You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

June 8, 2011

On to the Next One

Belize went out with a bang.  Yesterday Alex and I rode 90 miles of dirt round trip to a set of ruins deep in the Mountain Pine Ridge at the end of the road.  Caracol, the name of the site, dates back to around 600 A.D. and it is expected to be even bigger than Guatemala’s famed Tikal.  The site is down the same dirt road leading to Big Rock and Rio On but with an extra 25 miles added on.  Again, the bikes absolutely ate it up.

We got to Caracol early afternoon and paid our $7 entry fee.  There was one tour van getting ready to leave and otherwise we were alone.  Forty-five miles deep in the Belizean jungle, Caracol is a tough sell for most tourists.  At the start of the road are signs regarding a daily military escort out to Caracol and back every morning and afternoon… tough sell.  No need to fret, we were there on the advice of several different people on a Saturday, and no one thinks much of the escort anyway (plus it would have taken twice as long). 

Walking just a hundred yards from the visitor station I saw my first real Mayan ruin.  It was a small structure on top of a berm with wall outlines of several rooms.  I climbed to the highest point and conquered a childhood fantasy. 

Off in the distance we saw another.  Al and I strolled through the trees and came into a wide open field with pyramids on our left and our right.  The one on the right was bigger so I immediately started climbing the foot tall stairs towards the top.  At the top of the staircase was another staircase.  I climbed it too.  Then another staircase.  Up, up, and up I couldn’t guess where the top was.  Finally, I got to the top of the third and could see blue sky ahead. 

On top were several ‘mini pyramids’ each with their own unique looks.  The one directly ahead had two excavated tombs… I got a cool picture in one.  The other two had little hidden rooms that I found while wandering around the backside and plenty of Mayan rock carvings in their stones.  I think I spent about forty minutes on the one big pyramid searching every nook and cranny.  From the top I could see far across the jungle; one tree had monkeys swinging around in it.

I finally hike down and checked out the pyramid across the field.  It wasn’t as big, but had way more intricate art carved into two huge rock slabs.  I would describe it, but just imagine Mayan art carvings instead.  Further down the trail we came to the final quad with three massive structures all facing inward.  More of the same really… I explored everything and couldn’t get enough of it. 

Because Caracol is still being excavated it is very pristine.  There were certain parts that seemed like a Disneyland artist had laid them out (quite a credit to Disneyland now that I’ve seen the real thing).  There were half-buried structures with no red tape; I ended up digging around myself just to see what was going on.  Most of all, there was no one there except for me and the monkeys.  It’s hard to get over standing on a pyramid overlooking the trees with other ruins poking out while listening to the jungle chatter. 

Eventually we had to ride back if we wanted to beat the sun.  Al and I hopped on the bikes and headed back to the road.  Ten miles into the ride we came up on a dark green military convoy rolling along kicking up a huge cloud of dust.  Knowing it was too late for the military escort, I couldn’t figure out who these guys were.  The soldiers bouncing around in the trucks looked didn’t look Belizean; they were white.  They were hard too; painted faces, solemn looks, and squinting eyes as they smoked their cigarettes and watched us approach. 

I wasn’t scared, but I was on full-alert riding up on a group of mysterious guerrillas in the middle of the Belizean jungle.  We followed at close range.  They kept looking at me and I kept looking back at them through my sunglasses.  There was a mutual respect.  I think they thought we must have looked pretty cool while I was looking at a bunch of G.I. Joe soldiers.  Eventually the convoy took a side road and we parted ways without any waves or anything. 

Thirty miles down the road we stopped and asked a store owner about the shadowy forces.  Turns out they are British Special Forces on jungle training missions way out here in Mountain Pine Ridge.  Well that was a relief; at least they weren’t cartel mercenaries.  We pulled into Barton Creek at dusk and had another amazing dinner cooked by Jacqueline.  Absolutely exhausted, I went to my tent and slept like a rock.

In the morning I started packing and found that 90 miles of dirt had done a number on my luggage racks.  I had lost one of my six main bolts and a couple of the others had rattled loose.  A couple more miles and I would have had quite a mess.  I tightened them all up, packed my gear, and we hit the road for Guatemala after our goodbyes.  My bike had an unusual squeaking going over the bumps on the way out.  I believe it has to do with the luggage and have since removed all the bolts, threaded them with Loctite, and tightened them up again.

The Guatemalan border crossing was relatively painless although very hot and humid.  We had to pay to leave Belize (since entry was free), cancel the import on the bikes, cross out of Belize, pass Guatemala vehicle inspection, get our visas, and then import the bikes into Guatemala.  The whole process took just over an hour and included no arguing this time around.  The Guatemalan Quetzal is valued at 7.8 to the U.S. dollar right now; calculating prices will be interesting here.  Belize wasn’t very easy either.  Pegged at two to one to the U.S. dollar, the Belizean exchange rate is very simple although I struggled with it the whole time.  Both currencies are called dollars and 2 to 1 gets very confusing when trying to figure out who owes whom how many dollars.  11 to 1 in Mexico was easy because all the prices are 10x what they should be.  When they are only double, I have to think way harder on which money I’m spending.

Tonight we are in Flores, Guatemala.  Flores is a city on an island in a lake.  It’s a stupid place for a city, but a great destination for a tourist.  With its proximity to Tikal, the most lored Mayan ruin, Flores is full of tourists.  Al and I rode into town this afternoon and spotted Jill and Ty’s bike immediately.  We pulled up, said hi, and booked a room in the same place.  Tomorrow we are all going to see Tikal together in the morning.

Alex and I met a biker on the way into Flores who has been on the road for 2.5 years.  He exhausted with the entire experience.  He was on his way to Belize to ditch the bike and leave the traveling behind.  A real bad parasite for the past month had not helped his morale either.  It was interesting to meet someone doing the same thing who was simply worn out.  It’s a reminder of the mental toll that is taken on such an adventure.

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