This website is a record of Leah’s adventures in Belize. It is written in blog form, which means that the posts are written in reverse-chronological order. If you would like to read them in order, use the nav bar to your right and start from the bottom. If you’re already familiar with blogs, well, full steam ahead.
After a night of partying, I had to wake up at 6 to catch my water taxi. In the end I got about 2 hours of actual sleep. I said goodbye to Pedro’s and dragged my sorry, hungover ass down to the water taxi by 6:30 am. I picked up a breakfast wrap on the way, which was not nearly greasy enough to cure my hangover and I was pretty worried that I would get nauseated and puke on the boat.
It wasn’t so bad, though. I met and chatted with a nice couple that were really interested in hearing about my trip, and then told me about their motorcycle adventures all over the U.S. It made the time go by quickly. Once on dry land in Belize City, I got myself the greasiest thing I could find – another meat pie – and a Gatorade. ”No Excuses.”
I got a taxi to the airport, and thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with the driver, who invited me to sit up front. I didn’t want to leave, and I knew this would be my last friendly conversation with a Belizian. I was going back to a world where cab drivers talk on their cell phones while you sit in the back, where strangers on the subway look at you funny if you try to speak to them. Sigh.
I made it to the airport with 4 hours to sit around, read, and reflect on my time in Belize. I had another 3 hours waiting for me in the Miami airport. I assessed my foot, which had healed but still looked gnarly, and the amount of meds I was now taking for my various ailments.
The pack, the fact that I was dirty, smelly and burnt to a crisp made it pretty clear that I was a backpacker. It gave me mad street cred in the Miami airport. A teenage girl grilled me on my trip, explaining that she goes camping at summer camp and wants to go backpacking someday. Her mother was not amused. I took long naps using my pack as a pillow, sprawled out over long benches, not caring that my hair hadn’t been brushed in days or that my armpits had become practically “French.”
Okay, I know I’m not the most hardcore or experienced backpacker. Hell, I’m a novice if anything. But I went out there, and I did it. I hiked, swam, camped, got stung by fire ants, had my throat close up, and went days upon days without showering. It felt good to get those looks of wonder (where has that girl been?) and I was proud to have earned my wings at the very least.
Here’s hoping that my next backpacking trip has less medical emergencies, but just as many adventures.
My last day in San Pedro, I really relaxed. I had a nice breakfast – scrambled eggs with refried beans, ham, and warm, thick tortillas.
I went to the beach and strategically covered my burnt shoulders while I tanned the rest of myself. I dipped in the ocean, and then let the sun dry me off.
I wandered down the beach and found George and his friend. They offered me a pot brownie, but I declined saying it was “too early.” They told me that tonight was going to be a big night at a bar called Wet Willy’s (ladies’ night) as well as San Pedro’s legendary “chicken drop” and that I should go.
They pointed me to a used bookstore, where I picked up a copy of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I had already finished Fear and Loathing and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the Ya-Yas was the perfect book to keep me entertained for the next two days.
I went back to Pedro’s Inn and read by the pool. When I got too hot, I moved to the shaded porch. Then back to the pool. I read the entire day away. Eventually I showered (Finally! A real shower!) and read some more.
As I was reading on the porch, a tall, blonde guy with a backpack wandered into Pedro’s. I perked up immediately. Might I have found someone to hang out with at last? Yes! His name was Fabian and he was German, traveling for 3 months alone. We walked down to the beach together, where he swam and I read some more, and then we walked around town and got dinner together. Oh, the joys of fellow-backpacker company.
After eating we wandered around until we found the site of the infamous “chicken drop.” Unfortunately, it had already ended. The chicken drop is when they put chickens on this checkboard on the ground, and everyone bets on where they will shit. I kid you not.
We went back to Pedro’s and took a nap before heading out once again for Wet Willy’s for my last night on the town. Wet Willy’s was on a dock, over the water. The dock had no railings and I imagine quite a few drunk people have tipped over the side on their way out. The crowd was a fun mix of Belizians and Spring Break-types, as well as backpackers in their least-grubby clothes.
Fabian recognized a kid named Anton who he had met a week ago in Mexico, and Anton was with a girl named Jordan from Colorado. It turned out that Anton and Jordan had just arrived at Pedro’s Inn as well. It was actually really, really, nice to meet Jordan and hang out with another girl for a change. Especially because the Belizian guys were in full form, asking us if we had “island boyfriends” yet, and it’s good to have a girlfriend around in those situations.
Eventually the four of us left Wet Willy’s with some Belizians to go to Big Daddy’s – the site of the flaming shots from a few nights ago. The bartender remembered me, and had already met Jordan, and brought us both delicious rum and pineapple drinks, on the house. I’ll say one thing about Belize – I never tasted one drink that wasn’t incredibly strong. They know how to do rum. That drink was about all I could handle, but the bartender brought us a second round regardless. I was smashed by the time we entered the club underneath the bar, and my god. It was all blacklight-lit, and there were stripper poles, which some Belizian girls were, uh, using. It was all a bit too much for me, and luckily, Jordan was ready to call it a night too.
We headed back together, drunk and giggling, and said our goodnights and goodbyes. It’s really a shame those kids hadn’t arrived a day earlier.
The next morning, I woke up at 6:30 sharp to catch my ride with George to the water taxi for my cave tubing and zip lining tour. George tells me that no one else signed up for the tour – it was just going to be me and the tour guide, all day. This was not good news. Part of the reason I wanted to do a tour was to be with a group of people all day. And the idea of spending the entire day with a random tour guide was a little disconcerting. But I had already paid and everything was arranged, so I went.
After an hour and 20 minutes on the hot, crowded water taxi, I arrived in Belize City and Joey, the guide, spotted me right away. He was only a few years older than me, it seemed, and spoke very softly so I was never quite sure I was hearing him. He led me to his Jeep, and we set off on the hour-long drive down the Western Highway into the jungle.
On the way out of town, he stopped at this sketchy place in Belize City. He said, “George asked me to get you some breakfast,” and told me to stay in the car. He came back with two Belizian meat pies – a bad idea they no doubt adopted during their colonization by the British. At least the Belizians put some spices in theirs.
On the drive I tried to keep up some conversation, and he was very professional about pointing things out and answering all my questions. I asked him about Belizian history and culture and the Mayans and all of that. It was informative, if a little awkward.
One particularly interesting thing I learned was that Belize is fairly unique in its position in Central America. Since it is both part of mainland Central America and part of the Caribbean Islands, it is stuck somewhere between the two places. Central Americans don’t consider Belize to be part of Central America because of the islands, while the Caribbean doesn’t consider Belize part of the Caribbean because of the mainland. I also learned about the ethnic background of the Belizian people, which is incredible mixed and totally cool. It’s a mix of Africans, Spanish, Mestizos, Mayans, Creole, and all sorts of people. And what’s coolest of all is that the groups do not stay separate – they all mix and intermix to the point where everyone is a little of everything and nobody cares. (Get with the program, America.)
We arrived at the national park pretty early. I think we were the first people there. Zip lining, though cool, was a little bit anti-climactic without friends to do it with. It was me, the guide, and the two zip-liners (thrower and catcher), and everyone was sortof sleepy and not that excited about it. Still, I love heights and going fast, so I was a natural and enjoyed the actual zip lining part.
Joey kindly took pictures, though most of them are out of focus. Zipping through the jungle canopy, I started imagining that I was in Jurassic Park and a dinosaur could pop out at any minute – that made it more interesting, and that’s exactly what it looked like.
Then, it was time for cave tubing, which involved a 40 minute hike through the jungle – in just a bathing suit and water shoes – to get to the farthest cave entrance. Because it was only me and we were moving through the day rather quickly, we hiked even further than most people do and saw an extra cave.
The hike was probably my favorite part of the whole day. As we hiked, Joey pointed out all the trees and plants along the way and taught me about their medicinal and other purposes. He kept picking things off the ground, or out of trees and making me eat them. I tried the inside of a palm nut (tastes like coconut!), as well as a berry that’s name translates into “butt plug” because it makes you constipated. I smelled the leaf that is All-Spice (did you know that All-Spice is a plant, not a mix of spices?) And when I chewed the All-Spice leaf, it made my mouth go numb. That’s what the Mayans used for anesthesia when they performed dental surgery and tooth modifications where they put pieces of jade in their teeth. I also ate a live a live bug.
Joey wouldn’t tell me what it was until after I ate it. It was a termite.
Eventually we made it to the entrance of the farthest cave. Joey and I submerged in the crystal clear water so we wouldn’t get cold later, and then we got in our inner tubes.
He sat facing me, and hooked my ankles onto his tube between his legs. Then he put his flip flops on his hands and turned himself into a human rowboat, towing me along. Like that, we tubed through a network of caves for 40 minutes or more. It was surreal and serene. I loved being inside those caves.
As we came in and out of the caves, we got to float along in the river. I cannot tell you how much I love the jungle rivers. They are peaceful, clean, refreshing, and mystical all at once. It was also at this point in the day that Joey and I began to develop a rapporte and enjoy each other’s company.
I learned that he had been working at some office job and hated it. He was living with his parents and complained all the time. One day, his father came home and told Joey that he had enrolled him in tour guide classes, and so Joey went and “the complaining stopped.” He works independently, and leads tours at a bunch of different sites all over Belize. I think this was the first time he did a one-on-one tour, though. It’s not a bad gig, getting to be out, meeting people and being your own boss. It seems that a lot of young Belizian guys become tour guides – it’s probably one of the best jobs in the country.
