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June 4, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 16: Orange Walk Town to Belize City, Belize

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly in The Bachelor Inn in Belize City, Belize.

Tuesday June 4, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 3,663
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 3,726
Miles driven today: 63 miles


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In the morning, the cleaning woman is trying to break the door down, but I've got the chain on the door, and she's trying her damnedest to get into the room.

"Consado!" I scream at here. "No molestar!"

"Checkout time is at 11:00 a.m.. It's now 11:30. Are you staying with us another night?"

"No. I'll get up."

I really didn't want to get out of bed. I'm not a morning person, in case you haven't gathered that.

So, last night, I tried to get them to take my cameras from me and keep them behind the desk in the unairconditioned lobby. The thought is that the cameras do better if the stay outdoors, in the humid air. Otherwise, if their in the A/C all night, then it takes an hour for all of the condensation in them to balance out when you start riding, which means you miss a lot of shots, obviously.

But they wouldn't take them and keep them in the hotel clerk area for whatever reason, I stuck them in the refrigerator last night. At the time, it seemed like a stroke of genius. It probably would have been had the refrigerator not been plugged in. So, I got up this morning, and they were cold, and I drove for some time without being able to take pictures, which sucks.

Last night, I purchased a map of Belize. I notice now that it's in a waterproof folder. Probably not a good sign.

Construction workers at the hotel are producing a lot of dust and debris. I'm not clear if they're adding on to the hotel or tearing it down. My motorcycle is covered in dust from their efforts.

I drive the bike up and down the street, oiling the chain as I drive. I do this every morning.

I head south out of town, following pretty much the only road through Belize. There's a toll booth, but the guy just waves me past without accepting any money. Now, in Mexico, they never did this. You paid the tolls, a guy with a machine gun kept you from going on the road. But here, there's a toll road, with a toll booth, and the guy just waves me by.

Now, this "toll road", aka The Northern Highway, is probably worse than any road you've ever been on. I'd be generous in calling it a two-lane black-top road. There's no paint on the surface of it. It's made of asphalt. Has no shoulders. And, yet, still, the locals seem to think it's OK for them to pass, side by side, using most, if not all, of my lane, as I'm driving down the toll road. The roads in Mexico were so much nicer. There's just no comparison.

I'm driving through this third world squalor. It really is unimaginable. Like the entire surface of the country needs to be scraped with a bulldozer and replanted with seeds in an ambitious thousand-year-restoration type of scenario.

I can't help but wonder if Guatemala will be worse than Belize. If each country will be worse and worse until finally, they just laugh at me when I run out of gas on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Had a long talk with the people at Verizon when I crossed into Belize. They'd set me up on a plan in Mexico. But now, that plan isn't offered in any of the other countries in Central America. I'm on my own now, and I see why. There is no data network down here. I've got the phone set to "I don't care how much it costs...help me please?" and I get zero. This means my iPhone/GPS that I've used to get through Mexico is now useless. Now, I'm down to paper maps.

Now, Doug and his buddy were making good fun of me not having a GPS. I'd like to point out a few things. 1) The TSA stole all of tools and my Givi case for the bike on the flight from Denver to Chicago. There's no way to plan for that, IMHO.
2)I brought 3 GPS units. 2 failed. One worked in Mexico (iPHone/GPS).
3) I tried to buy a GPS at two different stores when I was in Ciudad Del Carmen. I went to a Wal-mart and a Mega store. Neither one sold GPS units. I was shocked. But, this is where we are. I'm not retarded. It's harder to travel through third world countries than it might seem from the safety of an armchair in in the United States.

Last night, I have plenty of people tell me for sure, "Do not go into Belize City." But this isn't an option for me. The reason is because, when I was in Mexico, I had my buddies at the KTM dealer in Moline, Illinois fed-ex some parts down for me to The Bachelor Inn in Belize City. This was before anyone told me not to go there. So, I have to go there. It's a done deal.

