from a friend.....

It took the bus a full half hour after entering the city limits to finally reach the terminal which is located somewhere near the middle of town. One of Mexico's most bustling metropolises, Merida is a big city covering some 331 sq. miles and from all indications, is still growing at an incredible pace. My first impression was how immaculately clean this city was and I later found out that it was one of the reasons why visitors long ago dubbed her "the white city". Civic pride is everywhere evident as nobody seems to litter and just about every yard is well kept and sparkling clean. For a city of over a million inhabitants, Merida also has a remarkably low crime rate. Coming from Belize City then, you can be sure that as such, I was in a totally alien environment.

Ever since it was introduced, I had longed for an experience of the ADO bus ride to either Cancun or Merida. For the past few months, there has been express service to those cities, two of Mexico's more popular destinations. I would have preferred a pleasure trip but as fate would have it this one was a medical necessity. Belize has no trained rheumatologist and more than one person had raved about results received from their visit to Merida. I must say that while I am feeling a bit better than I was, I have not yet realized the miracle result that I was hoping for. Given the cost of the entire experience, I was hoping for a much more immediate relief but I remain hopeful.

My sister who is fluent in Spanish had promised to accompany me on the trip but when she backed out at the last minute, I turned to my good friend Richard for company. He speaks about as much Spanish as I do, which is very little, but in my condition, I did not feel it wise to travel alone. He was extremely helpful, in particular when I ran out of cash and I had to lean on him for a loan.

We pulled into the ADO terminal sometime around 5am Merida time which is exactly one hour ahead of Belize time. We were advised that if we booked into a hotel before seven we would be charged for a full day so we decided to grab some coffee and hang around the terminal. We eventually booked into the Hotel Margarita which is directly across the street from La Clinica Merida where my appointment was set with a specialist. I had been directed to a Belizean who lives in Merida and who performs an invaluable service to many non-Spanish speakers from Belize. Teresita Matus should one day be given an award for the wonderful job that she does. She accompanied me on every visit to the doctor, did all the translations and even drove me around to convert money and fill prescriptions. As one client deftly put it, "the woman is a saint."

Clinica Merida is a top-notch hospital and one of over a dozen private hospitals in Merida. The staff is courteous and attentive and there is little waiting for any of the services. I had to take several blood tests and X-ray and despite the obvious large volume of patients, each time I was in and out in less than a half hour. Try that in Belize!

My first appointment with the doctor was 10:30am of the very day that we arrived and the follow-up was for 8:30pm the following night. The first day I did little more than rest after seeing the doctor but the next day Richard and I decided to venture out for a little sight-seeing. We hopped a bus and rode down to a zoo and large park that we had passed on the way in. The experience was incredible with many exotic animals on display including some very large cats. There were pink flamingos, ostriches, large crocodiles and even a couple of reindeers. We hopped aboard a small train that ran around the full perimeter of the zoo and even rolled through a long tunnel. For a moment, I forgot my aches and pains and felt like a kid once again. As with everything else in Merida, both the zoo and the park were immaculately clean. Mexico seems to pay an incredible amount of attention to the provision of parks and playgrounds for its people and children. Despite a bad reputation for the "mordida system" much money has been spent on the upkeep of streets, drains and parks. Belize can learn a few things from a city like Merida.

My 8:30pm appointment with the doctor did not allow us to take the 9pm direct bus back to Belize so we would have had to wait until the following night. There was one other option which was to take a 7am to Chetumal and then transfer to the Belize bus.

Not wanting to pay another day's hotel bill and the cost of three more meals, we decided to brave the 7am option. It would also afford us an opportunity to sightsee along the way which we could not do on the night ride. Were I to do that all over again, I would willingly bite the bullet and suffer the cost in exchange for the convenience.

The ride to Chetumal was uneventful but thereafter began the real adventure. We pulled into Chetumal just around 11:30am and the ADO terminal, like most of the others in Mexico, was clean, orderly and well organized. We then took a taxi over to where the Belize buses were parked which is when we realized that we were entering a totally different environment. The ADO buses to and fro were comfortable with bathrooms and even television which showed dvd's of first run movies, albeit in Spanish. Who knew that Morgan Freeman and Will Smith spoke such fluent Spanish!

We got to the bus park just a few minutes before a bus was leaving for Orange Walk. While I like Merida, I am not entirely comfortable in Chetumal. We decided to take the bus to Orange Walk and from there transfer to a bus to Belize City. A simple enough plan but not one that I would recommend to anyone. First of all, all the buses are cramped up school buses, a far cry from the comfortable ride provided by ADO. Apart from the discomfort of the over-crowded bus, cramped seats and luggage racks not big enough to hold even a small size travel case, the ride to Orange Walk was uneventful. Upon reaching O.W. however, the real drama began.

We pulled into the sorriest excuse for a terminal that you will ever find. I decided to use the restroom and was surprised to find just a long concrete tray serving as urinal. To top it off, I was required to pay fifty cents upon exiting. The bus finally arrived already almost full and with about other twenty people waiting. Fortunately, a few people got off after which there was a mad rush for seats. The more agile rushed to the rear and entered through the back door while the rest jostled to grab a seat. We all eventually managed to cram on with quite a few standing and the bus took off for the final leg of our journey.

As with the previous bus, there was no underneath luggage compartment and the overhead racks were only big enough for some very small bags. Remember, many of these are refurbished second hand school buses from the US. Much of the luggage had to be stored in a space behind the driver's seat near in the isle near the entrance to the front door.

We were hardly mile out of Orange Walk when a bag fell out the door which was had been left open. The conductor jumped out while the driver put the bus in reverse which turned out to be a big mistake. The transmission apparently got stuck and the bus could not move forward again. I sat there wishing I had been patient and waited for the 9pm ADO.

Apparently having been through it before, the driver pulled out a bag of tools and proceeded to do surgery. After what seemed like a longer time than it probably actually was, he got the bus in gear and we were finally on our way once again. It turned out in our favor as, obviously not wanting to take any chances of getting stuck again, the driver passed up the remaining stops and ran non-stop almost to Belize City. On the way to town, at least two people were seen throwing trash out the window. We limped into town on a wing and a prayer and Richard and I jumped off at the first stop in Belize City and grabbed a taxi the rest of the way. I am due for a follow -up visit in a month or so and you can bet, it will be ADO to and fro.