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Daytrippers

George W. arrived in Merida Monday night at 9 o’clock. His helicopter landed on the roof of the Fiesta Americana Hotel. We did not know of these plans when we parked our car there Saturday morning.

The previous Wednesday our lawyer advised us to nip into Belize in order to renew our tourist visas. “Have lunch”, he said. “Shop in the free zone”, he said. “It’s very easy”, he said. Of course it was nothing of the sort.

We decided to make a day of it, a jaunt, a casual weekend adventure.

All we had to do was:
• take a bus from Merida to Chetumal, 6 hours away
• take another bus into Belize
• cruise through immigration with 1 expired tourist card and extend ours that we have been using since August 17, our original arrival date
• catch the next ADO home in time for Sunday dinner

If you ever find yourself in Chetumal, I highly recommend the Hotel Los Cocos. Stay in one of the premier rooms on the ground floor and you can open a sliding glass door out onto the lovely pool area. We had dinner at the hotel and retired to our rooms to rest.

Sunday morning we took a cab to the Mercado Nuevo. We saw bright green school busses but no ticket window, no information. This is Mexico and you figure it out for yourselves. You pay for tickets on the bus. Destination: Belize City, many hours deep, but we were told we could disembark in Corazol if we desired. Thirty minutes later, we had crossed the border into the Zona Libre, the free zone. It is a dingy Pleasure Island of casinos and duty free shopping. We were ushered through the customs house with nothing to declare. We had left our baggage at the hotel’s front desk. We were traveling light.

In Belize there are four Chinese restaurants on the first block. Ramshackle wooden houses on stilts are decidely Caribbean. The flora is less scrubby immediately. Outside the bus window, a rolling lush landcape. We learn that English is widely spoken. We were impressed and feeling lucky, impelled to go all the way.

We rolled through Orange Walk, a pleasant looking little place where the bus stopped for meat pies and seaweed drink. We should have known then that the trip was nowhere near over. We finally reach Belize City after more than three hours on the bus. We had all heard that Belize City was nightmarish, ugly, and dangerous. It’s worse.

Our cab driver took us across the crumbling bridge and on a tour of the (shanty) town. I had already seen enough. Here we were relieved for the shelter of the Radisson. We had time for lunch and we were ravenous. The fried shrimps were delicious with a drink called the Matador, a blend of tequila, lime and pineapple juices. Belize City is a post-apocalyptic distopia. Never, ever go there.

Bad movies and beautiful countryside were beginning to lose their charm. We had missed our bus to Merida and resigned ourselves to one more night in Chetumal. The problem with the bus back into Mexico is that there isn’t one. On the return trip Corazol is the last stop. The porter explained that we would find a shuttle that would take us over the border. It was after 7:00 and we were exhausted and covered in bus. We watched as they closed the bus station and chatted with a couple of backpackers who were also there waiting.

The school bus shuttle had blue flashing party lights and a steel drum soundtrack. We waited while the driver conducted some side of the road business in a residential street that involved a bucket he lowered and raised like a makeshift dumbwaiter. The night smelled sweet and we were starting to feel like we had accomplished something.

We did the customs house shuffle again and explained that we had enjoyed a day in Belize but would not be returning. Back outside the bus was nowhere to be found. funny… that’s odd…humph, what…the bus is definitely gone. We’re at the edge of the free zone at least 3 miles from the border and we have been abandoned. A guard explained that they had likely gone on to the casino and would not be returning for us five despairing tourists. It’s not far, he said, walk. Within minutes the Frenchman flagged down a truck and we, the white, the English speaking, the entitled, hopped into its flat bed bound for Mexico.

Immigration was why we had made the journey and for a moment it seemed it had all been in vain. The guard was, shall I say curious, as to why Malcolm and I had spent almost seven months as tourists in Mexico. “You live in Mexico!’ he accused. “No we don’t”, Malcolm fired back. That was that. Dated and stamped we were in, again. He didn’t even notice Mac’s expired card. We were allowed to walk over the border into the night, where we found no cars, hardly any traffic, at all. Just soldiers and cabs coming back from the free zone. Finally one stopped and we sighed with relief; we would get home yet. That night we drank tequila and celebrated our freedoms and privileges.

Monday morning we luxuriated at the pool until it was time to take our leave of Chetumal. The trip back was mostly unremarkable except that we were getting crabby and anxious for it to be over. When our cab driver in Merida told us that there was “no entrada” to the Hotel Americana we replied fine, whatever, we’ll take our chances.

Then he dropped us off two blocks away at the makeshift entrance to a fortress. This is not a joke or a metaphor or hyperbole. Before us was a high wall, armed guards, a terrifying bullwork of security, between us and our car and the possibility of ever getting home. We talked to the first set of sentries and they let us pass. It was deadly quiet inside the walls. More soldiers and policemen lined the streets. We kept explaining our plight and were met with friendly, helpful men; amazing considering the pressure that they were under. The President of the United States was poised to arrive to meet with Presidente Calderon. There had been protests and demonstrations all over Central and South America. And we had parked our car 30 floors beneath where W would soon be landing. I don’t know how we did it. Many metal detectors, a few tears (me), $800.00 mp and more than an hour later we were finally driving out of the parking garage and let through the many gates. It was 8:45 Monday night.

There Are 8 Responses So Far. »

  1. You use the word “bullwork” any chance you get.

  2. Jeez you guys, don’t scare us like that!

    There’s something freaky about being in a place that feels unsafe without a ride, etc, that is what nightmares are made of.

  3. I was wondering when I’d hear about Dubya in Merida. There was no mention of it on good ol’ US media outlets but it was all over BBC Radio. I wanted the insider scoop though. The Droppedin perspective.

  4. Guys! How can you not like Belize! I was there 20 years ago, worked as a chambermaid in a seedy hotel frequented by drunk British soldiers…I loved that country and its people! Sure, Belize City was not pretty, and it has not changed as I see, but it’s all heart. Had you spent more time there you would have seen that there is nothing dangerous about the place. Weird, maybe…Ugly? it all depends on what you want to look at…
    But believe me, Belize can be great fun for adventurous people like you two!
    Next time you are there (if there is a next time) try a “banana con leche”, yummy!

  5. the NYT published maybe two articles and of course it’s been in the local papers here- “Calderon asks Dubya to reconsider the whole giant wall idea” -

    We thought we’d cross his path last week when our friends were booted from the Hyatt’s presidential suite; it must have been pre-emptive.

    check out the coverage of the W debacle on yucatanliving.

  6. what an adventure! i’m amazed you got in to get your car… it was your US Passports that probably saved you. On Monday, when I went into the F.Americana for a manicure, all I had to do was wave the passport. They didn’t even look at it… but then they were just Mexican Police at that point and they figured that the Prez wasn’t threatened by his own countrymen. I think US Security would have been much harder to get by.

  7. At least you made it INTO Belize. I made a similar trip (visa related) and they wouldn’t even let us in the dang country (well, they WOULD have, but the agent wasn’t playing the game right and it irritated me so we stormed back to the Mexican immigration office where the agent there WOULD play the game and I got my stupid 180 days and all was right with the world). Both make for great stories, though, and this whole gig is what it’s all about – adventure.

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