More Belize, with some Guatemala.
Travelers Of The People, Pt I.
When we crossed the river from Belize into Guatemala, we were taken aback by the "Exit Fee," which was $37.50 Belize, or that amount in US for both of us together. Seems strange to be charged a fee to travel, but we weren't charged again on re-entry, nor were we charged again when we flew out of the country.
We walked up the hill to a gas station past many money-changers, and bought a few quetzals from them at 7.5 Q : $1 US. We bypassed the rather aggressive taxi drivers, and bought a Pepsi, noting the slightly different taste of sugar-based syrup, as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup.
After a bit, a minivan full of people came by, and asked us if we wanted a ride. Sure. We wanted to go to Tikal. Well, he was going to Flores, but could drop us off at the crossroads for 20Q. Done. We shoved in, and thought that, now that the minivan was really full, we would have an express route to the crossroads. Eh, not so much. A 20 mile trip turned into a 2 hour trip along their highway, made up of well-grated gravel. Following distances are poorly thought of, in Guatemala. More stops were made, and more people were squeezed in, with more and more baggage put on the luggage rack on top. We finally stopped at 17 passengers, all of whom were polite, exchanged pleasantries, and generally were of good spirits, despite tropical heat and no air conditioning.
Here's a minivan that is at its least-full status. Note that they guy to my left is practically in my lap. I've got two adults to my right, and four or five behind me.
A boy always minded the door. We boarded different vans in Guatemala, but it was always the same: the boy whose age was closest to 12 years old would sit closest to the sliding side door, and open it and scramble out to assist with luggage and such at each stop. Although he handed the money to the driver, and returned change, I never saw the boy tipped, and never saw any expectation of him that there might be a tip. When he got off the minivan, the next closest-aged boy took over the duties. The boy didn't seem to get any break in price for his services; he was just a passenger. I never saw anyone direct the boys to take these actions, and heard no one comment on them, which leads me to believe that this is simply expected behavior. If so, then I find it to be one of the most charming aspects of Guatemala.
Here the boy is inside, holding the door open after pulling it open.
Eastern Guatemala seems to run on the backs of the little mid-engined diesel mini-vans. They all had cargo racks welded to the top, with some kind of customization made to the window tinting and to the seat upholstery. Not one had a clear field of view in the windshield.
This was one of the newer minivans that we saw.
Speaking of windshields, I noticed that one of our minivan drivers had decorated his windshield with a series of small decals of motorcycles. Victory markers?
My wife and I believe that a good way to see a country and understand its people is to ride its public transportation. In Belize, we first walked, took taxis, and then took water taxis from Belize City to the cayes. Water taxis are basically used like bus lines, and are essential to the economy of the cayes. They deliver people and goods very quickly to the docks, and are surprisingly punctual, despite the rest of the islands being on "Caribbean time," a.k.a. "Belize time."
Looking aft in a water taxi. The locals sit in the shade. The tourists sit in the sun.
The ride from Belize City to Ambergris Caye is about 50 minutes, with a short stop on Caye Caulker while en route. Because the drone of three outboards running full-throttle makes it a little too loud to talk, most people on the water taxis read books, listened to iPods (EVERYONE has earbuds for their MP3 players there. Most just use their phones for this. Hell, I don't even have earbuds for my cell phone, yet.), watched movies on their iPods (my wife did this), or, like the dork that I was, stared out the windows at the reef going by, and at the Caribbean Sea beyond it. I even took pictures of just... open water. I'm certain that the locals rolled their eyes at this. I thought about how, the first time he went skiing, a friend from Houston spent an entire roll of film photographing every snow bank he passed, much to his fellow travelers' amusement.
Looking out over the bow on our last ride back to Belize City.
I tried various ways to get my crappy point-and-shoot camera to capture the true blue of the Caribbean waters, and the reef below. I found that the lens could actually sort of see the reef just 10 to 15 feet below, if I shot through my polarized sun-glasses, which caused a little distortion of the horizon.
I simply cannot represent here the blues that we saw.