15 Feb

Orange Walk

This hotel I stay in Akihito is owned by two Chinese, like several businesses in Orange Walk. The owner proudly showed me last night his farm of 40 acres that he just bought that has in its middle a cenote. There are very few people here in Belize, about 300000 people, just a third of the population that existed in the Maya time. What is funny about this hotel is the fact that it looks that was built by a architect for jails. It is very clean, everything is great but it looks like you are in a cell of a jail, no mater what room you get. Also, like many hotels in Orange Walk has a room near the lobby with slot machines. As a mater of fact there are lots of this type of casinos, here in the city. Hotel and casino, like in Vegas! Last night my room was to the front and was noisy and this morning I changed it. I went for breakfast again to Juanita, because I could not find other restaurants. There are some restaurants but the city is kind of a dive and is hard to find things in it. The breakfast was very good with grapefruit juice and a great omelet. I went after that to Jungle River Tours, the agency that runs the tours to Lamanai and I paid for the tour that I reserved last night. The tour costs US$40, including lunch, plus another US$5 the entrance to the site. All the tours in Belize are expensive, the country moving his main source of income from sugar to tourism that is very well fleeced. Finally, at 9:00am a lady came to pick me up, I did not know if it was her supposed to pick me up or somebody else, and brought me to Lamanai Retreat, the place from where the boats leave. The boat was not there and I waited for 10 minutes. It came with three other people inside, two ladies from Canada and one guy, Tony, from Barcelona, with whom I had a long and great conversation all day. Tony has a photo/video production and services company in Barcelona and now, the season being slow, he was traveling for 3 months in Central America. Gilberto, the pilot of the boat took us to see some nature till the other tourists came, and we returned to pick up a large group of 15 people that came from Corazal, for a day trip. It proved that the guys were mostly Russians and not very sociable.



We left on the river trip that brings you eventually, after 90 minutes to Lamanai ruins. The river trip was really great, because Gilberto continually stopped and showed us baby crocodiles, mid size crocodiles and even extremely large ones. Also, egrets, the Jesus bird and iguanas hanging in the tree. It was extremely interesting also to see , from afar, the Mennonite community, a group of Germans, similar in clothing, habits and religion with the Amish from the USA, settled here in the 50s , that are still the largest producers of vegetables in the country. Gilberto said that there are of three branches: the very traditional ones that do not use anything modern, no electricity or machinery, etc., the Baptist Mennonites that use electricity only for work but no in homes and some tractors and boats and the progressive ones that came from Ottawa, Canada. They do not serve in military, do not want to vote and till the independence in 1981 they did not pay taxes. They are extremely hard working and they were brought here by the British government and given the best land, and they are respected by people in Belize. They represent 3% of the population and produce more than 60% of the vegetable production in the country. On the street they wear some particular hats and the old ones have beards and they look like coming from old Holland’s paintings.The river where we took the tour is called the New River, but he Maya called “the river of the foreigner”, a prediction that proved to be true. There are many boats doing the tour that is one of the major attractions in Belize. We also saw people fishing, and a boat came very close to show us the catch, Gilberto being careful because you don’t know if the guys do not hide a gun to rob the travelers, a trick that I heard happening in some other countries. We rode the river that meanders and divides extremely spectacular, for 90 minutes and we arrived in Lamanai site, going directly for lunch. Here I had a pleasant surprise because in all the other tours in Belize, the lunch was a sandwich and if you were lucky a bottle of water, but here they prepared chicken with potatoes, salad and salsa, spicy chips and they had lots of soft drinks kept in the cooler. Lamanai, like all the other sites was very large 4.5 square km but very little was excavated and only three locations were uncovered. It is obviously that here they wait for a sponsorship to go further. The ruins are nice and well done, showing the tradition of the Maya, to demolish or cover the house of the old price/king when he dies and build new one on top, the result being that all the houses are well off the ground accessible by a flight of steps. You could see at the Temple of the Mask, the first location, three levels of steps showing perfectly, and he said that there were probably more underground. Also, it was an impressive head of an Olmec, in situ, but it was not covered in fiber glass like in Caracol. Impressive and huge, it occupies an entire wall. The next temple was also the largest, being the third pre-classical building as a height in Belize, 125 ft. The building is impressive and it has three levels accessible by very steep steps. The fun part when we were there was that the howling monkeys started to howl, protesting that another group of monkeys, named patrol, came in their territory. It is funny to see how small they are and what a horrific sound they make, that you think that is a great jaguar around. This was great because in Tikal, they howl only in the morning at sunrise, defining their territory for the day and later on is hard to wake them up.

