Trip Start Jan 29, 2009
14Trip End Feb 22, 2009
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The first half of the journey was uneventful as we drove to the border. At the border, we got out of the bus and queued at immigration for about an hour. Just behind me in the queue was Steve, a loud, overconfident Amerincan gobshite. Steve is the type of person who would benefit from enforced castration. He has way too much testosterone flowing thorugh his veins. He stood in the queue, shouting, swearing, and boasting about his Guatemalan exploits. At least we didn't have to sit next to him on the bus.
But when we got back on the bus, we were sat next to Steve. Two stern-looking German girls had got on the bus early and stolen our seats. I wanted to ask them to move. But they were bigger than me. So we put up with Steve burping and periodically shouting "Woo Hoo" out the window at passing cars, while I tried to sleep.
Belize looked like one large, crocodile-infested swamp from the bus. That's pretty funky though - it's very different from Guatemala. The main difference was highlighted by Tom, when we arrived in Belize City. We went to the information centre, and Tom asked the woman behind the desk:
"Hola. Donde esta el autobus a Orange Walk?".
She leant forward, narrowed her eyes, and said slowly:
Belize has a relaxed, Caribbean feel to it. It's hot and humid and they play steel drum music on the buses. It puts you in a good mood.
We were met off the bus in Orange Walk by Lance, a local tour guide, who offered to book us on a tour to the ruins at Lamanai (which is the real reason that we had come to Orange Walk). We don't like to be pushed around, so we said that we would think about it. Lance offered to drive us to a local hotel while we thought about it. The first hotel he took us to was owned by hi brother-in-law. It was a hole. Then he took us to his dad's place - a nice place by the river, but it only had dorms. I'm a holidaymaker rather than a traveller this time and I wanted a room, so I turned it down. Finally, we settled on Lance's aunt's place, which was ok.
For the rest of the day, we walked around Orange Walk. This place reminds me of Klamath Falls in Oregon: a romantic sounding name, but the town is actually a dump. In the evening, we went to the only decent restaurant in town - Lance's cousin's place - and had a nice meal overlooking the river, served by pretty Belizean waitresses. We met a middle-aged, alternative American couple: Keith and Cathy, and got chatting to them.
"I love Orange Walk." said Cathy. "It's so authentic."
I suppose it is authentic. An authentic dump.
Keith and Cathy were a nice couple, so we stayed for a few drinks with them and the staff, and the rest of the evening passed blissfully away in an alcoholic haze. I woke up the next morning, not exactly on top form, and staggered over to the bathroom for a shower. The bathroom was locked. I looked over at Tom; he was in bed. So who the hell was in the bathroom?
It turns out that you should never close a door in Belize, unless you have the key. The janitor was very understanding. It happens a lot.
In the day, we wnt on Lance's boat trip up to the jungle covered Maya ruins at Lamanai. I was expecting the boat trip to be a gentle cruise up the river. But it wasn't. It was a speedboat. If I ever win Bullseye, this is where I'm going to bring my speedboat. It was awesome - like something out of a James Bond film. Our guide was called Elvis. Not only did he have an incredible quiff, he was also amazing at spotting wildlife from miles away, while the boat was travelling at speed. So much so, that I began to suspect that they were models that he had placed by the river before we started out.
The ruins themselves were good, although largely unexcavated. This meant that there wasn't that much to see. What there was, was excellent. One of the temples stood yards above the jungle and sported panoramic views of the rainforest canopy.
In the evening we went back to Lance's cousin Orlando's place for food. We got chatting to Lance there. Although I don't entirely trust him (he is clearly some kind of local mafia boss), we agreed to go out on the town with him. I have already made it clear what type of town Orange Walk is. So it was no surprise when the first bar we went to was a sleazy hellhole, fulll of dirty old men, lusting after middle-aged barmaids. Tom fitted right in. Actually, that's a bit harsh - even Tom was a bit out of place, so we just had one drink and moved on.
"I know a great place." said Lance. "It's got kareoke and everything."
I view kareoke as a form of institutionalised torture. Either you howl your way through "My Way", while hoping everyone else is deaf, or you endure someone else screeching Abba songs, while you wish that you were. I made it clear that I didn't want to go to kareoke.
"It's ok." said Lance. "I know another place."
This place turned out to be a long, winding taxi ride into the slummier parts of town.
"What kind of bar would be here?" I whispered to Tom.
What kind of bar would be here became clear as soon as we walked through the door. A brothel. I felt a sudden yearning for the kareoke bar. I've never been into a brothel before, and I wanted to leave immediately. But we had no idea where we were and we were dependent on Lance to get us home. And Lance didn't look like he wanted to leave. Ever.
After what felt like an age of avoiding eye contanct with the ladies of the night (but was in fact only one drink) we persuaded Lance to order us a taxi. Before we left, Lance asked for our contact details. I gave him Joshua's.
I enjoyed the boat ride and the ruins, but I'll be pleased to leave the town behind. This afternoon we head to the beaches at Corozal.