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N0.74 – Belize – the land of colorful smiles

Sep 28, 2017 | America, Blog, Central America

Why colorful? Because you can find all the skin colors of the world here, a country with an extremely large number of ethnic groups who, as it seemed to me, live together in a vivid and joyful way while still keeping their own cultures.

Such extremely friendly people that it was easy to win my motivation back, which I had completely lost in Mexico. My laughter and my joy of travel is almost where it was a long time before – thanks to these wonderful inhabitants.

Their cheerfulness was contagious, and I laughed with everyone as before and greeted everyone cordially with happiness, relief and received hearty smiles from all sides.

Life can be so easy, so full of energy and connectedness, you just have to be friendly to each other!

Thanks Belize!!!

For me, Iran and Taiwan have been the friendliest countries on this trip, Belize is now part of that group. Not a bewitchingly beautiful country, at least not the mainland. Also, not an exciting cycling country, because, if you want, you can cycle the few hundred kilometers in a few days, which it takes to cross it.

But a country which has fascinated me enormously, because it is full of life, full of joy and full of a loveable cultural mix. And it is totally different from all the neighboring countries surrounding this tiny nation.

I stayed the full 30 days that I was allowed to stay and in the end, I was sad that the time was over so quickly.

I don’t know if the joy I experienced in this country would have been so great if I’d been in a different country beforehand. It was the same with Iran where I had, had so much stress in Turkey and after the hard time there I found so much happiness through the wonderful Iranians. Coming from China, Taiwan was a paradise. And so, it seemed to be again this time. Belize was an oasis of joy and so extremely important to me.

But let’s start with the culture mix here in Belize.

There are the Creoles, who speak an English gibberish and are originally Africans. Then the Garifuna, as well colored ones from Africa, who were stranded as shipwrecked slaves here and kept their language and brought the Caribbean flair into the country.

The Mennonites, who moved from Frisia / Germany into the world some eventually landing in Belize to live their extreme religiosity. In addition, the white expats who often came here as missionaries from the USA and left their mark in almost every village, or just wanted to look for a second home, independent of their faith.

The Coolies, from East India, who mainly live in the south. Chinese, who have the supermarkets under control and are not very popular. The Mayans, who are, even within this small country divided into two language groups and, of course, the Mestizos who continue to speak Spanish.

English is the official language and the Queen still graces the money today. And what I really liked was that almost everyone spoke English and therefore it opened up a whole new world for me. A possibility outside the western world to be able to communicate with locals at all times and at every corner. Fabulous, after the ever- so long stretch, thirsting to communicate in Mexico.

But now one after another.

Coming from Guatemala, I already knew that I would love Belize! The first days I travelled very slowly, cycled a few kilometers and stopped in every small village, watching the hustle and bustle, talking to almost everyone I met and slowly groping to grasp this new country.

San Ignacio was full of Garifuna, one of the ethnic groups which fascinated me and I wanted to get to know them a bit better. Additionally, Indians with whom I immediately ordered an Indian dish and once again ascertained how well Asians can cook, and how unimaginative the Latin American cuisine was so far.

It was almost like a dream. I had never expected such an exuberant, diverse and colorful culture. Although this little village, not far from the border, gave me an “end of the world” feeling, it was on the other hand almost as international as Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Simply sit, chatter, watch and enjoy – better than any movie that runs boringly on the screen. Even if I am an enthusiastic moviegoer ? or better said, I was once because I haven’t been in a cinema for more than four years.

“Eh Babe – what’s up babe!”. In this way, one greeted here by the Garifuna, or even more direct, “Oh these beautiful blue eyes, these tender lips, kiss me, I want you.”

Well, you have to like it or just, like me, ignore it with a smile. But one thing fascinated me, because both the women and the men are extremely beautiful people. Everyone likes to look, so do I and the men were really attractive. Great builds, athletic, cute hair style and great charisma. Simply a joy to be around and watch the scene.

