Yucatan Peninsula to Placencia, Belize June 1 to June 29

Filed under: Belize, Mexico — Aaron and Amy at 7:27 pm on Thursday, June 29, 2006

After dropping Uncle Michael off at the Cancun airport, we spent an additional week in Puerto Juarez in order to fix the generator. Unfortunately we headed south with the generator still not working. Mosquitoes came in full force with the rains, and there is absolutely no breeze at the Mecoloco RV park to keep them at bay. Needless to say, we were extremely anxious to leave and start the next part of our journey in Belize!
We headed south to Tulum and stayed at the Mirador restaurant on the beach again. Aaron wasn’t able to find anyone to work on the generator, so after doing some email we moved south to Bacalar, near the Belizean border. We returned to visit our friends we had met on our previous trip to Bacalar. We met Jimmy (who lives in Bacalar) and his friend Allen (who was visiting from Portland) on our initial visit, but had not met Jimmy’s wife Jacquie. We finally got to meet Jacquie and they welcomed us into their home and invited us to park the RV on the side of their house, which is right on the lake. After having a great dinner at a small restaurant called La Pena, Jimmy invited us to go snorkeling with them the following day in Rio Hondo. Rio Hondo is on the beach just north of Majahual where we stayed several weeks before with Michael. There was a great little beach and a wonderful coral reef right off shore. We spent several hours snorkeling, and then headed back to Bacalar for dinner. We stopped at Federico’s, which is a great little restaurant/camping spot down a long bumpy road that ends at the Bacalar Lake. Unfortunately the kitchen was closed so we couldn’t order the tasty hamburger that we were craving, but he said if we had food we could cook it! Little did he know that we did in fact have fish that Aaron had caught spear fishing! Aaron and Jacquie made themselves at home in the kitchen and they prepared a marvelous meal of the red snapper and hogfish! Tasty! Even Jimmy liked it and he normally doesn’t like fish! The next day we swam in the cenote at Jimmy and Jacquie’s house. They live on the lake on what appears to be a small cove, but it is actually a cenote that is attached to the lake. (A cenote is basically a limestone sinkhole that is full of water, usually from an underground water source, and can either be open on top or covered creating a cave.) Their cenote is open on top, so it looks like it is just another part of the lake. At its greatest depth it is about 160 feet. Aaron donned his snorkel gear to look for an anchor to no avail. It was quite warm so the dogs got in for a swim as well . . . . even Skylos! Jimmy took us out in his little motorboat to give us a different perspective of Laguna de Bacalar. He pointed out some beautiful houses and we could also see the beautiful old Spanish fort from the water. Jimmy is building wooden rowboats, which Allen had been helping him with. Feeling a bit idle, Aaron jumped at the opportunity to use some tools and make something! When we first came to Jimmy and Jacquie’s house we parked on the side of their house. Then there was work being done on the lot next door so we moved to the front of their house. In the haste of going snorkeling the previous day, we left our motorcycle ramp where we had first parked. Unfortunately, the morning we left it wasn’t there anymore. Jimmy and Jacquie said people walk around looking for scrap metal to salvage, and it was probably picked up by one of them. After not finding anything at the scrap yard, we headed for the border of Belize, planning on having a new one welded at some point.
