South by West- camping from Alaska to Nicaragua

Travel time: January 2003 - January 2008  |  by Jerry Bazant

17 -Belize and Yucatan

Lost in Belize; Underground river excursion; Back in Mexico; Unwelcomed RV caravan; Ancient Tulum;
Looking for campground; Oscar y Lalo; Stealthy Drug patrol; Fausto's house; Our pyramid; Ancient gift.
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 Belize is a small country with population of about three hundred thousand. It is possible to drive through it in one day. We wanted to go to the Blue Hole National Park, but got lost and ended up in the Cave Branch Jungle Lodge. The Lodge was a sort of high class Eco tours company. They were not too keen to see us because we did not want to stay in the lodge, we had our camper! But it was getting late so they let us camp by the river, providing we take our meals in the lodge.
The next day a group was going on a Cave tubing trip so I signed up. After a long trip in a tractor pulled wagon and trek thru the jungle, we stood in front of a small cave. We stepped into our inner tubes and entered inside. The cave led into an underground river and soon we were floating in darkness, only headlights illuminating our surroundings. In places I could touch the ceiling, in others we were going through huge echoing caverns, domes, stalactites hanging down, then we were floating beside a sandy beach and waterfall. A few times daylight broke through hole in the ceiling and were dazzled by sunshine. We floated for seven km in this underground river. It was an amazing, unreal, timeless trip. The Lodge offered other amazing adventures, we could stay for a week but time was getting short.

....we were floating in underground river. Suddenly daylight broke through...

....we were floating in underground river. Suddenly daylight broke through...

 
Crossing the border from Belize back into Mexico was easier than it was four months ago in Nogales. We knew what to expect, where to go, computers were working and we breezed through the border in 1/2 hour. Our campground in Calderitas near Chetumal was on the beach, occupied by six campers from Canada.  Chetumal has a great museum of Mayan civilization and we spent most of the day there. The weather was hot and humid and we decided to buy a fan. Not that easy! It took us the rest of the day to find a small 120V fan!!

....RV Caravan, unwelcomed guests in our campground...

....RV Caravan, unwelcomed guests in our campground...

The following day was spoiled by the arrival of a big RV caravan. They arrived unannounced and it took them four hours to park, since all wanted an ocean view. The woman looking after the campground was upset because the caravan hadn't booked ahead. She came to Sue and told her: " You came first and you paid. If Americans tell you to move, don't. You are queen here !! ". And sure enough soon their leader came and ask [ or rather told ] Sue to move so they can be all together. He was lucky that I was not there!
The next morning Sue was up at six to watch the sunrise, reading quietly on the beach. But it was not quiet very long. Few of these "campers" wanted their morning coffee and started noisy generators. They had them running full day to keep their pets cool with air-conditioning while the masters went to tour Belize.

...ancient Tulum was disappointing....

...ancient Tulum was disappointing....

We were now in the Yucatan Peninsula, the heart of Mayan civilization. Tulum, an ancient Maya city on the coast was a disappointment. We came early, just as gates opened and for the next hour there were few visitors. Then tour buses started to arrive from Cancun and thousands of tourist flooded the ruins. They were herded around by guides, many looking bored, sunburned and sweating. Tulum was a Mayan trading port and is not as photogenic as other sites but it was built on a cliff overlooking picturesque beach that made up for it's shortcomings
Cancun looks nice in tourist brochures but it is a huge tourist trap with big shopping plazas and hotels strung up along a strip of beach. We didn't even bother to stop and turned back to look for a campground

....but was overlooking picturesque beach....

....but was overlooking picturesque beach....

There were five campgrounds marked in the guide book. The first one was closed. The second one was too small and crowded, with loud music coming from the hotel next door. Third one was bought by a developer and closed. Next one was turned into a turtle sanctuary. It was getting late and we were still on the highway, wondering where we would spend the night. At a bus stop was a Mexican so I pulled over and asked about camping.
"Si, few miles down the road is a bar and restaurant called Oscar y Lalo , they take campers." 

 Oscar y Lalo?? That sounded like a dubious place to camp. But it was getting dark and we didn't have much choice. The road had a lot of big potholes and ended up in a parking lot full of cars. Lights illuminated an outdoor restaurant under palapas.
"You can stay here, or if you don't like it, there is an army camp around the corner, maybe they will let you stay there", the waiter told us. Well, nobody is going to drive into an army camp at night so we decided to stay for the night. 

....Oscar y Lalo beach in Soliman Bay....

....Oscar y Lalo beach in Soliman Bay....

