Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Border crossings and Bus rides ....

And so the big day arrived; the day of the chicken bus! We were all up extremely early, TC still had her headache, but she was holding it all together.

After a ten minute walk to the bus stop, which at that time of the morning seemed like half an hour, we clamboured onto the public bus - seeing as we were still in Mexico at this point it was more of a coach. Five hours later we got off at the border in Chetumal. 

For me, crossing the border to Belize was the most harrowing part. Neil had asked us not to make it obvious that we were with a tour group as we passed through and suggested we make out that we were either solo travellers or in pairs and obviously NOT to all give the same hotel as our destination and above all else, we 'didn't know him!' If they were to find out he was a tour guide, he could get carted off to jail unless he paid a huge fine as had happened to others before him. (Something to do with ONLY wanting locals as tour guides and a form of extortion).

TC and I had our story planned; we were going through as a pair of travelling buddies who were going to stay in a hostel somewhere, unsure where exactly just yet, but we had our guide book to hand. I reminded her not to say that she worked for a charity, as the last time we went travelling together (in India) she had marked that down in her visa application and was turned down due to some strange reason about bad press?!. She reapplied saying that she was in marketing instead and was accepted but that was not before I got the hysterical phone calls of "They are out to ruin my holiday", "Why do they hate me so much" and "My life is ruined".

Now I am not sure about you, but when I am told not to look at something, for some unknown reason my eyes suddenly take on a life of their own and feel the need to look! Then it becomes a battle of wills between them and my neck to look the other way.

And so we waited in line, desperately trying not to acknowledge the rest of our group, when I was suddenly distracted by a Mennonite family just ahead of us. (Mennonites are a group of Christian missionaries from German Dutch descent formed around the 16th Century. They are known for their pacifist and traditionalist beliefs and certain 'dress style' - think Little House on the Prairy. Over the decades, due to certain government restrictions on their lifestyle, they have been forced to move from country to country. One such group settled in Belize in 1958 and have been here since).

I couldn't help staring at the extremely Aryan looking family dressed in their Sunday best - it was close to 30 degrees outside, meanwhile the two women and little girl were all wearing long sleeved, high collared synthetic floral dresses with what looked like tights AND pop socks (I doubt they shaved their legs!!) plus straw bonnets, even the little gurgling baby was wearing the same apart from her little cotton bonnet on her head, the father and son where wearing long dark trousers with braces over long sleeved white shirts and they too were sporting wide brimmed straw hats.

I turned to Electra who was stood in the queue next to me and indicated for her to look, but she quickly mumbled under her breath in an extremely strong Spanish accent: "I don't know you, I have never seen you before in my life".

TC and I casually approached the immigration officer who scrutinised our passports then our faces. We told her we were just passing through for a few days and staying in a youth hostel. Or rather TC told her and I just nervously repeated her like some kind of pathetic echo. For once it was TC who stayed calm and collected and gave her the 'marketing ploy'. She was allowed through - phew. The immigration officer turned to me and said: "So Rosalie, what do you do for a living?", "I am a beauty therapist" I responded. "Really? That must be an interesting line of work for you?" " Er, yes? Yes it is?" She was starting to unnerve me now and I was there alone, TC had gone through and I could hear Neil giving his line about being a teacher at the desk next to us. Then I was asked exactly what kind of things I did as a beauty therapist and immediately I started to panic, I don't know why, I just thought that maybe she suspected that I would start offering massages on the beach in order to earn some extra money and they would arrest me for that! And so my thought process shut down and I couldn't think of anything, which probably made me look more suspicious and that in turn unnerved me even more. I could feel the sweat bubbling on my upper lip as I desperately tried to remember what I did for a living and had been doing for the last twenty seven years of my life! I was going to have a panic attack, it was ridiculous. It was probably the idea of standing in front of an Immigration officer in a Latin American country, whilst Neil's emphasis on being cautious, corruption, bribery, fines and being carted away was going round in my head, combined with me probably having watched too many episodes of CSI, Criminal Minds and Law & Order.

I took a deep breath and it all came back to me: "Oh you know, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing", ( I purposely left out the massage bit), "Basically making people look and feel beautiful inside and out ..." (I was now over compensating). She looked over my passport at me, "Well, that all sounds very nice, enjoy your stay". And with that she smiled and let me through.

Finally we were in Belize! 

Scattered along the barrier reef is a group,of small islands known as 'Cayes' (pronounced 'Keys') and it was to Caye Caulker that we were heading. And how were we getting there? Well by boat of course, but before getting to the boat, we had to take ... 'A Chicken Bus'!!!

Belize was formerly known as British Honduras until 1973 and yet it wasn't until 1981 that it gained independence from GB. It is found on the East Coast of Central America and the main language still spoken is English with a strong Caribbean accent, (Spanish and Creole are also spoken). 

We were dropped off at the bus station in various knackered out old taxis and waited for our bus to arrive. I had fully recovered from my 'Immigration Incident' and TC was back to her pre-chicken bus ride nerves, I watched the colour drain from her face as the buses pulled in. I thought they looked great and I was particularly excited to see a pink one and told her it was a positive sign - she wasn't convinced.

Our bus arrived, it wasn't pink, we dropped our bags at the back for Neil to pack away then we rushed on in order to get seats together. It really wasn't bad at all. There was no air con, but that was fine with the windows open. The seats were worn brown leather but comfy enough, though with maybe not quite enough leg room and there were NO chickens!

As the journey continued, the bus filled up a little more at each stop, but it really wasn't too cramped and I watched as TC visibly relaxed and looked relieved. Neil came over to check she was ok, she said she was fine, her headache had gone and that she put most of it down to a reaction from the anti malaria pills she was taking. Neil and I exchanged a knowing look and smiled.

We had only been in Belize a couple of minutes but I was already loving it. You could feel the calmer, chilled out manner all around. Even the music on the bus was different; no Latin Salsa, now we were listening to Reggae, Dub Step and Raggaton - ya man we was chillin!! 

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