The whole point of having the bicycles was to bike Belize. And the whole point of biking Belize was to get an up-close look at that beautiful country. So in early November (1989) we stored as much gear as possible at our hotel in Merida, Mexico; loaded ourselves and our bikes onto a bus; and headed south. Five hours later we arrived at Chetumal, 8 miles from the border. Our lightened load made riding feel relatively easy, and for the next month we explored Belize from the seat of our bicycles.
A beautiful, tropical, slow-paced land of parrots and palm trees, jungles and mountains, towering pine trees and coastal marshland, ancient Mayan ruins and one of the largest coral reef systems in the world, it is also the only English speaking country in Central America. There was little traffic on the roads and drivers and passengers alike were extremely friendly, giving us a wide berth and waving enthusiastically as they passed. People frequently stopped to see if we needed help or to make suggestions about where we could pitch our tent. We camped in fields of sugar cane and beside hidden creeks, falling asleep bathed in moonlight and waking up to the trills, cheeps, and croaks of the countryside coming to life. Steamy and hot during the day, we got sunburned one minute, drenched by sudden rain showers the next. Although we frequently ate tinned fish on crackers, we sampled the local delicacies as often as possible: coconut tarts, pear ice cream, fried plantains, black beans, rice cooked in coconut milk, fresh squeezed juices, and lobster.
Situated in western Belize, the tiny town of San Ignacio is popular with tourists because of its proximity to several interesting archeological sites, including a cave that houses an ancient crystallized skeleton of a teenage girl called The Crystal Maiden; and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve where one can see the highest waterfall in Central America, Thousand Foot Falls. Riding the rugged 16 miles to the falls was an adventure worthy of “true” cyclists and we were going to go for it. It was basically a series of enormous hills, one more challenging than the next. We were caught in a torrential downpour which turned the unpaved road into a slippery, muddy bog. Mud, it turns out, makes riding a bike a whole lot harder. We pushed and strained and groaned our way up, up, up with only a few down-hill stretches for relief. We each took a turn wiping out, Bill cutting himself up a little in the process and me just getting covered in slimy, red mud. We arrived close to sunset, coasting the last two-and-a-half miles downhill, caked with mud, streaked with sweat, and weary to the bone. As we caught our first, magnificent view of the falls we couldn’t miss the sign, prominently displayed: No Camping Allowed.
Fortunately, the caretaker had mercy on us, allowing us to camp as long as we were packed up before his boss, a multi-millionaire from Mississippi, arrived at 8:30 the next morning. Since I wasn’t actually capable of moving any further, it seemed we had a deal. Bill and I spent a chilly night in our tent, waking up to fog and mist. We bought beans, eggs, tortillas and coffee for breakfast at the little cantina and were just packing up when the big boss man arrived. Hearing Bill’s Louisiana accent, he must have decided we were all right despite our grungy appearance and offered to give us a lift UP the 2 ½ mile hill we had coasted down the night before. We’d love a ride! I said maybe just a tad too enthusiastically. After he dropped us off it was mostly downhill from there. And I learned that going downhill has its own special challenges; especially when the road is slippery, rocky, and deeply rutted. Two or three emotional outbursts later, we arrived back at the blacktop and in striking distance of San Ignacio. We rode the last six miles on a paved road into a blossoming sunset that made the surrounding mountains, palm trees, and grazing cattle appear soft and dream-like. We got the last hotel room in town, took the best cold showers we’ve ever had, and filled up on bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and brownies at a local café; a decidedly satisfying end to our adventure. As I lay my tired body down that night I remember feeling amazed and proud that we had actually done it. We didn’t talk ourselves out of it or over think it. We just did it. And along the way my courage had somehow expanded. If I could do that, I thought before falling into a dreamless sleep, well there’s just no telling what else I might do!
To Practice: Take a moment to become quiet and still. Now ask yourself:
What is it that I really want to do, see, or experience?
What is a goal worth pursuing?
What are three things I can do that will move me closer to that goal?
What will my brave move be this week?
Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services