22 August, 2012

Day 48, 270km: Belize

Woke up in Bacalar with a beautiful view. I'm proud to say it is the first time in my entire life that I was at the hotel's breakfast before the breakfast started. Was there at 7am and told to come back half an hour later. After missing so many breakfasts, feels good.

And of I went, destination Belize. Until 10 days ago, I thought the place was an island somewhere in the Caribbean. But there I was, crossing the border!

Same mesh bridge there was in northern Canada. I guess there is much less snow here...
Crossing the border to Belize was a breeze, I was happily surprised to see that people speak English here, it's actually the official language. Border officials were very nice and polite. The whole process took just an hour, insurance included.

I got scammed on the Mexican side though, the immigration officer (M. Santana, on August 21st 2012 at 9am) asked me for 300Pesos. I thought it was strange so I asked for a receipt. He actually gave me one, for 294Pesos then handed my passport back. By that point I was sure I was being scammed. I asked for the change, 6Pesos and didn't leave until he gave it. Small victory. Fuck you M. Santana (probably not his real name).
Apparently this is common when crossing in Chetumal so be warned that Mexican immigration officers scam tourists leaving the country at the border with Belize in Chetumal and you do not need to pay the requested 300Pesos. (I hope Google will record it and it'll help someone).

The Belize flag. Anyone else reminded of the Cambodian flag?
I tried reporting M. Santana on the "Instituto Nacional de Migracion" website but only the landing page is translated in English. This is apparently a notorious scam.
On the Belize side, really a great border, if I can rate it. There even was a tourist booth with free maps and guidebooks of the country right inside the immigration office.

Alright so the hotel is between butterfly town and parrot city.
 The place was still very hot and humid. I stopped at the first mini-market on my way. And with a name like that I had to stop. (Jing jing meaning "truly/really!" in Thai). I thought the owner would be Thai. He told me he was Taiwanese. I left wondering what a Taiwanese was doing in Belize.

But after a few kilometers I got it. Apparently the two countries have strong relations. There were lots of development projects sponsored by Taiwan. And all the mini-markets had Chinese name. Who would have guessed?
And as I'm searching for information on Google I read that the Vice President of the ROC Wu Den-yih was in Belize on Monday, the day before I entered the country. Not sure what's going on but I guess they aren't just talking about soy-sauce and mini-markets.

So I continued on my way wondering what could be their common interest. The people changed drastically and I was now seeing afro-type teenagers wearing long t-shirts, caps and riding their bikes. So maybe Belize is an island in the Caribbean after all.

The "toll collection" pictured above was a bit surprise. I was asked for B$0.25. That's US$0.125.

My god they're everywhere
The picture above will bring back fun memories to some of you ;)

Talking about fun (somehow) some of you wondered what I meant by "all sorts of crazy thoughts will go through your mind" on D46.
Well I'll share another one to give an example.

So at some point on the way we crossed a protected area, animal corridor or something I forgot how it was called. The road was basically going across the jungle for 50km or so. The landscape was very flat and it was kind of windy. What happened on D46 happened once more, I hit a bird.

Last time I hit it with the hand-guard, today the bird decided to aim for my helmet. Luckily I had enough time (or rather lightning speed reflexes!) and looked down so it would hit the helmet's top rather than the visor. The bird was again roughly the size of a pigeon and there wasn't much of an impact, he kind of slid on my helmet.  There was however a very clear impact on the car that was following me and the poor thing turned into a cloud of feathers.  I guess it lost control because of the wind.

So that was my first encounter with death of the day. The second one was way more sad (sadder?). I saw three dogs by the side of the road. Two were sitting and visibly standing guard by the side of the third one, lying dead on the pavement. You know how dogs are expert at expressing their feelings just looking at you? Well what I saw in their eyes was a mix of distress and menace. They were standing guard but visibly knew that something was wrong with their friend. It was a very sad sight. I didn't know what to do. Should I stop, chase the dogs and move the body? Should I let them mourn in peace? I decided on the later.

That reminded me of this short story (which is an excellent read) The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.

