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food locations travel

Rough roads and beautiful valleys

It was a pleasant ride to El Estor but there the asphalt ended and it was dirt roads from then on. But the challenging part was yet to come. From Panzos the road was mingled with rocks sticking out and it was a tough time going uphill in the heat. It took me the whole afternoon to make that climb and as there were no places to eat or to sleep, i set up camp in an old stone quarry. There was a nice terrace above it with a beautiful view of the valley and the storm that, for the time being, was held back by the next mountain ridge.

Sometime during the night it started to rain and would continue to do so for the next hours. The road was getting slippery and no later than the downhill started, it was a mess. I took it slowly with a couple of stops along the way to preserve my concentration, just to find out that the downhill part ended at a bridge and, after crossing the river, the road went uphill again. After another heavy climb and my legs being nearly exhausted, i made a break just as the rain was about to stop and the sun came forth for the first time that day. So during the afternoon there were some great views over the valleys which before had been covered in mist.

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From the place i camped the night before it is just about 50 kilometers to Lanquin, but still it took me the whole day and i arrived at the El Retiro guesthouse as it was already dark. The first good news was that they had a veggie buffet, ALL YOU CAN EAT. I had just time to set up camp and take a shower before it was about to start.

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locations

Livingston and more boats

Livingston is a very enjoyable place. I ended up at the iguana, like most backpackers. It has a wonderful garden with a restaurant and bar and some people just get stuck there for days on end.

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Some of the people had been on a stretch of partying for more than a week and showed some signs of fatigue during the day but at night there still was dancing, a massive beer bong came into play and soon after some climbing on top of the beams of the restaurant. It’s a small enough place, so everybody knows everyone and there is a good vibe. Still i left soon, as my tent was not far off the bar and i was still in a different sleep pattern from the days of cycling. Again it was easy to arrange for a ride to rio dulce by boat, there is no road leaving Livingston. The price for the bike was again negotiated with the capitano directly before departure. Especially the first few kilometers of the ride are amazing, as there are steep hills to the left an right with rich vegetation and various birds singing or just showing off their beautiful feathering. The second half through el golfete is rather like a lake before one reaches rio dulce where the river narrows down again before the lago izabel. On its shores stands the castillo de san felipe de lara, which protected it from the buccaneers coming from the sea and thus made it once a safe haven for the spanish fleet.

On the boat were two australian girls from the guesthouse in Livingston and together with them and a german-guatemalan couple we took another boat to a guesthouse someway downriver. You could see some jetty or terrace from the boat along the ride indicating such places. Most of them cannot be seen from the water and after five minutes on a sidestream we were surrounded by jungle. The surrounding area wasn’t cleared and so the bungalows and other huts looked like they would soon be overgrown be the thick green. The next day the two australian girls went on a day trip to a waterfall called “aqua calientes” and i made the same trip but on the bike. A great ride and even better refreshment after reaching the cascadas calientes.

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What makes this place so popular is the temperature of the water. While the pond below the waterfall is rather cold, the waterfall itself is about as warm as most people would have their shower after coming home on a cold winter evening. Plus, the water has quite some force, and directly below the fall it feels like getting a massage. While the girls were taking a bus back to rio dulce, i set up camp at the nearby restaurant after having one last swim and dive below the waterfall.

 

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locations people travel

Belize roundup

After Hopkins i decided on a small side trip off the southern highway towards Placencia. Along a small strip of land that became highly popular with the better off belizean people as well as people from abroad looking for a property closer to the sun. Most of the buildings are just ridiculous, rather a palace than a house with high towers and viewing platforms to have a better view on both, the inlet and the sea. most of the construction is still in progress but it looked already like some disneyland and i felt i had missed a border crossing at some point so different it was from the rest of Belize. At least there was a nice jetty to have a break with an unspoilt view.

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Placencia is a typical place catering for backpackers, one of the few in belize. big colourful signs advertising tours and accommodation but mostly western food: pancakes and pizza and the like. After the ride around disneyland i wanted to get back to reality rather sooner than later and took the boat to mango creek just as the sun was about to set.

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What a refreshment. I found a nice place to stay, a nice restaurant and later watched a game of basketball on the main square.

