A national border can make a world of difference. Belize is nothing like Mexico and I am intoxicated.
Alex and I crossed the Chetumal border to much frustration. We had researched the crossing and there were rumors of a fake exit fee from Mexico. Other people had gotten out of it through various methods so we weren’t worried. As soon as we pulled up we were flagged to a parking spot by some Mexican wearing glasses with big coke bottle bifocals. He told us what we needed and waved us towards the line: passports, visas, and $20. We immediately shrugged him off and got in line.
I went up to the immigration guard and handed him my paperwork. He said everything was in order except a $262 peso tax to leave the country because I had stayed for over seven days. I was feeling confident in Spanish so I started arguing with him that my friends hadn’t paid it two days ago. He didn’t care. I made him explain everything two more times. I checked his documents and asked him why none of them were in color. I asked why the exit tax paper was an obvious photocopy with the number 262 stamped on top. He held his ground.
Alex took his turn. He kept telling Alex to go to the bank and pay the fee. So Al walked over the bank and talked it over with the bank people. They played dumb and wouldn’t say if was a real tax or not. Alex came back and together we started asking where this tax money was going. Somebody’s pockets? They didn’t like that; the glasses guy got up and in Al’s face for a moment and the guard told us the discussion was over. We hung around longer and finally and upper level officer came out to deal with us.
He walked Al to the bank and basically said if we didn’t pay, we didn’t cross. No questions. So we paid to leave Mexico. Extremely pissed.
We exported the bikes and crossed out of Mexico into the free zone. There we were greeted by a Belizean named Edward. He was very cheerful and obviously looking for money. These border crossings are confusing enough that there are border sherpas hanging around to guide the process. After the outrageous Mexican experience we decided to accept his help for $5 each. First we got insurance for Belize for the next week for $15. Meanwhile Edward paid for our mandatory tire fumigation tickets with our money.
The first thing we asked everyone on the other side was whether the exit fee was real or not. They all laughed and started pulling the phony tickets out of their pockets. They even asked if ‘that asshole’ with the big glasses was out there working for them. Apparently he’s Belizean and not well-like around the border. With insurance and fumigation taken care of, we went to the Belize border, imported our bikes, and got our visas. We crossed with very little hassle and shot off into the new land.
Northern Belize has a savannah feel to it with grass fields and outlying forest. The Northern Highway leading from the border crossing is a two lane with no lines on it. Different from Mexico, there was a shoulder of cut or burnt grass leading out fifty feet on both sides. I had trouble maintaining lane position at first because of how wide open and free the road was.
Alex and I ended up riding around 180 miles in Belize down to Hopkins. The ride down was very cool; Belize had a completely different feel to it. The primary language is English. They operate the English Imperial system so the speed limit signs are in MPH. The population has been mostly black from what I can tell. The people are jovial and very interested. They speak Creole primarily and don’t seem to have many worries. This is a country with not much going on and that’s how they like it.
The ride took us through over half of Belize through fields, foothills, jungle, and little towns. We went through a rain patch at the end and then spat out onto the coast south of Dangriga. I can imagine my neighbor Steve wandering around these same roads working on his property down here years ago. The road out to Hopkins was mostly dirt; the city is mostly sand. People here rake their sand instead of their yards. There are no fences, just trails leading to the beach.
The beach is grittier than Tulum and the water warmer. There is a constant inland breeze and the sun has been pretty reliable amidst a few rain storms. Alex and I shared a room last night at a very rustic compound of different lodging options. Today we have upgraded and moved in with Jill and Ty to a cabana right on the beach. I’m in a hammock right now between swims enjoying the palm shade. We pick mangos off the ground and eat them. This is the private island beach style vacation that everyone dreams of.
There are plenty of Americans right now, a fresh change. Our cabana neighbors are two from Texas and two from Washington D.C. The real neighbors are Jehova’s Witnesses. Jabar, the owner of the cabanas, is a teacher who has been working with the same group of 16 year-olds for the past ten years. He teaches them every subject for their entire education. There is a real good Chinese restaurant down the street and some Belizeans explained to us where to go for authentic Belize food for dinner.
We’re having fun with Jill and Ty. It’s good to be grouped up again and change the dynamics. We will be going into Guatemala together in a couple days. After doing are research, Northern Guatemala has had some recent violence but tourists are not the target. As a group of four staying on the major tourist highways we will not be worried. Tikal, the most popular Mayan ruin in existence, is located in Northern Guatemala and everyone at the hostels loved it.
I wish we could do Belize for longer but the truth is we’ve seen more of it already than we did of Mexico. At such a small area, we really don’t have time to hang around more than a week. Plus there’s not much going on here and that’s what makes it so unique. Tomorrow we head west towards the Guatemala border and will cross in a few days after some camping in San Ignacio. Until then, it’s time for me to enjoy private paradise.