We are travelling through Central America for a few months including Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama. Our journal is separated by country and while each stands alone they are part of one journey.
We cross the border into Belize and spend some time at the immigration and customs office with the other twenty passengers from the bus, while one immigration officer and five customs officers sit around and have lunch.
We catch the Belize first class bus which would be lucky to rate as a public bus in Mexico, on through northern Belize the road to Belize City more or less follows the coast through flat scrubby land.
Midday, the bus terminal in Belize City is frantic, there is no signage and the two ticket windows are already 20 deep. Everyone appears to know which bus they need to catch except us. Looking like a couple of lost lemmings a local offers assistance and we are surprised when he speaks English even with a thick Carib accent.
It seems the express bus for our destination Dangriga leaves daily at 2pm and 4.30pm except today there is no 2pm bus. So with our 4.30 ticket we hang out with others in the terminal and observe the daily routine of Belizeans in transit.
Our bus leaves at 4.30 except today when it leaves at 5.30, and also today when all the passengers and luggage are on board, the driver decides he didn’t like his allocated bus so we all get off and stand around the tarmac with our luggage while he hijacks a public bus that is already full to the rafters with surprised locals. Clambering over timber planks and assorted parcels we head off and 2 km later we are at another bus depot. Here he appropriates yet another bus for our trip to Dangriga. We finally leave Belize City and it’s now 6 pm. We drive through the southern Belize countryside in darkness, disappointed we cannot see the tropical undulating hills and mountains of the south.
Dangriga: It’s 8.00 pm when we arrive in Dangriga, the locals disappear into the darkness and bus terminal is now empty. We find the only taxi driver who helps us find a room for the night in one of the only three hotels in the only three streets. We wait at reception for an embarrassingly long time, eventually we get a room and ask where we can eat. She explains that not many places are open but we should go two blocks down to the river, turn left one and a half blocks…we find a couple of quiet cafes, randomly choose one, have a pleasant meal and decide it’s good enough to return for breakfast.
After breakfast the same taxi driver returns us to the bus station for the express bus south to Placencia, except for today, of course when the bus is not an express. Waiting at the bus station we watch the old American school buses seen in so many Hollywood movies and surmise that they all retire to become public buses in rural Belize complete with the original children’s legroom and seats.
Placencia: is a fishing village at the end of a peninsula. It is a cute little place, with palm fringed sandy beaches, and a take off point for coral cayes, its main business is catering to backpackers. It has a famous main street, which is a metre wide footpath that wanders down through the houses, shops and cafes and accommodation. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the narrowest main street in the world. It has great ice cream and excellent espresso coffee. But if you live on the Gold Coast it’s hard to be complimentary about other beaches, even if they are on the Caribbean coast.
From here we can catch a daily regular launch service to Punta Gorda which is on the southern tip of Belize…(turn page)…but it only runs on Fridays. Otherwise we can take a 30-minute boat ride to Independence, followed by a two-hour bus ride to Punta Gorda. The only reason for the existence of Punta Gorda is the tiny immigration office, which is open from 3-4 pm daily (including today) to process passengers who then need to take a one-hour ride to Livingston and Puerto Barritos in Guatemala.
We are in a small boat to Independence which is full with 12 passengers and assorted goods. The wind is 15 knots all day and despite the captain’s assurance – we put on our raincoats, just a little wet he advises. Everyone is saturated, the trip is rough and the locals are praying which doesn’t give us a lot of confidence.
Livingston is a quaint little village at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, accessible only by boat. It has three or four streets, a few hotels and is strongly influenced by the Garifuna people (a mix of Caribs and Africans). We get some nice accommodation overlooking the water, but the wind is still blowing and the seas are still up.
After a day’s rest we take a boat up the Rio Dulce to the town of Rio Dulce, the wind drops and the sun breaks through for the first time in a couple of days. The river weaves through canyons covered in tropical rainforest and emerges into a large lake with lots of bird life and scattered small villages before it reaches the major yachties hangout of Rio Dulce. We had already met several yachties travelling overland after leaving their boats moored here.
The next day we head to Puerto Cortes in Honduras, to do this we can catch a regular daily ferry…turn page… but only on Thursdays, otherwise we can go by water taxi – bus – mini bus – bus and another bus.