It was a long day of cycling to Punta Gorda the next day with not much exciting happening. Though the road is nice enough and as Punta Gorda is the end of the road in Belize, and there is no connection with Guatemala over land, the traffic is light and it makes for an enjoyable ride. Most travellers just pass through on their way to or from Guatemala or Honduras. But it is a laid-back place and i was glad to spend an extra day as i wanted to be sure that it is possible to get the bike on the small boat towards Livingston. Usually you buy your ticket directly before departure, but there is an office which sells tickets in advandce. The lady there wasn’t sure about the bike but was helpful and i agreed to stop by an hour before departure the next day. In the end i paid five dollars extra and it was no trouble at all. The boat ride itself was quite enjoyable and it only took us about an hour to arrive in Guatemala.

Belize really surprised me. It is quite diverse, with people as in landscapes. The mennonites, the chinese, the garifuna make for a strange mix of people walking up and down the streets and the sudden change in scenery, once you enter on the hummingbird hwy, is more than i expected from a country with such a small size compared to its neighbours. Definitely a place to come back to as there were many places i just had a glimpse of or only heard about. I could have easily spent a couple of weeks here but my goal to learn spanish remained stronger.

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food locations people travel

the hummingbird highway

i took the boat at eight o’clock back over the lagoon. the one after most of the people left to go about their daily business and there was enough room for the bike. after getting back to the main road i made my way to the belize city bypass as i try to avoid bigger cities. i ended up on the western highway between belize city, the former, and belmopan the current capital. i didn’t like this stretch. the headwind took its toll and i had to get off the road a couple of times. in belize you have only the right to ride on the road as a cyclist as long as passing traffic has enough room to overtake you. halfway along the way i saw the sign for the monkey bay wildlife sanctuary and decided to call it a day. quite a big place with its own library above the office and though it had too much sand flies on the campsite, the library and the common room were good places to avoid the bugs.

the next morning it was raining a bit too much for my taste to start cycling and to get back on the busy road to belmopan. so i did some writing for this blog, the first time on my newly acquired e-reader, which took a bit of getting used to, but is surprisingly comfortable to work on. the rain stopped around noon and i started to half a days ride past belmotan where the hunningbird hwy starts and the scenery is changing dramatically. there is dense jungle on both sides of the road and i had to climb the first hills since cancun. as the sun was about to set, i stopped at the saint herman’s cave visitor centre. there i was told that the blue hole national park, where i intended to camp that night,┬áis closed and got directions to the yaxche jungle camp instead.

surrounded by the rainforest, this is a unique experience. set up by the guys of maya guide adventures to cater for the guests of their adventure tours, it is also a place to just set up camp for a night. i had dinner with a group of people which trained for their jungle and expedition survival certificate, most of them still in their survival gear with the machete hanging from their sides. the training goes for four month and is quite expensive, so most people out of the group intend to pursue a career in that field.

the next day had some serious climbs on the menu but also beautiful scenery to offer. out of the forest came sounds i never heard before and i seldomly spotted the animal causing it. after those sweat producing climbs, the downhill part was a joy. with the wind in my back, i hardly had to pedal and the white markers with the mileage just flew by until i came to the junction with the southern highway.

in the afternoon i arrived in hopkins. a laid back village which has a bit of a backpacker crowd coming in but seems to be too relaxed to care if more tourists come in or not. i stayed at the kismet inn as it offers camping directly at the beach and patricia the host can cook some delicious vegetarian dishes. i stayed an extra day as i had some time before i had to be in punta gorda from where the boat to livingston in guatemala is leaving only twice a week.

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help locations people

into belize

the immigration procedure is straight forward and i was in belize in no time. the first kilometers i wasn’t that impressed by belize. like many developing countries there were not many places along the road which invited to stay or to take a closer look. the first place which did was orange walk. it was after my first night of wild camping and this was a good place for a late breakfast. i got some delicious sweat bread at a bakery and some cocoa butter to protect my lips against the sun before taking a rest at the central plaza.