Also, I'm starting to realize, it's just people in the country saying that "the city isn't safe", and I'm sure they're right. There's probably a nice state department advisory about Belize City that would make your hair stand on end, but the truth of the matter is that, it isn't that bad or they would have "60 Minutes" down here trying to find out what the hell is going on.

Also, probably my package won't arrive until Wednesday, so if my progress across the Yucatan seems to have slowed, this was partially due to rain, and partially due to design. There wasn't any real reason for me to get into Belize City any earlier

So, I'm going into the war zone that is Belize City. And, while I'm there, I'll try to buy me a GPS unit for the bike.

As I bounce South across the unpainted, narrow toll-road,I pass through the Crooked Tree Wildlife sanctuary, and I see an eagle, with a prominent white band across his back. Not a bird I'm familiar with. He lands. I try to shoot him, but of course the cameras are so fogged you can't even see through them.

But I'm not upset. I drive on. Life is good.

There aren't a lot of cars on the road, and it's hard to imagine that this is the main road through Belize that leads to Belize City. So, I stop and check my map. It's not much use, since I don't know where I am, but it makes me feel better. Eventually, I decide that, even though I don't know where the road goes, it has to go somewhere, and I came down here for an adventure, so I'll just drive down the road and see where it takes me.

This is the beauty of not having a GPS that people like Doug will never know. It's OK to be lost sometimes. It's OK to let go. If everything was planned out, and if everything went as planned, then it wouldn't be an adventure. It would be a journey. And those two are not the same.

The signs are in English now, but I miss the signs in Spanish. I miss studying the signs and trying to figure out what in Gold's name they're trying to tell me. I miss that dearly.

One sign in Spanish that I always understood was "No Tire Basura". "Basura" in Spanish means trash. And I was like "That's right. Don't be throwing tires out here in the desert, people. What's wrong with you?" Only much, much later did I realize that "tire" in Spanish doesn't mean the same as "tire" in English. The sign means "Don't Throw Trash", not "No 'tire' Trash". I felt so stupid when I realized this. How retarded can one person be?

I see some street vendors on the side of the road. I've learned to slow down when I see them for two reasons. 1) They're ALWAYS located at a speed bump, so you'd best get on the brakes and 2) you probably need to taste what they're selling.

These are the first street vendors I've seen in Belize. I'm so excited. I was afraid I'd lost them.

At the fork of the Northwestern Highway and the Burrell Boom Cut, this woman is selling little pyramids of ripe mangoes for $5.00 Belize. So, I give her $5.00 but only take one mango. She speaks Spanish, which I love, of course. I'd so much rather speak spanish. Lots of people in Belize speak spanish, but I speak to them in spanish, even though we both speak English. English is so boring. As I travel through Central America, I feel like I'm Dr. Livingstone, and when I have to speak English, it just kinda ruins it for me.

Now, as I'm sitting on the side of the road, she hands me a machete, and I crudely peel the mango and eat it on my bike, dripping all over the seat.

Two people that look like Americans walk by and he says "Oh my God! Look. It's a KTM in Belize!"

He's laughing and I'm laughing.

"No one down here has ever seen a KTM," I laugh. "It's like I'm riding a unicorn."

"I've never seen one here either," he offers.

"Dude..where are ya'll from?"

"We're from Alberta, Canada."

"Oh yeah. I've been there. Calgary, Jasper, Banff. Nice place." I offer. "What are y'all doing here?"

"I'm going to medical school," he offers.

"Here? In Belize? Where?"

He points to a crumbling tin-roofed building beneath a Papaya tree.

"Behind the chicken coop?"

"No. That's our building. Just there."

Apparently, the chicken coop is their medical school. Yikes.

"What's it like in Belize City? Is crime bad there?"

"Nah. It's not that bad. She goes down there all the time. She walks around during the day. No one's bothered her," he offers.

