A good solid eight hours sleep, up at 5.15am to get the 6.15am bus. Shower, dressed, sweating virtually from the off. It’s good being a hot-blooded English human when I’m in cold countries, but as soon as I get to somewhere humid, it kills me and any pretence I have that I might look good. How can you look good when your shirt is sweaty from the moment you wake up?
The buses in Belize are great. If you are child-size. They are yer actual genuine Blue Bird buses. The American school buses that you know well if you are American, and know from films and telly if you are not American. At Corozal, there were about ten of us on the bus. On the way out of town, it stopped every few hundred yards to pick up more people. It was frustratingly slow, by normal life standards, but I am on holiday, so not too much of a worry. After leaving Corozal, the bus kept stopping, but less frequently. Where roads from villages met the main highway, there would be people waiting or getting off. As we got close to Orange Walk, one of Belize’s bigger towns, the bus was full of children going to school. At Orange Walk, a couple of Mennonite dudes got on. Long trousers, long shirts, long beards, tall wide-brimmed hats. One of them was drinking a Coke. It seemed odd to see that (says the ill-informed blogger).
I listened to Coldplay. Yes, I know. But ever since my travels in 2008, I always associate bus travel with listening to and enjoying their music. I do it now almost of out of habit. It’s comforting somehow.
Some of the people who got on the bus at 6.15 in Corozal were still on the bus as we entered Belize City, three hours later. And judging by their business attire, they must work there. A six hour round trip to work every day.
At the Belize City bus station, I got off the bus and onto the bus right next to it, to head further south. The bus was already fairly full, and I sat in an aisle seat. Ordinarily, I like window seats, cos, y’know, the view. But on these tiny school buses, an aisle seat wasn’t so bad. I could stretch one leg. The woman in front of me was reading a Kindle. Over her shoulder it was something that featured characters called Aubrey and Max. A beach house was mentioned too.
I listened to some of an audio book. Somewhere along the way, I lost the physical copy of In Patagonia by Bruce a couple of years ago before I’d had chance to read it. And because I’d already bought it, I didn’t feel guilty recently, when I torrented the audio book. I’m about half way through. I wanted to read/hear it because, well, I still dream of being a travel writer, and this is one of the books that’s always mentioned amongst the best of the genre. To be perfectly honest, so far, it doesn’t seem as great as I assumed it would be. I mean, it’s enjoyable for sure, but it’s not blowing me away.
The highway system in Belize is minimal. There’s one from the north, via Orange Walk, to Belize City. Another that goes west towards Guatemala, and another than goes from the capital, Belmopan (about halfway along the western highway) east and towards Dangriga, then south to Punta Gorda. I was on the bus that stopped at Belmopan. It emptied and filled up again with passengers and we kept on truckin’ towards Dangriga, where the landscape changed from flat to a bit hilly. Lovely jungle-y stuff going on on either side, which allowed me to ignore the guy who kept falling asleep on my shoulder.
An oldish guy across the aisle with a Milwaukee Brewers cap and a splendid moustache was chatting with anyone who would listen. At one stop, he stood up, went to the door, and chucked his empty Coke bottle onto the grass verge. So *that’s* why there’s so much trash in Belize…
A woman and her two sons sat down on the seat in front of me. The kids spent a lot of time staring at me. I crossed my eyes at one of them. He hid his head. Then looked up again. I crossed one eye (it’s a talent, y’know). He hid again and looked a bit scared. I did it again and smiled. Nope, even smiling doesn’t work. But it did stop him staring at me, so one-nil Craig.
I’d not had a piss since 6am. As we left Dangriga, at 12.15pm, I realised that I really should’ve used the five minutes that we were stopped there to have a wee. Still another hour and a half to go. I saw road signs that told me we were getting closer. It was good to know. We pulled into the new bus station at Independence (a bit further out of town than the old one; taxi drivers rejoice). I got in a cab and took the five dollar ride to the Hokey Pokey water taxi station. Joy: a good long piss.
Relieved, I went to buy the US$5 ticket for the water taxi to Placencia and as luck would have it, the TV in the cage above the ticket window was showing the second half of the Liverpool v Real Madrid game. As luck wouldn’t have it, Real were 3-0 up and looking like they could’ve utterly crushed Liverpool had they been bothered about doing so.
In the water taxi, I sat behind a couple of Dutch guys who were talking as loudly as people talk when they realise nobody understands what they are saying. They were both in their mid-forties, ie. my age, but they were dressed in that mid-forties way that is best described as Borisbeckerian. Spiked and gelled hair. Earrings. Ill-advised tribal tattoos under flamboyant shirts. Sporty shades.
Ten minutes of water taxiing (a joy, actually: across the lagoon, loads of birds and mangrove) and I take a slow sweaty stroll along the Sidewalk (referred to as a road, but actually, it’s just a concrete path raised an inch or two above the sand), to the hotel that I booked at the border the day before.
