I’m soo not gonna make it! I stayed way too long in Honduras, therefore I have to speed through Guatemala to meet my boyfriend in Belize. I’m cutting it close.
After Indiana Jonesing the ruins of Tikal, I end up in a small, weird, water-surrounded town called Flores. I need to find a way to San Ignacio the next day. Eventually I stumble on a travel agency selling shuttle buses to the Belize border. The poster shows a shiny bus full of happy gringos (non-latinos). One ticket later, they agree to pick me up at 9 the next morning.
Perfect! One quick bus ride and I’ll be waiting for Joel at the resort when he arrives.
I celebrate with a couple of cocktails along with one of my tastiest meals yet.
At 9:45 the next morning I’m at the front desk desperately pointing to the number on my ticket. She calls and assures me in broken english, that “bus come”. Around 10:30 I hear the unmistakable rumble of a bus – I excitedly gather up my gear and scurry towards it. It’s the bus I saw in the picture! Tourists are shuffling on from a neighboring hotel. I secretly hope for a big seat all to myself so I can nap the whole way.
I spot the guy who sold me my ticket and smile. He frowns. “Your bus come tomorrow.”
After a language-barrier-breaking, holy-sh*t, not-cool-dude exchange, he steps back and looks me up and down, sizing me (and my luggage) up. He heads towards his motorbike and I hop on behind him. I have no clue where we’re going.
We zoom out of town, it’s still a bit chilly – I wish I’d worn sleeves. I wonder, are we driving all the way to Belize on this thing? Where the hell is he taking me? Does anyone back home even know where I am? Will they ever find my body? Also I think that maybe I should ask a few questions before jumping on the back of a motorbike with a strange Guatemalan…
10 minutes later we pull into a dusty parking lot full of vans, DEFINITELY NOT the ones I saw on the poster. These are chicken buses – vans actually – the kind with one sliding door. It’s super crowded and I’m clearly the only white, non-spanish speaking gringa for miles. He seems to know the driver of one of the vans. They argue and must finally resolve it, cause the driver suddenly grabs my backpack and throws it on top of the van. I say my final goodbyes to my backpack as he ushers me into the second row. The rest of the van is slowly packed up sardine style, less than shoulder distance – so tight that you can’t lean back at the same time. We cram in a few more Guatemalans for good measure and everybody sucks in as the door slides closed.
I sure hope this van is heading to Belize.
We drive for a total of 4 minutes before killing the engine in the middle of a crowded market. The doors and windows spring open and we spend the next 10 minutes fending off hawkers who swarm the van. They’re holding tamales, plantain chips, chicharrones and I-have-no-idea-what in front of our faces. I don’t make eye contact. I imagine my backpack being removed from the top and try to get used to life without a laptop. I should’ve gotten a snack.
There’s always room for one more.
The door slides shut and we’re finally off! I hope this time for real. As we reach an actual paved road and pick up speed, the breeze makes the non-ac, sardine wagon slightly more bearable, I relax. Belize here I come!
I spot some people on the side of the road and we slam on the brakes. Why are we stopping? Sorry dudes this van’s full better catch the next one! Defying the laws of physics, they squeeze on anyway squishing me further against the left side of the van. I mutter “there’s always room for one more” and the guy next to me chuckles. I excitedly say, you speak English?! He answers “of course!”
I’m an asshole
Turns out he was wondering what the heck I was doing on that chicken bus as well. I relay my sad bus saga before he shares his story. Kavir is from Honduras and is about my age. He’s going to Belize because his aunt has a job waiting for him — work’s been tough since he hurt his back in an accident as a rafting guide. Unfortunately, his journey’s been less than a breeze. In Guatemala City he was robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the day while the police across the street looked the other way. Now he was broke and found out that morning that his wife was leaving him and taking his two daughters.
By this point I feel like a total asshole for complaining about anything, ever.
He shares his snacks with me.
The stop-go-pickup, stop-go-pickup routine continues for what seems forever. The one time we actually don’t stop is when we pass a broken down bus — all the tourists are standing on the side of the road sweating with their luggage. I recognize someone. It’s that same damn bus I got kicked off this morning! I think, adios gringos! Make way for the luckiest chica alive!
When we reach the border I’m delighted to see my backpack made the trip! Kavir comes to my rescue when the driver tries to charge me twice and we set off together to customs. He’s slightly nervous about crossing and laments that “an American passport opens many doors, but a Honduran only closes them”. I suggest maybe if he’s WITH an American it will help! The lady at the passport desk smiles huge, barely glances at my passport before stamping it and waving me on. I wait for Kavir. Her face falls, she scrutinizes each page speaking in spanish and shaking her head. He must be interviewed in the back. When he finally returns his punishment is $25 to go across, $25 he doesn’t have. He objects when I hand him the cash, but I convince him that it’s my turn to help. We walk across the border together.
His ride is not there. Of course it’s not. This guys bad luck is epic.
Being my problem-solving self, I suggest Kavir share my cab into San Ignacio, maybe he can use the business center at my hotel and track down his people. Halfway there, I remember I totally splurged on this place. As we pull up to the posh resort Kavir’s eyes widen. We walk in and the front desk ladies flash me a smile then glare at him as if he possibly wandered in off the street. “Checking in!” I say. They ask how many welcome drinks I would like? I look at Kavir and say “We’ll take two welcome drinks, of course.”
BTW I also mention my friend just needs to use the internet to get a ride, but it’s totally lost in translation – they think we’re together.
We’re handed a pair of steaming hot towels and I graciously wipe the chicken bus off my hands and face, breathing in the botanicals. Kavir, who I’m pretty sure has never received a tropical botanical hot towel in his life, watches me for instruction, unsure if he’s hot-towelling right.
Despite my objections, they insist on giving us a full tour of the resort. Gourmet restaurant. Here’s the bar. Sparkling swimming pool, wildlife preserve and nature trails. The spa is this way. It’s the nicest thing I’ve seen in Central America. It’s the nicest thing Kavir has ever seen. I’m embarrassed.
The tour ends in my giant beautiful room. Canopy bed. Private deck with hammock. Our luggage is waiting, along with our welcome drinks. They are a dreamy, bright green, foamy, herb, lemonade concoctions. I take a sip and say “tasty!” Kavir takes a long slow gulp, closes his eyes and says “this, is the greatest drink I’ve ever had in my whole life”.
We sit outside on my fancy deck enjoying the welcome drinks. The morning’s motorbike adventure and chicken bus saga feel like a dream. I note it’s the second time today I find myself alone with a male stranger. The straw-sucking, bottom-of-the-glass sound signals the end of the welcome drink. It’s also the end of Kavir’s welcome. I think, yeah this dude should probably go now.
After contacting his friend with the lobby computer, I force some more dollars on him, wishing him luck and hugging him goodbye. He’s beyond touched at my generosity and walks towards town.
I treat myself to a glass of wine and sushi by the pool and look out over the jungle. I knew I was a very lucky person, but I’m not sure I ever realized just how lucky until now.
When Joel finally arrives, I meet him at the check-in desk and the women snicker and giggle loudly – definitely because I’m checking in yet another man. Joel looks quizzically at me and wonders why he’s not in on the joke. Back in the room he sees the two empty glasses and asks if I got started early? I say “Let’s go grab some welcome drinks and I’ll tell you all about it…”