Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A town so sleepy, coma is better description.

After our rough cold night, Adrian and I wanted to leave as soon as possible. So quickly in fact that Adrian agreed to go without breakfast. Arriving at the bus station, I asked for tickets on the next bus to the border town of Chetumal. The attendant told me there was a cheap second-class bus leaving in 10 minutes but we weren’t guaranteed seats. When Adrian heard that he decided we could wait for the next first-class bus leaving in one and a half hours.

“Plus, then we can get breakfast” he added. The breakfast sacrifice could only last so long, I guess.

So I bought the first class tickets and then watched the empty second-class bus pull into and out of the station. Oh well, time for breakfast. I wasn’t expecting much after our first attempt at food in the town, but the restaurant next to the bus station proved me wrong. It was tasty, and a lot less than what we had been paying at Papaya Playa and it had bathroom signage that amused Adrian. Too bad we hadn’t found it our first time around.

We were soon on the bus to Chetumal and after two and a half hours in the bustling border town. The frequent buses to Belize leave from another bus station but I thought I’d at least check if there was one leaving soon-ish from the station we were in. I waited in the slowest moving line for almost 30 minutes only to be directed to another empty line at a tiny kiosk. Then it was time to change speeds. The next bus was leaving… now. I handed a bunch of money (probably too much) over and grabbed the tickets and ran off to find Adrian who has outside smoking. Oh course, I forgot that this was Mexican time and right now is more like in the next 20 minutes so breathless and sweaty we got on the bus and waited.

Before the bus left I changed most of our pesos into Belizean dollars with an on board blackmarket money changer, holding on to some just in case there was an exit fee. I’d read conflicting reports about the Mexican exit fee a) since I’d arrived by plane it had been included in my plane fare b) there was none c) there was only one to get my tourist card stamped for double entry d) that I’d have to pay $20 each. I’m still not quite sure which it is because I paid the $20 each, got my tourist card double stamped and then had to run back to hand it back in since we weren’t coming back.

The border was interesting. It was out of town yet it was it’s its own town. You see, there’s a gap between the Mexican and Belizean borders known as the free zone. In that strip is a mini Las Vegas: casinos, neon lights, shopping malls and all sorts of tackiness. If the bus hadn’t of been waiting it would have been interesting to walk through the decadence. But the bus only paused long enough for everyone to pay their money and get their passports stamped before driving us 1km to the Belizean border station. Here we passed through a cheerful immigration line-up and a cranky customs line-up then back on the bus for the 20 minute ride to Corozal.

I was suspicious when we were the only people that got off and it didn’t take long to figure out why. Situated on Corozal Bay (photo above), a briny semi-circle of water, Corozal is a small town a world away from Mexico. There was a distinctly Caribbean flair here, not just because of the accented English (yes, English!) being spoken but instead of the concrete housing blocks we passed weather-beaten clapboard buildings on stilts as we walked from the bus station to the hotel.

The Seabreeze was located on the bay and even had a dock right outside the front door but best of all it was only $25 US (everything is quoted in US dollars here since the Belizean $ is pegged at two to one) and had a private bathroom with hot non-salty water and a tv with English channels. After 4 days in the twig hut on the beach it was a welcome change.

We showered and spent some time uploading photos, actually a lot of time since the connection was turtle speed (the usual for Belize we were about to find out), before heading out to find some dinner. We hadn’t seen much open on our walk in but Gwyn, the expat owner of the Seabreeze, directed us to Paddi’s around the corner and it was a good reco: delicious sea food, and okay prices.

After dinner we walked from one end of town to the other, accidentally, as we looked for an open shop. It was unsettling that everything was closed up tight but we shook it off as culture shock. Mexico was always bustling and Belize was known for it’s chill laidback feeling. How wrong we were.

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