I checked in, had a shower, a couple of glugs of mezcal from my hip flask, then went out to the Barefoot Bar, a beach bar, a short walk along the beach from the hotel. I drank Belikin stout and chatted with the older couple at the next table. They were retired hospital workers from Wheatland, Wyoming who bought a house down here. They seemed genuinely happy to be living in Belize for seven months a year. They thought I was nuts for living in Mexico City. I googled Wheatland, Wyoming. It has a population of 3,627. It makes sense that Wheatland natives would think living in DF was nuts.
A band started up. Just a guy with a guitar, singing, and his mate playing a bongo and a cymbal. They started up with a cover of With or Without You. They said they had a spare bass and harmonica if anyone wanted to join their “fun” and “funky” “jam session.” Without needing to be asked twice, I stepped up to the plate, grabbed the bass guitar and sang a few Police songs. The locals clapped. The ovation lasted for several minutes. I went back to my beer. Men wanted to shake my hand, woman wanted to shake other bits of me.
Obviously, that’s not what happened. They played Eagles, Pretenders, Bob Marley covers. Enough was enough. I paid up and went back to the hotel. I could hear the jammers jamming from my room. Black Hole Sun. I watched a good twenty minutes of Children of Men on my iPad and fell asleep before 9pm. I kinda like how Belize does that to me. I wake up dead early and go to bed dead early too.
You always worry when you’ve got an early flight. You have to wake up earlier than normal, so you try to go to bed earlier than normal. That last bit never works. I was in bed at 9pm, but didn’t sleep til gone 11. And that worrying about missing a flight is never necessary. I’d set my alarm for 3am, but woke up naturally at 2.58am. I gave myself an hour before the taxi was due. Again, though, that was unnecessary. You only need an hour to get ready if you are unprepared and like to hit the snooze button. The snooze button is something I haven’t used since I was in my twenties. If I need to get up, I get up.
Buzzer / yes? / taxi / I’ll be right down / goodbye to girlfriend / in taxi / empty roads / pay / receipt / check in / last smoke / security / wait / plane.
The guy sat in front of me snored like a bastard. He sounded like he was trying to snort gravel through a straw.
An expensive taxi from Chetumal airport to the border and there I am, ready to do my favourite thing in the world: cross an international border on foot. At the Mexico side of the border, you have to pay 300 pesos to leave. Paid the money, gracias, then walked over the bridge above the river at separates Mexico and Belize.
The first time I made this journey, two years ago, I was naive, and got a 15 US dollar taxi. On subsequent trips, I’ve not been stupid. There are small buses, like VW van-size, that charge two or three Belizean dollars (US$1=BZ$2). It’s a ten minute walk from the bridge to immigration on the Belize side. A guy in a van pulled up alongside and told me it was three dollars to go to Corozal, my destination, about ten miles or so away. Sweet. I gave him the dollars, he drove me to immigration, and said I’ll wait for you on the other side.
Immigration is a stand alone building that, until last year, was just a few wooden desk and some relaxed dudes with ink pads and a stamp. Now, though, those desks have perspex screens and cameras and the officers seem more uptight. Not sure if it’s true, but I’ve heard that the US government paid for the security upgrades.
The officer looked at my passport, asked why I had been in Mexico for so long. I told her. She asked where I was going in Belize. I told her. She asked if I had hotel reservations. I told her that, I had reservations for a couple of places, but not for a couple of others. She asked to see the reservations. I told her that I did them online and don’t have print outs. She asked about Placencia, a place where I didn’t have a reservation. Well, it’s not tourist season, so I figured I’d just arrive and find somewhere (this is something I like to do; arriving in a place and not knowing where you will sleep in kinda exciting.) She pushed my passport back through the hole and said, I can’t let you in if you don’t have somewhere to stay. I asked what I was supposed to do, she gave me a look, and turned away. Okay then, thanks for your help, ma’am.
Very very fortunately, there was a tourism desk at the entrance. I told the guy what had happened, and that I’d previously stayed at Sea Spray and One World in Placencia, so maybe I could try one of those. He looked at his screen, went to the Sea Spray website and used his own private cell phone to call them. Yes, they have vacancies (obvs). I spoke to someone on the phone, who was nice and friendly, telling me the difference between the rooms (prices, A/C, telly, sea view, etc). This was all fine, but just gimme a room. I told her my credit card details, and gave the phone back to the tourism dude. I heard his end of the convo. He told her that, yes, I think we have a fax machine. Pause. Well, if you can do it soon, because this gentleman is waiting to get into the country. When he ended the call, he said that she said that she would fax confirmation in 15 minutes.
15 minutes is a long time when you are in limbo. I went outside for a smoke. It was humid. I was sweating. I went back inside and chatted with the tourism guy. He was called Bernard. He asked where I was in Mexico. When I told him, he looked at me like I was nuts to live somewhere like DF. We chatted about our lives, his ex-wife, my girlfriend, his job, my job. All in all, he was the perfect person to be stuck dealing with this situation. Laid back and friendly.
After 20 minutes, the fax came through. I shook Bernard’s hand, thanked him for being so helpful, and went back to the immigration desk. By this time, a different person was there. A man about my age. I told him that his colleague had insisted I have a hotel in Placencia. He didn’t even look at the fax. He asked how long I’d be in Belize, then stamped my passport and wished me a good stay. Obviously, the three dollar bus guy had gone by the time I left immigration.
