Well, I was premature on my diagnosis that I was “over” what turned out to be CheChen (poisonwood) – see a much worse case, documented here – because I’ve had to spend the last week or so “pasting myself”. Get it, ha ha ha. Yeah, it wasn’t funny. And Ray is a saint, as I am pretty sure I was not exactly a joy to be around.
To add to the fun, it was raining for quite a few days, leaving some stretches of the local roads looking like this. At the moment the Jeep doesn’t have working 4-wheel drive, so we’ve been a little reluctant to get out and about too much in the truck. Guess that will have to be fixed soon, as we are being told to expect much worse.
Anyway, the rash finally healed and the sun came out again, so we decided to cheer ourselves up with a run over to Chetumal, Mexico – the home of an American-style mall! Wal-Mart! Sam’s Club! and various American eateries: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza (!!!). And we thought while we were there, we’d also run up the coast to the beach resort town of Mahahual, which we’ve heard is wonderful.
Everyone said the border crossing is an easy process, but we (okay, I) still worried, since we don’t speak Spanish and have heard stories of border guards who like to screw with clueless gringos.
No need to have worried, however, as it was an easy process (at least this time), everyone we met was patient with our attempts to communicate, and generally we had an enjoyable trip.
First stop in the cross-over is on the Belizean side to pay an exit fee of $37.50 BZD (which we have to pay as our monthly visa fee at the Immigration office anyway, and it was just about due, so this would fulfill that requirement).
Also, on the Belize side is the Commercial Free Zone (CFZ), which technically “provides facilities for manufacturing, processing, warehousing, packaging and distribution of goods and services. Businesses established in CFZ have no foreign exchange restrictions and are allowed duty exemptions and tax holidays.” From our limited experience (two visits), it’s a dirty, dusty market with stuff for sale cheap. But you can find many of the same items for not much more in either Belize or Mexico, too.
Onward to the real border crossing, and into the land of paved roads – woo hoo!
First, we had to park the truck and go into an office to complete a form each and get our passports examined and stamped. Then we drove through the red light / green light gateway – a green light means free to go, a red light means you have to pull off and allow your vehicle to be searched. Happily, we got green this time.
A little further down the road, you have to pull over and pay $5 for your vehicle undercarriage to be sprayed. A friendly message in both Spanish and English says they’re just looking out for Mexican agriculture. And that was it.
Well, sort of. Then we had to navigate through Chetumal. We’d both looked at maps before we’d left but had neglected to print one. Even so, we made it to our downtown hotel without getting lost, and one of the front desk clerks spoke passable English so checking in was easy.
Our room wasn’t ready so we wandered past the nearby Museum of Mayan Culture into a market area, taking things in. Although everyone we met in Mexico was nice to us, it’s really quite humbling to be an obvious minority in a place where you don’t speak the language. Makes me really re-think being impatient with someone who speaks only Spanish in America – a lesson to remember.
Anyway, we took our luggage up and settled in before we headed back out into the fray. Chetumal is a pretty good size city but the street signage and gridding made navigating pretty simple. In fact, other than the obvious – signage in Spanish and Mexican people – we pretty much could have been in Anywhere, America.
We went to Plaza Las Americas (the mall) first and that felt very strange. Can’t say I’ve missed this kind of shopping, though it was kind of fun to experience it again after some time without it. We window-shopped down to the food court, where I’d been looking forward to enjoying some Domino’s Pizza. It didn’t disappoint – especially that first bite, yum! – but it also wasn’t so magnificent that I can’t live without it now.
Two big scores there, though – got a prescription refilled on the basis of an expired RX bottle (that’s not likely to happen Stateside), and … wait for it … we found Kraken. Many, many bottles of Kraken, which I’ve been craving since we arrived. Wal-Mart, in fact, had a large selection of liquor – something else not likely to happen Stateside. So, I’ve got two bottles now, and I know where to find more.
After getting lost on the way back to the hotel (it was on a one-way street and we couldn’t figure out how to get back to it on a parallel road), we took a quick dip in the pool, then watched a rerun of The Blacklist with Spanish subtitles (I thought I’d learned how to say “Damn it!” in Spanish but Google tells me that “Maldición!” just means “curse” – apparently, the translation was G-rated).
Oh yeah, one other note on the ‘thank-God-for-Ray’ front. I was just getting used to using Belize money – hell, I still have trouble with American money sometimes (“I was told there would be no math”). So – pesos, well forget it.
200 dollars for a dress?! 16,000 dollars for a TV?! Okay, so that’s a little over $15 for the dress, and about $1230 for the TV. But it sounds terrible. Not to mention, the exchange rate fluctuates, and I don’t even want to go there.
I was thoroughly impressed with Ray’s ability to calculate all this in his head, too. Not happening for me. I did think the money was pretty, and it has cool hologram things on it. You know, I notice the important stuff.
I also did better with the Spanish translations, though Ray wasn’t keen for me to experiment. For instance, I was all over “Cuervezas, dos, fria, por favor” but never beat Ray to the request at the bar (he boringly asked for two Coronas). And in Wal-Mart, I pointed to a camera and mimed swimming to ask if they had underwater cameras (no, they did not – but they did understand me). A few of my guesses were way off though – for instance, the road sign “No Maneje Cansado” does NOT mean “Don’t Eat Canadians”. But I did get Ray to laugh, and he was tired, so it sort of worked out anyway.