“What the hell?”
The bus lurched to a stop, passengers scrambling over each other to press their faces against the grimy windows. Sweat dripped from my forehead as the fickle breeze disappeared, while loud voices competed with distorted hip-hop from a dozen mobile phones.
In my exhausted state I could understand little of the heavily-accented Creole, but eventually a single word started to make itself heard over and over again.
A few people snapped photos on their phone as the bus eventually started to move, police waving the traffic on past what looked like a bundle of clothes in the middle of the road. Drawing closer, I realised that what I’d thought was discarded clothing was nothing of the sort.
The body of a man lay face-up on the highway, the broken remains of a motorbike scattered up and down the road. Thick, dark blood lay pooled around his head and body, baking in the heat of a tropical morning. The white towel over his face explained why I couldn’t hear the wail of an approaching siren.
There would be no point calling this man an ambulance.
The murmurs from other passengers increased in volume as we passed, that single word being passed around like a football once again.
It had been a long night.
There’s one direct bus that plies the 9+ hour route between Cancun’s shiny resorts and the gritty sprawl of Belize City, and it doesn’t leave until 10:15pm. That wouldn’t be a problem if, like many other night buses in Mexico, the seats reclined into some kind of sleeping position.
Still, it’s not like it really matters all that much. Depending on traffic, you’ll hit the border crossing somewhere around 4am – and you’ll be there for a while. Even with only a dozen people on our bus, the process took well over an hour.
On the Mexican side, you’ll need to allow plenty of time for everyone to have an argument with the man in the little booth who is charging a 300 peso exit fee. It’s a complicated situation, but for most people who arrive in Mexico by plane, this tax is actually included in their fare.
Without a copy of the ticket that clearly itemises that fee, though, they’ll be asked to pay it again if they leave by land or sea. I’d happened to read up about this fun little feature and — having printed out my ticket from six months earlier — was stamped out without issue. Others weren’t quite so fortunate.
I’m not quite sure what the problem was with the immigration folks on the Belizean side, but I’m guessing it had a lot to do with having to sit in a sweaty tin shed at five in the morning. We got every question in the book about how long we planned to spend in Belize (two weeks), where we were going (several different places), whether we planned to work (of course not), how long we’d spent in Mexico (why did that even matter?) and god knows what else.
Eventually, bored of playing with us after about twenty minutes, the guard grumpily smeared a stamp across our passports and waved us through.
The heat hit like a blast furnace as we stepped off the bus, despite it being barely 8am. The main bus terminal in Belize City is little more than a parking lot with a ticket office, dust swirling everywhere as we collected our bags and sweated towards the door. Bound for San Ignacio, we were hoping to avoid hanging around too long – entertainment options seemed rather thin on the ground.
A friendly local pointed us towards the battered local bus slouching in a corner of the lot. Already full of laughing families and snoozing teenagers, we good-naturedly shoved our way aboard, stowed the bags on long wooden shelves and squeezed into a seat.
After so long in Mexico, hearing English everywhere came as quite a shock. The sticky heat came as less of one, and the jeans I’d worn to stave off the air-conditioned chill of the overnight bus suddenly didn’t seem so appropriate.
I was hungry, exhausted and smelled like somebody who hadn’t seen a shower in a while. The bus to San Ignacio was going to spend much of the day dawdling its way there, taking in a very large woman shouting out the word of the lord to widespread applause, a small group of toddlers who found me the most fascinating thing in the world and, half an hour into the trip, the first dead body of my travels.
Welcome to Belize.
Image via Flickr/Sarah tz