Belize, Guatemala, and Getting Sick

This is long and dramatic, so grab a cup of coffee. Or better yet tea, I hear it’s healthier. I get naked, I puke my brains out, and my unicycle falls apart. You’re gonna want to invest these next 11 minutes, trust me.

I have unicycled 13,984 km (8,740 mi) to date
When I began, from Baltimore, MD on July 9th of 2013, the World Record for Longest Unicycle Journey was 14,602 km (9,126 mi)
That would mean I’ve completed 95.7% of the record, and could ride the remaining 608 km (380 mi) in about one week.
Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for him – congratulations Samuel Johnson of “Love Your Sister” for recently breaking the record by riding around australia!) the world record now stands at:
15,955 km (9,972 mi)
Which means I am at 87.6 % of the record, with 1,971 km (1,232 mi) to break it.
I will likely break the record in Panamá or Colombia.

And okay, not to confuse you, but from Colombia I will actually fly to Italy and loop through Europe before finishing South America. It has to do with a TV show that of course wants me to do something completely unrelated to unicycling. What the hell? When will they catch on?

But enough of the numbers!

I took the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula down from Cancún to a little town called Mahahual (pronounced mah-ah-WALL), thinking I could take a boat into Belize. Not so.
But, it was quite the spot!

So, I backtracked to the main road and the next night I was camping next to a beautiful lake Bacalar. The next morning I was saying good riddance to Mexico and entering the small country of Belize. I suppose it can be a very good thing not to plan, because I was completely unprepared for this one. While geographically in Central America, Belize is actually considered Caribbean. They speak english and creole, have a mix of afro-euro-maya roots, with the remainder being people of latin descent and immigrants from asia.
Having just crossed the border at Santa Elena from Mexico to Belize, I already felt a different air about the place. Sure, the road was shitty, without distance markers, painted lane lines, or even reflectors. But the people, oh the people! My basically-uninformed expectation of Belize was that it was just another Latin American country. In fact, it is Caribbean with only traces of Spanish and Latin culture.

Belize, Land of Many Races

“How yoo ride daht bike, mon?” Asked one of the Belizean border area’s taxi drivers, and it pretty much set the stage for the next 6 days. Yes, Belizeans like to party and smile and talk with strangers as much as Mexicans, but they are even more forthcoming, with more relaxed smiles and most importantly – reggae music. In fact, the whole of Belize seemed to bob and sway like the beats of a reggae song, even when no music could be heard.
Maybe I had just missed the English language – and melodic Caribbean english could not have been a better last-foray into my own language before the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries.
A man named Errol – at my very first food stop – came up to me asking about the unicycle. He ran an eco-tour business down the road, and in the direction I was going. He invited me to camp there. When I arrived 30 miles later (Belize actually still uses Imperial measurements..), having for the first time chewed on a freshly-cut cane stalk (which makes sugar, of course. Huge truckloads, all over Southern Mexico and Belize are carried pellmell with stalks falling off all the time. After I picked one up off the ground to taste it, a man stopped his truck just to tell me that I should take one of his fresher ones. When you chew the stalk, the juice squeezes out, and then you spit out the pulp.) the eco-tour place was dark. They had a palapa, under which I camped, next to the river, on which they give tours during the day. These guys had ice cold water and hot rice & beans waiting for me. I offered to pay, or at least help out with some tasks, but Errol refused, saying: “Nah mon, Ai jest like to help people out, yoo know? Your johrney seeyums reely cool, and ai want to meyake yoo feel comftahble, meyake shoor yahr havin a good tiyahm.”
I woke early, to another bright, hot, but sporadically rainy day in this tiny country. An abundance of open green spaces made me wonder if Belize was not experiencing overcrowding, as in so many other places. Regardless, I was appreciative of the seeming vastness, which melded seamlessly into the shoulder-less, demarcation-less road and back to the green of the other side, mostly uninhibited by any fences. My mind expanded into the space, excitingly, like a chip bag you’ve opened with too much force. And likewise, people’s smiles filled the gap of foreignness. Not just distant descendants from Spain and the Yucatan, but from Africa and England and Asia as well. A man handed me, from within his truck and without having been asked, a little bag of water to drink. Like a plastic pouch, and so I guessed you had to bite off the corner and just squeeze it? Anyway, under “Product of Belize,” it read, “Land of Many Races.”
I stopped at an Asian-owned grocery store and bought a root beer. I was crooning over the bottle, having been without real root beer for the three plus months I was in Mexico (the mexis way prefer good old coke).
When I reached Belize City, in which my friend who was volunteering at the Red Cross had arranged for a place for me to sleep (the guesthouse in which she was staying, actually) and who was out at the moment doing field work, I tracked down a welder and a seamstress. The welder, whose family had presumably descended from Africa, and perhaps some from the Caribbean, charged me only $20 Belizean ($10 USD, and he said “It’s because I want to help you on your way.” And where do folks learn this just-plain-natural generosity?) to weld a solid piece to replace my junky bolted mess-of-a-T-bar below my seat.\

The job was incredibly well-done, as was evident by my massive grin. I paid him $30 and we shot the shit for a little while. I left and stopped by the seamstress. Clearly Latina, but with creole-accented english, we spoke half spanish half english (and either way, I only caught every other word – bless her heart.) She charged me $14 BZD ($7 USD) to install a “zip,” as she abbreviated it, and a strapped clip to reinforce the bag’s zipper area. I gave her extra for solid work and we said goodbyes, she with a somewhat high, raspy voice, which didn’t say “smoker” as much as “talkative and hardworking.”

