I'm writing this as a two parter to try to keep up! I write everything through the beginning of October 31st at a hostel in San Ignacio after we prepared to cross to Guatemala on the 2nd, very tired from a wild day of travel and considering our privilege. I write the rest from a hostel in Antigua Guatemala.
What a crazy day. The crossing into Belize wasn't actually too bad! We had to get a covid antigen test, go through customs and immigration, all of which was pretty straight forward and easy! The last detail was to snag some Belizean car insurance for a few days while we were there, which was a requirement. However, the insurance office just outside the border area had closed for the weekend (it's a Saturday!), and the others in the next town over were hot on it's heels in closing as well. After getting through the border, we booked it to the nearest town where we were told there was an insurance place that would be open. When we made it, the agent said she was closing soon and the system would shut her out, but she would do her best! She just had to finish processing one client ahead of us and she'd try to squeeze us in. She didn't even get to finish the other client before the system shut her out, apparently. Kind of a weird way to do your system if you ask me, but I guess I don't run an insurance company!
Anyway, from there we tried another insurance place that was closed. Then another one that was closed. THEN we called a place two towns over that said it was open and they said they would call the local agent who had gone home to see what they could do. Then we waited for an hour. We poked that same person with a stick to see what was up and apparently the agent should have called us already and that she would check with them again. We finally got in a phone call with an agent who could sell us insurance but she had to get the go-ahead from the higher ups for it and they weren't responding, but she could figure something out! Then it turned out the shortest term her company could offer was one year... and we'd be in Belize for 3 days. Well damn. We thanked her for her time and said we'd look elsewhere, but she confirmed nowhere would be open until Monday. Well double damn.
We decided our only option was to book it to Belize City a couple of hours away and if we got pulled over or hit a checkpoint just explain that it's literally impossible for us to get insurance! Luckily we made it to our stay in Belize City un-harrassed.
After getting our stuff settled in our hotel room, we hit a pizza joint nearby for some grub since we'd had to ditch most of our food before the border. "Pizza? What a lame choice in a cool place like Belize!", you might be thinking. Well, we'd both just come up from a long-ish back and forth with... er, travelers food problems. We were playing it safe for a few days.
Later, at the hotel, we decided to get some work done (namely catching up with our websites, we were starting to feel a bit behind) on the beautiful upper deck. Doing so turned out to be even more of a chore than we'd been worrying about though, as the cook at the hotel took a shine to us! He was british, had over $100,000 worth of records in his studio next door that we got to see, and he loved explaining to us about how we should travel using his myriad travel stories as examples. He was a nice enough fellow, but definitely seemed to be more interested in telling us about himself than hearing anything from us!
We finally got our posts done and headed into our rooms to settle in for the night, as we had to get up early in the morning to head over to San Pedro!
We had to get an 8am ferry to San Pedro to get to a tour place early enough for an 11am snorkeling tour and trip to Secret Beach on Ambergris Caye (the same caye that San Pedro is on). We got Savannah checked in to her own hotel (a fenced in parking lot. She doesn't ask for much), then zoomed over to San Pedro in about an hour and a half. The water on the ferry ride as we got closer to Ambergris Cay began to include more and more shades of blue and green, which blew my mind! After arriving, we were immediately thrust into this weird golf cart dimension where golf carts outnumbered cars 40 to 1 at least, and they were all zipping about through the thin roads!
We made our way a few blocks away from the ferry terminal (pretty much just a dock) to the hostel we would be staying at to store our things before hitting the tour company. We met a frenchman who was staying at in our dorm room who slightly rubbed us the wrong way, he seemed to be a bit snooty (leaving trash and dishes out), but we figured we'd give him another chance if we interacted with him more later. Off we went to our tour!
The tour company was only a stones throw away from the hostel. On the drive towards Belize City the day before, I'd checked out different tour companies and called this one. The owner, Phil, quoted us $50US per for a snorkeling tour and trip to Secret Beach. When we got to the tour place and said we were ready to go, he informed us he hadn't told us how much it would be and it would be $120US per... We took a step aside to confer. The most we'd be willing to pay is $50 each, so we went back and told him it was too much, so we couldn't do that, and asked if he had any cheaper options. We ended up getting a snorkeling tour with two stops (swimming with nurse sharks and then snorkeling around the reef) for $60 per! Close enough, I suppose!
