We arrived in Orange Walk after nightfall which is never advisable since its always harder to orientate yourself in such environments. Nevertheless we managed to book ourselves into a nice room for the three of us at the Akihito Hotel. Despite our long trip over from Mexico we had in fact gained an hour from crossing the border into Belize which meant our restricted lock out time of 11pm wasn’t to much of a downer.
Despite the appearances, Orange Walk wasn’t too much of a ghost town as we’d first envisaged. Jungle River Tours was still open and we were able to book ourselves onto the tour to Lamanai the next day. This meant we could leave Orange Walk a day earlier and have an extra day by the beach in the Cayes. Can’t be bad.
On our way back from the tour shop we were looking for a bite to eat. Our initial destination was some what unavailable to the flood waters that had surrounded the restaurant. Heading back into town we were approached by the local drunk. Usual story, happens in most towns and cities, just keep walking on by. Which is exactly what Tim and I did, until we realised we’d lost Stu. Stu, like any genuine decent chap who hadn’t been tainted by the cynicism of previous travels had asked the chap lying with his broken bicycle in gutter whether he could recommend any where good to eat. Sure he could, and the subsequent awkward walk and conversation ensued.
He took us to Juanita’s, a local cafe type joint that if it’d been in the UK would have probably have done a really good fish and chips or full English breakfast. Our local friend proceeded to point us towards the board after we’d sat down so we could choose what to eat. That wasn’t necessary said the girl behind the bar in a strong US accent, who showed us back to our seats and ushered out our bicyclist friend (who no doubt had been hanging around for his tip he had told us he didn’t want). She reeled off what was available which was somewhat reminiscent of the Monty Python SPAM sketch, but in the end we settled for two lots of chicken and rice, a ham and eggs and three of the local Belikin beers.
It was after the initial swig of a refreshingly continental tasting lager, quite the contrast to the light sweet ales of Mexico, that Tim and I turned to each other in a mildly embarrassed fashion to exclaim how attractive the waitress was. Unlike anyone else we had yet to encounter she had dark Mayan features softened with a mix of European good looks but contrasted with that thick American accent, down dressed baseball cap, baggy shirt and jeans, as if she’d arrived straight from the Bronx. And to top it off the way she addressed us was a manner in which suggested she had very little time, didn’t want to be here, and especially didn’t want three gringos bringing in the local drunk to her restaurant. Yet this complete disinterest made her all the more alluring. Needless to say we left a good tip.
The next day we went on our tour to Lamanai ruins, a site which was occupied as early as 1500 BC and was still occupied up until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century. It was a 2 hour journey up river in our little boat of nine. Our guide Carlos was fantastic; we’d be zooming up river and suddenly he’d stop, pause, motor the boat gently closer to the river bank and point out highly camouflaged an iguana, a crocodile, an owl, a termite mound and numerous other features of the natural environment. And all the while I’d be sat there on the boat shouting to myself “Where? Where? I can’t see it! God I wish I’d brought my glasses”, and would take a few photos to spot the animal later.
The ruins were by far the best we had seen so far. For most part we were on site aloneand only bumped into other groups on a couple of occasions. The highlight was being able to climb some of the temples and view the canopy from the top and at eye level with the howler monkeys. But as always with these temples getting up is far easier than getting down. So despite our sprightly athleticism in making our way to the top our decent was a much more conservative and less graceful affair. Especially after we got rained on.
Dinner that evening was at one of the local Chinese restaurants, despite our temptation to eat at Juanita’s again. “Chinese?” you might ask, but yes, Chinese. One of several Chinese takeaways in Orange Walk, whilst our guest house and the local internet cafe were chinese run also. Its just another element to Belize’s fantastic ethnic mix. In all there are the indigenous Mayans; the black Afro-Caribbean descendants of the rebels of St. Martin or as they call themselves ‘Garifuna’; the slight smattering of British, American and Spanish descendants; and finally the dungery dressed straw hat topped Mennonites, a pacifist minority who have seen there home move from Germany/Holland to Russia, Canada, Mexico and now Belize as they strove to avoid conscription and compulsory involvement in welfare programmes and forced resettlement. It seems multi-culturalism was exported to the rest of the Empire as well as at home in Britain.
Caye Caulker tomorrow via Belize City.
GEEK NOTE: To back date my blog posts or not to back date my blog posts. That, is the question.