Published: May 26th 2007May 26th 2007 Sacramento to Hopkins, Belize
Our little puddle jumper
Transportation from Belize to Dangriga
Landing in Dangriga, Belize
In which Brit Traveler and Hubbie curse Sacramento airport, are told they look like blood kin upon arrival by a Belizian official, and jump on a 14-seater plane with seatbelts that don't work.
We arrived at Sacramento "International" Airport shortly after 4:00am, boarding-passes in-hand from our convenient online check-in process, and ready to dump our bags at Continental's speedy bag-drop. Except, of course, there is only one line for everyone making our online check-in worthless and our bag-drop not so speedy.
We joined the end of the queue, waiting for the check-in desk to open at 4:30am and I sent Hubbie off to secure some caffeine at Starbucks. Except, of course, Starbucks wasn't opening until 5am - along with every other restaurant or cafe in the entire terminal. Lack of caffeine certainly didn't help us deal with the disorganized check-in process.
In an effort to "speed up" the lines, you've probably noticed that the smart folks at big airlines have added those little self-serve kiosks in front of the counters to enable you to retrieve your reservation, print your own boarding passes, and check your own baggage. In theory,
I've never quite been this close to all the instrumentation before. Cool!
this sounds great: all you have to do is type in your confirmation number, press a few on-screen buttons, then hand your luggage over to the brain-dead ground staff (who now need less training, no customer-service skills, and a lower hourly rate). Except, of course, the reality is much different.
There are the Technophobe Travelers, who freeze like a deer in the headlights at the mere sight of a computer kiosk and/or proceed to misread the instructions, hit the wrong buttons, freeze the system and end up asking the staff for help anyway; the Helpless Travelers, who fall apart when asked to do anything for themselves and deliberate every keystroke with their spouse or friend; the Unprepared Travelers, who don't know their confirmation number or any other information about their flight other than the destination; the Clueless Travelers, who are oblivious to the process and step into the shortest line, regardless of whether they should be in it or not, and then proceed to hold up the lline as they bacl-track to complete the steps they missed without losing their place in line; and finally, irate and irritable, the Savvy Travelers, who did everything online 24 hours ago, have
their boarding pass in-hand and just want to hand over their cases and go.
Add to this the stroke of genius that placed twice as many kiosks as there are bag-drop points and the result resembles an ant line after someone has stepped right in the middle of it. And all the while the now customer-service-skill-free staff stare blankly ahead, oblivious to the frustration and chaos around them, performing their 2-step tasks like zombies.
So, despite having checked-in online, having boarding passes in-hand, and speeding through the kiosk-driven bag-drop process, we end up standing in line behind a group of Unprepared Travelers and being usurped in-line by Clueless Travelers previously ten people behind us.
With no food or drink available until 5:30, Hubbie and I hunted-down the nearest guest comment card and, in our early-morniing disgust, marked "Poor" on every single evaluation. Take that Sacramento "International" (my ass).
Fortunately, things went better from thereon out. Flights were on time, smooth, and uneventful.
We arrived in Belize City slightly ahead of schedule and were greeted by an immigration official who asked us if we were related. (Remember, I have not changed my last name so there
Looks more like a dirt road to me, but still!
is no indication on our paperwork that we are married.) "Yes, we're married," we replied. He eyed us suspiciously. "For how long?" We told him six months. "And how long have you known eachother?" he asked. "Oh, ten years or so." "How did you meet?" he proceeded.
Suddenly I was reminded of my experiences being grilled at the hands of Israeli border patrol who pepper you with questions in an attempt to trip you up and reveal that you are in fact a Palestinian Miltant disguised as a U.S. tourist. Did Belize have security problems, I wondered?
After a couple more questions however, we realized that his interrogation was for a different reason. The questions stopped and suddenly, he smiled, a look of amusement on his face. "Ah, it's just that you look alike," he said. Is incest a big problem in Belize?
I wondered, or are thousands of brother-sister illegal immigrants trying to gain Belizian visas by posing as married couples?
Either way, we were free to go, feeling just a little icky...Have we really already begun to look alike after only six months of marriage?
