Belize – Part 1 – Doomward Bound

Several months ago my friend and co-worker got it in his head that he wanted me to come to Belize and photograph his wedding. I explained that I did not consider myself a wedding photographer and made every effort to discourage him from this notion. After some back and forth he opted to hire a “pro” to shoot the wedding, but still wanted me to come and shoot casually with the idea that I would capture things the “pro” would not.

I agreed and arrangements were made to fly me to Belize City where I would then take the water taxi to San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye which is about 30 miles away. We booked the flight and found a hotel and I was all set.

From the get-go I was apprehensive about the whole thing. Cynthia had no interest in going and I was generally uneasy about the trip overall. I didn’t really know what to expect and I worried I would bring no photographic value to my friend’s wedding. I had a few months to stew on the subject before it actually happened and that only made my anxiety worse.

The wedding was set for July 4th so I would fly out on July 2nd. As it turned out, there were storms all over Texas due to Hurricane Alex hitting Mexico so I drove through blinding rain just to get to the airport. Check in went smoothly and while I was waiting to board the plane an alarm went off at IAH. I think it was a fire alarm. Nobody seemed all that concerned and someone did come on the intercom to say they were investigating the cause. The alarm continued for another 20 minutes and was still going as we boarded the plane.

Once the plane was loaded, we pulled back from the gate and proceeded to the runway to take off.

The rain was REALLY coming down at this point and the plane came to a stop. The captain came on the intercom and informed us that departures were halted until the worst of the storm passed. We sat on the tarmac for about 45 minutes before we were cleared for takeoff.

This had me rather stressed. I knew I had limited time to clear customs and catch a cab to the water taxi stand before the last water taxi to San Pedro departed. The thought of missing that last water taxi and having to find accommodations in Belize city had no appeal to me whatsoever.

As it turns out, we made good time and clearing customs was a breeze. And the weather was pretty fantastic. Hot, but with a cool breeze. Very pleasant overall.

I collected my luggage and proceeded to the taxi stand to catch a cab to the water taxi and I thought I was well on my way, but no.

As we were driving along, the cab driver got very excited and pulled out his cell phone and began speaking in Creole to someone on the other end, all the while looking in his rear-view mirror. He drove a bit further and then turned the cab around.

He explained that he had seen a man who he knew had jumped immigration standing on the side of the road. The man had been deported to Belize from the US and his good friend was an immigration officer and he wanted to sit on the side of the road and watch the man while he waited for the authorities to come. He assured me we would make the water taxi and I reluctantly agreed to sit. After a while he pulled out his phone again. I got the gist of the call. Whoever was supposed to be coming was not coming. He explained that there was an off-duty policeman in the store across the street so he drove over there and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said “sure, I’d like a Coke” to which he indicated I should go in and buy one. He assured me my things would be safe in the car.

Uh, no…I’ll just wait here with my stuff thank you very much.

He got out of the car and went into the store. A few minutes later he came out with two other men who went and appeared to arrest the man we’d be watching.

My cab driver got back in the car and we headed off.

I really don’t know what happened. It could have been on the level, or I could have just narrowly avoided getting completely jacked in Belize City. At any rate, I was glad to be moving…even if it was to an as yet to be determined alternate doom.

Belize City, at least between the airport and the water taxi stand, is a hole. Very depressed with old cars belching smoke and run down buildings everywhere you look. It was not someplace I wanted to be stuck and I was praying hard that I’d make the last boat to San Pedro.

We got to the water taxi stand with 12 minutes to spare, but I was not out of the woods yet. There was a long line to get on the boat and a long line to purchase tickets. I must have looked rather desperate and confused at this point. A woman stopped me and asked me where I was headed and I told her I was going to San Pedro. She called a man over who explained he would get me on the boat but needed to get my luggage on the boat now while I went and purchased a ticket.

I thought for sure my luggage was going to be gone, but the man had me walk over and see him give my suitcase to the men loading the boat. It was oddly reassuring but still felt like it could be scam.

I got in line and purchased my ticket. My first lesson in Belize exchange rates came at this point. The woman said the cost was $30 so I gave her two U.S. 20 dollar bills. She then gave me one of the 20’s back and a $10 Belize bill. Oh yea! 2 to 1 US to Belize exchange rate. $30 Belize is $15 US so change for my U.S. $20 in the form of $10 Belize.

The man assisting me then walked me to the front of the boarding line and then said “Do you have my tip?” and then it all made sense. He was hustling tips, not looking to steal my stuff. I gave him the $10 Belize and climbed aboard.

The boat was nothing special. A fiberglass constuct where about 40 or so of us were crammed into the hold. Plenty of windows, but we were so low in the boat you couldn’t really see out. There was a sign that said no standing while underway and another sign that indicated that life preservers were located behind the seats.

For the record, there were no life preservers.

The boat pulled away from the pier and headed out into the blue waters of the Caribbean toward our destination.

For some reason, I had it my head that it was a 45 minute ride to San Pedro. After about an hour we arrived at a pier, but it was not San Pedro, it was Caye Caulker. We stopped and unloaded quite a bit of luggage, but no passengers. I watched nervously, expecting to see my luggage unloaded but it wasn’t. It seemed odd they were unloading luggage, but no passengers. I concluded that it must be luggage that was seprated from its owners due to mixups in baggage handling or something.

We pulled away once more and 20 minutes later we arrived at our ultimate destination.

Next up – San Pedro

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Jay Lee

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3 thoughts on “Belize – Part 1 – Doomward Bound

  1. Yipes! Sounds stressful! I don’t think I would have been comfortable with that at all. Waiting for the next installment….

  2. Yeah, that trip from the airport to the boat terminal to the island itself is a bit stressful. Fortunately, you block it out by the time you get to the island. A little rum punch helps!

    Elaine & I originally said we were going to spend our last night in Belize City before we flew out the next day — fortunately, that was while we were still back in Houston. The client immediately told us no way – two women should *not* stay in Belize City. I understood once I got there. Caye Caulker? Yes. Belize City? NO.

  3. Next time take the hopper planes – inexpensive, quick and you don’t even have to leave the airport. Plus you get to see the islands from above.

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