Aaron Turpen: Belize is the Wyoming of Central America

Automotive columnist Aaron Turpen writes: "I recently visited Belize and found the culture and circumstances of that country to be very familiar. Especially in driving habits and general attitude. Getting stuck in a traffic jam there because of a horse made me think of home."

Aaron Turpen

February 06, 20234 min read

Belize map 2 6 23 v2 scaled

By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer

I recently visited Belize and found the culture and circumstances of that country to be very familiar. Especially in driving habits and general attitude. Getting stuck in a traffic jam there because of a horse made me think of home.

Belize is a Central American country situated just below Mexico, but bordered largely by Guatemala. Like us, it takes about three days to get to Texas. Them because it’s 27 hours of driving, us because of Colorado traffic. And like us, they have no interest in actually going to Texas anyway.

The similarities Wyoming has with Belize are astounding. There are about half a million people in Belize, just like here, including Mennonites and indigenous Indians. Most of the country is open land and agriculture with just a few highways connecting everything. Bordering them is Guatemala, with a population of about 17 billion people.

Much like our border with Colorado and its gajillion inhabitants. And, like us, road use is largely arbitrary with traffic rules being generally taken as suggestions until you’re in a populated city or town. The people of Belize drive (more or less) on the right hand side of the road, despite the heavy British influence of the past, and are big fans of pickup trucks.

The mix of vehicles in Belize is interesting. I saw distinctly American vehicles we’d all recognize, like Chevrolet Equinox crossovers, Nissan Frontier pickups, and Ford F-150 work trucks. I also saw vehicles we don’t normally see here, like Toyota Hilux trucks, Suzuki XL7 crossovers, and even a Ram 700 pickup (brand new in that region).

Alongside all of these were various forms of taxi derived from low-end European and Japanese models and school/transit buses with familiar names like Blue Bird and Freightliner. Big trucks on the road included all of the familiar makes we see here too.

My family and I took a day trip to go cave tubing and zip lining north of Belize City and out in the sticks. And by “sticks” I mean, like I would here in Wyoming, everywhere that doesn’t have a population density of more than 1 person per square mile. Which in Belize, like here, is pretty much everywhere that isn’t a town with at least one stop sign.

Our tour bus ride was about an hour each way. The time spent in the caves was great, but the trip back was even more eventful. On a two-lane highway heading towards Belize City, our bus stopped behind a very long line of vehicles. No traffic was coming the other way.

Thanks to social media and radio traffic, we learned that a car had hit a horse up ahead and the road was blocked while emergency responders did their thing. An hour or so later, we slowly drove past a dead horse on the side of the road, an excavator digging a hole to put it in, a small SUV on a flatbed tow truck, and a group of people with shovels standing around watching traffic creep by.

Meanwhile, as we drove, cars kept trying to get around everything larger than themselves by jumping lanes. Which, of course, just makes things worse. And, like here, the “empty light isn’t on yet” unprepared-for-delays fuel tank loonies were pulled over onto the shoulder. Gas can in hand, trying to hitch a ride.

Reflecting on my experience in Belize, I thought about how common culture from similar circumstances tends to make humans more alike than different. Despite having a historical background very different from ours, the people I met and interacted with in Belize weren’t much different than they are here.

They use duct tape, bailing wire, and chewing gum to fix things just like we do. They drive too fast on open highways just like we do. And their trucks are as likely to have empty cargo beds or beds full of random lumber and an old water heater. Just like us. And like us here in Wyoming, the people of Belize are fiercely independent of their neighbors.

I think Wyoming should adopt Belize as our official sibling nation in Central America. Maybe start up a collection to send a truckload of chicken wire and some bison meat as a gesture of goodwill.

Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.

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