Letter 11 from Belize: Border incursion

Cathedral Guatemala City

I have mentioned in previous letters the border problems between Belize and Guatemala. When Spain relinquished ownership of its colonies, Guatemalan sovereignty included much of the Belizean territory, but that was without the consent of the British occupiers. Wrangles have continued ever since and even though the current borders have been ratified by international agreements, Guatemala is still pursuing its claims via the International Court of Justice. The implications of this are filling column inches in all the national newspapers, and are a hot topic of conversation in any gathering.

Our border incursion

So we decided to get in first, and make an incursion across our neighbour’s border! The purpose of our incursion was to go in search of a vehicle. Why to Guatemala? Well, simply because the choice and supply of vehicles in Belize are very limited, and the after-sales taxes and importation duties are prohibitive. To get to our objective, Guatemala City, took us a day and half of hard driving and, once there, we got down to business immediately.

Travelling party

Fr Dominic & James

As this was an important purchase, Fr Dominic and I were accompanied by his trusted and knowledgeable mechanic, James, who also needed to buy spare parts in Guatemala. James cannily had a good business contact in the city, Juan de la Roca (a descendant of a Catalan family) who drove us everywhere, building into our schedule some welcome sight-seeing and interesting meals.

Which Vehicle?

The vehicles the community currently has are fast wearing out, due to the tough driving conditions and the high mileages. (As I write this, of the five vehicles currently standing in the yard, only one is operational for a variety of reasons). Because of the varying needs of the parish, schools and HIV clinic, a vehicle that can cope with rough tracks and river crossings, can tow a laden trailer and carry up to 12 passengers safely, made the Land Rover Defender an obvious choice. The first one we viewed, however, was 7 years old with an asking price of nearly US$30,000, which was well over budget. Fr Dominic realised that the viability of such a vehicle was seriously in question if that was typical of the pricing. Another option would be to import a new one from the UK, actually costing less, and asking Fyffes to ship it out free of charge. That decision now is still pending.

Guatemala

Sampling local cuisine

Compared to Belize, Guatemala is a vast country of over 21 million inhabitants. Although its infrastructure (roads, amenities etc) seems modern and well-maintained, the poverty levels, especially amongst the indigenous Mayans, are extreme. Millions of families are living on less than US$2 a day, and the adult literacy level is only 65% in the general population, but as low as 5% amongst Mayan women. Social and economic inequality is endemic throughout the country, most of the wealth resting in the hands of a small percentage of ‘ladino’ citizens.

Recent history

Local market

The bloody civil war of the 60s and 70s cost the lives of over 60,000 people, and the ruthless dictatorships of the 1980s saw a ‘scorched earth’ policy exterminate the populations of over 400 Mayan villages. Emerging from this traumatic period, they finally held their first peacetime election in 1999 and, almost ten years later, the country now has the air of stability and demilitarisation.

Antigua

Antigua

Lying 40kms to the south of the capital, this ancient colonial town was once the capital until it was razed to the ground by the earthquake of 1773. Overlooked by three volcanoes, one of them still active, its cobbled streets are lined with opulent buildings and crumbling ruins, some bedecked with sprays of bougainvillea hanging from terracotta rooftops.

Return journey

Two Claretians

Having spent our three nights in two different Claretian Houses, we decided to do the 450 mile return journey in one day, making another brief stop at the Claretian

Frs Javier & Dominic

House in Izabal near Rio Dulce. This parish had been established by the late Fr Chris Cutler in the 80s who, on arriving, was presented with little more than a vacant plot of land. He was followed by Frs Chris Newman and Paul Smyth, and today there is a bustling community with a complex of buildings that provide facilities for workshops, dentists and pharmacy, as well as providing for the varied needs of the parish and community. When we arrived, there was a large crowd of lay ministers busily renewing their promises of duty while some of the womenfolk in

Preparing tortillas

the background prepared the tortillas and huge pots of meat and beans.

SUMAN 168 PILOTOS DE BUSES URBANOS ASESINADOS EN EL 2008

When I saw this headline in a Guatemalan newspaper, I knew there were certain risks

Garden at San Antonio

about driving through the country, and especially in the capital. Bus drivers and their assistants were being murdered at an alarming rate, and cars are frequently held up on the highways by armed robbers. I recalled the

Flores

occasion when Frs Chris and Paul ventured into Guatemala once, and were held up at gunpoint, robbed and a gun was discharged inside the car. Fortunately they were only ‘shaken not hurt’, and they found the cartridge casing in the car sometime after the event. I was glad we had James doing the driving for us. He had a reassuring command of his own space on the road.

Frank, Dangriga, Belize                                                                December 10th 2008

Advertisements

About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on December 10, 2008, in Letters from Belize and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Looking For 42

Traveling the world looking for the meaning for life (and whatever else I might find along the way)

Off The Beaten Path

Inside news from Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Bicycles

Bike 5

Five miles or less? Bikes are best!

Kite*Surf*Bike*Rambling

KITESURFING, CYCLING, SUP: ramblings, idiocy and not much more

Cycling Dutch Girl

the only certainty is change

4000milestothesea

On a bicycle from coast to coast across the USA

CyclingEurope.org

Europe... on a bicycle

Self Propelled

Self propelled adventures through life; blogging on cycling, touring, micro-adventures, general shenanigans, and environmental news

chrisp666

Cycling across Europe, Cornwall to Munich

fossilcycle

FOSSIL - A Fine Old Senior Soul In Lycra

The Vicious Cycle

A man searches for meaning...in between leg shavings

2 l o v e c y c l i n g

It's about cycling ... and other travels

There And Back Again

Life at 15 miles per hour

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Well it should be, shouldn't it?

Bike Around Britain

Blog on cycling around the coast of Britain

David Noble's Blog

Life, Loves and Living

weston.front

The Weston Front - the destination of a road less travelled...

The Innocent Bikestander

It can be better

Bike, Banjo & Baby

They go together so well

Something for Kiki and the Pok

the adventures of Christopher Yardin - by plane, bike, through a lens, or the eyes of a child

Bricycling...

Cycling Blog

Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

Travel adventures on wheels and legs

THE SPORTSWOOL DIARIES

................."Cherry picking the nicest places in the world to cycle"

Gippsland Granny

Musings from Metung

Serendipities of life

Taking the road less travelled

I Do Not Despair

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

All Seasons Cyclist

Real World Product Reviews For Avid Cyclists

machacas on wheels

Taking the road less travelled

%d bloggers like this: