Friday, 31 August 2012

AT EEEEZZZZ IN BELIZE ........


Surprise, surprise!! That is Belize! After about 2 years in Spanish-speaking countries, suddenly Leana and I cross into a small English/Carribean crazy place. Even on the mainland it is fairly relaxed. We camped for 2 days at San Igancio after crossing the border from Guatemala. I still had some ongoing stomach problems, and one of the local "Bush Doctors" gave me a fermented brew of the Nonni fruit, which miraculously cured me (see pic of inedible fruit). The place is very "CARRIBEAN", with greetings of YEAH MON from dreadlocked characters around every corner. This is also undoubtedly the most frienly country I have cycled through. I seriously needed certain bike spares, but the bikes around here are not that fancy, and I am struggling on with the lack of some gears, and so forth. At Belize City we applied for Mexican visas, and were rather surprised to be granted free visas for 6 months, issued on-the-spot at their embassy. From the city we took the fast speed-boat water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker, 45 mins by boat. We camped close to the water at first, and later Leana booked us into a nice room across from the beach. The motto of the island is "GO SLOW" but that is totally unnecessary as I don't think it is possible for this bunch to go any slower. Apparently there is a current wave of theft on the island, and on the Friday night there was a PROTEST MARCH in this regard. In keeping with the LOW EVERGY VIBE on the island, the protestors were mostly creeping along on bicycles (the island is about 800m long and 200m wide). The most vocal protestor was singing "WE ARE THE WORLD", pausing only to swig from the beer in his left hand (he was holding a placard in his other hand). Most of the other people seemed rather apathetic while pushing their bikes with placards warning "LEAVE MY STUFF", and so forth. At the back of the little group one of the members was on his individual "station", singing "DON´T WORRY BE HAPPY". Good things come to an end and we had to return to the mainland and keep cycling. On our way North we stopped at the little Crooked Tree wildlife sancturuary (where we camped on somebody's grounds under huge mango trees amongst horses, cows, dogs, and chickens (and we had to survive a good rain-storm during the night). We've since moved on to the town of Orange Walk, from where Leana has taken a river tour to some Mayan ruins. From here we will head North to the border, and we should enter Mexico within the next 2 days. Distances (not much) since my last post have been:- Melchor Mencor 69 km; San Ignacio 18 km; Belmopan 40 km; Belize City 83 km; Caye Caulker (a massive 3 km, to and fron the boat); (back to mainland) Crooked Tree 62 km; and Orange Walk 47 km. The total distance cycled so far on this trip is 97 479 km.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

TIKAL - HISTORY OF THE MAYA

Apparently a visit to Central America without Tikal,is equivalent to going to Egypt without a look at the pyramids. Well, the ancient Maya archaeological site of Tical also has pyramids, for that matter! From the lake island of Flores Leana and I cycled north-east into the jungle, in search of the past. The cycle to Tikal was not very far, but there were some hills and rain along the way. The Maya ruins of Tikal are situated way out in the jungle, in the National Park which is more than 500 sq km in area. From the park gate it was still a 17 km cycle through dense jungle to the visitor centre and the camp ground. This is a misty, rainy, jungle, so luckily the camp sites had thatched shelters and cement floors. There are lots of wild animals in the park, and even that evening in the camp site we had visitors (wild turkeys, other birds, and various furry creatures with long and short tails, including the noisy howler monkeys). There were also the scarce and very shy impressive Tucan birds with their huge schnozzles (if they were able to introduce themselves, they would probably say:- "Just call me BILL"). At 6 AM the following morning we ducked into the Maya site as the gate opened. The excavated remnants at the site are spread out over quite a large area in the jungle, and it takes at least 4 hours to walk around and see all the sites. I had often seen pictures of the biggest attractions, the pyramid temples. However, these amazing structures are much larger than I had anticipated, jutting out above the jungle canopy for as much as 70 m in height. Early on the misty weather added a sense of surrealism to the scene, and there were few other tourists to break the spell. By the time we had done our thing and were on our way out, we met the busloads of incoming tourists. At the camp site we had some lunch, and then we packed up and cycled back to the junction town from where we will be heading East towards Belize, our next country. Daily distances cycled since Honduras have been:- Chiquimula (Guatemala) 64 km; Rio Hondo 36 km; Quirigua 65 km; Rio Dulce 74 km; San Luis 89 km; Flores 123 km; Tikal 67 km; El Remate 34 km57 The total distance cycled so far on this journey is 97 157 km.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

GOING THROUGH GUATEMALA

From Copan in Honduras Leana and I cycled up through the hills and crossed the La Florida border into Guatemala. I had to be rather careful as I was cycling on a broken front rim (it had worn through from braking, and the mean cobblesones at Copan had done the final damage). We stayed over at the first big town in Guatemala, Chiquimula, where I fitted the spare wheel rim. We found Guatemala to be quite similar to neighbouring Honduras, and the living expenses were also about the same. Not far from Chiquimula we paid a gratis visit to a small paleanthological museum, looking at the exhibits of dinosaur bones and some other archaeological displays. We took the Carretera Atlantico eastwards in the direction of the Carribean, where we diverted to take a look at another famous Maya archaeological site - Quirigua. In that vicinity there are some huge banana plantations, to the extent that harvested bunches are transported by cable car to points where they can be loaded (see pic). Then, further East and over some hills we stopped at the pleasant Rio Dulce town where we had a cheap room practically on the jetty where some of the many yachts were moored. We stayed a day and payed a visit to the Spanish colonial fort of San Filipe (designed to curtail pirate activity, which did the job untill the pirates burnt the place to the ground). As in many tropical countries, the palm oil industry is becoming popular (see pic of oil palm). We continued northwards from there through the former jungle province of Peten, as far as Florence (a historic town on an island in the lake, with the "other" part of town, Santa Elena and most shops etc., across the causeway on the mainland. Unfortunately I was rather ill (possibly due to drinking bad water earlier), so I didn't fully appreciate the nice room we had overlooking the lake. From there we headed in the direction of Guatemala's (and Central America's) main attraction, Tikal. For details of distances cycled see the following report.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

THE RUINS OF COPAN

From the tropical Carribean island of Roatan, Leana and I took the fast ferry back to the mainland of Honduras. We again stayed over in the nice economical hotel in La Ceiba, where we had been before the island trip. Although we seek out the budget backpacker-type accommodation, our last day on Roatan Island brought us face-to-face with cruise-ship extravagance. We snorkeled off the spectacular beach at West Bay (where hundreds of cruise-ship passengers were spending the day trampling on the shallow coral), and when we left the island on the following day a huge cruise ship was overshadowing the cove from where our ferry departed. From La Cieba we cycled to another Caribbean coastal town, Tela (not a bad local place, actually quite intesting with nice long beaches, and crazy markets). From there we cycled along via the second city of Honduras (the relatively modern industrial city of San Pedro Sula). From there it was a climb up into the mountains, up, up, and over to the famous Maya ruins at Copan. We´ve checked out the archaeological site, as well as the historic town(where the streets are paved with large awkward cobblestones - not suited to bicycles!). In fact the front wheel rim on my bike was damaged, probably as much due to wear-and-tear as the stones (so I'll be re-spoking a wheel for about the millionth time on this trip). Here in Copan we are only about 10 km from the Guatemala border, our next destination. Daily distances cycled since my last report have been:- La Ceiba (+1.5hr ferry) 32 km; Tela 104 km; San Pedro Sula 98 km; Quimistan 63 km; La Entrada 55 km; Copan Ruinas 66 km. The total distance which I have cycled since the start of this journey is 96 605 km, and the approximate total in Honduras is 1 130 km.