Waving adios to Mexico we had a long trek, including a chicken bus, to reach our first destination in Belize, it was a day of about 8-9 hours travel involving land and sea.
The journey started from Tulum bus stop, a short walk from our hotel. Do not mistake the term hotel with pictures you might see from friends who have been to Tulum or you have Googled. It was very basic, and except for an upside down dead cockroach next to the bed and a family of ants on the doorstep, clean. I was happy to leave.
The first bus was a standard long distance coach comfortable enough, some Spanish dubbed American TV showing from the monitor above the driver. Our seats were assigned randomly, the seat number was noted on the ticket we received as we boarded. Next to me was the gentle(ish) giant of the group, Hannes. He stood about half a foot above me and his shoulders probably the same amount broader. Hannes was a mechanic, although often confused as German he lived in Northern Italy. His village is about 60K from the border of Austria where 90% of the population speak German. We passed some of the time on the journey exchanging descriptions of our hometowns and locating them on Google Maps.
It was one of the less highlighted, highlights of the trip – crossing paths with people from other countries and backgrounds. Did I know prior to the trip there was a German speaking village in Italy? Certainly not.
Arriving near the Mexican/Belize border the tour leader, Jason, organized a few taxis to get us over the border. Eleven people, eleven bags (or twelve when considering someone’s luggage was the size of a small hatchback) four small cars. Tetris complete moments later we reached the border.
Exiting the border, one by one we headed into a small office and passed our departure cards over. Once we paid an exit fee (disguised as ‘tourist tax’), exit was complete. Next step was to enter. Cue another office, another form. As we entered Belize officially we did a quick currency swap. The currency swap was no Travelex or Post Office though. Infact it felt like the dodgiest exchange I’ve experienced. We were on the Belize side of the border, the currency exchange was a bloke on the Mexican side. Leftover Peso’s were passed through the wire border fence and Belize Dollars/US Dollars were passed back (US$ is tied 2:1 to BZ$)
What awaited us next was the infamous chicken bus, a feature of the region, including Belize. We had been warned this was going to be a less comfortable part of the journey with no chance to stop. We had to “enjoy” lunch on the go, with no stops baked into the day’s journey. That in mind, most people, including me, took advantage of the supermarket opposite our Tulum hotel, to stack up on food for the ride.
There was still another three-four hours in store. With that, the name of the game was to get a seat and plug in for a long, bumpy, hot and cramped journey. The bus stops are both non-existent and extremely accessible. Locals stick their hand out wherever on the road they are, and the bus will stop to let them on. Puts a whole new meaning on the definition of ‘local’ vs ‘express’.
About 75% into estimated journey time there was a loud bang which sounded remarkably like a puncture. Non-deterred the bus kept going, at the time I was thinking perhaps this is the Belize way and a normal journey in a chicken bus 20 minutes later however, there was another loud bang and a noticeable bump. This was obviously not par for the course as the bus subsequently pulled over to the roadside. I thought we were going to have to change buses but after some inspection by the driver and conductor we were on our way. The last 25% certainly took longer than planned however I could not quantify since I had purposefully lost most sense of time. We limped into the bus station just before sunset.
Final step: ferry
Journey over? Not quite. There was about 30 minutes before the ferry to Caye Caulker arrived. Enough time to grab a much needed beer. Refreshed from the beer and break, the ferry gave some more relaxation time as we chilled on the top deck. The 20C/70F weather combined with watching sun go down was a good end to the journey and an hour later we arrived.