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Inland to Chicibul

iquanas, cattle, roads, tranquility and good deeds

overcast 76 °F

My son and his girlfriend had to go back to work (heh) but I stayed on to look around the mainland of Belize. I rented a car at the airport (cars in Belize are quite expensive to rent and equally expensive to buy). I had rented through Avis but when I arrived they didn't have a vehicle for me so they sent me down the line of storefronts to another agency who provided me with a AWD SUV. I knew that I was going to be traversing some rough roads so I wanted to have an adequate vehicle.

Loaded up my luggage and headed to town (Belize City). There is a good supermarket right around where the airport road meets the Western Highway (my destination) so I got lots of stuff to make breakfast.

I think the best way to describe Belize roads is 'intermittent.' The main roads, like the Western Highway, are paved 2 lane roads with occasional midline striping. Traffic moves pretty fast, 60 mph +. Once in a while, though, the road can turn pretty rough so you have to be ready to slow down appropriately. Another interruption that was new to me were the frequent speed humps. These typically interrupt the main highway at the entrance to and exit from small villages along the road. Sometimes it is not clear that you are entering a village, so you need to stay alert. The humps range from full-on raised pedestrian crossings to IRCM's (improvised road calming measures) often consisting of a large nylon hawser (gynormous rope to you landlubbers) laid across the road. In some cases you will find a sign that alerts you to a hump 100 yards ahead (hey- it's former British Guiana so they still use Imperial units). In some cases there is only a sign place adjacent to the hump itself, and in some cases there is no notification at all. So stay alert, particularly at night (roads are very dark).

As it was getting late, I stopped at a widely recommended place, the The Orange Gallery for dinner. I had a really good giant grass fed Porterhouse steak for around $10 US. As the menu cautions, grass fed beef is a very chewy experience but it has excellent flavor. Took about half of the meat along when I left. Here's a pair of pictures of my dinner - before (across the highway) and after...
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They also have a large art/gift gallery which I briefly browsed. Probably worth more time than I gave it as I was anxious to get to my place. The reason for my haste was that the road to my accommodation was going to be a pretty rough one and I preferred to tackle it in the fading daylight. My goal was a property I had selected on AirBnB called 'Chicibul Ranch.' It was about 2 hours by road from the airport and the last 7 miles after turning off the Western Highway were the rough part. The road was indeed a rough limestone road of very variable quality. There were lots of rocks sticking up (the ones big enough to punch in your oil pan appear to have been beaten down by generations of vehicles), some pretty good potholes and some moderately steep grades. Here's a snapshot of the road - a level bit.

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The good news is that the trip was well worth the destination. I stayed in this large thatched home - chicibul_ranch_exterior.jpgchicibul_r..or_edited-1.jpg

which was nicely furnished and extremely comfortable. It is also off the grid and in a very quiet area. It was so quiet that when I arrived I simply plopped down on a hammock on the porch and gazed at nothing until evening then simply went to bed. It was a moonless and cloudy night and it was 'can't see hand in front of face' dark and absolutely silent. I found that very pleasant, but your mileage may vary....

The property includes an orange orchard and teak plantation and it makes a very nice walk of a mile or so around the property.

The nearest large town is San Ignacio, a hilly town with a fairly significant tourist presence.san_ignacio.jpg

I wandered around a bit on a couple of days. One of my excursions was to the San Ignacio Resort Hotel where I had heard about their iguana restoration project. Before the tour began, I took the opportunity to have a ceviche lunch at the hotel. Yummy as usual. san_ignacio_hotel_lunch.jpg

The iguana project is fairly modest in scope but it offers visitors a guided tour where you can see, learn about and play with the iguanas, some of significant size. The guide was pretty entertaining especially describing the personalities of the various denizens and the challenges of iguana breeding and restoration. Iguanas are widespread in Belize but they are hunted for food (tastes like chicken?) and so their population is in decline. The reserve takes in 'stray' iguanas and breeds them, returning the offspring to different locations in the country to keep the gene pool stirred up. It's a labor of love of a prior owner of the hotel, and one that now appears to have a life of its own. I think it's worth a visit to learn a bit and support the effort. Here are a couple of iguana encounter pics.

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I haven't talked a lot about the people of Belize as yet, partly because I had relatively fewer interactions with folks on this trip than when I went around the world and had significant interactions with several of my hosts. Overall, folks are quite friendly and polite. When you interact with people routinely it is appropriate to say 'good afternoon' and maybe add a polite 'how are you.' They will respond in kind and then you can get down to business. Our normal approach (HI ! Gimme a triple soy latte no foam extra rainbow sprinkles) is too abrupt by Belezian standards. I think that you can reasonably expect that anyone you interact with in a tourist encounter will have a reasonable command of English.

I did have one interaction that is worth a mention. When I pulled out of Chicibul Ranch on my first morning's excursion, I made a error of timidity. It had rained the night before and there is a very slight uphill where the driveway meets the main road. I took it slowly which was my fatal mistake - in true Top Gear fashion I should have gunned it, but I was worried because the driveway opens directly on the main road which does carry the occasional large vehicle. I got near the top of the rise and then, despite having an AWD vehicle, lost all traction in the slippery mud and slid back down the hill out of control into the adjacent embankment. Ta da.

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Well, now I was stuck. The only person who ever came by the property was Hugo the friendly caretaker who had opened the place for me the night before but I didn't expect to see him for a day or so. I also had no cell service so I was in a bit of a pickle. I decided to solve the problem in true lazy vacation fashion: I went back to the house, climbed in the hammock and read a book.

Oddly enough, it worked! After a few hours an older gentleman came down the road and in basic English told me that he was Hugo's father. Evidently passers by on the road had seen the car in the ditch, knew that Hugo was the caretaker, couldn't get hold of Hugo, but could contact Hugo's dad. Hugo's dad then contacted the pastor of his church who had a AWD pickup and the two of them just came over to fix my problem. 15 minutes of machete work and 5 minutes of pulling got me out of the ditch with, amazingly no damage at all to the vehicle!

Now wasn't that right neighborly? I thanked them as effusively as I could and offered to pay for their efforts. The pastor said he would only accept gas money but I was able to offer him a bit more in the form of a donation to his church.

To be honest, I think experiences like this are the main reason I enjoy traveling.

Posted by tdeits 10:01 Archived in Belize Tagged rental roads car chicibul Comments (0)

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