But also, the women were super cute and pretty. Normally I don’t pay much attention to the appearance or radiance of women. I don’t see them as a competition or an example, and I don’t compare with them, or if so very rarely. If they impress me, I can tell them, however, with full conviction.

These women here were in a different league. As they moved, how they make up their hair, how they strolled merrily and beautifully, or waddled their plump bums across the streets like sweet little ducks do. I was completely stoked. Just great.

A German couple stumbled across my way and began to ask me questions about my trip. I wore a pair of shorts for the first time since the start of my trip, as I only saw women in shorts in Belize, I had no hesitation in wearing them. The heat was meanwhile no longer tolerable with long pants.

My white legs, not having seen the sun for quite a while looked like part of a red-haired Irish girl’s body. The German couple asked in which country I had difficulties, and because I answered “Turkey”, funnily they told me that you should not be traveling with short pants in Islamic countries,

Yes, we Germans have often the way to think that we know-it-all.

Spanish Lookout was my next stop – perhaps just 15 kilometers further I came into a completely new world. Black became light blond and blue-eyed. The Mennonites, who speak their strange “Low German” as they call it, have preserved their ancient Frisian. For me almost like Chinese.

From the shanties of the other places, now the German work ethic was the scene. Everything neat and clean. Here one could see the industrious people in the probably best-stocked hardware stores that I have found since the USA.

This is where farming is practiced on a large scale, and the modern Mennonites living here differ greatly from the conservative Mennonites in other parts of the country, but more on that later.

A family invited me to their house and I was allowed to sleep in the cellar. The children are taught at home and made a clever impression. In the evening, we went to church service, which took place in a modern church building, where I was rather reminded of the USA than of Germany.

At a late hour, I was allowed to go to the dining room and we talked and exchanged thoughts. On the one hand, this world was extremely familiar to me and on the other so very foreign. It was not long before I realized that our worlds could not be more different.

None Mennonites are not allowed to live in Spanish Lookout, but only work there. There is a Mennonite radio station, they own their own bank, a school and even a traditional Mennonite dish.

This nice family showed me the whole village and it was a really interesting trip.

From there I went back to the main street, but I didn’t get far. It began to rain by the bucket and I took shelter near a military station. After it was already getting dark, I asked at the military post if I could possibly set up my tent next door.

“No problem,” I was warmly received.

There was a small booth near the post where I was having a chat about life in Belize with a nice fella. There was also a tall Creole drinking a beer, he seemed to be drunk, and probably misunderstood something I said because he seemed totally hurt and started screaming at me. He wanted to know why I, as an American lady would be saying something racist to him. He cursed the Americans, the United States and made everyone around him totally uncomfortable.

The owner of the booth gave me a kindly sign that I better leave. The drunkard ran to the military post and wanted to complain about me and an endless discussion took place. First, I was surprised how courteously the military responded to him but eventually it escalated totally and in the end the soldiers began to kick him until he ran away.

Phew, I was a little nervous, and I was glad to have my safe place.

Back on the road I passed through several villages where cheerful people lived and with whom I enjoyed contact. The houses were often very shabby. The Caribbean flair extremely present and the vivid mix from the different skin colors of the people was simply great.

Crime is supposedly not low here, but again I have seen nothing negative. I just left my bike in front of the supermarkets, went shopping, and there was never anything stolen. Not anywhere.

But I avoid riding in the dark and I think I already have a feeling for staying away from difficult situations.

I entered one of the world’s smallest capitals, Belmopan, where I looked in vain for something interesting, and left it within hours and went on the Hummingbird Highway.

Next was the Mennonites in Springfield.

First of all, the encounter and the time with the Mennonites in Springfield was among the most exciting thing I have experienced on my entire trip. The conservative Mennonites, unlike the Spanish Lookout Mennonites, live shielded from the outside world. Without electricity and without machinery, their sustenance comes from the fields they manage themselves.

Time has stopped here a long time ago. In petroleum lamplight and spring water, that they bring along with buggies, they live a life with God. Dressed like 200 years ago they wear all the same clothes. Men wear straw hats and self-sewn trousers with braces and a blue shirt. The women have a long self-made dress, in various subtle colors, which is cut extremely conservatively and a headscarf which is attached at the neck.

