Monday, April 4, 2016

A Typical Travel Day

For all its glory international travel is not all about great hikes, stunning photos, cold beer on the beach, ocean views, exploding volcanoes, delicious street food and FB posts or blog posts showing it all off. Well yes it is but  you have to get from one place to the next. As the saying goes sometimes the fun is in the journy and more times than not those nuggets become the stories of your trip. Be prepared for touts at every border crossing and bus station, over crowded hot buses sometimes with livestock, confusion because you did not do your research, momentary hopeless moments, overpriced cabs and the small victories that go along with it all to get you to you next WTF moment. Yesterday was one such day.

As I sit at the Chaltuna Hostel sipping a cold Gallo following my tour of Tikal my mind wandered back to yesterday and the road trip that was San Pedro Belize to Flores, Guatemala. There were a couple of "ah shit now what" moments but in the end I made my destination unscathed.

With a hot coffee in my hand I was on the Belize Express Water Taxi Dock by 7:30 for my 8:00 ride back to Belize City staring at the myriad of fish in the shallows. The funny thing about my time in Belize. I noticed it did not have that great "ocean smell" you come to expect. Not the dead fish and seaweed smell but that great salty clean smell you get from coastal breezes. My boat arrived on time and a little over an hour later, with a stop at Caye Caulker I was back in the sh**hole that was Belize City. Thankfully it was early on a Sunday morning and the streets were relatively quiet.

I vaguely remembered, or thought that I remembered the way to the bus station from when I walked here less that 2 weeks ago. Well that was my first mistake. Ten minutes into my slow confused but determined walk (always look like you know where you are going) a large car pulls over and a larger driver yells "where you going boy", "To the bus station" I reply. "Boy, your lost jump in and for $7 I will take you there". First there is no way I am jumping into a random car in Belize City. Second, there is no way I am jumping into a random car in Belie City. I cut my losses and turned around to start again. As these things do happen at that exact moment a cop is pulling up the street in my direction. I wave him down and he waves back confused but I get him to stop. "I am looking for the bus station" to which he replies "boy you're lost". I am already sick of hearing that. He gives me directions back to the swing bridge where I was supposed to turn immediately left and not go straight. Thanking him and off I go with the realization that my backpack is now starting to get heavy. Within 15 minutes I am at the chaos that is the dingy and grimy Belize City bus terminal. I am not sure being lost was worse.

People stand in herds in what looks like a prison rec yard blocked off from the incoming buses by a locked one way swing gate. As the time nears the masses move towards the gate in unison. As the bus pulls into the station you sure as hell better have your A game with you. The transit official in a bright yellow shirt and dark menacing sun glasses gives the cue and with that opens the door to let everyone charge for a seat. The Transit official had a sneaky smirk as I passed him in a flurry. It was like fish trying to leave a pen for the ocean. People, young and old pushing, shoving and blocking you from going anywhere in front of them. I thought fuck it, and so elbows up off I went. I think the locals respected it because a few smiled in their sweaty quest for the bus. I ran to the back door where there was a space and tossed my bag in the doorway. This gave me priority...for about 3 seconds. I jumped in, grabbed my bag and found a seat.  I may have elbowed an woman or two along the way but nobody yelled at me. So goes Belize and Central America. I had a seat for the 2.5 hour ride to San Ignacio. 

In San Ignacio I grabbed a burger to wind down. I had a border crossing to make. I was struggling to find a cab to take me to the border that did not want me to buy his extended family dinner that night. I settled on a $10 ride which was twice what I should have paid but it was time to move on and I was at the border in about 15 minutes. I paid my $37 exit fee (can you believe that one) to leave Belize walked across the border without any issues as per usual. The Guatemalan customs agent took my passport, scanned it, stamped it and handed it back without looking up. I walked out, past the touts offering rides everywhere and read a sign, Welcome to Melchor de Mencos Guatemala....What, where? Now I needed a collectivo to Flores. That proved easier said than done

My initial thought was to walk about a kilometre along the highway and just wait for one to come by. That would have worked but as I stood there I started to over think things. What if there isn't one on a Sunday, maybe I am in the wrong spot, ok, where is a hotel just in case, I need to poo. Normal stuff really. After a few minutes a little kid standing on the corner opposite me yelled, "Hey, you want collectivo 30 Q" to which of course I said yes. "come this way down here". Here is where you have to learn to trust. I thought "shit, I am not going down some side street with a kid" my over stimulated mind having me beaten, robbed and cut up into chunks for dog food. Turns out he was just being a helpful and honest kid because 20 minutes later when nobody was around I walked down that little street and sure enough the collectivo bus station was right there under plain as day white arches and it was 30Q. Sorry kid, although all 60 lbs of you was quite scary.

I jumped in and was off to Flores within the hour. The bus only had 5 of us as passengers which was a nice change from the normal 20 passengers squeezed into a collectivo designed for 14. I was dropped off in Santa Elena then a quick Tuk Tuk to Flores. In Flores I hoped on a barca to cross the lake to Chaltuna and was in my room before you could say 9 hours by boat, bus, taxi, walking, border crossing, collectivo, Tuk Tuk, Barca and finally climbing a big ass hill to the Hostel.

No, its not all "Wonders of the World" when you travel because you have to get to the places you want to go. Aside from a few bumps and bruises yesterdays travel day was easy. You have to be prepared for anything because anything can and will happen.

Now about that poo

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