previous chapter... back to the beginning...[/u][/i]
[i]The Two Gringas Mexico leg is done, and that thread is getting to be so very long, that I'm beginning the Belize leg with a fresh one. —Lena
[u]Two Gringas Drive in Belize
Day 8, Part 2 — Thursday afternoon 23 October 2003 — Belize"Double your paper, double your fun!"
Well, even tho' we have got *to* Belize, we are not yet actually *in* Belize, and so the story must continue...Mile 4169 - Santa Elena, Corozal District, Belize
During our loop through the Free Zone and subsequent exit and turn toward Customs and Immigration, we have missed a crucial sign: it says "STOP — Compulsory Quarantine!"
Not that we would necessarily have actually stopped for this sign, as there are no buildings or uniforms of any significance anywhere near the sign — just a couple dusty little shacks among the abandoned vehicles and rubbish and various dusty layabouts to match.
We pause for the first uniform we find, but he just waves vaguely in the direction we're heading anyway, which is toward the obvious customs checkpoint. Which is, of course, exactly not what we're supposed to do.
Now, they've actually got some very nice people here on the Belize side of the border, who wear a (yellow, was it?) tee shirt which has stenciled upon it something like "Customs Assistance", and these nice folks smile genuine smiles and are there for no other purpose than to round up lost souls such as ourselves and put us back on the path of the righteous. Free of charge.
One such angel gets to us just before the scowling uniform at the checkpoint can, and we are given a (to our lunch-less, sun-scorched, addled minds) complex series of procedures to negotiate and are then packed back off to the aforementioned "Compulsory Quarantine!"
This time we do see the sign, after a U-turn, and "STOP!" next to it and wait for something to happen.
Then a dusty, shambling little creature appears from the shade cast by one of the shacks — I am somehow reminded of a sunbaked, Creole version of Gollum — and behind him he is dragging what appears to be an ordinary home-use tank sprayer.
He eagerly explains the process, the fee, the tip he should get in addition to the fee, and then — for some reason — drops his can and ushers me off toward another little shack which turns out to represent one of the three Belizean insurance companies — presumably the one which also gives him a tip to which he is entitled.
And at some point during this show, we are joined by another dusty creature who has shambled across the street, this one young and lanky, who the first creature sternly informs me is "...a liar and a cheat — don't give him anything!" while simultaneously the lanky unit is in my other ear explaining about how he forms the vital link in the process. The stereoscopic effect is highly disorienting.
Denise sits-guard in the car as I am hustled off to the insurance hovel by my entourage, where I buy a month's worth for I forget how little ($30 Bz, maybe?).
Meantime, back at the car, Gollum has done whatever it is he does, and as I return to the vehicle I am presented with a bill for (I think it was) $7 Bz.
As I am pulling out a few US dollars to ransom the Bomber, and dancing back-and-forth in a half-circle to keep Lanky behind me and away from my money, Gollum ushers in the next member of the cast — a very business-like Hispanic fellow with a bulging money belt.
"Dis-a-man give you real good price pesos, U.S. dollar too!"
I am beginning to feel like a nice fat hunk of The Other White Meat, trapped between the back end of my car and the feeding frenzy. I could take any one of these piranha, but I am nearly helpless against the press of numbers. My only hope is to throw chum and get out of the water as quickly as possible.
I give the cambiodor
my pesos and he rips me off for about 5%. I know better than to give up any US dollars and, had I been thinking clearly, I would've held onto the pesos too, since I'll be driving down again in January!
I pay the "Compulsory Quarantine!" bill with a $10 Bz note, which Gollum pockets (without regard to subtraction) in exchange for a small stamped paper. Moneybag, meantime, has vanished without a trace.
As I try to make a break for the driver's side, I am headed off by Lanky, regarding whom Gollum seems to have had a change of heart, and now feels deserves a tip for his contribution to the enterprise. I lose a couple more dollars as I dive for the sanctuary of the Bomber's cockpit. In the left-side mirror I see Gollum taking his cut from Lanky.
I start the car — and the A/C.
"What'd he do?"
"Not much, he sprayed some stuff around the wheels, that was about it."
"Was he spraying the undercarriage and all?"
"Nope — just a little squirt on each wheel."
"Well I hope he didn't get any on the paint."
"Not much chance of that...". . .
We creep forward a hundred yards or so and debate our next move. We compile and average our mis-remembered misinformation and somehow end up parked in the correct lot next to the correct building.
The instructions were to empty the vehicle and carry all our "luggage" into the Customs and Immigration building for inspection. We look mournfully upon the press of boxes, bags, carry-alls, rubbish, dirty laundry, tools, emergency kit, etc. It's at least 100 yards to the door. There is just no way...
We lock the car and amble off toward Customs empty-handed, in the hopes of pleading or paying for someone to come out to the car for the luggage inspection.