"Aha. OK. Thanks,"

"Also, if you keep going south, there's a ferry from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barrios," he offers.

Now I have to admit, I'm a sucker for ferries. I love the idea of putting the motorcycle on a boat and going across the ocean. I took a ferry at Galveston, across Lake Michigan, from Port Angeles to Victoria, and from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

I bid the goodbye and continue rolling south.

It's hot today. Sun is high in the sky. I need to put sunscreen on my hands, and on my left leg where my jeans are ripped open. But I don't bother. Instead, I just drive on. In the sun, I'm hot. And in the rain, I'm cool. But I don't think about it that way. In the rain, I'm wet. And in the sun, I'm hot. So, I see the downside of both, instead of seeing the upside of each. I wonder why I do this. I wish it wasn't this way.

I keep driving, and the signs indicate I'm heading towards Belize City, so I am going the right way, after all. Lucky day.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. My cell phone won't work as a GPS because there's no data network, apparently. So now I'm down to paper maps, but I'm pretty well clueless in a new city, obviously. So, I just follow the coast and I'm not clear where I am really. And being lost in Belize City is not something I wanted to experience, quite honestly.

But I see a street vendor selling snow cones and I'm like..."Oh hell yeah." Like, any place that sells snow cones can't be all bad. So, he sets me up with a strawberry and orange snow cone, and some plantain chips. All good, of course.

And I try to ask him where my hotel is, but he's not sure of really anything. And, although he's technically speaking English, the blacks down here don't speak any English that you would be able to understand. I mean, I've been to the Bahamas and to Jamaica. I've heard some pretty tortured English. But this stuff...it's just indecipherable. I'd much rather be speaking Spanish.

So, I give up on trying to talk to the street vendor. I call the hotel, and I ask the woman where to go. But, she's female, so she doesn't understand North or South.

"I'm at the Pricess Casino and Hotel. Do I go North or South?"

"It depends...."

"No. It doesn't." I hate trying to explain compass points to women. It's like trying to explain color to a blind person.

Finally, she tells me that she's near the Memorial Hospital and "Joe's College", if you can believe it. So I drive around and ask where Memorial Hospital is. Then I ask where "Joe's College" is. And finally, I see signs for "The Bachelor Inn". Follow them down into the ghettos of Belize City.

Not a nice area. I don't really care. I pull up. There's an oriental woman there. I'm trying to figure out if she has a package for me. She has no clue who I am.

"Did you receive a package for me? I was supposed to have something shipped here?"

"Why you get package here? No package here for you. I don't know who you are."

"I called last week. On Friday. I spoke to a man here. Told him I was having a package shipped here. He said it would be OK."

"No man work here. Who you talk to. You go to Post Office for package. Why you ship here. Who you are?"

So, it's not going well. She's from Taiwan. Her English isn't great. And she's lying to me, which isn't helping.

"Look. I'm driving to Panama. I needed to have a package shipped to me en-route. I chose this hotel as a good place to ship to. I called, and a man told me it would be ok to ship here."

"No man work here. Who you talk to?"

"I talked to someone here at this number on Friday."

"Why you no ship U.S. Embassy?"

"Because their phone number is disconnected."

Finally, she calls her son, and her son comes walking up. Michael. He admits he spoke with me on Friday. There's some question on whether he consented to allow a package to be shipped here. But at least now, she calms down.

"You lied to me," I tell her. "I told you I spoke to a man and you lied and said no man worked here. I'm driving across Central America on a motorcycle. I needed an address to ship to. I chose this place."

"You want room for tonight? We give you special rate. Eighty dollars."

The Belize dollars are 2:1 to U.S. Dollars. It's like everything in the country is a half-off sale.

"Internet in the room? Air conditioning? Hot water for shower?" I clarify. You learn to ask these things.

"Yes, but right now, the power is out, because when it rains, the power goes out. So, when power comes back on, then all these things."

Like, great. Just what I wanted. But, as I'm checking in, the power comes back on.

