Miami to Belize City to the Northern Highway

flight-mapOn the flight from Miami to Belize, Ray had the window seat (I insisted; we’ll switch on the way back) and I could look over his shoulder as we flew along the Florida Keys – familiar territory to us, even from the air, and even more beautiful than it is by car.  At about the Seven Mile Bridge, the plane turned south and then we were over open ocean until we skirted the northwest shore of Cuba (which surprised us – didn’t know flights were allowed in that close),  then another stretch of beautiful blue and green water until we turned near the Yucatan Peninsula and came down the coast into Belize City.

As the plane descended, we both commented how much the geography below reminded us of southern Guam. The airport and control tower even looked a little like Guam’s.

Belize City airportLanding was a little different, though – we taxied to the end of the runway like  you usually do, but then had to turn around at the end and re-trace the same path back to the only turn point to the terminal. Guess only one plane can come in at a time, then. At least I hope that’s how it works.

At baggage claim, we were entertained by a junkanoo kind of band while we waited, then Customs was a breeze, since we weren’t declaring anything (although I considered answering the agent who asked “do you have anything to declare” with “yes, undying love for my husband.” But I decided to keep it to myself). Then to the rental car place where our stuff was packed into a Chevy Equinox (“a high car” which we were told we were going to need where we were going).  The car rental guys told us we wouldn’t get lost – just follow the highway north out of the airport – and off we went.

It’s dry season right now so the road was fine – two-lane gravel and blacktop for this stretch. We discovered pretty quickly that driving is a creative sport here. There are no dividing lines on the roads, and definitely no turn lanes or shoulders – in fact, the rental car agreement insisted we sign off on the fine print that told us how to make a left turn in Belize (apparently, you are supposed to pull over onto the non-existent right shoulder and wait until traffic is clear both ways, then cut across; we did not see any drivers actually behave this way, however). There’s only semi-occasional road signage (just often enough to reassure you that you aren’t lost, about the time you start wondering) and frequent speed bumps (although they do give you notice, mostly); and in some crowded areas like the streets in Orange Walk Town, you can see a guy on a bicycle pass a Jaguar (which was going slow because of the potholes – which, I’m sorry, begs the question, why are you driving a Jaguar here? I’m just sayin’)  – – as a bus veers around both of them into oncoming traffic.

Speaking of busses, there are many of them, none of which seem to be associated with any others – in fact, we were told that if you own a bus, you can call yourself a bus company. Some busses are in better shape than others, with many colorful local bus stops along the highway (some also in better shape than others). We got stopped behind one bus picking up a particularly memorable guy waiting with a…chainsaw? You don’t see that in the States.

We also followed a lot of delivery trucks with the back door rolled open, usually populated by one or two Belizeans and some cargo (I kept thinking of Eddie Murphy with a stash of cigarettes – cue the theme from Beverly Hills Cop). Also lots of small pick up trucks carrying as many as twelve  young men in the truck bed. Everyone is very friendly!

belizean stick houseMuch of this drive was through unpopulated areas, or very small villages. Along the way we saw housing that ranged  from Belizean “stick houses” to nice little gated compounds and actually a lot of that’s-gonna-be-really-nice-when-it’s-finished. Many of the houses seemed to have had a good start (usually a first floor, but not a completed second story). We were told this usually meant a Belizean family had a work in progress that might take years (and sometimes generations of the family) to complete, or a gringo dream house that turned into a nightmare.

About halfway along, we started to encounter the sugar cane trucks. Apparently it is harvsugar cane truckest season, when the sugar cane fields are burned to route out the snakes, then the cane is cut and piled high onto trucks for delivery. The sky in that area looked like when NASA does controlled burns at the Space Center, and the road was littered with fallen stalks.

cane fields burnt and growingCorozal was supposed to be about 2.5 hours from the airport, so we stopped to ask a friendly Belizean if we were close.

I’m not sure English was his first language but he pointed straight and said two more miles, the sea. Woo hoo, we’re almost there…

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