16th August: Undoubtedly, Belize is a curios outpost: one of the greatest culture shocks we’ve encountered on this journey. Latin America has all of a sudden vanished. Entering immigration you can surely be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived at some US backwater, what with the American accents and dark, officious-looking uniforms. Prince Harry came through this border post in 2012. A commemorative painting adorns the pillar where an official slumps in a chair swatting a fly from the end of his nose. Things are different here. For a start our car is no longer a casa rodante but an RV (which I believe stands for Recreational Vehicle). The customs lady fills out a form and says, ‘Okay, lets take a look at it.’ We go outside. As Christine fetches the car the lady mutters, ‘This should be interesting.’ She’s absently patting the generous folds of her shirt when she adds, ‘It’s always fun to see how you Europeans squeeze so much into such a small space.’ She has a root around in the back and makes us give up our fruit and vegetables. ‘Yo’all live in that thing?’ she exclaims, a little incredulous. The first town we reach is San Ignacio, where an abundance of Chinese-owned restaurants and supermarkets line the main street. The houses here are made of wood and built on stilts. It’s amusing to note how in Europe we tend to stuff all our junk in the attic, whereas here they pack it next to the stilts. I can see there are considerable advantages to this, for there is no way that truck axle would fit through the trapdoor of an attic, or the back-end of that Ford pick-up, or…When I get some change from the insurance broker I note the image of Queen Elizabeth II appears on a two dollar bill, beside a stelae of Mayan glyphs and the head of a guy who could just as well be from an Asterix comic. English and Scottish settlers and pirates known as Baymen came to Belize in the 17th and 18th centuries. After turning their backs on piracy they established a logwood business using slave labour brought from Africa. We only stay two nights in Belize, camping at the Old Belize Marina, a private business that was once the site of a logwood operation. Everyone is very friendly. ‘Hey, mon!’ they call, with a breezy smile. Rastas sporting coloured woollen bonnets crew the yachts that putter out to sea.
17th August: We catch a bus to Belize City. It is a Sunday, when absolutely nothing happens in Belize City. The place is deserted. ‘People go out to the cayes (the islands),’ a fellow tells us. ‘To catch the breeze.’ Everyone is complaining about the heat. In 1965 a hurricane did its best to wipe the city off the planet. The reconstruction has been slow. There are some wonderful wooden houses and a lot more that could be turned that way. Even sticking to the shadows, after a couple of hours we’re burned out. We find a taxi with a growling rear axle. ‘My name’s Byron,’ the driver tells us. ‘Like Lord Byron.’ He chuckles, drives into a service station and buys a few dollars of fuel. ‘I never have much fuel in the car,’ he says. ‘Just in case it’s hijacked.’ Byron used to live in Los Angeles but returned to Belize because, as he says, ‘Life is much easier here in Belize.’ Back at the Old Belize Marina we get lunch in the restaurant and savour the cool, saline breeze. Tomorrow we head to mexico, where we’ve heard it’s even hotter.
One thing is for sure, a drive through the Americas ensures our list of unusual camp-grounds is growing quite nicely. To the Old Belize Marina we can add the crater of a dormant volcano, the porch of a church, a roundabout, the back lawn of a Chinese restaurant, the gardens of a sex motel, a field of cows and horses, the bushes alongside the Carreterra Austral, a 4200 metre high geyser field, a number of service stations, too many car-parks, a salt flat on the alti-plano and several municipal parks.