Outhouse, wood burning oven, homemade peanut butter, homemade bread and almost nothing on the table which they did not make themselves.

I was immediately made to feel extremely welcome. Although many of the Mennonites are very shy, I had no impression that my presence was unpleasant to anyone. As always, I walked openly to the people and was ready to learn, for me still the No. 1 reason why I am on the road.

An elderly lady, in her early sixties, invited me to her house. She has 13 children and comes from a family with 17 siblings.

They pray before the meal, but each to themselves. Kitchen work is women’s work. The men may begin to eat first and stand up from the table as soon as they are finished, even if others are still eating.

These conservative Mennonites didn’t want to be photographed, which I personally found very sad, but of course respected and that’s the reason why I can’t show you this interesting world in which I shared in for a short time.

At 6 o’clock I was awakened for breakfast and at 7 o’clock we went to the church with one of the many buggies. An extremely ingeniously sprung carriage, which really swept over every stone. A really comfy ride.

A picture that I will never forget. The whole village went with their buggies or walked to the church. All the same clothes, the men all the same pot cover haircut – which was really without any doubt a pot cover haircut. In addition, Santa Claus beards which soon might reach their belly’s. Sometimes I had to grin inside, it really wasn’t from this world, but extremely exciting.

Separated, men and women stood on either side of the church and each group formed a semicircle. Now the women greeted one another with handshakes and at times a kiss, while the men did the same and both groups said in German “Guten Morgen” to each other.

Awkward, I am in Belize and all of a sudden closer to home than ever in the last 4 years but everything is so extremely strange that it almost seemed like a movie to me that played two centuries ago.

The song book was written in old German, the songs the same old boring songs as I had to learn for confirmation lessons.

The eternally long 3-hour service ended with the topic that one of the teenagers had asked in secret, what is out there to see in the other world?

“The world has nothing to offer” was read out.

A sentence that made me very sad.

Children only go to school for 8 years, only 6 months per year. At other times, they must help with the fields. The state does not seem to interfere, and that is most probably why they have chosen Belize as their home.

Most Mennonites remain loyal to the community. Sure, I guess only with Bible knowledge it is hard to survive in our world today, so it seems only this small world remains to them. There is no radio, no TV, no internet and no newspaper.

Some didn’t know the name of the new American president and didn’t know that there was war in Syria for years. I was even asked how we Germans get it sorted, that we only have so few children.

Of course, I can only observe, but people made a balanced impression and God and the Bible are their guide, everything else seems to be wrong and a waste of time for them.

At lunch, I was invited by other people and the family father started addressing me with the words “So, you’re a traveler”. And then he told us about his only journey and the greatest adventure of his life when he drove from the USA to Paraguay in 1972 and explained to me exactly how to cross the Darien Gap. (Between Panama and Colombia is no road connection and the Darien Gap is notorious for drug smuggling).

He was convinced that his experiences and the name of the ship are still relevant today.

So, it was his biggest and only adventure and he added that he will most certainly never experience such a great time again.

To me it is a pity that he doesn’t seem to want to give the chance to his own 10 children to experience the world as well as to decide whether they want to serve God for their lives or not.

A woman spoke extremely good English and I had imagined I could give her an honest answer to her question, if I had already come into contact with God.

I asked her back, because I am often very tired to be persecuted by Christians. I wanted to know what she thinks would happen if we had a believer here from every world religion and I would ask each of them the question which is the right one God in this world?

“There is no doubt that there is only one God,” she said. Whereupon I said, “that’s what the others say too. Their God is the only God.”

“But this is wrong, the Bible clearly tells us,” she replied.

It was quiet there, no noise from cars, no stress, people had time to sit around and laugh and talk. No iPhone, no TV that stifles any meaningful entertainment.

People who have found their world in which they are seemingly happy, or perhaps not? I’m not really sure on that and I wonder how many in the end break out and try to find a new future somewhere else.