Her son Michael leads me up to the third floor. It's actually a large sweet, with a separate living room, kitchen, and bedroom. Only the bedroom has an A/C unit, but the room has internet and it works reasonably well. I set the A/C to stun, climb in bed and fall asleep. I think I've driven a total of about 60 miles today.

As I see it, I can't really go anywhere until my package arrives.

U.S. State Department Advisory on Belize in Extended Entry:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1055.html

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Belize is a parliamentary democracy and British Commonwealth country with a developing economy based primarily upon agriculture and tourism. Tourist facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business-class hotels in Belize City and luxury resorts in the offshore cayes (pronounced: "keys") to a range of luxury resorts, eco-tourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside. Violent crime, especially in areas of Belize City, remains a serious concern. Read the Department of State's Fact Sheet on Belizefor additional information.

THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY:

Terrorism and Security: The potential for domestic terrorist activity such as bombings, kidnappings, or hijackings is considered low in Belize. However, domestic gang members and other criminals have used fragmentation grenades and firearms to settle disputes. Neither U.S. citizens nor other foreign nationals are known to have been the victims or targets of terrorist activity in Belize. U.S. citizens are not believed to be specifically targeted for robbery or other crimes but are instead targets of opportunity. No areas are closed to travel but visitors should exercise caution, particularly in southern Belize City and remote areas along Belize's borders.

Border Areas:

A long-standing border dispute between Belize and Guatemala has not been resolved and many areas of the border area are not adequately patrolled. Smugglers, narcotics traffickers and wildlife poachers enter Belize in the shared border region, and there have been incidents of clashes between some of these individuals and Belize military and law enforcement personnel, some of which included the exchange of gunfire. Visitors should avoid trekking or other activities near the Belize-Guatemala border to ensure that they do not inadvertently cross the border into Guatemala. The Embassy cautions U.S. citizens who choose to travel on cross-border public buses between Guatemala and Belize in response to a spike in armed bus attacks by bandits in January 2011. Illegal cross-border activities increase after nightfall. Visitors to the border areas should travel only during daylight.

CRIME: Organized crime beyond street gangs is primarily connected to drug trafficking or trafficking in persons. Incidents of crime remain high, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, home invasions, shootings, stabbings, murders, and rapes. The Embassy has noted an increase in crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roads and river ways. U.S. citizens are primarily the victims of opportunistic crime. There is no evidence suggesting criminals specifically target U.S. citizens, but nonetheless, foreigners have been targeted for crime due to their perceived wealth. Incidents of crime (such as theft, burglary, home invasion, purse-snatching, and pick-pocketing) increase during the winter holidays and during spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals received serious injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken limbs. Although the majority of reported incidents occur in Belize City, particularly southern Belize City, crime may occur anywhere including tourist destinations such as San Pedro Town (Ambergris Caye), Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, Dangriga, Corozal, and Placencia.

Belize recorded 145 homicides in 2012, a record number. With a population of only 312,698 according to the 2010 country census, Belize's per capita homicide rate of 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 ranks among the highest in the world. While the country's per capita homicide rate is still lower than that of other Central American countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador its year-on-year increase is of concern.

The majority of homicides in 2012 occurred in the Belize district, with most in the southern portion of Belize City, an area that has become increasingly violent due to ongoing gang warfare between local groups for control of lucrative narcotics smuggling routes and sales rights. Tourists have not been targeted in this recent increase in the murder rate, but armed robberies of tourists remain a possibility at archeological sites, national parks, and other areas frequented by visitors. In July 2011, there was an increase in the number of robberies, home invasions, and daytime assaults in the Cayo District near the town of San Ignacio. There is no information suggesting the perpetrators were targeting tourists of any specific nationality; rather, the victims appear to have been targets of opportunity.

