In like a lion out like a lamb. If that expression can apply to travel this adventure should turn out fine. The summer of 2009 air fares were still high but I shopped the internet and found a real bargain. On August 1st at the Belize airport they informed me I had not “purchased” the ticket and of the many options they offered me I settled on a one way to San Francisco. Be warned – be careful – be sure you receive a confirming e-mail and print it out. American Airlines had added two more steps in the purchase process since I last used them. This error on my part resulted in my need to get back to Belize on a one way fare. Tickets from SFO stayed steady at $600+ but SFO to Cancun were available for $119.
To add to this expense my beautiful adult daughter was coming with me and planned to stay for three months. (No work available in southern California). So let’s see $1,200 plus taxes and fees or $338.00 to Cancun? It took weeks of telephone calls to convince her that we were not going to stay in a barrio in Playa del Carmen, that the bus to Chetumal was not a ‘chicken’ bus and did not take seven hours but only four and one half, that the transporter that would be taking us across the border into Belize was not a van stuffed full of people being smuggled out of Mexico and that the plane from Corozal to San Pedro was exactly the same as the one from Goldstein International in Belize city.
She was able to lease out here house and had only weeks to pack up 10 years of accumulation; this gave her a new appreciation of what I faced when I left the US after 30 years in one house. She had planned on spending a leisurely three days in northern California saying goodbye to lifelong friends. In actuality she drove into our hotel room three hours before we were due to be up to leave for the airport.
My son was driving us to the airport but was still asleep when we arrived at his house at 6:30 AM. We managed to leave only twenty minutes behind schedule. As we cruised along the early Saturday morning freeway traffic, giving thanks that it was not a work day, I tried to hand him a $10 bill. He said he didn’t need it and I said he would need it for the toll bridge.
“The San Mateo Bridge!”
“Holy cow; you aren’t flying out of Oakland?” After getting turned around we were forty minutes behind schedule.
At the San Francisco Airport American Airlines does not have a check in at international terminal – we found out the hard way. Now an hour behind when we should have been there I learn that we can’t get a wheel chair until we get to the check in counter which has about 300 people ahead of us. I was able to sit while Taylor lugged two carts full of bags through the serpentine line. At 9:00 an agent started going through the line and pulling out all of the people who were booked on the 9:30 flight and we were rushed through.
We questioned nothing and found that we were seated in row 36. All four of our carry-ons were exceptionally heavy and as soon as I reached the main cabin I hoisted both of mine in the overhead (go ahead – you can hate me) and dropped into the bulkhead seat. On this plane that was not an exit row. When the guy whose seat I was in showed up I simply moved to the window. When that guy showed up I asked if he would mind swapping with me and he said no, even though I had told him how far back it was. I then threw in that it would be next to a beautiful blonde named Taylor – tell her that her mom sent you.
I promptly fell asleep and only woke up every half hour to wipe the droll from my chin. At DFW they actually had a wide wheel chair waiting for me and we were transported via three different electric carts, two elevators and two more wheelchairs to our destination gate.
The economic crises has hurt a lot of people but has benefited others. The quality of airport food has gone way up and the prices have come way down. Taylor found some tasty, healthy whole wheat wraps with chicken, black beans and other good stuff for us to enjoy on the next leg of our journey. The agent at DFW took good care of us and placed us in the 3rd row of the main cabin with an empty seat between. On this two and one half hour leg of the trip she slept and I read.
It was dark when we landed in Cancun’s beautiful air terminal. It is laid out nicely with good directional signs. Only snag here was that we were all met at the end of the concourse by health officials that had each of us fill out a questionnaire about H1N1; this created a big jam up.
Customs was well staffed and they were moving people right along. When they saw our stack of luggage they questioned us in depth about why we had so much. We kept explaining to them that we had nothing to leave in Mexico; that we were simply passing through. My daughter said she was coming to stay with me for three months and all she had was clothes and toiletries. They wouldn’t believe her and had us place all eight pieces on the table.
When the agent opened my heaviest piece the big bag of coffee beans fell out and one bean actually fell on the floor. The bag had burst in flight and the aroma made me drool. The next item he picked up puzzled him and he read both sides of the package over and over and over. He kept giving me a strange look and then would go back to reading. Finally I said “It is dog treats.” OH – OK. Then he rummaged through everything else, said nothing and closed them up. No duty charges!
I kept asking workers where we should go to catch the shuttle bus; no one on the inside of the glass wall seemed to know. As soon as we passed through into the outer section there was a big sign that read ADO. That is the name of the bus company I am familiar with. Taylor speaks a little Spanish and the clerk spoke a little English. The bus for Playa del Carmen was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes and in addition to those tickets we were able to reserve our seats for Monday on the Playa del Carmen to Chetumal bus. The total cost was $50 US. We quickly learned that most places there accept US money and the exchange rate changes every day; as low as 12 pesos to $1 up to 15 to $1.