Thankful that I was able to experience this world and thankfully not have to stick around for the rest of my life, I rode back to the other world.

I stopped at a National Park and the ranger let me set up my mosquito net in front of the Ranger’s hut. Only he and I were on the premises. It was already dark when he came to the mosquito net only dressed in his undies. It felt a bit intimidating at first, but as it seemed, he only wanted to take care of me.

The two Garifuna places Hopkins and Daringa right on the sea were another world. Some drunk people, Garifuna music and Chinese supermarkets where I happily bought coconut milk and curry to cook delicious dishes.

Belize is not a bargain, but also not more expensive than the neighboring countries, as it is claimed by so many.

I met some travelers in the Funky Dodo hostel and had a lot of fun exchanging my thoughts.

Above all, Kim from France, who has Vietnamese parents, was a very interesting encounter.

She also mentioned that it was difficult at our age to meet fellow travelers of the same age. She reported with a smile of gratitude that in all of Central America, no one ever called her Gringa, and we European women reacted immediately with an annoyed look because we were all very tired of it. But there was no such Gringa callings in Belize which I really enjoyed.

Michael from the United States gave me the address of a Mayan family, who run a missionary based radio station. I should visit the people, and of course I did.

I was immediately welcome and was allowed to recover from the heat in the studio cooled by AC. For two nights, I enjoyed dry clothes, because elsewhere they never dry.

The many children of the family were brilliant playmates and so we played a lot of games that either I didn’t know, or they didn’t. Math was disappointing, I was quite shocked how bad the education level was.

The mother of the house with her 38 years was already a grandmother for 2 years and the 17-year-old sister-in-law helped her in the household.

The tortillas were baked on the wood stove and they trained me in baking them, which of course was a huge laugh among the professionals.

Shower was in the kitchen. Mayans are all a head shorter than me and the wall which surrounds the shower was high enough for them to be covered but certainly far too low for me, which made me a bit uncomfortable at first but it seemed to be of no interest to anyone else at all.

The children accompanied me to the street to say goodbye. It was a great encounter.

On the way south, I met more expats. Mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses which seem to be everywhere. They leave their Bible sayings on every milk jug.

An American Baptist wanted to talk to me about God as well, but I immediately choked her off and said, “No, thank you, I’ve already heard enough of God this week.”

Coolies, are the Indians of the country. And the ones I have met represent their name to the fullest, because I found them extremely casual and interesting.

I met another Mennonite at a bus station. After they only ride with buggies and reject the modern world, they are dependent on the buses at longer distances – which is not exactly consistent.

I talked to him for a while. In his little community, the children only attend school for 4 years. The only books they have are the Bible and the Book of Songs. The children don’t need to know more. They only provide them with the math they need to sell their agricultural products.

Another Mayan couple let me stay in their home. The woman showed me how to cook Platanos and she shared her life philosophy with me. The lovely Mayans impressed me everywhere in the south of Belize. Very dear people.

I had been working as a volunteer thru workaway with a British family to help with an Earth Ship project. They build their buildings out of garbage, which sounded very interesting to me.

After I had painted the stairs in crazy heat for 8 hours, even though actually 4-5 hours in exchange for food and board would have been enough according to workaway policy, I was shouted at, why I am so cheeky to knock off after 8 hours and didn’t want to feed the live stock any longer.

I was kicked out of the yard and needed to look for a place just before dark. I was then told by some people that some other volunteers have gotten into trouble there too and that the family is very unloved in the entire area.

There were also workmen on the premises and in the end, I had a bad conscience anyway because I took their possibility to work and decided to pay more attention in the future to which project I wanted to participate and which not.

In the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda I took the small ferry to ship back to Guatemala. Sad that the time was already over and happy to have experienced it, I said goodbye to Belize.

In all honesty – just thinking about going back to the Latinos made me feel a bit unhappy. But what has to be done – has to be done.


  1. Wonderful post. I’ve been following you for a while and found this to be a really enguaging and positive read. Sounds like a wonderful place and great leg to your journey. Stay stare and happy travels!