And we're halfway to the door when Denise has a stroke of pure genius — the chick has learned a lot during our short passage through Mexico.
"Hey — we have luggage!"
"Yeah, in spades. So?"
"No, I mean we have luggage, you know, my carry-all, your red gym bag..."
Comprehension passes over my face like sunrise.
"The guy said 'take all your *luggage* into Customs'!"
"Right. And we do, in fact, have several pieces of luggage!"
We jog back to the car and each grab a couple pieces of "luggage." The woman's a genius, plain and simple.
We enter a vast concrete hall which is populated by only a few migrant souls such as ourselves, and a roughly equal number of uniforms and badges. I shudder to think how much time the process would require if a significant number of folks ever wanted into Belize.
We have been worn down. The Mexican uniforms, Belizean uniforms, and all the in-betweeners have nearly broken us. We are in no condition to discuss our purposes in Belize or the importation of the vehicle. We agree on a scenario as we approach the Immigration desk and drop our luggage. Wordlessly, we produce our passports.
"What are you going to do in Belize?"
I am momentarily stumped.
"Where are you staying?"
"Uh, a hotel?"
"Uh, a week or two?"
"You've been in Belize before."
A statement; the visas in the passports are obvious.
"Yes, we come a couple times each year."
"And you are bringing your own vehicle?"
Again, I am momentarily stumped.
"Uh, so we can see more of the country?"
"Then what will you do with the vehicle?"
"Uh, drive home?"
Evidently the concept "road-trip" has yet to reach this far south; the uniform seems highly suspicious of our intent. The standard Belizean tourist visa is for one month. She gives us ten days. We are too weak to object — or even to notice, actually — not until much later anyway...
We advance slightly to the Customs function (at least they don't insist on putting them in distant buildings like the Mexicans do). Denise is instructed to take both our luggage and exit the rear of the building to wait outside with the other passengers. There is utterly no interest as to what might be in the bags, but—
"You may not come back through! You wait out there for the vehicle!"
Denise trundles off under her double load like a whipped mule. I am escorted back in the other direction by a badge with a clipboard. This is the part I'm dreading...
"Open the vehicle."
Duh. I open both doors.
"And the boot."
And the only thing I'm really worried about is the enormous aluminum cube of the long-range tank which occupies 80% of the trunk. It appears, however, to have become invisible.
The badge jabs her pen at a fair-sized box jammed in on one side of the tank. It's a top-of-the-line inkjet printer requested by a friend. In the original box.
"Accessory for my laptop."
The pen jabs, "What's this?"
"Emergency road kit."
It's a complete toolset for a mechanic friend. The badge moves to the passenger compartment. She looks in the large plastic bag which crowns the heap in the back seat and discovers ripe, week-old dirty laundry (how'd that get there?).
"What's in there?"
A brown box sticking out from the base of the heap which contains office supplies unavailable in Belize.
"My coffee maker."
"Oh no, very used! I have to have my coffee in the morning, you know! Would you like to look?" I am anxious to prove the verity of my one truthful statement.
The badge completes her cursory inspection. I doubt very much that she has bought into any of this. It's just not worth her effort to pursue in the heat of the afternoon.
"Would you like me to open the hood?"
The clipboard is heading back toward the building. Once again, I am momentarily stumped, but a perfunctory gesture causes me to hastily close up the car and follow my mistress back to receive paper.
I am instructed to return to my vehicle and pass through the checkpoint to pick up my passenger and luggage. At the checkpoint I dispense my paper to the uniform, who inspects is at such great length that I begin to wonder if he has seen this kind of thing before. Eventually my paper is returned and I am waved through. I am still not sure what function the checkpoint fulfills.
Finally, I pull up beside Denise and our luggage.
Denise, who has been forced to stand with the various other passengers, out in the blistering afternoon sun, no seating, no shade or water provided whatsoever — for about an hour. Had it been pouring down rain (as it did that morning), they and their baggage would have been in an alternate predicament. But—
"You may not come back through!"
Denise had tested the rule once, and been so rebuffed. Evidently I arrived just in the nick of time, as she was in the process of heading back in to resume the debate in a somewhat different tone. Lord knows what they would've gotten us for then...
We reload the Bomber. Denise recovers under the influence of sweet liquids and A/C as we pick up speed, heading southward into Belize.
Soon there are cheers, pantomime champagne toasts and hi-fives all around — we made it, we actually made it!
But, alas, the celebration is just ever so slightly premature.... . .[b]Clic here to see all Day 8 pix...[/i][/u][/b][i]Text and accompanying photographs are copyright 2003 Galena Alyson Canada.
MissLena is Galena Alyson Canada
Her email is [u]themisslena á gmail
Her personal blog is at galenaalysoncanada.blogspot.com
The new Two Gringas blogsite is TheTwoGringas.blogspot.com