Sunday, July 4th and it is time to go home. I had a 3:45 flight back to Houston so it was simply a matter of getting from San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye back to Belize City and then to the airport where I would then only be a few short hours from returning home.
There are two main water taxi companies in Belize. Caye Caulker Water Taxi and San Pedro Belize Express. Each company has their own unique schedule, so which one you choose really depends on what time you want to go. Coming in I used Caye Caulker Water Taxi, but heading back I opted for the San Pedro Belize Express because they had an 11:30am departure back to Belize City and that was best for my time frame.
I got to the departure pier an hour early just to stake out the best seat and was glad I did. Unlike Caye Caulker Water Taxi, the San Pedro Belize Express boats have an open air top deck and by being near the front of the line I got a prime seat with a nice view and it wasn’t very crowded. Since the boat was full they only took passengers that were going to Belize City and used another boat for those headed to Caye Caulker so it was a non-stop ride which was great.
The weather was again fantastic. I had worried that I might have to take the ride during a rain storm and that would have been less than pleasant.
The boat ride was uneventful, but much more pleasant than the ride over. The boat just seemed better than the ones operated by the other company.
We pulled in to Belize City and disembarked. After collecting my luggage I proceeded to the front of the station where the cabs were lined up and arranged my ride to the airport.
All of the cabs were in pretty wretched shape. Faded paint, dirty and in various states of disrepair. As is the norm for any taxi stand, you don’t get to choose your cab, you go in the one that is next in line.
My cab was a thing of absolute beauty (he said sarcastically). An early 90′s Toyota Minivan. The upholstery was shredded and worn and the front windshield was fully smashed on the passenger side and cracked pretty bad on the driver’s side.
My driver was a friendly and talkative fellow. His upbeat yammering was helpful in distracting me from the horrors as they unfolded in what SHOULD have been a mere 20 minute ride to the airport.
As we headed off to our destination I noticed that the cab seemed to be slipping gears. My driver would have to take the cab out of gear, rev the engine and then slip it back into gear which would then result in a forward lurch that was rather unsettling. As we approached the first of what was to be many speed bumps, the driver slowed down and as we went over it, the entire front of the vehicle made the most horrendous sound and the cab rattled and shook so violently I honestly thought the entire front wheel assembly was going to disintegrate into a heap of useless, rusty metal.
We continued on down the road, lurching as the cab found its way in and out of gear. I’m thinking to myself “just a few miles, we can make it” and then the engine died. As we coasted down the bumpy, pothole filled road rattling and shaking the driver dropped us out of gear, turned the key and after a bit of starter grinding noise, the engine struggled back to life. He dropped it back into gear and we lurched forward once again.
Keep in mind that this is not a pleasant place to be driving, but I would imagine it is a million times more unpleasant if you’re broken down on the side of the road. In my luggage is my valuable camera gear and my laptop. I am, at this point, extremely grateful I am insured.
We enter a roundabout which I recognize from the ride in and this comforts me. I know we’re going in the right direction and I know it’s not going to be much longer.
Then we spot the orange cones. The road we want to go down (the one that leads to the airport) is blocked off with a policeman indicating we need to stay in the roundabout and take a detour. We continue around and the engine dies again. The driver indicates that he needs to stop and get some gas. This is when I notice we’re on “E” and that the check engine light is on and the oil level indicator light is blinking. This is when I realize I am going to either die or miss my flight…or both.
We pull into a gas station and, I kid you not, the driver tells the attendant to give him $15 PREMIUM. Not the cheap stuff for this guy.
We get our gas and head off once more.
The detour takes us through an even rougher area of town and I am starting to get just a teeny bit concerned for my safety. The driver continues to yammer on about some inane subject or another. It is oddly comforting, but not enough to put me completely at ease. The roads being even worse than the main road, we’re rattling and shaking and lurching as we slip in and out of gear BUT, thanks to the refueling, the engine is no longer dying.
We come back out on the main road and before we can get more than a few hundred feet there’s a police car in the middle of the road, right before the bridge. The policeman gestures for us to stop and the cab driver tells me to put on my seatbelt as he buckles his own. Mine, of course, was already on.
As we’re sitting there we see a number of vehicles coming across the bridge followed by cyclists. Apparently there is some cross country bike race going on and that is what is blocking traffic everywhere.
After about 10 minutes they pass and the policeman gestures for us to proceed.
We drive a bit further and there is yet ANOTHER policeman and he is pointing for us to turn down an unpaved road leading in to the slums. Here the cab is struggling mightily and we are far, far away from anything even remotely comforting. My driver is explaining how this is a common occurrence in Belize. Detours due to anything from visiting dignitaries to car crashes and, apparently, bike races. I’m just waiting for the cab to completely fail at this point and am psyching myself up in preparation for missing my flight and god knows what else if I end up having to find another ride and a place to stay.
Fortunately we make it through the back way and on to the main road once again and then to the road that takes us to the airport.
I breathe a sigh of utter relief as I slide out of the cab and collect my luggage. I pay the driver and enter the airport.
The rest of the trip home is, thankfully, uneventful.