At the Mayan Island Air counter were told we
could get on an earlier flight to Dangriga, leaving in just 10 minutes! So, back through security we dashed (paying $0.75 each for the privilege - imagine making US passengers pay!) to meet our flight at Gate 1, excited that we would get to spend more time at our resort and less time waiting in a hot and overcrowded foreign airport.
We arrived at our gate, expecting to see a frenzy of activity as passengers were being loaded onto our flight, but what we found were no planes, two perspiring gate attendants virtually falling asleep at their podium, and a group of irritable and uninformed passengers. Uh oh.
"Flight to Dangriga?" we asked, hopefully.
"Yes, yes, 10 minutes, just wait over there," one of them said, waving us to a wooden bench away from the rest of the travelers, appearing to indicate we were not going wherever they going- we hoped.
20 minutes later we were still sitting on that wooden bench and there was no plane to be seen.
Fortunately, what we were experiencing was just our first sampling of Belizian Time as shortly thereafter, and with little fanfare and certainly no explanation, a little 14-seater plane parked itself within eye-shot and we were walking across the tarmac to board. I made a mental note to readjust my expectations to speed of life in Belize.
Our transportation to Dangriga, about half way down the eastern coast of Belize, was a little propeller-driven puddle-jumper. clearly about ten years past it's retirement date.
We bent double to reach our worn, grey seats and plonked ourselves down about two rows from the pilot. I was momentarily torn between the emotions of "Cool, I can see all the instrumentation, this is going to be fun!" and "Uh, oh, this is going to be a bit different to a 747!" The latter wasn't helped much by our inability to secure our seatbelts. In we clicked, out it popped. "Um, does your seatbelt lock?" I asked Hubbie. "Nope." Click in, pop out. "What are we doing wrong?" Click in, pop out. "I don't know." Click in, pop out. "I don't think ours work." Clik in, pop out. "I don't think so either."
Suddenly, without so much as a "Everything ok back there?" from our pilot, the door closed and the propeller began turning; we started taxing away from the gate. Click in, pop out, click in, pop out. Now we were heading down the runway. Click in, pop out, click in, pop out, click in, pop out. And then, there we were, in the air. "Well, if it crashes I don't think these will help much anyway," said Hubbie in an odd attempt to reassure us. With that, we resigned ourselves to the perils of unprotected flying and enjoyed the ride.
Dangriga airport's landing strip appeared to us about 20 minutes later as a worryingly short yellow strip of earth just off the coast. To say we were heading into the non-commercialized area of Belize was obviously going to prove to be an understatement. Our wings waved left and right at the little white structure coming up in front of us that would end up being Dangriga's airport building - one room, one counter, a tv, some chairs, and no air conditioning.
(see the Video attached to this post for a visual)
The walk between the plane and the "terminal" was so short and the plane so dinky, that I almost went to the luggage hold and picked-up my bags myself. It seemed a bit odd to watch the two porters wheel it twenty feet across the tarmac and into the building for you. I tell you though, it was the fastest and most efficient baggage-claim service I've ever been through!
We were met by Golden, our representative and driver to our resort, Hamanasi Dive and Adventure Resort
for our 30 minute ride to the resort.
The drive to Hopkins Village, where Hamanasi is located, gave us a good taste of the area.
Dangriga is the center of the Garifuna people in Belize, direct descendants of the “Island Caribs” and a group of African slaves who escaped two ship-wrecked Spanish slave ships near St. Vincent in 1635 and then forcibly removed from St. Vincent by the British in 1797. (Those damn Brits!) So, the area in culture and the look of its people, is more reminscent of the Carribbean than of hispanic Central America - somewhat of a surprise when you consider that Belize is squashed between Mexico, Guatamala, and Hondurus. In fact our driver, Golden, was a Garifuna himself. The mixure of the two cultures has resulted in a type of music called Punta Rock, which mixes the feel and melodies of Reggae, with the frenetic rhythms of latin culture - basically Reggae on steroids!
The journey also revealed that the region is pretty poor. All the usual hallmarks of a developing nation were visible on the ride:
- How they dispose of their trash - everywhere and anywhere.
- How they drive on the road - everywhere and anywhere (and always accompanied by periodic beeps of the horn to anyone you pass, whether or not you know them)
- Unfinished, half-built, and uninhabited buildings - everywhere.