We required a van taxi to load in all our stuff and were quoted $10 US. I told the driver that we were going to Hotel Jungla at 5th and Calle 8. He said he had never heard of it and we drove all around town looking for it and he repeatedly called his dispatcher. Finally Taylor got into her luggage and found the print out she had of my e-mails back and forth with the hotel. Funny thing it suddenly appeared right at 5th Avenue and Calle 8 Norte. We had to stop across the street from the hotel and he went in to get some help. A flock of short Mexican men, dressed all in white with long white aprons swarmed the van and began carting our luggage into the lobby.
The desk clerk had our room with two double beds reserved – on the fourth floor. I said “You do have an elevator?”
I said “You have to be kidding!”
I explained I could not climb that many stairs.
He said “How about the third floor.”
“No, don’t you have anything down here?” We are now surrounded by the entire restaurant staff as well as the hotel clerk and they are putting their heads together trying to come up with a solution. I said “Maybe we will just have to get two rooms.”
Finally they told us that there were two rooms on the first floor (we later discovered the lobby was on the second) that were being renovated and they went for $45 US per night; a double was $68. Taylor went and inspected them and the one on the third floor and could see no appreciable difference. We agreed to take them and he lowered the price to $35 US each. The rooms were Spartan but clean and had noisy air conditioners but they, along with a ceiling fan kept the rooms cool. This gave each of us our own shower and TV.
The place is totally charming as were all the staff. The restaurant is open until midnight and we only had the one wrap mid-day. As soon as we were set up in our rooms we went to the sidewalk café and had soup and salad. The atmosphere reminded me of North Beach in San Francisco in the beatnik era (Yeah, I was one). The two cross streets were closed to vehicular traffic and many people were strolling the cobbled promenade.
I knew there were two bus terminals in town and one was only four blocks from the hotel. Sunday morning Taylor walked up there to find out if our bus left from there - it didn’t. However, this was the terminal we had come in to. HA HA HA. What a run around that cab driver gave us and we did not tip him extra. The other terminal was about twenty blocks in the other direction.
Taylor spent the day walking around town taking pictures. She loved the colors and architecture and is considering going back through there when she leaves Belize. We were a block up a little hill from the beach and the fourth floor windows had a view of the Caribbean Sea. I recommend this place to any traveler.
We ate our two meals on Sunday there and they fixed us fruit plates with yogurt to go on Monday morning. The owners name is Rolf and I spent some time with his wife Barbara who introduced us to her husband. Taylor learned that he bought the empty lot, designed and built the whole place. You actually feel like you are entering a jungle as you descend the stairs into and bistro type café setting with a pool curved around the tables and chairs. Lush tropical plants hang from all the interior balconies and brightly painted stone birds and animals are scattered among the plants.
We had ordered a taxi van for 8:30 Monday morning and when he wasn’t there by 8:45 the desk clerk ran up the street and found us another one. We arrived at the terminal in plenty of time for our 9:20 departure. We just wanted to make sure we really had our seats; we did.
Buses in Mexico run on time and in addition to the “chicken buses” that everyone is so found of, there are deluxe express buses. There are two companies; ADO and UNO. Taylor noticed the sign for UNO while we were waiting in the terminal showed seats that reclined almost into a horizontal position. I later learned these are the ones that travel at night.
I had a front row seat and when many of the passengers got off in Tulum (our only stop) I had two seats all to my self. Taylor opted for the back of the bus in order to be away from the TV that played with Spanish voice over. It really didn’t bother me and I enjoyed the scenery – which was mostly scrub jungle. The highways are wide, smooth and very straight. Total travel time was four and one half hours.
In Chetumal as Taylor claimed our now nine pieces of luggage (she bought a hammock chair that was marked $18 US for $15), I climbed the ramp to the waiting lounge and there was a man at the top with a big sign HARRIETTE FISHER. I have used George & Ester Moralez’s Travel a number of times to cross between Mexico and Belize and their business is growing. Lendy was our driver and the price was $45 US for the two of us. In 45 minutes he took us through immigrations and we didn’t have to leave the van and stopped at customs. Taylor had to go inside with our entire luggage and they let me stay in the van and Lendy drove through and into the parking lot. It took about ten minutes inside and they only looked in two of our bags. Even with the clear wrapping on the hammock chair we were not charged any duty.
We got the scenic tour of Corozal (one of the recently uncovered ruins) and an offer to let us stop to get something to eat. I had forgotten I didn’t need to adjust the time on my watch (I had never changed it from Belize standard time) and thought we needed to get to the airport. HA! We had to wait an hour and a half.
The little 12 seater Tropic Air plane traveled to San Pedro Town in the same amount of time that it takes to get here from Belize City and costs less ($47.50 US one way). What a joy to fly out over the beautiful Caribbean Sea, see the reef then the town come into view.
BOTTOM LINE: It cost $356.50 for one person and $311.50 for the second one ($668 total) for this great adventure.
A few days before I left California I dreamed that my little doggie (Miss Kitty) had forgotten me. NO WAY. As we exited the new Tropic air terminal Chef Al came around the corner and Kitty was sniffing the floor. She saw me from about 30 feet away and, dragging her leash, rushed me with her squealy little voice and jumped all over me. She’s here at my feet now. IT IS SO GOOD TO BE HOME.