WARNING - This is very long.
BROWNSVILLE TO BELIZE FOR $99 was a great adventure traveling
through Mexico. I'm glad I did it and I don't plan to ever do it
It all started when I made a trip from Belize back to California for
a family reunion. This was my ninth round trip,
I had made eight before moving there in 2003. Whether paying for
them or using mileage, airline tickets cost almost as much one way
as round trip. I was beginning to find it harder to plan when I
would be returning to the states and decided I needed to get to
Belize and begin buying my tickets form there.
Research showed me that there are deluxe buses traversing the whole
of Mexico. These are new, shinny, clean, air-conditioned vehicles
complete with a bathroom and television. Of course it didn't
occurred to me that the TV would all be Spanish speaking channels.
This was just one of many interesting language situations.
So, with a map of Mexico and a 6" thick volume to Spanish/English
and English/Spanish translations I checked into a hotel in
Brownsville, Texas. The next morning I tried calling the 800 number
listed on the internet. I had tried calling from California and
Arizona and got the message that the number could not be reached
from those areas. I figured since Brownsville was just across the
border I could get them from there. WRONG!
I started calling travel agents who advertised tours through Mexico
trying to find the number for the bus company. Everyone was polite
and referred me on to someone else. After about a dozen calls I was
given a strange number unlike any configuration we in the states are
familiar with. Finally, an answer but no one there spoke English.
I headed to the front desk to see if I could find an interpreter and
the chef/waiter/bus boy (Roberto) from the night before was in the hall. He most graciously helped me with the phone and reported that the
bus only left once a day at 10:00 PM from Matamoras, arrived in
Vera Cruz at 3:00 the next afternoon; leaving there at 4:45 PM and
arriving it Chetumal at 6:00 the following day.
When I asked him about getting a taxi across the border he
volunteered to take me when he got off work that afternoon as he
lived in Matamoras. Later he decided not to leave me waiting in the
bus depot and insisted on coming back for me that night. I found
this type of helpfulness through-out the trip and always so in
I called George, the guide we use to cross from Mexico into Belize
at Corozal and asked him to meet the bus on Wednesday morning. I
called Wet Willy's to say I would catch the morning water taxi from
Corozal, to San Pedro Town where I live.
The bus depot was in a decent part of town, was enormous, modern,
well lighted and clean. Roberto stayed with me through the
ticketing process. I had forgotten the rejoinder on the internet to
make a reservation. As it was I got the last ticket to Vera Cruz and
could not continue on to Chetumal until a later bus. I decided to
spend the night in Vera Cruz and catch the mid day bus the next day.
I had done some research and had already considered making several
stops along the way. I mistakenly thought I could get off any place
I wanted and continue on the next day. Vera Cruz was the one city
that definitely interested me. I had not realized that the Mexicans
travel extensively by bus.
These monoliths are built by Volvo and travel quietly at very high
speeds. The roads are narrow two lane asphalt without much
shoulder. There were few cars but many trucks and even more buses.
I was thrilled when I was told that my seat was in the first row, by
the window, behind the driver. It didn't take me long to realize
why this was the last seat. I have named it the suicide seat.
Saying it is behind the driver is a misnomer. The driver sits more
towards the aisle, actually in front of the seat next to me. Upon
meeting the first bus which was probably traveling as fast as we
were; which I know was in excess of 80 MPH, I automatically cringed
and expected to have the side of the bus taken off. This went on
I often say I am the luckiest person you know and my luck was still
with me. The only other Gringo on the bus was my seat partner. When he sat down I introduced myself and asked if he spoke English. When he said yes he asked if I spoke Spanish and I said "No."
I later told my friends that I slept with an Evangelist but that we
really didn't sleep, which is what is inferred in the statement anyway. And, still lucky, he didn't try to save my soul. Well, not until just before Vera Cruz.
