Intro to Belize

San Ignacio Travel Blog

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I have arrived at my volunteer destination! I will backtrack to the beginning of my travels.


Monday 6 October 2008 – Chicago to  Mexico

On Monday 6 Oct, Dad and Grandma drove me to the airport for my 9am flight to Cancun.  Grandma was so sad her lips were quivering and her eyes were all teary.  I told them both not to worry about me but I know they will anyway.  I never quite felt like I was really leaving.  Even as the days counted down, I still felt normal. And here I was on my way to Mexico for the first time.  I was excited to use the Spanish skills I learned in high school.  When I graduated, I set that as one of my goals.


I had done mounds of research in the last couple of months and felt pretty prepared. It was all abut to make a big difference.


When I arrived in Mexico, we were told it was 90degrees F! Much different that the winter coat weather back home.  Customs was quick and painless. After getting my luggage I walked through a hallway much smaller than I thought it would be, with hotel companies and other services.  I passed by, went outside and searched for my bus. Since I didn’t get out at the main departure gate the bus was closer.  I asked someone half in Spanish which bus it was and was wary he may send me to the wrong one.  I found out the ADO bus was the Riviera bus and waited next to it until it departed. I struck a short conversation with a guy from Wisconsin who was looking to buy land in Playa del Carmen.  So there  I was maybe 15min in Cancun and already leaving.  The bus was 80pesos ($8US) to Playa and was quite nice despite my dads warnings (since earlier in the year he boarded the Charter bus instead—don’t go that route). The ride was short- only an hour. It had a/c, a bathroom, and a movie playing – like a high end Greyhound bus – but I really didn’t enjoy it as I slept the whole time.  Upon arriving in Playa, I bought another ticket to Chutumal for 190 pesos ($19US). I had 40min to spare, so I walked down the block. Starving, I needed to get lunch, but didn’t want an upset stomach for the 65hr bus ride ahead so I ordered a Subway sandwhich – not the most ethnic thing, but I did order it in Spansih!  I continued back down the narrow street where shopkeepers were trying to get me to buy their wares.  Mexicans were all over standing or sitting on the strret. I was in tourist county here. Much like a Ft. Lauderdale or Wisconsin Dells strip. The conversion rate is $1US to $10.5Mex so it was difficult at first getting used to seeing such high #s.  The Subway sandwhich was 49 pesos and most lunches were going for 90-120 pesos.  I stopped by a phone and paid 4 pesos to call home.  I also had a bit to stop by the beach one block in the other direction.  The water was absolutely gorgeous!!! It was all different shades of blue.  People and resorts line the beach.  I stared for a frew minutes, then asked in Spanish if a woman would take my photo.  I didn’t recognize my pack at first I the photo and thought another person was behind me! 


I was surprised by the weight of my pack. It was lighter than I had practiced – just 30 pounds. My carry-on bag is 15.5pds and my camelback with water is 2.5-5pds. It was more uncomfortable carrying my carry-on than my pack.  My camelback was filled with U.S. water to get me through the day.  Even though I was excited to get to Chetumal I wished I could stay at Playa just a little longer to check out some of the shops.


The bus to Chetumal didn’t have TV screens but was just as nice.  With the longer ride, I had more time to check out the towns we were passing.  It was nice seeing the different living accommodations.  Some of  the houses were painted bright colors.  There were children with the moms everywhere. This bus, like the first one, never was too crowded. There was plenty of room to spreak my stuff out and my pack was in the undercarriage compartment.  At some of the stops, vendors would come on with refrescos, agua y tamales. I didn’t purchas anything .  Along the trip was a girl about my age. She asked “Adonde va?” and I answered.  Later she sat down next to me.  At that point it was already around 7pm and getting dark.  She asked me a few questions and I answered in Spanish, trying to figure out what she was saying but it was difficult.  I couldn’t understand some of her words and when someone speaks more than a few sentences to me, I have a difficult time following.  I kept asking her to speak slow and repeat herself.  I told her where I was fron, where I was going and such and such.  Her name was Norma and I could tell she was very sweet but she didn’t speak any English.  I pulled out my dictionary, but by that time it was too dark to see and my light was in my other bag.  We nervously laughed at our inability to converse and she finally sat back in her seat.  I was frustrated, but at least I tried!