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this is the first time i saw a couple of mennonites, immediately recognizable by their way of dressing and their fair skin. i later learnt that they are highly respected in belize because of their craftsmanship and though living their own lives within their communities are integrated because of the work they do for and together with the other locals. apart from that, most agricultural produce come from these communities and many belizeans are happy that the laborious work on the fields is done by the mennonites these days.

after breakfast i went on to change my remaining pesos. no bank is willing to do so but i heard about a place which changed small amounts. when i asked around for it, i found out it was closed and replaced by the chinese store i just went to and was directed towards a mayan tortilla manufactory instead. this place is great. machinery that looks like out of a museum is humming away in this busy place even hotter then the outside and produces corn tortillas in different sizes which is packed right out of the machine into small packages before being weighed and sold for a small amount to the waiting customers. while making a purchase i could change my pesos and happily returned to the bearable heat outside.

making my way out of town by noon, i continued towards the crooked tree sanctuary. after the turn off and a bumpy three mile ride, the road just ended and where it once continued the lagoon had spread out, making the small village an island. i was about to turn back when i met a mason coming back from work in belize city. he told me the coast guard came in providing emergency relief and is running a boat shuttle that was to arrive soon and we made our way jpast the parked cars and school buses to a makeshift pier out of wooden pallets. to bring the school bus over from the village to the road not effected by the flooding was one of the first concerns of the people and now every morning between five and seven, school children, teachers and workers make their way across the lagoon before continuing by road and life just goes on. with one exception: the tourists stay away. it takes at least two weeks of dry weather before the lagoon will fall back to its normal level.

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locations music

bacalar

as i arrived in bacalar there was a rally at the central square and people got invited to join an event later that day to raise awareness about domestic violence. that day was the national day against violence in mexico. there are a couple of campgrounds in town but only one is really central, just two blocks behind the central square. yaxche camping is a nice place with plenty of space, enough shade and a well equipped kitchen in the center, complete with sound system and a fruit juice squeezer for the grapefruits which grow on the site. as the owner stopped by it turned out that he attended the event against violence and that he is also the head of the government office in that district.

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one of the few sites to see is the fortress de san felipe bacalar. once built to defend the city, it is now a museum. i went on to get a pair of sandals and then some veggies for dinner. it took me a couple of days to realize again, that it is better to rely on local produce instead of products from the supermarket. not only is it cheaper but it tastes simply amazing. the kitchen area was my hangout for the night and i sometimes turned off the soundsystem to listen to the singing of the church service next door. and in the morning i had the music class of the school next to the church as my wake up call.

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lagoon ocom

the rest of the day just had views of thick forest on both sides of the road to offer until i reached felipe carrilo puerto. i was thinking of checking into a hotel which i heard of from another cyclist. but prices seem to have doubled since he came through, the rooms were like a sauna and i expected to see something grow out of the mattress any minute. so i decided to go on though it was already getting dark. i doubted this decision after a few kilometers out of town as every path leading off the highway was a driveway with a sign saying “private property, keep out” or “armed security on premises”. but then there was a turnoff to a lagoon and fifty meters further a sign which clearly stated that cycling and camping is cool.

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at the lagoon were some women with their kids and one of the boys seemed to be in charge as he told me it was fifty pesos to camp. but as i wanted to give him the money he apologized for his english and said it was only fifteen, which is about a dollar. after i set up camp and washed in the lagoon, i met the four brothers who actually run the place. each one of them a character of his own. the oldest being the calm one, while one was the mexican version of tom jones, the other of sammy davies jr. and the youngest the communicator, though i forgot to mention that neither of them spoke a word of english and i don’t speak spanish yet. as in most of these situation the best communication is when you laugh together and your misunderstandings seem less troublesome and you enjoy the moments you actually get a thought across. they offered me to use their kitchen and the food that was around as long as i prepared it myself and in the end let me stay in one of their cabanas.

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they had a wooden watchtower which i’d already seen in the evening and in the morning i finally made it on top.

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locations

muyil

the maya ruins in tulum were busy all day and i preferred to spend most of my rest day at the beach. twenty kilometers into the next day i passed muyil and made my first visit to an old maya site. what remained of the settlement were mostly two temples. some of the buildings were hardly recognizable anymore but the main temple looked pretty intact.

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some of the settlements are really remote and the mayas made pathways through the jungle to be used by messengers to communicate between the villages and ports at the sea. many maya sites are still difficult to reach today and makes you wonder why some of them made it into prosperous cities at the time.

this one was right next to the road to felipe carillo puerto and a great way to break a day of cycling in half, to stretch out the legs and see and learn something about the country.