In Corozal I stayed, again, at the Sea Breeze Hotel. It’s my third time there. It’s cheap, basic, but I like it. The owner is a Welsh former roadie. He’s got plenty of tales to tell, which, depending on how he feels about you, he seems willing to tell after a couple of beers. If this hotel was on the Gordon Ramsay show Hotel Hell, it’d be fun to see who would punch who first. The problem, though, with watching that show is it kinda makes you paranoid about every hotel.
After a quick shower, I borrowed one of the hotel bicycles and went for some breakfast. Went to Al’s Cafe, a place I’d not been before, but had seen recommended on a blog about Belize. Eleven o’clock, though, was too late for breakfast. I had lunch. Rice, beans, stewed chicken. Average.
While I was eating, this guy came and sat next to me. He kinda looked like a curly-haired version of Neymar. Handsome chap. He started his pitch. He carves wood. He showed me his hands. They looked like he carves wood. He told me he’s not a bad guy, not begging for money. He told me he didn’t ask me for money when he saw me ten minutes earlier, so “you know I’m not just a beggar.” Then he asked me for money. Just a couple of dollar so that he can get the bus to Belize City, so he can sell his carvings to the people getting off cruise ships. I didn’t give him money.
Next stop was Primos’, a bar near the water in the south of the town. When I say that, you probably think I went a decent way on the bicycle, but no, it’s a small town, and it was only a few minutes on the bike. Like a lot of Belizean buildings, it was wood. Open sides. Loads of flags hanging from the roof: Belize, USA, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Honduras. Pretty much all North and Central America represented. Tiny white ants ran across the bar. A Canadian woman sat near me played whack-a-mole with them. Killing ants with her thumb. Here, there, here, there. She had quite the task. I talked to her male companion. A bug eyed man (he had beautiful blue eyes, actually) with a nicotine stained moustache. We chatted about life. He told me they’d been in Belize for four months, yet he spoke with all the weariness of someone who had lived here for decades. He was from that part of Canada where they frack. He told me that a few shitty companies have ruined fracking’s reputation for everyone. If done responsibly, he said, it’s not dangerous. But, of course, this is a man who has retired in his fifties after fracking for twenty-odd years, so I’m inclined to feel he has an interest in fracking’s reputation.
As mentioned above, this was my third time in Corozal. The first time I was there, the best food I had was at a place in the centre of town called Purple Toucan. The next time I visited, Purple Toucan had closed and the delightful Mexican-Belizean couple who owned it had moved their restaurant to their own home, about a fifteen minute bike ride into the countryside away. It was renamed Tucan Mexicana. I took the bike in the midday sun and sweated my way out there. It was closed. And looked like it wasn’t functioning anymore. None of the seating and tables were outside the front. In their place, just the concrete ground and several loud barking dogs. Belize is always the same, but always different.
I returned to Primos’. Club sandwich and another Belikin. Fun fact: Belikin beer has had a redesign. And as with most redesigns, it’s not as nice as it was before. I was tired and a bit sleepy. I returned to the hotel, had a lie down, but my brain stopped me from having a nap. I watched the Barcelona-Ajax game for a bit, and then went out for supplies: water and custard cream biscuits.
I got stuck back into the Belikins at the hotel. The owner was sick. He had food poisoning. I sat alone in the bar, marking down the beers I drank. He came out occasionally, groaning about his dodgy tummy and arse. I flicked through the channels on the telly, and eventually found a channel showing game one of the World Series and spend the next couple of hours participating in the NotGraphs live chat.
When my iPad battery died, I retired to my room and watched about ten minutes of the remaining innings before falling asleep.
I did this drawing a few weeks ago. The idea was to not do any re-drawing. Just draw once and hope it comes out alright. Some are, as you would imagine, terrible. But I kinda like the drawings of Stevie Wonder and Steve Perry.
I kinda think this is the most Mexican-influenced drawing I’ve ever done.
See it bigger here.
Here’s a drawing I did from memory. It’s not any place in particular, but it’s kinda based on memories of being nightclubs in the East Midlands and North of England in the early ’90s.
I’m tentatively happy that we’re getting a third season of Twin Peaks in 2016. I’ve been a Beach Boys fan for way too long to let the idea exist of a legacy being ruined by later projects. If it’s rubbish, not a problem. So was most of the second season, anyway.
My enjoyment of Twin Peaks is so entangled with the time, anyway, that any NOW feelings about a third season could never ever come close. I was 20-21 when it was on TV in the UK. I was at art college. I was in love. It was a bright sunny summer. Life felt pretty good. And then there was also a very enjoyable TV show that felt totally out-of-step with everything else on the UK’s four channels at that point.
Seeing the news that it was coming back, though, did remind me of something. In the title sequence, when we see the shot of the sign for the town: it’s so obviously just been rammed into a piece of worn-down-by-vehicles ground next to a road. A real town’s sign would not have worn-down ground all around it like that. There’d be tufts of grass around the posts.
I do hope Audrey’s doing well, though.
Based on something from series 2 episode 1 of Limmy’s Show.