We didn't hear the best stories about Belize from other cyclists. Expensive, bad roads, hot and boring for cycling. We cycle with little motivation to the Belizean border and already prepare ourselves mentally for a few frustrating days. When we left Cancun, Olivier told Zoë "the next 400 kilometers to the border with Belize are flat". In her head Zoë translated this in her own way, so from Belize the mountains start. The truth is that Olivier didn't look beyond the border and it appears that the north of Belize is just as flat as the part of Mexico that we have just completed. "My ass is already stunned, I can’t hold that four days more" says Zoë, while we just had a rest day. "Oh yes, and we have to pay an exit fee if we leave Belize, € 20 pp," says Olivier. We aren't in Belize yet and we already think it is terrible, what prejudices!
At the border of Mexico with Belize there is a small office where two white tourists are waiting outside. The customs officer tells us that we must neatly wait our turn. "Where are you going?" He asks. "Belize" says Olivier because there aren’t much other options at this border. "Then you have to pay" says the man. "Pay what?" "The exit fee from Mexico". He must be joking because we didn't hear of this before. Olivier may come in and the man quickly calls to the other officer that we have to pay. "550 pesos" the man says surlyly behind his small desk. He snatches a paper from a large stack that suggests a print of an airplane ticket. On the invoice it says "exit fee Mexico" with which the man tries to prove that we have to pay too. Like most customs officers, this man is surly, expressionless and unhelpful. Olivier doesn't intend to pay the € 25 because something feels wrong. The man can't show an official document about exit fees, but there is little room for arguing because he decides whether we will get our exit stamp. Olivier tries to explain that we are entering Mexico again and that we have a 180-day visa. "We can't pay twice?" By miracle the man turns his mind and says "this time I will help you. You don't have to pay anything, but next time you won't get away with it, "he says quickly. Olivier rushes outside and gets Zoë. "Quickly, get a stamp, we don't have to pay, say thank you and then we'll be gone quickly before he changes his mind." If the exit fee were official, he could never let us out of Mexico for free, so we don't believe it. Perhaps we were lucky that the two white tourists before us paid for the exit fee and that the officers earned their pocket money this way.
The border post of Belize is one kilometer further. "Park your bicycles there" says an officer in perfect English. We answer in Spanish, but he continues to speak English. Also inside everyone speaks English inside and all signs are in English. "It's the first language in Belize," the same officer says. Belize is independent, but Queen Elisabeth is still in charge. We have to get used to it, but this immediately makes it feel like a completely different country. Kilometers become miles, the national dish is bean and rice, and the Belizian Dollar follows the US Dollar. Every car that passes us by honks, raises its thumb or calls "Welcome to Belize". People wave profusely along the street and everyone wants to have a chat. It is not that bad as we thought.
"He said we should find a broken black car," says Olivier when Zoë asks how we can find the man from the ferry. A few hours ago we crossed a small river with a hand craft ferry. When Carlos heard what our destination of the day was, he immediately invited us to his home. "We never find that car. There are so many streets, "Zoë says," when someone suddenly shouts "He Oliver." Ha, found, and in the garden is a black car without front wheels. We are lucky that it is weekend because normally Carlos works in Belize city, three hours one way in the bus, three hours back, every day. He does speak Spanish, just like the whole village. He is currently busy with an election on April 10th in the International Court of Justice. "Ah, that's in the Netherlands," we say. Guatemala claims half of Belize and the population must vote to go to The Hague. The majority have no idea or interest in it, so Carlos' mission is to convince people to vote "Yes". Why is a referendum needed? A political game in which one party claims that it is better that they don't go, while the other understands that it is better to go. Important for the upcoming national elections later this year. And the real reason why Guatemala is claiming the part? Large fresh water resources.
We put the bikes against the stone benches and quickly put on our swimwear . What a sh*t day on the bike. First 25 kilometers on bad unpaved roads, then terrible asphalt and strong headwind and finally six kilometers of unpaved road to reach a small island. We are covered in sweat and dust and want to get into the water as quickly as possible. "There won't be any crocodiles?” Zoë says with a little fear "No, those people are also in the water" and Olivier points to a few fishermen who are halfway up the lake wearing a swimsuit and a fishing rod. The men come out of the lake a little later and have more than 15 fish hanging on a stick. "You want to eat" one of the men says, because they only speak English, or a kind of, the Creolo. We get a plate with freshly roasted fish, when one of the men suddenly stands with a large iguana in his hands. Everyone is looking at the iguana with great appetite, because it is a delicacy, although forbidden. The most delicious are the eggs, but this iguana is lucky because it doesn't carry eggs. We take a breath of relief and can take pictures of a living iguana instead of a dead iguana. Another delicacy is crocodile, or its tail. "We only eat the tail and sell the rest to the Chinese, they eat everything." "Isn't the rest tasty?" We ask. "No idea, because we always sell it" is the funny answer.
The drivers in Belize are quite courteous, with the exception of the buses because they rush by, pretending that we don't exist. Yet an accident can happen anytime. We cycle on the long and boring main road, because there is no alternative, unfortunately. There is a strip of gravel on both sides because there is no paved emergency lane strip. A bunch of cars is approaching us from behind, but the front car is slowing down because it doesn't want to overtake with the oncoming traffic. We are scared to death when we hear the gravel fly up to our right. Zoë looks back and sees a big black jeep rushing over the roadside coming straight in her direction. It seems the driver has completely lost control of the wheel. In one second a lot goes through your mind and you prepare for the worst. The impact is coming soon. No! Not here in Belize on such a boring road. We just started our expedition, no! The car comes closer and turns to the right, misses Zoë and flies into the bushes. The car bounces in all directions and heads toward a large billboard. As if by miracle he can dodge the billboard and return to the roadside, leaving behind large heaps of grass with a thick cloud of dust. He probably saw us at the last minute and happily opted for the soft solution in the grass. If not… . Zoë stops and stands with tears in her eyes, while her heart ticks almost 200 times. In her head it was all over with us, and a few seconds later all the traffic drives like nothing happened.
The rest of the day we aren’t relaxed anymore. With every car we look back and suddenly we are aware of our vulnerability. Finally there is the turn to Spanish Lookout, the Mennonite community, which isn’t strict and follows all the technology. The ice cream and milk products are famous, but it is not as good as Italian ice cream. From here the hills begin and the landscape changes. No boring meters straight ahead, but winding roads and sweating uphill. A few kilometers before the border with Guatemala we cycle along a river. We jump in the water and on the other side the monkeys are hanging in the trees. After this morning we will enjoy this gift twice. Goodbye Belize, back to the Spanish-speaking area and affordable food!