Friday, May 2, 2008

Belize trip: day 6

We packed up all our stuff and had a buffet breakfast of eggs, bacon, beans, fry jacks, fruit, yogurt and coffee. After a quick round of group photo taking we got into the little motor boat that would take us all back to Dangriga. It was maybe a half hour trip. We pulled up right on the beach in front of the Island Expeditions office.

All our dry bags were unloaded onto a big tarp and we quickly transferred our stuff from the dry bags to our own backpacks and suitcases. Everyone except me was catching a flight to Belize City, so after trips to the washroom and hugs and goodbyes they got into the van and headed off to the airstrip.

Sam had arranged for me to go to San Ignacio to see a Mayan sacred cave, while he went off for the weekend to Caye Caulker. I would be taking a bus to Belmopan, the capital city of Belize, and then catching another bus to San Ignacio. Sam would be flying to Belize City and then taking a water taxi out to Caye Caulker. I would be joining him there in a couple of days and then we would return to Belize City together to catch a flight home.

Sam drove me to the bus depot in the Island Expeditions van where we thought we might have lunch, but as it turned out the bus was about to leave so I got my ticket and boarded the bus.

The bus was an old school bus but it had a video screen at the front and for the entire trip played music videos, mostly Spanish American, although there was one reggae tune at the beginning. I had a bench seat to myself and could watch the scenery go by on the Hummingbird Highway. There was one man driving and another who was the conductor, he collected money from the passengers. I was the only white person on the bus which made me feel a bit strange.

At one point we had to take a detour from the highway. The bus went off the paved road onto a very rough dirt road into the bush. It drove very slowly along this road until we came to a river, and then we drove right through the river to the other side, getting back onto the highway very shortly after that.

In Belmopan everyone got off the bus. The depot was chaotic, with young boys and women running around selling food and drinks to people already on the buses there. They walked around the buses, calling out and waving what they were selling, and people on the buses would reach through the windows for what they wanted. A beggar woman on crutches at the doorway of the depot kept coming after me for money, lifting her skirt and pointing to her knee to indicate her crippling disability.

There were some Mennonites waiting for a bus at the depot. They all wore heavy cotton clothes in blue or green, the men had beards and big straw hats, the women had long skirts and kerchiefs on their heads.

I thought I was waiting for a bus that had "San Ignacio" on the front but that turned out not to be true. A bus came in and many people, including all of the Mennonites crowded onto it. I stood by, taking pictures, and then finally asked someone when the bus to San Ignacio was coming. He pointed at that bus. I quickly put my camera away and ran over with my backpack. A man took my pack and indicated that I should get on the bus.

There were no seats left and the aisle was full, but still people crowded on. Seats that normally held one or two people now held two or three. The aisle was so packed that you didn't really need to hold on, the tightly packed bodies would hold you up. And of course you couldn't see out the windows at all. No music videos here! But I was glad I got on at all.

The conductor had a sidekick, the two men wended their way through the packed bus to collect ticket money. A very large woman was standing near me, it was quite the feat for the two men to get by her. There was no place for her to get out of their way, the seats were so packed that she couldn't even have sat in anyone's lap! But somehow it was done and the conductor collected his ticket money.

Eventually enough people got off that I could sit down. There were three young Mennonite women sitting near me, they seemed like teenage girls anywhere, chewing gum and whisper-chatting the way young girls do. The Mennonites got off in different places, they usually had a horse-drawn wagon or buggy tied up near the bus stop to continue their journey back into the jungle to their farms.

I got off the bus at San Ignacio, it would continue on to the Guatemalan border. Sam told me to look for Pacz Tours, they were taking care of my accommodation as well as the Mayan sacred cave tour. I got directions to the street Pacz Tours was on, then asked again where their office was but couldn't find it.

Eventually I stopped a woman on the street and asked if she knew where it was and she said she was walking that way and would take me to it. I had walked right by it and just not seen the sign. I am so grateful that English is the official language here! And that folks are friendly and helpful.

Pacz Tours had a tiny office on a narrow street, but it backed onto the courtyard of Pacz Hotel. I was shown through the courtyard to a small cabin with a porch.

The cabin was plain, but it had its own bathroom, windows all round, a TV and a large fan. Good enough! It was late afternoon, so after unpacking and showering I went out to wander around and buy some groceries for dinner. I also bought a few souvenirs to bring home.

I got various bits of advice, that I should eat at Hanna's and I should look for Amigos bus company to get a cheaper trip to the water taxis in Belize City. I did both, the dinner at Hanna's was fine (rice and beans and chicken!) but Amigos was closed. I decided to stick with what I knew, the bus depot. The TV didn't work so I read and went to bed early.

Back to trip summary
Back to day 5
On to day 7...

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