We encourage U.S. citizens to exercise caution and good situational awareness in all their travel activities. Visitors to tourist attractions should travel in groups and remain at the main plazas at Maya ruins and the central areas. Although there are armed guards stationed at many of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking alone or in small groups from one site to another. While many victims of theft are unharmed and only robbed of personal belongings and cash, victims who resist assailants have suffered injury. U.S. citizens who become victims of a robbery should report it immediately to the nearest police station as well as notifying the Embassy.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only during daylight hours. Avoid wearing jewelry or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in vehicles, hotel rooms or on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras. Women's handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

Specific groups such as the elderly, women, or homosexuals are not specifically singled out for victimization; however, neither are they immune from being targeted for robbery or assault. Homosexuality is not widely accepted in Belize culture and homosexual behavior may be subject to prosecution as an "Unnatural crime" under Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code. LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of persons traveling alone or in small groups have occurred in recent years. From July to September 2011, there were a handful of sexual assaults on U.S. citizen women after leaving night clubs, and even during daylight hours while walking with friends and while cycling alone on isolated stretches of local highways.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to effectively investigate crime and apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against U.S. citizens in Belize remain unresolved.

"Confidence scams" also occur in Belize, especially in resort areas. While there is no indication U.S. citizens are specifically singled out because of their nationality, tourists in general are particularly vulnerable to these crimes, resulting in visitors being pick-pocketed or robbed. More serious crimes have included armed robbery, physical assault, and being swindled out of large sums of money from fraudulent real estate and land sales or other business deals.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas, but U.S. citizens should not buy, sell, hold, or take illegal drugs under any circumstances. Belize classifies marijuana or ganja (i.e., cannabis) as an illegal drug for which a conviction of possession of even small amounts could result in heavy fines or imprisonment. Belize does not recognize the medical use of marijuana as permitted in some U.S. states, and U.S. citizens can be charged, fined or serve time in jail for possession of an illegal substance.

Possession of a firearm or ammunition requires a license from the Government of Belize. The government recently tightened its restrictions on possession of guns and ammunition. Residents and tourists found by Belize law enforcement to be in the possession of such items without a license may be sentenced to a prison term in Belize, and several U.S. citizens are in prison for what would be considered a small amount of ammunition in the U.S.

Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootleg items illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 4, 2013 at 2:52 PM

Comments

Schedule plenty of time for that oil change Homer. Should be able to make it back with no change. Especially if that thing likes synthetic oil. I don't know about that on bikes.
The valves like adjustment at about 6k miles but you probably went over all that when you picked it up. ;)

Posted by: Willis on June 4, 2013 at 10:30 PM

We didn't go over shit when I picked it up. They showed me where to put in oil. How to check the oil level. Showed me the coolant level indicator on the radiator. How to put gas in it. Said "it's one down, four up, and it will run a lot stronger after you break it in." That was about it. They said it has ABS brakes, but I'm still not 100% sure I believe them, or that they're working right.

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on June 4, 2013 at 10:48 PM

Sparky, a few comments:

"1) The TSA stole all of tools and my Givi case for the bike on the flight from Denver to Chicago. There's no way to plan for that, IMHO."

HELLO ... Get there in sufficient time so that you don't have to throw your Givi away. You know: plan ahead. Just a little bit. Merely my humble opinion, IMHO.

"2)I brought 3 GPS units. 2 failed. One worked in Mexico (iPHone/GPS)."

HELLO ... Shocked, I tell you, I was JUST SHOCKED. News bulletin: Walmart USA sells buckets of GPSs. Buy a couple *before* crossing the border. Ones that have Mexico/Central America maps included. You know: plan ahead. Just a little bit.

"3) I tried to buy a GPS at two different stores when I was in Ciudad Del Carmen. I went to a Wal-mart and a Mega store. Neither one sold GPS units. I was shocked. "

See note above.

There seems to be a common theme here: plan ahead. Just a little bit.

Posted by: Doug on June 5, 2013 at 4:29 PM

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