A great way to get a sense of a country is to drive a car in it, and we've done our fair share. We've driven through Morocco, Spain, Italy, France, various Caribbean islands. I think it helps enormously to have a car when you're with kids because it makes you mobile and able to explore. If nothing else, you can just go for a drive.
We rented a car in Belize and headed into the interior, and as always, it was quite the adventure. We were warned at the car rental office by some Americanos from Oregon that the roads were horrible and the drivers crazy, but I didn't find this to be the case. Granted, there was not much thought to afforded to safety as I saw plenty of trucks packed with people in the bed, some of them overflowing with families, but for the most part, the drivers weren't too bad, and the roads were fine. I don't think I've seen drivers as crazy as we saw in Italy, and the roads in the Caribbean Island take the prize for off-road comparison. The drivers in Belize were fast, no doubt, but I'm a slow driver, and the main roads that connect the country were in fine shape.
The big thing to worry about are the speed bumps. The big road that takes you from Belize City to the Guatemalan border and San Ignacio, where we were staying, is paved and smooth, but they put in speed bumps in all the small towns, and there were plenty of them. These were serious speed bumps, and we learned the hard way how steep they were. In the U.S., you see a speed bump, slow down and drive over it. You can't do this in Belize, you have to come to a complete stop and then crawl over them. We hit the first few bumps and slammed the undercarriage of our poor rental car, and it had an off-road suspension. I can't imagine driving our car over them.
We finally learned the drill about how to get over them, and the kids would keep their eyes peeled and yell out, "Bump!" whenever they saw one. Most of them are marked with a sign, because it's where pedestrians cross. When you really get down to it, it makes perfect sense. The speed bumps really force traffic to slow down where it matters most, when people are present. Around here, there are signs telling people to slow down when approaching a town, but nobody slows down. This way, if you don't slow down, you destroy your car, literally.
The conditions changed dramatically once we were off the main road, and heading over to the eco-lodge in San Ignacion was like driving over a pile of rocks. We had to go about 5 mph, and even then, I kept waiting for a tire to blow. Our poor rental car, it really took a beating but performed like a trooper. It had over 120,000 miles, as well. Talk about living on the edge.
To add a final piece to the drama, when we were heading back to Belize City, we started off with about 1/4 tank, and I figured we'd find a gas station at some point along the way since it was about a 2 hour drive. Boy was I wrong. We drove through miles of farmland and mountains, not to mention small towns, but no gas stations. I forgot that we weren't in Kansas anymore. At some point the low gas light went on, adding to our impending sense of doom, and we drove like that for another 45 minutes before finally finding a station near Belize City. We were running on fumes, or at least that's what we like to think in order to add more drama to our lives. Gas was expensive, too, and it sure was painful filling up (it had a big tank). At least the tank was full and we didn't have to deal with it anymore before returning it to the rental agency.
All in all, it was nice having a car and made the trip that much more enjoyable. If it were just R and I, we would be fine holing up in a cottage with some good books and food, maybe a movie at night. That's fine with us, but with kids, you have to have more adventure, and that's where transportation is key. It sure makes the day go by faster.
By the last day, we were ready to get back home, even though driving in New England is a piece of cake compared to some of the stuff you see in other countries. Makes you realize how good we have it here.
Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to mikebelgard for the pic.