He was a very good traveling companion; friendly enough but knew
when to be quiet. We each were able to catnap occasionally, but no
Everyone else on the bus had brought pillows and blankets and
totally zoned out. I know, as I made a number of trips to the
bathroom in the back of the bus. Toilets on airlines are sumptuous
compared to this tiny compartment. But it was clean and fully
I had read that there were hostesses aboard and snacks could be
purchased. Not soon this bus. Fortunately I had brought a large
bottle of water and some trail mix.
I discovered that the Latin music that seemed loud in my seat barely
penetrated the rest of the rows as they are raised up higher allowing space for the luggage underneath. The air conditioners worked fine and the temperature was comfortable.
The road was fairly straight and flat until after our first stop in
Tampicoat 1:00 AM. We had 15 minutes to stretch and snack before heading into the hills.
About three in the morning the bus was pulled over by flashing
lights. Two men in uniform boarded and asked for his manifesto.
They barely glanced at me and the evangelist but roused a number of
sleeping young men. An hour later we went through the same routine
again with another set of officers. Their car pulled onto the
highway ahead of us and five minutes later we came to a blockage
with many police cars with lights flashing. The last two officers
again boarded with a third man who obviously was in charge. In the
back of a pickup truck they had three youths handcuffed together. I
was later told that the drug traffickers often travel by bus. I
couldn't understand why they suspect them of traveling south however.
When dawn broke I could see why the road was slower going; we were
in the mountains. It was beautiful! Lush tropical orchards as far
as I could see, broken up here and there by small, neat, clean
villages; some of them almost hidden by colorful tropical plants. It changed my opinion of Mexico and I'm so glad I made the trip. I
saw only one place that I would call run-down.
On the other side of the range the view opened up to the Gulf of
Mexico. We flirted with views of this all the way to Vera Cruz.
This bus station was three times larger than the one in Matamoras
and each bus is met by a group of young men calling out "Taxi?" As
I stepped down I said, "Who speaks English?" "Me" called out one of
the youngest of the group. He retrieved my four suitcases and
loaded them onto a dolly.
I said I need to get some money exchanged. On my earlier trip to
Mexico we were met by many money exchangers and I had expected the
same here. However, I forgot this was not a border town and I had
neglected this simple duty at the border.
As he was trying to load my stuff into a taxi I realized he was not
the driver; who I asked if he spoke English. The answer was "No."
I asked #1 if he would take US dollars and again the answer
was "No." Now #1 wants some money, #2 is willing to take me to get
some money, but #1 doesn't want to give me up. What fun!
Vera Cruz is a beautiful, big metropolitan city with wide (four and
Five lane) one way streets. We seemed to drive into the heart of
the city and the first two places he took me could not exchange my
money. Finally I got pesos.
I had said earlier to #1 that I wanted a nice hotel. Now #2 was
driving me towards the gulf where I saw many lovely modern
buildings. I kept expecting him to pull into any one of them, NO,
we drove all the way around the gulf, into another town and he
pulled up to a spa. As soon as I saw the word spa I knew it was
going to be pricey. It was.
Fortunately the desk called out Margaret who spoke English. When
the taxi driver asked for a sum that seemed high to me Margaret
questioned him. He told her he had been with me for three hours. I
told her what time my bus had gotten in; which was one and one half
hours ago. He settled for half of what he originally asked and said
he would be back the next day to pick me up.
Fifteen minutes in my room and I asked myself if I was crazy to be
paying these prices and seriously thought about leaving for the bus
depot to try to get on the earlier bus. On second thought I seemed
like a bad idea and I decided to make the best of it.
Now the fun began; from my room trying to call George in Corozol to
tell him it would be Thursday before I arrived. There were no
instructions on how to use the phone, and if there had been they
would have undoubtedly been in Spanish, and Margaret had gone home.
Down at the desk I wrote down the number I was trying to reach and
they dialed it for me. After a minute of listening they shrugged
and hung up. I went to dinner.
The dinning room was beautiful and I was the first one there. I was
beginning to think this may be as empty as the Brownsville one had
been when several groups of Gringas came in. Yep, all women, mostly
European. Dinner was good, moderately priced and well served.
