Can you Belize it?

I often have a surprisingly good time in places I either haven't researched much, or have low expectations of. In the case of Belize both were true, yet I was rather charmed by it.

From the border-crossing onwards Belizeans were friendly and helpful. And - for more and less obvious reasons - what a diverse bunch they are! I was especially fascinated by the Belizean Mennonites I saw, who dress like it's still the 18th or 19th century, and look like there might perhaps have been the odd cousin marriage down the years...

All four nights in Belize I channelled Claire and practised 'the art of asking' for a safe place to camp. The first night a chap who runs river-boat trips near Orange Walk kindly allowed me to camp under a large palapa next to his jetty. Not only was I warmly welcomed and briefed by his gathered, Creole-speaking friends and quite unexpectedly fed and watered, I also benefitted from the existence of a night-watchman and a couple of friendly dogs! It was the least I could do to make a Oaxacan coffee for the night man in the morning.

The next afternoon I camped by the Belize River in Burrell Boom, where I was woken in the middle of the night by the T-Rex roars of male howler monkeys. Fortunately I'd previously heard them at Palenque. On the third night I camped opposite 'Belmopan Tiny Homes' in a Spanish-speaking neighbourhood. Inland Belmopan - founded in 1970 after a hurricane devastated coastal Belize City - has a certain Milton Keynes feel to it as well as all the embassies and lots of fertilizer shops. For my final night close to the border I asked at a small comedor and was invited to camp in a sweet family's swiftly (and quite unnecessarily) raked front garden.

I really enjoyed being able to have proper conversations with people in Belize, which served to remind me why I am so determined to reach fluency in Spanish. In a village called Hattieville I had two memorable conversations. First with a woman at a small fruit stand who startled me by declaring it is her 'dream' that the British come back and 'sort out' Belize. Her teacher son had been killed in his own home for reasons unknown and she told me corruption is rife. Next I ran into a young muslim who seemed surprised that I have neither a husband nor children. 'Don't you have anyone who needs you?' he asked.

While the driving was alarmingly fast at times I was mostly given a wide berth by Belizean drivers including the sugar cane trucks, and it was nice to see lots of 'village' and 'roadie' cyclists as well as a couple of other tourers. All in all I left with a positive impression of this tiny, quirky country.