The day had finally come! After exploring several different parts of the extremely diverse country of Mexico for five and a half months, it was time to move on to Central America! Wahoo! The official language of Belize is English. Other languages spoken include the indigenous Maya, Creole and Spanish. As we became more and more comfortable with our Spanish skills in Mexico, we wondered how much we would lose while in an English-speaking country for a month! The first stop at the border was to get the undercarriage of the RV sprayed with pesticide to stop the spread of unwanted pests into Belize. We rolled up the front windows as the guy sprayed underneath. It cost the equivalent of about $8 US, and he told us to show the receipt as we crossed the border. We spent about two and a half hours at the Belizean border getting everything cleared. It would have taken a lot less time, but a form that was supposed to be sent to the border for the dogs was not there. The agricultural office spent quite some time searching for it, then calling the office in Belmopan and having it faxed. Everyone was extremely cordial and processed everything very quickly. We had already gotten rid of meat, fruits and vegetables, so all we had to give up were three eggs we forgot we had in the refrigerator. We provided all the dog’s paperwork to the Agricultural office, and he completed their permits even though the health certificate was from a vet in Texas five and a half months before. (The health certificate is theoretically supposed to be dated within seven days of crossing the Belizean border. Aaron wanted to try crossing the border with what we had, and see if they made us go back to visit a vet.) We have no idea if he just didn’t care about the date, or if he overlooked it. One way or the other, he gave us the permits and we promptly left the office to drive across the border! No one ever examined the dogs at all, just processed their paperwork. We drove across the border and pulled into the office to buy Belizean insurance. We were there for about thirty minutes, having purchased a three-month policy since we would be driving in and out of Belize several times. Surprisingly, the agent said that if there is a full month that we don’t use, we could get a refund as we leave the country. A little surprising!
We high-fived one another as we began our adventure into our second country of the trip, and our first Central American country! We drove leisurely along the good road and reached the first town of Corazol after about fifteen minutes of crossing the border. As we pulled into town Amy noticed that Skylos was having an allergic reaction to something. His eyes were swelling and puffing up, creating little pockets on the lower lid of his eye. Then he started doing anything he could to scratch his face. Amy was examining his eyes and he was shoving his face in between her body and the seatbelt thrashing around just to have something to rub against! As he scratched his face, it began to swell from the tip of his nose towards his eyes! You could see the reaction spreading through the skin on his face as it continued to swell becoming more and more itchy. This all happened very quickly as we pulled into Corazol. We were going to look for an ATM to get some local money, but Amy’s concern and Skylos’ face quickly convinced Aaron we first needed to find a vet, fast. As soon as he saw his face he pulled over to the square and asked some locals if they knew of a vet nearby. Fortunately there was one on the opposite side of the square a block away. Aaron ran inside with Skylos as Amy opened the windows and turned on the fans for Khorrah in the RV. By the time Amy got inside the vet’s office, he had already given Skylos a shot to reduce the swelling. After some loud whimpering from the shot, Skylos seemed to lose function in the leg he received it in. Amy was a bit unnerved and asked what had happened. The vet said he had just received a shot for having an allergic reaction and the swelling should go down in twenty-four hours. He said they see this all the time from people who have just crossed the border with pets, and that it comes from the pesticide. We purchased an extra syringe of the medicine; hoping to never have to use it. The vet also wrote a note in Spanish and English on a prescription pad indicating that Skylos is allergic to the pesticide. Maybe that will help dissuade the use in the future.
We hoped our first night in Belize would be spent at the Zoo so we could visit in the morning, (on the Western Highway near Belmopan), but they said we couldn’t camp overnight. They directed us to a place across the street that was affiliated with the zoo, indicating we could camp there. It was the Tropical Wildlife Education Center and was about two miles down a bumpy dirt road. They have cabins and suites for rent, a dining hall, hiking trails and in the high season they provide educational conservation tours for school children and other groups. They allowed us to park overnight and showed us a good spot to park (hard ground) since it was going to rain. We joined the other guests (about six others) for dinner and learned that some of them had arranged to go on a night tour at the zoo. A lot of the more intriguing animals in Belize are nocturnal and/or rarely visible in the wild. The zoo, especially the night tour, is an excellent way to make sure visitors see them during their trip to Belize. The most impressive creatures were the beautiful jaguars. After spending the night at the Tropical Education Center, we spent an hour or so visiting the zoo the following morning. As always the howler monkey’s earth shattering calls were mesmerizing, the spider monkeys clambered through the trees and the majestic jaguars slept in the shade of the trees. After the zoo, we set our sights on the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Western Belize. (In Belize, districts are the equivalent of states in the US.) We chose to stay at Caesar’s, which is most well known for his gift shop catered to cruise ship tourists; but they also have hotel rooms, a restaurant/bar and space for RV’s. Unfortunately they have six large German Shepherds they release at 8:00 p.m. for guard dogs. With two dogs of our own, that situation didn’t last long, so we happily moved to the Inglewood RV park, which was much closer to town anyway. Inglewood is run by Greg and Veronica who are extremely helpful with local information and very nice people. We were the only ones there on the ten acres of land. It was great for the dogs to have so much room and there was even a little stream for them to play in after the heavy rains. They had guard dogs as well, but they are kept behind a tall fence that surrounds the house on the property.
