23. Belize City
If you are thinking of heading to Belize, I would offer one piece of advice: skip Belize City. You won't miss anything.
From Orange Walk we caught a breezy (read: no air-con, lots of open windows) bus two hours to the capital. I would call it a city except it looked nothing like one. It was more like a large town, that was extremely old, falling apart and contained no buildings over four storeys tall (that we saw). I don't think any improvements had been made since the 1950s, aside from the cordoned off area where the cruise ships docked. As there were no cruise ships while we were there, this side of town was deserted. It did have a relaxed Caribbean feel, and the laid back residents loved to stop us on the street for a chat.
The middle of Belize "City".
Our guest house was, well, interesting. Owned by a drunk American expat and managed by a vocal but lovely local woman, I'm not sure how the place operated from day to day. I'm also not sure how the place was still standing. Two storeys tall, weatherboard and leaning on an angle, it looked like a strong gust of wind would blow the place down in a heartbeat (a quick walk around town told us that this was the norm for Belize City). Dirty, mouldy, crumbling, rats running around, regular arguments between the owner and manager: not exactly 5 star luxury. Our room was upstairs and had a bathroom attached on the outside, with nothing underneath to support it. The bathroom was on a precarious slant, which made me nervous every time I had to use it. I've never peed so fast in my life. The one thing it did have going for it was a cooked breakfast, which was surprisingly good.
The only reason we decided to stay in Belize City for a couple of nights was to visit the renowned zoo. It was built on a tropical savanna and only took in orphaned, rescued or rehabilitated animals. We hadn't seen a lot of wildlife on our trip so far so this was our opportunity to see some species close up that we wouldn't find back home. Toucans, macaws, agoutis, margays, ocelots, coatimundis - there were dozens of animals waiting for us, many of which I had never heard of before. But by far the clear winners were the jaguar and the tapir. The tapir has to be one of the ugliest mammals out there (it is known as the "mountain cow" in Belize) but that's what made it so lovable. I hoped there would be more tapir sightings on our travels (even though they are really, really ugly).
Belize Zoo: jaguar, tapir, agouti, toucan, monkey.
Two other highlights in Belize City:
We found a popcorn machine making popcorn-to-order inside a pharmacy (naturally).
Crabs! Tiny crabs liked to hang out in the gutters along the street, doing their best to go unnoticed. They would have been successful if they didn't move towards a drain or covering every time we walked past. This movement caught our attention, often raising our heart rate as we didn't know what sort of creature might be crawling around our feet. If we stood still long enough, they would slowly make their way out into the open again, claws raised as if ready to attack. It was the most entertainment we had in the city.
Danny cooked dinner at the guest house on the second night, which led us to a long night chatting with our hosts. They regaled us with hilarious stories of past guests (including a chef who cut off his own finger while preparing his meal), experiences of living through hurricanes and discussed hostel life in general. Just when we thought they might be normal people after all, the drunk owner pulled out a pack of tarot cards and gave Danny possibly the worst tarot reading in the history of tarot readings. I think I could have done a better job and I know nothing about tarot. He basically said the word on the card and gave a literal interpretation (e.g. "strength - you are strong"). We quickly made our excuses and hurried to bed after this performance.