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Four Belizean transport things that you can’t do in the U.S.

1 Feb

Four Belizean transport things that you can’t do in the U.S.

1. Ride in the bed of pickup trucks without getting ticketed. You see this all the time. People pile in the back and usually look like they’re enjoying the wind whipping their hair. Betty would kill me if she knew this… but I’ve done it, too. Yesterday I rode a mile uphill in the back of these German/Costa Rican guys’ Chevrolet, and when I trudged away from the jungle in a downpour, they let me hop in back again.* DON’T TELL BETTY.

2. Take a colectivo taxi. No matter what make or model a car is, if the license plate is green, it is a taxi. You flag the car down on the highway and squeeze in with any other passengers. You can go maybe six miles for $4 BZ unless you’re a tourist, in which case you get charged a little extra. But, really, if you haggle over 50 cents US, you are an a-hole.

3. Hop on a refurbished school bus and head from one end of the country to the other for $10 BZ. (That’s five bucks US.) Unfortunately, the bus stops every ten feet to let people on or off. I am exaggerating, but only a little. On the way from Belmopan to San Ignacio, one lady refused to deboard the bus with a group of people. She insisted that the driver take her approximately 20 feet down the road, which he did. This level of service means that it takes forever to get where you’re going.

4. Use a golf cart as your primary mode of transportation. On carless Caye Caulker, this is the fastest way to move. I guess people must do this in Florida and other warm places with old people, but it’s not the main way to get around.

* I couldn’t help but remember the story I overheard a local tell the other day. Background: Spanish Lookout is a Mennonite colony not too far from San Ignacio. It’s mostly known for farming, construction and what-have-you. Nothing too crazy, or so you’d think. Anyway, this guy** starts talking about how some Mennonites are helping traffic drugs up to Mexico; there was a big bust in which the fuzz found cocaine in coconuts. Last year some deal must have gone wrong and a Mennonite was found shot in the back of the head. Anyway, the drug trade is lucrative (duh) and so you’ve got a few people living l-a-r-g-e in buggy country.

While climbing Xunantunich, I’d run into the ride-giving guys. They were nice enough but something about the way they were quiet gave me an odd feeling. They were talking in a language that sounded vaguely German, but it wasn’t German. Dutch? No. I asked and they told me it was a dialect of German called Plautdietsch. Oh, and they’re from Spanish Lookout.

So while going downhill in the back of a new, slick, decked-out, expensive pickup, I thought, “This is one of the nicest trucks I’ve seen in the whole country. I bet it cost a lot.” Then I did the math. Let’s say that the truck cost (conservatively) $20,000 US. Double that for the 100% (!) Belizean duty fee and we’re at $40,000 US. That is about 18 times the yearly income of the average Belizean.

As we reached the river — my hop-out point — I thought, “Golly, I hope I’m not hitching a ride with Mennonite drug smugglers.” Maybe they were Mennonite oil barons?

**He just walked into the computer cafe as I was typing this up. Small world.

Boyfriends and birds

31 Jan

Boyfriends and birds

In Belize, I have many boyfriends. It helps to have a boyfriend when you’re traveling alone, because men like to say hello. Hey, Snow White in Belize City. Look at those red lips in Caye Caulker. My favorite: You like to read, huh? in Cayo. (At least this time, unlike last, I was not propositioned by a teenage boy. “Ay, mami,” he’d said while cruising by on his bike. “Yes,” I thought. “I’m old enough to be your mommy.”)

In almost every conversation, a man asks where my husband is. No husband? Boyfriend, then? Yes, boyfriend, I say. Depending on who’s asking, he’s either waiting for me in the States or back at the guest house. Sometimes he is a scientist, other times he’s an artist; these details shift for no reason at all. He is always possessive of me, though, and I can’t be gone too long or he worries about where I am. Of course, no such gent exists — and if he did, he would certainly not be the kind of stifling person I’d date — but my “boyfriend” helps steer the conversation away from whether a drink can be purchased for me tonight. (more…)

And you will know us by the trail of blood

27 Jan

And you will know us by the trail of blood

I think Oscar Wao left me some of his fuku, because this trip has been a bloody adventure. LITERALLY. Yesterday’s snorkeling adventure involved many marine sightings, including the big excitement of the trip: a sea turtle. (Yes, it is possible to coo underwater.) Unfortunately, at the second snorkel stop, there were sharks and stingrays. They didn’t make me nervous, but an angry moray eel did, and its snakelike appearance made me swim away a little less carefully than I had earlier in the day. Leg, meet coral. Leg, meet pain.

All of the travel-book warnings talk about how if left untreated, coral scrapes can become infected and then your leg swells up and they have to cut it off but you wind up dying anyway, all because you are scared of eels. But I decided to stop worrying and get on with life. (more…)

Annie meets another Jet

26 Jan

Annie meets another Jet

While I was waiting for my Pterodactyl Airlines flight to Caye Caulker, a tiny little old man came up to me. Or more accurately, he came up to my boobs. “Ellomeese,” he said. Close talker, shrill Lynchian purr of a voice. “Wattis your nay-ayme?”

I told him.

“Ah, Annie! Mrzrll jetbarumrrrbunch!”

Oh Jesus. “Pardon me?” I said.

“Mrzrll jetbar rumbunch! Me! Bessin Belize,” said The Man From Another Place.

It took a good minute to understand that this wee man was trying to get me to visit his airport bar. As a solo lady traveler, I felt it would be unwise to have rum punch before getting to my tropical destination. I am a lightweight and I imagined myself falling out of the puddle jumper. “I’ll have some when I’m leaving to go to the States,” I told my new friend. (more…)

Pretty much everywhere, it’s gonna be hot

15 Jan

Pretty much everywhere, it’s gonna be hot

In just over a week, I’ll set the alarm for 2:30am and be on my way to Belize again. Last time, I didn’t get to see everything that I wanted to see thanks to a tropical depression. (That’s what you get when you travel during hurricane season.)

This time, I plan to snorkel and swim with nurse sharks. I hope, with the same greedy desire that children have in toy stores, to see a sea turtle or two. It is so wonderful to go somewhere and be close to animals you’ve encountered only in pages or behind glass windows.

As before, I am paranoid about being attacked by botflies and snakes, both of which are probably plotting against me with the help of their jellyfish colluders. Oh, and there’s some sort of disease that you can get from swallowing snail-tainted river water. Need to watch out for that. Then there are the fire ants, some of which crawled up my pant leg and bit the back of my thighs about seven times; it took almost a year for the scars to fade. See, relaxing!

I haven’t told Louis that I’m coming yet; part of me wants to surprise him by calling him from San Ignacio. “What are you doing for dinner tonight, Louis?” I could ask. But he works so much — and I mean really works because he’s a rancher — that I imagine he’s busy most of the time, and it would be more polite to give advance notice. Or maybe I will go help him herd goats again.

All of this is an elaborate setup to highlight the best thing I found today while researching the trip. The website for Crystal Belize is proudly garish, yet oddly charming in the innocently showy way that Belizean advertising favors. Were I to rent a car, I’d skip Avis and go with these guys all the way.