Friday, April 10, 2009

Even gangs need a vacation

No one has anything good to say about Belize City but everyone ends up there eventually as they travel through Belize. Most travelers avoid staying here, fearing the gang violence they’ve heard about. We might have done the same if it weren’t Santa Semana and we’d been able to find a place to stay elsewhere. However we were in for a pleasant surprise.

We boarded the noon bus and for the first time we were really roughing it in our transportation. Not that we had a choice. There is only one type of bus in Belize and that type is 30 year old school bus. I’ll tell you they’re even more uncomfortable than you remember. But it being Easter, we were lucky to get a bus and even luckier to get a seat. The bus sped along the Norther Highway, the driver blowing the loud truck horn to warn oncoming traffic, animals and pedestrians that it was not stopping. And as promised at exactly 2pm we were in Belize City.

The area around the bus station lived up to everyone’s descriptions. It was a hole: the canal reeked of sewage, there was trash everywhere, but there weren’t many people and certainly no gangs throwing grenades.

Jumping into a cab which may have been just a guy looking to make $6Bz for a 2 minute ride to the Belcove Hotel. I’d sent an email to them the day before but had yet to get a reply from them. But they had plenty of rooms available so we opted for the cheapest one – a clean double with shared bath and access to the patio overlooking the river (photo above) which thankfully didn’t smell like sewage. All for $56Bz. Not a bargain but nowhere near Tulum prices.

The lovely manager, Norma, recommended a place around the corner not just because it was open but because she said the food was delicious and cheap. My favourite combination. Marva’s did indeed have good cheap Belizean food. Our choices were interesting. Fish or chicken and either rice and beans or beans and rice. No, I’m not kidding. We both chose the rice and beans while Adrian had the fish and I had the chicken. I made the mistake of helping myself to the pot of pickled peppers on the table and just about died. They were scotch bonnets and they were the hottest thing I’ve ever tasted. I made Adrian touch one to his tongue and he immediately chugged his coke to ease the burn. We laughed at our mistake then stopped and watched in awe as other customers heaped spoonfuls on their plates – and ate them. Wow.

After lunch we decided to walk around the dangerous streets of Belize City. Everything was shuttered and we saw only a handful of people in the four hours we were out. The first was a guy dressed in palm leaves and coconuts and carrying bongos who approached us as we crossed the rusty swing bridge.
“Take a picture of me. I know you want to” he said
“I do but I have no money to give you if I do.” I replied.
“It’s alright take a picture and show everyone how fabulous I am.
I did and made sure he approved of the shot. The fact that he didn’t want money made him pretty fabulous in my opinion.

We continued walking in the Fort George area. It was a mix of rundown and colonial. It was also home to the cruise ship terminal but without any cruise ships in the harbour it was empty. And a lone jewelry seller begged us to buy something so he’d have at least one sale. Sorry my friend, we need our pennies. Belize is expensive. So expensive, I can’t imagine who the billboards advertising islands for sale were geared to considering the poverty in the town.

Back over the swing bridge, we walked through the commercial centre home to the Supreme Court and the House of Culture – both closed tight for the holidays – as well as St. John’s Cathedral which was just emptying out after Good Friday’s service. After a quick peek inside we headed back to the hotel wondering what we were going to do for dinner, or breakfast and lunch for that matter, in a town that was shut up tight for the next three days.

Norma had been replaced by Julio, the night clerk. He helped us out with the food ordering Chinese delivery for us. He was also super friendly and more American than Belize having spent a few years there. He and Adrian talked about their favourite PSP games, and he and I talked about what Adrian and I should do tomorrow. He convinced us to do a day trip to Caye Caulker which he said we’d enjoy. But the best advice he gave us was that our watches were wrong. Apparently, Belize doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time so for the last three days we’d been an hour ahead. Whoops.

We were joined by Jerry a middle-aged man from Toronto who’d been coming to Belize off and on for the last ten years. He has a character to say the least and recovering from what he first described as a police mugging. But as the truth came out it was more of a bribe to get him out of jail for being drunk and resisting the police who’d tried to get him out of the cab he’d passed out in.

The gangs of Belize may take a vacation but the expat drunks never do.

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