    • Yes I loved Belize !!! Thanks Ben! Happy day for you…..Heike

  2. As a Yank I am tempted to say “Wow, Awesome, Cool” but you deserve a lot more for this post. The story is a very good read and your portraits are wonderful. The words you painted the Mennonites with did the job but I would have loved to have seen the photos you weren’t allowed.
    Enjoy and Take Care

    • Thanks very much Ron – appreciate your lovely comment…..Cheers Heike

  3. I’ve also been following a while and I’m glad you found such a positive experience there. It sounds like Belize needs to be on the list – certainly your beautiful photos have shown me a lovely site and vibrant colors! I hope Guatamala is better but if not, maybe the next country, or the next! Thank you for sharing.


    • Hello Anne,

      I am glad that I was able to represent Belize in a happy and colourful way – the people deserve it. Best greetings and thanks for your wishes and nice comment.
      Cheers Heike

  4. I hardly heard of Belize before. So you learned me a few things. We are never too old to learn and discover, aren’t we? I’m glad that this country brought back the smile on your face and the joy of discovering. And I enjoyed both the story and the pictures. Thank you.


    • 🙂
      I remember an old saying:
      The more you know – the more you have to learn ……
      There is a lot of truth in it.

      Thanks Daniel, Heike

  5. Nice to hear from you again. I’m always a little worried about you. But you have a fantastic way of handling people. Keep up with your mission it’s great to follow….
    Regards Anders

    • Thanks Anders…..!!!
      I need people as much as my freedom and space and being away from them for a while.
      But happy people are good for my soul – I guess everyone’s soul.
      Cheers Heike

  6. I really enjoyed reading and following along with you in Belize! Fantastic, evocative photos again. Thanks!

    • Hi Catherine – always nice to hear from you!
      Thanks for your big compliment – HUGS Heike

  7. Always enjoy reading your posts, it’s so interesting to see how other people/cultures live in this world of our. Felt bad when you weren’t treated very well. Stay safe pushbikegirl, we always look forward to your next post. Stay clear of those that wish you harm. On the other hand, it’s so great to see so many good people out there willing to talk to you and give you some shelter and comfort.

    • Thanks Suzanne!!! And yes, the world is full of great people…most of them want the best for me……Cheers Heike

  8. Well written Heike. And very interesting. I learned a lot about Belize that I didn’t know. As always great photographs. Don

    • Thanks very much Don – greetings from the road…….Enjoy the fall colours…..Heike

  9. Thanks for opening a door for me to such a unique world. You really notice the fine details of the places around you. I always appreciate your insightful and honest writing. I am writing this from a very remote bush camp in Northern British Columbia, Canada and you have me dreaming of future cycling adventures! O
    Take care, Heike

    • Tara, I am sure you will love it – happy riding……Cheers and all the best Heike

  10. Hi, a great past, and I truly love your photography, you seem to really capture the feel.

    I also think its amazing, that so many times you are setting up in the dark it seems, in the strangest of places, with bugs too 🙂

    I set out to cycle around the world on the August 1st this year, and after just 3300 km’s have found myself back in the UK while my bike gets sorted. Just 4 months old from KOGA and the Rohloff hub is knackered.

    I’m hoping to continue on from Marseille in France soon. I set out from Cheshire. I’m certainly inspired by you, and wish you the very best.

    Can I ask what camera and lenses you are using, I have a Sony 7R2 and love photography too.


    • Hi Stephen, thanks for your compliments….!!!
      Yes setting up in the dark is fun!

      Sorry that you had problems with your Rohloff – that’s one of the reasons why I stick to less technical gear – once it is damaged you simply have a problem. Good luck with continuing your trip.

      I am using a Olympus OM – EM10 Mark 2 with the lenses 9-18, 25, 45, 75

      Enjoy life, Cheers Heike

      • I use a mirrorless camera too. Sony a7r2 and 55mm and 70-200mm. It’s all a great lump of weight but worth it. All the best. Steve


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