We received an email telling us that the animal import permit was ready, so we packed up and headed for the border. As soon as we arrived a “border helper” met us and walked us through the steps. He also led the dogs, on their leashes, into the administration building and no one seemed to mind! The paperwork was fairly simple and the inspections were quick. We had arrived in Belize. Our first stop would be Corozal. We would buy groceries, get some Belizean currency and purchase a SIM card and data plan for our phone. This town had one camping area with electricity, so we settled in under a giant almond tree. This campsite was near the main part of town, so riding the bikes in for business and fun was easy! We quickly located a couple of posters, and as I may have said before……… posters always clue us in on important local events. These were no exception!
We decided to stay an extra day so we could enjoy this event. And we also needed the time to clean up a curry spill that had occurred in our pantry! A bottle of curry sauce opened on the top shelf, and poured through every shelf in the pantry. A large amount of it landed on the backside of the solar controller and shorted the connections! But with some patient cleaning, using swabs and alcohol, we were able to get the system running again. Whew!!! And we smelled like an Indian Food restaurant for a few days!
Corozal is in a beautiful location, with a sea wall and a collection of parks along the ocean. Our walks and bike rides took us along this route each day. We saw families swimming in the sea, piñata parties in the park, an abandoned sailboat and beautiful colors in the water!
But what we were really waiting for was the National Chicken Foot Eating Contest. So when Friday night came, we pedaled our bikes to the Civic Center to watch the event and participate in the food tasting. This was a particularly still, hot, humid night and there were about 300 people inside a metal barn. Although it was hot, we had a lot of fun. We tried the food and drink and voted for our favorites.
But the highlight of the event was certainly the moment these two men took the stage. They had a tub of stewed chicken feet in front of them. And a kid with a bucket standing behind them to catch each chicken bone as it was tossed over their head! They had to eat the skin, claws and meat by sucking it off the bone. It was quite a show, and the winner (in yellow) ate 21 chicken feet in ten minutes. He is also running for mayor! The crowd loved it and this may have clinched the election.
Back at camp we enjoyed our shady spot under the big tree. The dogs appreciated the huge property to roam free. We had water and electric for the AC. This place worked out well, but we were ready to move on. The next day we left Corozal bound for Sarteneja. Somewhere down a dirt road we tackled our first hand-crank ferry.
When we arrived, we met up with our friends GO BIG EMMA at the camping area. She is a vintage, VW bus carrying two awesome passengers! Then we took off down the dirt road again (so far the highways we have been on in Belize are only dirt) aiming for Orange Walk Town. We made a stop in Progresso, a small, lakeside village. Our next stop was a lovely riverside retreat in Orange Walk Town. This location has a full-service restaurant and bar as well as camping along the banks of the New River. This location is known for the cheerful and interesting owner, Mr. P. and the crocodiles that visit the shoreline frequently. This large one showed up one night, just after dark. We kept Mango and Zeb inside after dark, although the folks assured us that these crocs are non-aggressive and would not go after a dog or human. This fella is about 8 feet long, we are not taking any chances! This river is also home to a lot of birds, fish and even monkeys. These birds walk across the lily pads and grasses. They seem to be walking on water (a local told us they are called Jesus Christ birds for that reason) The male has a maroon body, black head and bright yellow under his wings and on his beak. They dance an elaborate dance for the females each afternoon. One day we joined a tour group for a boat ride and guided tour of Lamanai Ruins. The boat ride was fantastic and fun. We stopped to examine the trunk of this tree. And if you look closely, you can also see what we were seeing. Those black spots are tiny, upside-down, sleeping bats!
The ruins are beautiful, but the restoration has barely begun in this young country. There are many more hills to be excavated and explored at this location. We saw so many terrific ruins in Mexico, that we were not awed by Lamanai.
Orange Walk Town has shown us the amazing blend of cultures, colors, languages and lifestyles that Belize is known for. We visited a fast food place called Western Dairies and observed the people around us on a Tuesday afternoon. Here are a few snapshots taken in the 30 minutes we were there.
Mestizo, Mayan, Kriol, Chinese, East Indian, German Mennonite and blends of all of these can be seen in any situation in this city. And with all of these demographic differences, come language differences. To illustrate the wide variety of languages that are spoken in this country, consider this: every student is considered an English language learner. This means that English (the national language taught in schools) is the second, third or fourth language for nearly every school aged child. At home they are speaking Spanish, Kriol, Chinese, East Indian, Mayan or Old German/Dutch. But in school they must read, write and speak in English. Yet with all of these groups, there is very little racial strife, it’s not in the news or on the streets. The people of Belize truly live a lifestyle that is welcoming, accepting and blind to color/ethnicity/race. It is a fascinating study in cultural cooperation and we look forward to learning more in the remaining weeks.
Another important observation in the first week is the sheer expense of things. The Belizean dollar is valued at twice the US dollar. So this package of grapes cost almost $8.00Bzd which is equal to almost $4.00USD. Expensive in either country!
But we are comfortable with the language (English). We understand the units of measure (feet, inches, miles, pounds, ounces) and the dirt roads that interconnect the cities are hard-packed, safe and passable. Considering that the entire country is about 180 miles long and 62 miles wide – we are excited to cover nearly all of it and learn more about it while we are here. Keep watching for more posts about our time in Belize!