I’ll say this right now, i’m not one for the thrill of unexpected immigration challenges. I know some people really get off on not knowing quite how they’re going to make a border crossing and the delicate tête-à-tête with border officials, but I would much rather know where i’m going, how i’m getting there, with all the necessary visas and paperwork. What can I say, I’m type A.
So it continues to baffle me that throughout my travels across these great continents that I kept finding myself in somewhat awkward situations, having to bumble my way in Spanish to try and reach my next destination.
The first occurred trying to get to Belize City from San Cristobal. Through my ample research I’d thought I’d found a comfortable and cheap means of making my way by 12-hour bus via the border town of Chetumal to an awaiting mini bus, which would take me to the infamous capital, from which I’d make my way to Caye Caulker.
The first hitch came when my bus didn’t rock up for an hour past its scheduled departure time. But cool, I had some buffer before the next ride. Then, once the bus actually departed, it preceded to stop roughly every 20 minutes for no known reason, and I believe we were ID checked around 15 times throughout the journey. There must be real issues with illegal immigrants for some reason wanted to hitch their way to Belize (this was even before any prospect of a wall to the USA).
A good 14 hours into our journey I start to panic. I’m going to miss the next bus and then the water shuttle to meet Bridget. 16 hours, after 2 hours of anxious squirming in my seat, we finally pull into the bus depot.
“But where is the border?” I ask.
“It’s another 20minute cab ride,” says some opportunistic taxi driver.
Begrudgingly I haul my backpack into his cab and we race off to the border bus stop. An unreasonable amount of cash is handed over, but what can I do in my hour of need?
I scramble around the bus parking lot looking for the correct bus line, but it’s no where to be found. It hasn’t quite ticked over the 10.30am departure time so I haven’t missed it.
It just turns out it doesn’t actually exist.
**The internet is a wonderful place to find information. Sometimes, however, this information is incorrect and you find yourself in a border fluster.**
Luckily there’s a chicken bus headed to Belize City, waiting to depart, so I jump on and it takes off.
Then it strikes me. I have roughly $5 on me. Nothing more. The bus conductor ambles his way along, collecting payments and pulls up next to me and asks me where I’m going.
“Belize City, but ah, I only have this much on me,” I say, opening my purse.
“It’s no problem, we take you to an ATM once we get there,” the conductor offers, and onwards he keeps going.
Somewhat relieved, I sit back and try to relax through the oppressive humidity that has now engulfed me.
Then we rock up to the border. Another thing I read on the line, is that you only need to pay tax into/out of Mexico once, and if you fly in it’s included in your ticket. With this is mind I head through the border check and confidently show my plane ticket from arrival.
“You need to pay to leave,” says the immigration official.
“But I thought it was included in the flight ticket.”
“No receipt, no payment.”
**If you choose to leave Mexico via the road, ALWAYS keep your tax receipts from entry to avoid the above situation**
Somewhat confused, I step out of the line and let others through. And then it hits me, I have no money to move forward in my journey, and no way of getting back to Mexico. I’m essentially stuck.
The conductor, hurrying everyone along, comes over to see why I look like a ghost, to which I explain my situation. And just like that he whips out the necessary cash and tells me it’ll be added to my bill at the other end.
I’m obviously very grateful, but also extremely wary of the situation I may be putting myself in. I always want to believe the best in people, but you hear horror stories and sometimes you just can’t be too cautious.
The next 5 or so hours were filled with the most sweaty and hilarious bus chaos, to a soundtrack of the best of 90s pop and RnB (yeah, ok I was slightly in heaven), before we finally pulled into the bus depot. I go to jump off, to which I’m told to stay put, they’re going to drive the bus to the ATM for me.
I nervously jump out and head to the cash machine with the conductor, who supervises my withdrawal. I had over my fee, with a small tip, cause at the end of the day, this guy just completely saved the day for me. The cynic in me died a little that day.
Dirty and relieved, I arrived at the dock to which an anxious Bridget and my awaiting boat were waiting to take me to paradise.