Before the ADO stop were stopped at the bus station.  I noticed it was quite farher a distance than water seemed on my map, so decided I would definitely take a ride to Chetumal hostel and to the bus station in the morning.  I grabbed a snack at the station and walked to the taxi stand.  As I fumbled my destination address in Spanish, the driver told me he understood English.  So we chatted in English during the ride.  He was also very friendly.  The ride was 30 pesos. 


The hostel owner greeted me right away.  We spoke in Spanish with some English intertwined.  The hostel was vacant except for me. Another woman was working as a cook and an Asian girl was there.  I couldn’t tell whether she was with them or not, but she spoke very good Spanish.  The first room I was taken to upstairs, the light didn’t work. So I relocated to another room.  They had a docile dog.  After sorting my belongings, I asked hwere a good place for dinner was.  The women looked at each other, then the owner explained where the supermarket was.  It was a few blocks away and the woman locked me out as I left.  Good security.  So I walked alone extra aware of my surroundings.  The road was 2-way with a median and a few cars passing, but few pedestrians.  The store was easy to find and very big from the outside, but the space wasn’t utilized well.  I found a very limited selection and purchased an Activia smoothie, tortillas, a can of tuna, a granola bar and 2L of water for 37pesos.  I was surprised – at 9PM ther weren’t any restaurants around to get dinner!  Wasn’t this Mexico!?  Strange, but I didn’t mind.  On my way back I found an internet café and for 4 pesos sent a short email home  Upon return to the hostel, I made some tuna sandwhiches and went straight to bed.  After a cold shower, I slept soundly.


Tuesday 7 October 2008 –  Chetumal, Mexico to San Ignacio, Belize

 I awoke at 8am. A cold breakfast was served to me and I caught a taxi to the bus station.


Chetumal had nice streets but the house and shops were falling apart.  Ther was pain chipping everywhere.  All the taxis were yellow and easily identifiable.  There were a lot of children.  Also clothing hanging up to dry.  I liked the effect it had – giving the town more color and character. In the U.S. it’s illegal in a lot of towns to hang your clothing outside because it’s thought of as lower class and may misrepresent that town. But other places it’s getting the reputation about being eco-friendly. We used to dry some of our clothes outside in Australia too.


 I didn’t know which bus station to go to – I was planning on getting the Express bus that left at 10:45am and took 2hrs.  I knew I had extra time on my hands. Well, this driver only spoke Spanish and when I told him I was going to Belice, he took me to the regular bus. I knew that this was wrong, there was ony one bus there and it said Belice Regular.  The Mexicans were like, it’s leaving now, leaving now! So I felt like I had to make a quick decision and in Spanish.  I didn’t have enough pesos left but they also accepted BZ and US. So I got on and it departed about 9:15am.  After I knew for sure I was on the bus that made all the stops, I tried getting off but the conductor explained that I would arrive in Belize City at approximately the same time anyway since the Express bus didn’t leave for another 1 ½ hrs.  Eh, okay, I guess.  The only other ppl on the bus were an older dating couple from Canada working on getting their residency in Belize.  They were on their way to Monkey Wildlife Sancuary, where the woman had a house, so they rode with me most of the way.


