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A man of many words. Profane, profound, loyal to a fault and a right rat bastard. I love the finer things in life: expensive cigars, cheap women and all the salted, cured meats I can eat. A friend to dogs, lover of humanity and despiser of people. If I were King the world would be a better place, because, well...I would be King! Oh, and I like ice cream.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mad Dash to Belize

We were to meet Mick in Belize City on the 20th. He booked a hotel at the airport. The plan was for him to wait for us. I figured we would be there by 4:00 PM.

Wrong.

From the Cancun airport (after a "dream-like flight" from Cuba) we grabbed an ADO-line bus to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We needed to get to Chetumal, Mex. to catch the bus to Belize as quickly as possible. It was already after 2PM.

ADO Bus station in Playa del Carmen

The ride to Playa del Carmen took two hours. Luckily we grabbed another ADO first class bus on to Chetumal, a four hour ride. It even had movies. One was the remake of "The Longest Yard." Don't remember the other.

Arrived in Chetumal, Mx around 8:30PM. That's when it got interesting. The last bus from Chetumal to Belize City had left at 6 PM. The next one ran at 5 AM. This was looking bad. Mick would be wondering where I was and what should he do. We had never planned for that What if... But it seemed a night in Chetumal was a possibility. We checked out a couple hotels in the Lonely Planet, which by now was becoming a better guide to life than the Bible. I hit the ATM for $100.

I suggested we check outside the bus terminal for a taxi. Maybe some enterprising cabbie would be willing to make his week.

There was a cabbie who offered us the "helpful" information that the 9PM bus to Belize was available at a different terminal about a mile away. It was now 9:07. Even in Central America there was no chance to dash to the station.

BUT, if we hurried to the border we could possibly catch up to the bus before it had cleared all the passengers out of Mexico and into Belize! Hope springs eternal. Especially for those with no hope.

About this time a young lady with who I figured to be her six year old son appeared. They too were trying for Belize. The fact that she was "muy caliente" was instrumental in our offering to split the cab with her. Let's just say she sported an aft deck of stellar proportions. In a word she was "shipshape." The cabbie quoted 70 pesos (@$5) and we were off.

It turned out she was a Uruguayan native. We never figured out where she was ultimately headed. Her lack of proper papers held her up at Mexican customs. In a fit of largesse when we reached the border I offered the cabbie 100 pesos and told her the ride was on us. The cabbie then says, "No. Seventy pesos each." For once in my life I didn't fold. I told her to go and walked away. There was nothing he could do. As an American I'm used to paying a "Skin Tax" wherever I go. It's OK. We're wealthier and a dollar in the hands of someone in a developing country means more to them than to me. But he was trying to screw with her. That went beyond the pale in my book.

So, we were at the border. Seemingly. The situation was unclear. Jason and I blew through the Mexican office no sweat. We walked on. After crossing a little bridge

we figured we were in Belize.

We were not. There were a couple casinos with several cars parked outside. We tried hitching a ride from several passing cars. No dice. I approached a bevy of cabbies loitering in front of one of the casinos to see if a ride to Belize City was possible.

"Well, that guy over there might be able to take you." This dude with an old Mercedes allowed as how he could do it for $150 (a princely sum), but we'd have to wait at least 20 minutes because he had a fare back into Chetumal. A hundred and fifty beans was pretty steep, but we were running low on options. If we were there when he returned we would talk it over. Belize cCity was a good 100 miles away and I was worried about Mick.

So along about now here comes this Rasta cat on his bicycle. I think he lived in the free zone between Mexico and Belize. He told us to follow him down the road to the ACTUAL border crossing into Belize. With nothing better to do we followed. Along the way he's giving us the usual native-to-tourist BS (Am I starting to sound like Paul Thoroux here?).

"My brother-in-law will give you de ride, Mon. Jus' call me." Along with this line came the promising information that plenty of taxis and buses were available "jus over de border." Of course, it turned out there was no such thing. But, we were yet to learn that. In fact, that was the first of a valuable lesson you'd think I'd know by now. To wit: When asking the locals for directions, time schedules, costs or any other information, the likelihood of said information being anywhere near correct is almost nil. I recall going to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India last year. We were pressed for time and asked several locals what the hours of operation were. "It's open 24 hours a day." "They close at five." They're open until ten." None were correct.

But, I digress.

The Belizean customs building appeared and we dropped the Bob Marley disciple in his nether zone. He was the first Belizean I came to refer to as "Jive-ass, Dreads-wearing, Jar Jar Binks yapping, Rasta Mon scam artist. But, he meant well.

So...Belize customs. A large, well-lit, basically empty warehouse. At the far end sat a bored official. He looked at our passports and announced we needed the Exit Tax Stamp. We were to go back out the way we had entered and go to a neighboring building. There actually was a neighboring building. There was also absolutely NO WAY to enter said building. It was surrounded by a fence with no gate. It appeared locked up anyway.

I was getting antsy. So back we go to the first building. Lo and behold, there sat the customs tax guy. He must have been in the crapper. Fifteen clams and two minutes later we were in.

Now what? There were no taxis. No buses. Just a couple private cars waiting for people.

And this is where we caught the big break of the night. A lady was waiting on her friend who was returning from the US. She had a small car, but figured she could cram us in for the ride to her home in Orange Walk, Belize, halfway from the border to Belize. Maybe we could catch a cab there.

An hour later we were in Orange Walk. It was only about 10PM since we had gained an hour crossing the border. But the place was like Mayberry. Locked up tight. Not a cab in sight.

Rose, as her name turned out, took us to her home. Her husband, Clarence, was on the couch watching the Miami Heat clinch the NBA title (like I cared). Darned if Rose doesn't talk Clarence off the couch to take us to Belize City.

While he was getting ready she showed us some artifacts she had collected.

They were very nice. Jason thought she might have been hinting at us to buy some. I didn't catch that. But, Mick (a budding Archeologist) says we shouldn't buy relics, because the market it creates leads to the destruction of ancient sites. Once the artifacts are removed they lose relevance, because they can't be documented. So much for all those arrowheads I had a a kid, of which I have no idea what happened to them.

I didn't have much cash and I thought they looked a little too perfect anyway. Read "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell.

Again...I digress.

A few minutes later we were moving again. We arrived at the Belize City airport about 45 minutes later. Mick was supposed to be at the Embassy Hotel (not Embassy Suites). Nothing about the place made you think "Five or Four or Three Stars."

So we go to the office door. It's locked. Locked!? That's just great! We've KILLED ourselves all day to finally reach our destination and the place is closed. There was a note on the door with a phone number to call. Who had a phone? There was a door bell. So in frustration I started ringing the bell. Nothing was happening.

Suddenly Rose says "I see someone coming." The door opens and, happy day, it's Mick! Touchdown!

The perfect end to a perfect day.

(I was so happy I paid Rose and Clarence the ninety dollars I had left. Like Mastercard some things are priceless.)

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