Let's say your heart fails. Today you'd be sent to the E.R. where doctor would try to re-start your heart. If it fails, you'd be pronounced dead and a few days after interred or incinerated.
Now let's imagine a world where death is curable. Doctors replace your heart with a new one, do whatever is needed to "re-start you" and within the same day you're walking out of the hospital. I think it's reasonable to assume that with the constant progress of science, that day will eventually come. Granted, after a while everyone would essentially be zombies and the earth would collapse under the burden of tens of billions of humans. Although by that point we might have made it to the stars.

Anyway. Imagine for a moment you're living in this age.

You're 564 years old and still kicking. Your heart has been changed five times, as well as your entire digestive track. Your brain has been replaced with the latest quantum computing implant there is. Thanks to it, you're now the regional Scrabble champion. You're living in a retirement home, like 99.999% of the population.
One morning after playing Bridge with your friends you read an article written by Dr. Methuselah, the famous archaeologist. Dr. Methuselah claims to have found evidence that before homo immortalis, the homo sapiens sapiens buried and sometimes even burnt the bodies of their nonliving comrades. (The word "dead" has long left the English vocabulary and people have no word to describe the absence of life.)
Can you imagine how horrified you'd be, learning about these ancient barbarous practices? Why would you bury someone you can simply fix. You'd be petrified at the idea that hundreds, maybe millions of body are lying in the ground near you at this very moment.

So that's the sort of crazy thoughts that go through my mind when driving.

The kind of homes and villages along the roads in Belize
 My destination for the day with San Ignacio, nearby the border with Guatemala. About 50km away from my destination, it starting raining. A sudden, fierce and hot tropical rain.

Crossing a wooden bridge under the rain with 19,000km on my tires wasn't fun
That's when I realized that I really need to get new tires quickly. I've hit the wear mark when entering Mexico and didn't change my tires in Mexico City because they didn't have the exact ones I wanted. That was utterly stupid. Now I have to drive extra carefully as under the rain the ABS kicks-in even under moderate braking. I'll see what I can do in Guatemala City.

Stopped for lunch, waiting for the rain to calm down
The owner of that restaurant was actually from Guatemala. He spoke some English and we somehow managed to have a chat. He left his country 20 years because of the insecurity and feels safe in San Ignacio, Belize. Although he said that Belize City isn't safe at all. He comes back home once every two years to see his family, 500km away. I guess the money is better in Belize too, as there was a few tourists in the city.
Still, really puts things in perspective. On one hand a 27 years old kid who happens to be lucky and travelling, on the hand a father and husband forced into expatriation. No wonder why there are so many churches in Belize, if tourists constantly remind you that you picked the wrong hand in the grand game of life there's certainly some comfort in thinking it's part of a bigger plan.
Talking about churches, I saw on my way a "Church of the holy ghost".

Last few km to my destination
I was headed to the Parrot Nest for the night, a little bungalow resort in San Ignacio, 20km form the border. It really reminded me a lot the Pannaburee in Khao Yai, Thailand. Same thing. They had a river too. Plus something that the Thailand version doesn't have, WiFi in the rooms! So great.

My bed is on the right, thankfully bigger than the one pictured
The place belongs for a family of foreigners (US? not sure). There were 2 couples on holiday there, from San Francisco and from Boston as well as a Canadian family. We all had dinner together and it was nice having a long conversations again. That was a good evening.

Not my room, but pretty cool
Went of to bed early! I planned to cross into Guatemala the next day. So just one day in Belize. There is much more to do and to see for sure. But to be honest I'm excited at the idea of being in South America. I'll try to see as many nice things as I can here in Central America but I set myself the objective of being in South America by the 4th of September, 2 months after starting my trip. This way I'll have 3 months there.

Cheers everyone!

1 comment:

  1. The small toilet place in the tree looks nice, not so convenient to get there at night however... -:)
    Great reasonning about the human condition, life, death... keep focusing on the tires !
    Belize is said a very nice place to visit and spend a bit of leasure time