My daily Instagram piece turned into a lengthy one, so I thought I’d post it here instead. In the wake of yesterday’s horrific shooting in Oregon, I felt obliged to...
A Short Adventure Down South: Mexico + Belize, Part II
I promised a part 2, so here I am, a little over a week later. Crazy, I know. I’ve already surprised myself in 2013. Here’s to that. In Part I, I left off on the night before we made the trek to Belize. The trek we thought would be “so easy.” Isn’t that always the case? We woke up early the next morning to catch a bus to the border town of Chetumal. That part was, in fact, quite simple. From there, we would catch a ferry to San Pedro (better known as Ambergis Caye), Belize — an island a few hours away. We would exit the ferry there, only to go through immigration and return to the very same boat, which would take us to our final destination — Caye Caulker, Belize. I had been to Caye Caulker several years ago and suggested it to Ginski and Shira. It was a barefoot, no t-shirt needed kind of island where the rum was abundant and the views were stunning. It’s what you picture when you think, “Paradise.” It would be a perfect place to just kick back for a week in the sun. We had timed our bus so that we would arrive to Chetumal with an hour to spare before our ferry departed. We bought our $15 bus tickets at the station, which was conveniently located outside of our hostel. The bags were packed, we had a plan and the bus was on time. We were ready to roll.
Here’s a quick glimpse of our journey. We started at Tulum (point A) and ended up in Chetumal (point B). You can see that it literally sits on the border. The bus goes no further. You must either take a ferry, or pay (far too much) for a taxi to take you to the actual border crossing. No, it’s not walking distance.The actual border is much bigger than what this map depicts.
We all took a nap on the quick, 2 hour (or so) bus ride. It was air conditioned, comfy and we were just tired enough. We arrived a bit early to the Chetumal station and immediately snagged a taxi. It was only a few Pesos to the ferry, so we hopped in with the first cabbie that came along. About 5 minutes later, we arrived at the ferry office, only to find a massive crowd of fellow backpackers ahead of us. Crap. Our fear instantly became reality — the ferry was sold out. We weren’t really prepared for this, as we had read that there wasn’t much of a need to buy tickets ahead of time. There’s only one ferry a day, so our options were quite limited. There were taxi drivers (hagglers) everywhere, just waiting for people like us to make eye contact with them. They were searching for the “We didn’t get on the ferry and we don’t want to stay in this town for a night, so what do we do?” looks. Well, they got ’em alright. Within minutes we were in a group huddle, trying to decide which pushy cabbie sold us best. One (kind enough) driver had suggested we fly to San Pedro, then catch a quick boat to Caye Caulker from there. He told us that the little puddle jumper planes only cost about $75 USD. Ginski, Shira and I were a bit hesitant, as that kind of money is huge in this part of the world. We were out of options, tired of transit and desperate to just be camped out on an island for a week. We were doomed. After weighing out our options, we finally told him we would pay his (ludicrous) rate of $20 USD to the border crossing, just 10 minutes down the road. From there, we were told to cross the border, and then catch a local bus to the Belizean town of Corozal, where the “airport” was located. ….. And queue the adventure. About 30 minutes later, just as the cabbie had promised, we were at a standard, Central American border crossing. The men in fatigues holding rifles, the feeling that you’re constantly being pick-pocketed, the lack of any trustworthy structure ……….all of it. We were there and it felt good. We were travelin’ again and I couldn’t have been happier. I had done a little research on getting across this particular border in order to avoid any surprise charges. Well, that was wishful thinking. After all, we were leaving Mexico for Belize — there are no rules in this part of the world. We hopped out of the taxi, paid the driver and piled on the luggage. We walked just a few feet to the short line to get our exit stamp. Once we were in line, a (very unofficial) local guy approached us and told us it would be $25 USD to exit the country. Quickly, Ginski recalled a conversation he had with a fellow backpacker a few nights prior, regarding this new “exit fee” in Mexico. We presumed it to be a scam, so we refused to pay and told the man we would gladly take it up with he Immigration Officer once we got to the front of the line. It turns out, it was not a scam. The officer explained that this is the fee everyone must pay if they exit by land. If you exit by air, it is embedded in the ticket price. If you’re crossing via the bus & foot option though — pay it up. So we did. This day was already costing us, and we were still in Mexico. Oh, and we still had to make it to one more town to catch a $75 flight. After coughing up the last few pesos we had left in our pockets, we headed towards Belizean Immigration. It was ten (rather warm) minutes from Mexico’s exit to Belize’s entrance, which is a pretty standard border walk in this part of the world. We flew right through, no questions asked. Belize is quite the welcoming country, even if you are just a few budget travelers. We walked just outside the immigration office and immediately saw the bus we needed. It was about $2 USD (or $4 BZD) and would take about 30 minutes. When we arrived in the town of Corozal, we weren’t even sure it was our stop. It was quiet, and there was certainly no sign of an airport. (Oh, how quickly I forget that this is Belize and I will not find a Hartsfield InternationalAirport here.) We had been told to get a cab to the airport from the bus station, so that’s exactly what we did. The very patient and knowledgeable driver took us to the ATM to replenish the cash, then straight to the airport to catch the last flight of the day. The airport situation was pretty straightforward. There was one runway, which could be confused for a driveway in rural parts of the United States. There was an office on each side, as 2 different companies had a stake here. The first company, Maya Air, was all booked up for the day. So, option #2 it was — Tropic air. I had flown Tropic Air previously in Belize, so I knew how this puddle jumper thing went. If you’ve never flown this way, consider it. It’s certainly an experience.
