One day in Belize and I feel like I am already starting to understand how things work around here. Bus rides are always adventures and a great way to experience local flavor, but my bus ride from Puerta Barrios (PB) to Belize City was an adventure to remember. Wherever I am in the world…from the Armitage Avenue bus, steps from my front door, to places far from home, bus rides feel like being caught in the middle of a movie, but you are never sure if it will be a comedy, drama, thriller…until the credits roll as the trip ends. I expect interesting characters and unexpected twists along the way and the cost of the bus ride usually provides more entertainment than any recent movies I’ve seen!
As I sat in a local cafe, I was warned by a retired Marine that if the bus waiting at the station looked anything like an old American school bus, I was certainly in for the long haul. So, when I found a striped red, green, and yellow school bus waiting for me, I had to giggle and get ready for the ride.
The other passengers on my boat ride to PB were also taking the bus to Belize City, and while the bus looked less than luxurious, it was clean and spacious. Instead of sitting right next to each other, with so many empty seats available, we smiled at each other and spread out. I felt good and safe just knowing this pleasing group including a mom, aunt, and grandma traveling with a young man who left his home in England for a year of school in Mexico. After one year, he realized that he was going to excuse himself from school to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. He wasn’t a big guy, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to sit near him on the ride…just in case someone needed a left cut or upper jab along the way.
As soon as we started driving, the driver stopped at approximately every three houses and the bus started filling up. We traveled for twenty minutes when a woman I vaguely recognized walked on the bus…it was the woman who sold me my ticket at the station. I took a closer look and realized that our now packed bus was back exactly where we had started and we were ready to get going….yes, it was going to be a long ride.
I usually sit near the front of the bus in new cities so I can hear the bus driver…and hopefully not miss my stop or important announcements. This bus had a driver and a man collecting money as people boarded. Everyone seemed to know each other on this bus with familiar greetings and pleasantries shared along the way. Two young men got on the bus looking like they just stepped out of inner city Chicago…big American basketball jerseys, huge gold necklaces, tattoos covering their arms. They sat in the front seat and while not harming anyone, just swore loudly and a lot….enough to make everyone a bit uncomfortable. That’s the other thing about buses, they have a collective unspoken vibe that changes in a heartbeat without anyone saying a word. One of the guys shared more than once that the girl next to him had “beautiful eyes, baby” but she didn’t appear flattered. They got off without incident, but everyone seemed more relaxed when they left.
Along the way, food vendors popped on the bus for a few stops selling everything from plantain chips to popcorn to bread to drinks. Strolling bus vendors seems like a genius idea. I felt like I was at a cocktail party where the servers circle with a variety of hors d’oeuvres and I couldn’t wait to see what would be offered next. At one of the rest stops, a man was selling drinks in reused beer and soda bottles. At least I hope they were reused bottles because I returned to the bus to find my three year old seatmate sipping from a straw dipped into a bottle of Guinness.
There are certain “characters” and events that happen on almost every long bus ride…the baby who sits nearby and you know you have two options… either continue the hour long game of peekaboo or get ready for whining and wailing in your ear, the person who can’t follow bus rules and gets scolded by the driver -in this case for standing up when be certainly could have sat down at any of the places where there were only two people already seated, the dad returning from a long day of work and being greeted when he gets off the bus by his eager family…I like all those things. But this bus ride had another interesting character, my final seatmate after a revolving group of passengers was the most interesting of all.
I didn’t catch her name, but she had a large stye on her eye. It wasn’t hard to notice, but it wouldn’t have been memorable if she didn’t turn to me…I mean really closely turn to me say…Wait, before I continue, you have to imagine how close I was to her with three of us in the bus seat..she’s in the middle and I have my ear pressed to window. Okay, she turned closely to me and said, “The doctor said this thing is ready to burst any minute” and gently rubbed her finger under it. I wasn’t quite sure of the appropriate response to that. It sounded like good news, but I didn’t really feel like celebrating just then and kind of hoped that this wasn’t the “any minute” the doctor had referred to. After watching her gently caress the stye, I went back to gazing at the beautiful orange trees and palm-covered mountains and was only interrupted when she took that same hand and offered me a mini box of gum by pressing it into my own palm. Now, I am not a self proclaimed germ-o-phobe or anything, but eating that gum did not seem like a good idea and just shaking it in my hand seemed awkward and ungrateful. So, I debated my options…fake chewing was high on the list, but I opted to wait for a distraction, put it in my bag and pretend like I never had it, and wait ten minutes to say, “Boy, my hands are dry,” while offering to share antibacterial lotion. That seemed to work and I am thankful to say we made it to Belize City burst free.
Lucky for me, my replacement at Westmont High School is not only a talented educator and great person, but she is also very connected in her hometown of Belize City. Denise has given me great tips along the way, and found perfect friends to show me around, AND she even jumped in as a long distance travel agent for strangers. When our bus pulled in, two hours later than we expected, the family of the boxer told me they still needed to find a hotel. I love technology because with a few simple text exchanges, Denise had found additional rooms at a local bed and breakfast near her friend Kendra’s house. It was all so high tech and I felt kind of local when I was able to say…”I know someone who can help.” Denise said that everyone here knows someone who can help. We shared a taxi and arrived at D’Nest Inn…a beautiful and cozy place to stay.
Today is going to be a big and fun day in Belize City before heading out for a few days in the islands.