After tubing, we had a nice lunch together at the park restaurant, and then we gave a big family a ride back to Belize City with us. He dropped me off at the water taxi, and that was that.
That night, the hostel was even deader than dead and I couldn’t find anyone to hang out with, so I spent some time in an internet cafe, and called it an early night.
Monday I went snorkeling for the first time. Once I discovered that they made prescription goggles, I convinced myself to try it. We booked a tour to Mexico Rocks rather than “Shark Alley” for obvious reasons. Mexico Rocks is a coral reef, and man it was pretty. Still, snorkeling is not for me.
I have a pretty big fear of The Ocean that is made up of a bunch of other fears, such as my fear of open water, my fear of sharks, my fear of crabs, and my fear of waves. It is compounded by my dislike of saltwater. So, going snorkeling involved facing a bunch of those fears. I had about 5 panic attacks just trying to get myself to jump off the boat into the water.
After about 10 minutes in the water I calmed down enough to begin looking down at the reefs, but I just couldn’t handle the actual snorkel part. Water would seep in, and even though I know you’re just supposed to blow it back out again, it would freak me out every time so that I would have to come up and spit and choke and catch my breath again anyway. I quickly discovered I felt better just not using the snorkel and holding my breath while I looked down. The only problem with this was that I got tired really quickly. The guide saw that I was struggling and had me hang on to a buoy. How embarrassing. It was at this point that I realized that I’m not a very strong swimmer – which isn’t actually surprising considering how much I avoid swimming.
Anyway, the coral reefs themselves were incredible. Just like on the Discovery channel. I didn’t have a waterproof camera, so no pictures. I saw some fish and a couple sting rays too. After a while, though, I was really tired and grateful that we could get back in the boat. Once on the boat, I was patting myself on the back for overcoming my fears. Too soon.
The guide took us further out and pushed me out of the boat again, into really shallow water. He took off and parked the boat a ways away and we were to swim to the boat. Really? The problem with the shallow water is that we only had a couple of feet to swim above the reefs, and coral is sharp and will cut you if you brush by it. And bleeding in the open ocean is not something I’m comfortable with (hello, sharks!) So instead of enjoying the close look at the reefs, I was panicking about not touching them and just concentrated on making it back to the boat as quick as possible. I am not a snorkeler. Glad I did it, probably won’t do it again.
After snorkeling, we went back to Pedro’s and I took a second lovely bleach shower. At this point, I started to notice that my throat was hurting. Not in the sore throat kindof way, but in a muscle ache sort of way. It continued to get worse, and Kevin said something about hypochondria and so I decided to try to ignore it and hope it went away. After all, I had been sick the whole trip, not to mention the fire ants, and I didn’t want to be too annoying with my maladies.
We went and got these HUGE burritos for lunch/dinner. Mine was shrimp. The seafood there was excellent.
After lunch, Kevin went to rent a bike and I went to find a tour for the next day. Kevin was leaving and I knew I’d be on my own, so I thought I’d sign up for an all-day zip-lining and cave tubing tour on the mainland to keep me busy (and to get back to the jungle).
All the tours run about $210 US if you book without haggling. I used all the skills I learned selling toys with the Israelis at the mall over Christmas to bargain my way down to $140 US. This was pretty remarkable, according to the two Belizian guys (George and I forget the other’s name) I haggled with. They were impressed with my skillz and asked if I would like to move to Belize and come work with them selling tours. It may have been the lowest price anyone has got during the peak season. I’m proud.
After that I went back to Pedro’s Inn. At this point my throat was hurting much worse, and it was getting really hard to swallow and harder to breathe. While trying to describe the pain to someone else it hit me that my throat was swelling up, and that that was really dangerous, and then I totally panicked. Nearly in tears I went to hostel office and asked the woman there if she knew of a doctor on the island I could see. When I told her that my throat was swelling, she put me right in her golf cart (everyone uses golf carts to get around the island) and booked it straight to the doctor down the road, all the while telling me that if necessary, she could perform a tracheotomy with a knife and a Bic pen. (Was that supposed to be reassuring?)
The doctor was a kind but business-like woman and made me feel a little better. She assessed the situation as an allergic reaction that was “mild” since the swelling had gone on for a couple of hours without killing me. Still, she didn’t want to take the chance that my throat wouldn’t close all the way, and told me she would have to give me a shot of Prednisone and Benedryl. In the ass.
Did I mention that the only thing I’m more afraid of than sharks is needles?
