Adventure Getting to Belize

Whoever said, “Half the fun is getting there,” never crossed Guatemala in a chicken bus.  However, if you never rode in this mode of transportation, you’d just never have as many good travel stories to share.  I have so many good travel stories.  And, just in case you are curious, I saw chickens in the chicken bus.  But, the much more common sight is people crammed in like sardines in a can.

I went to bed early with two alarms set.  I was told my pick up could be any time between 6:30 and 7:30.  The entire time, the security guard from my hotel kept me company.  But, at 7:30, he went to make a phone call.  Was there some kind of problem?  Oh, yes, there was some kind of problem!  Actually, there was a breakdown in communication at the travel agency the day before.  I said I wanted to leave in the morning.  I can never sleep well on a bus, so a night trip was out of the question.  Well, I had an overnight ticket.

At first, I thought I would just have to wait around Antigua for twelve hours.  The thought of that was about as delightful as the thought of a night bus after the long wait.  I decided to count the $40 ticket as a loss and head up north on my own.  It really didn’t quite happen that way because I had watchful guardians throughout the day.

My first guardian was the security guard.  He personally walked me to the bus terminal in Antigua to go to Guatemala City.  I asked the man directing me into his bus, “Does this go to the terminal in Zone One?”

“Sí, sí, sí, Zona Una.”

The only actual “sí” in that sentence was, “I sí tourist money.”

We never went to the terminal in Zone One.  We never went to any terminal.  We stopped in a whole lot of places in Guatemala City, but I had no clue where any of them were.  I finally asked the bus assistant for some help.  He and the driver had a rapid-fire conversation in Spanish.  And, what was their conclusion?  I needed a taxi.

I knew what I needed.  The best tour guide I met on the trip said to never go to the bus terminal in Zone 18.  It was for Guatemalans.  Tourists needed to go to the terminal in Zone 1.  There, a tourist could get on a bus with leg room, more space, air conditioning, direct routes, most likely some people who spoke English, and toilets.  Yes, it came with a higher cost, but for a nine hour ride on a bus, I was willing to pay the price.

My bus driver and the taxi driver he found both refused the logic of going to Zone 1.  They insisted that I needed to go to Zone 18.  It was a brand new terminal in the north of the city which was the gateway to the north.  No amount of arguing would change their minds.  So, for the first time in my life, I took a taxi ride to a place that I knew I didn’t want to go to.

The two drivers were right.  It was the gateway to the north.  It was a beautiful terminal wrapped around a new mall.  It was everything a Guatemalan traveler could want.

It was the wrong terminal.

Going nowhere fast, inside and outside of the chicken bus
Gone was my chance to possibly get a refund from the bus company that sold me my ticket.  There were no tourist buses at Zone 18.  Gone was my leg room, space to move, over frozen air conditioning, direct route, and English.  I was afraid to even check if there was a toilet.  In the past, I would not have handled this well.  I would have created a scene before the taxi ever left that bus.  But, I decided this was a day for a Guatemalan experience.  Nothing was going to bother me on this adventure, starting with a taxi fare that was almost half the nine hour bus fare.

Once in Zone 18, I must have really looked out of place in the mall / bus terminal.  Yes, I was the only foreigner.  I didn’t really think I looked lost or confused.  I certainly didn’t feel that way.  But, a young man working in some business decided I needed help.  He left his shop, put his arm around my shoulder, and guided me to the bus company that would take me to Flores.  I appreciated the help.  Always!  But, I still didn’t think I needed it.

It didn’t take long to miss the comforts of the tourist bus that I wasn’t on.  I was the only foreigner on the bus, and next to me was an uncommonly large woman.  I had the window seat.  Common sense and common decency would have caused this woman to get out of her seat to let me in.  Well, she was uncommon in this respect too.  When I crawled over her, there was no way to get my very large backpack to the floor.  I had to hold it for hours.

It was a long day.  However, my trip ended about the same time the original tourist bus left Antigua.  So, I was happy to be at the bus terminal for Flores and Santa Elena.

I’d been there before.  I knew Santa Elena was huge.  However, when the bus pulled into the station, there were hardly any lights anywhere.  I thought it was just another of the zillions stops we made along the road that day.  But, when everyone else got off the bus, I decided I better check it out.  The very long day of travel was over.  I found a hotel in the darkness.  Next, I needed food.  As a general rule, I try to avoid street food and soft drinks.  However, it was a choice of street food under the shadow of the bus station or no food.  I always opt for food.  And, when I sat down for my meal, I knew I deserved two Cokes.

I tried to not worry, or even think, about eating street food.  But, I didn’t get off that easy.  I was sick for four days.  Fortunately, things didn’t get too bad the next day until after I reached my destination in Belize.  Then, symptoms that I choose not to discuss took over my life.  I was very thankful to be away from chicken buses and cramped situations.  But, in the privacy of my room, I still felt cramps.
Several reasons to come to Flores