Belmopan, Belize

After two days in Caye Caulker, E and I decided to head on into the jungle. We took a water taxi to Belize City, then a cab to the bus station, then a chicken bus to Belmopan. The bus was packed solid and boiling hot, but fortunately the bus ride went by relatively quickly. The landscape we passed was tropical farmland — lots of hot, exhausted horses with cattle egrets on their heads, crumbling pastel farmhouses, and the occasional large open-air bar/restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

Eventually we rolled into Belmopan and a taxi driver accosted us in the bus station (in open defiance of the signs that insisted they stay out front) and took us to our requested hotel. He very much wanted to secure our business for any jaunt we might care to take while in town, and so he came on in the hotel with us and wanted to wait while we settled ourselves, or take us to lunch and then to wherever we cared to go. This sort of thing exhausts me about traveling. We finally got rid of him after he spent some time making sure the very nice young girl behind the desk knew exactly who he was and that we weren’t permitted to be driven anywhere by anyone else.

I do have sympathy. It was quite obvious from the state of Belmopan that economic opportunities were few and far between. And for all this guy’s pushiness, there were fewer touts in Belize than there have been absolutely anywhere I’ve ever traveled. In fact, it was a problem at times, because both E and I just assumed that wherever we showed up, we’d be able to turn around and find fifty people jostling to take us somewhere, as had been the case in every other developing country we’d backpacked in. But in fact, it was not the case, and a lot of times, we ended up schlepping it.

At any rate, we took turns having showers, which was unbelievably wonderful. We had had our main travel day on possibly the hottest day ever — it was so hot that even the Belizeans could talk of little else. The whole country spent the day slumped on whatever surface was nearest them, repeating over and over to anyone who happened by, “Dear God, it is so hot.”

After hosing off, we took a short (hot) walk over to what passed for a busy street in Belmopan and found a very cute outdoor bar where we both ordered the daily special, which was a delicious fried fish the size of a baby.

2015-04-28 14.32.46

After that, we were finally ready to get down to tourism business. The thing to do in Belmopan is to go to the Blue Hole National Park, which has a lovely cave fed pool you can swim in. We got instructions on how to get there from the girl at the front desk (just get on a bus and tell the driver to let you off there). She suggested we walk back to the bus station, but luckily another worker from the hotel was leaving at the same time, and offered to drop us off, which was fortunate as the walk was actually super long and we would surely have perished.

Belize bus stations are hot and crowded. They have a lot of wooden benches, but few people sit on them. Instead, would-be passengers hover anxiously behind large iron gates that are only swung open when a bus arrives. When that happens, it becomes an every man for himself free-for-all in which the ancient and the infantile alike are trampled heartlessly underfoot in the crush. I assumed there was no real point to this (as I’d traveled in China where people did this just ’cause), but we later found out that the buses often arrive nearly full and seats are first come, first serve. If you don’t get a seat, it’s another hour waiting in the hot sticky bus station, and no guarantee the next bus will have space.

E and I were lucky every time, though; we always managed to get a seat. Including today. A friendly guy sitting next to me (who I assumed from his probing questions about our trip was a creepy jerk, until he got off his stop without any attempt to come along with us; alas the necessary paranoia of the solo female traveler) told me all about the Blue Hole and which part of the park we needed to go to, and how much it would cost, and finally that it closed at 4:00pm. It was at this point 2:50pm.

“Just enough time for a refreshing swim,” he said unconvincingly.

By the time the driver pulled over on the shoulder of the highway in the middle of nowhere and told me and E to get off, it was about 3:15. The park turned out to be just around a bend in the road, and the guy in the ticket booth gave us a discount as it was so close to closing time. It was a short hop down the trail to the blue hole.

And the blue hole was wonderful. The water was icy cold and clear and full of slim white fish that darted up and away from you, and it was also full of a large German family, a smaller family, and about six or seven youths. Soon, though, everyone left except for the smaller family — a little boy, a French man, and two Canadian women. One of them told us to swim over to the rock wall and look down, which we hadn’t thought to do, so we did as we were told, and saw that below us was an endlessly deep plunge along the rock wall, disappearing below ground. It felt incredibly strange and more than a little creepy to hover over it.

We talked to these people a bit, and they turned out to be a family that had moved to Belize six months ago, had bought a ton of land cheap, and were now building a house, and their friend visiting them for vacation. They were very nice and then they left, and E and I had the place to ourselves.

We splashed around until just 4, and then we obediently left the park. The ticket guy was just leaving his hut, and we asked him if there was anywhere nearby we could catch a cab or a bus.

“Hmm,” he said, looking as if no one had ever asked him such a puzzler before. “If you go up the road just a bit, there’s a bus stop. And the bus should be along in about fifteen minutes.”

We thanked him and walked back to where we’d gotten off the bus, and waited across the highway in the weeds. And waited. And waited. Cars and trucks and vans passed (honking) but no bus. We waited some more. It started to get dark. We began to get nervous.

highway

And then a van (not pictured) pulled off the road and the woman from the family we’d just met called out the window to ask us if we needed a ride. We gratefully accepted. They told us that the buses heading in that direction were actually small white vans that wouldn’t stop unless they had room (see above for the only picture E happened to snap while we waited, in which she very likely captured the full “bus” that didn’t stop). This gracious, delightful family drove us all the way back to Belmopan and to our hotel. There, we discovered that the ceiling of our room had begun to leak (more like stream), so the confused boy who’d taken over at the front desk upgraded us to a “suite” across the hall. It turned out that a guest in the room above ours had leaned on the sink so hard that it broke off the wall. (!!)

We went back to the same bar for a dinner of loaded nachos and beers, and a lot of attention from the friendly server who wanted us to attend a party the bar was throwing on Sunday. We told him we were leaving for San Ignacio the next morning.

“Ah,” he said, looking so genuinely crestfallen that we almost agreed to stay. “This is how everyone is — they arrive in Belmopan, take one look, and off to San Ignacio.”

Poor little Belmopan. In fact, E and I agreed that stopping over a night there was probably a mistake given the short duration of our trip. Still, everyone we met there was nice as could be, and if we’d had a longer time in Belize, we might have explored a bit more.

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