Cab to the airport at 2am. I’d been told by three people that for international flights, you have to be there three hours early. That’s horse shit, especially when there’s more or less nothing open, and the Taca airline desk doesn’t open until two hours before the flight. Once that was done, the departure lounge was an abandoned mall with a handful of workers and a bunch of tired travellers.
On the plane, strapped in, notice my book isn’t in my bag. Talk to a stewardess and she let’s me go and get it from the lounge. Back on the plane, taxiing, sitting there with a Paul Auster book on my lap, I instead read an interview with Ricky Martin in the airline magazine. I do not care one bit about Ricky Martin.
One of the greatest things you will ever see in life is being in a plane over Mexico City when it’s dark. It’s amazing, like a fishing net of lights has been thrown over the land, with a few black mountains poking through.
Behind me on the flight were two Mennonites couples. It took me half the flight to work out what language they were speaking. I think it was Dutch.
“Grown Ups” was the movie. I dozed off towards the end. Not sleeping, just dozing until me head dropped then sparking awake again. It didn’t seem like a movie; it was just a collection of snappy remarks, like you’d get in a bar with friends.
By the time the plane came close to San Salvador, the sun was up and reflecting on the flat Pacific like Bob Ross brush strokes.
San Salvador airport looks like a secondary school, just with aeroplanes on the Tarmac rather than Peugeots.
Central American heat and the smell of jet fuel.
The announcer in the airport had a wonderful whispery voice, like a Latina Björk, escorting me all the way down the corridor, as I looked for what I knew was here three years ago: a cafe that had a smoking section. And yes! It’s still there. This was the place that I met Brendan and Mel three years ago. We’d got off the same plane and separately, we were looking for a smoking place. And it was still there. I had a black coffee, chugged down a fag, then went to the gate for my second flight.
All the coffee I’d drunk, though, was gurgling around in my belly, making me feel a bit grim. Combine that with the aeroplane air that seems to distend things. And I could’ve, y’know, done with an extra ten minutes in this airport which is an airport that I already associate with a dodgy belly.
Onto the plane, and a surly looking young Belizean was in my window seat. The plane didn’t seem overly busy, so I was a pussy and sat in the aisle seat, quietly scoffing to myself at his shit trainers, and listening to the Wu-Tang Clan to remind myself that I am from the tough streets of North Hykeham.
I think the stewardess was giving me the eye, which I guess is the sign of a good stewardess/actress.
Arriving at the airport, it’s one of those where you walk across the Tarmac to the terminal. I like that kind of airport, it makes me feel like a returning sporting hero. Or one of the Beatles.
There’s the heat again. Immigration and customs; out for a smoke and to take in the new temperature. The heat curling up the trouser leg like a villian’s snake. And the undershirt of sweat forming on my torso.
Into a cab with Jose, a very friendly man who pointed out landmarks along the way (“there’s the supermarket!”, “the boys play football there at four o’clock if you want a game”), and soon enough I’m at the guest house I’m spending the night at. It’s a little outside of the town but I knew my needs were essentially somewhere to bathe and sleep and get back to the airport to meet my friends.
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so, having been told to make myself at home, I took a coffee and a cigarette on the patio by the creek that runs alongside the house. The lady, rather than getting the room ready, came out with me and pointed out various types of fish in the river. Not content with the amount of visible fish, she went to get a loaf of bread and coaxed fish to the surface. There were catfish, needlefish, bigbrownfish, notquiteasbigbrownfish. Lots of birdlife, too.
Once the room was ready, shower, clean clothes, a quick look at a map of the city, and I’m out. Almost immediately my choice of jeans not shorts was apparently a mistake. Hot.
The lady told me buses pass by, or to get a cab. I started walking. Bought a Coke. Glass bottle. Half the price of the same sized plastic bottle of Coke. How the aesthetic ponces of the world like me rejoice at that.
I saw a bus parked up, the driver staring out of the window. I shouted and asked if he was going into the city. I hear my voice at moments like that, when accents are Caribbean or simply not British, and all I hear coming out of my gob is Hugh Grant. It was a crappy old Blue Bird bus. Like a US school bus.
The lady at the guest house had told me to stay on this side of the river; the other side, and I paraphrase, sucks. After spending a couple of hours on this side of the river, I came to realise that it was like being told your shit sandwich doesn’t come with fries on the other side. Belize City, in my limited experience, is horrible.
The word potholes doesn’t do the roads justice. They look like roads that have been dug up from another town and dropped into empty streets and steam rollered into place. Shacks and busted cars everywhere. The type of macho male youth hanging around that makes pasty English chaps nervous.
I made my way to the museum. Were I being charitable, I’d say I was too hot and tired to fully appreciate the history on display. But I’m not gonna be charitable: if a museum had coins and bottles, you know it’s a craphole.
Sidenote: I saw 14 people wearing New Era fitted caps. Everyone of them was a Yankees cap.
I decided to walk back to the guest house. It took about 40 minutes. I could feel my skin cooking. I was hungry so I stopped along the way at a place called Friendship Chinese. They weren’t friendly of course. Chicken fried rice and Leeds vs. Arsenal on the telly. Halfway through my meal, a child at the next table jumped out of her seat and screamed. The rest of her party all vacated, too, while the owner stood on their table to remove a massive spider from the wall. A couple of Mennonites were dining, too. They had a cell phone. And drank Coca Cola. The modern world.
I bought some McVitie’s Digestives from a store, (the joys of colonialism!), and trudged back to my room around 3pm. I sat down on the edge of the bed. And woke up at 6.20am.