But, when faced with a shot in the ass or death by painful suffocation, I chose the shot. And I cried like a baby, but it was over quickly. I left with bunch of Prednisone (for 4 days) and Benedryl (every 8 hrs) and a bill for $100 US.
The shock and trauma of the whole experience had me pretty shaken up when Kevin got back from his bike ride. I wrote some frantic emails home and status updates about how “Belize was trying to kill me” and then went upstairs to take a nap. I felt very guilty about not being a better travel partner at that point, and still feel bad that I couldn’t have been more fun on Kevin’s last night in town. But he is a good friend, and I think he understood. In any case, I’m sure he won’t hold it against me.
My throat slowly but surely went back to normal. It wasn’t fully better until the next day, but I survived.
San Pedro is twice as expensive as the mainland, which means it’s just about equivalent to the U.S. It is definitely not the place to visit if you’re trying to keep to a strict backpacker’s budget.
Our first full day in San Pedro, we went out looking for breakfast, where we bumped into our friends Erin and Chris from the day before. We had a nice breakfast with them, then walked around the town and explored for a while.
They have a lot of fun with their signage.
We went to the beach, swam, went back to the hostel, swam at the pool, sunbathed, read, caught up on email, and generally relaxed. We signed up for a snorkeling tour with Erin and Chris for the next day.
Kevin and I got dinner at a nicer restaurant and then got ice cream and walked around. We got a beer at this neat bar on the beach that was covered with graffiti and people’s signatures.
They were playing the Sox/Yankees game and it made me just a twinge homesick for Boston.
All in all, it was a pretty uneventful night after the last. It was easter Sunday, after all, and Pedro’s Inn had emptied out. The town seemed pretty dead, and that was a bit of a bummer. I was starting to get worried about the fact that I had already paid for my room there for the rest of my trip.
It was the Saturday of Easter weekend, the day we planned to travel to San Pedro. We were hearing lots of things about busses not running on their regular schedules, or at all, and were getting pretty nervous. We also heard that gas stations were out of gas and ATMs were out of money. Easter is a big deal in Central America, and it seemed as though the country had just about shut down for the weekend. Luis gave us a ride from the Outpost back to San Ignacio. He and Lacey were worried about getting cash from the ATMs before they ran out, but I have a sneaking suspicion they might not have made the trip if we hadn’t needed their help. I am incredibly grateful for that ride.
Luckily, the busses were running normally and the ATM had not yet run out. We got some cash, and some breakfast before catching another ricketty schoolbus back to Belize City. For breakfast we tried stuffed fryjacks – a favorite in Belize.
Fry jacks are deep fried tortillas and totally delicious. Mine were stuffed with eggs, cheese, and ham and came with fresh fruit – papaya and watermelon. I could not get enough of the delicious fruit down there. Also, all of the Cokes and Sprites in Belize come in big glass bottles and I think they are made with real cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Yum.
On the bus, we met a couple of backpackers (Erin and Chris from New Orleans) on their honeymoon, and they were also heading to San Pedro on Caye Ambergris.
We all got on the water taxi together (equally as unpleasant as the bus) and by the time we arrived, I was the dirtiest and grossest I have ever felt. (Road dust, salt spray, sweat and two days of jungle river baths….) Also, my foot started acting up again and more hives began showing up.
We walked the long, hot walk to our hostel – Pedro’s Inn – and learned that the entire island was out of water. NO SHOWERS. I don’t know if I can convey the desperation I was feeling at this point. We did the only thing we could do – jump in the pool. But pool water does not exactly substitute for a real shower.
Later that afternoon, there was a trickle of water coming out of the taps. For some inexplicable reason, it had a lot of bleach in it. Eventually, out of desperation, I braved the bleach trickle shower to wash my hair. Luckily none got in my eyes and my hair was still brown when I got out. But even washed, my hair and body felt disgusting at that point I felt like I was about 2 more days away from dreadlocks.
In the pool we met three guys from Belize City who were out in San Pedro for Easter weekend. When Kevin asked them about their change in government a couple years ago, they described it as a “day of free shopping.” They had a couple bottles of Absolut with them and we all got a little tipsy in the pool.
We were all going to go out together, and the guys went upstairs to get ready. After waiting for 5 minutes, I went up to check on them. I found one guy sick as a dog with bloodshot eyes puking his guts out on the floor of his room. When I went to find the others, I found that one of them had managed to slice his palm open on something. (First aid kid to the rescue.) All of that in the span of 5 minutes – Kevin and I weren’t quite sure these kids could hold their liquor. Finally, we headed out into the town, minus the puking kid who stayed behind too sick to stand.
San Pedro is definitely a party town with a fair amount of Spring Breakers. We found ourselves at a bar called Big Daddy’s, where the bartender (half Belizian, half Apache Indian) gave us all a free shot, with a twist.
Welcome to San Pedro.