The tour was pretty amazing. The nurse sharks, while being between 3 and 8 feet long, were pretty harmless and absolutely swarmed the boat as soon as we pulled up! Kelly and I donned our gear and nervously jumped in (they still looked a hell of a lot like harmful sharks) to swim about among the throng of sharks.
After a while they dissipated, our guide jumped in as well, and we swam about checking out the reef (pictures below). Our guide was super cool and pointed out and named a lot of different fish and showed us live conch mollusks! After about 45 minutes or so of bumbling about we headed back to the boat and motored to the next spot, a channel in the reef that led to open ocean.
The first thing we saw when we jumped in there was a goddamn sea turtle! He was just ripping away at the kelp on the ocean floor. We watched him for a while before scooting along about 50 feet to... ANOTHER sea turtle! So insane. Apparently, according to our guide, they're always there and you're pretty much guaranteed to see them. What a wild place to live. From there we made for the channel checking out the neat coral and fish along the way. We saw a couple different kinds of manta rays gliding through the channel as well!
During our snorkeling adventure our guide told us we could just drive a golf cart to secret beach if we still wanted to go! I was feeling a bit hungover and being on the tour boat for a while had been starting to get to me a bit. When we got back to the hostel we relaxed for a bit before figuring out a golf cart rental for the evening!
We drove for about 30 minutes or so, zooming about among other golf carts and pedestrians. Secret Beach was on the inland part of the caye, so we would have to travel up the caye and then across it to get there. When the road turned to traverse the caye, the pavement gave way to extremely rutted and potholed dirt, so weaving our way among those was even more fun!
Secret beach didn't seem to be a huge secret, there were about 5 restaurants/bars and quite a few people manning booths selling homemade goods. About 30 seconds after we parked a man stopped by with a bin selling baked goods, including "special" brownies. Then as we walked the beach taking stock of all our options, one of the booth owners offered to sell us "good ganja." We declined both times, but it was surprising how open they were about it, it was quite different from the states! We later looked it up and weed is decriminalized in Belize, so that checks out.
We settled on a place and got some dinner and a couple drinks and just relaxed until sunset was quickly approaching. Snorkeling can really take it out of you, it turns out!
We headed back to the hostel, snagged some bagel bites from the supermarket from which we had rented the golf carts, chowed down, then hit the sack!
Man, what a day. The plan for the whole day is to get back to Belize City, snag some car insurance now that it's Monday and the offices are open, then head for San Ignacio (with one stop on the way to see something cool, not sure what yet) to prepare for crossing into Guatemala the morning of the 2nd. We had a nice slow morning, had the rest of the bagel bites for breakfast, then packed up and headed to the ferry terminal. We got there about 45 minutes early, so we found a nice shady square nearby with some benches to wait.
Wrong square. After maybe 10 minutes, a black (relevant soon) man rode up on a bike and offered to sell us a phone case. Well, we already have phone cases, and I don't think he had one that would fit either of our phones, but he showed us anyway. After saying we don't need them, he asked if we wanted to buy weed or coke quickly followed by the observation that we didn't really look like the types anyway. We concurred that we didn't really want to buy anything. I'm not really sure how he pulled it off, but he segued that conversation into one about how he, and all black Belizeans, are descriminated against. He definitely seemed to be blaming us in part for this issue, as white tourists who come to Belize and only spend money with non black people. He was starting to get a little scary, when another man walked up and shooed him off. He circled around on his bike and eventually returned to the area where the man who shooed him off was talking with some other people and we got the fuck out.
While the guy was a little scary and clearly more in the mood to rant at tourists than to have a conversation about the issue, it gave us a lot of thoughts about class issues. Belize is a pretty impoverished country that gets a lot of money from tourism. We also realized that most of the business owners we saw were not black. They were asian, middle eastern, and central or south american, but the only black business owner we saw was the tour company owner, Phil. So it does seem that he had a point about black Belizeans being discriminated against, but we were also kind enough to ourselves that we weren't picking our business based on race and we weren't the tourists buying expensive condos and siloing our money in our own rich circles. We also couldn't figure out concrete things we could do to help change the situation other than patronize black owned businesses.
