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Belize in JanuaryAuthor: Paul (More Trip Reviews by Paul)
Date of Trip: January 2008
Belize January 2008
This will be our second trip to Belize. For such a tiny country there are many activities for outdoor type people to do. We would be going back to do some specific things we missed on our first trip two years ago.
Again, we would fly into Cancun Mexico, rent a car, drive down to Belize, spend most of our time wandering around then drive back to Mexico. We would also be spending a few days in the Tulum area of the Mayan Riviera on the return trip. It is our favourite beach area and we planned to relax before heading back to the cold north.
Over the past couple of weeks we had finalized our list of what we wanted to do and see, with a rough idea of the route we would take; it was all very fluid. Since we did not have any specific plans on where we would be staying or what accommodations we would find, some of our canoe camping gear ended up in the luggage. Some was never used but it was still nice to have -- just in case.
Belize is a third world country. North Americans have been going here for years but tourism is just getting started. There are a few high end resorts that cater to the "sit on the beach" crowd but most areas are just as they were thirty years ago; dirt poor. Many accommodations and eating establishments (notice I didn't say "dining") can be termed "gritty". Petty crime is common in some areas, mostly opportunity. If articles are left in plain view as in the back of an SUV, someone who has had so little for so long will be tempted. Belize City is the crime capital. We avoided that place. Don't get the wrong impression from this; take appropriate precautions, don't flaunt your wealth, stay away from inappropriate places and all should be good.
Currency. At the time of this trip exchange rates were 10.5MP (Mexican Peso) and 2BZ (Belize Dollar) for 1USD (United States Dollar). Canadian and US dollars were basically equal. We brought American dollars in cash and travellers cheques. No matter what some guide books say about Canadian dollars being easy to exchange; they're not.
The car. The details for a car rental were left to me. One reason for renting in Cancun and then driving down was the cost; a rental in Belize was almost twice that of the Mexico rates. There are only a handful of rental companies in Cancun that will allow a car to leave the country; America Car Rental was the cheapest. Maybe because I can be so frugal, I opted for the second smallest car available. There wasn't anything wrong with it except for maybe the air conditioner labouring in the high heat but larger wheels would have come in handy on more than one occasion. It was a Dodge Verna, nothing more than a re-badged Hyundai.
Tipping. No, it's not a city in China, tipping is recognition for good service. Cash is still the favoured method but we try to bring some kind of article(s) as a supplement. This year it just happened to be knives. For some reason, I ended up with five good quality, lock back, folding knives through various incentives at work. These went to various guides and caretakers, along with the monetary tip. A new folding dry bag went to a guide on one of the water related tours. All of them were appreciated very much.
Thursday January 17
Our flight day. It is a late flight at 1500 so we leave home in the morning and drive to Toronto. A hotel room has been reserved for the night of our return and the vehicle is left there and we take the shuttle to the airport.
Check in with Sky Service is the usual -- one long line for three flights. We shuffle our way forward with the rest of the crowd, check the bags and make our way through security to the departure lounge.
On boarding we are pleasantly surprised. The plane is only at 25% capacity. Since there are a bunch of screaming toddlers sitting in front of us and a couple of kids behind kicking our seat backs, as soon as the seatbelt sign blinks out we head for the back and claim a row of empty seats for ourselves.
The flight is uneventful and we land in Cancun at 19:10 local time. Once again I am struck by that familiar smell when we step outdoors; the smell of tropical vegetation mixed with the slight salt tang in the air. This year it seems to be a bit less pronounced than before and when we look around we can see why. With the recent expansion of the terminals, much that was once jungle has been bulldozed and paved. Progress I guess. Customs is cleared and we find our rental contact outside waiting for us as planned. He drives us to the office, sign the papers and we are on our way.
Tonight we have a room in Puerto Morelos, about a thirty minute drive down highway 307. The hotel is about two kilometres outside of town off a gravel road. The road is typical Mexican, full of potholes! We find the hotel without any problem, we were only lost once! We get the last room available and it is a good set up; bed hanging on four ropes, big shower and hammocks in the small private courtyard.
Supper is at our favourite "authentic" restaurant, located in a back alley off the main street. Previously we would be the only gringos at the place but tonight that is all there is. We move a table from the heated kitchen area to the alley (literally) and have a good meal of fresh fish. A picture of our last visit is passed around by the staff, which seems to impress them that we came back.
A quick stop for some rum and beer and we head for bed. We are very tired.
Friday January 18
By 0630 I am walking the beach, letting Dallas have some extra sleep. The beach is rough, large chunks of coral would make swimming a challenge. A large freighter is run aground just south of the hotel and there is a tug making loud noises trying to push it to deeper water. It never moves an inch. To the north an old ferry is capsized, rusting away in the salt water and air.
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