The bus to Belize City was another step down – no undercarriage, but it did have overhead storage for my pack.  The seats were big and cushioned but heavily overused.  I paid $5.50US for the 4hr ride.  The conductor gave me my first Belizean currency.  It was 15min to the border.  First we came to the Mexican border crossing which coast me $20US.  The my passport was stamped at Belize customs.  We got off the bus each time but for the Belize part we had to take everything with us and walk straight through a building.  We made our way to Belize City.  The bus began filling up to full capacity.  Instead of just Mexicans, it was now filled with Belizeans and different ethnicities such as Mayan, and some of mixed descent – many part African – possibly Garifuna.  I enjoyed hearing the Kriol  (spelled that way) dialect.  This bus had no a/c, but I enjoyed the summer breeze whipping through the window.  The weather was definitely diff when we crossed the border. It sprinkled, then rained on and off.  I actually enjoyed all the stops.  I slept a little bit, but tried to stay awake and was wide-eyed when I was.  There was so much greenery on this route!  At first there were still lots of Mexicans – in and near Corozol.  Then we would pick people up on the Northern Highway and people would just be standing on the side of the highway with bush on either sideand I wondered where they came out of.  Again, there were a lot of children with their mothers.  The majority on this bus.  Some were of African descent.  We passed a school with kids in their uniforms – strange b/ c the kids were dressed up more than any of the adults I saw.  Some people were still speaking Spanish.  At a couple of stops, vendors would come on and sell drinks, snacks, chicle, etc.  I just kept on downing water from my camelback.


As we rode into Belize City it still seemed small.  You could tell people were poverty stricken.  Stray dogs were wandering around as they had been in Mexico.  I was the last one off the bus since my bag was stuck on top.  A taxi driver picked me up right away, but I said I had to use the bathroom first.  So he showed me to the woman who maintained the bathrooms and it cost me .50BZ (.25US) to use.  The attendant gave me toilet paper. The bathroom was unclean and without soap.  As I came out the taxi driver waved to me on the other side of the fence.  He helped me put my pack in the trunk and I asked to go to Novelos.  At which he replied I already was at Novelos!  I felt like a fool but since he had rushed me away from the bus I didn’t realize it.  I turned around and sure enough the large sign above the station read “Novelos”.  It was on the other side from which I had arrived.  I apologized and went back into the station.  Ther were no ticket counters.  I simply had to wait for a bus, which, according to my notes, had a sign displaying “Benque” or “Melcor”.  I didn’t want to miss the bus – they came every ½ hr, so I ordered lunch at the station – some type of fried fish and something else – I couldn’t understand what it was called.  It kept me from going hungry even though it wasn’t healthy.  A woman came up to me and asked if I wanted a ride.  I knew of this driver, but waved off the ride, sticking with my notes and the cheaper way as I was in no hurry.  About 20min later the school bus arrived for us – the express bus wouldn’t come for another couple of hours, so I took this one.


This bus ride was the most uncomfortable. The bus was filled to the brim and I had to sit 23 of the way back.  I was worried I’d get motion sick, but since the windows were all open, I didn’t. Again a wonderful breeze! In the U.S ppl always keep the windows up most of the way.  INschool we weren’t allowed to have it past the line. But here its so hot that ppl keep them open. So on this ride I had to let someone sit next to me.  At first I was going to request my packi being put in the aisle but soon enough the entire aisle was full of standing passengers.  No capacity limit here! It was a bit bothersome to have my pack on my lap but it could be worse – it could be a squirming 30pd child. So we made our way west, this time stopping even more often.  More vendors boarding. Punta Rock music playing from the back speakers.  (The one main Belizean form of music.) The breeze whipping agains my face.  I found it entertaining.  This 3 ½ hour ride cost $7BZ ($3.50US) After an hour of stopping and going, we arrived in the capital city of Belmopan.  I awoke as we stopping and looked around me for 10min or so.  I was going to try and switch seats, but as soon as most of the passengers got off, the bus became full again. I watched as mothers toted around their children.  When the cute conductor came around again to pick up fares (that’s what they do in MX and BZ – you sit on the bus and they pick up your far when they feel like it, I realized that the man sitting next to me was also going to San Ignacio.  – so the new outgoing girl in me struck up another conversation . Fabian is an older gentleman of Garifuna descent. He used to be an agriculture teacher. He has four gorwn children – 2 teachers, an accountant, and one studying to be an attorney.  His wife died of breast cancer 2 years ago and his siblings live in Nicaragua (or Honduras?)  He lives in Dangriga, which I was excited to hear about.  I asked about GarifunaSettlement Day and told him of my plans to go down to Dangriga Nov. 19th for the celebrations.  The holiday is celebrated throughout Belize, but its roots are in Dangriga.  He told me the best days to go are Nov 17-18th (a Monday and Tues this year).  So he gave me his full name and # and told me to him when a call when I came down.  Hopefully my roommates will come along with me.  In fact, I was so excited with this conversation, it was one of the first things I told my new roommate Bethany when I met her.  Fabian was going to San Ignacio to drop some books off on Garifuna culture for his old high school teacher who he still keeps in contact with.  Hes currently writing a book on Garifuna culture and it’s almost complete.  I thought very highly and kindly of him.. When we arrived insane Ignacio, we shook hands and wished each other luck.