Hot and sweaty triple flat fix in Belize

So, expectations many times just pop up, mentally speaking. And you should just leave them be, maybe examine them to see if they’re worth a damn. Don’t become attached, or – god forbid – enamored with these early opinions. They are bound to change. But maybe don’t research everything before you jump into it – maybe just go in, prepared for anything, and let yourself be surprised. I wish Belize was bigger, so that I could’ve ridden for a spell as long as my three months in Mexico. I was only blessed with six days there. That’s life.

On my way out of town, I got a puncture (which turned into three) after only five kilometers. A man from across the way offered help, and I said that yeah, sure a bigger pump would be great. He stood patiently while I dismantled the wheel, patched the tube and reassembled it all. Meanwhile we shot the breeze a bit. His english was clear. I asked him if he had a family and he shook his head. “No. My lady I had she died a few years back. Poor circulation. Didn’t want them to take the feet, so she died of blood poisoning.” His eyes were bittersweet and I could feel his crumpled acceptance of it. I said I was sorry, and he sighed and looked out: “That’s life.”


And Getting Sick

I entered Guatemala with a painful lightheaded feeling, a burning stomach, and peeing like watery coffee despite every attempt to stay hydrated. It may have been food from Belize, but I’ll just go ahead and blame it on Guatemala, since it got way worse upon arrival. Riding became very difficult because of the dehydration and pain, so it took me 3 days to go as far as I could on one good day.

I reached Flores, in the northern state of Petén. I went straight to the hospital, and basically stumbled in. I looked up the word for lightheaded in Spanish – mareado. It also meant giddy, which I was not, but I knew they’d sense the context. The bathroom was disgusting and had no soap, but the nurses were great and the IV fluids they gave me came out of sterile packages, no doubt. I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection of the stomach. The hospital visit was free, unlike it would have been in the more “developed” US of A, and the meds were under $10. I rested two days in Flores, met a fantastic group of fellow travelers, and we all went to a big rope-swing across Lake Petén Itza. It included jumping naked out of the tree. Well, only I did it, really. They took note of my tan lines.

I rode another two and a half days before taking another two off, this time in beautiful Rio Dulce. The hostel was in a swamp inlet of the wide river, only accessible by boat. One of the days I went to a hot springs (like $5 with buses and all) that had a hot waterfall! At this point, I’m thinking, time to get back to the grind – I’ve relaxed/indulged/recovered enough. Not so.

The next three days I hit rock bottom. I was only riding half of my usual daily distances, and more than half the time between stints of only about 15 minutes of riding, I was bent over or sitting down, just panting and sweating a malodorous sick-person sweat, convincing myself through gritted teeth that I should push on. It was dire. I wouldn’t say It was desperate, though. Maybe only a tinge of the same desperation a drunken person like half-jogs, sweating through his shirt, stumbling in the general direction of his apartment at the end of a long night. Of course, the meds didn’t allow me to drink, so I had no excuse. I stopped eating – I couldn’t stomach it, or stand the smell of cooking. I drank gatorade and other electrolytes, and oddly, coke sat quite well with me. I bought some potato chips, thinking they were basic enough, and with calories. And then up that next I hill, I vomited it all up..
It was one of those “Fuck it” moments, and I was actually happier, having emptied my stomach onto the shoulder of the road. The next day, I took a few buses to meet a friend, we took a bus to the beach, and I took 5 days off in total, before bussing back to where I left off. I ate healthy food and forgot all about the oh-yeah the broken goddamn spokes that I had to deal with before and during my sickness? Worst timing ever! Only one in 7 months, and now like 3 in a week? But anyway, it was history because I fixed them and was at ease. Oh and it had rained every day while I was sick – EVERY DAY – so much that my sleeping bag and tent, and everything else got to reeking of mold.
But! The infection passed, I was all smiles and skinny-dipping in the ocean and once again enjoying the occasional beer. I bussed back to my starting point and unicycled almost 50 miles (76 km) the first day into El Salvador, and 84 (134 km) miles the next, taking me here, the capitol: San Salvador. El Salvador is my 6th country, with Honduras being my next and 7th. Until then! Hasta luego!