Viking is taking us on a two week circumnavigation of the Caribbean from Miami. We are traveling counter clockwise which means our first week will be spent stopping on the east coast of various central american countries. We skip Mexico but will be stopping at Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and finally Colombia. An exciting itinerary for us as the only one of those countries we have set foot on is Colombia.
Belize is our first stop. Well technically we don’t actually stop at Belize. There is a barrier reef that prevents ships docking in the City of Belize, so we stop on the east side of the barrier reef leaving tenders to take us in for the last 45 minutes of the journey.
I have long read that the low cost of living and the comfortable weather make Belize a favourite retirement place for expats and my sister in law’s father did just that, so I was interested, intrigued and a little excited to be going there.
Arriving by ship, my first impression is of blue skies, crystal clear water and a perfect 80 degrees. I am not even ashore yet and I am already planning a trip to a real estate office.
As soon as I step on dry land, my plan changes. Now my impressions are of abject poverty, filthy streets and worse yet, a general sense of unease and concerns for my safety. I have read many warnings about Belize not being safe and not to stray from the small tourist area. But there are warnings like that in many places we have visited, and I usually feel that an experienced traveler will be fine. In Belize I am not so sure.
Having been there for something like eight hours I can tell you I am no longer interested, intrigued or excited. Everything that can be said about Belize was summed up by Bette Davis when she uttered those immortal three words
What a dump!
Sadly Belizeans have taken those three words to heart and treat their country as just that. A dump. A dump for all the trash they accumulate. The country is filthy. Trash is everywhere and seems to surround most houses as if the inhabitants just opened their front door and threw it out. Not just the usual detritus of everyday living, but rusting washing machines, cars, everything but the kitchen sink. Come to think of it those are there too
If you have been following my blog you probably realise by now that I never shy away from a little hyperbole in order to make a good story, and I admit that the photo is an exaggeration. But my words are not. Belize in general does not look like that photo, but it is filthy . Occasionally a brightly painted metal barrel is set out as a trash can, but there seems to be little effort to place trash in the can, or for that matter for the can to be emptied
So, wildly disappointed with the charms of Belize I decided to direct my attention to the clear blue waters and took a snorkeling trip to the Barrier Reef. Here I entered a different world, where my first impression was that of quiet and vibrant color
The reef itself was fabulous with huge lace like fans of purple and red coral swaying in the current and fish of all sizes and colors gently swimming around them. A stingray swam lazily beneath me,
and an eagle ray burst out of the water just a few feet away.
A barracuda eyed me up for lunch but decided I was too fatty while a lion fish hunted for its prey of small unsuspecting fish.
A couple of hours in the water washed away the grime of the land. Snorkeling was definitely the best way to see Belize, but sadly I wasn’t the only one to come to that conclusion
Greatly disappointed with Belize, we set sail for Roatan, a smallish island off the coast of Honduras. We docked at 7 am in the tiny port of Coxen Hole and I awoke to the sounds of motorbikes, distant drums and crowing cockerels. Now this was exciting and exotic. When I stepped out onto our balcony we appeared to be parked next to the main street and the view from the balcony caused the Fabulosity Meter to stir
This was perfect.
We hired a car and explored the island. It was everything a caribbean island should be, lush and green and beautiful. But it was not paradise. While the trash situation was nothing like Belize, once again the overwhelming impression was of poverty and crime.
Coxen Hole had a certain charm, as long as you didn’t have to stay in the local hotel
The most noticeable thing was the police and security guards. Police patrolled the streets on foot, on motorbikes and in vehicles. Every bank and every gas station had at least one security guard. The guards seemed young and inexperienced and yet they carried weapons. Nightsticks hung from their belts while automatic rifles were held prominently in front of them. When we stopped for gas we were ushered to the pump by one of the guards who stood in front of the car, automatic weapon at the ready, while an attendant filled the car with fuel. Once the transaction was successfully completed the guard stood aside and allowed us to pass
Out of the small town, the countryside was beautiful. There was one main road, narrow and winding, that ran the entire length of the island. Our first stop was the Iguana Sanctuary. It was about 15 miles north of town. It took an hour to get there. Infrastructure does not seem high on the list of things the government is prepared to spend what little money they have on. The road was paved except for short sections where the all to common violent tropical rain storms had washed away the paving. Where there was paving , it was full of potholes, some small but some the size of rock pools. Huge trucks and buses swung from one side of the road to the other, negotiating their way slowly through the maze of holes, trailing a long line of cars behind them. Passing was impossible because you never knew where the next pothole was.
Where the potholes were so bad that traffic came to a virtual standstill, young barefoot boys walked between the cars begging for money. Finally we found an unmade road to the right with a sign to the Iguana sanctuary. Our guide book said the entrance fee was $1 which was really a donation to help with the work of looking after the iguanas. Either the guide book was out of date, or the owners of the sanctuary had failed to read the book. They demanded $10 which probably explained the lack of tourists. We were told that the fee covered the services of a guide which was mandatory. The guide, a young woman in her twenties wore a yellow T shirt with an Iguana printed on it and for some reason a pair of fluffy pink bedroom slippers. She appeared totally bored by the whole process as she “guided” us about 100 yards down the path to an area with a large tree, and a bench soiled by the dozens of iguanas and pointed to the ground and announced
There were four of us. That piece of information had cost us $40.
She then told us that we could feed the iguanas and managed to lift four large leaves and hand us one each. As you can see Gordon was far more excited by the experience than the guide
The iguanas behaved perfectly, allowing us to pet them and take really close up photos
They even posed for the perfect photo.
Now if that isn’t the perfect Fabulosity Meter moment, I don’t know what is
But it isn’t the iguanas that people come to Roatan for. It is the diving. The southern tip of the island is famous for its reefs and its fabulous beaches. We had read that if we avoided the main tourist beaches we could find beautiful beaches that we would have to ourselves. We drove down numerous little unmade roads until we finally found somewhere that looked perfect.
The Fabulosity Meter was having a good day
And so were we.