Our first day in San Ignacio we went to Eva’s, the local restaurant which is known for its plethora of information and guides for tours in the local jungles, forests and rivers. While there, we were introduced to a couple that became very good friends of ours. Rhan-ju Song and Peter Zubrzycki were in town from Toronto, Canada, doing an archaeological dig for about a month. Amy spoke to Rhanj and Pete about their dig and her schooling as an archaeologist. They asked her if she wanted to volunteer and she jumped at the opportunity! A part of what we hoped to be able to do on our trip through Latin America was have Amy volunteer at archaeological sites. She had not done so in Mexico, so she was very excited to have come across the opportunity in Belize! Rhanj and Pete’s knowledge and connections to Belize run much deeper than their archaeological dig. Pete is British and came to Belize with the army many years ago. He has two wonderful children that still live in San Ignacio with their mom (Peter is 14, Casha is 11). While Pete lived in San Ignacio, he created one of the first tour companies that took tourists into the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Trips to the cave involve hiking, swimming and observing Maya artifacts and some human remains that have attached themselves to the earth by calcification. Excavation featured in National Geographic (April 2000 & 2001) was recently completed, which supposedly left artifacts remaining in their original location. Pete was also involved in the archaeological mapping of the cave. Unfortunately he knows that some of the artifacts no longer lay exactly as they were found, and some have been broken over time. Both Pete and Rhanj insist that the cave is still an amazing experience, and worth every penny for the trip. We did not take the tour this trip, but plan on doing so when we return to Belize with our friends in July. Several years ago Pete sold his tour company and left his hotel to his ex-wife. The companies are still very successful and go by the same name of PACZ, which is named after his son, Peter. Rhanj and Pete have also worked on several other archaeological sites in Belize, including Lamanai and Caracol. The day after we met Rhanj and Pete was Sunday, a day that would be full of futbol! First we watched a world cup game at Eva’s restaurant, and then we watched a national Belizean championship game between San Ignacio and Dangriga that was being held in San Ignacio! It was so much fun and it drew a large crowd from Dangriga, who ended up winning the championship.
The following morning was an early one as Amy prepared to join Rhanj and Pete on their archaeological dig outside of town at the site called Tipu. The last time anyone had dug on the site was twenty years ago, and the archaeologists never published their results. They are said to have removed about six hundred burials from the site; and are not being cooperative about letting other people study or get information about them. Rhanj is the first archaeologist that has been granted permission to work on the land since then, and she is trying to put as many pieces together as possible. The site sits in a valley right next to citrus groves. The stone foundation of a colonial church is very clear, and there are other stone architectural features that are hidden in the tall grass surrounding the church. On the way in we stopped to get some small tree trunks to use as poles for the tarp in order to create some protection from the elements. We don’t know how they did it, but for the first week Rhanj and Pete had no cover and worked long days in the sun and rain! After the tarp was up we proceeded to dig in a pit where they left off on Friday. They had found the tip of something very interesting and had hoped it might be a burial. As we continued to dig it became glaringly obvious that we were excavating an old turtle! That day we had no rain while digging and very much enjoyed the oranges that the farm truck delivered to us! It was a great first day of digging and Amy gained so much knowledge and experience in just one day! It was hard work, but exactly what she wanted to be doing. After six months of vacation traveling through Mexico, it was time to get down and do some work! After Amy’s second day of digging, it was time to go out and celebrate Pete’s birthday! We gathered with Pete, Rhanj and lots of their friends, which seemed to consist of all the archaeologists in San Ignacio! One of which was Jaime Awe, who is now the Director of Archaeology in Belize. Pete showed us the National Geographic article of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave that had pictures of both he and Jaime in it. They are something like celebrities around these parts! While Amy was digging the first two days, Aaron ordered a new motorcycle ramp to be welded and located a generator repair specialist. We had the motorcycle ramp after a few days and although it is narrower, it seems to work well. We were not so lucky with that darn generator. Aaron ordered and eventually received a part (from the states), which allowed them to figure out that we need to order another more expensive part. Hopefully then, our generator will be fixed!
