Hello, Belize

Published: March 5th 2017
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My first journey outside of Trump's America has gone very well so far. The day has been another long one, and it's not ever very late at the moment. I'm in my bed, writing this blog post for you fine people, and the large dogs are barking outside my windows. Welcome to Belize!

First off, I would not recommend flying into Belize Airport on Saturday. At all. There are planes arriving every 30-45 minutes, which means that they never get through getting one group through immigration control before another group is already here. We found this out the hard way. From the time we deplaned - on the tarmac, mind you - to the time I picked up my bag after immigration control and then went through customs was about 75 minutes. And they had 8 people working the immigration booths. I don't know why it backed up so much, but when I got outside and into my transportation to my hotel, the driver told me that it was a routine Saturday at the Belize Airport.

My morning began pretty well, though. My stay at the LaQuinta Inn at the Houston Airport was just fine, and the shuttle got me where I needed to be with loads of time. I had ample opportunity to write my Chicago entry before boarding the plane. I did want to get one more sample of that Southern delicacy, sweet tea, before I left for a while. Surprisingly, there was a Wendy's near my boarding gate that served breakfast. That was weird. But they offered iced tea on the menu, so I went for it. After I placed my order, the cashier regretted to inform me that they didn't have sweet tea in the morning, to which I responded by saying that was the only reason I came to this place. A little frustrated, I was now on a mission. Unfortunately, I tried Dunkin Donuts. They made me a nice grilled cheese, which was good since I wasn't going to get a stop for lunch, and I wasn't planning on paying airplane prices for food on the flight. The sweet tea, however, was a disaster. At first, I thought I had been given syrup to drink. It was so sweet, and I considered asking for something else. But I shook the cup and it became less syrupy. And then it didn't taste sweet at all. But I kept drinking, stirring it occasionally, trying to find that perfect mix that never came. Alas. I got through maybe 1/3 of it and finally just gave up. This was at the end of the flight, though, when they were coming around to pick up any trash.

The flight was uneventful. The landing was, too, except when we got to the gate and the seat-belt signs were still on but people got up. They did this twice after being told both times to sit back down. I almost felt like punching one of them. I hate that so much.

Anyway, you know about the long wait to get through immigration and customs. I was quite surprised to find that my bag had indeed made the complete journey with me, without any problems. My experiences with United Airlines (all three of my flights from Atlanta to Belize in the past 36 hours) have been outstanding.

Before leaving the States, I had arranged for an airport transfer from Belize City to San Ignacio, where I'm staying until Monday. I paid for a SHARED airport transfer, but what I got was a PRIVATE driver to take me to my hotel. That may seem like an amazing deal, not having to deal with all those other people. But I'm a huge introvert, so this was going to be one long, awkward drive in my mind. I was pleasantly mistaken. First off, he had greeted me outside the arrival hall with a sign with my name - I felt like a movie star! Not really, but it was pretty cool. He took me to his SUV, put my bag in the back, and then asked me to sit in the front seat. I wasn't so happy about that, but I figured it was what one does here. After about 5 minutes of silence, interrupted by my infrequent questions about the weather and his questions about my hometown, we actually started to have a good conversation. We talked about everything, really - travel, politics, religion, food, family, racism, Mayans, Belize, America, jobs. I got to see a good part of the countryside and the everyday lives of people while getting to know a Belizean who could tell me the real stuff I might want to know. And that drive lasted for probably 90 minutes. I was impressed. So much so, that when he dropped me off at my Guest House, I gave him a $20 (Belize dollars) tip and thanked him for an enjoyable trip. He also seemed impressed that our conversation was so all-encompassing and enjoyable.

Before he dropped me off, though, we swung by the travel company office for the trip I had booked for tomorrow - to Xunantunich, a Mayan ruins site - to make sure everything was squared away. While there, they asked if I wanted to do any other tours - a standard ploy, I assumed. Most looked like caves and adventures, which I really didn't pack for. Especially not with my new blue suede shoes from Chicago. But their final site was to Caracol, a huge Mayan city that I had sort of been sad to have to miss. They said I could switch my Xunantunich trip to Monday (since it would only be half a day, I could still be back in time for my shuttle bus to Guatemala in the afternoon) and do this Caracol trip tomorrow. Take my money.

Then I was at the J & R Guest House in San Ignacio. My "landlady" came out to meet me and give me a key and show me the room - it was right off the front porch. As I was walking up the stairs to the porch, I noticed a very white guy, so I introduced myself to him. His name is T.J., and more about him later. My room isn't huge, but it's probably large for San Ignacio standards. Plus it has a private bathroom. I think the other rooms here are almost like a hostel, with shared toilets, etc. So I feel lucky. The Guest House is at one end of town, but it's not really a big town. My shuttle driver, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was telling me that San Ignacio had a decent nightlife, mainly thanks to tourists. I'm really too tired to do any of that, to be perfectly frank. Two days of travel have worn me out.

I tried to get things settled in some order before going out to explore. But I walked outside just as this fellow T.J. was about to leave, so we had a short conversation. I think I may have been a bit forward when I assumed he wanted to go get food later; perhaps I was, but I thought he was being very forward. It's typical in hostel-type situations to find people you've never met before and get to know them. I found out he was from London, now near Oxford, and I said I'd be happy to look for food in a while. Meanwhile, he left to see which tours he might want to do (he's leaving the same day as me), and I returned to my unpacking. Maybe 15 minutes after that, I thought I'd go out and see the town before the sun set all the way, snapping some pictures as I went. You can check those out if you like.

I probably wandered around all of San Ignacio, seeing the markets, the bus station, the welcome center, and many many houses. It was odd that most of the people, when they were home, were typically on the second floor, where their patio was. I would be looking at their home and then hear voices above me and feel a little embarrassed for staring at their homes while they watched me. Oh, well. I thought I got a good introduction to the town, though I'm not sure how much more exploring I'll have time to do before I head out on Monday afternoon.

When I got back to the Guest House, I found T.J. back on the porch. After grabbing some (clean) water in my room, I came back outside and asked if he had found food yet. He hadn't eaten in the meantime, so we decided to head out and see what was up. Only a block or so away was a restaurant that my driver had recommended earlier that afternoon, and after T.J. got some money from an ATM (an odd process here, for sure), we went in. It had several open tables, and we both ordered the lamb - I got a burger and he got the curry. I enjoyed mine, and he said his was good, too. We were both so exhausted - he had traveled on an overnight bus from Cancun, and you all know my story. Nevertheless, we had a pretty good conversation over that meal. Another decently long conversation about travel, politics, and recreational drugs. For such an introvert, I've been rather extroverted today. It turns out that he's doing one of those cave adventures tomorrow and then Xunantunich on Monday, too. Since we both were told that our tours are leaving at 7:30 tomorrow morning, we decided to meet up around 7:20 and walk the 5 minutes to our respective tour companies. It's nice to make new friends on these solo trips.

My room is in a corner of the house, with two windows and an oscillating fan. So I think I'll be cool enough. But these hell hounds throughout the neighborhood might not let me get a good night of sleep. Fortunately for me, I've got ear plugs, melatonin, and some malaria pills that knock me out. Here's hoping for a restful evening before my first Mayan expedition tomorrow morning!

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