We talked about that much of the way back to Belize City. After getting there, we went straight to the insurance office, but they were closed for another hour for their lunch break. We agreed that we were both pretty exhausted and could use a little decompression time in a quiet coffee shop. We tried to find a coffee shop but the one nearby seemed to be closed. As we stood around looking like lost lemmings trying to figure out another spot to hang out until they opened, we were approached by a friendly black Belizean who recommended a place. Then offered to take us there, specifically noting it was free of charge. We were a little suspicious, but figured why not and followed him several blocks to the coffee shop. He chatted energetically the whole way there, which made us even more suspicious, as he had no apparent reason for being so friendly. Anyway, after trying two different places that turned out to be closed, we finally arrived at a place that was open and ordered some drinks. He was absolutely under the impression he would be hanging out with us for a while, so we got him a drink as well. The place required vaccination to dine in, but our new friend left his card at home, so he ran off to get it (about a 15 minute walk one way). Kelly and I got our drinks, sat down, and wondered if he was even going to come back. We were super thankful to actually have some time to decompress, since it had seemed like we wouldn't with him around. Well, he did show back up! We chatted in the coffee shop for only a couple minutes before it was time to go back to the insurance place. We weren't sure if he was going to ask us for money on the way back, and surprisingly he didn't! He did talk about how he was in the states for a while until he got kicked out for getting into trouble in Brooklyn, and never elaborated on what kind of trouble. We also heard about his troubles with his sisters fiance (they do not see eye to eye, to say the least), his daughter, and how his car wash hadn't seen a customer in about a week. Just before getting to the insurance place, he said if he wanted to ask for money or something he would be up front about it and ask, that's just how he is. Then didn't ask for money! We got to the insurance place then just parted ways.
The insurance people only allowed one person to go to the desk to work it out at a time, so I hung out in the lobby while Kelly worked with them. After about 10 minutes, our new friend appeared in the doorway and beckoned me out. He asked for something to help out, and said if we were ever back in Belize he would cook us food or something. I was honest with him and said Kelly had our wallet and I didn't carry money, so he said no problem and he'd be right over where we'd found him a few buildings down when she came out and headed off. When Kelly came out after the impressively easy process of insuring Savannah for the next few days, we agreed to give him some of our remaining Belizean bills and I dashed off to pass them along. After departing, Kelly and I had another long conversation musing about privilege, opportunity, and choices, and how we feel about giving money out and about asking for money.
We concluded that it's a veeery complicated world that is rife with inequality. Feeling guilty for our privilege is normal, but we shouldn't respond to it by depriving ourselves of things needlessly. Instead we can use the knowledge we get from traveling and experiencing inequality to inform our decisions and hopefully make decisions that contribute to absolving some of that inequality!
In news of Belize, about 15 minutes after Kelly stuck the insurance sticker to the windshield, we came across a checkpoint where they checked for insurance :o Then another two more through the 3 hours of driving we did that day! We got super lucky on that count.
On our way to the hostel in San Ignacio, we went to the Belize Zoo! We both have mixed feelings about zoos, so we checked ahead of time and people specifically commented on how that zoo seems to do it right. They only house native species, and the enclosures are very natural, seemingly carved right out of the jungle (later confirmed to be true, that's actually how they did it), and very spacious! All their animals are also rescues that couldn't be reintroduced to the wild. Perfect!
The tapirs were super fun! Several of them were having a nap while we were there, but some others were running about having a good time! Also, the way they pee is like a mini explosion shooting directly backwards. The first time we witnessed that we were very careful not to stand down range.... The more curious ones would come right up to the fence to check us out and sniff at our hands with their wacky moving snouts.
The monkeys were awesome to see. Their enclosures seemed far from monkey-proof, which was later confirmed when we saw a howler monkey jump from a tree inside his enclosure to one growing among the pathways! I asked a zookeeper later if it was normal for the monkeys to come and go as they please, and he confirmed that was true. They don't super mind, as the enclosures are pretty much their perfect environment, and outside is fine too because that's their environment anyway. That means the monkeys stay inside on their own most of the time because they like it there, but if they leave they don't mess much up anyway.
After playing at the zoo we hit San Ignacio! The hostel was a fun, multi-tiered building that seemed maze like - plus, it had three puppies! Not much else interesting happened, we just had some dinner and prepared for crossing into Guatemala in the morning. Stay tuned for the first Guatemala post soon!
We were constantly on the go, snorkeled with sharks and sea turtles, drove a golf cart around maniacally, got shook about our privilege, saw a ton of awesome animals in the Belize zoo.
If there's something I wrote too little about, make a comment or reach out to ask to hear more, I'd love to answer any questions!