Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Great Christmas Adventure

or How I Traveled 1500 Miles in 27 Hours and Did Not Inflict Harm on Anyone

Due to the extent of the events that occurred during this trip, the blog will be in several parts. I would suggest beginning at the beginning and working your way through the days, but if you don't, you'll get the drift, I'm sure.

Renita gave me the best Christmas present ever. A ticket to fly to Indiana and spend Christmas with my daughter and granddaughter, and my Five Fabulous Friends since we were a little slow here at the B&B. So I looked at reservations, and I held flights, then I cancelled the hold, then I looked again. This went on for days. Between not wanting to leave her here alone, and worrying about how I would fare A) in the frigid temperatures, B) driving a car, and C) driving a car in freezing rain/sleet/snow. I finally found a decent airfare but would have to fly out of Cancun then return back to Belize City. This was about $400 cheaper than flying out of Belize City both ways. The flight leaving Cancun was at 2:45 pm. I held my breath, I changed my mind 47 times, then I pushed the "confirm" button and entered the credit card number. I was going.

Once I had made the decision to leave, I next had to book my transportation to Cancun. I booked my flight for Corozal for 7:00 am on the morning of my departure, which was Monday, the 22nd. I emailed Cecelia to have them pick me up and take me to Chetumal for my five hour bust trip to Cancun. Check. Made my 7:00 am flight San Pedro to Corozal. Check. Tried to open up the Mexico bus schedule all day online to no avail. Finally called Cecelia on Sunday, the 26th around 3:00 pm to ask if she could open the website. Told her my plan. and she uttered those four words you never want to here, "you'll never make it". Drat. We determined that I would have to take the last flight from San Pedro to Corozal that day, which left San Pedro in an hour and fifteen minutes. Double Drat. That meant in one hour and fifteen minutes, my butt needed to be on a Tropic Air flight from San Pedro to Corozal. I called Renita to let her know. I started throwing things in a suitcase. I am not sure what all I ended up throwing in there, but figured I would make do with what I had.

4:30 pm on Saturday. I am sitting at the San Pedro Tropic Air terminal wearing shorts and flip flops, wondering how I will survive in the northern tundra.

The sun sets on San Pedro

5:15 pm Saturday. Henry's driver is there to pick me up at the Corozal airstrip. He tells me that he has been instructed by Henry to take me by the house. We stop. I "Merry Christmas" the entire family. Joan tells me that what I need to do is to take the bus this evening and ride all night to Cancun to insure that I arrive in Cancun in time to make my 2:45 pm flight the following day. After mulling this over, I agree with her and determnie that I would be saving the cost of a hotel room in Chetumal, coupled with the fact that I may not be able to get on the 6:00 am bus the following day, which is what I need in order to make my flight from Cancun. Whew. Ok, so game plan change number 2 is in order. Instead of staying at a hotel in Chetumal, I will find a bus leaving tonight and sleep on the bus.

Inside the Chetumal bus station

For those of you who have never taken a bus in Mexico, here's your important information. Primera Clase (First Class) and another word, "Express". The first class busses in Mexico have large reclining seats, movies, and a bathroom on board. They are NOTHING like the Greyhound busses in the US, and are much more comfy. Express means that you will not stop at every single village in Mexico known to man since the beginning of time. It also meand that everyone will have a seat assignment. I recommend getting as close to the front as possible, where you have a good view of the monitor, but not so close as to see the oncoming traffic on the two lane road you will be traveling on. Best not to have a heart attack on the Mexican bus. On the First Class bus you will not stop to pick up drunken patrons from a bar heading to the next town or village to resume getting their tequila on.

Renita and I made the mistake of taking a "Segundo Clase" bus from Chetumal one time and it took us about 8 hours to travel what can be done in 5. Besides the seats being much smaller, the toilets generally do not work, there are no movies, and no one has an assigned seat. This is, for all purposes, the famed Mexico Chicken bus. Do not take this bus. For those arriving and departing at the thousands of locations you will no doubt stop, they will simply hold on the to rod which is supposed to be holding in your carry on luggate. This makes each and every person crotch level with your face. On a really crowded bus, this can be one of life's most unpleasant experiences. If they do not happen to find a rod to hold on to, they will hold one another up by the lips, which is what one drunken couple did while we were on the Chicken Bus. Oh, and the Mexican Police tend to stop the Chicken busses two or three times during your trip and get on and demand to see passp0rts. I never saw them take anyone off, but maybe it's something for them to do in the middle of the night. Alas, I digress.

I did finally make it to the Chetumal bus station, around 6:30 pm. I stood in a huge line to get my ticket. When I finally reached the counter at around 7:00 pm, I realized my Spanish was a little rusty and had forgotten that no one in Chetumal speaks English. I finally managed to convey that I wanted to go to Canmcun, primera clase, asap. The woman behind the counter laughed at me when I said, "Cancun First Class, Express, Vamanos." She showed me the schedule and the next available bus left at 10:30 pm. There were only three seats left on the bus, and I chose the one directly behind the driver. Now, only three and a half more hours to spend at the Chetumal bus station. Any of you who have been to the Chetumal bus station know that you could buy something from every single vendor in the place, throw out all the Spanish words you know, sit in every available seat, and be finished in fifteen minutes. Additionally, if you need to use the facilities, which, of course, I did, you will need to come up with 5 pesos. I had already left Belize and my cell phone no longer worked, so not only did I need to find 5 pesos for the bathroom, I needed 50 pesos to buy a Mexican phone card to let Renita know that I was not stranded on some Mexican highway, nor was I detained at the border for some reason.

The exchange rate of US dollars to Mexican Pesos was $10 US for $100 Pesos for a long time. Thus, for $20 Belize Dollars you could get $100 Pesos.. Someone decided at some point to change the exchange rate to $12 US or $6 Belize for $100 Pesos. This requires one to do math and in my case, the use of a calculator, which I did not have. So I slipped into one of the little vendors there in the bus station and bought a pretend "Starbucks" cold coffee from the cooler and a Mexican version of a Twinkie, aptly named "Tinkies". Interesting. That transaction left me with my $50 Pesos for my phone card and $5 Pesos for the bathroom.

If you have never been to the Chetumal bus station, you should know that this building has a large, garage door sized opening on the front. Which is actually not a door at all, meaning that it doesn't close. If it rains outside, it rains inside, if there are mosquitoes outside, they are inside. If it's hot outside, well, then I think you can imagine the roasting effect of the inside of this concrete building.

The banos are located up about 14 steps. Having a full sized suitcase along with a carry on requires some strength along with some ballet type moves in order to get up the steps, then into the actual "Damas" athroom. Oh and be sure to take some toilet paper off the giant roll when you walk in because there won't be any in your stall. Luckily, I had some napkins tucked into my shirt pocket from my Tinkie purchase.

People watching is pleasant there, but a firm grip of the Spanish language would definitely make it more so. Eavesdropping is out of the question. You can only imagine where all of these people are going with huge plastic bags, television sets, five or six children and twenty family members. I changed plastic chairs every time a bus came or went just to keep the circulation moving in my legs, and read my book.

Luckily fate would seat me next to a couple from Denmark, who, while sitting alone only spoke Dutch. However, when one Spanish announcement was made, they did ask me in English if this was the bus leaving for Cancun. After a quick look at my watch, I told them that it indeed was our bus.

1 comment:

Ruthie said...

Oh my gosh Cin...and you haven't even got on the bus to Cancun yet! I'm exhausted.