John, as always, did the research what’s next. We were heading up north-west towards the capital, Belmopan and we had two options to stay, The Blue Hole or Barton Creek.
We got to the Blue Hole area quite early in the day, even though that we met a couple of German bikers who we had ice cream and a good travel-chat with for an hour or so at the famous Mennonite dairy shop by the Hummingbird highway, so we decided to move on to Barton Creek.
I would divide Belize’s population (307,899) to three -unofficially. There are the ever proud Garífuna who arrived 200 years ago to Belize. A smiley, laid back, jolly bunch. The Maya, Mestizos (Mayan & Spanish/European) and Latinos. Some have always been here, some arrived recently. They are a lot shyer and withdrawn than the Garífuna. And there are the Mennonites who arrived from Europe and from the North American communities. Mennonite community is considered the backbone of Belize’s agricultural department. They produce nearly all dairy, meat and veg products throughout the country. They are shy, strongly religious but very friendly people. Many Mennonite communities are still living in the traditional way and dress accordingly. (There are actually a quite large community of Chinese living in Belize and almost all food store/ supermarkets are in their hands.) The main languages they speak in Belize are English, Spanish, Creole and Garífuna but in areas they speak the Mayan Mopan and Q’eqchi and in the Mennonite areas they speak Mennonite German. People we met spoke at least two-three of these. Besides the languages these communities have their own (some deeply traditional) culture and we loved this culture mix in Belize.
So from Belmopan we kept on going towards the Guatemalan border on the Western highway until we saw the sign to Barton Creek. John found a kind of backpackers/campground place where other overland travellers stayed before so we were fairly confident that we can stay there. As we turned off the highway, the route involved 40 mins rattling on a rough road full of potholes then from another turn-off, another good 40 minutes serious of heart attacks on a very narrow and steep road that had size of washouts that swallowed Burt’s wheels until we arrived to a river crossing. Belize had the worst rainy season this year for 20 odd years with so much rain that caused a lot of problems. And we were facing one. The campsite was 100 meters from here but on the other side of the river. The river was too high and too fast to cross. And I wasn’t mentally ready to drive back up on that road. Needless to say that at this point it was rather late in the day.
Our rattle and diesel engine made enough noise in the neighbourhood for Bill to come down to the river to see what was going on. After a short chat with Bill, we learnt that the campsite we were looking for didn’t exist anymore, he offered to stay at his property. We were very grateful and offered to cook fish dinner for everyone. After we parked up at a comfortable spot we met Cathy, Bill’s wife, a very sweet lady. They also had a dog (besides another and three cats) called Burt! They lived on this property for a long time and they built their own beautiful wood cabin-like house. We spent a very nice evening with them and the next day decided to stay one more night.
That way we could visit the Mayan cave we heard about. It was on the other side of the river but there was a wonky foot bridge (damaged by the flooding) we could use. We passed the closed-down campsite, then crossed another river to get to Mike’s Place, the place where the cave’s entrance was. This park was owned by a Canadian big guy who bought this land 20 something years ago with an ancient Mayan cave, a river and hills on it. He built up a sort of adventure park here with zip-lining, canoeing on the river, and of course tours to the cave. We learnt that he isn’t in the guide book (definitely a place that would be in it) because when the Lonely Planet writer came to visit he said he would only put Mike’s Place in if he gets everything for free. How is that for a genuine review? Mike said to him to f* off (his words!) so he never made it to the Lonely Planet. As he describes himself he is an “A”hole but he doesn’t care and he still gets business. It was entertaining talking to him, and after a good hour or two chat (which involved, for Johnny’s biggest joy, showing his water mill which powers the whole park 24/7, 356 days a year) ironically, he lowered the price to the third to visit the cave. We got his best guide (his brother-in-law) though we needed to wait for him for a while which we didn’t mind at all. The tour took an hour and was magnificent. An enormous cave that is 8 km long (maybe more, it might be 8 miles -can’t remember) but the tour is only for the first 5km, and it only can be visited by canoe. The cave was considered a sacred temple for the Maya and they did their shamanic ceremonies here. We saw potteries, bones and human skulls. Our guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject and we really enjoyed the trip.
By the time we got back it was dusk. Cathy and Bill were still out and we decided to wait for them with dinner. This area is a Mennonite community and we met Andrew, a young farmer, who came by to see Bill and Cathy. We invited him up if he wanted to wait for them with us. It was fascinating chatting to this shy but somewhat chirpy and really bright Mennonite guy in his 20’s, letting us know about his life plans. He also had more knowledge about solar power (they aren’t suppose to use any powered machines etc) than a lot of non-Mennonite people we’ve met.
When Cathy and Bill arrived we were ready to cook another nice fish dinner and had yet another very nice evening with them. The following morning we were ready to move on and after a nice, long morning chat (I could’ve stayed longer and chat away with Cathy for ever) we finally said our goodbyes.
We have been bothered by a metal clicking noise coming from the chassis when travelling on rough roads (we thought we solved this in Mexico but actually not) and asked Bill if he could advise us where to find a good engineer. Spanish Lookout -He said.
Next, Spanish Lookout and Clarissa Falls