After our stay at The Red Hut Inn, we quickly looked for long term parking. We were on day two now without car insurance and were testing our luck without getting caught. Granted, it really wasn’t our fault not to have it – no insurance company between the border of Belize/Mexico and Belize City were open over the weekend.
When we had booked our required three nights of reservations in Belize, we planned to visit San Pedro Island, which ended up working perfectly to keep Savannah off the road. The water taxi we found to take us to the island offered overnight parking with 24 hour surveillance. Savannah could rest in peace for a night, and so could we without worrying about her!
The water taxi could hold probably a little over 100 people with an upper and lower deck of seats. There were two stops – first to Caye Caulker, and the second to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We watched the buildings of Belize City disappear in the distance as the cayes slowly came into view on the horizon.
We decided to take the first water taxi that left the city at 8 AM so that we would have time to do half a day of snorkeling. We arrived at our stop (the second stop for the water taxi) around 10 AM and noticed just how much of a tourist destination San Perdo is. The first thing to really stand out was the amount of golf carts. Since cars were either not permitted or not easily shipped to the island, golf carts were the main mode of transportation. Growing up, my sister and I raced around the farm on a green golf cart; it brought back a warm feeling of nostalgia.
We checked into our hostel quickly and tossed our things on our respective bunks. It definitely was not cheap for a bunk bed in a mixed dorm, but it was the cheapest option we had. We threw on some swim suits and set off for the beach. Andre had corresponded with a guide company that offered snorkeling and a trip to “Secret Beach” by boat. I think we both thought Secret Beach was kind of a secret place. Even though we did not end up doing this itinerary due to a steep price (different than when Andre spoke with him on the phone), we did end up heading to the beach later – it was not very secret.
We settled on a few hours of snorkeling in Hol Chan (“little alley”) which is a marine reserve in the Belize Barrier Reef. We would be taken to two locations to snorkel – one with nurse sharks and the other on the reef where we hoped to see sea turtles, sting rays, and tropical fish. Without many tourists around, we ended up getting the tour to ourselves. Wilkie was our guide and he raced us out to the reef on a small motor boat. We ended up doing the nurse shark stop first. He said that a lot of tour companies bait the sharks with chum and that they are conditioned with the sound of boat motors for feeding time. Sure enough, as soon as we arrived at the snorkeling destination, dozens of nurse sharks swarmed the boat. Wilkie did not feed them but they hung around long enough for us to hop in and swim above them. It was a pretty wild experience. Sharks, to me, mean best not to swim with them, but he explained that nurse sharks are basically big catfish (with whisker like appendages, or barbels). Essentially harmless, he still advised us not to swim too close to avoid being smacked with a tail. We snorkeled among the sharks for a bit before following Wilkie over to the reef where he pointed out different types of fish and coral.
Once we finished exploring there, we moved back closer to shore for the stop in the marine preserve. Here, immediately, we saw green sea turtles! I was amused with how voraciously they fed on the sea grass, as if it might crawl away and out of their mouthes at any moment. We moved from the sand patches where the turtles were to deeper into the channel. We swam over spotted eagle rays that looked as though they were flying through the water flapping their fins like wings. We passed over a pair in perfect harmony, it was stunning. We saw baby barracuda, lots of snappers, rainbow fish (they are a real thing!!), parrot fish, angelfish, and so many more. Wilkie knew all of the species by sight and where to look for them. On the boat ride back, he played some reggae songs that slapped and we felt lucky he was our guide to show us his backyard.
Once we got back, we hung around the hostel before deciding we should totally rent a golf cart and explore some of the island. We drove to Secret Beach, after half an hour or so on bumpy dirt roads seemingly heading to nowhere. Once we got there though, we realized this was a bar destination that lots of people drive golf carts to (hence why we were happy with our decision not to pay more for a boat ride here). We followed suit and lounged on the beach with smoothies and drinks. The curfew for Belize was 9 PM and we needed to get the golf cart back by 8… it got dark around 5:30 anyway and we weren’t really sure how the headlights would work so we headed back around dusk.
After our first sleep apart on the trip in separate bunks (weird) we headed out late morning back to the ferry. Andre had a lab meeting which we stuck around the hostel wifi for, then made our way to the dock. We planned to catch the 10 AM ferry and, after getting to the dock around 9:30, hung around the local park on a bench. Soon we were approached by a man on a bike who asked if we were from the US. We said we were, which sparked an interesting and intense rant from him. At first we weren’t sure if he was trying to sell something, which perhaps he was, but the pitch soon turned into a rant that we couldn’t really escape from and were for sure a target for. He explained his perspective that, as a black Belizean, he was kept from succeeding in his country. We, Andre and I, (in his perspective) were American tourists who were spending our money on services and items that would not benefit black Belizeans. He explained: 1) many white people from the US and Europe come to Belize and buy up land for personal condos or timeshares, 2) we invest our US dollars into services (like grocery stores and hostels) that are hosted by “Hispanic” Belizeans, who (from his perspective and unclear what the reality is) do not invest it in the local communities that include black Belizeans. The rant bordered on explaining frustrations to making us wary that we may be about to be mugged; we had very little time to interject or discuss. Eventually, another black Belizean man walked behind him and motioned for us to stop talking to him. We weren’t really sure what to do and Andre decidedly brought him into the conversation by saying hello. When the man ranting noticed this other man, he quickly pedaled his bike away, but not far. As he circled back and the two men began to argue, we used the opportunity to slip away and out of the drama. We walked to the ferry dock to wait in line and debrief what we were just accused of/made aware of. The man that motioned for us to stop talking came to the dock to check that we were alright – we said we were and thanked him for his help.