Back at the desk they tried the number again, listened, shrugged and
hung up. Through many hand gestures I got them to dial it again and
let me listen. They were getting George's voice mail, of course in
English, and were hanging up. I left the message to not come in the
morning but to come at the same time on Thursday. That was a
Back in my room I discovered that all the channels were again
Spanish broadcast and I couldn't even find a weather channel. Since
I had lightened my load in Orange County by leaving my daughter Taylor the books I had bought, Bill Clinton alone must have weight 5 pounds, I had nothing to read. I thought better of taking a walk.
Sunrise the next morning was wonderful. I did explore more of the
resort and understood why it was billed as a spa. The architect was
massive and the building may have been hundreds of years old. The
rooms sat on a rise above the gulf and the gardens and terraces that
lead down to it were well tended. The swimming pool, which may have
been a mineral bath was half way down with rows of dressing rooms on
one side. All this was topped off with tall palm trees that swayed
in the cooling breeze.
Breakfast and lunch were as good a dinner had been and Margaret was
back on duty. I had taken a number of pictures and when I asked
about the history of the place she offered to do a print out for me.
Of course it is in Spanish and I have yet to get it translated. She
called Taxi driver #2 and cancelled him and arranged for a different
one for me. Do you think he spoke English? No.
The first bus had made only two stops during the 17 hour trip; this
one was stopping frequently. Unlike the first one, the movies on
this one were in English with Spanish subtitle; funny since this
time I was the only gringo.
I had assumed that the bus that left at 4:45 PM on Tuesday, arriving
at 6:00 AM on Wednesday would have the same schedule the following
I got this when, at 5:30 in the morning we stopped for five minutes
in a small mountain town. I'm not completely without recourses; I
had purchased a road map of Mexico and could follow our path
easily. No way would we be in Chetumal in a half hour. What to
do? Sit back, relax and take it easy.
We arrived in Chetumal at 8:30 and I looked around for George. I
really didn't expect to see him, but then you never know. At 9:00 I
approached a likely looking couple and asked it they spoke English.
Yes. Then, do you speak Spanish? No. That would do me no good. I
need both in order to make a phone call to George.
They introduced themselves and I explained my predicament. Turns
out (remember my luck) they live in Corozal and he had brought her
up to catch the bus to Cancun; the one from which I had just
alighted. She volunteered him to drive to across the border.
On our way I asked if he was in a hurry. He said no and I asked if
he would mind stopping at the big mall. No problemo! He wanted to
pickup something anyway. I found two more pieces of fabric for my
new home and happily produced this receipt to customs. I was more than willing to pay the $27 BZ duty.
The inter island ferry leaves Corozal at 7:00 AM for Ambergris
Caye. Needless to say I had missed it. Bill took me to the
airstrip shared by Tropic Air and Mayan Island Air. Mayan didn't
leave for 45 minutes but Tropic had one leaving in 15. I thanked
Bill who wouldn't even take money for gas and called George. His
dad, George Sr. answered and said his son had waited until 8:30 but
didn't see me get off the bus so came back. Of course I expected to
pay for their trip so Sr. was at the airport in five minutes and I
gave him a check for all of $60 BZ.
A few minutes later I was greeted by a big "Welcome home,
Harriette!" The only pilot I know is Gerald Leslie, brother to
Billy who runs Hustler Eco Divers and who I do all my diving with.
Can you believe I was the only passenger? Sitting in the co-pilots
seat flying over the water is a thrill and we had a good visit for
the full 15 minute flight home. After traveling for five week it was good to be home in time for
Now, $99 US sounds like a great price compared to airline travel.
If I had known what I was doing, and done it differently it would
have been a good value. As it was, it was a good adventure. I
would make some recommendations to anyone who would consider this
1. You do not need to stay in Brownsville, Texas overnight.
2. Make a reservation.
3. Sit in Seat #4 – front row, window seat on outside edge of
4. Pack a lunch and several bottles of water.
5. Take a neck pillow and sleeping mask and blanket as well as
aspirin or a sleep aid.
6. Take several books to read and a walkman type of music