Travel: not convenient, not cheap, sometimes not even fun, but almost always awesome. I keep these things in mind on my trips so that when I embark on a journey I can keep it all in perspective. I’m usually prepared for most things to go wrong and to not succeed in most things I try, because it’s travel and unless you hire a logistics expert or a guide, you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I rely a lot on Falcor to give me a hand, and I’m just pretty much ready to go it alone when he’s busy chasing bullies or what have you. This time, though, he was with me the entire way.
When I left for my trip to Belize, it was certainly a test of this ethos as said trip was unexpected and unplanned. I had bought the ticket because I happened across an irresistible airfare sale (less than $400 round trip from Anchorage to Belize City, thanks Alaska TravelGram).
I had a few months between buying the ticket and going on the trip to decide what I wanted to do. I didn’t get too far in planning because frankly I don’t like to plan trips and since I was flying solo I wouldn’t have to manage anyone else’s expectations so just going with the flow seemed just fine to me. I knew I wanted to rent a motorbike to get around so I wouldn’t have to rely on buses and taxis nor deal with parking and fueling a car (gas in Belize is very expensive), and was met with strong resistance about that idea. I am not kidding you that every single person I talked to about it told me it was impossible, since no one rents motorbikes in Belize, and that furthermore it was pointless since the roads are so terrible that motorcycling wouldn’t be possible at all.
Well, if you want me to do something, just tell me I can’t, and it will undoubtedly become my number one priority. Surely there was a way to rent a motorbike in Belize. Come on. SOMEONE will rent me a motorbike. Someone will lend me a motorbike, if it came to that, I was sure. Still, Internet research turned up nothing. Asking around turned up nothing but dire warnings. I was a little discouraged but I had confidence that I could make it work somehow, so I didn’t give up on the idea, but I did wonder how difficult it was going to end up being.
So I left for the trip not knowing what I would actually be doing. It was impossible to prepare for every eventuality without weighing myself down with stuff, so I left my riding gear at home (heavy and bulky) and opted to go light and fast and with just enough stuff to be prepared to do almost anything (you may choose to interpret this as being totally prepared to do anything really half-assed, and you’d be equally right).
Once my trip actually started, things just snapped into place in a way I’ve never experienced. My flights were kind of awful, with insane layovers in unfamiliar places. The first big one was a 13 hour overnight layover in Atlanta. When I bought the ticket, I figured I’d just cope, as I didn’t know anyone in Atlanta. But a few weeks ago, on the bus to the ski demo at Outdoor Retailer, I met photographer Andrew Kornylak. We chatted briefly and when I found out he lived in Atlanta, I suggested I look him up when I got there and maybe we could get a beer or something. Nothing like finding a local for a new city tour.
When I got off the plane in Atlanta, I had a text from Andrew telling me to meet him and some friends at a local pub. He suggested taking a taxi but, being me, I ignored that and hopped on the MARTA train instead, figuring it would be easy. When I stepped onto the train, familiar faces greeted me: a couple who had commented my fins at 7am in Anchorage that morning were sitting on the train in Atlanta! We’d been on the same connecting flights but didn’t know it. I chatted with them about where I was headed in Atlanta, and an alarmed lecture ensued about how I should not, COULD not, dared not walk to the bar. Take a taxi, take a taxi, take a taxi. It Is Too Dangerous To Walk. You’re not in Alaska anymore (I took slight offense to this. Do I look like I just fell off the muktuk truck?), this city is dangerous. This went on to the point that I got a little concerned about my plan.
The lecture was interrupted by a homeless man with a sign saying he was deaf and needed money. Before I could react, the woman I was chatting with launched into an extended conversation with the man via sign language. Whoa, unexpected. Turns out she is a teacher for the deaf. See, things were working out already, at least for the homeless guy who needed money. But how was I going to get to the bar in this Dangerous City of Violence and Murder? My phone was acting up so I couldn’t reach Andrew. Just then a young woman in surgical scrubs walked over and said she had overheard our conversation and since her car was parked at the hospital just across the road from the next MARTA station, I could get off with her and she would drive me to the bar. Perfect! The Luck Dragon approved of my vacation already.
My new pal, a traveling nurse who turned out to be considering a post in Alaska, delivered me to Andrew and company in short order and we had an enjoyable evening over beers and dinner. One of Andrew’s friends offered to put me up for the night, and even gave me his own bed while he slept, slumber party-style, on the futon in his room (we even stayed up late chatting and chatting…why do we give up [platonic] sleepovers after the seventh grade anyway?), and drove me to the airport in the morning. I flew out of Atlanta feeling like I’d already had a great vacation, and was even up a couple of new friends.
I had uncharacteristically booked my first night’s accommodation ahead of time, so I headed to Caye Caulker, an island north of Belize City, to check it out. I found myself in the company of a bunch of backpackers, who seemingly make up the entire economy of Caye Caulker. I stayed in a little bungalow just off the main drag on the caye and really loved it aside from the lack of hot water and the construction that was going on right next door, making for a poor night’s sleep. The rest of the day was spent wandering, eating, talking to people, and drinking Belizean beer, which really has no alcohol in it to speak of if you ask me. Though enjoyable and interesting, I really wanted to secure a motorbike and get on the move so I asked my host if she’d heard of anywhere to rent a bike. “Yes, in Hopkins,” she said immediately. I looked it up and bang! Motorbike rentals out of Hopkins. How had I not found this option before?
The next morning I was off like a shot for the mainland to make my way to Hopkins. I hopped a flight to Dangriga with the intention of taking a bus to Hopkins, but was met by a taxi driver who quoted a decent price for the drive so I went with him, shaving hours and hours off my trip. That’s one thing about Belize that I didn’t know at first but soon discovered – the people are awesome; friendly and trustworthy. It’s a safe country for the most part. People are respectful and kind and they want to help. Sure, male attention is pretty much the name of the game, but it’s friendly (really friendly, you know what I’m saying), not threatening.
The taxi delivered me to the doorstep of Alternate Adventures, run by Emma, a Spanish-Swedish girl who is completely rad. I admit that, thanks to the endless negativity from everyone I’d talked to about motorbiking in Belize, I was nervous about the roads but trusted what I’d seen so far – they had all been doable. Emma told me that I’d be fine, and that even though I had little to none off-roading experience (I ride sport bikes) that I’d soon get the hang of it. The bikes she had were light and small and pretty much perfect for learning off-roading. She went through the motorbike with me, handed me a helmet and the keys, and pointed me down the road. I was riding a motorbike in Belize!
So, less than 20 hours after my arrival in the country, I was at the limits of my prior planning. “Getting a bike” was as far as I’d gotten. Motorbike in hand, though, I was completely free. I was so stoked I couldn’t believe it. But I had no idea what to do with the ten days that stretched ahead of me. Answer: anything I wanted.