But, were we right to be told off in a way? I do think we were perceived differently than we are. We are not wealthy Americans in Belize for a long vacation – we’re spending our scant amount of life savings to travel through Central and South America in a van. We do though have money earned from the US that we are decidedly spending in Belize on certain services. We tried to think back on where we spent our money – our hostel was hosted by Latin American mestizos (if I am using this term improperly, please advise me). The grocery store we purchased our food at and bar we visited at Secret Beach also appeared not to employ black Belizeans, which we only noticed in hindsight after this man’s talk. Our snorkel tour guide, Wilkie, was black and born in Belize and it seemed that the company was operated under Phil, a black Belizean. We didn’t intentionally spend our money at one place or another based on a race would be investing in, but we also were not aware of the implications our money would have being spent in one place over another. I feel unqualified and undereducated to discuss racial issues in my silly blog posts, but I also think that to be aware of these issues is something. I still don’t know what to do with this awareness, and what the next steps should be (I felt similarly from my experience in Cape Town, ZA). If anyone has any ideas on how better to understand where and who we should support in the countries we’ll be traveling through between here and Chile, I’d love to connect and learn.
This occupied our conversation and minds for most of the water taxi back. Once back though, we had a new distraction to take on our attention and stress out over for a minute – car insurance. Now Monday, we didn’t want to drive around without insurance and we knew insurance businesses would be open. After we walked to the nearest company however, we found out they were closed for lunch. We walked around looking for a coffee shop to kill some time when we met a guy named Reggie. He owned the car wash across the street from his house, but it wouldn’t open until 1 PM. We casually told him we were looking for a coffee shop and he then made this his mission – to find us one. We didn’t ask, and were perfectly capable of wandering around and finding one ourselves, but he said there was a great one just around the corner so we figured why not. This set off a long game of follow the leader from one closed coffee shop to the next. It seemed like he knew most of the people we passed and he shared stories about his time in Belize City. He was born in Belize, but then lived to New York, where he was then deported for getting into trouble, and was now back in Belize. We listened intently and kept a careful eye as we took shortcuts between streets across ditches and through abandoned lots. We followed Reggie through the city but stuck together and stayed attentive. Eventually, we did find a coffee shop that was open. Reggie didn’t want coffee, instead a Sprite, so we offered that for his guidance and sat and chatted awhile. We weren’t sure what to make of his act of guiding us (unsought) or countless stories – we again were in a conversation that didn’t include us but was more of him sharing his thoughts and stories with us. It neared 1 PM and we all headed back in the direction of the insurance company and Reggie’s house. I sorted out the insurance for the next two days we’d be in Belize while Andre waited nearby. Reggie did come back and approached Andre asking for help, some money to help raise his daughter. We discussed it together when I finished with the paperwork and agreed to offer the small amount that we could to Reggie, which could maybe buy him a meal or two. We were tossed back into our conundrum of what to do. We can’t change what is an inherent systemic problem, we don’t have the means to do so – no individual person does. I don’t think there is an answer to this, which makes it all the more frustrating.
We both agreed we were totally zapped from the day – more mentally than physically. But we would be driving right by a local zoo on our way to San Ignacio, where our next hostel was. I have mixed feelings about zoos – I don’t like seeing animals caged up and displayed, especially in environments where they don’t belong. This zoo however proved to be more of a wildlife rehabilitation place, or one that would take in animals that could not survive in the wild. The zoo housed 48 species that are native to Belize. We walked through exhibits with tapirs, jaguars, ocelots, and toucans… peccaries, macaws, and eagle hawks. The zoo seemed to be built into the jungle, supplying the animals with their local natural habitat. It was really cool and I’m happy we were able to turn our brains off and experience some amazing animals for a bit.
Our hostel in San Ignacio was a funky multilevel structure tucked on the side of a hill. We squeezed the van along a narrow side road and tucked it next to the building. We slept apart in separate bunks again but in a loft we had to ourselves. We worked on preparing for the border crossing into Guatemala for the next morning, then binged our latest Netflix show “The Good Place” – yeah we’re (I’m) late to it.
We’ve been in Guatemala for a few days now and a lot has happened, but I’ll save that for the next post 🙂
Andre’s post here!
Updated map of campsites here 🙂