Immediately when I got off the bus a taxi driver picked me up. I was sure to see that his car had a green license plate – so he was a registered driver.  He took me down the short way along Burns Ave. to the very end where Cornerston is.  Elliot and Carmita immediately grabbed my bags for me and we headed upstairs to the living accommodations part of the building.  So immediately I was welcomed with open arms.


I was shown my room that Id be sharing with 3 other girls.  It is the width of my college dorm and a bit shorter – the length of a twin size bed and room  for the door to fully open.  I met Bethany right away.  She just arrived 10min before me and will be my roommate and a volunteer here for 3 months.  We waited for our other roommate, Tanya to get abck from the shops and wed have our house tour.  While Bethany and I waited we sort of began going through our bags, but mostly getting to know each other.  We eerily found out we have much in common. We both studied abroad in Melbourne in Spring ’06.  We graduated a year ago, worked for a year and put quit our jobs to come volunteer. This was part of our travel bug from Australia and it was our first trip abroad since. We had Australian boyfriendswhile we were there. Our first and only hiking/camping experience was in Australia, but we both want to di ti again soon. We’d move to AU if we could.  My boyf and her boyf (who she’s currently on a break with) are both named Nick. She lives in Brookline – the same suburb I would have lived in had I moved to Boston.  She also graduated with a degree in Media Studies (from Ithaca College). She also had to convince her mom and grandparents that this volunteer experience was a good idea  I didn’t learn all this out in that convo, but it’s still strange to have so much in common.  Dad said I’d have more in common with the volunteers here than my roommates in AU and he was right.


When Tanya came back, Carmitagave us our house tour.  There are 2 veranda – one in the front, one in back and also a lil area right outside the upstairs entrance.  The bathroom strangely has a door at the entrance (before entering the house). However it’s always kept locked for safety reasons.  The other door must be accessed from the back veranda.  The living room is right at the main entrance.  It surprisingly has cable and a DVD player (newly arrived in the past 2 weeks.) There’s a door to the front veranda.  Thers a variety of books left over from toehr volunteers.  And theres 2 couches, which have fleas, so they’ve been covered with sheets to prevent biting us.  Kinda grosses me out more than being told there’s cockroaches and once in a blue moon a rat in the house.  Plus there’s lots of tiny ants and sometimes a lizard in the kitchen. I have taken a good shot of one of the lizards.


Our bedroom is the first on to the right off the living room.  As I said, it’s a small space, but you think in college you use a room not that much biggersas a bedroom, study area, living room and kitchen, so its not so bad.  I’m on the top bunk, which I don’t prefer, but it’s okay. The pillows are humungous and bumpy so I can’t sleep with them.  I’ve concocted my sleeping bag into a pillow.  There’s a fan attached high up on the wall to keep cool air on me.


The next bedroom is the next door off the living room.  It’s not in use because ppl are constantly walking in and out to use it to go to other rooms and the bathroom – it leads to the back veranda.  A smaller room is attached to it, where Darlene, another volunteer sleeps.  ON the back veranda another door leads to another bedroom where Jaime, Jodine and another volunteer sleep.  This room also has a double door, the second wich opens up into the kitchen.  Out back is also where the washing machine is, which I am glad we have!  The windows to all the rooms are wide open – no screens covering them.  However there are curtains across them which lets the breeze through. Between the living room and kitchen threre’s a small area where extra sheets, blankets, towels and supplies are stored. 