Wednesday June 14th was our third anniversary, so Amy told Pete and Rhanj she wanted to take the day off so she and Aaron could go take an outdoorsy tour. Aaron scheduled a full-day kayak rapid trip down the Mopan River. Since the Mopan River originates in Guatemala, our guide, Henry, packed his inflatable kayaks and gear in a car and we were delivered as close to the Guatemalan border as possible and put in the river there. (San Ignacio is only eleven miles from the Guatemalan border, so we didn’t have to drive far, just beyond the town of Benque Viejo del Carmen.) As we became more comfortable maneuvering our individual inflatable kayaks, the rapids grew in size. They were never actually what would be considered large rapids, but Amy grew up river rafting which is something different altogether! It is much easier to take on a lot of water, get turned around or tip in a small kayak versus a large river raft. It was so much fun! There were a couple of close calls, but we survived without tipping! It wasn’t always crazy rapids, we had lots of time to sit back, relax and enjoy our surroundings as we floated down the Mopan. There were always very old large iguanas sunbathing on the river’s edge. A lot of iguanas hang out on the branches of trees, sometimes jumping from the branches into the river making quite a startling splash! Before lunch, we pulled over to the side of the river near a village and Henry popped into a store to get some more water. He returned with three ice cream snickers bars and instructed us to eat them quickly before they melt! Talk about delicious! I can’t think of anything better than having ice cream delivered to you in your kayak in the middle of a trip! I think Aaron even enjoyed it, and he doesn’t like sweets! Henry said there aren’t any howler or spider monkeys along this river, which was a bit disappointing. We were hoping to experience them in the wild again! We were about halfway done with the trip when it was time to stop for lunch. We fueled up on Gatorade and some local sandwiches and took off again. Not long after lunch, Amy heard a familiar noise, cocking her ear in the direction of the muffled sound. She thought it was howlers, but Henry said they weren’t on this river. She listened longer and yes! She shouted to Aaron and Henry that she heard howler monkeys! Henry was just as surprised as we were, and we paddled a bit faster, hoping to get closer to the origin of their monstrous call. The river is full of bends and the roar sounded closer and closer. We thought we were on top of them, then we turned another corner and we had to still paddle further. Finally, as they continued to call to one another, we came around a corner to see a family of two adults and several baby howler monkeys clambering through the trees! It was perfect! We all paddled over to the side and rammed our kayaks into the grass so that we could stay stationary. There they were, hanging out by the Mopan river in western Belize (where they aren’t usually seen, no less) as we come paddling along on our kayaks! We sat in utter amazement listening to their calls. The mom and babies seemed to scurry away from the river while the father stayed to make sure we weren’t threatening. He continued to growl at us, warning not to come closer. Henry and Aaron both called back to him, getting him to talk to us as much as he could before we had to leave. We were giddy! It was perfect! After about fifteen minutes of gazing at these amazing creatures, we knew we had to push on. There were more rapids to tackle ahead, and we would have a driver waiting for us at our pick-up location. Reluctantly, we pushed our kayaks away from the shore and paddled on. Amy looked back and watched them as long as she could, then continued down the river. We were very fortunate they were in such a calm location on the river. Earlier, Henry saw a Toucan that Amy tried to spot and wasn’t paying enough attention to what was ahead in the river. She didn’t catch herself in time and was sent into some branches hanging over the river. No harm done, but she missed the pretty toucan! They were all along the river hiding in the trees making their unusual call that sounds like a frog. It was a great day and we actually ended up at our pick-up site an hour late, but the monkeys were worth it! That night we had dinner and then Rhanj and Pete joined us for a few drinks. The next morning Amy was up bright and early to meet Rhanj and Pete to dig, but it was absolutely pouring! She thought there was no way they could dig in that much rain! The pits would be swimming pools! Just as she started to get back into bed, Pete showed up and told her they weren’t going out, but we would rendezvous that evening to plan for the next day. Since Amy had the day off, we headed to Eva’s to watch England play the world cup. We arrived to find Pete in an England shirt, an English flag autographed by the English team wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, and a big felt English hat! Needless to say, he loves futbol and loves supporting his team! That same day back at the RV, a little puppy decided to take up residence underneath the RV! She had a wire around her neck instead of a collar, was about five or six months old and was so playful! Jealous Khorrah wanted nothing to do with her, but Skylos loved playing. She was only slightly bigger than Skylos! Aaron picked off all her ticks and we gave her a flea bath. Amy warned Aaron that if he gave her food, she would never leave. He couldn’t resist though, and we ended up giving her a little food each day she was “with us”. Aaron asked the RV park owners if they might know her owner, but they did not. Aaron also asked the owners if they knew how much it would cost to spay her, wondering if there may be a discount since we had no intention of keeping her and were just doing a good deed. Greg came back with some pretty astronomical prices, which is obviously a part of the problem with stray animals. He told us it usually costs between $60 and $120 US. Someone else suggested we speak to a particular vet in town that had been trying to put together a program to spay and neuter pets for a reduced fee. Since we were simply doing a good deed, he agreed to spay the little female dog for $40 US. We hoped to find a home for her, but if all else failed we would leave her there at the RV park with the hopes that someone would take her in. We only cared for her for a couple of days, but while she was there she was just as much a guard dog for the RV as our own dogs! She stayed outside underneath the RV, but would bark at anyone who came near it! Fortunately, the same day she had her surgery, Aaron was able to find someone to take her and give her a good home. Not having to deal with spaying her was a real incentive, not to mention how cute she was! After spending two weeks in San Ignacio, Amy spent a total of six days digging with Rhanj and Pete at the Tipu site. It was really great for Amy and she is so appreciative to them for allowing her to tag along!
The night before we left San Ignacio we met a local by the name of Lancelot that said he was planning on going to Placencia the next day with his son. They make jewelry and were going to Placencia to see family and sell their jewelry at the Lobster Festival. We told them we had room for them and their boxes, and would be happy to give them a ride. We weren’t sure how long the drive from San Ignacio to Placencia would be, we were expecting anywhere from four and a half to six hours. The southern highway is a good paved road, but as you turn off the highway heading towards the sea the road turns to dirt. Dirt roads in rainy season are renowned for being full of potholes or even washed out. We left San Ignacio at 10:15 and we got to Placencia at 3:40. We stopped for lunch for about forty minutes, so it actually took five hours. The last twenty or so miles on the dirt road took us two hours in the RV! There was water running along both sides of the road, and in many parts of the road the water went all the way across, forcing us to charge through. Lancelot encouraged us on, saying it wasn’t deep and the ground is hard. We stayed in the middle of the road and continued through. We had no problems and eventually made it to Placencia with plenty of time to find a place to park. Lancelot said he would help us find a place for a couple days, so we walked around speaking to different people. We weren’t having much luck and were going to park near a market, which wasn’t really ideal for the busy weekend that would draw a lot of people into town. As we walked along the sidewalk (the main thoroughfare through town), there was a small dirt parking lot right next to the sidewalk. We asked the lady running the arts and crafts gallery on the other side of the sidewalk if we could park there. She said it shouldn’t be a problem and we could use her outdoor shower and run an extension cord for a small fee per day. It was a perfect spot right in the middle of town, and only one hundred feet from the beach in front of us. Friday night at the Lobster Festival wasn’t quite full of people yet; most of the Belizeans would come in on Saturday. We hung out with Lancelot and his son Ferdinand, looking at crafts and eating from the food stalls serving lobster in many forms as well as shrimp and chicken dishes. The wind and rain came up ferociously at about 9:00, so we called it a night. The next morning while watching a world cup game we got another torrential downpour. Unfortunately Amy had to run through it to the RV to close the windows! Saturday evening as we were eating some lobster, shrimp and chicken kebobs at the Lobster Festival, Amy saw two very familiar faces! Pete! Low and behold, there was our good friend Pete and his son Peter from San Ignacio! They were supposed to be in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) for