We left at 2:00pm and Gilberto drove very fast and dropped the guys from Corazal for a direct bus and continued with the rest of us and showed us more crocodiles and iguanas. Right before I arrived, a swift move made my sunglasses to break and to fly into the river, an offer to the Maya river of the foreigners. We arrived at 4:00pm and I had a final chat with Tony, about his company and FlyingMonk and drank some great papaya juice till around 5:00pm. He had to catch a bus to Chetumal , Mexico and I wanted to shoot a litle more in Orange Walk, if it is something to be shot, and I went to the church and on some streets, getting lost somewhere on the back streets. I found eventually my way to the hotel and tried to post this blog in the hotel computer that yesterday did not want to collaborate. The trip was OK but the ruins of Lamanai after you saw Copan, Tikal and Caracol are disappointing. However the ride on the river was worth it, being different than Rio Dulce. I went to look for dinner in Caye Caulker Bar and Grill but I found out that it got closed a while ago, so I ended up at Lee’s Chinese restaurant, where I had a lobster ceviche and a beer. There are lots of Chinese restaurants in Orange Walk and when I asked the lady from my hotel, she said that this is a country where is easy to come. The population is very low, lots of land and opportunities. Belize is a very young country, just 26 year old and you can tell it. It has a melange of population, of blacks, Hispanics and many Asians. The language is English but the largest majority. more than 53%, is of Spanish-language descent, that entices you to address people in Spanish and not in English. They speak a very relative English and they speak Creole with less Spanish along the coast. There are blacks looking like in North America, and as a result there are several stores on the main road selling lots of white sneakers. It is a country that tries to base its economy on tourism, so they developed lots of eco-lodges and eco-resorts, but it is not so developed, the roads are terrible and it looks that many thins do not work right. Besides, you have a large black population that, as our guide mentioned today, is waiting for the government subsidies. As a result, the hard working Chinese are prospering, creating successful business and monopolizing, like here in Orange Walk , the restaurant business. The stores are held by several Indians. In spite of all these, the prices are very high, in restaurants and stores, everything being way more expensive than in Guatemala or Mexico, at lower quality levels. The trips are outrageously expensive for a country so poorly developed, being at par with similar trips in the USA or even more. The food is expensive, the prices for Chinese food in the Lee’s being higher or at least equal with prices in NY. And more than anything the country, as I encountered till now, is devoid of the vibrant spirit, Guatemala had. In Guatemala, the Maya culture is everywhere, ancient or contemporary. The women that are weaving, the markets, the village life is authentic and rooted in a tradition that did not fade in time and under various occupations. The Maya-Catholicism, so ingrained in the locals is another one of these traits. Everything in Guatemala is flamboyant and you don’t need tours because, the tours are part of the day to day life when you go to a large market. You have the feeling of a culture that is loomed inside a cocoon and no force can rip it apart. In Belize, is the opposite: The trips are the core of the day. Belize is famous for diving and people come here for this. The prices are outrageous but are OK as long as the services provided are fine. Yes, all the trips are exquisite and extremely informative, well done and professionally crafted, but the experience ends when you are dropped at your hotel. It is missing the immersion in the country’s culture and it looks more like a theme park. No interaction and even if you have it, you have the feeling that this population is here not because it belongs but because it happened to be here. So, if it were to compare, the proportion would be exactly the one from the time I spent in my trip 80-20% between Guatemala and Belize.

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Posted by on February 15, 2008 in Belize, Blog


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