We left the Coatis and took off for Belize from Tikal in the early morning, expecting a rather uneventful drive through the plains of the El Peten into Belize.  The road was a bit beyond rough and we made slow progress, but by early afternoon were going through Immigration and Customs into Belize which turned out to be a snap.  While auto insurance in Guatemala is impossible to buy except through a broker in Texas and takes a month to process so no one has it, in Belize it is REQUIRED and they mean it with periodic checkpoints on the roads where they make sure you have an insurance sticker on your windshield and it is up to date.  At $26 US for two weeks we could handle it.

There were a couple of things that made Belize relatively easy for us:  Their money is keyed to the U.S. dollar, so two Belize dollars are equal to one American.  Beats 8 Quetzals to the dollar in Guatemala or 12.5 Pesos to the dollar in Mexico, let me tell you!  And the other big plus is that everyone speaks English and Belize was known as British Honduras until shortly after WWII.  Their dollar bills still have a picture of Queen Elizabeth on them, still looking about 25 years old.

One other fascinating and totally unexpected aspect to Belize:  As far as we could tell every grocery and supermarket was Chinese owned and operated and there were certainly more Chinese restaurants per square block than anywhere short of Chinatown in San Francisco.  Turns out that Taiwan was the first country to recognize Belize and many emigrated to Belize in pretty short order.  At the street level, they seem to rule economically.

We headed for a town called Orange Walk and expected to be there in very short order, but it turns out that there are two of them and sweet Mrs. Garmin, our GPS, lead us to the more distant one far to the north and very close to the Mexican border where we intended to leave and start our return.  We did find some interesting challenges on the road however, as this photo clearly illustrates:

Note the turkey, the cowboy, the school children, and in the distance, the horse

Note the turkey, the cowboy, the school children, and in the distance, the horse

Once in Orange Walk we decided to reorder our intentions and began working things a bit backwards.  We found a lovely place to camp next to the New River in Orange Walk with a really nice restaurant and arranged to go down the river the next day to ruins at Laminai.

Dan along the New River just "watchin' the river flow"

Dan along the New River just “watchin’ the river flow”

To be honest, we had sort of done our share of Mayan ruins by then, but the best part of going to the ruins here was the boat ride down the river.  It was at perhaps 30 or 40 miles an hour through an absolute maze of channels, none of them straight for more than a couple of hundred yards, and a really intense rush as we wound our way through the labyrinth relying entirely on what seemed to be the skipper’s intuitive sense of the right path, though we are sure it was the product of experience since early childhood.  Have a look:

The ruins themselves were really beautifully situated in the jungle and were impressive though next to somewhere like Tikal not very extensive.

Note how huge the tree is next to the people to the left

Note how huge the tree is next to the person to the left

 

The Temple of the Masks, with some of the clearest images from the Classical Period

The Temple of the Masks, with some of the clearest images from the Classical Period

 

The Jaguar Temple at Laminai--note the image to the left of the staircase

The Jaguar Temple at Laminai–note the image to the left of the staircase

 

The descent from the High Temple was steep and a bit scary

The descent from the High Temple was steep and a bit scary

On the way back to Orange Walk we passed John McAfee’s river house.  You may recall he was a famous Silicon Valley entrepreneur who cashed in and moved to Belize.  This is not where he was when he may have killed his next door neighbor, but it looks like his house out on the caye is up for auction, and is really lovely with several structures and will probably sell for a fraction of its real value.

The property from the river which extends inland and has a number of structures

The property from the river which extends inland and has a number of structures

The next day we made our way to the middle of the country (it took about an hour as Belize is really small) to visit a Howler Monkey sanctuary (they seem to want to call them baboons, though they are not) where we took a walk through the jungle and were greeted by a mother and her young:

Mama and baby, who is about six months old

Mama and baby, who is about six months old

And finally we found our way to the Belize Zoo on the strong recommendations of friends who had visited it already.  It turned out to be wonderful.  Billing itself as “The Best Little Zoo in The World,” it came close to fulfilling the claim.  Here are a few samples of the sort of folks we met there, all of them rescued from abusive capture:

Spotted Jaguar, reluctant to come over to talk with us

Spotted Jaguar, reluctant to come over to talk with us

 

'Lucky Boy,' a black jaguar rescued when near dead and now fully recovered and thoroughly intimidating

‘Lucky Boy,’ a black jaguar rescued when near dead and now fully recovered and thoroughly intimidating

 

A mountain lion, or puma, or cougar--all the same animal and a killer of humans

A mountain lion, or puma, or cougar–all the same animal and a killer of humans

 

Our favorite, and Ocelot with lots of personality and spunk

Our favorite, and Ocelot with lots of personality and spunk

The next day we moved up to the town of Corozal and flew out to the cayes to our island adventure, the subject of the next blog.