Shortly after I turned 24 I started travelling. It should’ve been earlier, I know, but prior to this all I was really interested in was the occasional road trip or camping trip to some of the destinations within a few hours or days drive of my house. I got to know a few of the local sites, but I never really stepped outside of my comfort zone to experience something totally new until a buddy of mine invited me to fly down to Mexico to meet him for a backpacking trip through Central America. This post is a continuation of that story. See part one here.
March 28 2013
I am sitting in a hotel room in Belize, morning light peeking through the glass patio door that is the entrance to our room. The last few days have gone by in a blur. After Matt’s tattoo there were a couple of goodbye parties at some of the houses where we stayed during our days in Campeche. Everyone gave us advice and tried to convince us not to go. It is strange how after only a few days I am going to miss them and the places that I’ve been already. We were invited to a football (soccer) game. Mexico vs. US. Matt and I decided to finish packing and get on the road. Our bus left at 22:00 from Campeche to Chetumal, which is a border town between Mexico and Belize. Eli, Majo, Cheko and Jorge surprised us by showing up to the bus station to see us off, even though they would have to miss the game which I knew they were super excited about. They made us laugh when they tried to pick up our backpacks and put them on, exclaiming how heavy they were. Perhaps we over packed.
We boarded the bus after hugs and promised to keep in touch and we started what was supposed to be a 7 hour bus ride to Chetumal. We tried to get some sleep but the driver made frequent stops to pick people up and drop them off, almost like a city bus rather than the coach it was supposed to be. He hit potholes and speed bumps at breakneck speed and kept the lights on for the majority of the ride. At one point, he stopped in some random town and had a beer with the revelers in the streets before continuing on the way. Wild. When we finally arrived at 06:00 we were starving and exhausted. Upon asking around we discovered another bus was heading south toward Belize City in an hour. Perfect timing.
The bus ride into Belize was uneventful though interesting. We had to pay a 300 peso exit fee just to leave the country (who knew?) however immigration at Belize was a breeze. The drive was eye opening. Little shacks lined the uneven roads, some with power but most without. Dirty children played in the soil outside their doors and buildings in various degrees of decay and abandonment stood out against farmer’s fields. The main crop was a tall leafy plant that I can only imagine is sugar cane. When we finally arrived in Belize City, it too was very poor and nothing like we expected. It was crowded, dirty and very poor. The bus barely fit through the narrow streets, which were lined with shacks on top of shacks that looked close to collapse. The bus station was in the midst of this on a little inlet that came in from the ocean. We got off the bus and learned that a water taxi was about to leave in five minutes time for an island off of the coast. Rather than stay in the slums, we quickly grabbed tickets and headed for the Island of San Pedro. It is large, touristy and beautiful in comparison to the mess we left behind on the mainland.
We stayed in San Pedro for 2 nights. Our cabby tried to get us a room at Pedro’s, a popular hostel on the Island. Unfortunately, it was full. The cabbie told us the next cheapest place was Banana’s, a hotel just down the road. At $300 BLZ a night, it was more than we wanted to spend but we didn’t have much of a choice so we took it. The Island itself is gorgeous. I’ve never seen water so blue or a night sky so intense. Upon talking to a local dive shop, I booked a dive for the next day. The barrier reef is less than half a mile from the coast line and it’s an opportunity that I can’t pass up. I had trouble equalizing due to some lingering congestion, however after spending some time getting used to the pressure I was able to go lower without pain. I saw a flounder, a barracuda and a ton of other brightly coloured fish swimming in schools. The coral reef had big, wing-looking, brilliant purple coral waving in the current. I look forward to continuing my dive education in the future.
We found a much cheaper room for the next night on the main strip. Apparently our cabbie lied to us. We had some drinks on the balcony with our manager, Eli, who is a local guy and seems pretty cool. After a couple of Island rums and a song later, (Matt on guitar, me on harmonica) Eli was our best friend. He took us out to a couple bars that the locals frequent and we stopped by a beach bar where a DJ was set up and selling squares for a “chicken drop.” Basically you bet on a square and then a chicken is let loose in the ring and if it poops on your square, you double your money. We left shortly after. On the way back to the hotel room we stopped at a club and Matt tried to pick up a local girl. It turns out she was a thief who gets into tourists hotel rooms and steals their passports/money. The tourism police didn’t let him get far and filled us in on the details later. He’ll never learn.
So that’s part two in my first backpacking trip out of the country. It was a time of much learning and discovery for me as I slowly picked up Spanish and life lessons from another part of the world. I will always look back on that trip fondly. Stay tuned for part 3 coming shortly as we adventure down into Guatemala! Feel free to leave a comment below with similar experiences or thoughts on the trip!
Jonathan Beam is a writer, traveller and real estate investor that is passionate about living a life that is totally on his terms!