Journey to Belize: A Tough Decision

This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The rest of this series is located in the Travel category of this blog. 

Looking out across Lake Petén on the morning of June 17, 2017. The city in the distance is Santa Elena.

June 17, 2017 was one of the most eventful days during my six week trip. As such, I will not be able to finish recounting it in one post.

Following our adventures at Tikal, the Programme for Belize (PfB) group and I woke up on the Guatemalan island of Flores. We were scheduled to leave early, so I was up before most of the island. As I walked towards our rendezvous point in the grey light of dawn, I hardly saw a soul.

I reached our meeting location before everyone else. This gave me a chance to sit on a bench facing Lake Petén, admiring the peaceful scene (see the featured image). But the quiet did not last long. The rest of the group soon turned up, and we hastily loaded our luggage into our three vans and headed for the Guatemala/Belize border.

The border crossing was awful. First, one of my friends discovered that her passport had not been properly stamped when she first entered Guatemala. She was therefore in the country illegally, and had to pay a 200 Quetzales (~US $29) fee. We then had to stand in line for what felt like forever to re-enter Belize.

Upon crossing back into Belize, we were supposed to get a four week extension on our visas. No one did. Instead, the border agents appeared to be stamping our passports for however long they wished: everyone’s visas were for different lengths of time. When we complained to the border agents about this glaring error, they were not helpful at all.

Once we were finally back in Belize, we found Mr. Abner Chell of Chell’s Bus Service waiting for us. We boarded his now familiar bus, and began the drive towards Belize City.

I don’t believe it, but I actually found a photo of Chell’s bus on Flickr. Chell’s Flamboyant Bus by jbhalper. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Our plans for the day were as follows. Abner was going to drop most of our group off at the water taxi in Belize City. They were going to use this taxi to get to the island of Caye Caulker, where they would spend the weekend relaxing on the beach. From the water taxi, Abner was going to take my friend Jonathan and I to a hotel near the Belize City airport. However, this is not how events unfolded.

We dropped everyone off at the water taxi – as scheduled. We then began heading towards our hotel.

Abner asked Jonathan and I what our plans were. We said that we were going to stay in Belize City for the weekend, before heading our separate ways. Abner clarified that he wanted to know our final destinations on Monday. I told him that I needed to get to the Belize Zoo, and Jonathan explained that he was going to rejoin the PfB group when they returned from Caye Caulker.

At this point things got interesting.

Abner recommended that we come with him to his home town of Orange Walk. It was much safer than Belize City, he said, and he had a friend who ran a well-reviewed hostel. We could enjoy a peaceful weekend in Orange Walk for $US 17 per night, and on Monday Abner would take us back to Belize City and show us how to reach our respective destinations. But we only had a few minutes to decide.

At this point I didn’t know much about Orange Walk, so I had no idea how safe it truly was. Orange Walk by Zhu. CC BY-NC 2.0

Jonathan and I looked at each other hesitantly. I had repeatedly been told at Texas Camp to be careful about which locals I trusted. Neither of us knew Abner, but he had been affiliated with the PfB for many years. The prospect of saving money was also quite tempting. So we took Abner up on his offer.

This was a potentially risky decision. But as our bus left Belize City and took the Northern Highway towards Orange Walk, it was too late to turn back. We would soon find out whether we had made the right move.

9 Thoughts

  1. Just spent some time catching up with your posts – it’s really cool you were open for the opportunity to experience something different! I love it when things take an unexpected turn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the prospect of saving money was very hard for me to turn down. I actually don’t usually like it when things take an unexpected turn, as I like to have a plan and stick to it. That’s not always the best option when traveling though.

      Like

      1. Oh yes, I was surprised that you considered 17 USD per night cheap! I expected Central American was cheaper.

        I guess it’s good (in this case) that the circumstances forced you to experience something different and positive :)

        Like

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