Corozal Airport. No, I’m not kidding. The other “terminal” is about 40 yards to the left. This is where you buy your ticket, check your bags and wait for the bording call.
View from the seat.
Runway in San Pedro at sunset.
We landed on Ambergis Caye just as the sun was setting. The town is called San Pedro, and it’s a little bustling island town with restaurants, bars and people everywhere. It’s the “touristy” area of Belize and is known for it’s diving, fishing and sheer beauty. We didn’t have time to experience any of that though. We had a boat to catch and time was ticking. Luckily, we were on the same flight as a local, newlywed couple who lived on Caye Caulker — our final destination. They were buddy-buddy with the ferry company, so the man called ahead and told them to “hold the boat for him and a few others.” The perks of being a local, eh? We rushed off the plane with the couple, then through “baggage claim.” We all split a 2 minute cab ride in order to save tiem. To our (pleasant) surprise, the boat was running quite late from it’s previous trip. We had time to get a round of beers, buy a ticket and get on board. It was dark by this point, so the boat ride over to Caye Caulker was rather uneventful. We were quiet, half asleep and just happy to be aboard our last mode of transportation for the day. The ferry arrived at Caye Caulker in a quick 45 minutes. We were greeted by a few locals looking to make a few bucks, per usual. We skipped ’em, and headed straight to the hostel all of our friends recommended. Naturally, after 12 hours of transit, it was full. We wandered up and down the one sand-paved “street” until we found something decent. After looking at about 4 different hostels, we found one! We snagged it, put our luggage in the room……and you guessed it — headed straight to the store to buy beers. I’ve always said, “Days like these make the beer taste better.” That was the truth on this particular night in Caye Caulker. We had nothing to do but sleep and anticipate the beautiful, sunlit Caribbean in the morning. Life was good.
Belikin, the local beer of Belize. It’s not the best and the flavor is a bit heavy for such a warm climate — but it does the trick.
The rest of the week was a mixture of (too much) sun and (a lot of) relaxation. It was perfect. Eat (local grub). Drink (local and questionable rum). And sleep (a shit ton). It was just what we wanted — an island with an incredibly slow pace. To be honest, I don’t really have any crazy stories from our stay on Caye Caulker. That’s just kind of how the island goes. We would spend our days at “The Split,” a beach hangout where the island’s most popular bar resides. The reason they call it this is because a hurricane (literally) split the island in two back in 1961, causing Caye Caulker to become 2 islands (separated by a narrow waterway). From there, locals hand dredged it so larger boats could come through. I would just like to say thank you to those locals for creating what is now an all-day party spot, accompanied by amazing views of the reef and never-ending snorkeling. Seriously. Ginski and I saw things in our ten minute snorkel that took us 3 months to see while diving in Utila. Stingrays, a batfish, angel fish, trumpet fish — you name it. Other than a turtle, we saw it all.
We had a day or two of rain, but even then, the island was perfect. We spent the days playing cards, cooking and drinking rum. I’ve had worse rainy days.
We stayed for about 6 or 7 days and flew home on Christmas day via standby. We’re not dumb. We knew the flight from Belize City to Atlanta on X-mas day would be wide open. We took a 45 minute ferry to Belize City that morning, then an astronomical ($25 USD) cab ride to the airport. You wouldn’t pay that in Atlanta, Georgia, yet her we were….in one of the impoverished cities we’ve ever been to….paying $25 for a 15 minute cab ride. We haggled a bit, as we were blown away. Although he wasn’t thrilled about it, the driver gave us a break because it was Christmas day (this, of course, all after 20 minutes of arguing with him and his co-workers). I assume he finally picked up on the fact that we weren’t the typical tourist that had just come from a massive resort on the big island. We weren’t exactly rollin’ with an Amex and a couple of $50’s in our pockets. He got us to the airport quickly and we all said “Merry Christmas,” as Ginski and I headed towards our “gate.” (Side note: The Belize City Airport consists of about 5 gates and it is tiny.) Not only did we get cleared for our flight, but we also got the first class upgrade! It wasn’t a bad ending to our incredible trip down South. It almost felt like Christmas that day, despite the 80-degree temperature.
Yes, we bought matching Christmas hats. AND, they light up. They were a big hit as we traveld from the island, back to ATL on Christmas day.
That’s all for now, kiddos! We will both spend the next 2 months working in Atlanta (yay for dinero!). I have 5 consecutive weeks of set bar shifts (thanks, Rob), and Ginski is just wrapping up a couple of (very cold) weeks up North at a Red Bull event. His new visa expires on March 24th, so we’ll be on the road again before then. I really cannot contain myself. We think we have a game plan to fill the time between the visa deadline and our Europe trip, but I’ll hold onto the details for now. THE SUSPENSE, I know. Thanks again for reading, commenting and taking interest. I look forward to writing about stuff like this on a regular basis — you have no idea. Here’s to the next 8 weeks flying by! X