- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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Belize City, Belize, January 20, 2007 --
Today is Friday.

Tuesday night I was up until 11.30pm
packing and repacking my bag.  I had gotten
lucky and in the Finley family luggage
stash found a backpack with side and top
handles as well as shoulder straps and a
telescoping-handled rollaround thingy.  I
recommend this type if you can find it
because I was to use each of these features
repeatedly on my trip down to Central

Patty got up with me at 3:30 and by 4:15 we
were on our way to the airport.  I checked
the little Godin acoustic in the hardshell
case and headed for the plane.  I expected
to have to unpack to show security what was
in the radiopaque metal box that holds the
Zoom stereo recorder I had borrowed from my
friend and producer Dick Cooper.
Apparently, though, the x-ray revealed not
only the little metal box but the world of
crap I had tightly packed in there with it
and so security and I reached an implicit
agreement that I would not blow up the
plane in return for not having to unpack
and repack the said world of crap while
other passengers waited, grumbling, and
security waved me through.  It has probably
occurred to other people than me that it
would be just as easy to take out 250
people at an airport checkpoint as on the
plane itself.  Security, therefore, is a
mere display and boarding a flight is as
much a leap of faith as it ever was.

A one-way ticket on Continental to Cancun
is about $180 total.  I chose Cancun
because a flight to Belize is nearly double
that price.  I figured I would fly to
Cancun and than take buses into Belize and
save a little dough.  Whether that works or
not I'll let you know.

The little Embraer jet took off on time and
got to Houston-Bush(jump back!)
International a little ahead of schedule. I
made a courtesy call to Governor Friedman,
had our typically amiable and brief
conversation and boarded the 737 for
Cancun. I got there at about noon-thirty.


Cancun is ever in a state of edificial
blasto-clastosis.  Buildings that ten years
ago were astonishing in their modernity are
being torn down standing beside the latest
architectural confection...this year's
theme seems to be I.M. Pei Goes Mayan.
Designed to vacuum up the tourists coming
from the airport via the van or taxi.  The
van costs $9 US and the taxi $40.  The
street rate of exchange, fairly close to the
official one, is 10 pesos to the dollar,
and the dollar is accepted freely.  The
usual traps in every tourist destination
I've been to abound in Cancun:  McDonald's,
for instance, and that ubiquitous phony
franchise Hard Rock Cafe.
Cancun, though, wins hands down in the
viral sleaze department with about thirty
bars advertising that "Girls Drink Free".
The image this sets off in my brain, that
of Little Suzie Gringa coming back to
college with venereal warts, is enough to
send me straight to the bus station to get
outta town.


Getting outta town by bus is easy, once you
accept that there is not going to be a bus
direct to Belize City.  I haggled with any
number of ticket vendors about this, as it
made perfect sense to me that such a bus
actually exists, not to mention having read
on the Internet that there was such a bus.
But a mature supervisor lady, no doubt
taken with my striking good looks(yeah,
right) finally explained to me that that
bus is history and hasn't run in two years.

I ultimately accepted defeat and sprang for
a Primera Clase ticket to Chetumal (Segundo
Clase, apparently, involves sharing the
ride with folks who are traveling with
their pigs and chickens.).
For you bus nuts out there, the First Class
bus is powered by a Detroit Diesel 8V71
linked to an Allison 8-speed(!) standard
transmission.  For you mere mortals, let me
say that the bus, amenities-wise, was an
air-conditioned wonder with closed circuit
TV showing a movie overdubbed in Spanish
about a poor young Thai man, the hope of
his village, who goes to the big city and
has incredible kung-fu adventures, somehow
netting him a huge amount of money to take
back home and, I don't know, build a
municipal well or something.  I watched it
twice, it being two hours long and the trip
to Chetumal taking four hours.
We had a rest stop and when I reboarded a
fat lady was occupying my reserved window
seat.  I let it slide because, hey, fat
ladies got enough problems already, and
took the aisle.  Besides, I was really
interested to see if the poor young man
would once again
take the fabulous booty back to his
village.  He did.  Movies are like that.

The bus left Cancun at 3 pm and didn't get
to Chetumal (never heard of it?  neither
had I, but it has a population of more than
a million) until nearly 9.  I was both
literally and figurativey traveling in the
dark, but ran into an American ex-pat on
his way back from visiting folks up north.
He explained that the bus to Belize City
would not leave until the next morning.  I
found a hotel and ultimately broke down and
paid about 45 bucks US for a single for the
[There are cheaper rooms to be had in
Chetumal, but I was too tired to
comparison-shop so I stayed there.  The
Hotel Marlon on Avenida de los Heroes.  A
nice joint.]

My American friend had given me directions
to the bus station for the Belize City bus,
so next morning I set out walking, politely
refusing taxis as I was running low on
ready cash and worried that I wouldn't be
able to pay my freight to Belize City.  As
I later learned, though, taxis in Chetumal
are quite reasonable.

I nearly walked past the bus terminal
because the Belize Bus Terminal has no
sign; it's just a parking lot where the
buses pull up.  There were none there when
I got there, and had I not asked where it
was and been told "Aqui", I would have
walked on past it.
Eventually, though, the bus to Belize City
came and for $14 Belizean (always pegged at
2 dollars Belize to 1 dollar US), I got
aboard a repainted Blue Bird school Bus
imported from Western Bus Sales in Oregon.
A few miles later, after surrendering my
Mexican tourist card and passing easily
through Belizean customs I headed South.