 We were quite surprised when we woke up next morning. Cars were gone and we were parked under palm trees. Twenty yards away was a long sandy beach surrounded by deep bay and in a distance waves were breaking over a corral reef. On the beach were kayaks and hammocks strung between palm trees. They belonged to an Adventure Tours Company that brought here groups of tourists from Cancun.  To get the feeling of adventure, tourists arrived in Mercedes Benz ex-army trucks sitting on the benches in the back. They got short kayak lessons and then, escorted by guides, they paddled to the reef to snorkel.  Depending on the wind, condition of the sea and fitness of the adventurer this trip varied from pleasant to exhausting and scary. After this exciting, tiring, nerve wracking trip they went to Oscar y Lalo to drink, eat and rest in hammocks.

....come in for adventure with us...

....come in for adventure with us...

The tourist guides were Maya Indians. They lived in a simple shack on the beach and were very friendly. I learned a few Maya words and soon we were almost part of their group. Every morning a Maya coffee truck arrived from their village [almost 80 km away] with Maya food and we had breakfast and lunch with them.
One of them, Fausto spoke English and he offered to take us snorkelling into caves. The water was crystal clear, visibility unlimited, there are stalactites hanging down, little fish were nibbling our feet. It was awesome, an IMAX movie was shot there.

...we went cave diving in crystal clear water....

...we went cave diving in crystal clear water....

Next morning Fausto took us snorkelling to the corral reef. Schools of fish swimming among corrals of many shapes and sizes, waves crashing, sea grass undulating, one moment we were surrounded by maybe fifty Barracuda, it was like watching some nature film! 
 One evening I decided to sleep in a hammock on the beach . I woke up in the middle of the night and saw men with rifles moving silently around me! They did not see me and I watched them opening the fridge and helping themselves to cold drinks. I would not dare to ask who they were and what they were doing there. Next morning I found out that the beach was checked every night by Mexican Navy drug patrol. Apparently the bay was a drop off point for some drug cartel supplying Cancun.

The drug patrol was lucky they did not go by the kitchen. It was guarded by geese that were hatching eggs there. They made hissing, squawking noise, spreading wings, ready to lunge, like a vicious dog. Nobody could sneak up on them. I had to beat a retreat and lost my sandals when I strayed into their territory.

...Fausto took us on a tour with his family.....

...Fausto took us on a tour with his family.....

   On Saturday night we took Fausto home to his village. He lived with his wife and two kids in a small, three room house built from concrete blocks. In one room was a table with two chairs, hammock and a TV on chest of drawers. The other room had two hammocks and the last one a bed. That was all. The electric wiring looked scary and the bathroom had no running water. One pail was used for washing and for flushing the toilet. Rocky backyard had a pig pen in the corner.
His wife's family lived across the backyard, so cooking, eating and socializing was done under palapas at mother's house. They were all very shy and because some spoke only Mayan, communication was difficult. Sue opened temporary daycare for the kids in the camper and soon all were doing handcrafts and playing games. We had a folding, never used bicycle, so we gave it to Fausto's son. He was all excited and his friends were envious, some had ten speed bikes but none could be folded!

....to a Cenote in the jungle....

....to a Cenote in the jungle....

 Next day we took the camper off, loaded the family [about 14 people] onto the truck and went swimming to "cenote", kind of a lake in the jungle. We were snorkelling and  Sue pointed at something coloured on the bottom. I went down and retrieved a new 50 pesos bank note. [~$10]. We were in the middle of nowhere!

...and old Mayan ruins...

...and old Mayan ruins...

Later we drove to Mayan ruins, near a village in the jungle. They were not big or spectacular but they were old ruins, trees growing on them, undiscovered, untouched, without tourists, villages going around doing their own business.
As we were saying good bye to Fausto's he said "I have a gift for you" and gave us a small head of jaguar made of clay. "It is very old, my father found it in his field. Hide it and don't tell anybody where you got it. Or I would be in troubles with the police."
 

....my father found it in his field, it is very old....

....my father found it in his field, it is very old....

© Jerry Bazant, 2009
You are here : Overview The Americas Belize 17 -Belize and Yucatan
The trip
 
Description:
This journey in our pick up truck camper took us West from Ontario to British Columbia and Alaska, then South to Nicaragua. Later we trailered a sailboat and cruised the coast of BC, Alaska and Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
Details:
Start of journey: January 2003
Duration: 5 years
End of journey: January 2008
Travelled countries: United States
Mexico
Guatemala
Belize
The Author
 
Jerry Bazant is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 12 years.
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