So most of you know that I took off on this trip without planning ahead, because to me it’s more relaxing to just go with the flow. Well, it’s no surprise that it makes for a stressful trip sometimes. But to me, that’s relaxing. Weird, huh? Not every trip has to be like this, but this one was strictly for fun so what the hell.
When last I left you I had my motorbike but no idea where I wanted to go. I had learned in the first 20 hours in the country that I wouldn’t be able to take the bike over to Guatemala (really – you just can’t. I can do a lot of things but one thing I can’t do is bend border rules in Central America. A bitter pill, but even I know when to quit) so rather than take yet another travel/bike finding day to get over there, I opted to just stay in Belize and find stuff to do. It’s a small country but it’s not that small; I was sure I could fill nine days with explorations.
Emma suggested that I take the bike down to Placencia for the first day so I could get a feel for it on a shorter trip. That seemed sensible and, after deflecting Emma’s attempt to hook me up with another bike renter for the day (why? why? She’s right that sometimes it’s more fun to ride with someone else, but I wasn’t in the mood for company so I declined) I headed south. I learned a lot of stuff during the two hour trip to Placencia. First, I learned that while my little dirt bike was just great for the washed out back roads, it really wasn’t the best thing ever for highway miles. Part of the reason for this is that it wouldn’t go over 65mph. Really, it just would not. That turned out to be all right, because Belizeans really are into their speed bumps. They are everywhere. Not one curve in the road is spared; there are speed bumps before and speed bumps after. On a motorbike, that’s a little bit of a bummer so I learned I was going to have more fun on the back roads.
I also learned that riding in shirtsleeves, while usually not all that advisable for safety reasons, has unforeseen hazards as well. A rain squall on the way into Placencia washed off my sunscreen and, though, I reapplied later, I got sunburned in weird patterns that persist as I write this. Most people come home from tropical vacations looking tanned and lovely; not me, I look like I have a skin condition in the shape of a T-shirt.
Further, I found that my decision to leave panniers at home was a poor one, as there’s a reason no one rides in a backpack. The reason is that it sucks. My right shoulder (throttle arm) was killing me by the end of the ride. My idea of touring around, staying in a different place every night, wasn’t going to work. Lesson: if you even remotely think you’re going to be traveling by motorcycle, just bring your stuff.
And by “bring your stuff,” I mean bring ALL your stuff, especially your helmet. I have three motorcycle helmets, one for every occasion. I didn’t want to carry one all that way, though, so I opted to borrow one from Emma. This seemed okay, until it got dark and I had to take off my sunglasses and use the visor for wind protection. Turns out that people don’t care for rental gear too well and the visor on the helmet was so scratched up I could barely see through it. I keep my own helmets in velvet bags and protective cases; fussiness that evidently is well-founded – the lights of oncoming cars were blinding as they diffused through all the scratches. I flipped the visor up – and my eyes immediately filled with bugs. Visor down – can’t see. Visor up – covered in bugs. Oh, not cool, not cool at all. The remainder of that little day trip was a bit harrowing – there was just no way to see very well so I had to go really slow and just not think about all the bug parts that were filling the corners of my eyes.
So not only was I not going to be able to stay in a new place each day, I wasn’t going to be able to ride at night. Okay…circumstances were limiting my options but seeing as how that was just going to make decision making easier, I was fine with that. Just in case you’re concerned after reading the above, rest assured that everything worked out just fine and I had a great time.
I’m not going to pretend that the lesson learning was limited to that first day, though. Here are some other “learning experiences:”
1. Even though Belizeans are nice and helpful people and were always keen to hold my helmet for me while I went and did stuff, it pays to double check that the person who so helpfully stashes your helmet behind the desk didn’t accidentally put it on an anthill. Extra points: double check before you put it back on your head.
2. Keeping track of your motorbike key is a solid plan. A bike key is a small thing, much smaller than your car keys, so just dropping it into your pocket is sure to lead to, say, spending your evening turning a Chinese grocery inside out looking for the key that fell out of your pocket. Bonus hint: If there are boxes of nails lying around in the grocery, look there first.
3. Count on having people mess with your bike when you’re not watching it. For instance, it’s not likely to still be in neutral like it was when you left it. Nothing bad happened since I always fire it up clutch-in, but it’s a good reminder to always look anyway.
4. Yes, wearing your bikini under your pants is a great way to not have to carry stuff for the day, but don’t forget that the reason you’re wearing it is so that you can go swimming: riding in wet pants on a vinyl seat for three hours is not worth it. Just carry a bag.
5. When you have to shake your bike every morning to stir up the sediment in the gas tank so the bike will start, just do yourself a favor and buy the premium from then on. It’s cheap insurance that you’ll have a working bike the next day.
See, this trip was practically a free education. Well, not “free”. The other lesson is that Belize is a fairly expensive country. Good thing that plane ticket didn’t cost that much. In part 3 I’ll tell you about the excursions and all the rad things there are to do there so that you don’t have to fanny around, figuring it all out like I did.