The kitchen is of fair size with 2 firdges, 1 microwave, plenty of counter space and a table for 6. There is barely enough fridge and cabinet space  for volunteers as we store the majoriy of our stuff in the smaller fridge. But we make it work.  Theres plenty of plateware and silverware to share and of course we wash our own dishes.  The water from the sink never gets hot though. As we were being shown the kitchen, other volunteers were disinfecting their water bottles in boiling water. We also get large jugs of filtered water on Mon, Wed and Fri. Each jug cost $3.25BZ and we rotate buying them. They usually last till the next shipment comes.


The kitchen leads out the front veranda.  So there’s a lot of double entrances to rooms.  The bathroom is quite large – it is pretty rustic.  The sink is fine. There’s a new showerhead installed with “hot” water (which means is a bit colder than lukewarm water.)  It does have awesome water pressure though.  The floor of the shower is concrete and has been painted over multiple times, leaving behind a multi-colors floor of chipping pain  The shower has painted walls of a sun and clouds.  To the right of the shower is the toilet – which works well, but as all Belizeans, we put our t.p. in the wastebasket next to the toilet to prevent clogging.  Across from the toilet is an open shelving area where we can place our toiletrees.


After the house tour we had free time. We settled in some more and got used to “Belizean time.”  At dinnertime, Tanya, Bethany and I went out to dinner at a suggested place, Ervas.  We all ordered burritos and got to know each other some more.


Tanya is from Vancouver.  She graduated 2 years ago with a Geography degree. The job she just quit was in project management.  She also had studies in Australia – in Brisbane (a beach city) and had an Australian boyfriend – although a lot longer than Bethany and I – her 1 yr relationship began her second day in AU – it was her neighbor.  She spent a year in AU and her relationship extaned a year after she came ack.  Her boyf came to sudy at her school and in 3 weeks found another Canadian and they broke up. What a heart-wretching disaster! 6 months later she’s finally over him.  I wouldn’t think badly of her is she wasn’t still over him being that it took me 6 month to get over my 2 month relationship.  Andyway, she is also really sweet and has an appreciation for the little things. And she’s laid-back and funny.  It’s cool that we all have multiple things in common – freakishly so but I can tell we will all get along just fine – It’s nice being with them. Usually I want to get away and get my independence. But I don’t have a problem geoing out with them on errandsm for dinner, etc.  Maybe we’re a bit too similar, but its nice for now.


Our waiter at Ednas was Guillermo. He’s an exceptionally nice man – he’s Mayan, from Punta Gorda – another place I want to visit.  So his parents and his 9yr old brother still live the Mayan life.  And I told him I wanted to spend a wkd with a Mayan host family and he explained how a coupld of Canadians made friends with him and they stayed with his parents.  So I plant to keep in touch with him.  He chatted with us a couple times and was really sweet.  He is kinda cute too – round face, short.  And he spoke some Mayan to us!  He also showed us a fork trick after dinner and we were so amazed. 


After dinner we watched a movie and I journaled some.  Its dinner and I’m still behind on my writing. I can barely even rem what day it is.  I thought BZ time was central time but I had to set my clock forward one hour.


Wednesday 8 October 2008 – San Ignacio, Belize

So wed morn I woke up at 7am thinking it was 8am.  I did some exercises while everyone slept and since no one was up at 8am (we had a mtg at 9), I decided to go pick up some breakfast from the grocery store.  I remembered passing one the previous night. So I started walking and passed Nellie, a Cornerstone worker, and she re-told me the directions to the store.  I thought I knew it right, but then I came across Edna’s from the opposite side we came from the night before and I got confused.  Guillermo was outside and opening up the restaurant. I waved to him and said hi.


