“The Maya priest thrust the obsidian blade under the ribs, reached in and removed the still beating heart. The statue was smeared with the blood and the body thrown below. Human sacrifices were made to appease the gods for special ceremonies and in times of drought they would be performed to bring rain."
As the guide explained the ritual I couldn't help wondering if we could do something similar at the next kiteboarding competition to appease the wind gods. Standing atop the overgrown temple of Xunantunich we took in the spectacular panoramic views and tried not to sweat in the stifling heat and a hundred percent humidity of Belize. A hazy blue pallor lay over the ruins and surrounding jungle that stretched towards Guatemala. I was travelling in this Central American country with Joe Ruscito, another Best rider.
The next morning we caught a crowded bus to the capital on the coast, a stark contrast to ancient ruins we had just left. Belize City has all the charm of a ghetto slum, buildings look half destitute and the city has an air of suppressed violence. Shortly after our arrival we met a couple who just had an armed gang break into their hotel and clear the place out. We quickly decided not to stay any longer and caught the first water taxi to one of the islands in the cayes.
It felt good to escape the humidity of the mainland as we sped over turquoise water, between the small palm islands and mangrove trees. After ninety minutes our destination came into view. San Pedro was sheltered from the sea by an outer reef and looked idyllic. White sandy beaches and colourful wooden houses lined the shore. This did not look like a hectic place.
Just next to the ferry terminal was Sail Sports Belize, a kite and windsurf centre that was to prove incredibly helpful over the next two weeks, showing us around the island and giving advice. Opposite was the backpackers where we stayed. It had a slowly decaying feel, with wooden floors and walls that warped in random directions but was reasonably priced and right on the beach. With the minimum of effort we had fallen on out feet.
When we arrived the onshore wind was still fairly light but picked up during the afternoon and we were soon riding our twelve metre kites. With a clear fetch the wind had almost no gusts but we had to be careful not to throw any tricks too close to shore due to the large number of piers and buildings. For the next few days we rode outside our hotel on the eastern side of the island.
Further along the beach there were fewer obstacles and the shallower water flattened off the chop, providing a great place to ride. The wind was usually strongest in the morning, dropped off for a few hours around midday and built in the afternoon. On the windier days the waves would pick up on the outer reef and it was well worth the five minute tack out to the head high waves. They didn't peel perfectly but they were fun to play around on and made a change from flat water. With the barrier reef so long I'm sure there are places where they would break more consistently.
Out on the reef the water was crystal clear, rays floated under us and occasionally a turtle's head would break the surface as it came up for air. Joe swore he saw a shark as big as himself and the islanders said there were quite a few large bull sharks around although they never any problems with them. At times the visibility made it a bit disconcerting when we realised just how shallow it was in places and we had to be careful we didn't get dragged over any coral heads.
San Pedro was once part of the Yucatan peninsula until it was cut off by a cannel built by the Mayas. Once a fishing settlement, their main income is now tourism. Tour companies vie for business, all trying to sell the same dive courses, boat trips and jungle tours. But tourist money has attracted some seedy characters and each street had a couple of dreadlocked pimps who try to sell every vice you could imagine. Gigolos were also around, catering for elderly American female tourists. The larger restaurants were fairly pricey so we usually ate pupusas, rice flour pancakes stuffed with pork beans and cheese. Another cheap meal was from the small stalls in the town centre where woman ladled out beans, rice and tortillas to go with grilled chicken and pork.
Belize might not be the windiest destination on earth but there are enough alternative activates not to get bored. It's relatively easy and quick to travel around as it is a fairly small country. It has the second largest coral reef in the world and snorkelling and diving are the main reason why people visit, and there are no shortages of companies offering trips. A two hours boat ride from San Pedro brings you to one of the world's largest blue holes. This was once an underground cave that collapsed, leaving a vast circular cavern in the shallow reef.
To experience the jungle we hired a canoe and guide for the day in San Ignacio. Joe and I took turns in helping our guide paddle the canoe up-river although I honestly don't think we contributed much apart from sending it in random directions from which our guide would have to recover our line. The silence was broken only by the cry of unseen birds or an iguana whose resting place we had just disturbed. After sweating a few hours upstream we were rewarded with a refreshing waterfall. Our guide had an impressive encyclopaedic knowledge of the plants and animals and even showed us the traditional mending technique when Joe's flip-flop fell apart.
Some kite trips seem fraught with frustrations at every turn but it was a relief to do a trip where everything came together so easily though I strongly suspect Joe's positive attitude just willed everything to turn out well. Bus and ferry connections were instantaneous and it was windy almost every day to the point of exhaustion. My only regret is that I didn't bring a wave board to explore the reef breaks. It will just have to wait till next time.
Everything is more expensive on the islands as these are the main tourist destinations. The biggest costs are hotels and food, the budget options are there although they can take a bit of looking to find.
There are still relatively few kiters here although with so much potential I'm sure this will change.
Flights to Belize City can be expensive so we flew to Cancun in Mexico and took the bus across the border. It was fairly easy and straight forward and takes around ten or 12 hours from Cancun to Belize City.
Currency is tied to two Belizean dollars to one US dollar. Both currencies are used and you will often pay or receive change in a mix of currencies
Prices in US$:
Coke: 90 cents
Accommodation: 10 - 20 US$ per person
The windy season January to June, with an average of four days of wind a week although while we were there we rode almost every day for two weeks.
Sail Sports Belize in San Pedro is located next to Caribbean Villas and do lessons, kite safaris and organise packages. www.sailsportsbelize.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This column is in issue #34