the weekend, but here they were in Placencia! Fantastic! We ran up and excitedly asked what happened to going to the cayes. They had problems with a rental car, and the weather was bad for flying to the island. So they left Saturday morning for Placencia, not sure if we would have made it through the water on the road! We joined up with Rhanj and Casha who were swimming in the sea. We all got ready for dinner and had some great seafood together. The next morning we all got up and had breakfast while watching the World Cup England vs. Ecuador. The guys set out to find a boat to go fishing and snorkeling while the girls and dogs hung out at the beach. A short time later the boat showed up and whisked us out to the cayes. This was the first time that Peter and Casha had snorkeled, so they were very excited! We anchored the boat and got the kids used to the water, then Amy and Casha snorkeled together for a while and Peter went out to watch Aaron dive. About halfway through the snorkel trip, the driver, Junior, asked if we wanted to see a stingray. Amy and Casha swam over hand in hand to where he indicated the ray was. He asked if they saw the big round thing as Casha and Amy looked around under water. To Amy’s amazement, she saw the big round thing, and oh my god! Junior said it was only about four feet wide, but Amy thought it was more like five or six feet! Junior said he was going to touch it and make it swim, which neither Amy nor Casha were very excited about! Amy pulled Casha backwards so that she wasn’t in front of the ray when they watched it take off into the depths of the ocean! It was so big! Prior to that a four foot barracuda was the largest thing Amy had seen close up, and this was Casha’s first time snorkeling ever! Very exhilarating! Pete was also able to get in the water and snorkel after doing a bit of fishing from the boat. It wasn’t Aaron’s day to catch fish, but Junior shot a medium-sized snapper that Pete and Rhanj took home to cook for dinner. We suddenly realized it was later than we thought which meant we needed to head in so Pete, Rhanj, Peter and Casha could make their 3.5-hour drive home to San Ignacio. After separating our gear we made our final goodbyes to our wonderful new friends and they headed home.
Aaron spent the rest of our time in Placencia fishing whenever it wasn’t raining! He took our kayak out with a guy he met (Bill) that is also here on vacation. One day they went spear fishing, the other day they took their fly rods into the lagoon on the other side of the peninsula. We had the opportunity to meet a lady from Mount Shasta, CA that is riding her bicycle from Honduras, through Guatemala to Placencia, Belize and back to Honduras; where she will catch her plane home. She was having a problem with her bike and couldn’t find anyone to work on it, so Aaron offered to give it a shot. After a while they had her bike good to go and capable of getting her back to Honduras! As a thank you Linda took us out to drinks that night. There were some guys at port on a sailboat that she had been speaking to, and as they were about to take off in their dingy she wondered if she could catch a lift with them. Amy suggested she had nothing to lose and should ask, and they said yes! So Linda left the next morning on a sailboat for Guatemala, instead of riding back the same road in the rain! Way to go Linda! We had such torrential rain while here in Placencia; we began to wonder if we would necessarily make it off the peninsula on the first try. If the road had as much water as it did when we came in on Friday before all the rain, there’s no telling how much is under water now! We are still here now and will need to wait for a day where it’s not raining all day long. Preferably no rain for twenty-four hours would be great to let the water go down on the road before we head out. Fortunately we have a little time left to wait out the rain. It is pretty funny though, that the locals are saying this is the most rain they have had in over seven years! Of course! Supposedly several people have seen a satellite picture that indicated all next week is a lot more rain, so we’ll see if we can make it out before that. If not, we just won’t make it to Punta Gorda, which is in southern Belize.
We have to be out of Belize on July 7th, and hope to actually make the crossing back into Mexico no later than July 6th. From there we will hang out with our friends Jimmy and Jacquie in Bacalar before picking up our friends Brian and Shelly in Cancun on July 10th. We plan on taking Brian and Shelly through southern Yucatan in Mexico, then through parts of Belize, and into Tikal in Guatemala.

2 Comments »

Comment by dale

March 25, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

Good story im sitting in Cucumber Marina in Belize, going to head to Placencia. Any place to camp besides town?

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