When I got to the store I thought it was a diff one than we had passed but I went in.  It had such a small selection! No bread or tortillas.  All dry foods. Some frozen chicken and beef. A very limited freezer selection.  And only a few refrigerated items such as regular milk, juice and pop (all of which were also available on the shelves) So I settled on pineapple jam, which I had never had before, peanut butter, OJ  They had pasta and of course lots of rice.  Bah humbug.  Well my purchases were quite cheap and I was on my way taking delight in making my way along back to Cornerstone. I was glad I could already find my way around somewhat.


On my way back I ran into Guillermo again.  He talked to me for a bit and surprisingly knew a lot about the U.S. election andour politics.  Belizeans are affects by our economy too and they show our news on their TVS.  Guillermo is a fun guy to have a conversation with and he’s intelligent.  When he saves up enough money from his 2 jobs he plans to go back to university and get a degree in teaching. Tuition is too expensive for him now - $1,000 every 3 months. And most Belizeans only make $25/day.


When I got back to Cornerstone I made PBJ with my Mexican tortillas.  We had our mtg at Belizean time (late).  We were given an office orientation and paid – I only paid for 2 months even thought I’m staying 9 weeks.  Then we had a mtg with Rita – learning more about Cornerstone, it’s objectives, etc.  Then Kyle gave us a city tour.


Kyle is in the U.S. Peace Corps.  He has been in Belize for 13 months, so he has 11 months left.  Most of the time he’s been in San Ignacio.  He got a degree in Tourism and joined the Peace Corps after other volunteerism and teaching/tutoring after college.  He’s working for Cornerstone and lives a couple houses down in an Americans house who doesn’t live there right now.  He started off with a host family on the other side of town.  Afte the Peace Corps he may extend his time, do Crisis Corps, or get a masters in Literature. Eventually, he thinks he will go into teaching.  He started up a new sport in San Ignacio – Ultimate Frisbee and has taught a few of the school – mostly coaching high schools. His high schoolers are now coaching primary school kids.  He also started a Math Club where he tutors students and does a bike tour on weekdends.  So hes quite involved.  He knows the town really well by now and is a great resource.  He took us to the market and we ate our first apple bananas – small bananas that you guess it – taste like apples.  Mmmmm yummy.  We were also shown the grocery stores, 3 bakeries, Police Station, only park in town where you won’t be looked at strangely if you’re running, the only exercise facility which is now closed down, another park, the two bridges into town, some smaller roads.  He told us that it isn’t safe to go out at night along after 9pm.  If you go running on the smaller roads the dogs will chase after you and possibly bite you – a potential hazard for rabies.  He told us how dogs here aren’t really what we know as pets. They are trained as guard dogs.  Though I have seen a lot of angrier American dogs.  Jaime goes running 4 morning a week and hasn’t had a problem.  We gained some noteworthy information from Kyle in that hour.


After the tour we just relaxed.  We made our own dinners, then Tanya Bethany and I went to the stores again to check them out and pick up more food.  We also checked out the night scene – ppl where out and about, but as we came home there weren’t as many ppl on the streets. From Belizean homes we could hear TVs blaring.  This apparently is the Belizean form of entertainment.  They don’t make enough money for other entertainment.  Belizeans make about $2.50/hr – about $25/day.

PareeRembeer says:
Oh and as for the pic thats my lil baby cousin Cameron. Im currently not on my computer which is why i chose that pic. But when i do get on my own, Ill update my default pic!
Posted on: Oct 11, 2008
PareeRembeer says:
Hey Tiff, Its Paris. I miss ya already, and let me just start off by you continue to impress me with ambitiousness! (if thats a word) I thought I was ambitious, but man this is all really cool. I read your entire blog and cant wait for more. I will continue to pray for your well being and safety everyday and I just want to say youve given me some renewed inspiration. Ill tell ya later. Have fun and talk to you later!
Posted on: Oct 11, 2008
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San Ignacio
photo by: Biedjee