under a mountain.
On our way to Placencia, a small town on the Caribbean coast, we passed through dozens of small villages. Standing in stark contrast to the scary robbers that we expected to see based on everyone’s warnings were the smiling, happy faces of Belizeans. Most don’t own cars, so they walk or ride bikes. This gave us an opportunity to see hundreds of people on our drive across the country, and nearly everyone was smiling. Furthermore, we didn’t pass a person on the roadside, be it a walker, cyclist, or someone sitting on the porch of their home, without them giving us a wave and a huge smile.
Oh, but the fast food chain restaurant thing? Turns out it’s not true. Subway opened a store in Belize City, but the government later required that they obtain their bread rolls from a local source. If Subway would exist in Belize, it would serve its sandwiches on Belizean rolls. They said “no way” and closed their doors. Later, McDonalds tried to open a branch in Belize City. They were given permission with one stipulation: they would have to source their beef from Belizean ranchers. They also said “no way” and pulled the plug. Later, Subway relented and reopened their doors. Now if you want to eat at a fast food chain in Belize, you’ll have to find the only one in the country: a Subway serving its sandwiches on Belizean rolls. I don’t know about you, but I find this story very refreshing.
What we thought we’d find in Belize based on hearsay: scary robbers. What stands out in or mind after actually having visited Belize: all smiles. To hell with naysayers. The Mennonites even looked nice and nonthreatening in their horse drawn buggies with their suspenders. So to hell with Floyd Landis too.