When the alarm buzzed at 6am the sun was not yet up, the sound of howler monkeys in the distance was ever present. I squeezed in a brief workout before heading to breakfast. Today I had the same fried eggs, refried beans, and fruit, though added bacon. It was the perfect portion size to tide me over on the day of travel ahead. For $8 USD, the Tikal Inn had packed a sack lunch – sandwich, chips, orange, graham crackers, boiled egg, and pear soda.
The Jaguar Inn’s shuttle arrived promptly at 7am. The ride from the hotel back into Flores seemed to take longer this time, perhaps because instead of being filled with the excitement of being back it was now filled with the sadness that this would likely be the last time I’d ever step foot in Tikal. The world is too big, money and time too limited, three+ times just didn’t make sense. Though who knows what the future will bring. When the driver pulled up to the same juncture we’d been picked up at, we pulled over on the dirt way beside the road. The driver said the next bus was running an hour behind.
Feeling excited to have this opportunity to explore another facet of Guatemala, I hopped out of the shuttle and wandered the roads. The driver was awesome and stayed the entire time. There was a school nearby that was just starting and the road was filled with mom’s holding the hands of their little kiddos as they walked to the school entrance. Some were decked out in school uniforms, while others were in normal street clothes. Just about all of them had little backpacks. Every now and then there’d be a dad, but mostly it was moms.
The little roadside cafes were buzzing with people grabbing breakfast and coffee. Stray dogs wandered aimlessly zigzagging across the roads. Trucks delivering soda pop or supplies to the nearby stores dominated the horizons. The streets were busy and buzzing with morning life. The hour flew by too quickly and the next bus had arrived. There were about 10-15 people already on the bus, once again allowing me an entire row to myself. Score. Off we went.
With the bus to Tikal running so far behind, it was dark as night for most of the bus ride making it near impossible to see anything outside the window so I was elated to be able to recline back and stare out the window at the beautiful countryside. Everything was so lush and green, and the towns ranged in size from small settlements of cinder block homes with make-shift roofs to real towns with shops and paved roads. As with every trip, I wished I could have stayed longer, soaked up more of the culture and life in Guatemala, but alas.
The 1.5 hours to the border seemed to fly by. Trying to preserve the battery in my cell phone, I enjoyed the utter silence of the bus and the gorgeous views, what I’d call heaven for us introverts. Near the border and at the border, Google Fi registered a signal. I’d almost become so used to it’s non-usability I’d stopped expecting the notifications, though there it was. Made me think if I’d been in a more populated part of Guatemala, versus the middle of the jungle, I’d probably have had coverage. Strange it covers Honduras and Guatemala but not Belize.
The border crossing was a bit busy as the bus arrived around 11am, prime transiting time. Having done this before, while the other tourists were trying to sort themselves out, grabbing their oversized luggage, I was able to hop off and get first in line to leave Guatemala. One more reason to not carry large luggage! Entrance into Belize was a bit longer of a line, though still moved rather quick. No questions, no money exchange, passport stamped. Next was the inspection station where all fruit and meat had to be tossed. They didn’t seem to care about my sandwich thank goodness but the lady in front of me had to toss all her bananas.
The sun was bright without a cloud in sight. There was something about getting the chance to soak up some vitamin D while waiting on everyone to finish clearing customs, that seemed far better than just sitting on the bus. It took just shy of an hour for us to clear both sets of customs, I can’t even imagine how long it would take if we’d had a full bus. It felt a bit like going through an airport that doesn’t have TSA pre-check and watching everyone fumble as if they’ve never done this before or are so confused. Despite the plethora of signs (in English and Spanish) with detailed instructions… I guess we can’t all be logistics people.
Back on the bus it was another 1.5 hours to Belize City. I was so thankful for the sacked lunch, best decision ever, as the breakfast was starting to wear off. Not sure what it is about transit, but it always makes me hungry! We pulled up to the same water taxi dock around 2:00pm, which meant the 1:30pm water taxi was already gone. Luckily there was another at 3:00pm. The water taxi dock was filled with little restaurants and shops for people to kill time in while waiting on the boat. The check in process for the San Petro Belize Express was simple, just show your PayPal receipt and they give you a ticket.
Around 15 minutes before departure they lined everyone up into two lines – those going to Caye Caulker and those going to Ambergris Caye. The boat appeared to fit around 100 people with a small upstairs deck that fit around 15 or so. Both seating areas were covered and protected from the sun. If you’re like me and you get sea sick easily, the seating arrangements were tricky as typically the goal is to find the back middle seat. In this case, that didn’t exist. Luckily the seas were calm and protected by the reef so one Dramamine was able to do the trick. It’s nothing like the boat from La Ceiba to Roatan in Honduras if you’ve done that before.
As soon as we got away from the mainland, the water was a gorgeous turquois blue and the land had disappeared into a small speck in the distance. It was just short of an hour before we got to Caye Caulker. About half the boat cleared off and another set of passengers climbed on board. This company had it down to a science and was able to unload/reload passengers and luggage in a mere 10-15 minutes. I was impressed. While idling the boat wasn’t swaying, it stayed pretty steady as the water near the shore was calm as can be.
At this point, Ambergris was so close the excitement started to take over and the knowledge of turquoise waters and beaches lies just ahead. It’s about 30 minutes further to Ambergris Caye, which is the larger of the two islands. Piling off the boat dock I was once again rewarded with having packed light as everyone else had to wait for their bags, I was already on my way. The boat dock is greeted with a plaza that has seen better days. Walking through the plaza the first sights are the two big dance clubs – Jaguar and Big Daddy (which just closed)– and the main bank. The island has three roads that go north to south, the front road, middle road, and back road. Or at least this is what everyone tells you, but in reality there are many more roads, lots of twists and turns. Though most everyone is on golf carts, so it’s easy to be nimble.
Having read online in advance, I knew the walk from the dock to the hotel would be 20 minutes so I made sure to wear walking shoes and also was glad to have brought the over the shoulder duffel. The walk gave a chance to orientate with the town, it was a straight shot north to the Park Place Belize Hotel. I’d been weary given my attempts to contact the hotel prior to the stay were near impossible. Their website was down. Their email was down. They didn’t respond to their Facebook. Plus the reviews online weren’t comforting. However, it was in fact a fully functioning hotel with brightly colored Caribbean paint, air conditioned rooms, and adequate accommodations.
There was nothing I wanted more than to dip my toes in the ocean, it’s like the very thought had been tempting me all day and it was finally time. I set down my luggage, threw on my bikini, grabbed a towel and was off. Sunset would be just around the corner and I wanted nothing more than a little ocean time. The hotel has a community basketball court directly behind it, so no beach. Just a couple minutes walk away were some small sandy sections of beach. The seaweed was so thick there was a couple feet solid before a spot to even dip a toe. I was too excited to be on the island to care, my toes were in the sand, and tomorrow would be another day to find a real beach.
After a long day of transit, a casual dinner at the hotel restaurant sounded perfect. The restaurant is open air and facing the ocean, with a lovely breeze that cools the place. The bartenders were charismatic and had fun playing with my broken Spanish, admittedly I did too. The menu was typical nice pub food. I ordered the fajitas which came with refried beans and pico de gallo. Paired with a glass of red wine, I was a happy camper. It wasn’t long after dinner before I was complete toast and sound asleep.